Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Stunning Beaches and Windy Deserts Dec. 27th-31st

From the journal of Tamara

Dec. 27th
It was pretty much a perfect morning, tailwind, flat road, sunshine, sparkling blue Sea of Cortez on the left and jagged desert mountains on the right. It wasn't long before we were in the town of Mulege, where we bumped into the Austrian cyclists again and decided to bike with them to a beach on the Bahia de Concepcion.
They have a lot more stuff than we do! 
It made for some fun times on the beach with warm food and music.

Turns out, the bahia (bay) is simply amazing. There is no noise and no development except for small shelters known as palapas made from palm leaves. The sand is white and dotted with perfect shells. The water is clear, aqua blue, and shallow for a long way out. Did we find paradise?

On the beach we met two German cyclists riding a tandem bike from Alaska to Argentina as well as some other friendly traveling Europeans.  We stayed up late talking and sharing stories. 
Check out Robert and Sabrina's blog. (The two German cyclists) 

Dec. 28th 
People come to this beach planning to stay a day and instead stay for weeks. We were also easily sucked in. After a morning of painting and sand sculptures, Danny and I borrowed goggles from Robert and Sabrina and went swimming out to a small reef. In the clear waters we spotted stingrays, pufferfish, red coral, schools of small stripy and clear fish, and sea stars. What an amazing underwater world! To warm up after our swim we hiked around and did some bird watching. A nighttime campfire with our new European friends sealed the deal on a wonderful day.
A painting I did on the tandem.

Phillip, Nikki, Jakob, Robert and Sabrina- you guys are awesome! See you down the road.

Dec. 29th
After enjoying an amazing sunrise over the water, we sadly said goodbye to the beautiful beach and our friends. Our morning ride took us from beach to beach along the pristine bay, each stunning in its own way. Unfortunately, the road turned inland and we were in the desert for the rest of the day. 
After 70 miles of hard riding we happily greeted the town of Loreto. Here we found a hotel at a good price, and Mike, the friendly guy who we met in San Ignacio on Christmas. 
Our friend Mike

Mike generously took us out for a simply delicious dinner of giant burritos and flan, and introduced us to several of his friends in the area. Rick and Andrea it was great to meet you! And Mike, we can't thank you enough for everything. 

Dec. 30th 
After a late night out we slept in and spent the morning exploring Loreto. The street by the ocean known as the malecon is beautifully developed with tiled sidewalks, stylish hotels and restaurants. It was unlike anything we had seen in Mexico. 
The Malecon

After riding along the ocean for a few blocks we turned back into town on a cobblestone pedestrian street. Here little shops line the way, and trees are cut to form archways over the road. In the main square is the oldest mission in Baja, a gorgeous historic building with a iconic bell tower and stained glass windows. 
The Mission 

Riding out of town we enjoyed the blue waters of the Sea of Cortez for 20 more miles before turning inland to the coastal, deserty mountains. 
Goodbye ocean
Hello mountains!

Here we started the hill we had been warned about, twisting steeply up and up and up. Despite the heat we pedaled hard and made good time. It helped that the scenery was fantastic. Unfortunately the hill didn't really end; it just turned into more smaller hills and we picked up a headwind. Very tired after 40 miles, we stopped at a small place selling burritos and asked to camp. Before we had even finished speaking the guy was smiling, nodding his head, showing us where to camp, and taking orders for burritos. Such nice people here.
Our campsite

Dec. 31st
We woke up early and enjoyed our now standard breakfast of avocados and tortillas. Avocados are so cheap and delicious here we each eat at least 1 a day. 
After a few hills, our road flattened out and we zoomed through expansive desert into farm country. Here the traffic picked up but thankfully the road widened to 4 lanes. Since it's New Year's Eve we decided to stop early at a small, well maintained campground. We're mixing up some special salsa for dinner tonight and relaxing. 
Feliz Año Nuevo!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Some Photos

Our narrative will be updated at some point soon.

With Philip and Nikki, Cyclists from Austria

Bahia de Concepcion

Baja Mountains

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sea of Cortez!

It was sad to say goodbye to the wonderful oasis we discovered at Casa Leree, but we were also excited to reach some warm ocean water. Late morning we said goodbye to Juanita and her wonderful family of dogs. Juanita, we can't thank you enough for everything!
The puppy could ride here and I wouldn't even notice!

Our road soon brought us to a wide desert valley in the shadow of Volcan tres virgines, a volcano so large that its top was shielded in clouds.
 The volcanic landscape provided for interesting scenery as we began a spectacular winding desent down into another large desert plain. Here, the clouds dissipated somewhat and a tailwind picked up! What luck we've had with winds recently!
In no time at all we had a beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez far below. Thus began the steepest descent of my life. Whoever built this road forgot that there's a lot of truck traffic. We didn't measure but the grades were easily over 20%.
Our welcome to the ocean was not as picturesque as you might imagine. The road became rutted and filled with huge potholes. We passed the dump and then the large copper mine, which is the main reason why the town of Santa Rosalia exists. Once in town we admired the church designed entirely out of steel by the same architect who created the Eiffel Tower of France, enjoyed some bread from a famous local bakery, and met two cyclists from Austria also biking from Alaska to Argentina!
Looking forward to sandy beaches tomorrow.
- Tamara

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Desert Oasis, December 24-25

We set off from Guerrero Negro early, trying to make it as close as we could to San Ignacio, a true desert oasis, where we would spend Christmas Day.  The riding started off well with a tailwind!  I put an exclamation point there because tailwinds are just so exciting for us, especially on this ride:
Not much to entertain the eyes.  Getting through the desert as fast as possible was the name of the game.  We did see a crested caracara, a large, eagle-like bird native to the Baja, but apart from that, it was pretty boring.  45 miles later, and a whole lot closer to those mountains in the distance in the picture, we reached the town of Vizcaino.  The tailwind was still blasting, and the hope of reaching San Ignacio that day entered our minds.  Maybe, just maybe, if the tailwind stayed with us.

The tailwind did stay with us - for about twenty more miles.  Then the wind changed completely, and we found ourselves biking into the wind, yet, by this time, motivated to make it to San Ignacio.  The sun started to set... My odometer said 79 miles... It must be over the next hill!  But it wasn't there, and we kept going.  And going, and going, and going, until it was almost dark.  Finally, about 7 miles after where it should have been according to our map, we saw a town in the distance.  San Ignacio!  We stayed at the first hotel we came to, a spacious and quiet place called Rice and Beans.

The next morning, Christmas morning, we rode a few miles into the town of San Ignacio.  Amidst the swaying palms is the town plaza, at the head of which is the old mission, a grand and wonderfully preserved building.
Next to the plaza is a place called Casa Leree, which houses a bookstore and a comprehensive history of the area and its surroundings.  Until recently it was also a nice bed and breakfast.  The proprietor, historian, and former innkeeper is a soft-spoken lady originally from San Francisco named Juanita, who moved down here a number of years ago.  We weren't sure if her place was open for Christmas Day (it's also her home), but she welcomed us right in and showed us around.  Within a few minutes, she had invited us to her dinner that night, as well as to stay at her place that night!  People are wonderful.  
The Entrance to Casa Leree


Juanita has two incredibly cute puppies.  And, recently, a canyon wren has moved in and built a nest on a support beam in the old barn, which is now the living room.  The house and yard are open and colorful, surrounded by shade trees and upbeat music from the neighboring houses.  It is a place of peace, an oasis within the oasis.  We are so fortunate to have been able to spend the day there.

After wandering around the town, cooking food for the dinner, and painting/birdwatching at the river, we headed to dinner at Tootsie's, a local restaurant owned by a Canadian couple. The entire English-speaking community of San Ignacio was there, along with a few guests like us, for a total of maybe 25 people.  We brought some salad and quinoa stir fry and enjoyed all the delicious dishes prepared by other guests and by the owners of Tootsie's.  We also met a bunch of fantastic people and had a great time in general.  What a wonderful day in San Ignacio!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guerrero Negro

In the dusty little town of Guerrero Negro, population 13,000, there are three small bike shops and a bird refuge!  And, of course, 100 taco stands, just like every other town.  We spent today birdwatching, doing laundry, figuring out our future on the internet, and eating a meal without tortillas for the first time in over a week.
The bird refuge 

A spit of sand poking into the ocean


Monday, December 22, 2014

Tailwind! December 21-22

We're up at 6:00 but on the road by 8:30. This is because we must haul our bikes over the rocks and cacti that are between our campsite and the road and then fix two flat tires. But when we start riding we quickly forget the rough start to the morning. We have a tailwind!! All day it blows us onward and we cruise. Along with the surrounding cacti we start seeing lots of Yuccas, some relative to the Joshua Tree. In the distance are red-tinged desert mountains, buttes and mesas. This part of the desert is beautiful.
Awesome cacti everywhere.

In no time at all we're in the first "town" of the day. We stop at one of two shops selling tires to get some water. The guy working there gives us purified water for free- our Christmas present, he says. We very much appreciate it.
Continuing to ride we start seeing more trees of the white, spiny and gnarly variety. The increased plant life means we can find a good spot of cool shade for lunch. We stop once more in another small town to get more water and tortilla chips to enhance dinner, then  continue until the sun begins to set.
Winter solstice today! More and more daylight to ride by each day now. We're thinking about and sending warm hugs to our freezing friends in Fairbanks.
- Tamara

December 22
We´re going to try today to make it to Guerrero Negro.  Hopefully the wind cooperates.  We make good time to Nuevo Rosarito, a small town.  It´s not even the smallest dot on our map, yet there´s only a restaurant and a small shop.  Not much, but enough to fill up water, thankfully.  We bike through rolling hills, small hills with mountains in the distance.  Scraggly Joshua Trees here and there provide all the excitement the vegetation can provide, and we can see the ocean way out in the distance.  Gradually the terrain flattens out even more, and a tailwind picks up!  We discuss Spanish grammar and words as we ride, and the gaps in my knowledge become apparent.  If you ever think you know something, try and teach it.

We have a great lunch in Villa Jesus Maria, another small town.  The usual cheese and cucumber tortillas are supplemented by avocados and a bean and cheese burrito each.  Stuffed and happy, we ride fast.  Mostly we´re riding fast because of the continuing tailwind, which is much appreciated.  Maybe the wind is making up for our time in Canada.

The environment, our surroundings, are the most boring and uninteresting I´ve ever ridden through.  It´s completely flat other than a dip here and there, some small flowers and bushes sparsely dotting the sand, and that´s it.  There´s no shoulder, so the infrequent trucks passing do keep things a little bit interesting.  Eventually we see a gigantic flag in the distance: the 28th Parallel!  Baja Sur!  The entrance to the new state is marked by a military zone, in the middle of which is a big gray whale skeleton and an info board.  We stop, and the soldiers take an interest in our activities, so we quickly leave.  Why have an info board in the middle of a military area?
The giant flag!

We´re in Guerrero Negro now camping behind a hotel.  And apparently there´s a party going on at this internet cafe from where we´re writing all this...
- Danny


I was only able to load 14 of them from this slow computer in Guerrero Negro... but here they are anyway.

Baja Norte, December 19-20

December 19
We leave our hotel in El Rosario early and bike into the desert hills.  These are big hills with steep ups and downs, not easy riding.  To compound the frustration, Tam keeps getting flats and she can´t find anything in the tire.  So we keep changing and patching the tubes and continuing on.
I am not a big fan of the desert, especially biking through the desert, but this is an interesting area.  There are huge saguaro cacti everywhere, boojum trees (cirios in Spanish), and ocotillos.  The saguaros are like trees, their stout, upright limbs like naked trunks adorned with spines instead of branches.  The boojum trees are even stranger.  They start wide at the base and taper straight upward to a narrow point, sometimes forty feet high.  They also lack ¨normal¨ branches, though they often have flowering or branched tops.  Were the cacti and boojums to have branches, this would be a veritable forest!  But they don´t, so there´s no shade to be found.

Awhile down the road, we meet another cyclist, Omar.  He´s from Cancun and is biking all around Mexico.  Really nice guy.  We enjoy talking for a bit.  He gives us a tip of a good place to go in about twenty miles, but it´s getting late and, with the headwind, we don´t make it.  We set up camp at a random spot off the road.

December 20
There´s frost on the tent.  Mexico is cold?  We change Tam´s tire again.  The hole´s in the same spot as the last two changes.  We scour the area again, not finding anything again.  We finally put a boot over the area and hope that it works.  Back on the road, we head through more cacti and boojums and jumbled rocks reminiscent of Joshua Tree.  A sign appears: ¨Pinturas Rupestres¨.  We stop and hike a short way up to see these indigenous pictographs.  They´re well preserved, but we don´t stay long enough to make any sense of them.

In the town of Cataviña, just after lunch, we stop at a restaurant Omar (the Mexican cyclist we met yesterday) recommended.  We weren´t planning on eating, just getting some water, but we start talking with a nice guy and, after he invites us to eat with him and his wife, we sit down and eat some flavorful huevos rancheros. His name is Cenovio, and he´s a filmmaker and a self-described adventurer like us: next year he plans to ride a horse the length of Baja!  It was great to meet and talk with Cenovio.

It´s already late when we go.  The terrain soon opens up, and we can see for miles in every direction.  No more big cacti, no more trees, no more anything except small bushes, low cholla cacti, and some rocks.  Lots of rocks, actually, as we find out when we try to camp off the road.  Over our walk to get far enough off the road to minimize visibility and noise, we end up carrying our bikes for probably half.  Fingers crossed that Tam´s tire holds air tonight...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Things Have a Way of Working Out

Yesterday afternoon, a bit shocked from the explosion of my wheel, I started doing everything I could to figure out how to get a new one. First I contacted my parents, who were amazing and immediately jumped the the rescue, contacting shops and evaluating the options of sending something from the US. Then I sent e-mails to bike enthusiasts in Baja via warmshowers asking if they could help. A bunch of good leads turned up but most promising was Salvador from Fass Bikes, just north of here in Vicente Guerrero. Immediately upon seeing my e-mail he contacted a shop in Tijuana and had a wheel on its way. Can't beat that service!

This morning Danny and I rode the local public transport system a couple hours north. This meant that we sat on a crowded white coach bus and watched Frozen in Spanish. In case you are wondering, "let it go" was changed to "libre soy" (I'm free) in Spanish and is just as catchy.

Once in Vicente Guerrero we did some chores (grocery shopping, bank, etc.) and I tried my first ever fish taco for lunch in an effort to adapt my stomach to some of the meat I may need to eat as we head south. It was quite good- deep fried fish smothered in key lime, onions, and flavorful salsa can't really go wrong. 
Most importantly we met Salvador, who spoke amazing English and had acquired the perfect wheel for me. He is a fantastic guy all about helping cyclists in any way he can. 
Salvador from Fass Bike

Also thanks to our new friend we got a ride back to El Rosario where we had left our bikes at a hotel. Not just an ordinary ride- we were in an 18 wheeler going to pick up tomatoes from a farm down south. Never imagined we'd be in the front cab of one of these! 
View from our truck.

We arrived before the sun had even set and I had enough time to finish my book before getting ready for tomorrow.
Thanks again to everyone who helped us out today! I can hardly believe that a busted rim in B.C. Mexico only delayed us by a day. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wheel Troubles

We headed out this morning fearing the worst of traffic.  And, for a few miles, it was pretty bad.  We rode on the dirt paths paralleling the road in order to avoid the trucks.  The going was slow.  Then, about 15 miles from San Quintin, the traffic disappeared!  Even though we were fighting a headwind, we were elated.

The road for this first part took us on the relatively flat coastal plan.  We could see waves rolling in far offshore, and we briefly contemplated going out to the beach.  Maybe tomorrow.  Too cold.  We stopped for a moment at the top of a small hill to take in the scenery.  A fence led a few hundred yards down to the ocean, but apart from that and the ribbon of road, we could see no sign of humans.  Only sand, desert, and some plants here and there.

We had taken but two pedals on the road after our break when we heard a loud BANG! and Tam found herself with a flat tire.  But not just any old flat: the metal rim had blown out!  And just at that moment, it began to rain.  We took stock of the situation: an unrideable and unfixable wheel meant we had to hitchhike.  Fortunately we didn't wait long and got a ride to the next town, El Rosario, about 20 miles away, where we found a cheap hotel (200 pesos = $14.39), and set about finding a new wheel.  We'll probably be here for the next few days figuring things out.
Rim separated from... rim

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Baja Norte, December 13-16

Pictures will be added when I am able.

December 13
Vamos a Ensenada
We contacted a guy on warmshowers about staying in Ensenada tonight, so we had to make it there.  The road out of Tecate begins with a huge hill.  There's a new road being built but it's not quite done, so we rode on that.  Good thing, because the drivers are crazy.  The traffic laws seem more like suggestions.  Fortunately, once we were back on the main road, there was  a  big shoulder for miles.  We had been told that it's hilly, but really the Spanish word for hilly, montuoso, brings to mind the correct terrain.  On all but the steepest hills, there are houses and stores.  Everyone is selling something; if all of Mexico is like this, we won't ever have to carry much food or water.

Two giant hills and 40 miles later, we came to the Ruta del Vino, the wine route.  This area, the Valley of Guadalupe, is the Napa Valley of the south.  Over 50 wineries are here, many with signs in English, a sure clue to a touristy area.
We picked up some olives from a roadside stand, a gift for our hosts tonight.  Then, finally, we crested the last pass.  In the words and creative orthography of William Clark, "Ocian in view!"  Our descent flew by, and suddenly the smell of fish filled our nostrils, almost to a revolting extent.  This was El Sauzal, a city just north of Ensenada.  Yet if it were me making the map, I would have just made Ensenada a bigger dot, because there was no in-between, no empty space between the two cities.  All was filled with restaurants, food carts, small shops, and more.  The sign "Bienvenidos a Ensenada" confirmed when, yes, we had arrived, and we headed straight for the house of the warmshowers host.  On the way we saw a bike shop, stopped in to buy some brake pads, and ended up talking for awhile with a guy named Juan.  We practiced his English for a bit before I let on that I spoke Spanish and that Tamara was learning, and he was so excited to help us learn, coming up with synonyms for words, phrases, and even Tamara's name, because he couldn't pronounce it.  He christened her "Ara," which apparently is an angel. 

Juan invited us to his place, but we already had a place to stay so eventually we said "adios" and left.  The guy we had previously contacted, Felipe, wasn't home, but we called him and he said he would come get us.  In the meantime we had some delicious quesadillas, then we met Felipe.  He was kind enough to heat some water for showers, and he helped me with my Spanish.  He also invited us to a party, a posada, with his close friends, and while it was a lot of fun, we probably weren't the best guests due to our not understanding much of the rapid-fire Spanish and our fatigue from a long day of cycling.
A terrible picture of the posada

December 14
A late start from the late night.  We thanked Felipe and Margarita for their generosity then hit the road.  Ensenada is miles and miles of sprawl.  We passed about 8,000 taco restaurants and a Costco before finally leaving the city.  Where there had been giant stores were now small houses or little stands.  We stopped at a fruit stand, which led to a great conversation with the owner and some free oranges!
When we were ready to stop that afternoon, there was a little town right there.  Later we would check the map; it wasn't on there.  Too small.  A nice man named Juan showed us to the church, where we explained our story and asked to camp in their yard.  Franco and Yolanda said they would be happy to have us, and we set up camp in a little pavilion.  They brought out some home-cooked tostadas, and, though neither of us is even slightly religious, we attended the Sunday night mass.  The group welcomed us and all shook our hands, as is custom, and wished us a safe journey.

December 15
We joined Franco and Yolanda for breakfast: potatoes, eggs, and cheese on tortillas (of course).  The two of them could not have been nicer, offering to pray for us and asking if we needed anything at all, including money.  We assured them that just allowing us to camp at the church, not to mention the food and their company, was more than enough.

The road wound through less civilization than the previous days, all the land, wherever possible, devoted to farming and ranching.  Much of the highway's edge served as a trash receptacle, but that didn't diminish the beauty beyond: steep hills, rugged enough to be called mountains, rising in every direction and dotted green and beige with bushes and boulders.  Baja is not a flat place.  After 53 miles, we stopped in a little town with colorful houses and music blaring: Ejido Bonfil.  We'll be camping tonight on their baseball field.

December 16
We woke up super early with the roosters.  The riding today was somewhat stressful, as the road had no shoulder and lots of traffic.  The drivers are crazy.  Blind curve?  Pass anyway!  Go whatever speed you want!  See how many couches you can strap onto the roof!
We passed through a number of small towns.  To our foreign eyes, they all look the same.  Main road bisecting two rows of shops; 50 or so feet of dirt on either side of the main road with cars, bikes, dogs, chickens, you name it; many shops selling tortillas; always a market and a few tire shops (for the crazy drivers).  Surprisingly, purified water hasn't been hard to find at all.  The locals all go to every town's water purification station, so we do too.  It's usually a peso per liter.
Tonight we're in a hotel in San Quintin.  It's raining, we're happy to be inside, and we'll be dreaming tonight of a road with a big, smooth, paved shoulder.

Friday, December 12, 2014


We had been hearing for the last few days that some rain would be moving in to San Diego today.  Should we stay or go?  Noel and her roommates were as accommodating as possible and we felt welcome to stay another day, but we really wanted to get on the road.  So we went!  And it rained.

Getting out of San Diego was a small feat in itself.  Navigating cities is tougher when the roads are actually rivers.  It was kind of fun, too.  What can you do but smile when you bike through a puddle and it's a whole lot deeper than you thought?  Finally we reached the outskirts and started climbing.  The gas stations and stores faded to beautiful hills and mountains, and during the few breaks in the storm, we enjoyed the scenery very much.  The shoulder was also pretty good for most of the way.  Only in a few sections, namely the last big hill, were we riding in the road.  The hills, for once, were welcome.  We were chilled to the bone from the constant rain and wind, but hey, there's a mountain pass up there!  By the top of each big hill, we were nice and warm.

I don't have any photos from today because I didn't want to get the phone or my camera wet, but take it from me that, when we rounded the top of that final hill and looked down on Tecate, reality set in.  We were going to Mexico!  The border was a breeze, the only slight problem being that we were told about the papers, "No mojados."  Don't get them wet.  That was a challenge, but after we finished some forms (mostly dry) and paid $25 each, we were on our way with six month visas.

Once in Tecate, we changed some money, ate some delicious burritos for lunch, and found a hotel room for $20 to wait out the rain.  More adventures tomorrow.  Arrrrriba!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Steepest Hill In San Diego, and Noel! December 9-10

That's actually not quite true.  It was the tenth steepest hill in San Diego.  More on that later.

The morning riding was great!  Bike lanes, a stop at a little cafe for pancakes, more bike lanes, ocean views, only 30 miles to do... even the big hill at Torrey Pines State Park wasn't so bad.  Torrey pines, endemic only to this small area north of San Diego, were a novel species of tree for us nature nerds.  That area, La Jolla, is also a research center where the Salk Institute and J. Craig Venter Institute are located (in honor of the guys who formulated the polio vaccine and sequenced the first human genome).  It's pronounced La Hoya; I was reading it phonetically, gringo-style, for awhile. 

The highway around La Jolla got a bit more trafficked and split into a bunch of roads.  Civilization is tough to navigate and we wanted to go to a bike shop in Pacific Beach, so we took the straightest route we could see on the map.  The name "Mt Soledad Road" should have tipped us off.  We started climbing up 10-16%, and it didn't stop until we had climbed almost 1000 feet to the top of Mt Soledad.  Surprise!  The view from the top was fantastic; on a clear day, we've heard, you can see all the way to Los Angeles.
That's steep.

After a wonderful stop at Souplantation for a buffet salad and soup lunch, we ran some errands and got picked up by our good friend Noel, with whom we worked for the past few years.  We spent the night eating good food, telling stories, and chatting with Noel and her roommate Kelly.
Me and Noel

Noel is a high school science teacher and a fantastic, caring, motivated one at that.  We were excited to see her teach, and she invited us not only to her classroom but to do a presentation about our trip to some of her students.  Happy to oblige, we whipped up a powerpoint and shared some stories, pictures, and what we had learned while biking from Alaska to here in San Diego.  We had as much fun as we hope the students did! We'll spend tonight and probably tomorrow hanging out here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Coastal Riding

The alarm rudely disturbed us early this morning, as usual, and we got on the road shortly after.  The road through Laguna Beach was hilly, the slopes surrounding us dotted with huge mansions.  This was city riding; we shared the road with a lot of cars, each stopping at every light then accelerating past us again.  Fortunately the city only lasted a few miles, then it was on to the next: Dana Point.  We got a little lost with all the back roads and misleading bike route signs, but a nice guy named Dave directed us.  He was riding a bike with bamboo tubes!  We were astonished at this piece of engineering and asked him all about it. 
South of the next town, San Clemente, we got on to some deserted back roads and bike paths and passed the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  The massive, grey domes were visible for miles.  Soon after, we stopped for lunch, but not for long.  We hoped to make it to San Diego: 50 more miles.

The riding along the next section was great!  Bike paths and lonely roads led us up to Camp Pendleton, a Marines base, and going through the base, though on more highly trafficked roads, was a breeze.  A friendly soldier at the front gate checked our IDs and gave us directions, most importantly where not to go.
Rex leading the way

We came across a bike shop, Alan's Bikes, in Oceanside and stopped in.  No shops yet, and we had visited a few, had had cantilever brakes and spare pads, but this store did!  Tam changed out both of her bothersome and annoying brakes to simple and inexpensive cantis: no more frequent adjustments!  Unfortunately this took longer than we thought, and when we left it was already getting dark.  I am truly looking forward to the winter solstice and then more hours of sunlight.
The darkness nixed our plan of getting to San Diego, so we stayed a bit and chatted with Brian, Marcy, and Jimmy, all of whom worked at the shop.  Their helpfulness and company made the otherwise menial task of changing brakes a fun and enjoyable one.  Then on the road again.  We are stealth camping tonight on a bluff overlooking the ocean in Carlsbad.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

To the Beach!

After a delightful breakfast of blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes we sadly said goodbye and set off down the road. Thanks, Emily and Madison, for everything! It was so wonderful to see you two and, of course, meet the cats!
Our first few miles were on the Santa Ana River Trail, the same trail we were on yesterday.

This trail leads almost all the way from the mountains to the ocean except for a short 10 mile section. We knew that this section was approaching and figured that we would find a way to take surface roads instead when we got there. Lucky for us, two friendly cyclists stopped and gave us directions.
Once off the bike path we discovered a town I would have never expected to find in Southern California. Instead of sidewalks were miles of wide dirt trails being used by people of all ages on horseback. We even saw a lady with a carriage being drawn by a tiny pony. All the stores  in town were designed in old western style and were, of course, equestrian friendly.
Lady riding a horse. Yes the street markings in this town were red white and blue.
The horse trail- no parking! 

Soon after the horse trails ended, we picked up the bike path again and stopped for lunch in a cute, grassy park. After a bit of a break, it was time to head to the beach! 15 miles or so away from the ocean we met Don, a friendly cyclist who is trying to complete 100 century rides this year. He has already ridden 17,000 miles. More than we will probably ride in the next year! We rode with him all the way to the beach and he told us about some of the local places and the Thai restaurant he used to own. Thanks for a fun ride today, Don.
Our new friend Don

Once at the beach, Don turned back and we rode south along the coast, immediately leaving the sand and being surrounded by the strip malls and bustling bars and restaurants of Newport Beach. When we finally saw the ocean again, it was just in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset of red streaked clouds. We set up camp in the midst of some coastal sagebrush.
Can't beat the smoggy sunsets of So Cal

- Tamara

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Back on the Road

Tam and I have so enjoyed spending the last month working and hanging out around our former home in the San Bernardino National Forest.  But it was time to move on.  So, this morning, we put all our stuff together, said our goodbyes, and hit the road.  Thanks for the good times, High Trails!

We started at 7,000 feet and followed Highway 38 (or, for you Californians, the 38) down, down, downhill all the way into the Inland Empire around 1,000 feet.  The miles roll by quickly when it's all downhill! Due to the recent storm, a rarity in Southern California, the vegetation was lush and there was running water in the usually dry riverbeds.  The mountains were beautifully scenic.  Unfortunately, once we reached the smog overlaying the lowland sprawl, we couldn't see the mountains anymore.  
The Santa Ana River Trail
Photo credit:

At one point we found a wide dirt trail next to a river, which we followed until it became paved: the Santa Ana River Trail!  We have biked this trail many times, and we were excited to be back on it again.  This time, we didn't have to turn around and bike back.  After about ten miles of wonderful quiet, scenic, bike path riding, we turned off and navigated some back roads to our friend Emily's house.  She went to school with Tam for many years, and it was great to see her again and hang out with her and her fiancé Madison for the night!

And making milkshakes!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No More Panniers! The New Setup

A frame bag for food, a lightweight backpack for sleeping gear and clothes, and a small top tube bag for extras.  Tent on the handlebars.

When you carry heavy belongings every day, it's hard not to question their worth.  Here is what my bike setup used to look like:

It's hard to tell from this picture, but my stuff fit into two rear panniers, a backpack on top of the panniers, a handlebar bag (the "brain" of my backpack), and a top tube bag (the black bag behind the handlebars).  The waterproof panniers provided ample room for my bear canister and cold weather gear, and the heavy-duty backpack carried loads admirably through thick brush in Alaska.  But there was a price for such durability and space: the bags weighed almost ten pounds by themselves!  For the warmer parts of the world we're heading to now, Tam and I don't carry enough to justify being so weighed down, nor do we need the space.  Here are a few specific changes we made and the rationale behind them:

1) No More Panniers. Weight Savings: ~3lbs 3oz
Making The Frame Bag

We sold our Ortlieb Backroller Panniers (4lbs 3oz) in favor of a homemade frame bag (<1lb) that sits in the center triangle of our bikes.  We won't be able to carry nearly as much gear, but, with the weight centered rather than behind the saddle, the bike's handling and aerodynamics will be much improved. 

2) Lightweight Backpack. Weight Savings: 3lbs 5oz
My full-framed Osprey Aether 70 is incredibly tough and handles heavy loads with ease.  But, at 5lbs 3oz, and with its big, rigid frame, it doesn't fit well on a bike.  Enter the GoLite Jam 50, 1lb 14oz.  It lacks a frame, meaning it can be rolled up to fit on top of my bike's rear rack.  I can't use it to carry a lot of weight, but I don't have much stuff anyway.  Tam is keeping her full-framed Osprey Aura 50; it weighs a bit more than the Jam, but it works.  And she will certainly be more comfortable when we go backpacking!

3) Bye Bye, Bike Shoes. Weight Savings: 1lb 7oz
Power Grips

A few months into our trip, we mailed home our "clipless" shoes and pedals, the standard for competitive cyclists and many tourers, and acquired normal platform pedals with Power Grips, simple straps to improve the pedaling efficiency of normal shoes.  We carry hiking shoes anyway for backpacking (Merrell Moabs are my favorite), and riding in those rather than their being in our bags has many advantages.  We are lighter, better equipped for short forays into stores or down steep riverbanks to get water, and not cluttered mentally and physically by a superfluous pair of shoes.  If our pedaling is less efficient because of our feet no longer being in rigid shoes attached to the pedals, we haven't noticed it.

4) Less Stuff!  Weight Savings: ~5lbs
As we slowly approach the equator, cold weather will become a thing of the past.  No longer necessary will be our fleece layers, warm gloves, shoe covers, or beanies.  And, since we'll be leaving bears behind as well, we won't have to carry those clunky bear canisters (2lbs 9oz) anymore!
Goodbye, Bear Can.  We Won't Miss You.

Total Weight Savings: ~13lbs

This isn't all the weight we're cutting, and there are also a few things (like extra bike repair stuff) that we are adding.  So 13 pounds is probably a good estimate.  13 pounds!  I'm excited to get on the road again and not feel that weight.  We'll be able to ride faster and with less effort, especially into the wind.  Less weight also means less wear on our bikes, especially on the tires and chains.