1

If you've done any bike touring in the last couple of years, you've probably noticed that a lot of the California Hike/Bike campsites have been moved, restricted, or closed.

The two reasons given for this are budget cuts and problems with transients. I won't argue either of these points now, even though I have a lot to say about them.

But there's something wrong with the attitude that many California state parks employees have towards bike tourists. In my travels this week, it seems that every time I pull into a state beach on my bike, the people in the kiosk roll their eyes and act as if I'm a drug-addicted, homeless serial killer. Or at least a nuisance.

This really hurts because I'm a member of the California State Parks Association, I volunteer for eco-restoration projects in the parks, and I'm constantly telling everyone how much fun it is to tour the California coast by bicycle and camp out in the state parks.

Worse still, a lot of the bike tourists I meet are from other countries, and this might be their overriding impression of the United States, and of California in particular. What are we telling them about ourselves?

It used to be fine to arrive at your campsite in the early afternoon and avoid the heavy coastal winds. You could unload your bike, set up your tent, and then hit the beaches, the town, or the hiking trails.

Now most places won't let you set up until 4 or 5 in the afternoon. It's like you can only eat and sleep, but you're not allowed to enjoy the park itself. And that's not all.

When I registered at a certain campground, the ranger took it upon himself to remind me that I can only stay for one night, there's no alcohol allowed, and check-out time is 9 a.m. As I set up my tent he came by to double check that I paid the fee, and reminded me again of all the rules and policies.

As I left Pismo Beach, the woman in the kiosk demanded to see my receipt, asked me the number of the campsite I had stayed in, and wanted the names of the other people who had been there.

This suspicious attitude might be reinforced by the bad behavior of a few bikers, and possibly one or two real problems. But I suspect it's an attitude that people have overall towards bikers.

A lot of people still think that if you choose not to travel by car it means you can't afford to and that this automatically makes you a moocher, or worse.

The truth is, I've spent a lot of time picking up beer cans and other trash left behind by the "normal" people. I've seen car campers exhibit some of the worst behavior you can imagine, while us bikers quietly went about our business.

A few days ago I even watched an angry woman yell at the ranger and demand a refund because it was raining.

I've been having a great time this week, with some amazing experiences. But when I sit down to write, this anti-bike bummer is what comes to the front of my mind. Here are a few things I wish the state parks employees understood about bike travelers:

  • We're generally quieter, cleaner, and leave our campgrounds in better condition than the typical visitor
  • We're environmentally aware, and chances are we give a lot of our time and money to the park system, either directly or indirectly
  • We help the economy by spending our travel budget at local stores, restaurants, bike shops and other businesses
  • A lot of us are bloggers, reporting our experiences to the world

3

The first time I tried to bike the entire via Appia, I wanted to be as faithful as humanly possible to the original roadbed, even though local archaeologists and history buffs insisted this could not be done. They were only partly right.

I'm getting ready for a new bike tour next week, roughly following El Cammino Real, the Royal Highway, which is (or was) California's Appian Way. But when I did my research, I learned something interesting that maybe should have been obvious.

There never was a single road.

Max Kurillo and Erline Tuttle wrote a book about this route, the efforts of historians to preserve it, and the bells that mark the way. They also made an important point that El Cammino Real is more of a corridor than an actual road.

There's a general swathe along the California coast where people traveled consistently along footpaths, trails, riverbeds, and (much much later) primitive roads.  It changed its course like a river in a broad valley, and one voyager's footprints could easily be overgrown or swept away at high tide.  The route was never marked except by the convenience of each individual traveler.

I would add that the most accurate reconstruction we know of today essentially follows the 101 Freeway, and choosing this as your bike route would just give you a miserable bike tour without a chance to experience the real California.

Ditto for via Appia, as I quickly learned. In some places the route is better known (if only because the ancient Romans were more anal than the colonial Spaniards) but it's not always the best way to travel. The key, even thousands of years ago, was to follow the general area.

In Rome, I did as the Romans do. I was true to the Appian Way most of the time, visited all the ancient cities and ruins and Roman temples. But I also detoured when it was a choice between a park and a freeway. I stayed at agriturismi, which are more like the lodging a traveler would have found along the via Appia in ancient Roman times. I talked to people, took hikes, ate at mom-and-pop restaurants and drank with the locals at their favorite bars.

Tracing the Royal Highway next week, I'll stay in the corridor, but I won't worry too much about whether or not I'm bicycling over Portola's footprints. I'll visit the missions, taste a lot of wine, swim and camp at many beaches, talk to farmers and ranchers, and prove that what's just off the 101 is far more interesting than what used to be on it.

My original intent was to tour the missions. But after I started reading a few books about the missions and their history, I saw that there are far more interesting things to see and do on a bike tour. I'm looking forward to this, and I hope I'll have something worthwhile to tell.

This is the coolest thing since I first removed my training wheels. You can go to Google Maps, select "Get Directions" and in the options down below you can ask for directions by bicycle. Yay!

This is still a new thing. Google warns there may be dangerous roads on the bike routes, not to mention unmapped bikeways. And of course, the most direct bike route isn't always the most interesting bike route, even if it may be the safest.

The ailing BikeMetro offered more, at least for Los Angeles, because it let you factor in your tolerance for hills and traffic.

But if you're looking for a basic bike ride from point A to point B, especially in an urban environment with a lot of traffic, this is a good way to start and you can do your own "research" and exploration on the pavement.

Thank you, Google!

I want to start chronicling the ways I avoid traffic when biking around Los Angeles. I'm not sure how to organize this, probably with a category and sub-cats so you can follow along and get my suggestions.

Does anyone with WordPress skills have tips on the best way to do this?

A few of the main routes I plan to post here:

  • How to bike from PCH to Santa Monica without carrying your bicycle up a staircase
  • Bicycling from downtown to each of the university campuses and back
  • Bike rides around the terminal stops of all the metro lines
  • Major east-west and north-south corridors

We'll see how this goes.

Yesterday I made it from the Westside to downtown L.A. half an hour early. In rush hour traffic, the bike is faster than the bus. Faster than driving, too, in a lot of situations.

Not to mention an early morning cruise along the beach, then zipping past quiet homes with lush trees and interesting gardens.

It's good to challenge yourself. It's good to have these happy reminders of why we do it.

Some days I feel like a centaur. If I'm cut off too long from my better half (that's the bicycle) I'm stuck--immobile and mutilated until I can get two wheels firmly underneath me again.

Last night we did some unusual exercises during a taijutsu class outdoors in exceptionally cold weather. I wrenched the muscles in my back, and the pain slowly creeped up on me as the evening wore on. By dinner I was in agony, by bedtime I was groaning in pain. I woke up several times at night, painfully heaving myself around to find a position that didn't hurt.

This morning I could barely lift a coffee cup to my lips.

Excused from work, I spent a few hours this morning experimenting with yoga and tai chi to figure out how bad the damage really was, and what I could and couldn't do.

By noon I could walk if I was careful not to lean too far in the wrong direction. I could lift a decent amount of weight if I paid attention to my posture.  It was time for a bike ride.

I think you can guess what happened next, especially if this has ever happened to you. I'm completely healed, free of pain, back to full mobility.

Chalk it up to circulation, the benefits of bike exercise, gently working the muscles of your lower back by pedaling. Maybe it's the magic of just going out and doing what you really love and want.

The truth is we're resilient creatures. I think a lot of suffering comes out of our own minds. The best thing you can do is break out of the rut you're in, change your environment, assert your freedom to go where you want on your own power.

Get out on your bike and ride.