Pedalling up the West Coast of Amazing?!?

This post is about trying to find happiness cycle touring up the Pacific Coast in the United States of America. This leg of my journey came after many months of cycling through Latin America, and was part of a wider journey about happiness. I cycled up the centre of Mexico and crossed into the United States of America at Antelope Wells, New Mexico, and after making my way westwards I hit the pacific coast just north of Los Angeles in a place called Ventura and rode up to Port Angeles, Washington, where I then took a boat to Vancouver Island, Canada (my route here).

going to wrong way
Of the 100 plus cyclists I met it was only these two french guys and I heading north

The first thing I should say about cycling the Pacific Coast is that not many people (only the odd mad fool or two) cycle south to north on this route. There is a fairly strong north-westerly wind and, since I rode this part of my route in October, the further north I got the colder and wetter it got. This might be worth bearing in mind as you read about my experience of this route, which wasn’t always a happy one. But then the life of a cycle tourist is always full of ups and downs…

Pass through some very beautiful nature

The route takes the cyclist through some outstanding natural landscapes – the draw dropping Big Sur (Cambria to Big Sur), magnificent redwood forests (Avenue of the Giants, Newton P. Drury Parkway), sublime Oregon coastline (Harris Beach to Gold Beach), and the glorious Olympic peninsula. All of course very good for one’s happiness. Personally I enjoyed the Oregon coastline the most – the roads generally ran closer to the coastline than other places and the beaches were fairly accessible.

A very popular cycle tour route

In my first week of cycling the Pacific Coast I met more touring cyclists than I did over the entire previous 10 months of my trip in Latin America. It was absolutely incredible. I soon learnt that unlike further south there wasn’t quite the expectation to stop for each cyclist and chat for at least 30 minutes. But nevertheless I still did connect with some very inspiring people either on the road or at campgrounds.

Some I met were on very short tours (a week or two), others on longer tours (going all the way down to Argentina – where I had come from), with all very different levels of experience, and at different stages of their lives. I really enjoyed meeting so many cyclists, which made the journey less lonely than other parts of my cycle and therefore good for my happiness.

However, in going south to north I normally met people only once, whereas those going north to south would often see each other several times, and may even ride together enabling deeper connections. I suppose after a while I did get a bit tired of having the same “where are you coming from/where are you going” type conversations. However, when I found out someone was going further south into Mexico and beyond, places that I had come from, it was always nice to connect in and share experience. It is quite exciting to see the people I met on the West Coast cycling in countries I was in some months ago.

Many cycle tourist amenities

hiker biker
A hiker/biker campsite

Since the route is so popular cycle tourists are well supported with various amenities. There are campgrounds every 10-20 miles that have hiker/biker sections that cost somewhere between $5 and $10. This makes camping very easy and safe. Yet on the flip side it does make it difficult to get random support from passers-by – the question “is there anywhere safe to camp near here” is instead met with a “yes, there is a campground just down the road” rather than a “yes, my garden”, as is far more common in other parts of the world. Whilst wild camping is prohibited it is certainly possible to do it, as I did many times. However, wild camping is perhaps a little more difficult than elsewhere, especially in California, due to all the no trespassing signs. There are many warmshowers hosts along the route that are normally very willing to help. Thus, whilst it was reassuring to know that there would always be a safe place to sleep each night, for me the journey in this part of the world lacked in spontaneity and flow.

Quite expensive

wild camping
Camping wild!

I had to really work hard to spend less than $20 each day on day-to-day living expenses. I had got by on $15 a day without any real struggle in Latin American countries, and that included staying in the odd hotel here and there. Hotels for the budget cycle tourists are completely off limits (at least $60-70 in this part of the world for some shit box of a room – not that I ever did stay in a hotel, but you can imagine it, right?) so be prepared to camp a lot. Also there are parts of the route where grocery stores are few and far between and the ones that are there are often very expensive. I’d recommend having a good stock of staples (for me that is oats, lentils, rice, onions, nut butters). If you are on a budget once you’ve bought food to cook yourself and then paid an extra $5-10 for the campground there is not that much left over. Whilst money isn’t generally important for happiness, as I’ve written about numerous times, it is of course important to be able to meet our basic needs.

Great weather, typically

The weather is pretty good. Not too hot, not too cold. That helped me appreciate the nature more than when I’ve been in more difficult climates. I hit some rainy days in October but as I understand it the rains came in much later than normal. The trouble with rain and camping each night is that it is difficult to dry your kit. The further north I got the colder and wetter it got (late October) and combined with the frustration around traffic (see next point) I’d had enough by the time I reached Washington.

But those busy roads

Unfortunately, a large proportion of the route is along traffic heavy highways. I find it difficult to appreciate and be present with nature when there is a high chance that someone, perhaps driving what I can only describe as a “monster truck”, is going to pass me, whether deliberately or not, with less space than I need to feel safe. It can be disconcerting and I sometimes felt very angry. This made it very difficult at times to find happiness through nature. As my journey progressed I got really tired of always having to watch my back (read here about what I do to protect myself on the road – using a mirror and taking up space on the road). The 101 is absolutely terrible at times and it can’t be avoided completely but when it can be avoided then I’d highly recommend doing so. In addition, it is also really very difficult to find a place to camp where you can’t hear traffic at night.

And lack of local connection

Although it was great to connect with other cyclists I found it difficult to connect with non-cyclists. Generally, I did not find people living on the West Coast to be all that friendly to people they don’t know – not compared with somewhere like Mexico, and Latin America more generally. Occasionally I would make random connections with people, but generally people didn’t seem to see me. In the USA there are large contingents of homeless people and I often wondered, as I sat outside a grocery store ravenously eating some bread and hummus, how much in the eyes of mainstream society I was just another homeless person. I suppose I generally felt like an outcast, which wasn’t so good for my happiness.

estonians
Many of the connections I made with non-cyclists were those from non-US countries. These beautiful souls from Estonian were awesome and were so intrigued and supportive of my journey.

Although it was great to connect with other cyclists I found it difficult to connect with non-cyclists. Generally, I did not find people living on the West Coast to be all that friendly to people they don’t know – not compared with somewhere like Mexico, and Latin America more generally. Occasionally I would make random connections with people, but generally people didn’t seem to see me. In the USA there are large contingents of homeless people and I often wondered, as I sat outside a grocery store ravenously eating some bread and hummus, how much in the eyes of mainstream society I was just another homeless person. I suppose I generally felt like an outcast, which wasn’t so good for my happiness.

So overall not a happiness maximising route in my personal opinion

In sum it is a route with some very nice natural landscapes along the way and well set up for cycle touring. There is a certain safe feeling in seeing so many other cyclists on the road, this might be important for first timers needing advice and reassurance and also perhaps a great way for those on their way down to Mexico to pick up some confidence. However, for me, the roads were not conducive to a pleasant and tranquil ride and limited the enjoyment of this otherwise beautiful route. Personally I wouldn’t recommend this route to anyone, let alone those cycle touring for the first time. But that is just me. As I said I was riding the opposite direction from most people and I had a long tour behind and ahead of me.

Give me the west coast of Scotland – now that is amazing! Even in the pouring rain!

 

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