San Diego '98



Tour Report: Orange County to San Diego

Memorial Day Weekend 1998  

Tour Preparation & Packing

Due to the holiday weekend, I had planned to reserve campgrounds in advance. The AAA campbook mentioned that reservations could be made up to two months in advance - so in late March I called to make reservations, and to my surprise the campgrounds were full. It turns out that the AAA book was wrong and that camping reservations for California State Parks can be made up to seven months in advance.

I called Doheny State Beach and confirmed that they had a small hiker/biker site - no reservations, first come, first served, with a limit of only 5 people. I wasn't able to get a hold of San Elijo State Beach, so I assumed that its hiker/biker site was similar.

Our main packing dilemma was how to fit two people's worth of gear onto one tandem bike for two. We each used a rear pannier for our personal stuff, and used the front panniers for cooking gear, food, and stuff we wanted access to while riding (like our jackets). I got a big stuff sack for the two sleeping bags, and another stuff sack for the two Thermarest pads. We arranged these two bags and the tent across the top of the rear rack like three logs. The total weight of the bike and gear was about 105 pounds.

Saturday, May 23
Orange (California) to Dana Point, 35 miles

After some last minute packing, we rode down to Laguna Beach, where we would pick up Pacific Coast Highway and follow the Adventure Cycling route to San Diego. We stopped for lunch, and we were already being asked, "where are you riding from?" I briefly thought about lying and saying Seattle or San Francisco or some other far away place, but I mumbled "Orange" and then highlighted that we were riding to San Diego for the weekend.

After lunch we headed south on PCH. Traffic was a little hairy, with 2 lanes of traffic in each direction, and parked cars on the side of the road. We got a bike lane/shoulder and less traffic after passing South Laguna.

A steep downhill through Dana Point helped us test our brakes. We made a pit stop at the bottom of the hill, and our rims were quite toasty from only using the cantilever brakes. After that, we didn't mind carrying a couple of pounds of extra weight for the additional drum brake!

Since Doheny State Beach is the first state campground when travelling south from the metropolitan Los Angeles area (the closest one to the north is near Malibu, about 85 miles away), we arrived early at 2 PM to secure a hiker/biker spot. The hiker/biker site was in a small area right behind the restrooms, and there was already one tent set up, so we immediately staked a claim to some real estate. Within an hour, two others with tents showed up, filling the site to capacity - we were glad to show up early!

Later in the afternoon, the owners of the first tent - a couple from Europe - showed up. They were touring on two single bikes and had gone separate ways for the day to do some shopping. This was their final stop on a four month tour starting in Central America and ending in the U.S. I asked if they needed some advice on how to get to the airport, but they had some friends who were picking them up at the campsite and driving them to Los Angeles International.

The campground was fairly noisy during the early evening hours, but luckily the noise died down after 10 PM. Unfortunately, the trains would wake us up momentarily every couple of hours.

Sunday, May 24
Dana Point to Cardiff by the Sea, 45 miles

I was finally able to get the Whisperlite International stove to a slow simmer this morning (it usually has two settings: off, or full blast), and I was able to cook pancakes without burning them! After breakfast, we chatted with the European couple about their travels before heading off for the day.

After riding along the coast through Capistrano Beach, the ride took us through the coastal hills of San Clemente. We found it easier to follow the "bike route" signs through San Clemente instead of using the Adventure Cycling maps.

South of San Clemente, a severly damaged bike path was the only alternative to the freeway to get to the old road through San Onofre. Luckily, the damage was restricted to a short downhill section at the beginning of the path. The old road (not open to automobile traffic) roughly parallels the freeway and connects to the campground at San Onofre State Beach. We rode several miles along the road through the campground, with train tracks and freeway to the left, and campsites to the right.

After the state beach, we rode on another old road before crossing under the freeway and to the entrance gate for Camp Pendleton. Camp Pendelton is a large Marine base along the coast which is bordered on the north by the outer Los Angeles suburbs, and on the south by the San Diego suburbs. As such, the freeway is the only way for automobiles to get from Los Angeles to San Diego, but cyclists are allowed to ride through the roads on the base.

The guard seemed rather perplexed when we stopped at the open entrance gate. I expected him to check our identification or sign us in, but he just waved us through.

Riding the ten miles through the base, we passed a Boy Scout camp, various official buildings, tank crossing warning signs, old tanks along the side of the road, and cookie-cutter style marine housing. However, we were most surprised at the number of cyclists passing through the base.

We exited the base at Oceanside, which promptly returned us to civilization as we know it. In a haste to find a place for lunch, we settled on the first place we could find that had an outdoor patio where we could keep our bike at arm's reach. The food was OK, but the service was horribly slow - we suspected we were being singled out for some reason and tipped accordingly.

Traffic on Coast Highway through Oceanside wasn't very pleasant - we passed the same bus about seven or eight times. Once we got to Carlsbad, traffic lightened up, and a separate bike lane and a beach view - complete with beach goers and surfers - suddenly appeared.

There were a few rolling hills in Carlsbad - going uphill, we even passed an unloaded racing bike!

We passed through the (relatively) small communities of Leucadia and Encinitas. Unfortunately, we didn't have too much time to stop, since we wanted to get to our destination in time to secure a campsite. We arrived at San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff by the Sea a little after 3 PM. The campground personnel were very friendly, asking us where we came from, how far we'd gone, etc.

Unlike Doheny State Beach, the hiker/biker campsite was a "real" campsite - it was the same size as a normal campsite, and not tucked in wherever they could find space. There was plenty of room - we only had to share it with a small family local to the area, who had brought their gear in by foot and bike.

The campground was on some bluffs overlooking the ocean. After dinner, we walked down the stairs to check out the beach. There wasn't really a beach - just some rocks where the ocean met the cliffs. Lots of surfers and boogie boarders were out in the water, trying to enjoy as many of the waves as they could before sundown.

Monday, May 25
Return Home

I couldn't get a repeat performance of yesterday's pancakes, since I got the stove too hot, and I forgot to grease the frying pan. Oh well, a good excuse to finish our bananas and granola bars we had bought.

When we checked out of the campsite, the attendant in the booth noticed that another group had stayed at the hiker/biker site. He asked if we had any problems, and we told him everything went OK. He inquired as to our next destination - we said we're taking the train back home. So he gave us directions to the train station.

The train station in Solana Beach was about a 2.5 mile ride from the campground. We had some time to kill, since the next train that took baggage left at 1 PM. We strapped the sleeping bags, tent, and mattress pad together, and we checked these in with the panniers at the station. We locked our tandem to a nearby rack and walked around town.

Solana Beach also had a small town feel, with the shops lined up Cedros Ave. Most of them wouldn't open until 11 or 12 with the holiday, though. So we crossed the train tracks onto Old Hwy. 101 and hung out at a coffee house & juice bar for a while. Afterwards, we checked out camping gear and other stuff at the Adventure 16 store.

Before the trip, I did some research and found out that the San Diegan trains that run from Santa Barbara to San Diego have bike racks in the baggage cars that accept unboxed bikes. I wasn't sure how this was going to work out with a tandem, though. When we had bought our tickets earlier in the morning, we found out that they charge $5 for single bikes and $10 for tandems.

When our train arrived, we brought the unloaded, unboxed tandem to the baggage car before boarding the train. I never did get a first hand look at the racks, since all I had to do was lift the tandem up to the attendant in the baggage car, and she took care of everything else.

When we got off the train in Santa Ana, we walked over to the baggage car. By the time we got there, the baggage car attendant was handing our tandem down to another attendant. Our panniers and gear were sitting right next to the tandem on the baggage golf cart. Wow, that was real easy!

We strapped everything back on the bike and rode the seven miles back to our house. The last mile - the steep hill on Newport Ave. before our house - was the hardest riding of the whole trip. We climbed the hill at a snail's pace of 4 miles per hour, but at least we had a low enough gear to do it in.

We got home safe and sound at 3:30 PM - just in time to shower and change for a holiday dinner at the in-laws' house that night!


Page Last Edited (though probably not for content): 14 September 2010