“The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur. That is why there are unforgettable moments and unique people.” -Fernando Pessoa
1. You’ll make the best of friends.
The trip started out with just myself and one of my closest friends, Leah. By day three there were four of us, and by the end we were a rag-a-muffin crew of ten. In the beginning, we were really intimidated of biking with anyone else. “They’ll be more experienced, we’ll just hold them back, but look at all their spandex!” Luckily, we quickly got over our own insecurities about being bike touring newbies because the people we met along the way are what made the trip what it was.
2. The sunsets and sunrises are unreal.
Every sunset was “the prettiest we’d ever seen”, and then we’d see one the next night and giggle about how perfect it was.
3. You’ll learn you are mentally and physically capable of more than you think
Looking back, it’s somewhat embarrassing just how clueless we were. I didn’t even really know what the derailleur gears on my bike did (fyi, they’re really important). On top of not really understanding my bike, I hadn’t even tried riding it packed down with gear before we left. On day three our bums were so sore we stole (not sure why we didn’t just pay for them) old lady diapers from a grocery store to line our bike shorts with. True story. Embarrassing story, but it happened. There were mornings when I woke up, after sleeping on the hard ground, and parts of my body hurt in places I didn’t know existed. We did it though, even if at some points I was cursing in my head over and over as we climbed hill after hill.
4. The trees will leave you wide-eyed and dreamy
If there is any reason to undertake this, it’s to see the redwoods. One of the most memorable moments of the trip was riding into one of our campsites in the dark past these giant old trees. We had a late start that morning, and riding in the dark after a long day with only headlamps could have been a reason to moan and groan. Instead, we rode in silence overwhelmed by how eerie and majestic they looked with only our tiny lights hitting them, barely able to show a fraction of their magnitude.
5. The ground, a tent and a sleeping bag will seem like luxury after a long day
Most days we only half way put up our tent before collapsing into it. After hours on a bike our sleeping bags felt like sateen sheets, and we were eager to get in them.
6. Food will take on a whole new meaning that makes you feel powerful and always lusty for more
I was perpetually hungry, and half way through submitted to the fact that I’d spend the trip in constant hunger. On the bright side, every bit of food tastes better than it has ever tasted. There is that scene in Into The Wild were he is sitting on the side of the road talking to his apple, “You are really good. I mean, you’re like, a hundred thousand times better than like any apple I’ve ever had. You’re the apple of my eye!” Yeah, that’s how passionate I felt about everything I ate.
7. You’ll realize the kindness of strangers
From John who was on our flight and gave us a ride all the way from Portland to Tillamook, to the guy that dropped off beer at our campsite because he saw us biking and was impressed, to the random person that picked me up when my tire was completely shredded. I am so grateful for you.
8. The scenery!
On those mornings when my body was so stiff I remembered why I decided to do this in the first place, the scenery. It’s what got me up and back on the bike every morning.
9. You’ll experience an incredible amount of freedom and autonomy
Sure, you could rent a convertible and drive down the coast. It will be beautiful and a lot of fun, but by bike brings a certain sense of achievement. It’s the perfect pace, fast enough to get you a good distance but slow enough to experience all the different sensations and details along the way.
10. You’ll fall in love with evvvverything
From your friends, to the silent woosh of your bike, to the ever present craving for food. The scenery passes by at just the right speed, it’s impossible not to soak in every beautiful second of it and fall absolutely head over heels in love with it all. And in Leah’s case, to have literally fallen in love with a man we met during a rest day in Arcata (she now lives in California). Be open to all of it, even the frustrating moments.
For all of the planning (daily mileage, camping, etc) I used the book “Bicycling the Pacific Coast: A Complete Guide, Canada to Mexico”. For this trip we flew into Portland, Oregon, hitched a ride to the coast, and then biked from Cape Lookout State Park to San Francisco, California. With detours, it was probably a little more than 700 miles.
Where to sleep?
Camp, it’s cheap and easy! Choosing to camp is a great way to meet people and have some other worn bikers to share a much needed cold (hopefully) beer with. The Pacific coast ride is a well traveled route for bikers, so there are cyclist campsites the whole way (it’s outlined in the book). Sites tend to be cheaper for bikers, at about $5 per person a night. Take quarters for the showers!
What to take?
As little as possible. I was pretty wild about not taking any more than I absolutely needed to because I knew this trip would be a challenge for me carrying no extra weight, let alone with a bike loaded down with stuff. Some of the things I took: tent, sleeping bag and mat, stove, fuel, cookware, helmet, lock, front/rear lights, bike repair kit (minimal), first aid kit (lots of bandaids!) spare tubes (used them all and had to buy more), pump, 2 water bottles, iodine (just in case), bike shorts, leggings, fleece, rain gear, bike socks, shirts, an off the bike outfit, Chacos, bike shoes, toiletries, CAMERA! There were various other things as well, some of which we split up between the two of us. Some people were decked out in fancy gear which was intimidating at first. We didn’t know what we were doing and couldn’t afford all the gadgets, and in the end it really didn’t matter.
Is it expensive?
Not at all. I had the bike and camping gear, which would probably be the biggest investment. Outside of that, the flight and cost of shipping the bike home would be the other biggest cost. It can be done for less than $800 though (bike and camping gear not included).
Is it safe?
Yes and no. There were moments when Leah and I would say to each other, “If our parents saw us right now they would loose their minds!” and then we’d keep on riding as logging trucks whizzed by. There is always an inherent risk in doing anything like this, and there are definitely moments when you just have to own the road because there is no space on the side for you to ride. It definitely helped to ride in groups, but overall we just tried to be really aware of our surroundings and always alert. Be assertive on bridges!
Can you do it?
Abso-freaking-lutely!! Not in shape? You can get there by training before hand (or not, if you’re like me), and if anything the road will definitely get you into shape fast!
A little side trip to Yosemite National Park we made (by car) at the end!