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  1. #1
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    Cycle West coast USA in winter

    Hello,

    I have 2 1/2 months off work (December 2012 - mid Feb 2013) and would like to do a cycle tour during this time. I am relatively new to cycle touring, have only done short week long trips before round the UK (I live in London). I have really enjoyed these trips and so am planning to do a longer trip.

    I would like to cycle from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, California. Do you think it is sensible to do this in winter? Will it be miserable in terms of weather?! Any advice is of course much appreciated. I would probably like to do a mixture of camping/youth hostelling.

    Many thanks,

    Rob

  2. #2
    Hooked on Touring
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    Short answer -- Yes, it will be miserable.
    The pacific coast has a clear winter precipitation peak - whether oregon or Calif.
    In Oregon, coastal areas can get 10+ inches of rain per month.
    Even in central Calif you can have steady rain all day.
    Plus the wind direction in winter is southwest - i.e. headwinds.
    Plus temps in the 40s and 50s. Your tent will NEVER dry out.

    Once, I hit a rare late-season storm in May.
    I was cold, wet, and slammed by headwinds.

    There are far better choices.
    Your dates are te perfect time to do the Southern Tier.
    The days are relatively short, but 8 weeks is usually plenty of time.
    North of the ST, most camping will be closed.

    (Then there's New Zealand)

  3. #3
    Senior Member staehpj1's Avatar
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    Jamawani mentions the temperatures as a negative but they sound perfect to me. That said, I agree you are likely to be deluged with hard rain and lots of it. I have not ridden there then, but it was pretty wet when I have visited there in winter. If you decide to tough out the rain and do it, start in the South since the wind patterns are likely to be the reverse of Summer.

    I agree that the ST is an option then. I will say that I wasn't crazy about the scenery on the ST especially west of Del Rio, but the food was good and I met a lot of interesting people.

  4. #4
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    BTW for our UK friend, 40s and 50s is Fahrenheit not centigrade.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  5. #5
    totally louche Bekologist's Avatar
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    heavy weather, rain, and short days about sums it up.
    That said, some of my favorite touring has been in the winter in the Pacific Northwest.

    There is something indescribably sublime about rolling up into a small town in the chill of a winter's day, and finding the local coffee shop or bakery if you're lucky. The feeling you get stepping over the hearth warms me to the core.

    Well, if you're willing to ride into the dim and damp, i say - go for it!

    I'd suggest a 4-season tent and perhaps even a synthetic sleeping bag for ease of care in damp conditions. Down always gets worrysome in successive nights of damp, 40 degree weather.
    Last edited by Bekologist; 09-29-12 at 08:50 AM.
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  6. #6
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    Be aware that rain on the west coast isn't like much of the rain in the UK.

    In my experience, rain in the UK often means misty drizzle or showers that come and go during the day with sun in between. While often rain in the Northwest can be drizzle all day, rain in California often means heavy drops all day with gusty winds and cold temperatures.

    I've ridden on many a rainy day in the UK. I rarely, if ever, ride (or even go outside) when it rains here in San Francisco.

    If you do decide to ride, who knows you may be lucky, I'd change your overnighting plans to motels and couchsurfing. During the rainy season, you can probably get good deals on motels!

    Be aware that Highway 1 through Big Sur would be very unpleasant during a big rain storm and might even be closed due to land slides.

    Frankly, I'd go elsewhere.
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  7. #7
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robfreudenthal View Post
    I have 2 1/2 months off work (December 2012 - mid Feb 2013) and would like to do a cycle tour during this time.
    Speaking as someone who has lived in Australia for 3 years ... this would be a great time of year to do a tour in Australia. Warm, sunny, long daylight hours ... open campgrounds and hostels.


    Rowan and I are planning to come up the west coast from late-November to mid-December ... driving, but stopping to cycle as often as possible. One of our concerns is that the campgrounds (and what few hostels there are along there ... the US doesn't have many hostels, not like Australia) will likely be closed. However, at least with driving we can get out of the rain whenever we want (i.e. go for a quick ride and then get back in the vehicle), and we could stop and sleep in the vehicle where it would be dry and relatively comfortable. On the bicycle, you may be faced with days and days of cold, miserable rain with no real way to get a break from it.

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    Hi - thanks for all your advice. I get the picture, it seems that the wind and heavy rain in Dec and Jan might make this route a little miserable! Does anyone have any suggestions for alternative routes for that time period? I've been looking at the Southern Tier route, perhaps a ride from Houston to St Augustine might be more feasible and enjoyable? Does anyone know about this route and the conditions in Dec/Jan?
    Or if anyone has any alternative suggestions (doesn't have to be USA) I would be v interested to hear them ...
    I don't know that much about the American South, most people I know who have travelled in the US have spent most of their time in the East or West Coast, so again any pointers are of course appreciated.

    Thanks again,

    R

  9. #9
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Like I said ... have you considered Australia? December and January is summer there. Depending where you go, you may run into school holiday issues (lots of people head for popular beach areas), but there is still some great cycling all over the place.

    We spent a little over a week last Christmas in the Mt Gambier area of South Australia. That was nice, and surprisingly quiet given the time of year.

    What do you like ... beaches? mountains? flat prairies?

    What kinds of temperatures do you like?

  10. #10
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Once the summer High pressure moves off from the atmospheric pattern,
    and the tilt of the planet lets the sun set is further south , longer nights, etc.

    the weather system's wind direction reverses to coming out of the southern latitudes..
    and bringing up abundant rainfall . aka 'pineapple express'..

    Bring more money, you will want to dry out at night in Motel rooms ,
    Hostels are not so frequent to make it from one to another..

    remains so thru the 6th month, often called Junuary , up here;-)

    Machka offers the idea.. flip hemispheres. Argentina in the Americas,
    South Africa , and Australia, N.Z.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 09-29-12 at 10:49 AM.

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    Hi, just saw your post re Australia. I think you're right, Australia would be a great cycling destination. The only thing (and I do appreciate W USA is far away too!) it seems like a long way to go. Would ideally like to go somewhere without such a long flight, especially as am doing another long haul flight in March as am going to work in Uganda for 6 months.
    I'm looking to do about 60 miles/day, although could do longer on the odd day and would of course like to go through areas with varied landscape, some hilly areas and with some coastline. Would like to stop at some cities on the way.
    What do you think? Do you have any other suggestions?
    Am looking and open to be inspired!

  12. #12
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robfreudenthal View Post
    I'm looking to do about 60 miles/day, although could do longer on the odd day and would of course like to go through areas with varied landscape, some hilly areas and with some coastline. Would like to stop at some cities on the way.
    What do you think? Do you have any other suggestions?
    Am looking and open to be inspired!
    Sounds like Victoria or Tasmania.

    Break the flight up by stopping for a few days in Hong Kong, or somewhere around there.

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    Yes, you might be right! Still not super keen on that flight though...
    Have just been looking at these websites:

    http://www.terrymorse.com/ (california biking in winter section)
    http://www.udctours.com/biketours/ca...rt-winter.html

    I'm wondering if instead of cycling Portland to San Diego, I could do a big loop within California, perhaps starting at San Francisco. That way could fit in some desert cycling, which probably would not be possible in the summer.

    Any thoughts? Sounds more sensible?!

  14. #14
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    The only time I was hailed on while riding a bike was just north of San Francisco in *early* November!

    That said, December in San Francisco can be great cycling weather--clear days with cold air but warming sun. But, the days will be short and, if it happens to be during a rainy period, it will be wet and miserable.

    One option might be to fly to San Francisco from the UK and, if the weather is good, make a quick dash down the coast. I do 50 mile days and it takes me a week or 8 days to get down to LA from SF. You could then fly from LA to New Zealand or Australia or South America and do a good long ride down there.

    Do they still sell those around the world airline tickets? If so, you might be able to do an interesting series of multi-week rides in various places around the world. Fly to SF, ride to LA, fly to New Zealand, ride around, Fly to Australia, ride around, Fly to Southeast Asia, ride around, ... It sure would be an interesting 2 1/2 months!

    You could ride around the desert in that time frame but I doubt there is 2 1/2 months of riding to do. The rest of the state is either at elevation where snow is a serious problem or potentially rainy.

    If you have your heart set on riding in California, you could fly to SF and if the weather is good, start riding. If not, take a train down to San Luis Obispo and then ride down to San Diego from there (5 - 7 days) and then either head east on the Southern Tier (and through the desert big time) or fly out to points south.
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    Thankyou, I like the idea of heading down to San Diego and exploring the desert areas. Perhaps if I have enough time, I could cross the border and explore the Baja region of Mexico. Does anybody know what it would be like to cycle in this region in winter?
    Maybe a nice trip would be to fly into SF and out of San Diego, allowing for time to explore the Baja region, and then maybe get a train or bus back from Mexico to San Diego -- although I'm not sure about the feasibility of doing this with my bike. On the other hand, I could do a circular trip and cycle back via Mexicali.
    Any thoughts?
    Thankyou for all of your advice, it has been great.

  16. #16
    Senior Member simplygib's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robfreudenthal View Post
    I'm wondering if instead of cycling Portland to San Diego, I could do a big loop within California, perhaps starting at San Francisco. That way could fit in some desert cycling, which probably would not be possible in the summer.

    Any thoughts? Sounds more sensible?!
    Sounds much more sensible. Death Valley and the deserts south of there and in Arizona are great in winter. Highs could be anywhere from 50's to 70's, even 80 occasionally. Much less rain than further north on the coast, although occasional rain not impossible. Maybe flying into SF, riding south on the coast to Morro Bay or so, east through Lake Isabella to Death Valley, Las Vegas, down through Mojave Desert to Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree, over into Arizona, Phoenix, east into the Superstition mountains, south down to Tucson, then back to California, Anza Borrego, over to San Diego, and then north back up to SF. Something like that as a basic route with meanderings and days off throughout to see sights, etc., which you should have plenty of time for since the basic route is about 2500 miles or so.

    Edit: Re: Baja. I have cycled some in Mexico, but not in Baja. Weather-wise, it would probably be a good time to go. Many would be reluctant, however, due to all the brutal fighting/killing between drug cartels and Mexican law enforcement. Border towns have been especially hard hit. Depends on your comfort level and assessment of risk. Might be worth some research as to how things are now in Baja. My experiences in Mexico have been nothing but positive, but my most recent trip there was 3 years ago and on the east coast of the Yucatan. Just an FYI.
    Last edited by simplygib; 09-29-12 at 02:39 PM.

  17. #17
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    Great, thankyou. The idea with California and Arizona I think would work well.
    Will keep you posted!

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    I had a bike shop in Mendocino from '80-'86. Seagulls fly backwards in 30mph wind with horizontal rain mixed with sea foam and 100lb branches 1500' from the shore. One ride had 3" drifts of hail on the edge of the road. Other times were crisp and beautiful.

  19. #19
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    Deserts of California and Arizona are wonderful in Winter. Go to Tucson, fantastic possibilities from there. Ride Baja, once you leave the border region the traffic and stress drops dramatically. Lots of options in the low desert south west and Mexico.

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    short days suck if you are mostly camping. 12+ hours of dark is a long time to sit around in camp. if you got 2.5 months, go someplace south where the days are long

  21. #21
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by robfreudenthal View Post
    I've been looking at the Southern Tier route, perhaps a ride from Houston to St Augustine might be more feasible and enjoyable? Does anyone know about this route and the conditions in Dec/Jan?
    You'll certainly have some nights at freezing or below, even on the ST from Houston to St Augustine in Dec/Feb.... I had a below freezing night in Southern Mississippi in mid March on my 2005 tour. You can get some nice daytime temps though but make no mistake, it's still winter and you'll need to be prepared as such.

  22. #22
    Bicycle Lifestyle AsanaCycles's Avatar
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    I'd avise against the idea of touring the west coast in the winter.
    I've spent a lot of time living out of doors.
    winter time along the coast, can have big winds, heavy rain, cold, and hail.
    cold winters can bring the snow line down to 1500ft.

    times when I've lived on the bike "on tour" aka: hobo mode
    during the winter, I typically carry a 4 man tipi, with wood burning stove, a lot of groceries, and a good book.

    then again, there is the ever slightest chance that just maybe... it wont rain. maybe.

  23. #23
    eternalvoyage
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    You could keep an eye on the weather forecasts. It can be very nice in most of California for a week or more at a time in December, January, February -- sometimes for several weeks at a time. There is a lot of absolutely beautiful weather during these months. There will be storms, but also many days that are just fine.

    The farther south you go, the less rain. Much of Southern California is very fine during most of the winter. It is interspersed with storms, but the weather is mostly fine, and better than heat and intense sun any day. The riding is good in the cool weather (as long as you dress for it) and the lower sun angles. There is a lot of desert when you go inland in Southern and Central California.

    Much of Nevada is colder, but the high desert can be a beautiful place to spend some time. The leeward side of the Sierras is considered a rain shadow: most of the precipitation is squeezed out by the mountain range.

    If you watch the ten-day forecasts, you can probably find some good chunks of time when there will be nice weather in other areas that might interest you as well.
    Last edited by Niles H.; 10-06-12 at 12:53 PM.

  24. #24
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    Living here in San Diego, I have to agree with everything that the above post says. The weather service here is looking at a moderate El Nino event, which sort of is not leaning toward a dry or wet winter, but could go either way. Last winter, we had near-normal rainfall here, which usually comes in stormy periods of several days (which can have a dry day within the stormy period) separated by up to several weeks of sunny weather, even with temperatures up into the 30's (C).

    If you do head west into the deserts from San Diego, there is a coastal range you must cross with passes of 1500 meters, before reaching the low desert at near sea level. There are also a few hot springs you may want to hit on the way in the California desert, such as Agua Caliente and the Holtville hot well. And of course, winter's the time of year to visit Death Valley--though major winter storms, while not dumping much rain in the desert, can cause big windstorms in the drylands with lots of blowing sand and dust.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Niles H. View Post
    You could keep an eye on the weather forecasts. It can be very nice in most of California for a week or more at a time in December, January, February -- sometimes for several weeks at a time. There is a lot of absolutely beautiful weather during these months. There will be storms, but also many days that are just fine.
    Agree completely! California is huge and weather patterns can vary greatly across the length and width of the state. I'd plan to fly to southern California, since the weather in generally better, but I'd keep an eye on the weather forecasts. Depending on what the weather looks like, you can jump on Amtrak with your bike and be at the other end of the state in a day...

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