Monthly Archives: February 2022

27th February Day 2.  Alpine to Pine Valley.  24 miles. 3500ft climbing

Although yesterday was a shortish day, nearly 900m climbing on the first outing was tough and as a result we were asleep very early. This, combined with David still suffering from a cold he had picked up on the plane (and no it was not Covid) scuppered our recovery from jet lag.  So it was another 4am wake up for David and 5am for me. Luckily breakfast was from 6am and we were on the road soon after 7 in crisp morning air just above freezing. 

We decided to deviate from American Adventure Cycling route which ran alongside the freeway I8 for a lot of the time.  We had a lot of climbing to do and its not pleasant with the roar of the freeway in your ears. Our route was a little longer and had more climbing but that was more than made up for the fact it followed a quiet side road. The first 5 miles in the early morning sun were glorious as we dipped down into the Jopatul valley.  The landscape was rocky but still green at this time of year. Then we had to pay for that descent, as the climbing began.  It only finished just before we got to our destination. Pretty tough for day 2, especially when we were both not as fit before starting as we would have wanted.  But the cycling was fine and soon we were back into the climbing mentality – low gears and plod, plod, plod. There was enough of interest to keep us occupied and we felt pretty good for the first section, passing ranches and small dwellings.  It felt a world away from San Diego.

As the road swung north and eventually crossed over I8 we were beginning to tire. At last we reached Descanso and the wonderful Descanso Junction restaurant.  We were sorely in need of a break and this more than fit the bill.  The ‘saloon’ style restaurant was buzzing with people in for Sunday morning breakfast. Second breakfast is always our favorite meal when we are on the road, but we have learnt about the portion sizes in the US.  So we shared a ‘gourmet omelette’ which was more than enough sustenance for 2. We also remembered the great US tradition of perpetually filling your coffee mug and got a good caffeine hit. 

Although only 7 miles to go, most of it was more uphill.  The landscape on this side of the mountain was greener with snow lining the side of the road.  Yes folks, not a misprint, there were still pockets of snow left from the storm that had passed through Southern California the day before we arrived, bringing very cold weather. We had heard it had been snowing in the mountains and we were now at 3000ft. We were told that a nearby mountain which was 6,00 feet had two feet of snow.  It seemed unbelievable that this was the first and probably only snow we would see this year!

At last we topped out at over 4000ft in the one horse town of Guatay before a final swoop down into the much more pleasant little town of Pine Valley. The little petrol station and store were helpful in filling our camping fuel bottle (which takes a quarter of a gallon – impossible at most large petrol stations) and we had a nice chat with the friendly store owner who assured us that we had done the most difficult part of the road from San Diego.  It was only midday but we had been plodding up hill most of the time since 7am so we were jolly glad to find the Pine Valley motel, who let us check in 2 hours early.

We could hardly move for a couple of hours but gradually revived enough to take a little stroll round the town and buy some provisions to cook a meal in the evening, now the camping stove was up and running. 

Saturday 26 February – San Diego to Alpine: 35 miles

Finally, so it seemed, we packed up and started on the road – or more accurately started on the bike path.  Still jet lagged, we woke early and did our final packing.  It all seemed to fit neatly in full panniers and by 7am we off.  First few hundred meters were to the end of the bikepath by the Pacific Ocean.  There is no plaque here but this is the official start of the Southern Tier Route.

The Start – early morning and surf

The first few miles along the San Diego river were both flat and familiar, as we retraced our steps of the last few days but this time we were getting used to riding bikes laden with gear.  Being early Saturday morning there were just a few dog walkers, early cyclists and the homeless awaking from their tents or less salubrious berths along the route.  Highly visible poverty in an affluent city is something that will stay with us – but those who were visible were almost all men.  Women face different challenges but thier poverty is less on show.

Cycling out of a city is never easy but this was as good as it gets.  The traffic was light on those parts of the route that went on roads, and high rise buildings gradually gave way to suburban sprawl.  At first it was smart homes with tended lawns and new SUVs but, as we left the city, land prices must have fallen and trailers and rickety buildings took their place.  

Smart suburbs with the mountains in the background

After about 15 miles we were outside the city limits and went through Mission Trails Regional Park.  The park rangers kindly explained the park geography and we followed their advice to cycle the Father Junipero Sierra Trail road, cycling slowly and giving way to pedestrians and runners – of which there were many.  We rarely need encouragement to cycle slowly.

After the park the route took us to Carleton Oaks, a pleasant but nondescript suburb, where we stopped for coffee and muffins.  Then the serious climbing started, as we rose from just above sea level to 1700 feet at the village of Alpine. None of it was too steep but the climbing took it out of us.  This was day one and we are not yet as fit as we know we will be later.  It felt tough but manageable for a couple of (almost) “seniors” as we now like to think of ourselves.  We have not yet found anywhere to get a seniors discount but are on the look out for that!

The landscape is getting mountainous (as you would expect from the name “Alpine”).  It is scrubland and feels dry.  It was about 85 degrees which we understand as 29C, so warm but not unbearable.  Also it is a dry heat and so is easier to deal with than a heat with high humidity.  

Despite only covering 35 miles, we were ready to stop for the day and checked into our hotel.  camping will come later but we are breaking ourselves in gently.

Second day in San Diego:  25 February 2022

Jet lag meant 5am awake again- dark and chilly. We arrived in San Diego following a storm and hit unseasonably cold weather; just 3 degrees C at that time of the morning. We weren’t expecting to wear our cold weather mountain clothes in the first few days!

We had a brief scare when David woke with a sore throat. The mind races through why we could justify not doing a covid test – but of course we must be responsible and luckily is lateral flow test was negative. 

Although cold, the sun seems to have an exceptional sheen to it here as we pedalled a couple of miles to Mission Bay to join a whale watching tour. I’m always a bit trepidatious getting on a boat as I am prone to sea sickness but the water looked calm. We got a prime position at the prow and the boat chugged out of the harbour past basking sealions on the jetty; a bit like going on a safari and seeing the best wildlife in the car park! 

We needn’t have worried about not seeing enough wildlife.  We were soon in the midsts of a large pod of dolphins swirling and jumping round the boat and not long after among an even larger pod of even more energetic dolphins displaying their jumping skills with their young close beside. It was an incredibly beautiful site.

Dolphins have fun

However the boat steered a course away from the dolphins as the guides on board had spotted whale spouts in the distance.  Soon we could all see them – 3 grey whales. As we got nearer the boat slowed and we could see their massive bodies and occasional tail as they dived under water.  Everyone on the boat then seemed to hold their breath waiting to see where they would come up again; 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes later. This is the migration season for grey whales returning from the warm waters around Mexico where they have their young back to their feeding grounds in Alaska.  Astonishingly during the whole of the migration down from Alaska to Mexico and back, the whales are unable to feed so they have to live off their huge bulk. 

We were on a fairly large tour boat but several small boats soon arrived, which were able to get nearer to the whales.  One of the whales got obsessed with a couple of small boats and was rubbing itself along the boats causing them to rock alarmingly.  The guide said this was common behaviour when they were in Mexico but unusual to see here. 

Although wrapped up as if we were going to the arctic because of the cold, we really enjoyed the 3 hour trip, which flew by. I was thrilled to see whales, which I have never seen before, but the abiding memory will be of the dolphins.

Back on land it was warmer but we were tired when we got back to our motel; a combination of jet lag and 3 hours of fresh air on the boat.  We rested up for the afternoon as we had been invited to dinner by some friends of friends that evening.

Mark and Amy Jackson – our wonderful hosts

By late afternoon we were back on our bikes and cycling up (steeply) to Mission Hills, where we met Amy and Mark in their beautiful home, which they so generously invited us to. Hugely charming and hospitable they fed us delicious food and wonderful wine, and thoroughly entertained us. They are avid antique collectors and their home is chock full of the most wonderful things; paintings and collectors items from around the world – including, incredibly, an 18th C painting of Bewdley, which showed our first house there by the bridge over the river, a suit of armour and relics of battles throughout medieval Europe.   

Our former house is bottom right!

A fabulous evening to wrap up our stay in San Diego and set us up for the start of our cycling the following day.

Travelling and arriving in San Diego

So we have finally arrived in San Diego to begin this trip.  I say “finally” because the last few months have been hectic as we moved house for the first time in two decades, sold our house in France, helped my 87 year old Mum move from Worcestershire to Devon and I kept something of a legal practice going around the edges.

So it was with an enormous sense of relief that we pulled out of Thiftwicket Lane on Wednesday morning to start the drive to Heathrow.  The amazing Amy Jansen – singer and podcaster extraordinaire – has kindly agreed to house sit whilst we are away, looking after our dog Bella and the cat Simba.  She happened to be in London on Wednesday so kindly offered to collect the van from long stay parking in Heathrow later that day, thus savings us going bankrupt by car parking charges for 2 months.

The flight was boring – well all flights are boring.  British Airways has clearly had a bad pandemic and, for all the welcome messages as passengers returned, costs were clearly being cut to try to save the business.  The result was rubbish films and indifferent food.  But we pay them to get us there; not entertain and feed us on the way.  The highlight was crossing Montana (the route took us via Greenland) with totally clear skies and views of spectacular mountains.  We had recently seen the Jane Campion film, “The Power of the Dog” which is set in that landscape in Victorian times.  A stunning film where, as so often with her films, the landscape is one of the central characters in the film.  That will be for another trip, preferably in the summer months as they were all covered with snow at this time of year.

Still 11 hours straight in a cramped seat was a challenge.  Eventually, at about 4pm local time, we circled around the mountains inland of San Diego and the pilot pulled off that magical trick of descending at just the right angle so that the plane landed in the airport.  I know it is technology, pilot training and skill but it still feels like magic as the ground rushes up to meet us at just the right time.

We got a taxi to the hotel with a 67 year old Russian taxidriver, Gasadney, who had been in the USA for 40 years and had an infinite ability to see a glass half empty.  He amusingly complained about taxi regulation in San Diego, other drivers and most of all that we had booked a hotel far too close to the airport as that meant it was hardly worth his while taking us on the meter!  For us, this was now about 2am and well past our bedtimes so it all sort of washed over us.

We went out for something to eat due to the paucity of the BA fare, but it was difficult find the right place and we ended up having fish and chips at a Germanic themed restaurant.  We could only eat half of what we were given so the rest came back to the hotel in a doggy bag.

A short night and we were up at 5am having failed to persuade our body clocks to change time zones any faster.  But on the plus side, the bikes were out of their bags and re-built by 7am.  We then went out for a glorious ride along the beach and had coffee and a muffin.  Welcome to America!

Coffee and muffin – all is right with the world

Later that morning we cycled up to San Diego University to meet the hugely nice and even more impressive Mary Jo Wiggins, a law professor at this prestigious school of learning, who had invited me to give a talk about practising law in England to her graduate class.  I have no idea what they made of me – but it seemed to go down fine.  I tried to explain how there were similarities between the US and UK legal systems but also some considerable differences.  Here they seem to be able to justice without wearing wigs on their heads in court – a strange and unusual modern practice that clearly will not stand the test of time but they are sticking to it for the moment.  Afterwards we had a delightful lunch with Mary Jo in the faculty restaurant overlooking a vast valley where large (but for us unidentified) birds of prey circled in the the thermals.  The university has lovely buildings in a hispanic style and a great feel.  It must be a privilege to spend student years here.

The lovely hispanic feel of the campus

We then cycled off into the commercial area to get provisions.  In contrast to the university, poverty was openly and firmly on display.  The USA is a hugely successful economy with a society that tolerates extremes of wealth in a way that is a challenge to Europeans.  We passed rows of parked ancient campervans – no doubt the only home many of their residents have.   I was reminded of the film “Nomadland” where the central character rejects the idea that she is homeless, saying that she has a home but does not have a house.  Below the camper vans, there were tents where homeless people lived under freeway bridges.  It is a feature of this society that I suspect we will get to know well in the next 2 months.

We bought food, found a bicycle shop, remarkably called “Bernie’s Bike Shop”, for a few bits and pieces and bought a US sim card so we could call without incurring roaming charges. 

Bernie’s bike shop

In doing so we found Ocean Beach Village – a freewheeling community next to the ocean with a hip feel.  There was no need to smoke marjuana here – you can get high just by walking down the main street and taking in the atmosphere.  It was reminiscent of walking back from the tube to our flat in Kennington in the late evening.  We later came back for a drink in a Mexican Bar that had symbols of the Day of the Dead – and took us back to our travels in Oaxaca, Mexico in the early 1990s.

Possibly contrasting messages!

Meanwhile in another part of the world a crazed dictator invaded a sovereign neighboring state and the rest of the world wrung their hands and did little.  The least said about Ukraine the better but it shows what a fragile world we live in.   

On the cusp – nearly there for San Diego towards New Orleans

So the time has finally come when the next adventure can begin. Covid means that we cannot carry on with our original plan to cycle to Australia as the next countries on our route are not really places to be at the moment. So we have had to change plans and on Wednesday 23 February we leave Ludlow and fly to San Diego; the aim is to cycle across the Southern USA “towards” New Orleans.  I say “towards” because at this point I have no idea if we will get all the way there or not. The bikes are being packed, plane tickets are bought and the next two months are marked out of the work diary.

We are planning to roughly follow the Southern Tier Route published by the wonderful American Adventure Cycling Association. This great bunch of folks plot routes across the USA. We have already followed their Sierra Cascades route in 2013 when we worked off paper maps and carried books. Now it is all Apps and Kindles.

I have now added a “subscribe” button so that you can get an email each time we blog.  Please subscribe if you want to follow this trip from the comfort of your armchair.

We’ll try to blog along the way – when we have internet access – so you can follow the “haps” and “mishaps” as we amble across the southern USA.

Another adventure begins …..