Just got back from my first tour: SF Bay Area to Los Angeles via the ACA Pacific Coast Route. As mentioned here I planned to pack light and credit-card my way down the coast. Plans changed a little bit along the way... I ended up building a bike based on the Nashbar double-butted aluminum touring frame. Used a Lone Peak H-100 handlebar bag, Carradice Nelson Long Flap saddlebag, and a Bagman Quick Release support.
The bike ended up weighing about 24lbs, water and bottles 5lbs, and luggage 22lbs for a 51lb total. I'd originally planned to use the 52/39/30 road triple crank from my parts bin, but after some test-rides decided that I needed lower gearing. Ordered a 26/36/48 Deore trekking crank and installing it a couple of days before leaving. It was paired with a ten-speed 12-27 cassette. Lower gearing made the many hills I had to cover much more enjoyable. I could probably have made the trip with the road triple, but it would have been much more tiring. A bit too easy to spin out of the 48-12 combo going downhill, but the 26-27 granny gear was very welcome on some of the long, hot climbs. Very happy I opted for the Nashbar carbon fiber cyclocross fork and BB7 front brake rather than the standard fork and a cantilever brake.
The trip went something like this:
Day #1: Home to Santa Cruz, CA (76.58mi)
Day #2: Santa Cruz to Big Sur (73.83mi)
Day #3: Big Sur to San Simeon (68.21mi)
Day #4: Rest
Day #5: San Simeon to Pismo Beach (56.49mi)
Day #6: Pismo Beach to Goleta (90.11mi)
Day #7: Goleta to Oxnard (53.10mi)
Day #8: Oxnard to Los Angeles (64.46mi)
Day #9: Home (via Amtrak)
Broke my KMC chain at the master link on the first day about 20 miles from my destination in Santa Cruz. Glad I didn't listen to everyone who advised me to leave chain-repair tools and parts behind! I was back on the road in 15 minutes. Nobody stopped to see if I needed help, even the couple of cyclists who passed by...
Bagman QR support was a nice luxury. It made installing and removing the Nelson Longflap a piece of cake! The saddlebag was probably a bit large for the stuff I was taking. All of the straps were tightened to the last notch, which probably wasn't the ideal setup. There were times when I was wishing for a little bit more clearance between the bag and the tire. There's just enough flex in the Bagman support that I could feel the bag making contact with the rear tire after hitting a large bump. While the Nelson Longflap is probably a better all-around bag, the Lowsaddle Longflap might have been a better match for the gear I was taking on this trip.
Using 700x35 Vittoria Randonneur Hyper tires made using the third water bottle cage on the Nashbar touring frame problematic. Standard 20oz wide-mouth bottles would rub against the tire. Finding a narrow-mouth bottle was problematic. I eventually dug one up in the garage, but it made everything it contained taste strongly of plastic in short order. While the 700x35s worked well, I'll consider 700x32 next time around.
As far as route-planning goes, I'd probably make some changes if I had it to do over again. Because this was my first tour, I wanted to be somewhat conservative. In retrospect, my training rides the week or two before the trip should have alerted me to the fact that I could cover ground more quickly than I originally anticipated. For me, the trip was more about riding that sight-seeing. 50-60 miles days on relatively flat terrain had me finishing early in the day (~2pm) and ending up in uninteresting locations (e.g. Oxnard) or without any significant plans. If I were to do the trip over again, I'd probably squeeze the last four days of riding down to three or plan more time to explore stuff along the route.
Biggest problem turned out to be the weather. I was surprised at how cold and foggy the southern California coast could be. I was expecting the fog to burn off by mid-day, as it usually seems to do here in the SF Bay Area, but there were several days where I never saw the sun. I had enough gear not to freeze (arm warmers, knee warmers, windproof T-shirt plus the usual jersey and shorts) but I was often chilly. Wish I'd brought my windproof full-finger gloves and maybe a jacket.
Finally, a couple of notes about Amtrak:
1) The guys handling luggage are not the brightest. When it came time to offload my carefully boxed bike from the train, was placed flat on a luggage cart and then every other piece of luggage being unloaded from the train was placed on top of it! Needless to say, the box was crushed. Luckily, my bike survived. Probably not a bad idea to borrow a Sharpie and add some "This Side Up" signage on the box to prevent this sort of thing from happening to your bike. Or pick-up some orange stickers on your way to the station.
2) Because of #1, it's important to read the Amtrak baggage contract carefully. In particular, their liability appears to be capped at $500 unless you specifically declare that your bike is more valuable. In my case, the baggage handlers had pre-filled this portion of the baggage form with a large 'X'. Had I known they were going to be so careless with the bike, I'd have made sure that a declaration of the proper value was included on the baggage ticket/contract.
3) The furnished bicycle box is relatively narrow. While the Amtrak employees indicated that I would just need to turn my bars to get the bike to fit into the box, this was not the case. Due to the long (100 or 110mm) stem, I had to completely remove the bars. For me, this just meant loosening a couple of additional bolts. Might be more or less of a hassle, depending on your bike.
Congrats on your tour sstorkel, and welcome back! What was your favorite part?
No doubt: the Big Sur coast was fantastic. Felt like I made terrible progress because I was pulling over every 5-10 minutes to take a picture of something, admire the view, etc. In contrast, I was surprised at how bored I got once past Santa Barbara. Too many cars, too much fog, and the views were all pretty unimpressive compared to Big Sur.