It never rains in Southern California……(Except on us!)

LA to Manhattan Beach to Hermosa Beach to Redondo Beach to Long Beach to Seal Beach to Huntington Beach to Newport Beach to Laguna Beach to Dana Point to Capistrano Beach to Oceanside to Carlsbad to Leucadia to Encinitas to Cardiff to La Jolla

Leaving LA on our bikes was a joy. A bicycle /pedestrian only route took us virtually the entire way from our apartment on Venice Beach to Redondo Beach, located some 19km south of LA.

We passed through small beachside town after small beachside town and rode along car free beachside routes the whole way. As a result we were able to take in everything around us … lovely beachside homes, many surfers, beach volleyball, fellow cyclists , crashing waves and blue skies. A perfect morning!

The next 40km was, however not so pleasant as we turned inland and had to ride through LA’s massive docks and refineries. Very, very tough riding with a lot of HGV traffic, associated pollution, noise, heat and very uninspiring scenery.

Eventually we hit Long beach. A storm was, however building, the temperature dropped, clouds started forming and the wind started blowing sand across the beachside cycle route. We donned scarves and rode on through to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach until we got to our destination at Laguna Beach. We only just made it before the skies opened and it started thundering and lightening and pouring with rain….. We were a ‘tad incredulous! It never rains in Southern California or so the song says !

Next day we learned that such storms are in fact extremely rare. Everyone local loved it! At breakfast we met a group of ten year old girls who were very excited by the previous night’s thunder and lightning They were celebrating one of the girl’s tenth birthday and had had a sleep over. They told us that they had reached their grand old ages having never seen thunder and lightening and as they told their tale they all splashed around in the puddles!

A rainy Saturday in Laguna was then spent doing yoga and sitting in cafes. The only consolations were A. Susie the yoga teacher and her 90 minute class at YogaWorks, which we both agreed was the best of the tour so far… those stubborn hip flexors, tight from so much riding were stretched and pulled and we both felt a whole lot better afterwards! And B. A visit to the Hobbie surf shop and learning all about surfing, board development, local surf stars and the competition that has been going between the US, Hawaii and Australia over the last 40 or so years.

On Sunday the rain had at last stopped but the clouds lingered. Again bags were packed and strapped to the bikes and we began a 75km ride to Leucadia. A ride that should have been quite straightforward and easy. No hills and mostly car free. We got up early and took to the road with the many other Sunday morning cyclists.

All was going according to plan until we turned inland and hit the gates of Camp Pendleton, a major US Marine base, which fills 125,000acres of land, running 17 miles along the coast and about 15 miles inland. We had, however anticipated this major obstacle having looked on the map and seen hatched red lines notating US Military land and guessed that there would be no way through unless we had the correct documentation.

Given this we had looked online to see if we needed to do anything special to pass through. In so doing we found a letter from Major General someone or other which informed us that we should report to the entrance gate and show ID and then we would be allowed to pass through the base.

All straightforward stuff. But ah no. We discover that, yes you need to report to the gate, show your ID BUT then you need to get a pass which can only be obtained from an office adjacent to the entrance and which is only open between certain times Monday through Thursday. Being a Sunday it was not therefore possible to secure said pass and there was no other way to get through this bit of the coastline. Hmmmmm problemo!

The corporal at the gate, a boy of 19 or so smiled and confirmed that we would need to turn round and come back on Monday or go back and get a train through. We of course suggested in our best British accents that this would not be possible and that we had travelled all the way from Canada and were going to Mexico and could not possibly turn round and get the train. We explained that the US military website did not contain the information we were now being presented with and p.s. we were two British , middle aged women who clearly were of a limited security risk….and hence could he possibly make an exception and let us pass. The retort to this diatribe was ‘no mam.’

Obviously a different tack was required and as we talked on and on a number of positive things started to emerge from what seemed an intractable situation. Firstly the lovely corporal claimed that he had heard about us (we have had to stop and pass through several military installations on our journey and obviously the US military had been discussing our manoeuvres!). Secondly we were able to demonstrate that their information giving was inadequate on the website and needed updating in line with the new regime of passage that was being presented to us and finally just when we thought our anglo-American negotiations were about to hit a brick wall four other middle aged local cyclists (including one British rider who originally hailed from Lewisham) – all of whom had the necessary passes – showed up at the gate and offered to escort us through the base.

A telephone call-to someone very important somewhere on the base was made and the lovely corporal got authorization for us to pass through with our escort…. A sigh of relief from us and we rode swiftly through with our new best friends, chatting about cycling experiences and the inclement weather (which had now reinstated itself to wall to wall sunshine).

Our cycling pals deposited us at the side of the road at the base exit point. We were both a little out of breath due to the fact that they all raced and set a speedy pace through the base and as a result we both had to ride at our best to keep up. We were therefore rather relieved when we reached the exit 12km later and were able to wave them goodbye and then return to our more sedate (bag-carrying) pace for the remainder of our journey!

We rode on through Oceanside and onto Carlsbad for lunch. The latter of which was established in 1880 as a spa town and vacation resort and is home to the first American outpost of Legoland. It covers some 128 acres and is divided up into multi areas, including Miniland USA, where miniature landscapes modeled on New York City, New Orleans, New England and Sothern California have been constructed using more than 40 million lego bricks.

This stop was then followed by a short ride to our final destination for the day at Leucadia. A small and charming beachside suburb of San Diego.

Sadly the PCH road runs through the middle of the town but we discovered that there is a controversial plan to downgrade the road, slow traffic speeds by introducing roundabouts, new lighting and new crossings, introduce streetscape improvements and introduce segregated cycle lanes (more road diets!). All good stuff to us but again the car lobby appears to be up in arms! Fifteen people, including two state coastal commissioners have challenged the plans, under the misleading banner: ‘One lane , insane!’

Said one of the opponents: ‘The increase in (car) travel time has the potential to deter the public from traveling to the town and use the beaches’.

In terms of the supporters, one councilor pointed out that the plan is not about moving cars as fast as possible. ‘ It is about creating a place for people to gather, and to enjoy the beauty of our community’…..erm yes!

The project , which covers a 2.5 mile stretch of road has been in the planning stages for almost a decade. We wish the supporters of the project the very best. It is to us a no brainer that the project will benefit the town and will create a place that people will want to visit and will make it a much more successful and more attractive place!…albeit cars might have to move a bit slower.

In terms of our visit we stay in a small surf motel for two days and learn that this is a place that indeed revolves around the beach. Pretty much everyone surfs, a sport we don’t quite get having never tried (about to change courtesy of Surf Divas of San Diego….read on!). We started to practice by learning some surfing lingo – share the stoke, dude!

A waiter and local surfer and Harry Kean double explains the significance of catching/ reading the wave and how privileged he feels when he rides a wave. As he put it he is effectively the last human being able to experience and feel the energy of a wave which started life many thousands of miles away. He told us how hard it is to learn to surf well but once you get it, it will hook you forever. At this point in the proceedings I would suggest that if either one of us gets to standing that it will be a miracle!

In terms of highlights in our 48 hours in the town we visited the beaches and watched people surf the waves, we ate delicious fish tacos in a basic beachside restaurant called Fish!, we also ate an amazing fish stew in Harry Kean’s restaurant, we sat reading in the lovely cafe Pannikin, which occupies the former railway station, we did a wine tasting of local wines and we visited the meditation gardens created by a religious group called the Self Realization Fellowship in the early twentieth century. The latter of which was on the coastline and comprised beautifully manicured gardens, ponds full of Coy and waterfalls. It is place for silence and meditation and was a lovely space to dwell in for a while.

Having laundered, planned the last two rides of the journey to the Mexican border we hit PCH once again to take a short trip to La Jolla (pronounced La Hoya ). The ride was short and very pleasurable. The road followed the cost, rising and falling and a generous bike lane allowed us to ride in safety and comfort all the way. Indeed at one point we found ourselves going up hill to Torrey Pines and a two lane dual carriage way bike lane was provided… this is more like it!

We arrive at our home for the next two nights, which comprised a group of small wooden cottages built in 1911. The original owner used to own 20 of these cottage groupings, which provided holiday retreats for people visiting from San Diego. It originally took a four hour journey from San Diego to get to the seaside resort of La Jola and was a popular holiday destination. All of the original cottage groups have sadly all been cleared and replaced with mid rise condos. Our little enclave, however remains squished between two such condos and provided a quirky enclave in the street.

Whilst many artists, writers and holiday makers have found their way to this lovely place we were apparently their first long distance cyclists to arrive on their bikes!

The next couple of days was spent deliberation and then booking surfing lessons with Surf Divas, doing an impossible and way too advanced yoga class, searching out the culinary delights of La Jolla and preparing for our final ride to the Mexican border!

One thought on “It never rains in Southern California……(Except on us!)

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