Wow!! What a week that was. Not one we really expected. In our heads it was going to be back on the bikes, see a few nice views and move slowly on South camping as we went but in the end it turned out to be slightly different.
We had planned to drop the car off back in San Francisco and then do an optimistic ride of around 75 miles towards Santa Cruz (quite a long one for our first day back) but we were fresh, right?….. wrong. The two big walks in Yosemite had left some tiredness in our legs and when we set off we both felt a little sluggish. After a quick stop at the only Decathlon store in America (it wasn’t that great, but Sarah did manage to get a new bikini) we set off from the centre of San Francisco at 10.30. By 11.30 we had only covered 8 miles because we were constantly being stopped at endless sets of traffic lights for minutes at a time. Steve was becoming more and more frustrated, with a long day ahead we just wanted to get on with it. We naively thought going South out of the city would be as simple as coming into it from the North, with the great bike paths through well kept suburban streets. It was just the opposite, six lanes of traffic, the endless traffic lights and neighbourhoods that didn’t look that great. We eventually emerged from the main city area into the edge of Silicon Valley and then onto a bike path. At last no lights! We had cycled less than a couple of miles on the path and found our path blocked by fences and no diversion signs. We fumbled our way through small residential streets back onto the main highway and with three hours of cycling we could still clearly see the skyscrapers of the city where we had started. It was getting hot and we were getting tired.
After a reload of calories at a “Denny’s” restaurant we eventually turned inland to cross the peninsula, only to find another road blocked due to an old landslide. The day was starting to drag on! We went back to a small town we had passed and called at the local fire station to ask what was going on. One of the fire officers lived close to where we were heading and directed us up a hill called “ Old La Honda”, a hill we will never forget. It went up and up, steeper and steeper, 57 minutes later and at 4.30pm in the afternoon Sarah got to the top after more than 2600 feet of climbing. We were both exhausted and with sunset around 6.30pm and 30 miles still to go, we were destined to finish this ride in the dark. The sun went down, and the temperature dropped like a stone. Eventually after more than nine hours of cycling, cold and exhausted and 90 miles after starting we arrived at our destination. Not the start we had wanted. With two spoons we demolished a huge blueberry pie and got some well deserved sleep.
The next day we were off again, through Santa Cruz where we stopped for a massive breakfast to catch up on calories.
Soon we were back into the countryside and enjoying the cycling, through miles and miles of farming and agriculture. California provides much of the food for America. We have passed fields growing an unbelievable array of produce, from artichokes to zucchini and most things in between. That along with Silicon Valley, tourism and many other industries it isn’t hard to see that if California was an independent country it would be the world’s sixth largest economy (bigger than that of the UK).
The main theme of the next few days was the cold nighttime temperatures. Sarah was sleeping in seven layers of clothing and was still cold as it dipped down to two degrees. Not ideal when our sleeping bags are only rated down to 15 degrees!!!
We were glad to get cycling in the mornings to warm up! We cycled around Monterey Bay and then onto a part of the coast we had been looking forward to for a long time. From Monterey to San Simeon is almost 100 miles and it’s renowned for spectacular scenery which has been featured in countless films. It certainly lived up to it’s billing.
The road is carved along steep cliffs, that fall sharply into the Pacific Ocean, and follows the contours as it dives into small bays and back out again. Anything too severe and it is spanned by a bridge, most of them built in the 1930’s and are consequently decorative in nature. Rock and sea stacks of all sizes are sprinkled along the coast adding more to the already incredible scene.
The whole stretch is a pleasure to see, great to drive and a dream to cycle. We spent the best part of three days making the trip. We cycled in the mornings before the traffic built up and were then sitting on the beach in the afternoons watching the surfers do their stuff. The advantage of the clear, cold nights were the clear, hot days that followed. We have had unbroken blue skies all the way from San Francisco, not a cloud in the sky for over a week.
One morning we met a guy from Canada who was also cycling to Mexico. We stopped for a drink and sat together at a fantastic spot overlooking the Pacific at the only cafe stop for miles. We chatted for ages about different places we had cycled and experiences we have had. We never asked him his name so have christened him Canadian Cliff because of his nationality and the location we met him! It made us realise how lucky we are to be doing this together and sharing the experience. We have met several people who are doing it alone and that must be hard in so many ways.
The area is also famous for the whale migration south to Mexico. Unfortunately, we were at the very beginning of the season and we were told there would be little chance of a sighting. That didn’t stop Sarah being on whale watch for three days! “It’s a whale” became a regular call that Steve would hear from behind. “No Sarah, it’s just a wave breaking on a rock”.
As we neared the end of this stretch we could see the landscape change in the distance as the cliffs ended and the low level rolling countryside started again. We both agreed it had been the most picturesque three days of the trip so far. As we started descending the last hill Steve heard the familiar shout from behind “It’s a whale”. He glanced over and there it was about 250 metres out to sea, the unmistakable sight of the water spouting from the blowhole of a humpback whale, then another, then another, then another!! A pod of about eight whales feeding in the bay. We sat and watched for about half an hour but unfortunately our mobile phone cameras were woefully inadequate to capture anything decent. We wished we had brought our better camera but space and weight have been at a premium on this trip, so we will have to live with the memories instead ….at least that way we are sure the whales will get bigger and more numerous overtime!!!
While we were sat watching the whales a group of women cyclists went past us, going up the hill, they were all saying hello as they went and commenting on what a beautiful day it was. They all seemed to be in their 50’s and 60’s and having a great time. One even offered to stop and take our photograph.
Eventually, all whale’d out, we got back on our bikes and continued on our way. We had planned to stay at a State Park about 10 miles away but it was a beautiful day, the roads were quiet and pretty flat and we had a bit of a tail wind so we decided to press on. We stopped to check a map on our phones for possible places to stay further along the coast and as we set off again the group of women cyclists had turned around and caught up with us, so we cycled along with them. Steve was chatting to a lady called Ann who was giving him tips on what to see in the area and Sarah started cycling with Arlene!! It turns out that they had been volunteers for a charity cycle ride the previous day and they were out to do the ride themselves that day. They were then stopping for lunch together at the end of their cycle. The ladies pulled off for lunch and Sarah caught up with Steve and said “Arlene is fantastic, she is 77 years old and flying along, she even said we could camp in her backyard and have a shower!” We both brushed it off as a nice gesture but had no intention of imposing on her. We continued on for about an hour and as were were still feeling good we decided to stay at the campsite we had initially scheduled in for the following night. “Let’s do 80 miles and then have a complete day off tomorrow” had been the conversation. Then things changed….quite a lot!
A car came past us and pulled off the road in front of us. A woman in a bright coloured cycling top jumped out and frantically started waving her arms in the air. “What is going on here” thought Steve, whereas Sarah immediately recognised her new cycling buddy Arlene. We pulled over and Arlene straight away reinforced her offer of camping in her back garden. “You’re from the UK, you’re too polite I knew you wouldn’t accept at the first offer”. It was the thought of a warm shower that swung it for Steve as we hadn’t been on a campsite with showers for three days. Arlene gave us her address, which was only a three mile detour from our route, in a place called San Luis Obispo which we had seen on the map but knew nothing about. She then jumped back in the car with her friend Judy and off they went. They even offered to take all our panniers which Sarah was well up for but Steve could see the scenario of “Well Officer it’s like this… We gave all our belongings to these two 70 year old ladies we just met on the side of the road and told us to meet them at this address which doesn’t exist”!!
A couple of hours later we arrived at Arlene’s address, which did exist, in fact it very much existed, it was a huge house in a great part of a great town. Arlene answered the door with her friend Marcia, who I think had come over for her protection, and had envisaged the scenario…”Well Officer these two strangers I met on the side of the road and brought home have taken all my possessions”!
We soon discovered Arlene was a liar…. she was never intending for us to camp in her garden. We were given the Royal treatment. Guest room and our own bathroom. It was magnificent. Then she said. “You two look pretty tired, I think you should stay two nights”. As we had cycled 76 miles that day and had planned to have the following day off it took Steve less than two seconds to accept the offer.
Over the next couple of days we had a ball and we laughed until our sides hurt. Arlene is a true character. She is funny and feisty and a real member of the local community and involved in all sorts of things from cycling, to yoga, to book club. Originally from Brooklyn she moved to California many years ago. She was definitely a case of “you can take the girl out of Brooklyn but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the girl”. “What the hell is this soap still doing on the knives” she would say to Steve while giving him a little slap as he tried to wash up!
On the first evening Marcia stayed for dinner. She had been to many of the places in South America where we had visited earlier in the year, so we chatted about that. The following morning her friend Shirley popped in for a visit. Shirley is 65 years old and a Rotarian who has raised an enormous amount of money for charity and is off to Vietnam in a few weeks to help with cleft palate operations on children there. She is also a cyclist but does not cycle with Arlene’s group as she is too strong so she cycles with the men! On the second evening her friend Judy came to dinner, she was also well travelled and great fun and we had another fantastic evening, eating great food and drinking cold beer.
When the time came for us to leave. Arlene loaded us up with some of her delicious banana bread and a stack of energy bars for our onward journey. We did meet up 14 miles down the road for a goodbye coffee in a lovely little town called Arrayo Grande. On the way there we passed a group of cyclists coming the other way. As we crossed one shouted out “Safe travel guys” … it was Shirley motoring along with the men.
The whole experience was inspirational. It shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. If you are reading this Arlene, “Thanks, we had a blast” (I wrote that last bit with my best Californian accent, with a little twang of Brooklyn!)
So it is on into Southern California and in many ways the last leg of our cycle, but we still have Los Angeles to negotiate and Steve has the small matter of a marathon to run. “Do I really have to do it Sarah? My legs are sooooo tired”.
“Yes you do. If a dog can surf, you can run a marathon”!