Seattle to Tijuana by Bike
In the fall of 2016 I rode my bicycle 1600 miles from Seattle to Tijuana over 41 days. I've always loved bikes; I grew up in Seattle, and the area is a great place to ride from the city streets to the beautiful hills and mountains of the Puget Sound. I rode all over Seattle, but I had never experienced a long distance ride. Enter the chamois butt'r.
I rode the Seattle To Portland (STP) bike ride a few times in the past and the rides were tough; 200 miles over two days and well supported with water and snack stops. But most of my rides were only a few hours long and no more than 70 miles. In 2013 my cousin and I rode motorcycles in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi; for the entire four week trip we were connected to the world around us, while moving, without being encased in a car. There's something about traveling by bike that, for me, brings me closer to everything around me and sees me smiling so much it hurts.
Why did I bike from Seattle to Tijuana instead of motorcycle? Frankly I was terrified of the idea. I loved riding a motorcycle in Vietnam and Laos, but their motorbikes our a fifth of the size we have in the US, and the top speed of most roads is 35mph in Southeast Asia. So I thought, why not ride a bicycle instead, see some sites, and maybe lose a few pounds.
I've broken up my bike journey from Seattle to Tijuana into five legs: Seattle to Lincoln City, OR; Lincoln City to Arcata, CA; Arcata to SF; SF to SLO; SLO to Tijuana. Each section was fantastic and unique in its own way.
The pics above going clockwise starting from the top left: Nordic Oceanfront Inn with viking pointing toward the sauna, Lincoln City, OR; the beaches of Lincoln City; sunset on Santa Monica beach; the rock formations at Manzanita, OR; the safest place for any bike is inside, we wiped off our tires before checking in for the night.
Seattle to Lincoln City
I started my bike ride in September 2016 from Seattle to Tijuana as I do for all my rides: from my front door. I rode down to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal in West Seattle and took a comfortable boat ride across the Puget Sound to Southworth and the western side of Washington state near the Olympic Peninsula. The weather was perfect and I felt good about my trip.
I put a decent amount of planning into this trip, most of which, as with any good plans, went out the window and had to evolve as things progressed. I had planned to ride about four or five hours a day, 40 to 50 miles, depending on where I would camp for the night.
I packed all of my traveling gear into two red panniers and one duffel bag, weighing about 32 pounds total. I'm happy to share the specifics of my contents just email me, but for the sake of keeping things short, I had a change of spandex (bib and jersey), camping equipment, jeans, basic bike repair kit, and enough jelly beans and assorted snacks to get me to Arcata where I would have a resupply of biking snacks and a new spandex setup waiting for me when I arrived (or so I had thought).
The Washington coast was gorgeous and rugged. My ride took me from Southworth through Shelton, Elma, and many other small towns as I traveled southwestwardly toward Aberdeen where I reached highway 101. The 101, and parts of the 1, run mostly along the coast from Washington through Oregon to California, and continues down into Baja Mexico. The route is epic, by car bike or train, the scenery astounding and wild.
My arrival into Astoria was windy and kind of tragic. I got my first flat of the trip on the Washington side of the Megler Bridge that connects WA to OR over the Columbia River. But this wasn't the tragic part. Fixing a flat with a load on the back does require removing all of the luggage and takes longer than a normal flat, but I was enjoying the sunny weather.
The Megler Bridge crossing was the tragic bit. The Megler is a long beautiful bridge with narrow shoulders and an almost constant wind gust as the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River spill into each other beneath the bridge deck. The bridge is totally exposed to everything, including huge sea going birds.
A wily old Astorian bicyclist told me fog and heavy winds obscure the bridge often, causing a high rate of bird fatalities as being hit by cars and trucks. I only bring this up because I had to evasive maneuver around many huge dead birds, which was doubly difficult with the narrow shoulder and my heavy bike. Plus I dropped a water bottle mid-span. But that all said, Astoria is home to The Goonies, one of my favorite movies as a kid, and is a gorgeous Pacific Northwest version of an old Victorian town with tasty modern food.
Lincoln City to Arcata
I freely admit that during this section of the ride I dumped my camping gear and became a credit card camper. The motels/hotels along the 101 and 1 are nice enough, and really anything with a bed and hot shower after a day of riding was preferable for me to camping. I totally get the allure and enjoyment of camping, and I was super happy to see how available campsites were along most of the ride beginning in Oregon.
That said, without the camping gear I was riding with a 1/3 less weight which made bike handling infinitely better, and I was going slightly faster. I used a Garmin Edge 25 bike computer to track my miles, speed, etc., and my average speed definitely increased after I shipped my tenting supplies back home. Nerdy route specific info available at the bottom of the post.
The route on the 101 from Lincoln City to Arcata is stunning and the roads are good. Mist and fog set in during this part of the trip, and the silence of the forests mixing with the crashes of the ocean's water along steep cliffs made this one of the one more meditative and introspective parts of my journey. Plus again, the food was good along the way.
How was my body functioning along the route so far? It took me a couple days, but I found a good rhythm to my daily routine after about a week on the bike. I was burning about 2500 calories each day in the saddle, so food was a constant theme for the ride, normally my focus on how to get more. As far as comfort went, nothing less than a generous amount of chamois butt'r and a comfortable pair of clean spandex bibs made for a comfortable ride and even more comfortable post-ride. I cleaned my bibs nightly with a little Dr. Brommers castile soap.
I decided to follow a more European riding schedule; I would wake up about 8a or 830a, take a little walk, and try to find a good bowl of oatmeal and many cups of coffee and water. I would than fill my water bottles, prepare my snacks for the day, and be on the road around 10am.
I would ride for about four to five hours a day between 10 and 3. At breakfast each morning I checked google maps and estimated how far I wanted to ride on any given day and compare my feelings with the reality of the road.
Hotel pickings can become very slim along the coast road, especially in between the more major cities and crossroads. That said, my method seemed to work, I didn't have to sleep outside along the way and I kept to about four or five hours of biking a day, save for a couple of challenging six hour days.
Reservations aren't a bad idea for the more popular or remote destinations along the route, especially during summer season. That said, my method seemed to work, I didn't have to sleep outside along the way and I kept to about four or five hours of biking a day, save for a couple challenging six hour days.
Why did I stick to four or five hours a day on the bike? A couple of reasons. I wanted to enjoy my journey, and I do love the challenge of bicycling, but I'm an average joe and I also like spending time on the couch. But more impactful on my decision was the advice I got from the Gandolf of the road.
There are riders I met who are part of a loose knit community of bicyclists who frequent long stretches of the coast highway. This gentleman of the coast road, Gandolf in my mind as he gave me no name, bestowed upon me the secret to a good ride; don't go over the six hour mark.
He was definitely right. I've included snapshots of my Garmin info below, and you can see that I only rode six plus hours a few times. And those days were tough; on those six hour days I found that my senses were dulled, legs were pudding, and I was completely out of water by the sixth hour.
The ride through Oregon was gorgeous and I was sad to leave such a beautiful environment and caring people. I was thrilled however to get to Arcata, CA for a rest day and to receive my resupply.
Arcata is a bustling beautiful city in its own way; a crossroads that sees college students, older residents, and travelers sharing park benches and cafes. I roomed in the vintage Hotel Arcata and felt like I was a character in a Wes Anderson movie for my entire stay.
A street fair was on and people were out enjoying the last days of the summer sun and lots of good food. I took a much needed massage, and wandered toward the post office to pickup my resupply.
The package I had hope to receive in Arcata with a change of clothes and biking snacks never made it to the post office. Apparently the package was delivered to a house about 20 miles north of Arcata. Why this happened we still don't know, but that's not the end of the box's journey. The package arrived back at my doorstep just three months ago. I couldn't believe this, two and a half years after not receiving the resupply, the post office sent it back!
Luckily Arcata has several great bike shops and I was quickly able to find the necessary biking items to resupply for the next section of my trip to San Francisco.
Arcata to San Francisco
After a restful day-off I set out for the Avenue of Giants and was immediately taken in awe of the impressively beautiful and massive redwood trees. The road was pleasant and the traffic minimal, that allowed me to contemplate the fork in the road at Leggett.
Leggett is an interesting town, filled at that time in late summer with people moving north with the different harvesting seasons. The town reminded me of a crossroads town from the wild west. At Leggett the 101 splits southeast and southwest. Southeast will keep you on the 101 toward Napa County and eventually the Bay Area while turning right toward the coast will take you to the beginning of Highway 1.
I had wanted to take the 1 from Leggett toward San Francisco, and follow the coast the whole way, visiting pleasant little towns like Bodega Bay in some hopes of pretending to be in a Hitchcock movie. But the 1 is a longer more meandering route to San Francisco than the 101, and I needed to be in SF sooner than time would allow for the 1.
I rode the 101 unencumbered by much except my thoughts and the breathtaking beauty around me. Through Ukiah, past long meandering hills, among the bustling scene at Santa Rosa, and into Petaluma among acres and acres of farmlands.
The route took me off the 101 toward Napa Valley and the beautiful wine country. My arrival to Napa was greeted by something new; people. Most of my travels save for the few cities I traveled through, were on long perfectly lonely roads. All in all I encountered about three dozen bicyclists. So arriving to Napa and than blazing into Vallejo to catch the ferry to San Francisco was like a culture shock of sorts.
The ferry ride from Vallejo to SF was amazing and really comfortable, and the few days I spent with great friends was equally fun. SF is a massively diverse and awesome city, I encourage touring it by bike foot or car.
San Francisco to San Luis Obispo
This part of my bicycle journey along the west coast of the US started off with a bang. Literally I had a blowout not but a few miles from my starting point in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of SF. Actually I was in Daly City on the fabled Hwy 1 with not a bike shop in site.
The sidewall of my tire had a blow out, not surprising given the miles we had already put on road, combined with my weight on the bike. I was ready for this event; not just a day before in SF had I bought a set of new more durable wider tires that would lose no air pressure and suffer no punctures.
The night before I rode out of SF I was feeling particularly lazy, and failed to swap out the tires from the comfort of the indoors. So there I was on the side of highway making the swap.
But the tire swap was quick and the new Schwalbe Marathon tires were phenomenal; no loss of air pressure, no flats, and very comfortable.
This was all good fortune and the next couple days would make for amazing riding on Hwy 1 past huge cliffs, maybe even huger than the cliffs I road past in Oregon, and unbelievably big views of the sky and ocean.
Riding the 1 is not easy, it isn't actually that easy to drive either. Portions of the road seem to exist just barely on the side of a cliff, and the shoulders are equally narrow. Plus the stunning views are a major distraction for everyone on the road.
I had a great breakfast in a Swiss themed restaurant in Carmel-By-The-Sea before setting off for what would be day one of the two hardest days of the trip.
Another reason that the 1 is especially tricky for the section between Carmel and San Luis Obispo is because of the elevation gain. The route regularly climbs and drops, something maybe overlooked by passing cars, a point made clear to me by a Carmelite whom I had met at breakfast that morning in the Swiss Cafe. The kindly older lady who had lived in Carmel her whole life was fairly convinced the road was flat and only a little curvy, and she assured me as we ate our breakfast, that the 1 would be a cake walk.
Fast forward seven hours and I was well past my self-imposed maximum time on the bike of six hours. The scenery I'm sure was beautiful, but there weren't a lot of places to stay along the route from Carmel to SLO, and as previously noted, I prefer to roll into town and find accommodations rather than make a reservation ahead of time.
I found no vacancies at Lucia, my planned destination, so I continued the ride another 75 minutes to Gorda. Gorda too had no rooms, but I was well spent for that day at nearly eight hours on the bike, and someone took pity on me and rented me a closet for the evening.
Gorda is a fuel stop for some, a quick gaze to the Pacific from the gas station and than back to driving. But Gorda was a pleasant place to stopover for the evening. In addition to staggering ocean views, Gorda has a restaurant and hotel, both of which suited me just fine as I slept and ate well. Getting up the next morning was a different story.
I was very sore, a side effect of not drinking enough the day before and not enjoying my customary post-ride chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is said to have magical recovery powers, either way it is delicious and something to look forward to after a day of riding. But I was really sore and the hills start immediately upon hitting the road out of Gorda as Highway 1 continues its ocean stroll before turning inland toward San Luis Obispo, many miles ahead of me.
San Luis Obispo to the Border
San Luis Obispo is an appealing city in a long line of nice places to visit on the west coast; the food is good, the streets are nice for riding, and the weather enjoyable. I stayed several days in SLO before I would continue onto the border and the final leg of my journey.
I thoroughly enjoyed the last week on the road as I rode deeper into Southern California. Outside of San Luis Obispo the great coastal highways take a turn inland to go around the Vandenberg Air Force Base, and the roads are good if not fast.
Far removed from coastal Oregon, the general pace of life picked up speed with each mile traveled south and the roads and trails were busied with people on their various daily trips. The increase in people came with a benefit: many bike paths.
The road from Santa Barbara to Ventura has got to be one of the finest bicycling roads; separated completely from cars, the bicycle path runs along the beach with the Pacific Ocean your partner all the way into Ventura.
I made my way past the Malibu Mountains and prepared for the outskirts of Los Angeles. Cars were much more frequent on Hwy 1 past Malibu and into Santa Monica, and my focus changed quickly from the beautiful ocean views to fast cars and quickly opened doors from cars parked on shoulders.
This section of the route into Los Angeles was a bit nerve racking and I was thrilled to come into Santa Monica and ride into my hotel via the ocean front bike path.
Santa Monica is a relaxing bubble inside of busy Greater Los Angeles. My hotel was near the Santa Monica Pier and I was joyed to remove my panniers and ride around the beach paths without my luggage. I felt weightless and had to think twice about not leaving my bags behind for the last few days of the ride.
I left Santa Monica and headed south past Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beaches, riding on beach trails for nearly the entire section. Outside of Redondo Beach the 1 travels southeast as the coast edges away westwardly and the heat of late summer sets in.
The 1 into Long Beach is a good set of roads, with a noticeable increase in truck traffic due in no little part to the Long Beach Terminal. I grew up around textile manufacturing with my family's business, and I love being around big ports like Long Beach with huge steel dinosaurs unloading and loading massive ships all day long.
That all said, the roads turn poorly quite quickly, a good place to test my already proven Schwalbe Marathon tires. No flats.
I visited Long Beach in the early 2000's for summers and I always had a lot of fun, although I never did much biking due in large part to the beaches. While very pleasant, Seattle beaches tend more to have pebbles and stones rather than sand, so my efforts at that time were to enjoy the real sandy beaches.
Anyways I'm happy to have waited to ride in Long Beach because the city invested in an extensive biking network, and the trails they created are phenomenal. Huge bike lanes, separated pedestrian paths, all running along the coast for miles to Seal Beach.
In my mind Huntington Beach is what I envision when I think about Southern California. I absolutely loved riding past Seal Beach into Huntington Beach. I drove this route many times in the past, but never on a bike, and I found biking this section to be extremely fun and challenging.
The temps were in the high 80's and the wind constantly blowing. But I had water on both sides of me, surfers in the near distance, and miles of bike path with no end in the site. It was in Huntington where I first sensed my journey's end, but for this I felt only happiness.
The views south indicated opportunity, adventure, and the unknown, and while my journey would finish not far off, for me, knowing that more adventure awaits, turned what would have been sadness for the end of an adventure into excitement for what has yet to happen.
The intense speed of life slowed again as I pedaled further south. Now well over 30 days on the bike, I was very used to my daily routines and looked forward to every aspect of my day. I loved my mornings of coffee and route planning, days filled with pedaling views and excitement, and I loved getting off the bike at the end of the day, feeling completely satisfied in a day well spent and used.
I smiled, I kid you not, for the entire of the section from Huntington and Newports Beaches to San Clemente. The roads were perfect and the views were unstoppable. Than I had to join I-5 outside of San Clemente and life got real again.
A freeway is no place for bikes for the obvious reason of fast moving vehicles, but also because the shoulders are littered with tire puncturing debris. I guess I just don't see all of the sharp little things when I'm in my car, but I definitely did on my bike.
Until this time I chose not to ride with headphones and music playing. I prefer to exercise without music, and I like being connected with all of my senses to the road while I'm biking. But when I was on the freeway I turned up the music and pedaled like mad until I freewheeled into Oceanside, back on bike trails and off the freeway.
The trip was extraordinarily amazing; I arrived safely at my destination, took in a lifetime of ocean views, and had quite an adventure. I would recommend this journey to anyone, sections at a time, or take the full journey past the border into La Paz, Baja.
On this trip I learned how to pack for a bike trip, came to understand that there is no more perfect breakfast than oatmeal (mom was right), and pushed myself beyond my perceived capacities. It's not that I didn't think I could make Tijuana, but each day I was focused on that day's section, never looking too far beyond my handlebars.
I visited a lot of new cities on my trip, but even the familiar places came anew as I had never visited them by bike.
Just shy of 1600 miles and 41 days, I had a really amazing time on this trip with my bike, and it left me wondering what the ride's like in the other direction. Hopefully I get the chance to take one of our Dragons on a long test ride soon. Thanks for reading, ride safe.