Biking Down The Coast: 1,800 Miles On Vintage 10 Speeds
Like most trips, it started as an idea, a hazy dreamy half wish. I had stumbled across a website about a person biking from Vancouver to Alberta and it struck me. I loved road trips. I loved my bike. No car, no problem.
Two days later I asked Megan if she wanted to ride from our home in Vancouver, British Columbia to Tijuana, Mexico the following summer. And as she always does, said yes.
And then I kind of forgot about it. But Megan, bless her heart, did not.
We tried training but it really wasn't our jam. We rode about 10 miles out to the university once, and did our first four-day test trip up the Sunshine Coast and down Vancouver Island, a trip which obliterated us, but taught us a lot (specifically that we probably wouldn't make it).
There was something to it, something that made it feel right. We were able to experience our surroundings slowly, more fully with biking — we felt every hill, smelled oceans and fields still miles in the distance, savoured the incremental changes in weather, in climate. We were outside all day every day, exposing ourselves to the brunt of the landscape and the elements. We were in tune with our surroundings — if it was rainy we got wet, if it was hot we were hot — and there is something to be said about that.
The thrill of using only your body to travel great distances is supremely satisfying. You feel a sort of glow, a slow-spreading skin-tingling exhilarating inner warmth, the pleasure and power of the possible. It is incredibly life-affirming.
For the first minute... then the pain kicks in.
I could barely walk for two weeks after that first trip, and Megan lost all feeling in her feet. After a month's recuperation we were off. For real and for big. First stop: Vancouver Island to visit a friend and eat homemade poutine.
And that's the thing we didn't quite realize at the time: we didn't need a whole lot of training (thankfully). We just needed to start slow, to ease into it... and of course stop for poutine.
The San Juan Islands were perfect for that. They are small. Hilly, yes, but small. They helped get us into the swing of things, and with perfect weather, too. If you ever get a chance to bike the San Juans, take it. They are magnificent. Quaint, rural, kind of rustic, picturesque, a specific island charm. Like our Gulf Islands only more American. Sometimes I look back and recall the San Juans as my favorite section of the trip, but there would be many more favorites to come.
We ferried to Anacortes, rode over Deception Pass, down Whidbey, got lost in some forested "shortcut" a ranger had recommended, explored old WWII underground bunkers, fell in love with Port Townsend, escaped the bitter Washington rain with a few bowls of delicious salmon chowder, biked down the Hood Canal, got in an accident, bussed to Olympia for repairs, camped on the side of an eight lane freeway, squished a million slugs under our tires, ate our weight in dried noodles, rode past an old abandoned nuclear power plant, and basically retraced the route of every Damien Jurado song ever.
It rained a lot in Washington. Literally every day after the San Juans. We were wet and exhausted and starting to feel kind of miserable.
But the rain let up the exact moment we crossed the Columbia River into Astoria, Oregon (a terrifying ordeal I might add — the bridge is busy and narrow and what scant shoulder there is, is littered with the carcasses of hundreds of dead seagulls you have to swerve around). It was weird though, the sun coming out like that. It felt like the end of a chapter, a bright beginning. We celebrated with maple whiskey smoked salmon and a huge $2 bottle of PBR.
The Oregon Coast is crazy beautiful. British Columbia is beautiful but its a different kind of beauty: more rugged, remote, untamed, un-highwayable. Oregon is like a postcard.
I was blown away by the beauty of Ecola and Cannon Beach; I just stood there, mouth agape and silently mouthing "oh my god, it's so beautiful, Megan are you looking at this? Oh my god." I'm not exaggerating here. This is not a joke. Eventually Megan had to drag me away. And because I had lain trembling and immutable at the view for so long we had to ride out in the dark. Up a mountain. In the dark. Up a mountain.
Deep into the journey and blinded by the headlights of on oncoming car, Megan rode off a bridge.
But don't worry, she was ok. Unless you count her crotch.
Oregon is awesome. It has everything. Well, everything except warm ocean beaches. But it has everything else.
Pistol River was cool, Cape Foulweather was cool, the sand dunes around Honeyman were cool — it was all very, very cool. But my favorite was probably the last leg of Oregon, through the Samuel H. Boardman scenic area. It was like they condensed all the splendour and majesty of the entire coastline into three easily missed pull-outs. It had everything. Except warm beaches.
But no worries. We were about to cross the border into California.
Making it to California felt like a milestone. California has a very real pull to it, and has figured as a sort of hazy halcyon in the North American consciousness for several hundred years. Its scale, its grandeur, its symbolism, its weather, its possibilities for reinvention, it all lends California an amorphous aura that changes shape to suit each of our utopian yearnings.
Within a few hours of crossing the border we were ascending into the Redwoods like whoa. The Redwoods filled us with awe, and to our exhausted and road-rattled minds seems like a perfect complement to biking. Here time had slowed down, was questioned and quieted. It felt so serene, so quiet, so eternal. We felt like inconsequential blips. There was a comfort in that.
I also got sick in the Redwoods. I was up all night, fertilizing the trees with explosive vomiting and diarrhea every ten minutes like the clockwork we thought we had eschewed, eventually too exhausted to lift my head from the vomit-laden dirt. We took the next day off to recuperate among the giant trees and swim in a cool clear meandering river. In the end it was kind of perfect, really. The delay made us realize that we wanted more days off. We had originally planned to have a week at the end lounging on some beach somewhere in Mexico, but we decided instead to spread that week out over various stops in California. We wanted to spend more time in the places we were perpetually passing through.
When it takes you an entire day to bike what would normally take an hour by car you start to find that campgrounds aren't always where you need them to be. Sometimes you get to camp out in windswept moon-bleached fields or on remote beaches blanketed by fog. Those are the best nights. Those are the nights you're really living.
With such long days, you have a lot of time to think about things. Those things are usually tasty treats, but unfortunately even grocery stores are sometimes few and far between. One time we were biking for five days without passing a grocery store. This would have been fine had we known and planned for it, but we didn't, so we resorted to eating canned noodles from a gas station supplemented with foraged forest greens. It sounds better than it was. Often when we did come across a store where the only food available was canned refried beans, chips, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and salsa. But really what more do you need? That's how we discovered cheesy beans, now a routine camp favorite.
Northern California is almost indescribably beautiful. The dry golden hills, giant mist-shrouded trees, thundering oceanside cliffs, little ornate Victorian towns, idyllic swimming holes... it is something special.
The ride into San Francisco is especially nice. We camped out in a field close to Tomales Bay and the early morning ride through Point Reyes, Muir Woods, Sausalito, and the Marin Headlands was calm, and uncrushed. Both underscored, but with a very potent excitement of being there. We took a blessed five days off in San Francisco. We had managed to wrangle a campsite in the Headlands but were raring and ready for some time in the city so we took an hour and managed to find a hotel on Mission over Independence Day and spent the next few days with our bikes parked just walking around drinking coffee, popping into shops, riding the metro, eating burritos, listening to the POP!POP!POP! of homemade fireworks, and exploring the city.
We also did some bike repairs and sent home our pants and sweaters and most of the tent. We wouldn't be needing those any longer!
Getting out of San Francisco was a bit of a trial, but once beyond city limits we were travelling down an endless wave of beaches, warm days, Steinbeck country... and of course, Big Sur!
What a rich and storied place. Big Sur is the largest area in the contiguous U.S. without roads or vehicular access, and in that spirit we strapped our hard lumpy panniers to our backs and headed up into the hills, hiking the arid fragrant trail to Syke Hot Springs. We saw lizards and ate marshmallows and slept under the stars beside a clear cool creek. It was idyllic stuff. Kerouac would have been proud.
Back on the road, we saw signs for Hearst Castle. There was no way we weren't going to check that out. We booked a tour and took it all in, not at all embarrassed that we probably hadn't showered in about a week. On the way out we stopped to see some huge ornery elephant seals lazing like fat kings on the beach. Our next stop was San Luis Obispo to see some more old buildings and eat finger food at the farmer's market. What a beautiful little town. Plus we got to sleep in someone's citrus-scented backyard.
To read the rest of this story and see how their journey ended, visit Field & Forest.
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About The Author
Megan and Emanuel are both from Vancouver, British Columbia, and they both really like going on trips. She cultivated a taste for travel and the outdoors from a young age, while he grew up in an isolated mountain valley and feels pretty at home in the wild. They started Field & Forest as a little celebration of adventure and discovery. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook as they continue to travel in and around Canada.