Cycling through the US: a travel diary

When I was younger, my dad would paraphrase a Chinese saying: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Today, I’m a 4th year medical student and whilst I work hard and I’m good at jumping through hoops, there have been very few times in my life when I was really out of my comfort zone. This summer I set out to change that, and, with my brother in tow, I flew out to North America to complete a 1800 mile odyssey. The goal? Cycle down the West Coast of the USA from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Twenty-seven days were spent cycling along motorways, over huge hills, through busy cities and backwater towns (and perhaps a few prohibited areas). There are too many stories and anecdotes to tell here, but I hope to give you a taste of my adventure in this small excerpt from my blog, which highlights both the best and worst bits of the journey.

Day 19. Santa Cruz to Kirk Creek Campground. 108 miles.

We may be crazy. The plan for today was supposed to be as follows: 1) get up at 7; 2) cycle out of Santa Cruz for about 95 miles to a campsite in a place called King City. However, as we set off, Big Sur lured us in with a plethora of road signs and we worked ourselves up into an ‘if we don’t go to Big Sur what’s the point of the trip’ kind of mindset.

For those who don’t know, ‘Big Sur’ is a cliff range in Southern California known for its outstanding beauty, endless winding road and, unfortunately, huge landslides. This summer there had already been three landslides culminating in a broken bridge which left the route impassable for cars. We had heard rumours, however, that there was a way hikers could get through and therefore maybe, just maybe, us with our 25kg bikes. With our hearts set on this possibility, we scrapped our original plan and turned towards the coastal highway.

After climbing many hills, we arrived in a town with a Starbucks, where we used the wifi to confirm news regarding Big Sur. We discovered that the first obstruction on our way was an ever so slightly broken bridge. Fortunately, there was a trail around it for hikers with a difficulty level rated 5/10 (add a few to that to get biker difficulty). On the Big Sur website, we also found that once through the trail we had to take a shuttle service, the last of which departed at 5pm. That meant we had to cover 40 miles in 3 hours…

Undeterred, we started peddling harder than we ever had before. By the time we arrived at the first closure, it was already 5:30 and, with sinking spirits, we completed the final half mile hike to the shuttle – a hike so steep we had to carry the bikes!

Convinced we wouldn’t make the shuttle, we turned to scheming. For a while our thoughts were consumed with how we might sneak past any security to get to the campsite. When we got up to the shuttle, however, we found that a) they ran until 7 and b) we didn’t even have to get it! So, happy that we could get through, but still annoyed that we had 30 miles left to the campsite, we stopped for dinner at the darn shuttle pick-up location, exhausted from the mad sprint.
Despite the shorter distance of the last leg, it was no easier. We set off from the restaurant just before sunset and had a beautiful ride for a short while along a tranquil road where the only sounds were the waves.

Credit: Joey Guppy

Sadly, Big Sur’s beautiful sunset was short-lived, as after dark the setting changed, and the ride became somewhat terrifying. It wasn’t easy to see the contours of the road, and we were at risk of falling into potholes.
When we were 6 miles or so from the campsite disaster struck and my brother got a flat. So, there we were, 11 at night, huddled on a run off by the road, torches in mouths listening to the sound of the waves and seals, all the while trying to fix the wheel. We finally completed repairs at about 11:30 and arrived at the campsite at midnight, just as it started to rain.

Credit: Joey Guppy

Next time you’re in the Eddie B working away or distracting yourself with the latest clickbait, I urge you to let your mind wonder and imagine what sort of adventure you could have. There’s a time and a place for a lazy beach holiday, but for me, nothing compares to a journey like this one. Step out of your comfort zone. Learn about yourself. Push your limits. You will not regret it (well, you may, but here’s hoping)!

Joey Guppy

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Photo Credit: Joey Guppy