California Surf Tour - Sean Jansen

It was in the back of my mind for about a year. To be able to tour the entire European coastline with a bicycle while towing a surfboard. I wanted to start in Norway and head south via the coast the entire length until I reached the Mediterranean shores of Southern Italy. Following around France, Spain and Portugal including a ferry ride into the United Kingdom and further, another ferry into Ireland. I figured it would be a trip of a lifetime. Get in shape, surf incredible waves, take photographs and pursue a dream that I had only thought about every night before I went to sleep.

However, I had a problem. I have never toured before, nor did I know anything about bicycles or the mechanics of bicycles. So the way I saw it was that I needed a warm up trip. A trip I could test my knowledge, strength, and passion to see if I really wanted to pursue a touring vacation that I have been dreaming about.

So it was a month before my third year of college at Humboldt State University in Northern California. It was April and back in December, I returned from a six month backpacking trip throughout South America, which I funded by selling my truck. I was also living in my parent’s fifth-wheel R.V. trailer to save money. So therefore I had no vehicle during that semester of college and needed a way to get home. I was looking at flights and thought that the prices were outrageous. Trains and buses were nearly out of the question for it would take forever and in South America, all I took were buses and you end up sitting next to someone for 18 hours that you really don’t want to. And most of my friends that live near I live, in Southern California, weren’t going to take off heading south in their cars until the middle of summer. So I was clearly running out of options. Until I realized that I had the perfect trip. A trip that would, not only, train me for a trip I had in my head for a while but also a trip that would open the eyes to others and help fuel a new and unique angle that has never been done before in this state. Let alone any state in the U.S. A bicycle touring trip that would go from Eureka to San Clemente, 909 miles on pavement as well as dirt, while towing a surfboard.

I got my metaphorical wheels rolling and began going to every single bike shop in my college town. Picking their brains, trying to find out everything I could about bicycle touring and try and prepare the best I could for another epic trip. I found a shop that helped me with everything and gave me all of the information needed for a safe but most importantly, a comfortable trip.

With the semester having ended and my 15-year old bicycle sitting in my trailer, fully loaded and ready for a long haul, I watched a game of hockey, the Stanley Cup Play-offs, while having a glass of wine. In complete terror! Asking myself the night before I was to leave on my trip, “What was I thinking?” Once I finished the glass of wine, however, I realized that it was just the simple nerve, that I call, “Nervous Excitement,” that always goes through me when I am about to leave for a trip. So needless to say, though, I killed the bottle of wine, went to bed, and got peddling south, through the town of Eureka, 15 further miles south to a friend of mine, who lived in town by the name of Fortuna. Was able to crash there that night while having my last, “luxury meal,” which was at a brewery, before heading the next 100 or so miles on dirt where the campgrounds are remote and in the thick of prime ganja growing areas.

I could have stayed on the highway 101, but I wanted to follow every road possible, pavement or dirt, that was within proximity to the ocean. Just in case I was able to find a wave that I could surf. So along the, “Lost Coast,” I went while going up and down seriously difficult roads that ended up being no where close to the ocean and ended up dropping me off in Shelter Cove two days later. Nearly running out of water, and getting some from some hunters in the area, I made it to Shelter Cove. Down the long three-mile road to the campground, and another warm meal. Being thankful that I was hydrated and treated to a warm meal, I was greeted with migrating Grey Whales breaching not 100 yards from shore.

Waking up that following morning realizing one thing, that same three-mile downhill road to Shelter Cove, was also the only way out of this town. So I therefore had to bike three-miles strait up hill to get to the turnoff to the most difficult part of my entire trip, the Usal Road.

The Usal road is scary just reading about it. Closed throughout three seasons other than summer, and in fact, barely opened when I got there. I remember talking to a State Park ranger before I left on the trip with him saying,” You can’t go through there in wintertime. And if you do go through there on your bicycle, I want to know when you go through there and when you get out. For if you don’t come out during those times, we can send a search and rescue team in search for you.” A bit humbling needless to say, but off I went into the Usal where I became incredibly terrified and incredibly lost. Ignoring all of the signs, and just going for it.

Throughout the 25 miles, that is the Usal road, I didn’t see remnants of a single human being. The only thing I did see however, was scat. And in particular, mountain lion scat. During the three hour dirt road going through the Coastal ranges of California, I would hear crackles in the forest next to me in the forest. While seeing mountain lion scat, and in fact, one that was still fresh and steaming on the road! You tell me if you wouldn’t be terrified? Winding down the road, and finally arriving at the campground, I couldn’t help but feel relieved to see campers and the ocean finally.

Waking up the following morning with a sense of joy. Joy because I knew that I only had five more miles of dirt until I hit Highway one. As the remaining five miles wore down, I began to worry once more. Realizing that now, I am going to be on the side of the road, a target for any driver to hit me. But knew that this was to be the road that would take me home for my parents live off of highway one about 800 miles south of here. Getting to the pavement, I couldn’t help but raise my hands to the sky knowing that I made it, alive, through the hardest part of my trip. And that now, I will be in civilization and on a road that would ease the pain of my behind.

With cars, motorcycles, and motor homes flying past me, I couldn’t help but think about the freedom I had on the dirt roads while riding in the middle of the road without having to worry about cars. But I road about 40 miles a day and tried to set up camp anywhere in any state park close to the ocean. State parks had a deal for touring bicyclists where we only had to pay about five to ten dollars to camp. So therefore it was cheap and easy. And with me only doing about 40 miles a day, meant that I could have either the afternoon or the early morning to surf without me being exhausted at the end of the day from surfing or riding.

So with this concept in mind, I finally made it down the coast to San Francisco. Made it there safely, however it wasn’t without consequence. Along the Sonoma Coast, I got blown off of my bike and into the road. The wind was howling at around 60 knots and with me towing a trailer, it didn’t take much to knock me off of my bike and into the road. And luckily for me, there wasn’t a car, however as soon as I picked myself up and moved my bike out of the road, a semi-truck came bawling around the corner. Aside from that and a wild turkey scaring the living crap out of me at five in the morning, I made it to San Francisco and crossed the golden Gate bridge on its 75th anniversary of being constructed.

Going down Geary Street and heading south towards Pacifica and into Half Moon Bay where I had one of the best surf’s of the trip. I was finally greeted with an early south swell and no strong north winds. It was creepy however because I was alone in the water and Half Moon Bay is know for having some shark attacks. I had a fun surf without any damage to my body and continued heading south and into the popular surfing areas of Davenport and Santa Cruz. Where again I was greeted with another swell only this time with good friends and a hot shower, the first of the trip thus far.

I stayed in Santa Cruz for a couple of days to recharge all of my things, do some laundry, and catch up with some old friends and surf until the sun went down. I had some really amazing sessions with my friends and was able to sleep on a sofa, which was like a five star resort to me after about two weeks of camping. But the luxury needed to come to an end and I needed to get my wheels rolling again for what was up ahead.

I always knew that Big Sur was gorgeous. I have driven it many times, but I always kept driving. Never stopped to take in the details of the place. It took me about two days to get out of Big Sur because I had the hardest time putting my camera away. But also, because it was probably the hardest part of the trip. Not a lot of flat parts in Big Sur, but it didn’t matter. It was so pretty and the surf was actually super fun, so it was like icing on the cake.

But south I went and made it into Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. This stretch was not the most difficult but it was definitely the hottest. I had a friend in SLO that let me stay there to take a shower and recharge things once again. Which was quite nice for it took me about a week to get there from Santa Cruz. It was a much needed and well-deserved break from the stretch that I went through in Big Sur. But I was now heading into Southern California where I began tasting home. Home where the water was warmer, it was always sunny, and the surf was cleaner with less wind.

I made it to Santa Barbara where I actually timed an odd west swell where I had some really fun waves on the point breaks in that region. But only stayed a day for I had another friend in Ventura that allowed me to stay on his sofa. Another relaxing and fun retreat from camping where we surfed and skated at midnight, bombing hills and having the times of our lives. Slugging beers on the roof and just catching up on times that were lost due to college. My much needed but final stop of friends places to crash at until I hit my parents house about 100 miles further to the south.

Continuing south to the hell that is Los Angeles. The translation in Spanish is the angels, but I don’t understand how a city like that could be named that way for the asshole drivers that thrive in that city. Just reaching Malibu, which is on the outskirts of the city, is dangerous enough with all of the Ferrari’s and BMW’s flying by me at mach speed. But reaching Santa Monica was a nightmare. Traffic galore and no one moving over when they had space. I guess that was my, “welcome to Southern California,” greeting.

Once I did get to Santa Monica though, there was this 18 mile boardwalk along the beach which aloud cyclists to cruise along the strips from Venice Beach to Palos Verdes. A safe passage that was away from traffic and surrounded by the social life of tourists, locals and any enthusiast that use wheels to get a work out and enjoy the sun and weather of Southern California. Unfortunately there weren’t any campgrounds from here to home so I was therefore forced into a hotel. I discovered that there were hostels in the area but only after I left. I woke up that morning and meet up with a friend of mine to shoot some photos of surfing and continued south shortly after. There was a ten-mile stretch through the hell that is Long Beach until I reached Seal Beach. Riding through there I knew that I only had one more night of the trip before I was home. Going through the ghettos of Los Angeles before reaching Seal Beach and the hotel I was to stay at, I couldn’t help but recognize the differences that are in this state. I started in Humboldt where the redwood trees meet the sea, and end in Orange County, a metropolis of republicans and overpriced coffee shops. Arriving at my hotel in Seal Beech, I sat in my room and stared at the ceiling with a sense of sadness. It’s funny how before I started the trip, I was terrified. Now that it is my last evening, I didn’t want it to end.

I didn’t sleep much that evening and woke up early in hopes of beating the Saturday beach traffic of Huntington Beach through to San Clemente, my home. Peddling with a sense of urgency and desire to get home, I race through to Laguna and Dana Point. On an overlook, I can see my hometown and the San Clemente pier that I surf at when I’m home. I couldn’t believe that I did it.

However, I got a little too overly excited and relieved before I made it home. I considered earlier in the trip that the scariest part was going through the Usal Road. However, I rescind that comment for the closest I came to dying on the trip was in my hometown, a mile from my parent’s house. I can taste home when suddenly, a guy in a brand new Mercedes Benz, flies by me going at least ten to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit, and his mirror hits my arm almost throwing me underneath his car. I proceeded on giving him the middle finger while I can see him shaking his head in his mirror like it was my fault. I had to shake it off because I can see my street.

I reached the top of my parent’s street and stopped. Smiling from ear to ear I began cruising down the street where I was to pull into my parents driveway and throw my bike down. I didn’t care anymore, I made it! I remember laughing and seeing one of my parents neighbors coming to me with a cold beer. It was 11:30 in the morning and I didn’t care, I slugged it. I couldn’t believe that I did it and couldn’t believe I did it without getting injured.

A month and thirteen days. 37 days camped 29 days surfed, 909 miles and a trip that I would do all over again if I could. All of the people I stayed with and the fellow touring cyclists I met along the way, made my trip possible. I couldn’t have done it without them. The state of California is a great one with a variety of landscapes and culture. The redwoods to the north and the metropolis of the south. A great trip, a varied trip, and a test trip that I was hoping would prepare me for Europe. But now that I’ve done California, Europe isn’t even on my mind anymore. The State of California offered me experiences and photos that I didn’t know were possible. Travelling a ton previously before this trip, thinking that the states were boring and cultureless, this trip changed my perspective. As a friend of mine quoted, a world traveler herself, “You made California cool!”


Bicycle Times Magazine