Biking North and Central America


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Upon arrival at Ladysmith, we jumped onto bicycles and headed south. Keeping with our original plan we followed the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We predominately rode on Highway 101 and 1 in the US, Carretera Transpeninsular 1 in Baja, and Carretera 200 in mainland Mexico. However we did not limit ourselves to these roads and took many excursions (where south was not the priority) along the way.

Canada and USA

September 1, 2012 – December 1, 2012

From the terminus of Vancouver Island we ferried the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Port Angles entering our second country. Riding through the US took the next two and a half months. Although this section is a relatively short distance (roughly 1500 miles) we easily extended the duration of our trip with so many friends (new and old) and family to visit along the coast.

Generally the highways in the US were in good condition. The majority of the ride had smooth, pot-hole free pavement. Cities were the exception and as could be expected most cities had patched, rough streets that sent chatters up your bike and body. Shoulder width would vary, but rarely were there sections without any shoulder. It is comforting to have a buffer between you and passing vehicles, but a triple-trailer semi-truck passing at 60mph can make you forget that buffer.

Traffic on Highway 101 through Washington seemed to be predominately commercial and commuter – constant logging trucks rushing to the mill. As we entered Oregon, traffic diverted to Interstate 5 and it is seemed as if sightseers became the majority of road travelers. Reaching California 101 becomes a major artery and for much of the distance until the junction with Highway 1 near Leggett you are restricted to the 101. For the next few hundred miles Highway 1 is a windey, up-and-down road that skirts the coast, looking out over the Pacific.

There is a reason the Pacific Coast Highway sees so much traffic – it is spectacular! From driftwood beaches backed against lush forest to rocky bluffs to miles and miles of sand dunes to redwood forests to mountains that fall into the ocean to sandy beaches as far as the eye can see it is an amazing coast. We had all previously traveled sections of coast but were constantly impressed by what we saw.

During the bike trip we held onto our kayaking habits and were able to camp the whole way down the coast of the US. That being said, we also knew or met people the whole way down and had a roof over our heads for more than a few nights. Our group ranged in size from less than 4 people to 10+ and with all number of people we could find camping, but not necessarily in campgrounds. If you diligently look for a place to sleep you will find many available sites without having to venture too far from your route. Driven by a long day of biking and not wanting to pay for lodgings we had an “adjusted” standard for camping that had us camping in a pull-out of the highway more than once.

Many people we met used the websites Warmshowers.org or Couchsurfing.com. These websites allow travelers, who have set-up a profile, to find host in various cities around the world. The idea is that when you are not traveling you will return the favor and become a host. We only used the website Warmshowers.org once but had a great experience and know there are many hosts along the coast.

Next to lodging, an equally important need of ours was food. Again, along the bike trip we maintained the practices of the kayak trip and harvest as we go along. Fruit trees are plentiful along the coast of the US and if you tour in the fall there will be much ripe fruit to be had. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll never have to buy apples again. A second type of harvesting that we partook in has no season, and that is dumpster harvesting. Now you may be turned off by the notion of eating out of a dumpster, but many are not that putrid, often just a big steel box. The amount of food that gets thrown away is atrocious and often only occurs because it is past its expiration date, not because it is rotten. We found everything from cereal, to soup, to vegetables, to bread, to 8 pounds of Tilimook cheese. Since we are eating out of a dumpster we usually would just go for prepackaged food to have some sort of guard from illness. We even heard that Trader Joe’s has a separate dumpster for vegetables that is clean for picking.

Some other thoughts that we had include the following:

Line up places to stay in cities. Cities are the most difficult to find camping and a secure place for gear so it always helps to look ahead for places to stay. There will always be a tree you can sleep under in a park in Victoria, but it is more pleasant to have somewhere to store your gear and relax so that you can go out and enjoy the city.

In relation to the above note, LA is BIG! Our route was somewhat non-traditional but it took us four days to get from Ventura to Orange County. We were fortunate and had people to stay with each night (impart what made us take our time), but there is a lot of sprawl and you’ll be in it for a few days. We did have friends that did camp through the city while biking – so it is possible.

There are some places that stick out in our mind and we would encourage people to check out. First off is Avenue of the Giants. This 30-mile scenic detour in northern California is astounding. Thankfully there isn’t too much traffic so you can drive slow as you crane your neck to view these monstrous trees.

The “Lost Coast” highway intersects the avenue and then loops north, following the coast, and reconnects to 101. The immense terrain of this region has prevented development leaving this section pristine. We did not ride this road but traveled before and after with a pair of cyclists who did. The raved about the beauty of the area and still recommended it even though they said it had the steepest hills and worst pavement of the US coast.

The beauty of the ride in the US was supplemented by the locals we met that showed us things to do in all these places. Hikes in Washington, skate parks in Oregon, disc golf in Humboldt, dim sum and burritos in San Francisco, cob building in Ojai, surfing in Santa Cruz and San Diego: these are the experiences that are going to make the trip most memorable. It is easy to keep your head down and just pedal, but we would encourage everyone to take their time, meet people, enjoy their time, and make some memories – there is too much to do in the States just to fly by.

Baja and Mainland Mexico

December 1, 2012 – March 9, 2013

Although Baja is undoubtedly a part of Mexico, we noticed enough differences to speak of them separately. The first thing to realize about the wholes of Mexico is that it is BIG! Baja, from Tijuana to La Paz, is over 900 miles and, following the coast, mainland Mexico is over 1500 miles from Mazatlan (where the Baja ferries docks) to the border with Guatemala. We spent three and a half months in Mexico; enough time to begin to get an understanding of the country.