California dreaming

Words & Photos: Sean Jansen

It had been in the back of my mind for about a year. To be able to tour the European coastline with a bicycle while towing a surfboard. I wanted to start in Norway and head south via the length of the coast until I reached the Mediterranean shores of southern Italy. Thereafter, around France, Spain, and Portugal, including a ferry ride into the United Kingdom and further, another ferry into Ireland. I figured it would be a trip of a lifetime. Get in shape, surf incredible waves, take photographs, and pursue a dream that I thought about every night before I went to sleep.

Photo credit: Sean Jansen

However, I had a problem. I have never toured before, nor did I know anything about bicycles or the mechanics of bicycles. I needed a warm-up trip. A trip I could test my knowledge, strength, and passion on to see if I really wanted to pursue the touring vacation I have been dreaming about.

In April, a month before my third year of college at Humboldt State University in Northern California, I came up with the perfect trip. A trip that would not only train me for the trip I had in my head but also a trip that has never been done before in this state, let alone any state in the U.S. It was a bicycle touring trip that would go from Eureka to San Clemente, my home town, covering a distance of almost 1,463 km on pavements and dirt, while towing my surfboard.

I got my metaphorical wheels rolling and began going to every single bike shop in my college town to pick their brains, find out everything I could about bicycle touring, and prepare as best I could for this epic trip.

Finally, the semester was over and my 15-year-old bicycle was sitting in my trailer, fully loaded and ready for the start of this long haul the next day. I was terrified. “What was I thinking?” crossed my mind more than once. But then I realised that it was just nervous excitement, a familiar feeling I experience whenever I am about to embark on a journey.

The next morning, I started peddling south, through Eureka towards the town of Fortuna, 24 km away, where a friend of mine lived and where I would crash for the night. This would be my last 'luxury meal' of the trip.

I could have stayed on Highway 101, but I wanted to follow every road possible, pavement or dirt path within close proximity to the ocean, just in case I was able to find a wave that I could surf. So along the 'Lost Coast' I went, while pedalling up and down seriously difficult roads that ended up going nowhere close to the ocean. Two days later, I reached Shelter Cove and made my way to the campground, to be greeted with a view of some migrating grey whales breaching just 90-odd metres from shore.

The next morning I left Shelter Cove to tackle the most difficult part of my entire trip, the Usal Road. This road is scary enough just reading about it. It is closed except during summer and had barely opened when I got there. I remember talking to a State Park Ranger before I left on this trip and him saying, "You can’t go through there in winter. And if you take this road on your bicycle, you need to let me know when you go through and when you get out so that if you don't come out during those times, I can send a search and rescue team in." Feeling somewhat terrified, I headed off along Usal Road. Throughout the 40 km, the length of Usal Road, I didn't come across a single human being. The only thing I did see was scat. And in particular, mountain lion scat. During the three-hour ride, I saw more mountain lion scat, including one that was still fresh and steaming on the road, and heard crackles in the forest. You tell me if you wouldn’t be terrified? I finally arrived at the campground, very relieved to see campers and
the ocean.

Photo credit: Sean Jansen

I woke up the next morning with a sense of joy. Joy because I knew I only had eight more kilometres of dirt until I hit Highway One. Once there, I was relieved to have made it, alive, through the hardest part of my trip. From here on, I was in civilization and on a road that would ease the pain of my aching behind.

However, the road brought new worries as I would be cycling on the side of the road, a target for any driver to hit me. With cars, motorcycles, and motor homes flying past me, I thought about the freedom I had on the dirt roads without having to worry about cars. Pressing on, I rode about 60 km a day, setting up camp in any state park that was close to the ocean. State parks had a deal for touring bicyclists where we only had to pay about five to ten dollars to camp. As I only cycled around 60 km a day, I was able to spend either the afternoon or early morning surfing - it was a great balance.

I made my way down the coast to San Francisco and although I arrived safely, it wasn’t without consequence. Along the Sonoma Coast, the wind was howling at around 60 knots and with me towing a trailer, it didn’t take much to knock me off my bike and into the road. Luckily, there were no cars. But just as I picked myself up and moved my bike out of the road, a semi truck came around the corner ... .

I continued south towards Pacifica and into Half Moon Bay, where I had one of the best surfs of the trip. It was creepy though because I was alone in the water and Half Moon Bay is known for having had some shark attacks. After a fun surf session, with all my limbs left intact, I continued to the popular surfing areas of Davenport and Santa Cruz, where I met up with good friends and had my first hot shower of the trip.

I stayed in Santa Cruz for a couple of days to recharge, do some laundry, catch up with old friends, and surf until the sun went down. Soon enough it was time to get my wheels rolling again.

I knew the scenery in Big Sur was gorgeous, as I had driven through this region many times but never stopped. This time, it took me two days to get out of Big Sur because I couldn't put my camera away, but also because it was probably the hardest part of the trip. There are not a lot of flat parts in Big Sur, but it was so pretty and the surfing super fun that it didn't matter.

Southwards I continued towards Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo (SLO). This stretch was not the most difficult, but definitely the hottest. I stayed with a friend in SLO, enjoyed a much-needed shower and recharged, as it had taken me a week to get there from Santa Cruz.

I was now heading towards southern California, where the water is warmer, it's always sunny, and the surf cleaner with less wind. Whilst in Santa Barbara, I enjoyed some great waves on the point breaks. From there, I headed to Ventura, to meet up with a friend. We surfed and skated at midnight, bombed hills, and had the times of our lives.

For there, I headed to the hell that is Los Angeles, Spanish for 'the angels'. The drivers are manic and just reaching Malibu, on the outskirts of the city, was dangerous with all the Ferraris and BMWs flying past at mach speed. Reaching Santa Monica was a nightmare, with bumper to bumper traffic and no one moving over when they had space.

Once in Santa Monica, I happily cruised on the 18-mile boardwalk along the beach from Venice Beach to Palos Verdes. This safe passage was away from traffic and surrounded by the social life of tourists, locals, and any enthusiast that uses wheels to get a work out and enjoy the sun and weather of southern California. There weren’t any campgrounds from here to my home, approximately 160 km further south, so I stayed in a hotel. I discovered there were hostels in the area, but only after I left.

After meeting up with a friend of mine to shoot some photos of surfing the next morning, I hit the road once more on the ten-mile stretch that is Long Beach, to Seal Beach. This would be my last night of the trip. Having cycled through the ghettos of Los Angeles to the hotel I was staying at in Seal Beach, I couldn’t help but notice the differences from town to town. I started in Humboldt, where redwood trees meet the sea, and ended in Orange County, a metropolis of Republicans and over-priced coffee shops.

At the hotel, I sat in my room and stared up at the ceiling with a sense of sadness. It’s funny how before I started the trip I was terrified. Now that it is my last evening I didn’t want it to end.

I didn’t sleep much that evening and woke up early, hoping to beat the Saturday beach traffic from Huntington Beach through to San Clemente. Peddling with a sense of urgency and desire to get home, I raced through Laguna and Dana Point, to the San Clemente pier. I was almost home when I had the closest call of my trip just a few kilometres from my parent’s house. Some guy in a new Merc flew past me and his mirror hit my arm, almost throwing me underneath his car. Despite this incident, I arrived at my parent’s house all in one piece, smiling from ear to ear.

After a month and thirteen days on the road, I had made it! It had been a great trip, a varied trip, and a trip I hoped would prepare me for Europe. But now that I’ve experienced California, Europe isn’t even on my mind anymore. The state of California offered me more experiences and photos than I knew were possible. You should try it too!