Summary – day 22 – Seal Beach to Solana Beach (Friday 16 September)

Summary – day 22 – Seal Beach to Solana Beach (Friday 16 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 79 miles, actual: 81.19 miles
Avg. speed: 14.00 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,610.27 miles

Our penultimate day’s riding. I feel rather sad, really. It seems like such a long time and so many miles ago that we were newly arrived and so excited about exploring Vancouver. At the same time, it feels like the last three weeks have gone by very quickly.

As if reading my mood, our departure from Ayres’ Hotel was rather dull and grey this morning. Matthew wanted a picture of the ’12-lane highway’ that we cycled over last night. While he was taking the picture, I counted the lanes – and actually there were 14 + 2 hard shoulders! That’s the San Diego Freeway for you. Looking at the cars whizzing by on it last night in the dark reminded me of a scene in the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, (directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass). The film is a kind of mesmerising tone poem without any narrative, but full of arresting images of natural landscapes contrasted with cityscapes. I remember seeing it when it was released, I was living in Leeds and becoming more radical by the week at that time I think. Anyway, it’s a wonderful film – recommended.

We wound our way back to the coast and passed a huge Boeing space plant at Huntington Beach – exciting! It seems a little extraordinary to be beside a Boeing factory – I come from Newcastle in north-east England, we’re not supposed to be at the Boeing space plant just south of Los Angeles!

On the coast itself, a wide bicycle track took us south, along with dozens of other cyclists – most on Lycra, in groups doing their Friday morning exercises. It always inspires confidence to see lots of other riders out on the road. It obviously makes us all much more visible to motorists, so everyone just feels safer. Two young men rode alongside us for a while and complimented us on our jerseys – they said that we “looked cool” (*glow*), and wanted to know where our cycling kit came from. We told them about Rapha and they seemed quite excited about it being available in the USA – I thought that perhaps we should be on commission – or even sponsored, really. Although these two fellows might be a little less enthusiastic when they see how much Rapha gear costs!

The path by the beach was fantastic, it ran parallel with Pacific Coast Highway and went on for miles. In Huntington Beach there were some odd cyclists’ warning signs telling us to limit our cycling speed to 10 mph. First, that’s ridiculously slow and second, how are the vast majority of cyclists without speed gauges ever going to be able to know what speed they’re travelling at? We ignored the speed limit and hoped we wouldn’t be stopped – Garmin was showing that we were averaging over 14 mph … I was a little concerned that he might be taken and used in evidence against us.

On into Newport Beach and Laguna Beach – strange places really; beautifully manicured, (universally by Hispanic labourers by the looks of things), pretty and prosperous town centres, (where almost everyone was white) and every half a mile or so another gated community entrance, some with little sentry boxes guarding the entrances (staffed by you-know-who). It creeped me out a bit and we were glad to get past all that wealthy racist paranoia. Who are the people who live in these of places? What on earth are they afraid of or hiding from? I just don’t get it I’m afraid.

San Clemente seemed a little bit more down to earth and we were planning our lunch stop there as it was at about 40 miles in. Unfortunately, the way-marked, quiet cycling route completely bypassed the town centre where all the shops and cafés were. By the time we’d realised this, we were well through the town to the far side – we didn’t particularly want to double back and so we hoped for another opportunity to stop and refuel later on.

Old Highway 101 still exists in many places along this part of the coast, but almost all of the motorised traffic travels on the San Diego Freeway. This leaves cyclists and pedestrians with a very pleasant route. After a short while we came across another ghost bike (our third on this trip), in memorial to another fallen cyclist. In addition to the white bike, there were some cycling jerseys attached to the fence and scores of cyclists’ bidons (water bottles), suggesting this was a memorial to a racing cyclist. It was sad to see. The bidons hanging around the bike reminded us of the candles that people light in Catholic churches in front of statues of the saints.

Along the road we came to San Onofre State Beach Park, (a national park open to the public at the agreement of the US marines, as it occupies military land). The road followed a long narrow strip between the sea and the freeway. All the way along the park were picnic benches, fire pits, toilets and shower blocks. A lot of people were camped there, it looked like a popular surfers’ destination. The park eventually came to an end and the road stopped but became a paved cycle track where only cyclists could proceed through narrow pinch-points. Our route continued along a fantastic, (if slightly desolate) path that weaved alongside and under the freeway. After a few miles the cycle path ended abruptly … and near to a freeway entrance.

We were bracing ourselves for a hair-raising bit of riding along the freeway, when two local cyclists came past us. They told us that if we had ID with us we could take a safer, more pleasant route to Oceanside through Camp Pendleton, the base of the United States Marine Expeditionary Force. What’s a (gay) cycling man to do in such circumstance? Ride on the heavily trafficked freeway or avail himself of the opportunity to ride through a marine corp base and gawp at soldiers? We took the very sensible advice of the couple of cyclists of course and headed for the camp … and the marines!

We had to show our passports at the Camp Pendleton guardhouse and the soldier on duty seemed a little hesitant about letting us through … He left us for a few minutes to get some advice, then returned and allowed us to proceed – along with warnings about our not being allowed to cycle through the base after sunset. What a cheek! It was 4 o’clock and sundown is at about 7. Anyone would be more than capable of riding the six miles or so through the camp in three hours! Rather than make that point, we were very polite and English, thanked him and set off. That was a rather worrying moment though – the only other road was the Freeway and although it was possible to cycle on it at this point, it looked horrendous and we really didn’t fancy it. I would have liked to have taken some pictures of Camp Pendleton too, but I didn’t want to risk a gaol sentence this far into our journey!

On the other side of Camp Pendleton, we stopped in Oceanside (about 15 miles from Solana beach). We’d missed lunch, so were feeling very hungry by now. We had coffee and some cake (naturally) in a lovely old-fashioned 60s-era diner. Then the final fairly well-populated stretch along the coast, through Carlsbad (home to Legoland California – I wasn’t allowed to go), past lagoons, lovely beaches, people out running, (three men, wearing only short-shorts and running shoes were a highlight in Cardiff by the Sea!), and into Solana Beach and the Courtyard hotel.

The receptionist ‘upgraded’ us to a ‘club’ room, (this is how they deal with the fact that they’ve just given the room you’ve booked to someone else in America – they make a virtue about giving you something better for free, while omitting to mention that they don’t have what you want). Anyway, we’re not complaining – it’s huge – with a massive jacuzzi in the room. We worked out how to fill and turn on the jacuzzi, (more difficult than might be expected), dived in, splashed about, cleaned up and hot-footed it to California Pizza a couple of blocks away for a big feed – we were ravenous by now. We’d not really eaten properly all day because of missing lunch in San Clemente.

Dinner was very good. California Pizza is a bit like Pizza Express – nice ambience, helpful staff, (ours was a sweet and beardy-surfer type) and not really expensive (the pizza – not the waiter). So we lingered there for the evening before heading back to the Courtyard for another podcast episode of the Archers. Living the California Dream

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