Picnic tables and Paradise!

Our next stop after Arlene’s involved a small detour. We headed inland, away from the coast to a town called Solvang. We had read about Solvang during our research for this trip and it looked a little different from many of the places we had visited so far, and so it proved to be. Solvang is a town founded by the Danish community over a hundred years ago in the middle of a beautiful wine growing region. Over the years it has developed into a tourist attraction and to be honest has probably gone a little too far.  The town has effectively become a stereotypical Hans Christian Anderson style village and gives the feeling of being in the middle of a theme park. It was definitely different to everywhere else we have been on this trip and for anyone who has been to the EPCOT park in Florida, it would have fitted in seamlessly there.

Solvang. Town or theme park?

We were soon back on our bikes and making our way back towards the coast. With just a week or so left to cycle there was a definite feeling of excitement between us especially when we looked on the map and saw that the next two days, both of 60 miles, appeared relatively flat. Day one went perfectly according to plan and after an initial 15 miles of up and down we hit the coast and an almost pan flat route for 45 miles. We were flying along and with the reduced weight of a few kilos we were averaging our highest speed of the trip, almost 15mph. The sun was still shining, spirits were high and we were closing in on Mexico fast.

This is easy!

Then came day two. What a difference! We expected a repeat of the previous day but that’s not how it worked out. The Santa Ana winds had blown up overnight and they were blowing at a steady 35 miles per hour straight into our faces and with gusts of 55 mph it was tough from the start. Throughout the trip so far winds have not been a factor, they have generally been light and either a tail or a cross wind and on the occasions we have ridden into the wind they have provided a cooling respite from the heat. But not today.

Stopping for a break at Point Magu.

Central and Southern California are in drought, we have seen evidence of this many times, especially in the dry Central Valley and when the Santa Ana wind blows it creates many problems not least of which is the threat of wildfires. As we pressed on very slowly into the wind we saw fires burning in the hills. In the city of Ventura smoke was spreading along the highway and we saw Police patrol cars positioned on major junctions presumably waiting to close the roads if it became too dangerous. Our progress was pedestrian like at best, long straight open roads (sometimes six miles in length) were draining us of energy, then we would have a short respite as the road made a short couple of turns before heading into the wind again. We checked the map and saw that Point Magu Naval Base marked the junction in the road where it turned South and we would have the wind at our side …. that was almost 40 miles into the day. We moved slowly on, our conversation became non existent, the only focus was battling the wind. Eventually we made the turn and with a huge amount of relief we headed south towards our campsite in Malibu.  Unfortunately this was also the part of the route where the flat road subsided and became a rollercoaster up and down road which would normally not have caused us any issues but with tired legs the road seemed to go on forever. “Will we ever get there?”

You can see the “Smoke on the water” in the distance.

Eventually, after two hours longer than the previous day and an average speed of 10mph, we pulled into the campsite utterly exhausted. We didn’t speak, we rested our bikes next to one picnic bench and Sarah lay down on the seat part of another, Steve lay down on the top of the bench and we both fell sound asleep, in the middle of the afternoon on a busy campsite.

Our Malibu campsite with comfortable picnic tables!

We didn’t see too much of Malibu, our site was in a fabulous location but by the time we woke up, showered, put up the tent, cooked and ate food it was dark and time for bed. Tomorrow was a big day, 50 miles across the metropolis of Los Angeles.

We both slept very well, no surprises there, and we were back on the bikes as the sun came up. We had planned to do this ride early on a Saturday morning and had built it up in our heads from other people’s experiences as one of the most difficult days of the trip, in the end it was nothing like what we expected, we had a great day.

With the sun coming up, very little traffic and the Santa Ana winds subsiding, we flew along Highway 1 into Santa Monica where we picked up a wide cycle path. It weaved it’s way next to, and in many places through the beach where we had sand on both sides. We cycled past the famous pier at Santa Monica, onto Venice Beach and Muscle Beach, passing runners, skateboarders and walkers and chatting to other cyclists. We were having a ball.

All quiet on the cycle path past Santa Monica pier.

The horrible experience of the day before was forgotten, well forgotten in our heads but maybe not our legs. Next came the Los Angeles Airport where we cycled, still on the beach, past the end of the runway before two more great beaches in Hermosa and Redondo. Twenty-six miles on a bike path, on the beach. Amazing.

Passing the airport runway in Los Angeles.

Then it was back on Highway 1 for a few miles before we saw the huge cranes, oil tankers, cargo ships and cruise liners that signalled we were entering America’s largest sea port and the city of Long Beach……It’s Marathon time!

Is it still the middle of the night?

Our Airbnb was only a mile from the start of the race. The Marathon started at 6am so we were up at 4.30am and, after a quick breakfast, we walked together in the dark down to the waterfront. There were all sorts of different distances being run so the area was packed with thousands of competitors and spectators. At 6am Steve was off. With sunrise not until 7am the first few miles were run in a dark, red and orange glow as a magnificent sunrise exploded. Afterwards Steve said he had never started a race to such a fantastic sight.

A great place for a marathon!

At the start of this trip he had expectations of running a pretty good time. But as time and events have progressed he has realised that wasn’t going to happen and, after the day of the Santa Ana winds, survival to the finish was the target. In the end he was pleased with his time especially since he found it quite hard from mile six onwards, but he stuck with it and finished in 3 hours 28 minutes (with an emergency toilet stop which cost him 3 minutes!). He came in 127th position out of almost 1800 finishers and managed a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.

Right. That’s over, now back on the bikes!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the long beach in Long Beach and realising that we had only three more days of cycling left. The next morning we set off to start those three days. Steve’s legs were not feeling too bad after the run the day before much to Sarah’s disappointment. She had secretly been hoping he would have trouble walking never mind cycling and was all set for an easy three days. Unfortunately not!

South of Long Beach we started to pass through stereotypical Southern California (SoCal) beaches and we loved it. Beach town after beach town, palm tree after palm tree, wave after wave and surfer after surfer after surfer. We are sure you get the picture. The sky was cloudless and blue…..again. The sun was shining…..again. It was like cycling through a Hollywood surfing movie. We stopped for coffee at Huntington Beach which is where surfing was introduced to the mainland from Hawai’i. Also if you have ever been into a Hollister clothing shop you will have probably seen the live feed of a beach displayed through a webcam. That is Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach.

Surfing is a way of life in this part of the world. People surf before and after work and school and sometimes during it too. Any opportunity and the surf boards are out. We had to be content with watching for now but if the weather holds out, we intend to have a couple of days at the beach before we fly home. Steve has threatened to hire a board and show off his skills……that should be entertaining to the locals!

We did have to make one deviation from the coast. Camp Pendleton is a big airforce base situated right on the California coast. In the past it was possible to cycle through the camp, but after 9/11 security was tightened and has continued to be tightened still further so that now if you want to cycle through you have to apply months in advance and have fingerprints and photographs taken, almost like applying for a visa. This isn’t practical for most people so the authorities have opened up Interstate 5 to cyclists for an 8 mile stretch around the base. Cycling on a 10 lane Interstate was an experience in itself. Luckily we hit it at a relatively quiet time and the shoulder was very wide making cycling noisy but easy, that is until we came across an unattended maintenance truck completely blocking the shoulder. We had to cycle around it in lane 1 timing it to avoid the fast moving traffic!!

Sarah on Interstate 5.

After a couple of days cycling from Long Beach we pulled into our final stop before the Mexican border, La Jolla. This is an area on the coast which is at the very North of San Diego, 15 miles from downtown and at the Southern end of the Torrey Pines reserve which encompasses the world famous golf course home to where Tiger Woods has had much success. It is a beautiful area with rocky coves, gorgeous beaches and a town centre with great shops, eateries and a village like atmosphere.

La Jolla Cove.

La Jolla was our big treat of the trip to ourselves and as we were expecting to be pretty tired when we arrived here we had booked an eight day stay in an Airbnb. The plan was to stay here until Steve’s son and his girlfriend arrive from the UK. It was a bit of a gamble, eight days living in someone’s house, who we had never met, could have its problems but it looked lovely on the website and the reviews were good.

The first part of our plan was pretty spot on, we were tired, very tired. In fact we have developed a new saying for ourselves (after our windy entrance to Malibu) “How tired are you Sarah,” asked Steve “I’m picnic table tired” came the reply!

The second part of the plan, our accommodation, well where do we start? As we cycled into La Jolla we saw that the houses looked pretty smart and the further up into the surrounding hills, the smarter they become. As we were heading for the address we were heading further and further uphill. When we arrived we had to check the address several times. In fact we were still checking it when the front door opened, a guy appeared and asked “Sarah and Steve?”

The house was unbelievable and so was our hostess Marianela. The guy answering the door was her son Jan and he was staying just that night before flying to France for a few weeks. So it was just us and Marianela and we had a great time.

The house by day.
The house at night.

The house had been built by Marianela and her family 3 years ago. It is Spanish colonial and Mexican in style, reflecting the family’s heritage and it was decorated accordingly with fabulous furniture, paintings and photographs. It was a real family home with one wall full of photographs from four generations. It was a huge house and everything was of the highest quality but it was it’s location and view that was beyond anything we could have hoped for. Set into the steep hillside it had an unbroken view out across the golf course and on to the Pacific Ocean. Our bedroom had a balcony facing the same way. There was a beautiful pool and hot tub set in gorgeous grounds and we had it all to ourselves. We had to pinch ourselves everyday we were there to remind ourselves it was real.  It was the perfect place to relax and recover from our cycle and everything else we have done on this trip so far.

Paradise. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Marianela was the perfect hostess. Each morning she made us breakfast, with so many choices. Some of it was traditional Mexican and it was delicious. Often we could not eat again until late afternoon. We cycled into town for coffee and spent the days lazing around in the superb surroundings. Steve did try to do some training on the first couple of days but had to give in as the cycling, running, walking and the marathon caught up with him. We were in and out of the pool to cool down and then into the hot tub at sunset with a glass of wine, before cooking dinner and either watching a movie or chatting away with Marianela for hours. We had landed in the absolute perfect place for us that week. We were blown away.

Steve and Marianela enjoy the hot tub and sunset.

Oh we almost forgot…..there was the small issue of the last 30 miles to the border…..we must do that someday!!……..No… we are only joking. On our first day in La Jolla we were up and off to complete the task. Fifteen miles into downtown San Diego and then across the bay to the Coronado Peninsula. As we cycled along the narrow strip of land that links the peninsula to the mainland we had a great view of the city and it’s huge Naval presence. There were massive aircraft carriers and battleships tied up and helicopter gunships flying overhead. Once off the peninsula, things started to get very built up and very Mexican. We weaved our way through the grid road system and we were soon in the border town of San Ysidro and the busiest land border crossing in the world. It was huge, organised chaos, or maybe not organised, who knows. We struggled initially to find the pedestrian route but were eventually guided in the right direction, down a path, around a corner, up a ramp and there it was, a revolving gate into Mexico.

MEXICO. We made it!

We had done it. What started off two years before as an off the cuff comment by Sarah had been researched, planned and executed. We had cycled from the top to the bottom of the USA, from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. We had cycled 1873 miles (3014 kilometers) carrying all our equipment. Job done.

Even though no photography was allowed we explained our situation to a border official who very kindly took our picture and we walked away from the border with a sense of self satisfaction. We went straight to the public transport station and caught a train, with our bikes, back to San Diego and then at a super slow pace we cycled back to La Jolla where we have spent the last few days busy doing absolutely nothing!

A great place to do nothing at all.

We still have the small matter of two visitors from the UK and a trip to Las Vegas to contend with, so we will do one more post before we fly home explaining how we lost all our money at a roulette table on “The Strip”. Viva Las Vegas baby!

P.S. We normally write these posts together. Steve puts the narrative together and then Sarah corrects his spelling and grammer and then adds a few things herself. After that we sit down and select a few photographs to add in.

This last paragraph is done entirely by Steve so apologese for the bad spelin and gramma!

I just want to take this opportunity to say how proud I am of Sarah and what she has acheieved. Two years ago her cycling consisted of accompanying me on my long runs. 10 to 15 miles or so at 7 or 8mph (sometimes 9mph on a good day)! From the moment she made the off the cuff suggestion “Let’s cycle from Canada to Mexico” she has never failed to impress me. She has prepared so well and trained so hard. Just getting to the start was an achievement. Every ride we have been on she has just put her head down and got on with it. Gradually increasing up to 30 miles, then 50 miles, then 80 miles. In France and Italy I would send her up mountain after mountain and she never questioned it, she just did it and became stronger and stronger.

Throughout this trip she has been rock solid. Never complaining, even when I knew she was so tired she could cry she just kept going. The day we cycled 90 miles out of San Francisco, the day it rained from morning until night in Oregon and the day of the Santa Ana winds are just 3 days that spring to mind.

She camped in the cold, the heat the dust and the damp and each morning got out of the tent packed it away and set off on the bike with a smile on her face.

I know this will be a major achievement in her life and so it should be.

Well done Sarah. I am so so proud of you. You are amazing.

P.P.S. You can no longer say “I’m not a cyclist” You are and you are a bloody good one!

4 Replies to “Picnic tables and Paradise!”

  1. CONGRATULATIONS GUYS! What an amazing achievement for you both. So many amazing memories created and new friends made along the way. I’m so pleased for you both. x

  2. Aw, bloody love you kids. You’re both incredible for what you’ve done and still lots more to do… left me with a little tear in my eye, but so proud that I, as well as the rest of us, could share this experience with you (by proxy). You truly are an inspiration to those who question, time and time again, the need to get out of the rat race, to see what life is about and what it has to offer. You’ve both grasped this with open arms and it’s truly amazing what you’ve accomplished. Steve, I don’t know how the hell you do it! Cycling all that way and then a marathon!! Congratulations on your achievement – bloody well deserved. So looking forward to seeing you both – apologies though…. the scenery may not be quite up to the standards of the “West Side”!!
    Love Aaron xoxoxox

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