Wednesday, November 10, 2010

San Diego - The southern most 72 miles of the Pacific Coast route

Day 1: San Diego - Oceanside - San Diego
  Distance: 91.7 miles
  Total Ascent: 13,412

Bike route 757650 on Bikemap 

I got my cycling adventure in but I guess I had to many expectation.  First off all I couldn't get a train ride up to Oceanside and did the route in the north direction.  The scenery was urban all the, and the route was mostly on the busy pacific coast highway, and the roads are rough as hell.  I guess Iowa has really spoiled me with very smooth rural highways with near to no traffic and plenty of rural scenery and fresh air.

The plan was to take the 7am Amtrak to Oceanside since the Coaster train doesn't run on Sundays.  But that was nixed by a bomb thread that Amtrak received which resulted in the train to be canceled.  The next train wouldn't have gotten me to Oceanside until 10am.and I really didn't want to start riding that late.  The other option was to ride up to Oceanside and take the train back.  That was what the ticketing agent was also suggesting.  Bad idea.

For all side excursion away from the busy pacific coast highway you need to cross it. Also I found it much harder to the Pacific Coast bike route.  For navigation I used my GPS with the data files from Adventure Cycling Association, the San Diego bicycle map and signage.  However, the signage "Bike Route" means any old street with a designated shoulder as a bike lane.  The map wasn't much more of a help as it wasn't detailed and convenient enough to use constantly with all the turns when not following the main highway.

The designated bike lanes here are also a joke.  When you need them the most they simply disappear.  Intersections don't accommodate bicycles at all or they move the bike line all the way to the right so that you get directed toward the right turn of the street while most likely you need to turn left and have to cross three or four lanes by that time (including turning lanes).  As mentioned the whole coastal region from San Diego up to Oceanside (and possibly beyond) is build up so that you continuously ride in a town with all the stop signs and traffic light (which equates to lot of stop and go), high amount of traffic and cars parked on the sides that might swing their doors open in front of you at any time (luckily this did not happen).

A glimpse of the ocean

Sunday morning is also the local road bike.  Everybody that owned a road bike did their training rides.  And they ride quite inconsiderate, passing without announcement very closely by you and cutting right in front you.  They may be used from riding with their buddies to draft and weave in and out very closely.  But obviously I'm not your road racing training dude, especially with a huge back pack on my back and no visible Lycra.  I do abrupt swerves for cracks and bumps in the pavement of which there were plenty.  I also saw an amazing amount of bikers stranded fixing a flat.

At noon I got to Ocean side and started pondering about what to do next.  It was to early in the day to go back and I didn't think the scenery to the north would change much.  Being curious enough how the ride southward is I decided to ride back.  I enjoyed the ride back a bit more.  It was much easier to navigate and probably I no longer had unrealistic expectations.  Of course the best was that I decided to walk along the Torry Pines State Beach.

Sandstone cliff


The bird wasn't scared by the kids playing right next to it

The beach featured some amazing sandstone cliffs and the nature scenery that I was missing all along the ride.  I think you can only pass the beach during low tide and you have to wade through water and climb over rocks.  If you have fat tires you can even cycle on the hard wet sand.

At the rocky part of the beach

I arrived in San Diego after about 11 hours on the road and in the dark. In retrospect it was fully worth it even if I'm a bit whiny.

Day 2: San Diego - Border
  Distance: 27.2 miles
  Total Ascent: 13,411

Bike route 757665 on Bikemap 

One of my downfall is I have a hard time to stop sometimes. :) Since a Coronado visit is in the itinerary the next logical step is to do the rest of the pacific coast route and take a picture at the Mexican boarder crossing.  In the early morning I took the commuter ferry over to the island while it started to sprinkle.  When we docked it rained and I was eager to find a place to eat breakfast.  Panera Bread on Orange Ave. came to the rescue while I waited out the rain.  I had a rain coat but the backpack and my shorts were not rainproofed.

The Midway aircraft carrier museum I visited two days earlier

A nice long breakfast was all that was needed to wait for the rain to stop and with the sun I was pretty soon dry again.  My route followed the ACA GPS route again along the Silver Strand to the main land and then on to the Border Field State Park at the Mexican border.  The ride was great as it took me finally out or urban areas into urban and then the state park.  The state park was quite abandoned which isn't unusual for California.  All state parks here seem to have extremely reduced service if any at all.

Beach on Coronado

Beach on Coronado

I was thinking that a bike touring route would have taken me to a border crossing in case someone wanted to extend the tour into Mexico or even further.  But this wasn't the case.  The route followed a state park road toward the beach right at the border.  At one point the road was flooded and next to it was a little sign warned that the water was toxic.  I heeded the warning and didn't think about wading through it or tried to go around through the mud.  But parallel to the road was a nice asphalt road besides the border fence. The short gravel path leading to it just had the common sign stating no motorized vehicles beyond this point.  So I continued on that road instead.  After going up a steep hill I stopped and took a couple of pictures of the scenery and continued on.

Road across Tijuana river valley

Flooded road at Border Field State Park

San Diego as seen from the border

Border fence

Two border trucks approached me from the front and nicely informed me that the road was only for the border patrols. I excused myself and mentioned about the lack of signage.  Apparently there was some sign (which I didn't see on the way back either) and I apparently wasn't the first one to do so.  As I turned around I saw another truck right behind me and an four wheeler approaching.  I hope I didn't cause to much havoc but I'm still surprised that at the base of the Mount Rushmore National Monument has sign on every tree informing it is prohibited to climb the mountain while the border seems to be quite lacking.

Beach with Mexico in background

Swampy area of the Tijuana estuary

The border guard was quite nice and pointed out a gravel road that I could take to the beach which I did as my final point of the trip before returning to the trolley line and taking it back to town.  Border Field State Park is certainly on my list of recommended places to visit.  Just stay clear from the fence.

Update:  A special feature of Border Field is the Border Monument and Friendship Circle at the end of the flooded road.  There you can go directly to the border fence and talk across the border.  This would have been really cool to visit.  Had I known that I would have walked along the beach to the monument. More information can be found at

The bike I rented was a Jamis Ventura. The hybrid bikes just don't feel that great to me. The position on them is to odd for me and I wouldn't be able to do longer rides. The Ventura was a fine bike but it really needed fatter tires for the California road. Of course racks and fenders are the other things that would have been nice. The Bike Revolution helped adjusted the bike as I desired it and was quite helpful getting me setup properly.

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