Could I? Would I? Should I?
The Oregon Coast
North of Brookings, South of Bandon
June 17, 2021
I met a couple at the Shoreline Campground a couple of days ago who were making this trip. Said they covered 40-60 miles per day. What surprised me was how little gear they had with them. There was no bulging sleeping bag, no sign of a tent - much less food and clothes.
I found this summary of a similar ride on the Internet. I have to admit it sounds rather tempting.
David’s Pacific Coast Bicycle Tour FAQ
In the fall of 2016, I bicycled from Seattle to San Diego, with a short stop midway at my home in San Francisco. Rather than write yet another bike touring travelogue (there are already many good ones), I wrote this FAQ covering the most common questions I got from friends, family, and the people I met while traveling. I also tweeted an update with photos every day.
How far did you ride?
About 1,800 miles, from Seattle to San Diego.
How long did it take you?
About 6 weeks. There were 37 days of riding, 2 full rest days, and a few days sight-seeing before the trip in Seattle and after in San Diego.
The start date in Seattle and the date I needed to be in San Francisco were set in advance. I had three weeks to ride this half. But I didn’t have a particular date I needed to be in San Diego or back home (in San Francisco), so I took it easy for the slightly shorter second half and it took three weeks.
How many miles did you ride a day?
About 50 miles a day for the first half and 30 miles a day for the second. My longest day was about 75 miles. My shortest day was about 25 miles.
What I’ve found is hours-per-day matters more than miles-per-day. Riding 50 miles on flat terrain with a tailwind might take 4 hours and I’d consider it an easy day. But riding 50 miles up and down mountains with headwinds might take 7 hours and I’d consider it a hard day. On this trip, 50 miles took me 4 or 5 hours depending on how hilly it was.
When there’s so much to see — like on the Pacific Coast — I preferred the shorter days.
Were you alone or part of a group?
I was by myself.
But I met lots of cyclists along the way. There were other bicycle tourists at almost every campground I stayed at. I’d often spend multiple nights camping with the same people. Sometimes I’d ride with them for part of the day (and we often ran into each other along the way). I also rode with a friend from Ventura to Santa Barbara.
Why did you do this?
For fun — it’s my vacation. It wasn’t for charity. It wasn’t a personal challenge of endurance. I wasn’t trying to find myself — I’m right here.
Had you done this before?
I’ve done a few bicycle tours, but not this particular route.
In the summer of 2016, I rode about 2,000 miles solo from Portland, Maine to Kansas City, Missouri. I rode about 50 miles a day and mostly camped.
In the summer of 2015, I rode with eleven friends from Eureka, California to San Francisco (about 350 miles) in six days. We had a van that carried our gear. This tour repeated part of that route, but I camped in different campgrounds for all nights but one.
And I’ve done a few other one and two week tours, either self-supported to fully supported.
What was your favorite part?
My favorite riding was:
The Oregon coast, especially the southern half which is less populated and more wild.
The Sonoma coast (California), especially the narrow and winding part between Fort Ross and Jenner.
Big Sur (California).
My favorite cities were Astoria (Washington), San Luis Obispo (California), and San Diego.
Would you do it again?
The civilization-wilderness balance is good. I saw a lot of nature, but didn’t feel like I was stuck in the middle of nowhere.
I even met a cyclist who was riding it for his sixth(?) time.
(But see What would you have done differently? at the end.)
How did you get time off for this sort of thing?
I’m currently between jobs. Most the people I met were between jobs or recent graduates.
How did you afford this sort of thing?
I saved up and it’s not very expensive. Touring is very cheap if you camp and cook for yourself. Hiker-biker camp sites along the Pacific Coast are $5 a night. Groceries are maybe $10 a day. I spent less money than I expected to.
How did you train for this?
I did a 2,000 mile tour the summer before the trip, so I was still in good shape from that. And to get in shape for that ride, I’d rode 100–150 miles a week for six weeks before the trip. It helped some, but it’s really not much compared to the actual tour. I just got in better and better shape as I rode.
How did you get yourself and your bike to Seattle?
I flew to Seattle.
I FedEx’ed a bike box and a box of gear to a friend’s office in Seattle. I got the FedEx labels through BikeFlights. It was only $65 to send two boxes containing 100 pounds of gear including the bike.
What did you eat?
Most of the time I bought groceries and picnicked or cooked. I cooked with a small camp stove. Sometimes I ate in restaurants.
Oatmeal with raisins, brown sugar, and sometimes peanut butter too for extra flavor and protein.
“Mocha” (an instant cocoa packet and an instant coffee packet mixed together)
A multi-vitamin, since I wasn’t eating a lot of vegetables. I really should have eaten more vegetables. Salad-in-a-bags are available everywhere.
Tortilla with peanut butter. A bike tourist staple. A tortilla and a big spoonful of peanut butter is about 300 calories.
Tortilla with salmon or tuna. I liked the flavored foil packets.
Tortilla with instant hummus. Larger hippie grocery stores with good bulk food sections had this.
Rice, ramen, or pasta for carbs. Sometimes lentils for added protein. I added instant soup mix or piri-piri spice for flavor. (I bought the piri-piri spice during my summer trip because plain rice or pasta is just too bland.)
Tasty Bites (boil-in-bag Indian food). These were usually available in larger town. One bag of tasty glorp and one bag of rice is a good sized dinner.
Mac & Cheese (classic or hippie brand). It tastes fine even if you don’t add butter and milk.
Not freeze-dried backpacker meals. They’re expensive, don’t taste very good, and I wasn’t concerned about the weight of the food I was carrying. Some people like them anyway because they’re convenient and consistent.
GORP. Store-brand was usually the best deal.
Donuts, muffins, pastries. I usually stopped at a cafe or bakery in the morning for coffee and a snack.
Ice cream. I’d stop for ice cream in the afternoon if it was hot.
None of this is fancy. When you bike all day, all food tastes great. Every cyclist I met had their own system. Some didn’t carry a stove and ate at restaurants or only ate cold food. Some bought fresh ingredients like vegetables and meat and cooked every night.
I’d eat at a restaurant every few days, if I saw something that looked particularly good. I liked visiting breweries too, and would sometimes detour a few extra miles to visit one.
How much food did you carry?
I carried about three or four days of food. I stopped at a grocery store every day or two. There were only a few stretches in northern California and Big Sur, California where there weren’t grocery stores and I had to make sure I had enough food for the next day.
What did you drink?
I carried two 24 oz water bottles. I’d fill them up in the morning at the campground and refill them from drinking fountains in parks or from the tap in restrooms. It was relatively cool during this trip, so I usually didn’t drink more than two or three bottles while riding.
I never had a problem finding water. I assumed water from a faucet or drinking fountain was potable (unless there was a sign saying otherwise). This is a safe assumption in the USA.
I only drank energy drinks when it was really hot and I needed the calories. I’d usually buy a cold beer at the end of the day to drink at the campground.
Did you lose weight?
No, I was about the same weight as when I left.
I probably gained some muscle weight, so maybe I lost some fat to make up for that. I ate ravenously for the first week, then my appetite returned to normal. Some people say that you can eat as much as you want when you’re touring, but I’d gain weight if I did that.
Where did you stay?
I camped almost every night. It was more camping than I had expected, but the weather was good and it was fun being with other cyclists at hiker-biker sites. I got a motel room for two nights for each of my two rest days (Florence, Oregon and San Luis Obispo, California). I got an AirBNB in Santa Barbara, California because it was raining. And a motel room in San Clemente, California because I was getting tired of camping and wanted to go to Pizza Port. I stayed with friends in Seattle, Ventura (California), Los Angeles, and Encinitas (California).
Almost every campground I camped at was a state park. I stayed at private campgrounds in Artic, Washington and Eureka, California (there were no state parks nearby) and a KOA in Manchester, California (Manchester State Park was closed for the season). I didn’t use Warm Showers for this trip, but I have in the past. There were two that were very popular with other tourists: Neil’s in Seaside, Oregon and a church in Crescent City, California. Most tourists also found a Warm Shower or hotel in Eureka instead of staying at the private campground. (Warm Showers is a network of people who host bicycle tourists in their homes or backyards for free.) (See also “How did you know where to ride and where to camp?”)
How do hiker-biker sites work?
Most state parks along the Pacific Coast offer hiker-biker sites specifically for hikers and bikers. So they require those campers to arrive by foot or by bicycle (and not have a car parked nearby). Most the time there’s a large hiker-biker camping area, sometimes divided into smaller sites for individual campers. Sometimes it’s just a regular site that the park rangers cram as many people into as they can. The sites I stayed at cost between $5 and $10 — the more expensive ones were in southern California.
There were sometimes homeless people in the hiker-biker sites. This was common south of San Francisco. Most parks discouraged the homeless from camping there by setting a maximum number of nights per month or year. In Monterrey, California, there were two or three homeless people at the municipal park in Monterrey. The ranger knew them (they paid), so I wasn’t concerned. In Carpinteria, California, a homeless man arrived late at night. A ranger came and told him to move on and he left later that night.
What sort of camping gear did you have?
A one-man tent (MSR Hubba NX). I like it. It’s small and light, but I wouldn’t mind carrying an extra pound of weight to get more space.
Down sleeping bag (Sierra Designs Zissou 3S Plus). This is my first down sleeping bag which I bought to replace a very old synthetic one. I like it, though it’s larger and heavier than other down bags (but lighter and smaller than my old bag).
Air mattress (Exped SynMat UL 7). It’s very think and comfortable. Someday when it breaks I’ll replace it with a smaller and lighter one.
Health and Safety
Was it safe?
As far as safety while riding, in 1,800 miles of riding I received only one “angry” honk. It was in Malibu where the shoulder was narrow and I was maybe in the road a little bit. Most of the route had enough shoulder that I didn’t need to ride in the road, even if the shoulder was only a couple feet wide.
While camping, I generally felt safe because there were usually other cyclists at the site (in all but four campgrounds), and most state campgrounds are popular and full of people.
However, bike and gear theft was common. I was warned about bike theft by rangers and campground hosts at almost every state park in Oregon and California. I met a British couple at a state park in Brookings, Oregon who had their bikes stolen the night before I arrived. I locked my bike every night and kept my gear in or close to my tent. Some hiker-biker sites had bike racks I could lock my bike to, but many didn’t.
In Northern California, I was warned about daytime theft by drug addicts from Arcata to Garberville (basically along US-101 in Northern California). I met a cyclist who stopped at Safeway in Arcata for groceries. The security guard offered to watch his bike while he shopped and then advised him to keep riding south because it wasn’t safe in Arcata. At a grocery store in Garberville, two fellow cyclists watched my bike while I shopped and then I watched theirs while they shopped. During my watch, a twitchy man walked up and checked out the bikes. I gave him a look and he walked away. This stretch was also full of “trimmigrants” — people who were there looking for temporary jobs trimming marijuana (trimming is harvesting, basically). They were usually young and dressed like hippies. They’d frequently hang out in town or at highway on-ramps to hitchhike. This gave the area a weird vibe too.
Twice I encountered riders who I initially thought were tourists but weren’t and acted a little sketchy. One was in Gold Beach, Oregon and the other in downtown Monterrey, California. Both had nice panniers and reasonably nice bikes — that’s why I thought they were bicycle tourists. In both cases, the conversation started with where we were coming from and where we were going — that’s when I realized they were locals and not tourists — and then shifted to what kind of gear I had and how much it cost. I usually don’t get that question from other tourists and I felt like they were casing my bike and gear. So I finished the conversations and rode on.
There were also raccoons and sometimes bears to worry about. Most state parks had food lockers, but not all of them. If they didn’t have food lockers, I either hung my food or kept it in my tent sealed in a pannier.
Were you tired all the time?
During the first half, I appreciated the rest day after a week of medium-to-long days. During the second half, when the daily mileage was much shorter, I don’t think I ever felt tired.
Did you get bored?
Not really. The scenery was almost always beautiful and interesting. I didn’t ride too many hours a day and I could stop whenever I wanted.
On a few long days or days where I was feeling restless, I listened to music or podcasts. I have a speaker that straps to my handlebars.
Did you ever take days off? Yes.
I planned to take a day off once a week, but it ended up being more like every ten days. I took rest days in Florence, Oregon, San Luis Obispo, California, and Santa Barbara, California. I also took three days off at home in San Francisco.
Did you get a lot of flats? Did anything go wrong?
No. I didn’t get any flats. I didn’t have any major mechanical problems or get into any accidents.
My tires are thick and have kevlar belts. I’ve put over 4,000 miles on them and I haven’t gotten a single flat.
The front derailleur cable frayed and slipped off in Northern California, but I was able to reconnect it and didn’t replace it until I got to San Francisco. I also had to do routine maintenance along the way like oiling the chain and tightening the cables. I replaced the chain midway in San Francisco too. It wore out after about 1,500 miles. After the trip, I washed the mud off my bike and oiled the chain.
What did you do when it rained?
While riding, I wore rain gear — jacket, hood, pants, and shoe covers. If it was raining really hard, I’d wait it out under a tree or in a cafe.
While camping, I just stayed in my tent — my tent is water proof. I did try to time my hotel/home-stay rest days to avoid rain. Bicycle My bike at start of the trip in SeattleHow much did your bike weigh?
About 80 pounds including gear, food, and water.
The bike is about 40 pounds without bags. The gear weighs 35 pounds (with the bags). Food and water weigh another 5–10 pounds, depending on how much groceries I’m carrying.
What kind of bike do you have?
I have a Surly Long Haul Trucker. It’s a budget touring bike and very popular. The customizations I made are:
Replaced the drop handlebars with trekking handlebars. (See What’s up with the handlebars?)
Replaced the stock saddle with a Brooks B-17. (See What’s up with the saddle?)
Replaced the stock tires with Schwalbe Marathons. They’re heavier, but they have a kevlar belt and I’ve never gotten a flat.
Added front and rear racks. They’re Surly’s Nice Racks. They’re heavy and probably overbuilt for what I do, but they will never break.
Added a Shutter Precision PV-8 front dynamo and Busch & Müller front and rear lights. The dynamo powers the lights and the lights are always on. The front light is a Luxos U, which can also charge anything with a USB adapter. But I rarely used this. (See How did you keep your phone charged?)
What’s up with the saddle? It looks really uncomfortable.
I have a Brooks saddle. I like it. My sit bones rest on the saddle and my in-between parts don’t, so it’s very comfortable.
After the tour I bought a resin Brooks saddle. The leather saddle is classy, but it can stretch when it gets wet. The resin saddle isn’t as pretty, but I don’t have to put a waterproof cover on it when it rains (or ride on a mushy saddle when I forget to do this).
What’s up with the handlebars? They look weird.
They’re trekking bars. The advantage of these is they have a lot of different hand positions. They’re apparently popular in Europe and you can get them in the USA from Nashbar or Velo Orange. Everyone has a different way to set them up — see the pictures to see how I did it. Gear Gear dumped on my kitchen floor halfway in San FranciscoHow did you keep your phone charged?
I carried a USB battery brick and recharged it about once a week. The battery has the capacity to fully charge my phone about three times. But if I keep my phone in airplane mode at night and while I’m riding, I only use 25% to 50% of the battery per day. That means I only need to recharge the battery brick once a week. That was easy to do — some campgrounds had electricity, motels always had electricity, and sometimes I’d recharge it in a restaurant or cafe. I also have a dynamo on my front wheel with a USB charger. I get about 1% of phone charge per mile. Mostly I have the dynamo so I can always have my front and rear lights on without having to worry keeping them charged. I rarely bothered plugging my phone into the dynamo.
How did you get on the Internet?
There was mobile phone coverage along most of the Pacific Coast, except in very remote parts. I used WiFi when I could to save on data.
How did you do laundry?
At laundromats or where I was staying. I don’t think any of the state parks had laundry, but the larger commercial campgrounds did.
I had two sets of bike clothes and one set of camp clothes. I did laundry about once a week. By the end of the week, the bike clothes stunk. On previous tours I could wash out my bike clothes every day and dry them in the sun. On this tour, it was cold and often wet so I couldn’t do that. On my next tour, I might try wool jerseys, which are supposed to absorb odor better.
What gear changes did you make midway in San Francisco?
I swapped my MSR WhisperLite International for an isobutane canister stove. The WhisperLite runs on white gas. Finding white gas is hard — campers nowadays have butane stoves and battery-powered lanterns. And it’s often only available in gallon containers — quart containers are less common. I met a cyclist with a gallon of it strapped to his front rack. Isobutane canisters are available at almost any store that sells camping gear and at some WalMarts. The isobutane canister stove is all smaller, lighter, can simmer, doesn’t require priming, and doesn’t produce soot. I met two cyclists who burned gasoline, which is ubiquitous and available in small quantities for pennies, and they had no problems with clogging or bad smells or tastes. It seemed to be a little sootier, but it was already pretty sooty. So I’m sticking with isobutane, unless I travel in a part of the world that doesn’t have it or I get over my issue with burning gasoline.
I bought a larger pot and a long spoon. The larger pot made it easier to cook boil-in-a-bag meals and the long spoon made it easier to eat them.
I replaced my paper copy of the BPC book with a digital copy on my Kindle.
I dropped off some clothes and other odds and ends I never used. I picked up my puffy jacket because I wanted another layer to wear at night.
How did you know where to ride and where to camp?
I had a guidebook, maps, and a smartphone, but mostly I just kept the ocean on my right and followed the bike route signs when I was in a city. Oregon and California have official Pacific Coast bicycle routes. North of LA, the route is almost entirely on US-101 or CA-1 (the Pacific Coast Highway). I used a published route on side roads to get through LA and further south. I used:
The book “Bicycling the Pacific Coast” (BCP book). For the first half, north of San Francisco, I mostly followed the itinerary from this book. It breaks it up the route into sections that average just over 50 miles and each section usually ended at a state park. Sometimes I read the descriptions, but they rarely had important information. I carried the paper book with me for the first half then replaced it with the Kindle edition in San Francisco. Get the digital version — it’s lighter than the paper book.
The Adventure Cycling Association’s Pacific Coast maps (ACA maps). While the BPC book also had maps, it was easier for me to put the ACA maps in the map case on my handlebar bag and leave the book in my bag. I liked having them, but they weren’t essential since the route was so simple and there were almost always official bike route signs near towns. The maps were sometimes useful to use to estimate at a glance how far I was from the campground or the nearest town with a store.
The free Oregon Coast Bicycle Map. I got this at the tourist information center in Astoria. It’s the best free bike map I’ve ever used. (And I can’t find it online.)
Google Maps app for iPhone. I used Google Maps for navigation when I needed to go somewhere off-route like a grocery store and to compute the mileage between places. Be careful: it sometimes gives weird directions in northern California because it thinks cyclists aren’t allowed on US-101. The BCP and ACA routes are better. (Update March 2017: I checked again and it now routes cyclists on US-101 near Eureka. It does recommend taking Tompkins Hill Road between Eureka and Fortuna. I don’t recommend this — it’s very steep.)
MAPS.ME app for iPhone. MAPS.ME has downloadable maps (from OpenStreetMap). I used MAPS.ME when I wanted to see where I was, but didn’t have internet connectivity and couldn’t use Google Maps. It also has navigation, but it isn’t as good as Google Maps.
Most other cyclists had either the BPC book, the ACA maps, or both. Many still used Google Maps while riding instead of the book or maps because it was more convenient.
Did you ride on the highway or interstate? Sometimes.
In Northern California, I had to ride on the shoulder of US-101 because it was the only road available. It usually had a wide shoulder.
I never had to ride on an interstate. North of San Diego, riders either ride on I-5 or through Camp Pendleton. Riders prefer going through Camp Pendleton, but the Marines require riders to fill out a form in advance and they can close the base to riders for any reason without notice. It was open to (approved) cyclists on the day I passed through. I filled out the form before I started the trip.
Riding on a highway sometimes feels safer than riding on a quieter road because the shoulders are often very wide.
How did you get yourself and your bike back from San Diego?
I took the train to San Francisco.
I took the Amtrak Surfliner from San Diego to Los Angeles and the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Emeryville. (Though I should have gotten off at Jack London Square — it’s easier.) There’s a special car with space for bikes on the Surfliner. On the Coast Starlight, I handed my bike to a guy in the baggage car in Los Angeles and he handed it back to me in Emeryville. Boxing your bike is no longer required. (This was a brand new policy then and half the Amtrak employees I talked to were still unaware of it.) From Emeryville, I took an Uber to San Francisco.
What would you have done differently?
Start earlier. While riding in the shoulder season was nice because there was less traffic and smaller crowds, I didn’t enjoy the short days and long nights toward the end of the trip. I’d start earlier (if riding in the fall) or ride in May and June. Riding in spring would also have the advantage of avoiding trimmigrant season in northern California.
Ride shorter days. I’d also split two long segments from BCP book into two days: Harris Beach State Park (the border) to Elk Prairie Campground (and stay at the Warm Showers church in Crescent City) and Manchester State Beach to Bodega Dunes State Beach (and stay at Salt Point State Park).
Start in Vancouver (and explore the nearby islands).
Spend a full day in Astoria, Oregon. Or get a hotel in Astoria one night and stay at Neil’s famous Warm Shower in nearby Seaside the next night.
End somewhere between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Or take the train from Ventura to Capistrano Beach to bypass the worst of the traffic in Malibu and Orange County. Though the majority of the ride through Los Angeles county is on paths along the beach.
My rough plan is to ride from San Francisco to Colorado and maybe to Kansas City starting in late April or early May 2017. I’d also like to do a non-U.S. trip — possibly Baja Mexico or Central America.