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Touring the West Coast

Old 05-12-20, 03:01 PM
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Touring the West Coast

One of my goals has always been to tour the West Coast. My wife and I will retire at the end of this year and have been thinking of riding our tandem.

Our more grand thoughts are leave from Seattle and then ride down into Oregon to Portland and then angle over to the coast. Then on down the coast through California to San Diego. That looks to be a little over 1,800 miles.

A little lesser mileage tour idea would be to ride a portion of the West Coast. If that were our decision, what are your thoughts on the best portion of the coast to do for a 500-600 mile tour.

I'd love to here your thoughts and why you love this section.

Thanks so much for your input on this!
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Old 05-12-20, 03:09 PM
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Old 05-12-20, 03:51 PM
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I loved the coast. I only did the portion from Seattle to San Luis Obispo. The Washington portion was my least favorite. Oregon was amazing and the redwoods just into California were pretty cool too. The whole coast is scenic, but the Washington section of my route wasn't on the coast. I'd recommend using the Oregon DOT map in Oregon and the Adventure Cycling maps elsewhere. September was a great time to go (traffic is lighter after Labor Day), but any time other than the wet season is good. Just check the climate data. The hiker biker sites were great and meeting other cyclists there was fun. Hopefully things will be open when you are ready to go.
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Old 05-12-20, 05:43 PM
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I'd ride the whole route if there are no constraints like time, money or fitness. Last October I rode from my home in Santa Rosa, California to the Mexican border in 14 days (I'm 69, so a bit slower); it was an awesome trip! If you are constrained to a shorter journey, I'd suggest riding from Astoria to San Francisco. I would advise against doing this until late May or early June as the Pacific Northwest is famous for rain. You don't say if you're planning to camp or stay in motels, Oregon has great hiker-biker campgrounds, but sadly, California has shut most of their H-B sites south of Ventura due to the homeless population taking them over. Have fun!
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Old 05-12-20, 07:10 PM
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I took Amtrak from Wisconsin to Portland, then took a bus from Portland to Astoria. Stayed there for the night, started the next morning. Rode to San Fransisco. Did the trip with a former co-worker, we were both retired when we did it. At San Fransisco, we did sightseeing for a few days and then took Amtrak (shuttle bus from Fishermans Wharf to the Amtrak Station across the bay) home, stayed at the Fishermans Wharf Hostel in San Fransisco while sightseeing.

I liked Oregon more, but I really liked seeing the redwood trees in California. We almost exclusively stayed at hiker biker sites at state parks. Oregon I felt that the state was more interested in having us there as visitors, but in California I made some small suggestion for improvement to a state park staffer whom replied "you people in the hiker biker sites are low revenue" which pretty much was what I thought that their attitude at all the California parks was.

I wrote up a short bit on my trip on this forum, that is a bit dated now since my trip was in 2014. That is at this link.
Southt to North Pacific Coast Highway Concerns

The software for this forum has changed a few times since I posted it, some photos disappeared. Sorry.

Since you would be doing this while retired, you do not have to get back to home by a certain date. That is great, as you do not have to make an end point by some specific date. When I did that trip, we did not arrange for our Amtrak ride home until less than a week before the end of our trip. That way we could travel as fast or as slow as we wanted to.

I did that trip in late May thru early July. That is a wetter time of year, but that also meant that much of the time the highways were not filled with RVs. You will have to figure out when you want to go based on average weather, etc.

In 2014 when we went, forest fires were not an issue, but the past few years they have been an issue. You might want to factor potential for that into your schedule planning.

You said a tandem bike. I have no clue if Amtrak takes tandems any more. I like Amtrak for that kind of trip, you can make reservations on short notice and not have to pay an arm and a leg. I prefer that over airlines where I have to make reservations months in advance and then I get obsessive during my last week about making my end point on time for my flight.

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Old 05-12-20, 07:35 PM
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If you have the time, riding the entire Pacific Coast would be great. Each state is a bit different. Washington has lots of trees and tree farms, cranberry bogs, Indian Casinos, and such. Oregon also has lots of trees but it also has dramatic coastlines (and a couple tunnels) and the route keeps the coast in sight. California has lots more people and cars but, in my view, the Northern California coast is the best of all. The ACA Pacific Coast Route actually starts in Vancouver BC, which is worth a couple days exploring before starting the trip.

If you are only doing 500 miles or so, my suggestion would be Fort Bragg in Northern California down to San Luis Obispo. This ride, done almost entirely on the California Coast is visually stunning. While the Redwoods in Southern Oregon and Northern California are definitely worth seeing, south of the Redwoods you have to ride on the shoulder of 101, a fast freeway that undulates through uninspiring scenery. The route hits the coast north of Fort Bragg, which is the big town in this part of the world. Maybe you can combine a bus/car trip to see the Redwoods and then drive down to Fort Bragg and start your ride from there.

I've done a ride from Bellingham, north of Seattle down to near Portland. It was an OK ride. You can read all about it and see many photos in my journal of that trip.

I've also done a short tour from Fort Bragg down to Petaluma. It was only 3 days of riding but it is magical. You can read all about it and see many photos in my journal of that trip.

I've ridden from SF (where I live) down to LA (where I grew up) many times. It is a fabulous ride, as well. I wrote a guide about the ride from SF to LA, which will give you some idea of that ride and its planning challenges. I've written 2 journals of rides I did from SF to LA. You can read them here: SF to LA journal 1 and SF to LA journal 2.

No matter what you choose to do, it is hard to make a bad choice on the West Coast!
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Old 05-12-20, 07:41 PM
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Ha, youíre going the wrong way for me. 😁 I got into San Diego County just when the Covid-19 thing started, from Arizona, and now Iím going North. Iím not too far from Modesto now, but Iím seriously slow, compared to most folks. 😁😉

Good luck, and have fun. 😎
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Old 05-12-20, 07:50 PM
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I liked the Oregon Coast the best, but I'm biased. My wife and I have ridden from Lund, BC down to San Diego, and still think Oregon is the best.

One thing you have to think about is your endpoint. Where are you going to end your ride, and how are you going to get home. On our first ride down the coast we were informed of a family emergency when we were near Gold Beach, Oregon. We had to ride down to Crescent City, CA before we found a place to rent a car. It was fun getting 2 bikes and all our gear into a Toyota Camry. With a tandem it might be a little more challenging. Astoria to San Francisco would be a good ride, and there is an Amtrak station across the bay. North to South is the preferred direction.


Riding the Golden Gate Bridge was fun, but we did not see much

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Old 05-12-20, 10:01 PM
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I rode San Francisco to SLO a couple years ago and Astoria to Florence, OR last year. Those are really nice segments. Eventually I plan to ride more of the coast, maybe Florence to SFO. A guy I rode with for a bit in Oregon said Washington was challenging due to trucks on the road and the lack of a shoulder in many places.
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Old 05-13-20, 04:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul J View Post
Our more grand thoughts are leave from Seattle and then ride down into Oregon to Portland and then angle over to the coast. Then on down the coast through California to San Diego. That looks to be a little over 1,800 miles.
Just me, but, having driven some of your proposed route and having ridden from Seattle to Astoria to ride the coast (leaving Seattle via the ferry to Bremmerton), I don't think I'd choose either if doing it again. I found the part getting to the coast far and away the least enjoyable part. I'd probably do one of the following if doing it again:
  • Take surface transportation to Astoria to start.
  • Ride to the coast from Portland.
  • Start in Vancouver if I really wanted to ride the whole coast and I'd most likely ride a more western route than the Adventure Cycling maps recommend at least for the Washington section south of Elma and possibly the whole southern half. My experience is based only on the section below Elma so I'd have to research the rest before I'd decide, but I didn't enjoy the ride there much compared to the rest of the coast. Not sure what or how good the options are, also not sure any option there is really on the coast much so they may or may not be much different. I mentioned my observations to some guys from Washington that I met on the ride who ride the coast every year and they said, "That's why we start in Astoria".
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Old 05-13-20, 05:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul J View Post
Our more grand thoughts are leave from Seattle and then ride down into Oregon to Portland and then angle over to the coast. Then on down the coast through California to San Diego ... (or) to ride a portion of the West Coast, for a 500-600 mile tour.
Best visuals and remoteness would be, at least IMO, along the Hwy 1 route between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Columbia River. Most areas simply don't have a lot of shoulder area, let alone bike lanes, and the traffic speeds can get up there. But it's a frequently-traveled route and most motorists expect to see the occasional cyclists.

Hwy 1 from Stinson Beach up to ~Fort Bragg is stellar. Picturesque. Hwy 101 becomes necessary from just north of Fort Bragg, but it's also quite wonderful. (Faster traffic, though, overall.) The redwoods and rivers of Humboldt County are great. The "Avenue Of The Giants" loop is worthwhile. As is Hwy 211 (which winds its way along the coast and hills south of Ferndale, through Petrolia, and up the hills back to the Avenue Of The Giants"). Very hilly, that loop, but stunning views and very little traffic.

Myself, I've never done a long cycling tour along the coast between Portland and San Francisco, but I've driven it a good hundred times over the years. Most every bit of it's well worth the trip. If you can get comfortable with the relatively higher vehicle speeds, and the general lack of wide shoulder areas.
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Old 05-13-20, 05:20 AM
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Here's another vote for starting in Astoria for the most quality riding time. We started from our home in Seattle and it was a slog until we got to Astoria.

But if I were to do it again with unlimited time and budget, I'd start in Vancouver BC.
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Old 05-13-20, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by andrewclaus View Post
Here's another vote for starting in Astoria for the most quality riding time. We started from our home in Seattle and it was a slog until we got to Astoria.

But if I were to do it again with unlimited time and budget, I'd start in Vancouver BC.
That is a great section. I was going to mention it, but getting a route long enough without riding the Washington segment didn't seem feasible.

My wife and I started in Vancouver, rode north to Lund, and crossed over to Vacouver Island at Powell River. Then we rode down to Victoria, and took the ferry across to Port Angeles, WA. We then rode south on the Hood Canal Route down to Astoria. I think the Hood Canal Route is better than the Washinton coast. The segment from Vacouver to Victoria is a great ride, but pretty short. It could be combined with the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Gulf Islands to make it longer.

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Old 05-13-20, 12:08 PM
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You said nothing on your touring experience, but one option you might consider is instead of doing your own tour, signing up to ride with ACA. A friend of mine did the Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico with ACA. They had a van supported trip, so you only have to bring your lunch and water and rain gear on the bike, they haul your luggage and camping gear in the trailer.

Adventure Cycling does not list any trips on their website at this time, but once a vaccine becomes available, I would expect that they would start running trips again.
https://www.adventurecycling.org/

The upside is that they take care of the logistics and haul the gear. The down side is that every day is planned, so you give up the freedom to travel at your own pace. And of course there is a cost.
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Old 05-13-20, 12:19 PM
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I enjoyed parts between Astoria, OR and Pismo Beach, CA the best.

Further north between Vancouver, BC and Portland/Astoria I've done multiple times though never out the Olympic Peninsula. I found it to be a reasonable ride though not quite a match for other sections further south.

Not long after Pismo Beach, I've also cycled several times and this has more of a mixture of riding through more populated areas. The routes picked by ACA are reasonable, e.g. crossing LA metro area or coming down coast between Oceanside and then San Diego - however again, not quite a match for areas further north.
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Old 05-13-20, 01:42 PM
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Wow, these are really great insights!

A few of things I see I didn't mention in my original post. First, we were thinking of riding in the dryer time, I should have made that distinction, we are retiring at the end of the year but not touring till summer. I was thinking is late July through early September. Second,If we do the compete route we were thinking self-contained using a trailer as a way of reducing the stress on the back wheel. A probably staying in hotels, Inns and B&Bs. Last, we've done short tours of a couple days so this will be our first serious tour.

I've been talking about this for years and one cool thing that has me thinking of a shorter ride is our (at tour time) 17 and 19 year old grandsons would like to go with us with them taking turns riding with us and driving our van. This would lighten our load considerably with only carrying what we need for the day but they wouldn't be able to ride more then 2 weeks.

Doing a Google maps check it looks like SF to SD is just a little over 600 miles which would be a good distance. Earlier this year two ladies from the UK were doing an around-the-world ride on a tandem and came onto North America at San Fransisco and rode to San Diego. their comments were that the California coast was the most beautiful they had ever seen, I can't imagine what the coast north of there must be for you all saying it is the prettiest of the coast. :-) Maybe we could ride the top section of about 800 miles the next year.

This has been awesome and I look forward to other thoughts. Our tandem is a Bushnell 9 speed XT rear and Ultegra front with an 11-34 freewheel. The Wheels are White Industry hubs 36 front and 40 rear laced to Velocity Dyad rims. Braking is "V" rim brakes and Arai drum Brake.

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Old 05-13-20, 04:20 PM
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Have a spare set of brake pads in your spares kit. There are lots of hills that are about 8 percent grade. Not that tall but every river that is flowing into the ocean will take you down to lower elevations.

I can't see if that is a double or triple crank. If your gearing is good for an 8 percent grade, you should be good. There were a few 12 percent grade hills in Oregon where the Oregon DOT suggested route left the main coast road. I walked up some of the 12 percent ones.
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Old 05-14-20, 01:03 AM
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@paulj:

One thing to pay particular attention to is the quality of the roadway and related road construction. Hwy 1 is frequently (even annually) blocked here and there, with landslides and failures of the road ... and those sections get worked on by road crews. It's the rare year when I've not seen a single road construction zone anywhere along Hwy 1 in California. It's what happens, with a road along the side of the coastal mountains gets the brunt of all weather that hits from the west. Definitely be open to route alterations that'll be likely.

Despite all of that, it's still a wonderful route. Hard to beat the views, in the U.S.
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Old 05-14-20, 04:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
Have a spare set of brake pads in your spares kit. There are lots of hills that are about 8 percent grade. Not that tall but every river that is flowing into the ocean will take you down to lower elevations.

I can't see if that is a double or triple crank. If your gearing is good for an 8 percent grade, you should be good. There were a few 12 percent grade hills in Oregon where the Oregon DOT suggested route left the main coast road. I walked up some of the 12 percent ones.
Good point. I was surprised by how much climbing and descending there was. I guess I pictured a flatter route and the amount of steep climbing was a surprise.

On a similar note there is some pretty remote country and longish distances between some services at times. At one point there were even cattle guards and free range cattle on the road.

You mention staying in "hotels, Inns and B&Bs". That should be doable, but I do have a few caveats.

First, you will miss out on what i found to be one of the really great things about the coast, staying in the hiker/biker sites and rubbing elbows with the other cyclists on the route. The advantages of that include frequent nicely spaced stops at a great price and great company. I met a lot of nice folks and wound up meeting a group that stayed together each night. A few people would come and go here and there, but we became good friends. Mostly we didn't ride together, but we did enjoy each other's company in camp. Staying in rooms will insulate you from that kind interacting with the other riders on the route.

Second, rooms on the coast can be reasonable and conveniently located in some places, but not in others. I figured I'd maybe get a room here and there on my coast ride. I found an inexpensive room in Astoria when I was tired and decided to stay in town. Later when I wanted to stay in a touristy town I was shocked by the $$$$ rates and gave up on staying there. I pressed on and camped somewhere down the road missing out on spending the rest of the day there. I am a bit of a cheapskate, but that room rate was about equal to what I averaged for two weeks on the road expenses on the Trans America. Also there will be times when the spacing of stops won't be ideal and you will need to go farther or less far than you want and/or stay somewhere that doesn't meet you ideal criteria. That will be somewhat true for camping too though.

It depends on what you expect from the trip and what you are willing to spend, so my caveats may not be a problem for you, but they are things that you should at least be aware of.
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Old 05-14-20, 08:33 AM
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I couldn't imagine doing this on a tandem.
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Old 05-14-20, 02:09 PM
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Originally Posted by StarBiker View Post
I couldn't imagine doing this on a tandem.
On riding this on a tandem not sure if you are saying that because of hills or traffic/riding conditions? I followed three couples on Facebook who are about our age and they did this route late last summer. Also, on Crazy Guy On A Bike we've followed a couples who have done it twice and are my heroes. https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/..._id=11668&v=kD

We are planning to set-up our chain rings 48/36/24 to work with the 11-34 cog-set so this should be OK but we've heard a few hills will be walked. Here in South Central PA we have hills that are steep but typically none that are more then a mile.
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Old 05-14-20, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul J View Post
On riding this on a tandem not sure if you are saying that because of hills or traffic/riding conditions?
I am assuming they meant the hills. If so yeah, some are very steep, but people tour on tandems on pretty much all of the normal touring routes. I met at least one tandem team on the PCH and a few on the Trans America. They seemed to be managing fine. Worst case, none of the hills would be all that long to walk, it isn't like they are multi-mile mountain passes.
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Old 05-14-20, 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by StarBiker View Post
I couldn't imagine doing this on a tandem.
Like I said.

BOL.
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Old 05-15-20, 10:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Paul J View Post
...
We are planning to set-up our chain rings 48/36/24 to work with the 11-34 cog-set so this should be OK but we've heard a few hills will be walked. Here in South Central PA we have hills that are steep but typically none that are more then a mile.
You should do ok on gearing. I used a 11/32 cassette, my granny gear chainring was 24, 700c wheels, so your gearing will be just a hair lower than I had on that route. And I had camping gear as part of my load too, so I was a bit heavier.

In some parts of that route, you might want to worry about theft of the bike at night if left outside, not sure how easy it is to bring a tandem into your room if the motel allows it.

I have never ridden a tandem, so I really do not know what that is like, but I would think about four panniers instead of a trailer, get a front rack on your bike if you can mount one on your fork. That said, if you have used a trailer, then disregard my comment as you know more about it than me. I am just thinking that with no camping or cooking gear, you will have a much lighter load than I had.
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Old 05-15-20, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
You should do ok on gearing. I used a 11/32 cassette, my granny gear chainring was 24, 700c wheels, so your gearing will be just a hair lower than I had on that route. And I had camping gear as part of my load too, so I was a bit heavier.

In some parts of that route, you might want to worry about theft of the bike at night if left outside, not sure how easy it is to bring a tandem into your room if the motel allows it.

I have never ridden a tandem, so I really do not know what that is like, but I would think about four panniers instead of a trailer, get a front rack on your bike if you can mount one on your fork. That said, if you have used a trailer, then disregard my comment as you know more about it than me. I am just thinking that with no camping or cooking gear, you will have a much lighter load than I had.
We've used panniers on the back on our short tours and have been toying with trailer or 4 panniers. I can set-up the front for panniers so that is possible. We are a larger team so I've worried about the rear wheel and broken spokes with our weight and the panniers.
in regular riding we've broken spokes before so that's driving my concerns. As I mentioned above the rear wheel is White Ind 40 hole laced to Velocity Dyad so it is a competent wheel. I've really been enjoying the input!
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