2.1.1 Week End Ride – San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Our First Weekend Ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Return to our 2012 Adventures


t1 d0Our Cycling Tour was a trip from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.  We rode this piece of the Pacific Coast Highway on 29-30 April, 2012.  We did the ride in two stages.  The first stage was from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.  The second stage was from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz.  The total ride was about 77 miles, with 6600 feet of climbing.  With minor exceptions, we followed ACA Map 4.

I had retired in January 2012.  We chose to retire to Cycle Touring.  We chose not to retire from the aerospace industry.  Since the beginning of the year, we had trained to ride as much of the Pacific Coast as we could in the summer of 2012.  We were anxious to try out our bikes, our equipment, and get a reading on the effectiveness of our training.

If you have read our training experiences, (http://wp.me/P2ngSu-ht), you are familiar with our training tempo.  We would do a number of weeks of heavy training, ending with a rest week, or one which is lighter.  We planned to ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz in one of our Rest Weeks.  We wanted to ride on Thursday – Friday, to maintain our rhythm.  We actually rode on Sunday – Monday.

Until the very last-minute we were solving problems.  We did not get our last sets of panniers until two days before we started.  Because we had the wrong panniers, we had trained with lighter loads than we actually took on tour.  And, we were still solving the puzzle of mounting the lights.

Our trip was a shakedown of ourselves, our bikes, and our equipment.  It was an incredible experience, unlike anything I had ever done before.  It was so strange to travel to a far place, load our panniers on the bikes, and simply pedal away from everything familiar and comfortable, and head out into the unknown.  At heart, I wonder if I a true adventurer, as I have to overcome internal resistance to get started.  Once started, muscle memory kicks in, and I apply my riding skills.

We learned many lessons to apply to future adventuring:

  • Safety is everything.  Cyclists ride nearly perfectly, and ride defensively
  • Water is everything.  Drink at least every 15 minutes.  Refill water bottles at every opportunity.
  • Food, especially carbs, will keep you going.  We try to eat something at each 15 minute stop.
  • We climb slowly.  When the grade becomes too steep, or goes on too long, it is okay to push our bikes, and save energy for later.
  • Our front panniers were improperly placed, forward of the front axle.  The resulting instability made the bikes difficult to control, and dangerous.
  • The total weight surprised us.  We need to relook at everything we took.  We had no spare tires, and needed to add them.  We may not need all the clothes we took.
  • We should relook at food.  We should buy food as near our last stop of the day as we can.  We may not want to take the time to cook breakfast in the morning.
  • We used batteries for bike and personal lights, my Garmin, our phones, and the Kindle.  We used the Garmin for several hours on the first day, recharged with the Solar Panel, and used it six-hour on the second day before the battery gave out.  We turned our phones on only from time to time, planning on turning them on if we became separated.


We planned our ride from San Francisco to Santa Cruz as a two stage ride.  The first stage was from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, about 27 miles, with 3400 feet of climbing.  The second stage was from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz, about 50 miles, with 3200 feet of climbing.  We held out the option for going beyond Santa Cruz.  In the end, we did not.

We based our route on Adventure Cycling Association Pacific Coast Map 4 Segments 42-43-44-45, Vicky Spring’s Bicycling The Pacific Coast, and GPSIES.COM for detailed route information.  The ACA and Spring routes were similar.  Where the routes diverged, we made our best guesses.

We had both hard copy and electronic media for our trip.  We scanned the Map 4 ACA topographical chart and Segments 42-45, and made hard copies for each of us.  We built up .TCX files for each day, and loaded them into the Garmin.  The hard copies were most useful for the bigger picture.  The Garmin was most useful for tactical situations, such as distance to next turn, etc.

t1 d1 00On the first day, the route from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, is on or near the Pacific Coast Highway.  It is 27 miles from start to finish, with 3400 feet of climbing.  We followed this route:  0.0 – Start;  2.5 miles – RIGHT onto Westridge;  2.6 – LEFT onto Skyline;  4.8 miles – RIGHT onto Crenshaw;  4.8 miles – LEFT onto Palmetto;  7.2 miles – LEFT onto  Clarendon;  7.2 miles – RIGHT onto Lakeside;  8.5 miles – RIGHT onto Bradford;  8.9 miles – STRAIGHT onto Moroi Point;  9.1 miles – RIGHT onto Pacific Coast Highway;  20.4 miles – RIGHT onto Magellan;  20.5 miles – LEFT onto Mirada;  20.7 miles – STRAIGHT onto Bike Path;  23.1 miles – Ranger Station (End)

t1 d2 01The ride from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay has two significant climbs.  The first begins, almost immediately, near Sloat Avenue, and continues, with some relief, up Highway 35 and then Skyline, cresting in Daley City.  The second climb is Devil’s Slide, beginning in Pacifica.  There are other, smaller climbs, as well.

t1 d2 00On the second day, the route from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz is on the Pacific Coast Highway, until reaching the side streets of Santa Cruz.  It is 50 miles from start to finish, with 3200 feet of climbing.  We followed this route: 0.0 miles – Start;  0.6 miles – RIGHT onto Pacific Coast Highway;  11.2 miles – LEFT onto La Honda Road;  12.0 STOP at San Gregorio / RESUME;  12.7 miles – LEFT onto Pacific Coast Highway;  46.7 miles – RIGHT onto Coast Road;  47.3 miles – RIGHT onto Bike Path;  48.2 miles – RIGHT onto Shafter;  48.7 miles – LEFT onto Delaware;  49.8 miles – LEFT onto Seaside;  50.7 miles – RIGHT onto Laurent;  50.8 miles – LEFT onto California;  50.9 miles – RIGHT onto Laural;  51.2 miles – Chestnut (END).

t1 d2 01The ride from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz has one big climb and a number of rollers.  The biggest climb is just before the turnoff to San Gregorio.  The other climbs are rollers.  Each type of climb is different.  The long, unbroken climb requires patience and endurance.  Rollers require sudden strength, and efficient fear shifting.  While on one type of climb, the other always seems more attractive.


We started our adventure on a Sunday morning.  Had we started on the Thursday we had planned for, we would have had to take CalTrain to the Embarcadero and ridden over to our starting point.  As we started on a weekend, our son David, drove us to San Francisco.  Near Sloat, on the Great Highway, we unloaded bikes, panniers, loose material, and two over aged rookies.  David watched us wobble out of the parking, then passed us, heading for to the safety of San Jose.

Starting From San Francisco – Sunday, 29 April @ 1200

t1 d1 02Every bike tour begins with the first mounting, the first stutter step up a slope, the first frantic lunge of a foot into the opposite stirrup.  We made a short stop to don the reflective vests we had forgotten to put on.  Lumbering up the hill, we swung onto Highway 35, getting our first taste of weekend traffic.  Happily, the shoulders were wide, free of debris, and smooth.

t1 d1 03We quickly discovered that our hills training, done with lighter loads, had not prepared us for the reality of the weights we were carrying.  Having only gotten the second set of Ortliebs for each of us, we had not had much opportunity to practice with full weights.  Our front racks were much more heavily loaded (46 vs 15 lbs for Pat, 41 vs 10 lbs for Marian).

The bikes handled very differently than we had trained for.  The Center of Gravity for the front panniers was too far forward, causing the wheel to yaw either hard left or hard right.  At the lower weights we had not really appreciated the problem.  For the rest of our trip, we had to pay attention on start-ups, shifting, and slow motion climbing.

Daly City on 29 April @ 1245 – Distance = 3.4 Miles

We turned onto Westmoore, in Daly City, having climbed 470 feet.  From the map, it seemed like quiet suburban street.  Looking up that straight, ever rising street, it seemed like Mount Everest.  Toward the end, I walked.  My heart rate was consistently in Zone 4.  I wondered if I would have anything left for the rest of the ride.  Marian made it further up the hill than I did.

Preparing for the big descent, I checked my brakes.  The handlebar bag mount failed again.  Had I gone down the slope, I would have locked up my rear brake.  I lashed the bag to the front rack, rather than trying to fix it.

We swooped through residential neighborhoods, a commercial district, and several golf courses.  We even had time to notice shops and restaurants.  The Sunday traffic, roaring along just yards away, was of no concern to us.

Pacifica on 29 April @ 1330 – Distance = 8.5 Miles

We returned to Highway 35, riding along the broad shoulder, starting at Westport Street.  Cresting the hill, we dove down to Pacific State Beach, pausing to catch our breath, and compare notes.  In the midst of the frolicking beach goers, our eyes drifted to the next challenge, Devil’s Slide.

The Bottom of Devils Slide on 29 April @ 1400 – Distance = 10.7 Miles

Devil’s Slide was an amazing experience.  A short distance after the traffic light, the shoulder narrowed, and disappeared.  The constant roar of traffic, once at a safe distance, plucked at our sleeves.  For the first time on our trip, we were sharing a very narrow lane with cars, RVs, and monster SUVs.

Everything I knew about climbing evaporated.  In the deafening noise, I tried to count cadence.  Within a short time, I was down in 1 / 1.  I fought to control the unstable front wheel, with unexpected lurches to one side or the other.  Fortunately, the often maligned and despised California driver anticipated my occasional swerves.  For this day, anyway, they were life savers.

I dismounted near the construction area and got to the safe side of the bike.  I pushed up the remaining part of the steep grade.  At a wide spot, I waited for Marian.  Traffic continued to flow.  The CHP had not closed the freeway for an injury accident.  Finally, Marian came around the little bend.  We caught our breath, and hiker / biked our way to the top.

At the mid-point, we could see the construction work for the bypass tunnel at Devil’s Slide.  Alas, for that day anyway, it was not available.  Future plans called for diverting all motor traffic through the new tunnels, leaving the old road to cyclists, if they chose to take it instead of the tunnels.

The Top of Devil’s Slide on 29 April @ 1500 – Distance = 12.1 Miles

At the top, we took in the scenery.  We had earned the view.  We talked briefly with two guys who had pulled over to take photos.  We posed for them

t1 d1 04With little or no shoulder, we made our way down to the beach, sharing our lane with cars, SUVs and RVs.  The Surly ride was incredibly smooth under load.  Reviewers have compared the Trucker’s ride favorably with a Cadillac.  I agree.

Near Moss Beach on 29 April @ 1530 – Distance = 16.6 Miles

Nearing Moss Beach, we came upon a sight California motorists know, and dread.  Traffic was at a complete stop, in both directions.  We stayed to the shoulder, passing countless cars.  Some of them must have passed us on Devil’s Slide.  Dream Machines was filming at the Half Moon Bay Airport.  Pedaling past all those cars was surreal, straight out of a post-apocalypse movie

Half Moon Bay on 29 April @ 1630 – Distance = 23.8 Miles

Ducking off the highway, we took the bike path to the campground.  Pedestrians, good-naturedly, made room for us.  One stopped us, asking where we were from and where we were going.  We disappointed her with the truth.  She had hoped for someone more exotic.  We arrived at the Ranger Station, just off Kelly Avenue, a little before 5 PM.

Camping At Half Moon Bay

When we set up camp, we were the only Hiker / Bikers.  Later, Andy, an Australian, would join us.  I managed to open all the panniers several times, taking most of the contents out at least once.  I sat up the solar array and began recharging the Garmin.

t1 d1 05Marian asked that I go to the local Safeway, about a mile away, for asparagus and Pam.  Only a single bike lock forced us to leave her bike unlocked while she showered.  On my trip, I failed to take anything to carry the groceries in.

By the time I returned, Marian had fired up our Primus Yellowstone stove and browned the meat, and was getting ready to boil water for spaghetti, and my asparagus.  I met Andy, who was traveling solo, from Tacoma Washington to San Diego.

When I returned from my shower, I learned we had no Primus fuel left.  (We had taken only one new canister.  On future trips we carried several, and never exhausted any of them.  We do not understand how it was so quickly used up.)  It was getting dark, and the chilly wind had come up.  Marian was devastated that our meal was only half-cooked.  She stayed with the gear, while I returned to Safeway to get Primus fuel.  I met Andy, who greeted me like a long-lost friend.  Unfortunately, Safeway had no Primus fuel.  Resigned, I hit the nearby Burger King.  Having no pannier, I was found a way to balance a paper sack of greasy burgers.

On the way back, my rear tire deflated.  I walked the last half mile.  It was dark.  We ate in near silence, to pounding surf and a stiff wind chilling us.  Andy returned from grazing at Safeway, as we choked down cold burgers, and nibbled on chilled asparagus al dente.

We cleaned up and secured for the night.  One of our REI lights was worthless, and I could not work on my tire.  We locked our bikes to the picnic table, draped a spare drop cloth over our bikes, and drug our panniers under the rain fly overhang to keep them out of the wet.  Dew was already forming on all the surfaces.  Andy had disappeared.

Our tent, an older REI Half Dome, was warm.  I struggled with my Alps sleeping sack, finally wiggling into it, followed by my Marmot Maverick sleeping bag.  My Expel Syn Mat Basic sleeping mat was hard.  I remembered, too late, the Boy Scout trick of folding the pad over, and blowing it up until the upper half flopped over.  Marian had elected to go with a ThermoLite sleep sack, an REI Lumen sleeping back, on a Big Agnes ReRoutt sleeping pad.  She used a spare thermal blanket as her pillow.

With wind occasionally rocking the tent, we listened to the booming surf and a nearby fog horn.  I was tired, but not overly so.  I drifted in and out of sleep, fretting about my back wheel, and the journey to come.

Preparations For Day Two

Our original plan had been to have oatmeal and cocoa for breakfast.  We had no fuel.  Marian went to find food.

I tore my rear wheel down, anxious to find the problem.   Somehow, bicycle work must always involve a greasy chain.  I found no obvious tire or wheel damage.  Pumping up the old tube, I found a small hole, but nothing in the tire or thorn guard.  Rather than risk a repair that might fail on the road, I used my only spare.  I would ride for the rest of the day, remembering I had no spare..

Andy said his farewells and headed for Santa Cruz.  I tore the camp down.  I had to repack almost all of my panniers.  The tent was easy enough to handle, although I had misplaced the tent pole bag.  Deflating sleeping pads was no faster than it had been when I was a boy.  I finished up as Marian returned.  We ate our Burger King burritos and got her packed up.

As we were getting ready to leave, someone came by with Andy’s wallet, having found it in the restroom.  We debated taking it to him, knowing only that he was planning on staying at a hostel in Santa Cruz.  We sadly decided we would only add confusion.  The woman turned it in to the Rangers.

Marian and I plotted our day’s adventure.  We were starting 90 minutes later than we had planned, and hoped to eat supper with our daughter, Elizabeth, a student at UCSC.  We knew there was a small hamlet, San Gregorio, about 14 miles down the road, and planned to stop for lunch.  Beyond, was Davenport, 38 miles away.  We thought there was little water, and no food, between the two places.

Starting from Half Moon Bay – Monday, 30 April @ 0930

Hitting the road was a relief.  My legs felt remarkably fresh.  My optimism returned.  Enduring yet another Surly wobbly start, we rolled onto the highway.  Traffic was light and easily heard.  The road was good, the shoulders wide, and the small hills easily overcome.

“The” Big Climb on 30 April @ 1045 – Distance = 9 Miles

We came to the steepest climb of the day, 350 feet in a little over a mile.  Our heavy loads magnified the grade, often 7%.  We became separated on the climb.  I was happy to stop and wait for Marian near a false summit.  We made it to the top, however slowly.

San Gregorio on 30 April @ 1115  – Distance = 12 Miles

We reached the bottom, and turned off to San Gregorio.  This imagined oasis had two signs up.  The first forbade leaning bikes against the building.  The second required bikers to remove their shoes.  The mood had been well set.

The shop was a glorified bar.  The unenthusiastic bar tender was more interested in three drinkers, than us.  Only when we prompted him, did we get any of his attention.  The three drinkers were almost hostile.  Only after we asked were we, begrudgingly, give water, but no ice.  There was no kitchen, and the sandwiches were basic, pre-made, and expensive.  Had we any other choice, we would have pedaled on.

Outside, several Road Cyclists showed up, having ridden over from Redwood City.  They envied our triple rings.  They couldn’t get over the weight we were carrying.  Neither could we.

San Gregorio Beach on 30 April @ 1200 – Distance = 13 Miles

t1 d2 03 t1 d2 04We got back to the highway, and were immediately confronted with a pair of short, sharp climbs.  The sandwiches and soda gave us energy to power over the top.  The surf and sand were constantly to our right, grassland and trees to our left.  The weather was pleasant, the sun was bright, perfect for riding.  We carefully drank every 15 minutes, and ate dates and banana chips.  We found, finally, the fabled North Winds of the PCH.

Beyond Pigeon Point, Andy startled us, when he overtook us.  He had discovered his missing wallet and called the campground.  He hitched back to the starting point to get it.  He chatted with us for a few minutes, and then whizzed away, with the speed and enthusiasm reserved for the young.

Waddell Creek on 30 April @ 1430 – Distance = 33 Miles

t1 d2 02Pushing on down the coast, we climbed smaller hills and long straight a-ways.  We loitered for several minutes at Waddell Creek.  We watched the para – surfers cavorting in the waves of the Pacific.  It was an interesting feeling to stand there sharing with them, without their knowledge.  The ones on the water pursued their passions, completely oblivious to us, pursuing our passions.  When finished, they would get in their cars and return to their homes.  Meanwhile, we still had miles to go.

Davenport on 30 April @ 1530 – Distance = 40 Miles

We reached Davenport after encountering fierce cross winds that threatened to blow us into the road.  Four days later, somewhere in that stretch, a cyclist died in a hit and run accident.  The accident happened during the night.  His body would lay, undiscovered, for 12 hours, with his loyal Toto dog guarding him

We stopped for sodas and munchies.  A Mexican Restaurant looked inviting, but we still had hopes of supper with Elizabeth, and assumed we could last another hour.  So, we did not eat a real meal.  We gathered ourselves and pushed off for the last ten miles.

Santa Cruz on 30 April @ 1800 – Distance = 52 Miles

This part of the ride was the longest, hardest of the day.  Even though I knew better, I pressed to finish.  The dinner date drove me, as well as just wanting the ride to end.  I fell into survival mode.  The ride would have been far easier and far more enjoyable had we eaten a real meal.

At Wilder Ranch, we turned onto the bike path into Santa Cruz.  Once in Santa Cruz, we used our knowledge of the streets to pick our way to Elizabeth’s apartment, ignoring both ACA and Vicky Spring.  Near the end of the ride, my Garmin began to complain of a low battery.

Pulling up to Elizabeth’s apartment, we could see her cat peering down at us from the second floor.  Then Elizabeth was down the stairs, hugging us, happy we had survived.  She had an appointment with a professor, and could not join us for dinner.  We said our goodbyes, packed our stuff into the pre-positioned truck, and wolfed down food at a local place called Burger, which makes fabulous hamburgers.

Our first overnight adventure was complete.  We could have biked across Santa Cruz and Soquel to New Brighton Beach, had we chosen.  It was another hour away, but it would have been easy biking.  We would have eaten, first, and still had time to set up camp for the night.

Read about our weekend ride from San Jose to Monterey

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Filed under Cycle Touring, Cycle Training, Travel

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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