A Multi-modal Misadventure to San Diego
We’re in Southern California during a busy time with lots of bicycling events happening every weekend. Our friends Bryan and Cynthia, who we rode with to the Oregon coast, told us about New Belgium’s Tour de Fat in San Diego. It sounded like a great excuse to go on a mini bicycle tour, so we packed up our bags and made the multi-modal journey to San Diego.
Our day started early at 5am in the San Fernando valley where we rode 12 miles from my parent’s house to the North Hollywood MetroLink station. From there, it was a bleary eyed light rail ride to Union Station where we met up with Bryan and Cynthia and hopped on the Amtrak train. We were all on folding bikes (2 Bromptons and 2 Dahons) for fun but also for practical reasons. We have been on the Amtrak before where the bike hooks were full, and we were denied boarding with full size bikes. However, since folding bikes are always allowed on board, none of us would have to worry about being bumped off the train.
We boarded without incident. The Bromptons and all our camping gear fit in the luggage compartment of the train. We sat down and relaxed and watched the scenery change from the grey urban landscape of Los Angeles at dawn, to the backyards of houses, to the rolling waves of the Pacific ocean. As the train approached Oceanside, we gathered our bags and made our way downstairs getting ready to detrain. We got off the train and I was photographing the whole process, putting the new camera through its paces.
It was about the time the conductor waved out the window and the train started to move that I took inventory of all my stuff and realized, to nothing short of horror, that I had left my front Brompton bag on the train! The bag had my laptop, lenses, video camera, warm layers, mirror, pedal and countless other things, but most importantly it also had four hard drives that contained ALL the images and video from our trip. While losing the computer and camera gear would be a setback, losing all the images and video would have been disastrous. I literally felt sick to my stomach as I tried to come to terms with what all that would mean.
I ran into the station and talked to the Amtrak person behind the ticket counter. Ron contacted the dispatcher to contact the conductor and asked him to try to find the bag. We waited anxiously in the station until the phone rang at the desk. They found the bag and would hold it at the San Diego ticket counter until we got there tomorrow. While still feeling queasy from the thought of being separated from essentially all the assets of our trip, I tried to push it to the back of my mind to enjoy the rest of the tour.
We got ready to push off to Dixon Lake in Escondido when I realized my quick release pedal was in the bag! After consulting the iPhone, we found that there was a bike shop a few blocks away. So I lowered my saddle and coasted along like I was on a giant Skuut bike. I picked up a cheap pedal and put it on the Brompton and, from there, we made our way to Escondido.
Because of the heat and because I was feeling a bit down about what just happened, we opted to take The Sprinter to Escondido. The Sprinter is a light rail train that runs from Oceanside to Escondido in North San Diego County. We were instantly surprised at how nice the trains were. They had what seemed like higher-than-normal ceilings, big windows that let in a lot of light and, most importantly, some of the best bike accommodations we’ve seen on a rail system. Instead of negotiating hooks to hang your bike, you simply roll your bike on and secure it using rubber straps. The beauty of this system is that it works for all size bikes and even fully-loaded bikes with panniers. Another great thing to witness was how many cyclists used the bike area. At one point, the train car we were on had up to 8 different people on board with bikes, all of which were easily accommodated by The Sprinter.
We got off The Sprinter and rode up a hill to Stone Brewery. We are big beer people and we’ve been wanting to make the pilgrimage to Stone for a while but never quite got it together. It was a shortish climb to Stone on a road that had a bike lane. They had artsy but functionally useless bike racks at Stone that would also put our bikes and belongings far from sight. Not feeling like losing anything else that day we tried to talk the manager into letting us wheel the bikes into the massive outdoor beer garden. She was friendly and although she didn’t let us roll them to the beer garden, allowed us to leave them at the foyer which was a lot more protected than just the street.
The beer and food at Stone was simply amazing and we could have easily stayed there for several hours. However, we still had quite a few more miles to go (and up and over a steep climb) to get to Dixon Lake, where we were camping that night. So we all kept it to one beer, but carried some in a growler for later at camp.
We left Stone and made our way to Dixon Lake. Most of the roads we took had either wide shoulders or bike lanes which made for relatively stress-free riding. The final mile to the campground was steep and sustained. So steep, in fact, we all actually had to walk up the hill! We didn’t walk at all on our trip from Portland to Glacier so it was a bit surprising to encounter a climb like that in San Diego. Fortunately, it was short. We got into the campsite, which overlooked both the lake and Escondido valley. The night was clear and cloudless and we enjoyed some easy conversation and good beer.
We left bright and early the next morning and headed for San Diego via an inland route, which was mostly on Pomerado Road. We had ridden the coast several times and wanted to mix it up. Pomerado was, for the most part, good riding. It had a bike lane and went up and over some good hills. Going through inland San Diego, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but were surprised at the number of roads that had bike lanes. Many arterial roads with high speed traffic had wide bike lanes or were signed as bike routes. We even crossed an interesting bike/ped bridge that swooped up and down like a suspension bridge.
Most of the miles that day were just a hot blur. Up some long hills, then down some long hills, with the sun beating relentlessly overhead. None of it was particularly scenic and the roads got more and more congested as we got closer to the city center. One highlight of the ride, though, was following Kearny Villa road a few minutes before it was to be closed to traffic for an air show. As we rode on the virtually traffic-free highway, we got treated to a view of some death-defying stunt-flying over head! I tried to enjoy it, but to be honest, I had my mind on getting to the train station as quickly as possible to get my bag back. We pushed on, getting lost here and there in the maze of multi-lane roads in the great suburban donut that surrounds San Diego. We split up just past a baseball field, as Cynthia and Bryan headed for the hotel room, and Laura and I rode an extra 6 miles to the train station.
A lot ran through my mind during those 6 miles. What if the bag was there, but the contents were missing? What if they had happened to find the wrong bag? The closer we got to the station, the more anxious I felt. I was relieved that this misadventure was coming to an end, but simultaneously terrified of what the outcome might be. For the last three years, we’ve collected very few things from our travels. For me, the most important thing has been the photos and videos – and in an instant of bumbling, they were all gone. The guy at the baggage counter took my name and rifled through the back room and brought out a black bag. It was mine. I thanked him profusely and sat down at the nearest bench and stuck my hand inside. Everything was there. For the first time in the last 30 or so hours, the weight and dread of losing everything from our trip slowly dissolved and I breathed a sigh of relief. That first beer we had later that night never tasted so good. Thanks Amtrak!
We’re going to be in San Diego for a few more days and the fine folks at VeloCult invited us to speak at their shop. If you’re in the San Diego area, come by VeloCult this Tuesday at 7pm. Details can be found on this Facebook event page – VeloCult and PathLessPedaled.
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