A day of finishing things.
We woke up early with Andy (the guy who heads up the Bicycle Tourism Network for the US) and we rode to get some breakfast from a local restaurant we all enjoy, which required a few miles of backtracking. We then made our way south and found Fred again. We decided to bike to the border together. First we tackled the legendary climbs at Torrey Pines and then saw the sea lions at La Jolla Cove.
We approached downtown San Diego and loaded onto a ferry to cross the bay to get to Coronado Island with our bikes. We got on the bikeway there and rode to the border at Tijuana. The border fence rose before us as we arrived at the official peace park where the fence staggers I to the ocean. The border patrol allowed us 5 minutes to go and touch the fence as well as pose for photos. It was sobering to finish the trip (well, at least after the final 20 miles back to the car). We bid Fred a safe return to Montreal and enjoyed some Indian food for dinner.
One year ago one month to go we ended our trip unwillingly. Add one week to the now a week ago and we have finished.
Final night of the tour. The sunset and weather did not disappoint.
To rewind to the beginning, we began the day heading out from out loud campsite next to the train tracks but content that the sky was clear. A boat that drifted in the night ended up washed up on our beach. Lifeguards, police, and locals were with a tugboat trying to pull it back out to sea. It was only supposed to be a 40 mile day, but we got lost in Camp Pendleton. Camp Pendleton is a military base that touring cyclists are permitted to enter and cross pending notification approval of ID. However, once in the base, we missed our turn and ended up seeking help from a marine. 12 miles off route, we hightailed it out and exited in Oceanside.
The minute we hit Oceanside, a local cyclist came over to excitedly talk to us. He told us that Race Across America (RAAM) was preparing to leave tomorrow and that if we followed him, he would take us to see the pros. We found the Trek Pro team. They were psyched to see our steel-framed touring bikes and wanted a pic with us with their ultralight carbon frames. Fucking tight.
We then made it to Carlsbad and ate at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants with Baja fish tacos. We made it to our campsite where we met up with Fred again plus this awesome crew of other cyclists up from San Diego for a weekend touring trip. One the guys, Andy, turned out to be a board member on the Tourism Bicycling Network nationally. The evening ended around campfire, an epic sunset, and great conversations.
Gorgeous weather and waking up in the backyard of some ultra-cool Warmshowers hosts is a good way to start the day (here’s to you Steve and Linda!) We jumped back on the bike path beachside but found ourselves moving to the interior of the city to get across both LA and Long Beach. It was a day of 90% city and 10% beach. The turns to get through Laguna Beach and Newport were struggles on a bike with cars zipping by. We got a chance to bike along the LA River, with all its concrete sadness. A pinch flat was repaired outside Dana Point where we pulled into the campground and saw the biggest waves of our whole trip. Serious surfers and SUPers flooded the ocean for much of the evening. We finally met some other tourists heading south as well. We ate dinner with Fred, a cyclist from Montreal. He’s finishing up his electric engineering degree and doing this for the summer. To finish, I’ll say my tan lines from the SoCal sun and lack of marine layer are ridiculous.
Long day of road beneath us. We started early at 6:15 and caught an epic breakfast in downtown Ventura. After, we rode through Malibu. The waves were gorgeous aquamarine and the opulence of the houses was both breathtaking and stifling. It made me realize how much of the coast has been lost to the churn of development; a deeper appreciation of the Lost Coast in NoCal ensued. Hwy 1 turned out to be an adrenaline rush coming into Venice Beach where the bike lane on the highway was also used for parking, which forced us onto the road. However, the Santa Monica Pier was pretty awesome. Venice Beach also had a conglomerate of culture, character, style, and people which left an indelible positive impression on us. Tonight, we camp in the backyard of Warmshowers hosts who live right up against Hermosa Beach.
Beautiful blue skies started the day night with no marine layer. We packed up camp and jumped on the 1/101 and made our way to Santa Barbara where…the gray marine layer returned.
We explored the wharf, went off road with our fully loaded touring bikes on some MTB trails to see seals, and then made our way to our Warmshowers host who made us a solid meal along with solid conversation.
With fitful sleep, we woke early. The marine layer hung dank in the sky as we attached our panniers, downed some oatmeal, and headed east towards Santa Maria again. After getting hit on Harris Grade Road outside Lompoc last year (and owing to its lack of sufficient shoulder), we opted to avoid the same route and travel inland on roads with sturdy shoulders. The 101 would be it. However, as soon as we got going, I ripped over this little-shit metal piece and punctured my tire. I rode all last year with not a single tire issue. No matter – fix the flat and move.
We hit Santa Maria and took the highway. Riding alongside epic semis and speeding cars on an open freeway is the way to build nerves and breathe.
We rode past golden grass and green vineyards. We flew through a couple small towns and eventually merged Witt the 1, bring us back on the official ACA route. We also officially merged back on the ocean. 70 miles in, we got the most epic hiker biker campsite ever at El Capitan State Beach.
One month to go one year in the past found Janna and I a week from the end of our bike tour on the PCH. We pushed hard and enjoyed the explorative sense. Here, a week from the end, outside Guadalupe, CA, we were hit by a car from behind. Shortly to cover it all, I’ll say that bikes were totaled, Janna smashed through the windshield, panniers and supplies were ripped and tossed on the road, ambulances came along with fire trucks in tow, but we came out, relatively speaking, okay.
Pestered by a glimpse of the end, it whispered away.
But, the care and generosity offered by others to help us more than matched the shitty situation. For this, we are grateful.
Now, we are back. Vowing to return and conquer the beast, we have returned. Tomorrow we start from the exact same town and spot where we felt the slide before. Transportation itself seemed to hold back when approaching today. We drove to San Diego yesterday just fine. Janna booked Amtrak with bike-carry on opportunities. We parked our car downtown in San Diego and biked over to the Santa Fe Station.
We got there early. However, a gas leak on the tracks forced them to shut down the rail line and refund our tickets. Panicked that we’d end up unable to finish the tour, we scoured for options. Amtrak offered to put our bikes under a bus and drive us – yet, I’ve read the number of stories of ruined bikes online. Hell no.
I jumped online. Uber? Nah, they won’t drive 6 hours away. Turo? We’d have to somehow return the car. Being downtown in the big city, we decided to try a one way ride with a rental car from the airport. We rode our bikes away from the tracks down some busy boulevards. We were able to secure a minivan –> ie: Fold down the seats, stuff the bikes in the back. We drove north to the Santa Maria airport where we pulled the bikes out and layer the tread down. We Googled the fastest way to get to Guadalupe and started off biking down the highway from the inland to the coast. We rode in with the sun lighting the dunes at dusk and secured our place to stay.
Bikes are packed. Tomorrow, I say, “Fuck you lightning, ye shall not strike twice.” Time to tackle the grade, push on the 101, and view some sea.
Unfortunately, due to a serious collision with a car today, we are unable to continue our journey. We are now safe, but we are physically unable to move forward due to the condition of both bikes and bodies. We plan to finish the last leg come next summer.
Below is the story of what happened.
After spending the night with a Warmshower's host in Guadalupe, CA on the evening of July 4, we awoke to start our next day of bike touring. With only a week or so left of the ride, we were intently looking forward to entering true SoCal territory. As it was, we were really grateful for having a place to sleep as there was little lodging between here and the next 70 miles down the route. She had a permanent setup in her garage for visiting cyclists and we slept well. After a quick morning breakfast, we pedaled out of Guadalupe and down the highway. We passed rows and rows of kale, leafy greens, and strawberries all being grow in mass corporate farms to feed the plates of America.
Things felt casual, not hurried. A low slung-set of marine layer clouds obscured the nearest mountain ranges. The route took the shoulder of the highway. We passed another touring cyclist who was shirtless and helmetless. We pulled up alongside him, talked about the ride, and he told us that he didn't wear a helmet because he said that he read an article that cars were more careful around cyclists who weren't wearing helmets. Janna and I disagreed and affirmed our choice to protect our heads should an accident occur. We parted ways as we moved ahead. The route veered from the main highway up towards the surrounding hills/mountains.
The route was now a smaller two-lane state highway with barely a shoulder. But there was no traffic. A significant headwind blew down the route halting us a to a crawl. I offered to take the lead so that Janna could draft off of me. We passed by large plantations of raspberry bushes covered with sheeting to control pests.
As the road continued up the rocky hills, we slowed ever further.
In a sudden moment of blurred rapidly, I heard Janna scream "FORRRRRRRESSSSTTTTT…." immediately succeeded by the sensation of ultimate speed. My bike felt rocket-thrusted forward; I remember my feet splaying for a moment.
Blink. Standing in the road. Standing, not riding. I blink and look sideways in the mid-day light. There is clothing on the road. My clothing. Where's the bike? I was on the bike…now I'm standing in the road. I turn and look behind. A car is firmly at park in the road. Panniers, neon colored, are frayed and lying about. Janna is sitting on the ground next to a car tire. Her bike is gone. Mine is ahead of me and lying in a ditch. My butt feels bruised. I'm screaming. I'm screaming with urgency with piccolo-words snatching seconds for someone to stop, for someone to help. I realize we've been hit by a car while riding. I run over to Janna, but I'm jumping back and forth between scenes of destruction.
Janna is calm on the pavement. She's so serene. Her words are smooth, slow, methodical, focused. Cars go around us, I'm waving my hands screaming for someone to stop. Panic drenched mouth in a moment seizing of emergency. Cars approach, slow, and go around, never stopping. Why aren't they stopping? Someone help us!
The driver in the car is beating the steering wheel with his hands. He double clenches fists and slam them over and over and over and over. I hear him scream, "FUCK!" and "SHIT!" and "THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED TO ME!" I run over to Janna, bend near her. She's asking for her cell phone; she's asking where it is. I'm seeking, seeking to know if she's okay. The driver is outside the car now, he's looking at me, looking at the wreckage of bodies and bikes, he's cursing endlessly at his fortune. I stand up and scream again. I look at the windshield. It's shattered. Shattered when Janna's head and body went into it. It's an older vehicle so lacks that shatterproof pane. There are glass shards on the hood, by the wipers, tossed around the ground.
"Where's my phone?" Janna keeps asking. I'm screaming for help. I'm helpless. "I found it!" she says a bit louder and smoothly, leaning over, pulls it out from behind the car wheel next to her. While she's doing this, I'm back rummaging in my strewn panniers, searching for my phone. I rejoin her car-side and she says I need to call 911. Barely a breath of reception in these dry and rocky SoCal hills. 911 answers. I'm sputtering information, trying to organize thought, move that thick tongue to match word with lip. They want to know where we are. I can see a mile marker ahead. I'm calling out location, direction. They don't seem to know where we are, where to direct the ambulance. I FEEL SUCH URGENCY. I can't communicate the urgency enough to them. They ask me if Janna is standing. No. Is she conscious? Yes. Is she injured. I don't think. You should examine her.
I step back to her. A motorcyclist has stopped and is trying to talk to her. Only person to stop.
"Are you bleeding?" I ask Janna.
"No," she replies.
"Don't ask her, you need to check her," the 911 operator on the phone states. I walk around behind Janna and gasp. A long 7 inch shard of windshield glass is jutting out of her upper right shoulder. She's bleeding profusely down her back. I tell the operator, who immediately directs me to remove it. I run to the panniers in the ditch and find a thick pair of wool socks. The operator is still on the line. I wrap my hands in a double bundle, grasp the glass sides, and withdraw the windshield pane. Blood juices out in a stream.
I can't understand why the operator is unable to determine our location. It's panicking me even worse. I'm begging, verbally, for the ambulance. The operator says it's coming, they just need to know where.
A second motorist stops. He's in a white button-down and tie. Janna suddenly gets quiet. The motorcyclist, second motorist, and I gather around Janna. The driver who hit us is on a cell phone panicked and talking to someone.
"I think I'm going to pass out…" Janna says as she wavers in a quiver of voice. For all the madness, the calamity, the seizure of emergency that had been born around us, this is the moment that scares me most because the clarity of her thought, the specificity of her words, are suddenly replaced with a change of consciousness. I'm pleading with the 911 operator again, who keeps affirming that an ambulance is coming. Janna sways in her seated posture and bends over her knees. The motorcyclist says she can think through this and that she doesn't need to pass out. He starts praying out loud, which for some reason, makes the direness of the scene all that more impactful. Draws my adrenaline higher. Makes death seem like a possibility I kept avoiding. All I could think of was Mark Sloan dying on Gray's Anatomy when he has "The Surge" - that moment of transient full consciousness that slips into the body's breakdown and death.
I have now entered the scariest moment of my life. I'm holding my wife thinking she is going to die in my arms. Never have I felt the enormity of such fear in my life before or since. Helpless in the face of oncoming deterioration.
The ambulance arrives at this moment. Pulls in. Two fire trucks arrive as well, A police vehicle. The highway is shut down as emergency vehicles flank either side of us. The relief…was incomparable. In my mind, the singular thought is: Everything will now be fine. Janna will be fine. We will get through this.
A team of paramedics gather around her, stabilize her neck, and place her on a stretcher. Whatever moment of consciousness-change has passed. Janna is clear-headed again, verbal, and descriptive. Relief courses my nerves. At that moment, the shirtless/helmet-less cyclist we talked to earlier comes up the rise. He's in absolute shock asking if we are okay. Janna's helmet is crushed and cracked - a testament to how it probably saved her life. I'm sure that cyclist would never forget.
I'm now able to take in the scene more fully. My rear axle is crooked and the wheel hangs loose while my bike is slammed in a boulder-strewn ditch. Of our clothing and belongs are stripped and drifting across the highway. The clothes we're wearing are ripped. Janna's bike is so far under the car that the car's front wheels are slightly lifted off the road. No wonder the vehicle came to a stop. The rear wheel is sheared of metal, cracked, and bent. Janna is now in the back of the ambulance. I look at our world of possessions haplessly molted about. Time to leave it all. As I climb into the front seat of the ambulance, I look at the helmet-less cyclist and ask if he can gather up our items. He agrees and stands in the drift of action as the sirens turn on. A firetruck is winching Janna's bike out from under the car.
We bullet down the highway towards Lompoc, CA and the emergency room there. The whole time, Janna is in the back, strapped to a gurney, talking and laughing with an officer. She's also asking if the driver will have to pay for this and the officer is like, "OH YEAH." We arrive at the hospital and are taken in. They do a physical and determine that the only damage was the windowpane in her back. They stitch her up. A subsequent X-ray reveals more glass shards still inside the wound. They reopen the stitches and manually attempt to remove the glass. No success. They stitch her back up again.
Bikes were our only transportation. Without them, we have no way out of here. The sullen aftermath of the accident continues to wrap around us. A nurse helps to clean all the remaining glass off us and helps to clean us up. And, in an act of shear humanity, hands me the keys to his personal vehicle and tells me to drive to the fire station where, no doubt, everything we own can be found. I drive over to the station. As I pull up, a crew member runs out and jumps in the vehicle with me to help guide me to where our belongings are being stored. As I turn the corner, I see the mangled pile of metal, plastic, clothing, and rubber in a heap of brokenness. The full reality of what the car did to us hits me. The rest of the fire crew is outside waiting. They tell me that when they got the call for the accident, and even when they pulled up on the scene, that they thought they were for sure pulling up on a fatality. Made me feel gratitude and place merge.
They fire crew helps to load all our belongings and bikes in the back of the nurse's SUV. I make a call to the nearest hotel by the hospital. Reserve a room and book it. Drive the broken gear over and store it in a room. Go back to the emergency room and thank Janna. And thank the hell out of that nurse who let us borrow his car. Janna and I walk over to the hospital. In simultaneous buzz, the fact that our PCH bike tour is over settles in a miasma over us. We call Rae and ask if she'll come get us not from San Diego at the border, but from northern SoCal in Lompoc. She grabs our car and questionlessly makes her way to us. Again, gratitude deeper than words. As for the next 48 hours, Janna and I, with ramped up metabolisms and a sense of loss of the tour, eat donuts to no end.
We would later learn the driver was distracted while driving (perhaps texting). California has the weakest vehicular-bike accident laws in the nation. Thus, he was never charged, fined, or even written a ticket. His insurance did pay for our belongings and hospital bills.
One year later, June of 2016, we drive to Lompoc, CA. We are back to finish the tour taken from us a year ago. And this time, we finish at the US/Mexico border.
Very short day (15 miles) because we arranged a Warmshowers host nearby. This is good active recovery before our final push to finish our trip by next weekend. But oh what a day.
The day truly started in the middle of the night. We were camping in like the only hiker/biker site for 90 miles so we were grateful to have it. Especially on the 4th of July when everything is sold out, packed, or uber expensive. However, this was a county campground in the middle of a fairly large urban area, thus it was filled to capacity and bursting at the seams both with traditional campers and those once-a-year campers. Such a robust concentration of people in one space in an urban area made me particularly concerned about theft of our shit, considering the tales of horror fellow cyclists told us about. As daylight dimmed to night, I grew ever more wary.
Which turned out to be rightfully so. As soon as night really hit, a second crowd began to roam the campground. We had heard that this campground played host to drugs and those under the influence thereof, but man…did it ever. A few people began weaving out of one campsite to the next. Strange behavior if you already have a campsite, so when they entered ours and walked towards our shit, I would sit-up and make it known I was plainly reading, plainly awake, and plainly aware of them. Then they would startle and leave our site. No biggie. Some other people, clearly homeless, went straight to the restrooms – which didn’t bother me because everyone needs to use facilities and take showers. It was the staggering drunk/others yelling and swinging items around (one guy incoherently with a baseball bat) that wandered into our site that made me wary. I did not want our bikes to disappear as had happened to some other cyclists we met.
As night wore on I drifted in and out of sleep as people would wander by. Finally, I decided at length to pass a bowel movement at 3:45 in the morning. I got up and headed to the facilities. The doors to the restroom work by entering a keypad code. I entered mine and headed for the stall in my usual attire of nudity. Suddenly, I heard someone entering the keypad. Whatever. Didn’t work. They tried again. Doesn’t work. Tried again. It’s a really easy code and the fact they weren’t entering it correctly suggested they were not guests of the camp. I’m about to shout out the code, because everyone needs to go sometime, when the person begins violently assaulting the door. They start cursing, then not speaking coherently with slurs, and then begin chunking rocks and bricks at the door. I reverse decision and sit as silently as possible. They throw bricks at the screened vent windows and beat the shit out of the walls.
Quickly I realize they are going to enter this room no matter what. I do a quick count of stalls and aghast it dawns on me that I am in the only fucking stall in the restroom. Not only that, but whoever designed this stall was very clever with a sense of humor because the walls of the stall and door don’t go down to the floor. Instead, they actually rise above your knees and waist while sitting on this toilet. Thus, if one felt the need, you could sit eye-level with the bottom of the stall walls and basically see the entire party happening on the other side in direct view.
I felt like I was on an episode of Naked and Afraid because…I was naked…and fucking afraid. There really seemed only one course of action when this person finally got in. I played it out in my mind perfectly. They would burst in, their body riddled with constipation unleashing its hold combined with some unknown-mind-altering-substance, see my stall, attempt to break in, but would invariably enter via the bottom where there would be an immediate throw down between me and him.
There would only be one thing I could do to defend. I would immediately make velociraptor screams while thrashing and lowering my naked body towards them. I felt extremely satisfied with this solution and smiled because I knew that no matter what state of mind this person was in, they would absolutely be impacted.
I braced myself for the encounter. After some final incoherent mutterings/rattles and punches, the person wandered away, and I was left disappointed for more.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much after that.
When morning came, we received word our Warmshowers host would only be available at 8 pm. Being distanced only 15 miles, we decided to enjoy the day until evening by seeing two movies – our first of the summer – (Inside Out and Jurassic World). The theater was really nice because they stored our panniers safely for us while we watched. We chilled in a Panera (thank goddess it was open on the 4th) and charged our phones before we headed to Guadalupe. Out host was awesome and converted her garage to a bike stay for passing tourists.