Great clean-air travel adventure: A train/bicycle trip to beat all trips!

Since the end of 2012 is fast approaching, in breaking a bit with convention, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane. Truth be told, that trip, the one described below, took my breath away!

Dexter Lawn, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Dexter Lawn, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

While attending California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo (SLO) between 1973 and 1976, it was one of only two times in my life where I did not own a car.

For getting around town, I relied exclusively on bicycle and another form of personal or human-powered mobility – walking. Although a bus system was available, I can’t remember ever using it.

At any rate, it was sometime during 1975, I decided I wanted to ride Amtrak to Oakland, board with my bicycle and then pedal-push it all the way back to the place from whence I would start. It was an excellent way to see a part of the Golden State so unfamiliar to me then (although I had seen pictures in books and what-not of the area that I was so looking forward to traversing – the northern and central California coastal regions). And the aerobic benefit goes without saying. Needless to say, though, the trip literally and figuratively, had its ups and downs.

In preparation for this ride, I placed an advertisement on campus for others to join me on what was to be a 200-mile-plus journey. It was one person, John, who answered the call and he was definitely up to the challenge.

So, with bikes and outdoor camping gear in hand, the two of us peddled our way to the San Luis Obispo Amtrak station to catch the northbound Coast Starlight train bound for Oakland’s 16th Street station. Arriving at the latter sometime around 8 p.m. he and I rode to his friend’s digs in Alameda, basically a stone’s-throw away.

With overnight accommodations all taken care of courtesy of John’s friend, the following morning we awoke early to begin the long three-day journey that lay ahead of us.

From Alameda, we managed to find our way to the east approach of the San Mateo bridge (California Highway 92) where we discovered bicyclists and pedestrians were prohibited from crossing. So, what did we do? We hitched a ride across with a man driving a pick-up truck.

The two of us, our bikes and gear occupying the bed of the pick-up, it wasn’t too long until we were on the Foster City side of the Bay. It seemed only appropriate that we pay the toll required to cross the San Francisco Bay. So that’s what we did. Once on the Bay’s west side and upon alighting, we extended our thanks and off we rode.

Staying on 92 heading west, it was a long and arduous climb up to the summit of the mountain range that separated bay waters from ocean breakers. In my entire life, it was one of the most scenic and pristine rides I had ever experienced. Skies were crystal-clear blue and air was fresh and clean. Upon cresting the summit, all was right with the world. It is comforting to know that when the summit is reached, it’s all downhill from there, in a good way, mind you.

The long descent down the mountain’s west slope led to and brought us into Half Moon Bay where the east-west-running highway we had just traversed intersects with the mostly northerly-southerly configured California Highway 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH, for short), albeit under a low ceiling of typical California coastal fog.

By the end of day two’s journey we found ourselves near Santa Cruz with overnight sleeping arrangements under the stars at New Brighton State Beach all the while being lulled to sleep from the soothing sounds of ocean surf gently slapping the shore.

Rising bright and early on day three, it was onward and southward on PCH venturing to (and through) places like Watsonville, Moss Landing, Castroville (the artichoke capital of the world), Monterey (the land of John Steinbeck and the famous Cannery Row), Pacific Grove, Asilomar, Seventeen Mile Drive (and, of course, Pebble Beach and its world renowned golf links), cypress-tree studded posh Carmel Highlands (and lowlands) and arriving in Big Sur with overnight stay, if I recall correctly, in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campgrounds.

Day four was to be our longest and most grueling ride. It was a morning unlike the previous three.

Awaking under a canopy of tall pines was quite refreshing and invigorating what with the pine-tree smell wafting in the air and all. Gathering our belongings and setting off, the ride on PCH from there for some distance south consists of a series of winding uphills and down. Our travels were amazing in the sense that the long upgrade hauls were under a cover of gray overcast. And every time without failure, once reaching hill-tops, like clockwork and as if to be on cue, low lying clouds gave way to sunny skies. Had the situation been reversed, considering the physical exertion and the energy expended in making lengthy, uphill climbs like that under such circumstances, to have to endure such under sunshine beating down on one’s back, only to be hit in the face by the rush of cold air on the downward descent, well, you get the idea.

One of the highlights of the ride was crossing Bixby Creek on a high concrete arched bridge. Another was that each of us at two separate times took spills. John’s spill required truing the rear wheel of his bicycle, but with a wheel truing tool at the ready, the task was child’s play basically, and after this was taken care of, the remainder of the trip was without further incident, well, almost.

Arriving in the hamlet of Lucia, we took a break for breakfast, but not having had showers in three days, needless to say it didn’t take long for people who had decided to sit within nose-shot of us both, got wind of our presence and in a hurry and then, understandably, they up and moved.

Finishing a delectable morning repast, we hit the road facing more, to use a pun, uphill battles, the lay of the land eventually leveling out around the location of Piedras Blancas light station.

Although the two of us very tired from all the climbing involved and the distance traveled, the towns we traveled through between Piedras Blancas and SLO and which is now all a blur, have names like San Simeon (home to the popular and acclaimed Hearst Castle), Cambria and Cambria Pines, Harmony, Cayucos, Morro Strand and last but by no means least, Morro Bay (with its famous landmark Morro Rock).

After four days of train and bike riding, taking in some of the most breathtaking scenery coupled with thrills, chills and spills, this is a trip I will not soon forget. That this journey was breathtaking in the sense of taking in air that was fresh and clean made the entire experience even more rewarding.

A clean-air travel adventure for all time, at least, for me, anyway!

Image above: Gregg Erickson

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Nov. 30, 2019 @ 8:03 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

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