We started in Moscow because our cousin Joan lives there and because it’s almost on the Lewis and Clark Cycle Trail. The rest of our ride roughly followed the Pacific Coast Trail from west of Portland, Oregon to the Mexican border. The actual route we took is here and the place names highlighted in bold below are where we stayed overnight
Part one: towards the beach
11th – 22nd July: Moscow, Idaho – Lincoln City, Oregon, 552 miles
We were being shown such a good time by Joan and Tom that we could have got very used to it all. But after four days it was time to set off.
Training for the ride was not exactly a model of preparation. Neither of us had done the back-to-back rides we had planned, and we’d only done one short ride with the bikes at load. As an experienced cyclist with two tours under my belt, I assumed I’d be alright but that Joe could struggle.
You can probably guess the next bit. Joe shot up the short, steep hills out of Moscow like Lance Armstrong on a particularly potent dose of EPO, while I trailed behind, labouring on a bike weighing 100lbs fully-laden. When I blamed my poor performance on the fact that my bike was half my not-inconsiderable body weight, Joe pointed out that, at 60lbs, his bike also weighed half of him. He has an annoying habit of disarming my excuses with pesky “facts”.
The town of Clarkston awaited us on the first night, approached by a fast descent of the looping, sweeping Old Spiral Highway. Going downhill, on the other hand, was something I had trained for.
We had set a daily target of 50 miles per day with one rest day per week to reach Mexico in time to get our flight home at the end of August. The first day had been short to allow time for teething problems, so we were now keen to get some miles under our belts. I was still struggling to climb, however, and in heat of 90ºF and a puncture we stopped more than once on the 2,000ft climb to the Alpowa summit. Such was our stately progress that we were stopped by Officer Stebbins of the Garfield County Police Department, and who had been tipped off about two cyclists in trouble. We assured him we weren’t, whereupon he proceeded to describe with no little repetition all the difficulties we were likely to encounter and how unlikely it was that we’d get to Mexico in one piece.
As pep talks go it needed work but it had the effect of persuading us to pull up short for the day, opting to camp at a deserted RV park near the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Pomeroy. At least we were able to see up close an authentic and perfectly preserved 100 year-old Flint and Walling star windmill, a familiar part of the skyline of rural America
Two days in, therefore, and we’d managed an unimpressive 75 miles. Worse still, while it felt hot to us, at virtually every stop at least one of the locals informed us it was unseasonably cool. People were unfailingly nice, helpful and intrigued by our journey and we soon learned that we nearly always picked up a nugget of local information during these exchanges. Highway 12 was our route, but when we occasionally ventured from this road we’d come across relics of the past; a disused flour mill here and a slightly sinister burial ground there.
The following day was our first rest day. After wasting time at the campsite, we rode a short distance to Hermiston and another Warm Showers host. We spent the evening on the veranda drinking soda and discussing all the dangerous animals and bugs that frequented our route as well as the town’s recent history as home to a chemical weapon disposal facility. Against all the odds, we still managed to sleep well.
We’d ended up on 330 miles for the first week, more than our target and with the feeling like we were both getting stronger. Fortified by a mighty breakfast we set out along a dedicated bike path through forests and past basalt rock — quite a contrast to the end of the previous day. A short climb through the Alpine-like hairpins of the Rowena Loops was next and for the first time I felt I was in the groove and enjoying my ascending.
A short, steep climb to the town of Carson saw us to our destination for the evening, a luxury log cabin, complete with four poster bed and jacuzzi. Amazingly, this was all free to us through the generosity of Rick and Theresa, proprietors of the peaceful and plush Carson Ridge Luxury Cabins. She is a keen cyclist and makes vacant cabins available for fellow riders. They even bought us dinner.
As you might imagine, unfurling ourselves from within this lap of luxury was not easy and we didn’t roll out out town until 11am the next day. We crossed the decidedly mortal-looking Bridge of the Gods (an abject lesson in over-promising and under-delivering if ever there was one) and stopped to buy locally smoked salmon, a recommended delicacy. The riding was nice; still windy, but scenic, canopied and cool.
We stopped to look at a series of waterfalls and met David from New York, a computer engineer in the midst of a six month cycle tour of America before settling down with his fiancee in Seattle. With his luggage back in Portland, he rode with us up some pleasant, winding climbs and down again in the approach to the city. Without a firm place to stray, we called Amy, a Warm Showers host, on the off-chance and she agreed to put us up for two days. Dedicated cycle paths took us all the way into the heart of Portland and we arrived at Amy’s ready for a day off and a re-supply in the city.
We headed out of the Cape, moving into the Oregon Dunes and searching for a campsite for the night. The first place looked like a Mad Max set, complete with dystopian desert-scape, customised dune buggies and flapping flags. We approached the camp hosts’ RV, prompting two Staffordshire bull terriers separated from us only an insect screen to spring into a frenzy of barking and snarling. Between growls, their redneck owners advised us that the winds were too strong for a tent and recommended a place down the road. This turned out to be a mosquito-infested swamp disguised as a car park, fifteen minutes’ exposure to which left my head looking like I’d been cast in the next remake of Total Recall. Being intrepid, hardened travellers we did what Bear Grylls would have done in the circumstances: we got a motel room in nearby Coos Bay.
Not that this was without incident, as the couple in the room adjacent to us engaged in a loud and violent argument, resulting in the cops turning up and tazing the man. If nothing else, it beat the crap out of C-SPAN for entertainment value.
We’d given up on rest days, instead opting for easy days of fewer than the 60–70 miles per day that we’d settled into. Taking advantage of our motel, we therefore left really late, had an early lunch and pootled down the coast to Bandon, where Kenny and Mara, a self-sufficient young couple with their own water supply and outside shower, awaited us. The setting was very scenic but the facilities perhaps a little basic for us cosseted urbanites; when I asked to use the loo I was handed a shovel and directed towards the nearby woods.
Midnight stumblings aside, we were still having a blast. The scenery was consistently awe-inspiring, even if the blue skies took a while to surface. The mists on the coast, particularly in the early part of the day, could be enveloping and certainly shrouded some vistas from us. But this provided a spectacle in itself.
We had decided to spend a few days in the San Francisco area and had secured our accommodation for the forthcoming weekend. This meant we had to slow down. We took our time getting to our next venue in the Salt Point State Park. Bizarrely, the hiker/biker facilities here didn’t stretch to shower or taps, but did include decent wi-fi. The site itself was pretty, teeming with wildlife and echoing mellifluously to the industry of woodpeckers. Deer emerging through the morning mist completed this arcadian tableau.
By the time we arrived in Point Reyes Station the light was beginning to fade and we wasted what little was left indecisively failing to get either food or a room for the night. By about 8pm we stood shivering outside a supermarket, pathetically eating peanuts and fruitlessly re-trying the numbers of those B&Bs that hadn’t already turned us down. With the campsite probably too far and remote to get to in the dark (and also not answering our calls) we started discussing potential venues for our inaugural wild camp of the tour. Then our guardian angel appeared.
Sondra Springmann, we soon learned, was a planetary scientist and asteroid radar astronomer. Of rather more immediate relevance, however, was that she was also a good Samaritan. Seeing our plight, she suggested a B&B that didn’t appear anywhere in our Google search and which (almost certainly as a result of that omission) had a vacancy. She then made sure we got the booking and gave us detailed directions. Within half an hour, we were relaxing in a hot tub and looking forward to a night beneath plush sheets. Once again, the kindness of strangers had come to our rescue.
We left late as was our custom when paying and because we had a Warm Shower just 30 miles away in Tiburon, just this side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Our host, Kirk, couldn’t have been more accommodating, taking us out for a burrito and giving us a short tour of trendy Sausalito, with tips on how best to get on the bridge. He even put on a British crime drama in the evening to make us feel at home. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that pretty much all the drama we watched at home was US-made.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge mid-morning the following day. For reasons probably not known even to the Almighty himself, the dedicated bike lane going south is closed in the daytime, obliging us to go down the narrow northbound bike path, which was also shared by the many pedestrians going in both directions (six full sized lanes, meanwhile, were given over to motor vehicles). Suitably irritated by wobbling cycle tourists and absent-minded pedestrians, we were disgorged into the city muttering some very rude words about our fellow road users.
The 40 so or miles to our hosts in Menlo Park, near Palo Alto, were among the least pleasant of this tour. Once out of the downtown area, we crawled through some fairly rough bits of the city and being on a bike suddenly made me feel quite vulnerable. Incidents such as watching a load of cops batter in a door made me feel a bit like one of those non-playing characters in GTA V, whose fate is to be haplessly and incidentally mown down. A detour due to a closed road also gave us a trip on one of those famous hills, with two bouts of 16% gradient to get the thighs burning.
We emerged onto clearer roads around San Bruno with oodles of time to spare. We had arranged to spend three nights with Julian and Karen, two friends of Tom and Karen who we met and Saltpoint and with whom we’d instantly hit it off. They were hiking and weren’t due to arrive home until late so we chose to hole up in a nearby In-N-Out Burger, a sort of Lidl of American fast food joints. As it reached early evening it hit me that we still had 17 miles to go against the fading light. We jumped on the bikes and hot tailed it, but before too long were riding in full darkness. Even with lights this was unsettling, but we did have the advantage of a straightforward route and before too long, with instructions, were able to let ourselves in.
At this point I confess to a moment of unabashed, testosterone-fuelled, materialistic lust. I know that having spent nigh on two months on the road with my eldest son among giant redwoods and ocean vistas, alongside tramps, free spirits and good Samaritans, having experienced the rich tapestry of the human experience and the power and serenity of nature I’m expected to pick a moment such as sharing hot dogs as the sun went down or watching a bird of prey swoop and swirl as my moment of the tour. Please don’t get me wrong — there were plenty of those and they were plenty special. But when Julian said to me the following morning “you can borrow our Tesla” the inner me heard the roar of the crowd, pulled his jumper over his head and skidded on his knees to the corner flag.
Actually driving this all-electric ultra car was every bit as thrilling as the anticipation. A massive touchscreen dominates the dashboard, making you feel like you are priming a precision guided missile via an iPad. Once out on the freeway, there is the omnipotence of turning tailgating cars into rear view mirror specks with the tiniest squeeze of the foot. As we cruised around Palo Alto I entertained the fantasy that other drivers would excitedly assume me to be a CEO of a high-tech start up. Then I looked around and realised that they were all driving Teslas, too.
America started to make more sense behind the wheel of a car, as though this was how God intended you to experience it. But we had a full and featured itinerary for San Francisco so we left the supercar behind and in favour of trapsing the streets. But we just weren’t feeling what this fine city had to offer. So we went to the movies instead.
We spent our final rest day running chores for our onward journey and with Joe struck down by a tummy bug. In the evening I drove to Twin Peaks, idiotically imagining I’d have this renowned sightseeing spot for San Francisco to more-or-less to myself only to find it crammed full of pot-smoking students. Panic set in when the Tesla refused to unlock and a quick internet search revealed that the key fob could be affected by electromagnetic interference: I don’t think I could have parked it closer to the site’s two massive television transmitting towers if I’d tried.
Mary and Jim, our hosts, were also extremely hospitable. I’d been busy trying to line up other Warm Showers accommodation in the Santa Maria area and had managed to get a yes from two separate hosts. One offered to do us a traditional Santa Maria barbecue. The other invited us to stay on his boat, moored in San Luis Obispo Bay, about 25 miles south of where we were, and go out for a day’s sailing the following day. Both were extremely attractive, but logistically nightmarish to make happen, especially as the obvious choice — stay on the boat then move south and have the barbeque — wouldn’t work.
After much ado, we managed to sort it so we’d go to Santa Maria, have a barbie, then get up really early, head north to the boat, sail and sleep and then carry on south. Confused? We were, too. We rode to Santa Maria through beautiful wine country that reminded me of Tuscany. The weather was definitely how we’d imagined California to be and when we stopped to look at our map and got chatting to a local dog walker we didn’t want to know how to get somewhere, but whether we were actually in southern Cali now. To our bemusement, he replied that were neither in the north nor the south of the state, but on the central coast.
Our hosts for the night were Jeff and Kimberly, two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. We watched football, drunk American beer, sat around the fire pit and had the most amazing tri-tip steak cooked, as promised, the Santa Maria way. I remained concerned about our plan for reversing course, not the least because it required us to be out the door at 6am in order be there in time for what we had since learned wasn’t just a day’s sailing but an actual race in which we would form part of the crew. Then Jeff mentioned he was due to be at the same place the following morning for a sailing lesson and he’d be happy to give us and our bikes a lift. Once more, it felt like we were riding our luck as much as the bikes.
After charming the harbour master, we locked our bikes in the maintenance yard and dumped our bags in his office. On the way out the water taxi driver tried to reassure me by telling me that “we haven’t had a shark sighting for nearly two weeks”. When I asked if these were the sort of sharks that ate people. He said “yes, but to avoid that you only gotta stay on the boat” before jabbing a finger at Joe and adding “or swim faster than him”.
The race was great fun. The boat lifted madly out of the water on one side or the other as we sought the tightest line through the buoys while catching the best wind. Joe took to it instantly, scuttling up and down the deck, unfurling sails, paying out rope and saying nautical stuff. I was usefully engaged as “rail meat”: human ballast to weigh down the side of the hull as the vessel banked. I like to think that because of my expertise at possessing great mass, we managed to place third overall.
We were off the boat and down the road nice and early for a fairly uneventful day — or what they would call in a bike race a transition day. Breakfast at the Fat Face cafe (stuffed French toast) was a highlight, as was the sight of very beautiful great blue heron who, despite my best efforts to crash clumsily through the undergrowth and scare it away, stayed nonchalantly in place.
The going was flat, the weather was cool and we made easy progress to Lompoc where sheer laziness made us decide to get a motel instead of camping.
Once again the inland became a chequerboard of huge fruit and vegetable fields, packing plants and impoverished towns to service the workers. The next day we made it back to the coast and cruised along the 101/1 from Gaviota, detouring onto cycle paths around the backs of state beaches when we could. We were now past “the elbow”; the land immediately around Concepcion Point where the coastline become a tiered southerly facing one. This was the point, everyone agreed, where southern California started. Well, that or Santa Barbara. Or perhaps Los Angeles County. Throughout this tour the point at which California became California — y’now, bikini babes on roller skates, surf dudes and cherry popsicles — had been pushed back and back. Up north we’d been told it was after San Francisco. Then it was “after the Big Sur’ then “after Santa Maria” and now “after the elbow”. We began to wonder if we could get all the way to the Mexican border and still not find this elusive California of our movies and TV shows.
We needn’t have worried. Santa Barbara immediately felt like the real deal. This beautiful city, purposely rebuilt nearly a century ago in the style of a old Spanish Mission after a huge earthquake levelled much of the downtown, effortlessly exuded mellow Californian style and ease. Its placid waterfront stretched for miles, allowing for huge rows of beach volleyball courts. Its main street, the first that we’d come across that made us feel like it was a European-style high street, led down to its pier. We stopped to admire the place, but having been unable to find accommodation for the night within the city limits, we were obliged to press onto the nearby Carpinteria State Beach. Missing out on a night in this unpretentious place was one of the very few abiding regrets of the the tour.
Carpinteria State Beach, our home for the night, was another campsite situated very close to the beach. In the morning, I cycled around the corner to buy some breakfast while Joe slept on. I returned with two breakfast burritos, made of ham, egg, rice and beans. This was fourth or fifth time we’d attempted Mexican food and, with the exception of my dish in the Mission District of San Francisco, we hadn’t enjoyed any of it. We wondered what we were doing wrong as everyone seemed to rave about it. Joe vowed then and there that this would be his last time with this cuisine. I still wanted to give a proper roadside taqueria a go.
We were now in the slightly surreal situation of trying and failing to slow down. We kept vowing to have light days, but kept ending up doing 60 miles or more without much effort. We decided we’d cycle a few miles down the road to Ventura and stay there if it was nice. It wasn’t, so we moved on.
Route 101/1 had been busy for a few days, but it was also still wide with a good hard shoulder. You have to be of a certain vintage for the following to make sense, but if this wasn’t the road the 80s Sega arcade classic Out Run was modelled on, I’m a Dutchman.
At Leo Carillio State Park, just outside Malibu, we broke bread with Dave, who claimed he had been attacked by the intelligence services with a tattoo gun because the state wanted him out of the way. The other cyclists around the fire, Erica, an animator for Disney, and Neeti, a teacher, glanced nervously at each other. The silence was broken when Dave declared he would donate his skeleton to a museum upon his death.
We got up the next morning, conscious that we didn’t have any breakfast and too early for the campsite shop. Never mind, we laughed — there’ll be loads of places in Malibu to stop, eh?
Approximately 30 minutes later we stood outside La French Café (or something equally naff) slack-jawed at the $14 the place was asking for a smoothie. Not that business wasn’t brisk. In fact, as we stood there in our two-day old lycra, astride two dusty, filthy overloaded bikes and sized up the other customers we began to feel like a pair of epsilons among the alphas. Every tummy was aerobicised, every buttock toned, every pec sculpted. The women were anatomically perfect, but only in the way Barbie is anatomically perfect. The men sported neon white teeth and jet black hair. The boys and girls (all white of course, the Latino dominance of the scruffier inland towns was no more) had mouse-brown, unkempt hair, golden honeyed skin and blue eyes.
Back out on the highway, the Teslas and Priuses of the San Francisco Bay area have given way to black Porsche convertibles, white Mercedes saloons and the occasional supercar driven as though it would just fall apart if made to go more than 35mph. The bigger roadside houses had security guards posted by the gates, the even bigger ones perched high up the cliffs. Down on the beach beautiful people did amazing acrobatic tricks on surfboards for fun. All the money dripping from the place must have been earned, in many cases hard-earned, but the locals gave few outward signs of expending any energy on other than pleasure.
We rode on. The highway was now pretty crowded. By Eastern Malibu cars were routinely parked on the hard shoulder. If we moved out only a little drivers would still attempt to use both lanes to get past us, pushing us towards stationary obstacles. So we moved out further, effectively occupying the slow lane. We had been pretty pleased with American motorists until this point. By and large they were more courteous, cautious and considerate than at home. We’d ridden fast Interstate and winding single-carriageway road (sometimes with nothing to our right but sheer drop) very largely without incident. Now we were beginning to experience some bona fide asshats in the form of impatient, unobservant and unthinking drivers. It didn’t bode well for Los Angeles proper.
Salvation came in the form of a bike path delivering us to our hostel, right by the famous pier in Santa Monica. We would have enjoyed relaxing in it had we not needed to do laundry and had not Joe insisted — despite me suggesting otherwise — that the hostel itself probably had such facilities. and had we not therefore walked two bloody miles across the city to the nearest bloody laundromat only to go back to the bloody hostel and find that it did bloody well have a bloody laundry room. Not that I’m still fuming about it or anything.
Using the Strand, a 22 mile bike trail that gripped the beachfront, we passed through Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, a trio of quieter, more affluent, less weird communities. Redondo Beach, where we peeled off the coast path, felt it was no longer a place for the newly enriched, though older wealth still abounded. Indeed, you got the feeling that the super-rich of Los Angeles had been chased off the beach areas to the hills high above the city’s north, leaving the merely rich to occupy condos that in a lot of places spilled out directly onto the sand and into the constant gawp of tourists.
We left San Pedro and headed through the industrial district of Wilmington. Massive oil refineries (the third largest oil field in the US is here) jutted aggressively out of the ground. Huge serpentine railway tracks coiled themselves around storage containers while gigantic pylons marched into distant residential districts. This somehow felt like the engine room of the entire city, as though LA was a cruise liner and this was place below deck.
We headed down to the unknown Los Angeles River, past rows of auto body shops and piles of filthy mattresses onto the towpath. In an instant, in the way that only happens in a city where the squalid exists pushed right up against the salubrious, we emerged onto Long Beach.
We wanted to stay in Newport Beach, a place recommended to us by several people. Warm Showers was a complete blank, most likely the consequence of anyone living in this area being bombarded by requests from tourers in on this part of the Pacific Trail. Nor were there any campsites (and, in any case, we had heard horror stories about hobos taking over hiker/biker sites). Motels and B&Bs were prohibitively expensive and even AirBnB was proving tricky. We wandered slowly through Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, Huntingdon Beach, trying to place their houses and condos in a league table of desirable neighbourhoods.
At Newport Beach, we gave up on the idea of being able to stay there, but as if to underline our reluctance, we got lost on Balboa Island just as late afternoon set in and the beaches began to empty of weekend sunbathers. We exited the city as we’d entered it; via a fast, wide, busy road with gated homes and estates lining the coast, the houses a wonderful hotchpotch of Palladian columns, New England timber and glass cubes. Laguna Beach and Dana Point later, we arrived at Doheny Beach. I’d been trying to get a decent picture of the brown Pelican all the way down the coast. These huge birds, as graceful in flight as they were clumsy on foot, always seems to pop up when I couldn’t get to my camera out. Now I’d seen some in the inlet by the beach. I left Joe to put the tent up and by the time I returned — again unsuccessfully — he’d been helped out by a chap from a neighbouring pitch who’d invited us to his cookout. This turned out to be Eric Hernandez, the Vice President of the LA Dodgers.
With the bikes hanging on the wall as though one of the art installations, we explored San Diego on foot. This stylish city struck me as the sort of place everyone wanted Los Angeles to be. It had beaches within easy reach of the whole city, a coherent and identifiable downtown and a mellow Californian feel.
Our plan for the last few days was slightly odd. We had decided to visit Mexico on a day trip via public transport, then come back to San Diego, then cycle to the border and then catch the train up to LA. This conclusion to our voyage felt unsatisfactory on more than one level. In the first instance it would mean we’d be at Mexico before officially getting there. In the second, this convoluted itinerary represented a triumph of self-interested pragmatism over the better angels of our more trusting, liberal natures. We had tried our best to shrug off the lurid tales of Mexican perfidy told to us at every stage of our journey (“they’ll rob you and they’ll sell your son” as one storekeeper told me) and yet…as much as those angels reassured us that Mexicans were no better or worse than anyone else and that thousands of people safely visit Mexico each year, we also didn’t want to be the exception, the ones robbed of our bikes (or more prosaically, just unable to relax and leave them or our other gear unattended). When it wasn’t necessary, when the trip across the border was an bonus adventure and when we had a safe place back in San Diego to leave our gear, why risk it?
So we took the tram to the border and walked over. Often when you pass across a state border the immediate differences are minimal. An empty border post, especially in mainland Europe, can be the only clue. Not here. Here we were instantly assailed by the contrast. Cabbies, their vehicles chaotically parked wherever a spot presented itself in the litter-strewn unmade road outside the border crossing, harangued us to let them give us a lift into Tijuana. A nearby walk-in health clinic had a queue of about 15 people, two of whom were handcuffed together, bleeding and watched over by a bored municipal policeman. We got into a yellow cab (signalling possession of state cab licence) and set off for the smaller beach resort of Rosarito The driver maneuvered his car carelessly over axle threatening potholes and onto a crowded highway, cars zooming in and out of lanes to get ahead. We reached for our seatbelts, but there were none. As we turned down the quieter scenic coastal highway I glanced through the car to the dashboard. We were now doing 95mph and the battery warning indicator was flashing. On the steep hillsides, makeshift buildings tumbled down towards who knew where. I wondered if we a misjudged corner would see us finding out.
Out on the street, English language liveried pharmacies (“viagra $20”) and dental practices slotted in a alongside shoe and bag shops. A young man with tattoos running up his arms, neck and cheeks approached me with a handful of nuts and bolts and a story of how he needed money to repair his car.
We’d been in Mexico for no more than three hours but Joe was already keen to head back. Given the largely positive reviews we’d had of Rosarito, I felt we hadn’t seen the best of this place, let alone the real Mexico. And yet, the proximity of this town to its much more prosperous neighbour seemed to drain whatever joy living by a beautiful coast might furnish. Rosarito’s destiny appeared confined to servicing stag parties and health tourists, its ambition stunted by the inevitable urge to peer over the fence at the greener grass of the other California. For all the yankee dollars that flowed into this town, its residents and its infrastructure had not visibly benefited. Even to walk around a border town for half a day was enough to conclusively give the lie to the hypocritically indignant solutions of America’s conservatives, at once reliant on and offended by Mexicans seeking work and a future in the US. The gross disparity of wealth and opportunity makes such movement inevitable. The solution is to reduce those disparities, through trade and exchange, not entrench them through a fortress economy and a fantasy wall.
Back at the hostel in San Diego I chatted to a pair of cousins from Florida, one of whom was weighing a move here. When I asked her if she’d made a decision she had her epiphany then and there: she’d decided to move. It seemed to me a sound resolution; San Diego was a city where it was easy to imagine living and being happy
We decided to move to a hostel nearer the beaches in Point Loma and spend most of the next day on the popular Ocean Beach. Remarkably, this was the first time and last time either of would swim in the Pacific.
Our destination in LA was a Warm Shower venue in West Hollywood, 11 miles from Union Station. I had not considered when I’d booked the tickets that we’d be arriving as the sun was setting, meaning a ride through the dark to our destination.
Although we’d skirted the city on our way to the border, this was the first time we’d ridden in central LA and, by dusk, it was an arresting experience. Along one street a line of tents were being erected, complete with the detritus of their itinerant inhabitants. We pedalled fast across neighbourhoods with run down shop fronts and emptying sidewalks. As the last light definitively faded we passed into a well-to-do neighbourhood, finally emerging onto the busy Sunset Boulevard. Our host, Barry, was a Brit who had lived in LA for 40 years. He welcomed us with a proper cup of tea.
We were sufficiently warned that the Hollywood Walk of Fame was tacky. What we had not properly anticipated was how poorly executed the tackiness was. There were landmarks such as El Capitan and the Egyptian theatres, but for the main the experience was a mêleé of low-grade hawkers, buskers and tour guides. Hollywood — America’s greatest and most influential cultural projection — is commemorated by an experience some way below a trip to Sports Direct.
We cycled the city the following day, first visiting Little Tokyo and then taking another trip to Venice Beach (pictured). I was struck by how LA felt simultaneously strange and familiar. It occurred to me this city must be the most filmed location on Earth, so its signature features — tall, skinny palm trees, wide, congested freeways, Aviator bespectacled LAPD officers — seemed not just instantly familiar but clichéd. For all that, however, we were strangers here.