Summary – day 23 – Solana Beach to San Diego and into Mexico (Saturday 17 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 56 miles, actual: 54.17 miles
Avg. speed: 13.3 mph
Final distance: 1,664.44 miles
Our final day’s riding – it began with lots of mixed emotions: we definitely felt a real sense of achievement at having almost completed our journey, but this was rather overwhelmed by a sense of sadness that this particular adventure is almost over.
As we exited the front of our hotel, quite a sight greeted us and immediately lifted our spirits. Dozens of cyclists were out for their Saturday morning rides. There were hardly any people riding alone – lots of twos and threes – and more – and heading in both directions. It was like the San Diego cycling welcoming committee knew we were arriving and had turned out in force to help us celebrate the end of our journey!
We set off towards San Diego and quickly caught up with a group of eight cyclists. They were a section of the San Diego Bicycle Club, out on an introductory ride for new cyclists. Cycling is huge in San Diego apparently and we continued to be quite amazed at how many cyclists were out riding this morning. The group were really lovely, but making fairly slow progress, so We left the San Diego Bicycle Club group behind as we rode uphill and through the Torrey Pines State Park.
At a junction before Rose Canyon, we weren’t sure about which direction to take – ahead on the cycle path alongside the main road, or right on a longer, more picturesque route past the university, through the canyon and down to the bay. While we were stood at the intersection pondering our options, three men in Lycra wheeled up and waited at the lights – so we asked their advice, “Just follow us.” they said. They were friends out for a morning ride through the canyon and they reckoned this was the best way into the city. One was a psychologist, who worked in Solana Beach, another worked in IT and the third was a sales representative for a range of cycling clothing brands – mainly European clothing such as Nalini and Santini. They were all nicely kitted out at any rate. They also kept up quite a fast pace as we were riding. It was exciting to be pedalling hard and fast through wood-lined roads, past University of California San Diego buildings and along cycle-ways back through La Jolla to the sea. After a few miles, our ways parted – they were looping back north and they directed us to continue on south through Mission Bay Park.
There was no let up in the volume of cyclists as we rode around Mission Bay Park, on yet another nicely-marked route. The park curves around a broad expanse of water. The whole place was very well used – in addition to cyclists, there were in-line roller-skaters, water skiers and people riding on little jetskis. Groups of families and friends were setting up gazebos and readying themselves for picnics, children were running about and playing – it was all rather wondrous.
The route continued towards downtown and past an enormous Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command establishment and the airport. We’d already seen some aeroplanes taking off and coming in to land and Matthew had said: “Just think, we’ll be on one of those planes the day after tomorrow.” I don’t think that was calculated to cheer me up!
The Pacific Highway passed very close to the end of the runway and as we approached, we watched a plane make its descent and land – San Diego airport is notorious for having a short runway and for being so close to built-up parts of the city. Up close it was extraordinary how close to built-up areas and the road the aeroplanes are when they’re coming in. As the road drew closer to the end of the runway a plane passed low right above us on its way in to land. Huge! Loud!! Brilliant!!! I could have stood and watched several more, but watching planes wasn’t the purpose of the day and inexplicably, Matthew fails to be drawn to aeroplanes, (I do think that sometimes he’s not very adept at being a boy). I’ll get my chance to do some plane spotting when we’re at the airport on Monday I suppose.
We stopped at a junction just past the airport and I said “Hi, nice bike!” to a man riding a beautiful white Isaac carbon fibre bicycle (Isaac are based in the Netherlands), it had Campagnolo drivetrains and wheels. It turned out that he was called Isaac, too! He liked the idea that he and his bike shared a name. I liked that too. He’d just been to the gym and was finishing his exercises with a post-gym ride on a loop down towards the Mexican border.
Isaac turned out to be a real star! When we told him about our trip and that we were on our final leg, he very kindly offered to lead us to the border crossing point. He took us through downtown San Diego, via the bicycle lanes and cycle paths through San Diego bay past the Imperial Beach US naval helicopter facility and on to the border.
We chatted all the way and it was wonderful to get to know someone who knew so much about the area. Isaac was a single parent of a nine-year old boy, (Grandma was looking after him today). Isaac works as an ophthalmologist, but he’s hoping to retrain as an advice worker and counsellor. We were cycling past lots of big white salt-extracting ponds when Isaac pointed ahead: “That’s Mexico!”, he shouted. Over a barbed-wire fence we could see a massive Mexican flag on a pole rising high above the buildings, with mountains behind. We were almost there!
As we approached the border, Isaac’s rear wheel developed a slow puncture. His second in the short time we’d known him. He told us that he’d not had any punctured for ages, but now he’d had two in the last 45 minutes. We wondered if perhaps we’d jinxed him and we were a little guilty about leaving him to repair the puncture while we went on to the border crossing point and hopefully into Mexico.
There were hundreds of people milling about at the border crossing. Many of them were carrying big parcels and bags or wheeling cases. It was so exciting. We weren’t certain that we’d quite arrived, then Isaac said: “There is it, right there” and we went along a kind of open air covered corridor and towards a high metal railing with people streaming through wide metal turnstile barriers. We had to walk through the turnstiles and into Mexico by tipping our bicycles up onto their back wheels to manoeuvre them through the gates, but it was easy. And there we were … we were in Mexico. We’d done it … Canada to Mexico by bicycle.
On the other side of the turnstile there was a stone and bronze plaque marking the line of the border.
We took some pictures, but we didn’t really have much time to savour our experience or reflect upon what we’d just done. The border crossing into Mexico was teeming with people laden with stuff and our bicycles were causing something of an obstruction so we moved on into Tijuana. We also knew that entering the US from Mexico would be slightly more difficult and time-consuming than entering Mexico from the US. We took some more pictures inside the Mexican border and on spotting what seemed to be the biggest queue in the world, (and being English), thought we’d better join it. No queue to get in to Mexico, but a huge queue to get out and back into the USA!
The border on the Mexican side was frankly unpleasant. Tawdry stalls and unpleasant-smelling food carts. Lots of beggars, (including some children), most with physical impairments. Buskers singing Spanish songs and playing guitars. We spent one hour and ten minutes in the queue. A young man queuing beside us, who said that he lived in Mexico and works in a restaurant by San Diego airport, told us that he crosses the border most days and that today was a fast day!
Once at the head of the queue we were processed pretty quickly – passports scanned and bags passed through an x-ray machine then back in the USA. At passport control, I had hoped to get another stamp in my passport, but I didn’t. I risked asking for one, but I was told they were only given on first entry to the US.
We set a route to Ann and Brad’s on Garmin – just under 14 miles away and set off – heading north for only the second time in our trip, (Vancouver airport to our first Warm Showers host was travelling north). Ann arrived home just as we got there. Brad was away visiting their daughter in San Francisco. We talked and ate dinner then gave our bicycles a quick clean, dismantled them and put them in the bags that were waiting for us in Ann and Brad’s garage. We’ll be exploring San Diego on foot tomorrow, which will seem a little strange, I’m sure.