I’m crushing big on Monterey right now. Got back last night from a magnificent adventure, which included cycling two of Monterey’s top 10 rides – the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail and Pebble Beach’s famous 17 Mile Drive. (In 1 day.) I did both routes in one day because I was running out of days. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because these views are made for savoring, stopping, having lunch and general leisure enjoyment. But if you’re into distance and running out of vaca time, just do it. If you only have time for one, take the 17 Mile Drive / Ride.
The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail (paved bike path) runs from Pacific Grove to Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, following the route of the old Southern Pacific Railway. Except for a few minor exceptions in Marina –it’s nearly 100% car free, which means absolutely carefree cycling with spectacular dunes and coastline views along the way. And, when you head north to Castroville, you practically have it all to yourself. Biker’s bliss for sure. (Except for the couple mile section between Marina & Castrovile where you share a frontage road with some 18-wheelers…) Easy to cut out this section, but then you’ll miss out on the “Choke Coach” – see below.
Length: 18 miles, 1 way (36 miles total) – or any distance you like (many just do the a short ride 2.8 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey to Lovers Point, Pacific Grove).
Difficulty: This is a beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s flat for the most part, rolling for the other part with really only 1 “hill” of note.
Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive
It’s just a couple miles to get to the start of the 17 Mile Drive from Lover’s Cove in Pacific Grove. You’ll cruise through beautiful Asilomar State Beach and follow the signs to stunning 17-Mile Drive – view spectacular seascapes and mansions, along one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. By Cypress point, the bike lane ends so you have to share the road for a bit. The driver’s here are very respectful of bikers. How refreshing!
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s mostly flat with a couple climbs.
(I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I’m guessing my day’s total was between 60-70 miles, counting taking the local “bike route” up to Spyglass Hill and back down instead of staying on the 17 mile drive bike lane. I was getting a little giddy at that point. The bad news is, I ran out of battery on my phone so my pictures are limited. The good news is you get to discover it for yourself.
I worked up quite an appetite and thirst on my back-to-back bike adventure, which I sated at Domenicos on the Wharf. I was a little skeptical of heading into the tourist zone here, but it proved to be the right call and the perfect finale to my day. Great happy hour, service and food. I slurped down a refreshing margie and devoured a splendid house salad (best I’ve seen) and grilled artichoke – all of which were wonderful. Cheers to a beautiful day in Monterey. (No pics because my phone was charging.)
Hybrid bikes are $25 half day, $35 whole day. Road bikes, $35 half day, $65 whole day. (If you’re going further than 20 miles, I’d recommend going with the road bike.) They also have kayak rentals and SUP for more fun in the sun.
As a triathlete, I’ve cycled the 30-mile Santa Ana River Trail on multiple occasions. Designated a National Recreation Trail in 1977, it’s the county’s longest cycling and walking trail, running from the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach to the Orange/Riverside county line. The vision, now lost, was to create the longest multi-use trail in Southern California with planned extensions to reach as far as Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County.
Fairly bland for most of the ride, it starts to get pretty near the far end as you pedal along a park in the Anaheim Hills / Yorba Linda area. Here the river opens up to an oasis with green marshes and rolling water frequented by great blue and white herons, geese and other birds. On a clear day the San Gabriel Mountains reveal themselves as the alluring backdrop. If you squint just so, you can block out the concrete that frames the river and the traffic-jammed freeway on the other side. You might even imagine for a moment that you’re in Idaho or some other idyllic place.
Years ago, riding solo I passed a small group of homeless people by a restroom on the trail and remember feeling slightly uneasy. Recently, I heard on NPR that the police had cleaned up the area so I thought I’d give it go since I was going to Orange County for a friend’s 50th birthday party. I guess I should have done my research before I talked my boyfriend into doing the ride with me…
Since the last time I was there, the homeless population has exploded. There was zero evidence of any so called clean up. The area by Anaheim’s Angel Stadium is a wasteland with hundreds of tents and semi-permanent makeshift dwellings strewn on both sides of the bike lane and garbage everywhere. This goes on for a couple miles.
Homelessness is becoming as American as apple pie and baseball in a society where baseball players make millions and cities can’t help those in need or police their confines.
Who are these people? From what I’ve heard the population is a mix of felons, drug addicts and dealers, the mentally ill, veterans, illegal aliens, variations of all of the latter and other misfortunates. And yes, they are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children.
Are they the new Bedouins or gypsies of 21st century? No, they aren’t nomadic or transient. Make no mistake about it; these squatters have set up homesteads here. They have claimed their corner of concrete, creating walls around their “property” with wooden crates , bamboo screening, solar panels and generators. Several camps fly the American flag and have garden chairs placed in front. Others are less hospitable with wooden “Keep Out” signs propped against the tarps that comprise multi-dwelling compounds. Even in homeless America, bigger appears to be better.
I was relieved to see a volunteer group organizing trash collection. As you can imagine, the path is littered with debris of every kind. A church group was there handing out containers of food. There were a couple of car batteries lined up outside tents along the trail – presumably someone charges them too. These services are doubled edged swords, clearly addressing needs while clearly encouraging the permanence of an untenable situation.
Beyond the main encampment strip that runs a couple miles, I saw a tall, older man emerge from a pop-up tent. He was well groomed and completely buttoned up in an oxford shirt and belted jeans, looking like he might be heading to work. He reminded me of my father.
My boyfriend wanted to turn back at the first signs of the squalor. He was concerned that we’d get a flat riding over scattered broken glass and be accosted. Since we’d gone that far, I wanted to hold out for the restorative glimpse of natural beauty at the end…
It’s obvious that the situation is entirely out of control. It’s unsafe and utterly unsanitary. It looks and smells like something from a post-apocalyptic movie, a version of 3rd world lawlessness ―all within walking and biking distance to a couple of Southern California’s wealthiest communities (Newport Beach, Anaheim Hills, Yorba Linda).
The “oasis” was greener than ever; the streaming water sparkling in the sun. The herons, egrets and geese were plentiful. We cycled by two fisherman, surprised when one of them reeled in a good size fish. It was as if we’d been transported to another time and place—an entirely different movie set.
We had 2 near misses on the ride. On the way out, a disheveled woman with 1 front tooth riding an expensive triathlon / time trail bike veered into the path at me from the side lines. Luckily, I was able to swerve and avoid a collision. The ghost of Christmas future or stolen goods? On the way back, I was behind three cyclists when we went under a bridge. In the darkness, a half naked man ran at us yelling something undecipherable. Luckily, the cyclists in front of me managed to maneuver around him. If I’d entered first, I’m not sure what would have happened. Thankfully, disasters averted.
Apparently, the lack of policing and the escalating homeless population are due to jurisdictional disputes between the Anaheim Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff Department. Whatever the case is, it’s absolutely appalling and a shocking reality of life in 21st century America. It’s hard to imagine this colossal problem being addressed effectively anytime soon while it’s easy to imagine it getting worse. This is another skid row in the making – one among many. (Homeless populations are increasing everywhere in California down the coast from Santa Barbara to Laguna Beach and San Diego.)
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”
W. B. Yeats
For the record, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of my fellow man and understand that a series of unfortunate events and / or choices can have a cataclysmic impact. We also know that the human spirit can overcome and rise above most events with and without help. Regardless of your perspective, it’s a complicated tragedy. Some might say it’s just one of the many signs of Western Civilization’s decline.
Too melodramatic? Perhaps. What I know is what I’d hoped would be a stress-free bike ride on the Santa Ana River Trail was anything but. I’ve been waiting for my epiphany from this experience – yes, gratitude for my privileged life and what else?
A deeper conviction that I need to live closer to nature somewhere beautiful and under-populated, far away from Southern California. Am I running away? Yes, as fast and as far away as I can. I know, places like Idaho and Montana have their problems too, but I can face them better when I’m breathing fresh air and am surrounded by pristine wilderness.
I thought if it were me, my tent would be under the trees at the oasis overlooking the marsh – far from everyone else. I’d be fine walking a couple miles to partake in the free food and trash services. I would not be flying the American flag.
Do you have a large homeless population where you live? What are your thoughts?
My camera battery died so I couldn’t take more pictures, which is probably just as well as it’s not a place you want to be loitering. It is something you have to see to believe. Below are a couple recent articles in the OC Register with pictures and stories that better capture the extent of the problem.
A great iconic North County ride and one of my favs is through Camp Pendleton, a US Marine Corps base, to San Clemente State Beach. Bring your driver’s license as they check IDs at the gates both entering and leaving the base.
It can be a little tricky merging with traffic to get onto the base from the South in Oceanside, but once you’re through that – it smooth cycling with minimal traffic and very few lights or stops signs. The roads are generally in good shape, but the rain storms have beat them up a bit so be alert to debris and bumps. Just one hill and the rest is flat with a couple rollers. (I’ll have to film it for you.)
Once you exit the northern gate of Camp Pendleton, / Las Pulgas exit off Interstate 5, you’ll be in the blissful no car zone along the old airstrip and out to the San Onofre bike trail and the beach. Cruise along enjoying fantastic vistas of bluffs, beaches, and the Pacific. In the summer, you do need to be on the watch for campers, kids and surfers running amok. There’s camping, picnic and restrooms available throughout the park.
Yay, getting back in the road bike saddle. This was my 5th and longest ride post kidney stone surgery (see my Honoring the gift of health post). (Yes, I drank my H2o on the ride.) I cut it about 10 miles short for a total of 46 miles with 2,015 elevation gain/loss.
Speaking of camping and biking, I ran into the “starving cyclist” , AKA Greg Valenzuela, on my ride. He’s been on the road for nearly 5 years biking around the world on his Cannondale. Greg didn’t want his picture taken so here’s his rig instead.
Close up of solar charger
I asked Greg some questions about his adventures .
How many miles do you ride a day?
Between 40 and 100 depending where I am and where the next stop is.
Where’s the best place to ride in the States?
Washington and Oregon as there are so many cyclists who live there and the scenery is great.
Where have you felt the least safe?
Mexico and Nicaragua are sketchy (understatement).
Did you get any tickets?
4 tickets in New Zealand for not wearing a helmet.
How much does your rig weigh?
Got it down to about 121lbs…
Have you been in any accidents?
Yeah, a couple, but nothing serious.
If you’re riding in hot climates like Thailand, take saunas in the morning if you can. It will help you acclimate to the heat.
Where to next?
Dana Point on my way to Redondo Beach and then off to Morocco.
Borrowed my sister’s sweet Orbea tri bike for an out and back cruise on the Neuse River Greenway Trail. Bucolic beauty, tame riding (flat), and deer sightings along the river and over 7 bridges (2 suspension bridges) through wetlands and countryside. (I coaxed the little guy out of the brush so he could join his peeps on the other side of the path.) It’s an easy, paved, multi-use, 27.5 mile trail. I turned around at the 25 mile marker as I had to get back. This trail is part of Raleigh’s Capital Area Greenway System, and notably, also a portion of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, a 1,150 mile hiking trail that crosses North Carolina through the Great Smoky Mountains and concludes in the Outer Banks. (Perhaps something to add to my “to do” list though from the little I’ve seen, my preference would be to bike it over hiking it…)
Posted trail speed limit is 10 mph, which is ridiculous for road bikers. I went on a weekday afternoon when there weren’t many walkers or casual bikers so I broke the rule. If I lived there, it would drive me nuts not to be able to ride the trail at realistic road bike speeds. Of course, safety is of the utmost importance, but how can you have a decent mileage path that allows bikes and expect people not to exceed 10 mph? (Heck, I ride 14 mph on my mt. bike on the road.) It’s a big deterrent to this cyclist. Perhaps the sentiment is if you’re a real cyclist, you’ll ride on the road. I don’t know about you, but I get more than my fill of riding on the road in California so anytime I have a chance to ride and not worry about cars, I’m all over it. I’d be working with city council and bike advocates to change the rule or adopt some measure to establish designated times or days when road cyclists can ride at speed. All that being said, once you get the 25 mile marker, the roads look very rideable with minimal car traffic. You could probably make your own century ride out of it.
After a brief drive through and pit stop in Coeur d’alene , we pushed on to the next town.
To be fair, we saw CDA through the lens of a rainy dusk and a long day, but nothing compelled us to stop and stay a while. My impression was that it’s a high-end resort town with lots of restaurants and shops, not unlike what we have in California. Granted we don’t have that lake and the mountains as a backdrop, but CDA was a little too polished / manicured for what I was seeking on this first timer’s exploration of Idaho and Montana.
The next “big town”, Sandpoint, wasn’t even on our radar, but oh, my – what a charming little gem. Even in the dark, I could tell there was something special about this community.
We grabbed a bite at a local brewery where the locals were having a “snow making” party – cutting snowflakes and drinking the local IPA. Passed a wine shop filled with Halloween costumed oenophiles raising their glasses to toast each other.
In the morning, we strolled the town and the beach along the scenic shore of Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake (148 square miles surface area and 43 miles long) and the nation’s 5th deepest (1,150 feet ) and 38th largest in the country.
Sandpoint was mostly a ghost town in the “early” morning. It’s the shoulder season -shops don’t open until 10:30 and the locals sleep in. Stopped at a coffee shop and spoke with the owners, a couple who moved here in 2001 after living around the country. They love Sandpoint and say that the weather is nice and temperate from about May until October, when Indian Summer usually hits. Apparently, the current cold front (30-40 degrees) was an anomaly.
Rand McNally must have a crush on Sandpoint as they named it the most beautiful small town in America in 2011 and #1 ski town in 2012. It’s easy to see why this town has earned so many accolades as an outdoor paradise. Summer sports galore – swimming, SUP, hiking, biking – and it’s also on the famous road biking International Selkirk Loop. (Sounds like I need to add that to my “to do” list too.)
Apparently, the ski season invigorates the town as Schweitzer Mountain Resort (downhill & cross-country) is just a stones throw away. On our stroll, we ran into an avid skier from New York on a quest for coffee. He scouted this place for his ski club and liked it so much he came back to try it out for a month. Hmm, sounds like a good idea to me. I think I feel a crush coming for my Idaho 1 night stand charmer, Sandpoint…Definitely deserves a repeat.