Summary – day 20 – Ventura to Los Angeles (Wednesday 14 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 67 miles, actual: 73.95 miles
Avg. speed: 14.3 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,489.91 miles
Bit dull and grey this morning as we left Ventura. But actually that’s really good cycling weather. There were some routing dilemmas today. Garmin and Google didn’t agree, (as usual) and we suspected that there was a ‘third’ or better way if we just followed the waymarked Pacific Coast Cycle Route. However, sometimes the cycle routes are not that particularly well signed, especially in the towns and cities. We have often arrived at a junction and there’s absolutely no clue about which direction the route takes, but it generally doesn’t matter if we’re following Garmin. Also, on a trip like this we know that if we keep heading more-or-less south, then there’s a good chance that we’ll probably be going in the right direction. Usually we find that we happen upon the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route again.
A further complication today was how to get beyond Oxenard as we moved south around the coast after leaving Ventura. It just wasn’t clear how to navigate our way through a gap between the mountains and the sea, where a number of large military bases are situated. The map showed that the Interstate cut right through, but Garmin made it clear that we couldn’t go on that by bicycle, (and he’s always right about that sort of thing). So, Dilemma of the Day … would there be an alternative route for cycles and should we risk just trying to find it or take stupid Garmin’s advice and go on a 20 mile, hilly detour? We decided that we’d risk it.
We passed the naval base without any difficulty. The old town of Oxenard is a really pretty, traditional-looking fishing port. Then came the naval/air base at St Mugu. This was more complicated, there was a road running parallel to the Interstate, but Garmin showed it feeding onto the Interstate itself about 3 miles further on – maybe there’d be a cycle track unknown to Garmin. I was feeling tense about either having to brave the Interstate or turn back. We’d just have to see.
As we rode around the perimeter of the air base, we could see some really big helicopters coming in to land. Then we passed a curious permanent outdoor display of planes and missiles set on posts. We continued on to see what would happen as we approached the turning onto the freeway – the road we were on did lead us on to the Interstate, but there were no signs at the entrance forbidding cyclists, so we decided to risk it. The police might chuck us off – but we only needed to travel for one junction – about a mile or so – and then we knew we’d be on the Pacific Coast Highway again – a road that we knew we’d be permitted to ride on. As luck would have it, about half a mile along the road, a notice proclaimed the end of the freeway – we’d done it and were on our way to LA.
Between Point Mugu and Malibu we passed rocky cliffs with incredible folded rock strata and huge rectilinear blocks of stone strewn everywhere. We could could just make out people hiking up in the mountains in the far distance. The road itself ran along the water’s edge and huge blocks of black stone sloped down from the road into the sea to absorb the waves. There were warnings of rock slides every few hundred metres and people were working to try and stabilise the cliffs. The sea was calm, but the waves were breaking against the rocks and throwing spray into the air and onto the road. Inevitably, the road was incredibly deformed and breaking up. There were road works all along this section.
As I looked out to sea, I could see some big birds with long beaks flapping their wings rather languorously and flying only a few metres above the water – Matthew recognised them as pelicans! Superb!
As we approached Malibu, the surf beaches began. For miles there were huge cars and pickup trucks parked one after another in the narrow space between the sand and the road with surf boards propped against them. People, (overwhelmingly young men) were milling about, getting changed in or out of their wetsuits or diligently rubbing their boards with something (wax?). In the sea there were surfers riding the waves and paddling about on the water. It was a real treat to watch – although we were nervous about someone opening a car door just as we cycled past or that someone might pull their vehicles out into the road and into us. Thankfully that didn’t happen – but getting through Malibu was pretty fraught, as there was generally very little space between all the parked cars on our right and the moving cars on our left.
There were some fabulous houses on the way into Malibu – big detached affairs, either strung out over the hillside on our left or squeezed into the narrow spaces between the road and the sea on our right. Mostly we only caught glimpses through trees or deduced the splendour beyond the elaborate, chunky (and very secure) gates. Matthew spotted an outdoor hot tub carved into the rocks next to one house. We could see that some houses had complicated stilt-like supports in wood or concrete and that they were cantilevered out over the beach or even over the sea.
Leaving Malibu, we passed a September 11 memorial in a big grassy sloping area outside Pepperdine University. A national flag for every victim – all the same dimensions and evenly spaced in rows and columns.
I was hoping that the traffic on the road between Malibu and Santa Monica might reduce somewhat … but of course it didn’t. But as we arrived on the outskirts of Santa Monica – Los Angeles city limits – a cycle path began. It was really good to be off the road again. Suddenly the cycle path veered off the roadside and onto the beach itself. A long, wide flat pathway made from concrete bounded with broad flat areas of sand on both sides – quite a bit of it on the surface, too, sometimes. I’m not normally happy about cycling on sandy surfaces, they can be slippery and sand just wrecks bicycle drivetrains. But it was away from the traffic on the road and actually a lovely experience, with plenty of other cyclists and runners about. Before we arrived in Santa Monica centre, we had to turn off the beach path and head inland towards our hotel for the night: the Wilshire, towards the Downtown end of Wilshire Boulevard. Ten miles along a very heavily trafficked, fast-paced, badly surfaced road with intersections every few hundred metres or so – we were not looking forward to it.
Fortunately, Matthew had picked up a map of Santa Monica at our hotel in Ventura that showed a cycle route running parallel to Wilshire Boulevard, so we proceeded along that. Unfortunately, it stopped at a T-junction after a couple of miles and we had to join Wilshire Boulevard itself.
Matthew wanted to try and find another quieter parallel street that we might be able to ride along instead. Garmin didn’t show one and Wilshire doesn’t run in quite a straight line, so there was a danger that any parallel streets would just diverge. I was also a bit sceptical that there would be any particularly quiet streets in West LA at that time of day. We weren’t enjoying cycling in LA so far – and had only just started. We didn’t agree on the best way to get to our hotel and a fairly ‘heated debate’ ensued on the street by the Beverly Hills sign. We rode on not speaking to each other until we arrived at the hotel.
Our room is on the top floor (12), with views to Griffith Park, Observatory and the Hollywood sign. Incredible. We were allowed to take our bicycles in the lift to our rooms, too, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I fell asleep almost as soon as we arrived, then went to have a shower.
Matthew was in the lobby downstairs while I cleaned myself up for the evening. Somehow I slipped over on the wet bottom of the bath while I was taking a shower. I tried to grab on to the shower curtain to steady myself, it was wet, so it slid through my hands and I went flying out of the bath and over onto the bathroom floor, banging my hip really badly and cracking my head on the toilet cistern on the way down. I gave myself a real fright. This was not turning into a good day.
I took some pain killers and got dressed.
Happily, things improved. We’ve had some really wonderful surprises on our trip along west coast; but one of the most astonishing happened before we’d even arrived. Our friend Michael had been due to start a new job in America this month. He’ll be working in Maryland on the east cost for the next two years. Michael had decided to spend a bit of time travelling before beginning work. He was travelling to Baltimore the long way round – going first to Turkey, then on to Japan to climb Mount Fuji, and then by complete coincidence was passing through Los Angeles on the same day as us. Extraordinary. We’d arranged to meet at 7.30 at our hotel so we could go eat dinner together.
When Michael arrived we headed up to Hollywood – to the ‘walk of fame’, Chinese and Kodak theatres, (where the Oscar ceremonies take place), then walked over to Sunset Boulevard to a restaurant called California Vegan for a wonderful meal – lots if tofu and soya – delicious and heaven! Such a nice change From the stuff we’ve been eating so far.
After dinner I thought we might take a taxi up to the Griffith Observatory to look down on the lights of the city (a famous inspiration for the underside of the space ship in Close Encounters, I think). This turned into a bit of a disaster, there was an enormous concert emptying out as we went up into the hills to the north of LA and the roads were closed. The traffic was terrible and we were not moving, so we had to abandon our plans and headed back to our hotel. The taxi driver was a nice guy and amazed when we told him about our cycling trip. Michael was falling asleep in the cab by now, and headed back to his hostel. We went off to bed.
So a day of mixed fortunes, really. It was lovely to meet up with Michael again. I expect that I’ll be a bit bruised after my fall tomorrow! But at least it’s only a short ride to the other side if the city to Seal Beach.