Pandemic Travel: Cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles


Viktor Volchek from Grodno studied tourism at the university, hitchhiked all over Belarus alone, visited the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and reached Alaska in search of a magic bus. Now working in the United States, during the pandemic, he took a bike trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles along with one of the most scenic routes on the Pacific coast.
In the past few years, I've started flying to the United States for work. Our company works in the field of telecommunications, the very 5G that fans of conspiracy theories are so afraid of. Arriving last year on another business trip and barely starting work, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the States first introduced quarantine, and later a state of emergency. All work was suspended and businesses were closed. There was a shortage of food and even basic hygiene products in stores. The economy turned out to be practically paralyzed, the tension in society grew. While I was hanging out with my Philadelphia friends and thinking about a possible return, the borders finally closed and it became clear that this was for a long time.

After three months of quarantine and self-isolation, there was no longer any strength to stay at home. Night bike rides no longer brought the proper pleasure and only created the illusion of freedom. So I began to think about traveling to the West Coast to ride one of the most scenic routes along the Pacific Ocean, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Historic Route.

This route was laid by local Indian tribes long before the Europeans appeared on the continent. Now the road is officially called California State Route 1, but locals often call it simply "one". It stretches along the California coast for more than a thousand kilometers, crossing the Santa Lucia mountain range and the Big Sur Valley and connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. The idea to go there appeared back in 2016 when I hitchhiked across America to a magic bus. Then a snowstorm was approaching Alaska, and it was necessary to hastily fly away. I didn't want to return home, and I only had enough money for a ticket to California - so I ended up in Los Angeles. Then, without acquaintances and money, I spent several nightmarish days in the city, trying to get out of it by hitchhiking. Now, having changed to a bicycle and bought some of the tourist equipment, I decided to continue the journey.

Continue cycling around the USA

Bike trip New York - San Francisco

A direct flight to San Francisco from the East Coast usually takes about six hours and will cost an average of $ 50-200 depending on the airline you choose. But due to the pandemic, many flights were canceled, and therefore had to fly with many hours of connection in Phoenix. Sixteen hours later, I was already unpacking a box with a bicycle, settling down at one of the subway stations. It was not a good idea: not very friendly guys were rubbing around me now and then. Gathering my bike as soon as possible, I went to the Golden Gate Bridge, where I planned to symbolically start the journey. Even in my youth, fascinated by photography, I dreamed of capturing this bridge against the background of the city, so I decided to spend the rest of the day on the opposite bank from the city, from where amazing views open.

It should be borne in mind that the bridge is closed for pedestrians at night and it will be problematic to get back. After enjoying the views and getting a few coveted shots, I started looking for a place to sleep. I had to drive several tens of kilometers, getting out of the suburbs, until I finally stumbled upon camping by the ocean. If you travel around the United States on a bicycle with a tent, camping will cost around $ 15. This particular camp was free. Although it was not fenced in and was equipped only with a toilet, it was still quite cozy.

surfers come from all over America to curb the waves of the not-pacific ocean

surfers come from all over America

Bike Tour San Francisco - Santa Cruz - Monterey

Northern California nights are pretty chilly even in summer, and my +10 sleeping bag barely coped with the task. Either from the cold, or from the desire to start a full-fledged walking day as soon as possible, I woke up quite early. I had a brand new burner with me, but I had to do without a hot breakfast, since a gas cylinder cannot be taken on a plane, and I still had to get it.

The beginning of the path turned out to be difficult. The relief in the vicinity of San Francisco is hilly: I had to climb long climbs in the highest gears for a long time, but the descents, although a pleasant business, passed in a matter of minutes. On one of these descents, I ran into a piece of metal and punctured the rear wheel. I had a spare tire with me and I had to spend some time unloading the bike and replacing it. Otherwise, the first hundred kilometers flew almost imperceptibly: by lunchtime I reached the city of Santa Cruz.

According to the locals, it is their city that is considered the surfing mecca on the West Coast and is second only to Hawaii in terms of the steepness of the waves. Indeed, there are excellent beaches all along the coast, and surfers come from all over America to curb the waves of the non-Pacific Ocean. In addition, it is full of shops and services for the rental and sale of special equipment.

With a bicycle motor in California, too, everything is in order: only on the central street of the city you can find several shops with bicycle equipment and free stands with tools at once. So, in one of them, I got a spare tire and a gas cylinder so that I could cook breakfast in the morning. After lunch and fixing all the problems with the bike, riding became a little more fun. By evening I reached the next city - Monterey.

It is a small historic town founded by the Spaniards in the eighteenth century. It was once even the first capital of California. There are many attractions in Monterey: the first California theater and library, the oceanarium. Some of the first rock festivals with the participation of Jim Hendrix and Janis Joplin took place here. Due to its history and good location, the city attracts many tourists. Despite this, finding a place to sleep in its vicinity proved to be difficult. Due to the pandemic, many campgrounds on the coast were closed, and there were no plans to stay in hotels from the very beginning.

Here I must say that it will be problematic to put up a tent in the States just like that, since almost all the land is privately owned, and problems with its owners may arise. In search of a place to sleep, I had to drive about twenty kilometers more, until I came across an amazingly beautiful place right on the ocean, not far from the picturesque Carmel Bay valley. And although it was undesirable to put up a tent there, as a benevolent man with a dog managed to warn me about, I had no strength to go further. By this time, the speedometer showed more than one hundred and eighty kilometers covered in a day.

America's Bike Tour Santa Cruz

America's Bike Tour Santa Cruz 1

America's Bike Tour Santa Cruz 2

America's Bike Tour Santa Cruz 3

150 kilometers across the mountain range

An overnight stay on the ocean coast, although romantic, has one significant drawback. At night, the ocean starts to make a lot of noise: it seems that you are about to be carried away with the next tide. And in the morning it gets pretty cool. Despite a turbulent night and an early rise, the mood was excellent. The crazy beautiful view from the tent only added strength and desire to move on. On the way, I dropped into a nearby Starbucks. On this road, the roadside service is not developed as well as on the busier highways, and therefore, when traveling here, it is better not to miss the opportunity to pamper yourself with hot coffee and fresh pastries.
The city of Carmel, near which I stayed for the night, is another capital of California, only with the prefix "art". Many famous artists, musicians, and writers such as Jack London and Mary Austin lived and worked here at different times. It is in Carmel that the most beautiful part of the California coastline begins - Big Sur. This is a sparsely populated area where the Santa Lucia mountain range drops abruptly to the Pacific coast, making you feel like you are at the edge of the world. Fascinating, incredibly beautiful views of the ocean and the mountains hanging over it immediately make it clear why this place is so fond of writers, beatniks, and just those who wanted to take a break from the bustle of the city. The idol of the beat generation, Jack Kerouac, also fled here in search of peace.

A must stop for anyone traveling across Big Sur is the Bixby Bridge. This is one of the most photographed places in California and can be safely called a symbol of the West Coast. The bridge was built in 1932 and to this day is the tallest single-arch concrete bridge in the world. Its height is 98 meters, and if you take into account the picturesque place where it is located, it is clear why photographers loved it so much. I did not notice how I spent an hour trying to get closer to him, but I never managed to get a good shot. There was no time to wait for suitable lighting: there was still the whole running day and almost one hundred and fifty kilometers ahead.

After a few tens of kilometers along mountain serpentines, below in a coniferous valley, a real oasis awaited me: camping by a mountain stream, a small motel, and a cozy cafe. For only $ 12, you could have a full lunch, and for dessert, try lavender ice cream, sitting in the shade of huge trees, and wait out the midday heat. As it turned out, the owner of this cafe himself is fond of cycling. You can safely turn to him for a tool or just ask for water. When he found out where I was going, he recommended stocking up on water, since the next gas station and store would be only fifty miles away.

Indeed, for the next hundred kilometers, I barely managed to stumble upon signs of civilization. There is also no telephone connection through the mountain range. The lack of the usual service for someone will certainly become an inconvenience, but, as for me, this is only a plus. The opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the road and reboot from city life.

All-day the road led me along endless serpentines. I lost track of how many times I had to dismount my bike and push it uphill, and then rush down at great speed. At the end of the next climb, it seemed to me that somewhere on the horizon a village or a city could be seen, but when I approached closer, it became clear that it was just a mirage. Only late in the evening did I go down to the plain. The ridge was left behind, and I could not even believe that I was able to overcome it. This day turned out to be the brightest and most emotional day of the entire trip. Pleasant fatigue knocked me down, and I did not want to look for a place to sleep. Already in almost complete darkness, setting up my tent just by the side of the road, I fell asleep.

Cycling through the mountain range

Cycling through the mountain range

Cycling through the mountain range 1

Cycling through the mountain range 2

Cycling through the mountain range 3

Cycling through the mountain range 4

150 kilometers across the plain

Each new morning on this trip was special. The deserted road filled with the rising sun inspired and filled with new strength. Fatigue from yesterday's mountain pass was not felt at all, and it was unusually easy to drive along the plain. The landscapes around strongly resembled the surroundings of the Belarusian villages. Fields, woods, smells and even cows that grazed along the road nicely - everything around seemed very simple and familiar, and the names of the villages, like Harmony, spoke for themselves.
On this day, I deviated a little from the route and decided to take a ride around the neighborhood. The road took me further and further from the ocean, leading me through farms, where you can find everything from marijuana plantations to orange orchards. I didn’t miss the opportunity to stop to buy another tray of fresh strawberries. All fruits and vegetables that I had a chance to taste here were surprisingly tasty, which cannot be said about those that are sold in American stores. For just a couple of dollars, you can get a whole package of fresh berries, friendly farmers will treat you with water and wish you a good journey with a sincere smile. Even though I drove another 150 km, the whole day seemed to be unloading. This time I settled down for the night on the outskirts of one of the villages, from where a wonderful view of the valley opened up.

Cycling through farms

Cycling through farms 2

Cycling through farms 3

Bike trip Isla Vista - Santa Barbara

The weather in California in its southern and northern parts is strikingly different, and the closer to Los Angeles, the softer it became. At night I barely covered myself with a sleeping bag, and during the day I had to take long breaks, hiding from the hot sun. I drove more and more slowly to the songs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, trying not to miss a single wild beach and wanting to stretch this road adventure. For the last two days of the journey, I spent the afternoon by the ocean, enjoying its cool water. I wanted to stay in every new coastal city. They didn't have the crowds of tourists or the feeling of a resort. It seemed that people were finally living their real life, easy and measured. I became more and more immersed in this atmosphere, communicating with the locals or just watching the sunset on the ocean shore.
From the city of Isla Vista, where I spent the next night, settling in a tent right on the campus of the University of California, it is quite easy to get to the city of Santa Barbara, known throughout the world thanks to the series of the same name. And although I did not watch the series, I decided to drop by all the time to look at cinematic America. Moreover, all coastal cities are connected by a well-thought-out network of bike paths. In just half an hour, I was already rolling along its central streets, passing by the very mansion in which passions were seething.

Santa Barbara turned out to be a very cozy and calm city. Serene families walking their dogs along perfectly trimmed lawns, palms, and an ocean lined with white yachts in the sunshine. I would recommend stopping by here to everyone who will travel around the "one" to have a cup of coffee in one of the cozy coffee houses and enjoy the sunset.

Cycling through Santa Barbara

Cycling through Santa Barbara 1

Bike trip Malibu - Los Angeles

Somewhere at the entrance to Los Angeles, the "one" and Highway 101 finally merge into one road and had to go in a dense stream of cars. My next stop was supposed to be Malibu, but when I got there, I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. Dirty beaches and a huge number of tourists did not fit in with my idea of ​​a beautiful end to this trip.

I decided that evening to get to Los Angeles, where my friend was already waiting for me. After sleeping off, I took a walk around the city to find a bicycle box and send postcards to my loved ones. I finally became convinced that I could not understand Los Angeles, where fashionable neighborhoods coexist with slums. I spent the rest of the time waiting for my flight in a park in the Hollywood Hills, reading Charles Bukowski and only occasionally getting out into town for coffee.

The journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles took me six days, during which time I covered about 800 km. California left a good impression. The diverse landscape, friendly people, and good infrastructure make this region an attractive destination for cycling. On the way, I met a grandfather from France who flew in specially to take a ride along the entire coast from Mexico to Canada.

Bike trip through Los Angeles

Bike trip through Los Angeles 1

Original: Traveling to a pandemic Author: Viktor Volchek