Surfing and Camping Across the Entire California Coastline by Bike

Magicseaweed

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Updated 54d ago

Words by Sean Jansen

It was in the back of my mind for about a year. Take a bicycle, load it up with camping gear and a surfboard, and tour every coastline around the world looking for waves and adventure. I figured it would be a trip of a lifetime. Get in shape, surf incredible waves, take photographs and pursue a dream that I had only thought about every night before I went to sleep.

However, I had a problem. I had never toured before, nor did I know anything about bicycles or their mechanics. So I thought I needed a little tester trip to see if my knowledge, strength, and passion were up to scratch.

Spot guide: Northern California

One stop along the way.

One stop along the way.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

So it was a month before my third year of college at Humboldt State University in Northern California. The previous December, I returned from a six month backpacking trip throughout South America that I funded by selling my truck. I was also living in my parent’s fifth-wheel R.V. trailer to save money. So I had no vehicle during that semester of college and needed a way to get home back in Southern California.

I was looking at flights and thought that the prices were outrageous. Trains and buses were nearly out of the question as it would take forever. And most of my friends that live in Southern California weren’t going to take off heading south until the middle of summer. I was running out of options. Until I realised that I had the perfect trip. A bicycle would go from Eureka to San Clemente, 909 miles on pavement as well as dirt, while towing a surfboard.

I got my metaphorical wheels rolling and began going to every bike shop in town. Picking their brains, finding out everything I could about it. Found a shop that helped me with everything and gave me all of the information needed for a safe and comfortable trip.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

With the semester having ended and my 15-year old bicycle sitting in my trailer, fully loaded and ready for a long haul, you start to question things. Is this right? no sleep that night, but got peddling south, through the town of Eureka.

I could have stayed on highway 101, but wanted to follow every road possible, pavement or dirt, within proximity to the ocean. Just in case I was able to find a wave. So along the, “Lost Coast,” I ended up down some seriously difficult roads that turned out being no where close to the ocean. Nearly running out of water, and getting some from hunters in the area, I made it to Shelter Cove after two days. Down the three-mile road to the campground. Being thankful that I was hydrated and treated to a warm meal, I was greeted with migrating grey whales breaching 100 yards from shore.

Waking up that following morning I realised that same three-mile downhill road to Shelter Cove, was also the only way out of town. Saddled up, biked three-miles straight up hill to get to the turnoff to the most difficult part of the trip, Usal Road.

Forecast: Southern California

Fair warning.

Fair warning.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

That had been scary to read about. Closed all seasons other than summer and barely opened when I got there. I remembered talking to a State Park ranger before I left on the trip with him saying, "You can’t go through there in wintertime. And if you do go through there on your bicycle, I want to know when and when you get out. If you don’t come out during those times, we can send a search and rescue team looking for you.” A bit humbling, but off I went into the Usal where I became incredibly terrified and lost. Ignoring all of the signs, and just going for it.

Throughout Usal’s 25 miles, I didn’t see remnants of a single human. The only thing I did see was scat. In particular, mountain lion scat. In fact, one that was still fresh and steaming on the road. During the three hour dirt road through the coastal ranges of California, I would hear crackles in the forest. Winding down the road, and finally arriving at the campground, I couldn’t help but feel relieved to see campers and the ocean finally.

The south road out of Usal.

The south road out of Usal.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

Woke up the following morning with a sense of joy. I knew I only had five more miles of dirt until Highway One. As the remaining five miles wore down, I began to worry once more. Realising now, I am going to be on the side of the road, a target for any driver to hit me. But knew this was to be the road that would take me home about 800 miles south. Getting to the pavement, I raised my hands to sky knowing that I made it alive, through the hardest part of the trip. And now, I will be in civilisation and on a road.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

With cars, motorcycles, and motor homes flying past me, I couldn’t help but think about the freedom I had on the dirt roads, not having to worry about cars. But I rode about 40 miles a day and tried to set up camp anywhere in a state park close to the ocean. State parks had a deal for touring bicyclists where you only had to pay five to ten dollars to camp. So it was cheap and easy. Only doing 40 miles a day, meant that I could have either the afternoon or the early morning to surf without being exhausted.

I finally made it down the coast to San Francisco. Along the Sonoma Coast however, I got blown off of my bike and into the road. The wind was howling 60 knots and with me towing a trailer, it didn’t take much to knock me off of my bike.

Luckily, there wasn’t a car around. As soon as I picked myself up and moved my bike out of the road, a semi-truck came bawling round the corner. Apart from that, and a wild turkey scaring the living crap out of me at five in the morning, I made it to San Francisco and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on the 75th anniversary of its construction.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

Going down Geary Street and heading south towards Pacifica and into Half Moon Bay where I had one of the best surf’s of the trip. I was greeted with an early south swell and no strong north winds. It was creepy because I was alone in the water and Half Moon Bay is known for having shark attacks. I had a fun surf without any damage to my body and continued south and into the popular surfing areas of Davenport and Santa Cruz.

I stayed in Santa Cruz for a couple of days to recharge all of my things, do some laundry, and catch up with some old friends and surf until the sun went down. I had some really amazing sessions with friends and was able to sleep on a sofa, which was like a five star resort after two weeks of camping. But the luxury needed to come to an end and I needed to get my wheels rolling again for what was up ahead.

I always knew that Big Sur was gorgeous. I have driven it many times, but I always kept driving. Never stopped to take in the details. It took me about two days to get out of there. Not a lot of flat parts, but it didn’t matter. It was so pretty and the surf was actually fun, so it was icing on the cake.

Forecast: San Clemente Pier

The climb at Big Sur.

The climb at Big Sur.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

But south I went and made it into Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. This stretch was not the most difficult as it was the hottest. I had a friend in SLO that let me stay to take a shower and recharge things once again. Was great as it took me about a week to get there from Santa Cruz. It was a much-needed and well-deserved break from the stretch that I went through. But I was now heading into Southern California where I began tasting home. Home where the water was warmer and was sunny.

I made it to Santa Barbara where I actually timed an odd west swell on the point breaks in that region. Stayed a day as I had another friend in Ventura that allowed me to nap on his sofa. Another relaxing and fun retreat from camping where we surfed and skated at midnight, bombing hills. Slugging beers on the roof and just catching up on times that were lost due to college. My final stop of friend's places to crash until I hit my parent's house 100 miles south.

Lineup at Leo Carillo.

Lineup at Leo Carillo.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

Continuing south to the hell that is Los Angeles. Just reaching Malibu, which is on the outskirts of the city, is dangerous enough with all the Ferraris and BMWs flying by at mach speed. Reaching Santa Monica was a nightmare. Traffic galore and no one moving over when they had space. I guess that was my, “welcome to Southern California,” greeting.

Once I did get to Santa Monica though, there was this 18-mile boardwalk along the beach which allowed cyclists from Venice Beach to Palos Verdes. A safe passage that was away from traffic and surrounded by the social life of tourists, locals and any enthusiasts that use wheels. Unfortunately there weren’t any campgrounds from here to home so I was forced into a hotel.

I woke up that morning and met up with a friend to shoot some surf photos and then continued south shortly after. There was a hellish ten-mile stretch through Long Beach until I reached Seal Beach. Riding through there I knew that I only had one more night of the trip before I was home. Going through the ghettos of Los Angeles before reaching the hotel I was to stay at, I couldn’t help but recognise the differences that are in this state.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

I started in Humboldt where the redwood trees meet the sea, and end in Orange County, a metropolis of overpriced coffee shops. Arriving at my hotel in Seal Beach, I sat in my room and stared 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 in hopes of beating the Saturday traffic of Huntington through to San Clemente, my home. Peddling with a sense of urgency and desire to get home, I raced through to Laguna Beach and Dana Point. On an overlook, I can see my hometown and the San Clemente pier that I grew up surfing.

I got a little too excited and relieved before I made it home. I considered earlier in the trip that the scariest part was going through Usal Road. I rescind that comment now because the closest I came to dying on the trip was in my hometown, a mile from my parent’s house.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

I could taste home when suddenly, a guy in a brand new Mercedes Benz, flew by me going at least 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, and his mirror hit my arm, almost throwing me under his car.He got the finger while I can see him shaking his head in his mirror like it was my fault. I had to shake it off because I could see my home.

I reached the top of my parent’s street and stopped. Smiling from ear to ear I began cruising down the street where I was to pull into my parents driveway and throw my bike down. I didn’t care anymore, I made it! I remember laughing and seeing one of my parent’s neighbours coming to me with a cold beer. It was 11:30 in the morning and I didn’t care, I slugged it. I couldn’t believe that I did it and couldn’t believe I did it without getting injured.

A month and thirteen days. 37 days camped 29 days surfed, 909 miles and a trip that I would do all over again. All of the people I stayed with and the fellow touring cyclists I met along the way made it possible. The state of California is a great one with varied landscapes and culture, offering me experiences and photos that I didn’t know were possible. Travelling a ton previously before this trip, thinking that the states were boring and culture-less, this trip changed my perspective.

© 2020 - Sean Jansen

© 2020 - Sean Jansen