Cycling Shikoku saved us from scurvy

It was dark by the time the ferry docked at Takamatsu. We had identified a sports centre campground about 10K out of town, so after a supermarket sushi stop we rode south and uphill towards it. Arriving at the sports complex was just that. There were lots of little roads, unhelpful staircases and we couldn’t see the symbols for camping anywhere. Jo went into a building that looked a bit like a conference centre to ask. Weirdly, she could get into the building but not out. I had to get the automatic doors to open from outside. With directions from the staff, we found the camping area – closed due to wild boars. Lots of warning signs. Hmmm. As it was now 9pm we didn’t fancy riding much further, so went back to the facility to ask for more help. Turns out it was an old people’s home. Jo got stuck inside again, this time with no helpful information. We found a bit of grass next to an astroturf pitch and hoped the wild boar didn’t fancy a midnight kick about. This started a Shikoku trend of campsites that were either brilliant or bizarre. Top ones included a beach side spot under a handy shelter, and on the scenic Shimanto riverside. The real low was on some deeply furrowed ground at the side of a forestry building in a small village. Very bumpy.

Route 32. Flat-ish for a while
Route 32. Flat-ish for a while

It was great cycling south along route 32, finally we had found a road that was flat-ish and not super busy. It was along a scenic river gorge, had some fun tunnels and some great fake construction men. We also had our second Japanese Police encounter. A kind man stopped, showed us his badge, gave us a whopping bag of mandarins, told us to call the police if we had any problems (possibly, it was in Japanese but I got the numbers) and drove off. We had just bought a bag of mandarins so the food pannier became a little unwieldy. They had just come into season and had become Japan’s only affordable produce item. There are some seriously pricey nashi pears around should you be considering a fruit based investment any time soon. Even better, next time you are mentally planning what to do with your lottery winnings, buy an orchard in Japan.

Well-looked after fruit in Japan comes with a hefty price tag
Well-looked after fruit in Japan comes with a hefty price tag

The cycling went figuratively downhill but actually uphill when we turned off to visit a bridge made from vines in a neighbouring valley. We saw a little road barrier up above us, virtually in cloud, and thought, ‘wow, you couldn’t get up there in 6km, that can’t be our road.’ Apparently you could, and it was. We cursed our choice, especially knowing that we would have to do the climb in reverse the next day. Even better, the next day it rained like the sky was falling in. Luckily the vine bridge was very cool indeed.

Amazing vine bridge.
Amazing vine bridge.

It was great to see the sea and the sunshine after we left Kochi on the Saturday morning. The road followed the south coast for a good stretch and we passed lots of pilgrims in hats and white shirts walking the 88 temples route. We turned further inland on route 81, followed the Shimanto river and supplemented our mandarin intake with local kaki. Shikoku was definitely the best cycling of our time in Japan, even before we found out about hat cakes. The road along the west coast was right along the sea, great views, occasional beaches and even more mandarins and kakis. This time free from some kind ladies in a bakery that filled our water bottles too. We also had another fun ‘onsen before bed’ camping night. Though I think some of the onsen-induced relaxation may have been lost as we had to put up the tent in rain and high winds in the dark after our soothing soak. Jo was particularly proud of her tarp-windbreak construction.

The 88 temple trail is a popular long distance hiking route
The 88 temple trail is a popular long distance hiking route
Great breakfast spot after an uncomfortable sleep on bumps.
Great breakfast spot after an uncomfortable sleep on bumps.
Lots of little harbours and fishing villages.
Lots of little harbours and fishing villages.
Jo's excellent engineering
Jo’s excellent engineering

Arriving by ferry to Kyushu, we decided to have a rest afternoon and more onsen time in Beppu. It’s possible we didn’t see it’s best areas, as Beppu appeared to be a bit like a Japanese Skegness with more sleaze and hot springs, and less stag dos and candyfloss. It was the ugliest town we had seen (there had been a few unpretty ones) and the only town we visited in Japan where it seemed like there might be somewhere you shouldn’t walk at night. The old onsen building made up for it – a historic wooden and stone building with very hot baths for one US dollar. Brilliant. Beppu really made itself unforgettable when our sushi arrived on a mini bullet train later that evening. I cannot imagine why this travel experience is not listed in any information I have read about Japan.

Loved it.
Loved it.

Running out of time, we took the most direct route to Fukuoka and it wasn’t super fun. If you find yourself cycling in Kyushu, leave more time and go a different way to us. The highlight of the trip was finding egg and rice vending machines with a pleasant rest area at the roadside. As I’ve since learned there’s an egg vending machine in Sileby, Leicestershire, probably go for the mini-train Sushi when you are planning your own trip. When we spoke to locals in the Tokyo and Fuji area at the start of our Japan cycle, their reaction to us cycling to Fukuoka was usually ‘This is not possible,’ accompanied by headshakes, crazy foreigner expressions etc. They were nearly proved right, when on the last day we saw some mile markers counting down to something. It turned out they were counting down to the point the road became a motorway and bikes were not allowed. Cue steep and long detour on much smaller road. As I said, go a different way to us.

Japan is a fantastic country to visit. Cycling on Honshu and along our Kyushu route is not for the faint hearted as the more built up areas can be very busy. Having said that, car drivers were almost always patient and considerate when passing us. Shikoku was by far the most enjoyable cycling of our trip.

Fab cycling on Shikoku
Fab cycling on Shikoku
Riding right along the sea
Riding right along the sea

Navigating Japan wasn’t too tricky – we didn’t buy the maps that most cycling websites recommend and just used our offline map to find ourselves in cities sometimes. There were times when we had to look for the Kanji for a town name as English wasn’t on the signs, this was more tricky. The only symbols I would be confident to recognise only a few weeks later are the five that make up ‘campground’ and the one for ‘western’ toilet (as opposed to squat). I wish we had learned more Japanese to speak to people though we always managed to achieve what we needed with some prepared phrases, gesturing etc. People were friendly and kind, even when they clearly thought we were deranged for cycling so far with loads of stuff. Just like people we have met in Italy, Croatia, USA and everywhere else.

Japan wasn’t part of the original trip plan, but I’m really pleased we took the opportunity to visit this truly unique place. Great scenery, awesome food, and a good sprinkling of crazy stuff.

A fair sprinkling of crazy stuff. More than one gas station had their own T Rex.
A fair sprinkling of crazy stuff. More than one gas station had their own T Rex.

Ten things that made us smile in Japan

We arrived in Japan not knowing what to expect, other than that it would be very different from cycling across the USA. It ended up being a country that entertained us in many ways. Japan is a great place to cycle tour for a number of reasons – good food and water is everywhere, camping is easy and hot springs (onsens) are a great way to end a day’s cycling. But one of the best things is that so many small, quirky things made us smile over and over again. Here is just a selection!

The cloud blocking the view of Mt Fuji didn’t make us smile, but it’s ok because lots of other things did…

Food surprises

We mentioned banana surprises earlier, but this was not the only food surprise. A lot of food was a surprise for us as we had no idea what we were buying a lot of the time, but particular foods even when you thought you knew them could still surprise you. Take the humble hat cake. (No? It’s a Kochi speciality. A cake shaped like a hat). The first one we tried was plain. It was great. Then we bit into our next one to find a sweet bean paste filling. Surprise! Another one of our favourite snacks was a fried potato fritter type thing that had different flavoured fillings. But they all looked the same on the outside so we never knew what our filling might be. Meat, vegetables, curry… surprise! The perfect cyclist snack, onigiri (a rice triangle wrapped in seaweed), has flavoured fillings according to the colour of the label. But we never seemed to get the same one twice. It was always a surprise.

Onigiri surprise; friend potato surprise; and hat cake surprise.

(Note: not all surprises were good. Debs was not impressed to bite into things that appeared to be chocolate only to find nuts. Though in those situations I got two to eat, so it’s not all bad.)

Construction workers

It seemed to us that the vast majority of Japanese men nearing retirement are employed in the construction industry. Mostly in the important task of supervision. Every construction site, however big or small, would have a team of construction supervisors at the entrance making sure there was no confusion over who had right of way and directing traffic and pedestrians with large glow sticks/lights sabres or flags. This role was taken seriously. And for cyclists it is amazing – as soon as they see you coming, you see the oversized glow stick wave and the traffic is held up until you are safely through. Awesome.

Not yet moved up the ladder to get a glow stick, the humble flag waverer keeps traffic moving.

Model people

We found some instances where there must somehow be a shortage of men nearing retirement so a model construction worker had to be used instead. The level of attention to detail was impressive. We also found model policemen, a model car park attendant and many very realistic scarecrows.

Construction worker; parking attendant; policeman. Some more life-like than others. I still wasn’t sure whether the dude on the left was real or fake until I got within a few meters.

Vending machines

Probably the thing you see most often in Japan, more than convenience stores and shrine gates, is a vending machine. They are everywhere. If you were in a car you would never have to drive for more than five minutes without seeing one, which means on a bike they are pretty regular too. More impressive than their contents were how they were installed, run and refilled in some of the most out of the way places, like the edge of a field. Mostly they have cold drinks, but if you are lucky there will be not one vending machine but a row, with different delights in each. We saw beer, cigarettes, sake (wine), ice cream, noodles. But we were expecting more diversity, and on our penultimate day in Japan vending machines got a whole load more interesting when we saw a lay-by with an egg vending machine and a rice one.

The thing you see the most of in Japan. A vending machine (or 4) on every corner.

Tannoy systems

There you are, riding along a quiet road, and from nowhere a tannoy system fires up and starts playing random music. This was nice. Less nice was when riding past crop fields and some kind of animal noise starts playing, presumably to scare away birds (and cyclists). Most entertaining was probably when we were in our tent almost asleep and Auld Lang Syne started playing over the campsite tannoy, and was repeated lullaby-style for fifteen minutes to demonstrate that fun time was over. I’m actually not sure this made us smile at the time, but the extensive tannoy system is a funny part of life in Japan.

Pointless jobs

As well as the hundreds of jobs available in construction for those skilled with a giant glow stick, there are many other jobs that some people (us) might consider a little pointless. There is obviously leaf-blowing, the most pointless job ever that can be seen across the world, but we had some Japan-specific favourites: someone holding a sign warning that construction is ahead (just put a sign up?); steam cleaning the white line on the side of the road (its Japan, it’s not that dirty anyway); and a strimmer’s mate, someone holding a screen next to a verge strimmer to stop the grass spreading on the pavement (resoundingly unsuccessfully).

We felt sorry for the guys holding up signs warning of roadworks ahead. He didn’t even get a flag, never mind a glowstick. A sign on it’s own would probably do the same job.

Signs

Like the loser I am, I find signs in different countries fascinating. It shows how there are innumerable ways of conveying the same type of instructions/warnings. In Japan it is mostly kid cartoon style, even sometimes kids drawings. We wondered if towns had competitions in primary schools to design some signs, particularly those telling you not to drop litter. Quite serious warnings (e.g. be careful not to die from this or that) were portrayed with cartoon animals. Others just made us laugh.

Beware of cartoon dog poo; sad workmen; bears on bikes; sleeping dogs; and many other road hazards.

English translations

I don’t think we’ve cycled in a country where less English was spoken, so it was strange to see English translations in many places (particularly supermarket departments). But there’s a bit of work to be done on the quality of the English.

Going to the toilet

Another great feature of Japan for cyclists is that there are public toilets everywhere, and they are the cleanest toilets I have ever seen. But they are more than just toilets. They are shower toilets, with full washing facilities. Also you can use the music button to play a flushing sound, covering any embarrassing noises (sometimes this noise is automatic). Even better, toilets in hostels/hotels have toilet slippers, so you change your regular slippers at the door for plastic toilet slippers. Brilliant. The toilet instructions also never failed to make us smile.

Toilets here in New Zealand are so dull in comparison.

Sushi on a Shinkansen

On our last night in Japan our sushi arrived on a Shinkansen (bullet train). Smiles all round.


Thanks to Japan for making us smile.

Britishcitizens & Bananas: cycling Tokyo to Kyoto

Tokyo was a lot of fun but after 6 nights it was time to get going. The ride out of the city was relatively painless, (See Boston, Zurich; Atonyms Naples, San Francisco) especially once we joined the Tama River cycle route. Uneventful cycling was made up for by other random stuff, including:
-Our first earth tremor in Japan. Let’s not say Earthquake because that’s a bit scary.

-I saw Mt Fuji then clouds hid it. Jo wasn’t sure whether to believe me or not.

-A fab food surprise. Bought a fridge bakery item that looked like chocolate flavour sweet bread with a very generous cream filling. Felt pretty weighty. Turned out it had a whole banana inside. That’s the stuff cyclists’ dreams are made of.

-Pensioners’ baseball training. Lots of old men arriving at riverside ball parks with full kit and bats in their bike baskets.

-Walking group Wednesday. If you don’t play baseball in the Tama river area, you join a walking group. Hundreds of hikers bemused by the British bikers.

-A friendly cyclist stopping us and asking us to wait a moment. He ran off the cycle path and came back with bottles of cold water for us. It was a hot morning and a really lovely gesture.

-A road cyclist passed us wearing a balaclava type garment with no eye or mouth holes. It was black. Creepy.

Ohio! Walking group Wednesday.

We left the river and rode uphill in a narrow valley, getting occasional glimpses of Mt Fuji as clouds moved. There was hardly any traffic and a noticeable drop in temperature as we got higher. We found an actual campground and had a long unproductive discussion in Japanese/English with the owner. After some time we worked out that he was telling us about a big power cut in Tokyo.

We followed a little footpath and found this awesome swing bridge.

Early to bed, early to ride up hill. Apparently we were ascending a 1000m pass. There wasn’t much around in the way of food. Eventually we found an open shop and got bread for jam sandwiches. Then it got even colder and started raining. In the clouds we couldn’t we see far in front of us let alone see Fuji. It wasn’t a great deal of fun, and with a better weather forecast the next day we stopped riding early and enjoyed being indoors and having a Japanese bath at a youth hostel. It was a lot of fun eating at a tiny table in our room and arranging our bedding for comfy seating.

Gourmet noodle and lots of snuggly blankets.

Cycling around Fuji’s five lakes the next day was much more enjoyable. At times there were clear views of the volcano and an amazing descent into a river valley. I was on the lookout for Shinkansen, but we were just by the normal train lines. We camped in an empty plot in a village and felt lucky to have found it. Nearly all the flat empty land here is used for growing rice and veg. Even really small patches have rows of leafy greens or a few fruit trees. We had asked permission from the next door house, and the friendly family later brought us out two homemade onigiri and a beer each. Mt Fuji and a beer in the tent – Happy Friday night!

Fuji-san. Always cool to see things in real life you’ve seen loads of pictures of.

The next morning we were drying the tent outside a Michi-no-Eki (like a service station, but with local veg, nice normal price food and no petrol) when a young man came over to chat. First he handed me a plastic bag from the nearby supermarket as he thought we had a long way to ride. It had 2 onigiri and 4 bananas in. He asked about the trip, and then asked if I thought Japanese people were friendly. He was really surprised when I said yes, and tried to tell me that they weren’t, having just given a total stranger a bag of food. It was like some of the comments we heard in the USA about the world/strangers being scary – from people who had just invited two (slightly grubby) strangers into their homes for the evening. Everyone should remember that the world is mainly full of kind people.
That evening more friendly Japanese people let us share their campsite pitch. We were pleased they did because this was no ordinary campsite. It was in a forest park, and all of these things happened:
-As we approached the campground we could see many coloured lights and lots of cars. It was a special illuminations display. For Christmas. It was busy and strange. There was twinkly music and tannoy announcements.

-We went for our first onsen (hot springs). Jo bought the tickets from a vending machine right next to a desk with a real person behind it. We then gave the tickets to the person, who told us something in Japanese. It was probably about shoes.

-Saturday night at the onsen is busy. You go into separate men’s and women’s ones and get naked. Then you have a really good wash at a little seat with a shower next to it. Only then do you go in the hot springs. Our tan lines looked weird.

-Most people put their pyjamas on after to drive home. We just walked back to our tent. It was lovely to get in sleeping bags fully warm and relaxed. At 8:30pm.

-The illuminations tannoy also had a speaker near our tent. At 9:45pm there was an announcement and Auld Lang Syne started playing in the style of a lullaby. Apparently this is the Japanese equivalent of the last orders bell. It played on repeat until the illuminations closed at 10pm. That’s a lot of Auld Lang Syne. Each time it got to the end of the loop we hoped it would stop – those fifteen minutes seemed very long.

Sunday Funday on the road South West from Nagano.

We crossed a pass via a slightly smoggy 4.7km tunnel from our valley to another one with cool river cliffs and quieter roads. On a sunny Sunday afternoon it was the best cycling so far, but we quickly got into a busier area. Cycling in Japan seems to be either 1. Flat (ish) and along trafficky roads in highly populated areas or 2. Ridiculously hilly. The next day was almost all on a busy road with loads of traffic. To make life more interesting it had started raining heavily at about 2:30am. The tent got soaked, and then so did we packing it up. The trickle of a waterfall we had camped near was now a raging river. The rain bounced off the roads, we were being sprayed by trucks and water ran down inside our clothes. It was the anti-onsen. Slightly scraping the barrel for interesting stuff for that day, but we did enjoy a Japanese breakfast at a restaurant where you press a button to place your order. The staff didn’t even mind that we made a lake around our table.

Hikone Castle. Castles are Jō in Japanese, which Jo liked a lot.

The next couple of days took us to a castle, a lake and excitingly past real bamboo groves. Even better, we finally saw several Shinkansen. They look like Concorde and really are fast. Sadly they are not for bikes, unless you put your bike into a (regulation sized) bag. We pedalled all the way to Kyoto instead. There was time for one more little adventure. A police car pulled up in front of us with lights flashing and a Japanese loudspeaker message. Maybe they had seen us not waiting for the green man at crossings? Or perhaps we were flaunting some other road law? We definitely hadn’t eaten any bananas in parks that morning. A smiley policeman got out and asked (I think) for our Gaijin Cards (foreign residents ID). I offered passports, which he took and spent a long time copying the names and dates from. It was a relatively smooth process, after we established that Jo was Joanna Welford and not Joanna Britishcitizen. We also had fun numbering the months – not sure why UK passports do not have this information. At no point was our Japan entry sticker checked, or our passport numbers noted, but we all had a lovely time thanking each other and went our separate ways.

Thanks to: Nina & her Mum & Dad, the kind man with the tinyhouse, Gilles, Jacqueline & Robert.

Tall trees and tent invaders: Cycling in Northern California

Usually there’s not much of a change as you cross state lines in the USA, but California felt different. It looked different. The land was brown rather than green. It was dry out here, and hard to believe that just a few days ago we had been pedalling through heavy rain and fog. At least crossing the state lane provided us with plenty of new tunes for the internal radio. Our first night was spent sleeping in a church in Crescent City, and from there the highway turned inland into one of California’s most famous parks – where there would be plenty of trees – the Redwoods.

Redwood trees are tallest trees on earth, and can grow to over 350 feet (over 100m). They can live for over 2000 years. These trees are seriously big – they hurt your neck to look at them while riding. They don’t have low branches, so the trunks seem even taller. The first thing we had to do was ride a big pass, it was hot but the trees provided good shade and kept things cool for us. We met some interesting people that morning. First, at the start of the climb, was a guy who told us with great pride how he had driven all the way from Pennsylvania. Sure, that’s a long way, but when all you have to do is press one pedal at a time (highly unlikely to need a clutch over here) and stay awake, you are not going to impress people who have cycled that far. He also said he loved hugging trees. The second interesting meet was about half way up the climb, we could see a bike ahead with two people stood to the side. When we got closer (slowly, it was steep) we realised it was a tandem, but the two people didn’t look like cyclists. Gradually we could see they had on jeans and backpacks and were smoking. Not your average cycle tourist. They were finding the hill tough. I said “it must be fun downhill though?” to which they replied “I dunno, we haven’t ridden down one yet!” It turned out they had hitched/walked from Missouri (this is a long way, we were impressed this time) and on arrival in Crescent City someone had given them a tandem. So the first thing they had had to do was ride up a huge hill. Bad luck. We said they should probably check the brakes before riding down. They laughed. We repeated this several times, without laughing, and left unsure as whether they knew if the bike even had brakes. Hopefully they survived. On the way down the hill we met a guy riding North (this is very rare) who was carrying everything he owned, including a large knife strapped to his shin. On the the outside of his trousers. Just in case I guess. What was this place?!

It is all about the trees in this part of California. The first place we found to stop for water was a complex with three buildings: Trees of Mystery, Forest Cafe, and Motel Trees. We passed the Immortal Tree (survived lightening, fires, etc), Chimney Tree (hole in the top), Grandfather Tree (old), Big Tree (this made us laugh), two Tree Houses, One Log House… Pretty much anything you could wish for, as long as it was a tree. None of these grabbed our attention until we saw signs for the Tour-Thru Tree. We paid our dollar each to the lady in the booth who told us the road up to the tree was steep and she GUARANTEED we would have to push our bikes the last bit. I heard the word CHALLENGE instead, so of course we rode up. It was steep, but there were no cobbles or gravel – give us a real challenge California. Riding through a tree was fun the first few times, and then it was just as fun watching car drivers try to squeeze their huge vehicles through. We told Ms Cyclist Challenger on the way out that we rode up, did we get a prize etc, and she was very unimpressed. I mean it’s not like we drove there from Pennsylvania.

That night we camped at a state park and were the only people in the hiker/biker site that was miles from anywhere else so quite creepy. We set up camp and watched the Great British Bake Off in the tent (like you do) and then came out to find a raccoon had eaten half of our biscuits and chucked the rest all over the floor. Evil. Why would you waste biscuits like that? This mindless vandalism continued in the night as I was woken up several times by rustling in the tent porch. Each time, I shone the torch on the raccoon which he did not care for in the slightest, staring back at me whilst trying to pull a non-food bag out of the tent. Other times his partner in crime the skunk would wake me. I say me – Debs remained asleep throughout all of this. In the end the only way I could get them to leave the tent was to throw a shoe at them, which worked four times until I ran out of missiles. I was finally getting a bit of decent sleep until it was broken by shouting outside the tent at 6.40am. A college cross country race was passing right by our camp spot and they HAD to set up that early, using very loud voices despite the obvious sign (a tent) that someone was trying to sleep close by.

We only had 25 miles to ride that day but it felt like 100. We were taking up an invitation to stay in Arcata by a family we met in the San Juan Islands. They lived at the top of a huge hill (of course) and on the way up we stopped at a yard sale where some ladies were selling lots of stuff we were not interested in but also had a plate of muffins that we were very interested in. They tried their hardest to offload some books on us and were disappointed to hear that we only wanted muffins, but gave us four anyway as well as a bunch of dried lavender. As we rode off we heard one of them say “look at her leg muscles” and we spent the rest of the ride arguing which one of us they were talking about. Debs has no muscles but was closest to them at the time, so it’s still an unsolved mystery. The 25 miles were completed by early afternoon so we had time for a few hours at the brewery drinking strong local beer in English sized pints.

After a rest day in Arcata it was back into the redwoods for a couple of days. The Avenue of the Giants is a scenic drive through trees so close to the edge of the road that you have to be careful not to ride into them. It really is mesmerising riding through the forest, it makes you feel very small. Not just feel small actually, I enjoyed letting Debs ride ahead of me and see how small she looked when dwarfed by the redwoods. We camped in the state park right among the trees and didn’t see much sunlight for a couple of days. After a particularly brutal pass we suddenly popped out on the coast again, blinded by the sun and instantly amazed by how good the coastal scenery was. So good we had chocolate milk to celebrate.

To rejoin the coast we had left highway 101 behind and forked off onto smaller highway 1. This made a big difference in the amount of traffic squeezing past us as the big trucks stuck to the bigger highway and for the next three days to San Francisco we had the best coastal stretch so far. The road climbs and then drops suddenly to get around a gulch (why not just build a bridge over the gap…. anyway) then climbs again, and repeat. Steep up, steep down. One morning there was a fair amount of fog so we didn’t get any rewarding views for the effort, but on the whole the sun shone and the sea sparkled. We called into Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, where industrial waste was dumped into the sea up until the 1960s. A lot of it was cleaned up but the glass and pottery was left and has been broken down and smoothed by the waves so that now the beach is covered with “glass” pebbles. Pretty cool. As we got closer to San Francisco more and more sports cars passed us and the small towns we passed through became more and more posh. This was the California we were expecting.

Eventually the Golden Gate Bridge emerged on the horizon. The sky was so blue that it seemed to shine against the background. Reaching the iconic bridge felt more momentous than any of the milestones to this point. It has a bike path down the side so for once we didn’t have to fight traffic for space. Unfortunately being a Sunday we had to fight other cyclists instead. These came from two camps – the roadies trying to race across and weave in and out of the slower traffic, and the tourists on rental bikes trying to ride and take selfies at the same time. And then there was us with our wide loads. I’m not sure whether it’s more difficult to dodge truck wing mirrors or selfie sticks – at least wing mirrors follow a predictable pattern of movement. But we made it across safely and into San Francisco.

For two and a half days we left the bikes in the garage and wandered around the Mission neighbourhood where we were staying. It’s a diverse area with Latino bakeries next to posh coffee shops, and alleys full of street art/graffiti (delete as appropriate depending on your perspective. We thought it was cool.)


We sat in Dolores Park, enjoying the view of the city and the people watching. We were close to the Castro neighbourhood, famous for a history of LGBT activism, so joined a walking tour of the area (‘rest day’…).


We had managed to go the whole last five and a half months without going to an American sports fixture so took the opportunity to watch some baseball over in Oakland. It was a Monday night at the end of the season so there was hardly anyone there but it meant we got good cheap tickets. The teams repaid the low crowd with a low score (4-2 loss) and it was difficult to stay awake for the whole match, but we managed. My tv-influenced image of drinking beer and eating pretzels while watching the game was shattered when we saw the prices – $11.50 for a beer (not even an English sized pint), so currently about £9. How do people afford to get drunk there? Despite the low score it was fun to experience a true American Sporting Spectacle.

San Francisco is a cool city, no doubt about it, but walking around you also can’t help but see it’s ugly side – the high level of homelessness. We walked through streets where the sidewalk was lined with tents and people sleeping rough, and along with this comes sanitation issues. Trash/rubbish covered these streets and as you can imagine when people live in tents with no toilet, it didn’t smell great. Homelessness has been very visible as we have ridden down the west coast, more so than any developed country I’ve ever been to, but in San Francisco the gap between the rich and the poor appears to be bigger. Homeless people sit outside expensive whole food shops and cafes, and the tech money pouring into the city is evident in the miles of shiny apartment blocks we rode past on our way out of the city. Our hosts explained that affordable housing is little more than a dream concept and the gentrification of neighbourhoods is driving people out of the city or onto the streets. All of this gave us much food for thought whilst riding out of the city in our own strange situation of self-selected, temporary homelessness.

We had been told many times that the best of the coast was coming up in the next few days, so thought about this instead and hoped for clear skies and a tail wind…

Thanks to Katie; Allison, Ryan and Arwen; the yard sale ladies of Arcata; Judy; Mark; and Ruth and Edward.

Olympic Games and Olympic waves: Cycling US Highway 101

We had crossed North America by bike. So what next? The Pacific Highway (route 101) winds its way down the West coast of the USA, and all across the country people had been telling us how beautiful a drive it was. It’s also a popular cycle route, being a much shorter way (a mere 1800 miles) to cross the country than the East-West route. Six weeks riding by the sea? Ok then. It seemed like a logical next step for us. 

Vancouver, BC. Not a bad place to “rest” for a couple of weeks

First we had some friends to catch up with in Vancouver BC, one of our favourite world cities. This coincided nicely with the Olympics, so we had a couple of weeks swapping cycling for sitting watching cycling. The last time we were in Vancouver four years ago it rained pretty much solid the whole time, but this visit we were treated to sunshine so enjoyed all that Vancouver had to offer. We climbed Grouse Mountain, saw a couple of grizzly bears, made Yorkshire puddings, went to a few different beaches, ate lots of ice cream, took part in a huge water fight… All essential tourist activities. The bikes were away and we barely looked at them. We also spent a few days on Salt Spring Island, right next to a lake perfect for swimming, canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, and relaxing. The sun continued to shine. It was all too perfect, and before we knew it two weeks had passed and it was time to get back on the bikes before we forgot how to pedal.

Hanging out by Cusheon Lake, Salt Spring Island

We crossed back into the USA from Vancouver Island, spending the night in Victoria – probably the most British town in British Columbia. There’s red buses and black taxis and everything. The best thing that happened there was nothing to do with British heritage though. Victoria is on the south coast of the island, and we were riding around the headland enjoying views across the sea to the USA when a guy in a car slowed down next to us and shouted that there were some Orcas (also called killer whales but they are actually the largest dolphin) on their way. We raced round to the next viewpoint and there we saw three of them passing by not far of the coast. They are huge! We felt pretty lucky as people who live there told us they had never seen them before.

The orcas were too far away to get a good picture, so here’s some killer cyclist sign instead.

The next day we packed up and left The Best Place on Earth (British Columbia’s modest tag line) and caught a ferry to Port Angeles on the Olympic peninsula. This would mark the start of our west coast trip, ending in Los Angeles – making it an Angeles to Angeles ride. Unlike most ferries, on this one cyclists are treated as foot passengers rather than cars. Good points: no need to queue with cars to get on, no riding down into the car deck, no hanging around breathing in exhaust fumes, nice waiting room to sit in rather than standing out on the dock. Bad point: wheeling a loaded bike through passenger queues. As we had to go through customs and immigration, this was not easy. The low point was trying to manoeuvre them around the maze of bollards while queuing to get into the US. You know when you queue to check in at an airport and it can be quite hard to get your luggage around the corners? Getting a loaded bike around those corners without dropping it or taking out other passengers was quite the challenge. But we made it, and although we were sad to leave Canada and our friends behind, 1800 miles of coastline lay ahead. Pacific Highway 101 starts here and we would mostly follow it all the way to LA. 

The start of our Highway 101 trip. Next Angeles… Los!
Nice people around.

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is the most westerly point of the US mainland and has a wild feel to it. The forests are old and huge and the towns few and far between. The only town we passed through on our way to the West coast was Forks, famous for the filming of Twilight and seemingly living purely off this – not much else seemed to be going on. The Olympic National Park goes right up to the coast so we followed 101 in bright sunshine for the afternoon, looking forward to camping overlooking the beach and our first west coast sunset. But just as we approached the coast, we were plunged into thick sea fog. Suddenly it was freezing cold and we were stood overlooking Ruby Beach, one of the most photographed spots on the Olympic Peninsula, and though we could hear the sea, we couldn’t see a thing. As we rode south down the coastline there was the strange experience of blue sky above the trees to our left, and thick white fog to our right. Arriving at South Beach campground we were offered a spot between two RVs right on the front overlooking the fog/beach. Gradually as we set up camp it cleared and we were treated to the most spectacular sunset over the sea. This is what we had been hoping for!

The sea started to become visible when we got to the campground…
West coast sunset. Hopefully the first of many!

For the next couple of days to the Oregon border the road is mostly inland through more forests. One morning we stopped for a huge milkshake on the recommendation of a local. Later that day we were back by the sea again in a popular oyster catching area, so stopped to sample a couple of fresh cooked-in-front-of-you samples. Debs had a hot tijuana (chilli, lime, cilantro, tabasco) and I had the rockafella (parmesan, bacon, breadcrumbs, oregano, basil). Awesome. The day of great food was finished off with a couple of slices of key lime pie as an accompaniment to the first episode of the Great British Bake Off. The next morning our friendly camp neighbours came over to offer us breakfast burritos – we were cooking porridge at the time but we never pass up a food offer, so after a two course breakfast we were full for at least two hours that morning.

Oysters, milkshake, key lime pie, Great British Bake Off. A good day.
Cycling by the water. Whats not to like?

Crossing into Oregon was probably the worst cycling we have done since Naples. Highway 101 crosses the state border estuary on a narrow 4-mile bridge that was not designed with bikes in mind. The shoulder was about two feet wide, not big enough to ride in easily but big enough to make car drivers think that we should. This is a popular tourist drive, and it was Friday afternoon, so it seemed like every other car was towing either a trailer or a boat – fast. Nobody on their weekend away wanted to be delayed by a bike for a few seconds. Scary stuff. The heavy traffic continued and we were relieved to arrive to the town of Seaside and catch our breath. It had been hot again and I commented to some other cyclists that after a month of hot weather I would quite like a couple of days of cloud cover to stop my skin from frazzling. No prizes for guessing what happened next….

Entering Oregon. Preferably not by bike, but hey, that was our only way…
Wise words. Not sure about the spelling though….

Thanks to Andrea and Dave, and Robin, Dane, Riley and Sasha and all of their friends for an amazing holiday in Vancouver; Robin and friends for the great camp spot at South Beach; Marnie and John; Ray and Charlaine; and Neil and Carrie.