Less than 24 hours after cycling one mile with Stamford Democratic mayoral candidate William Tong (the second of what will hopefully be three rides with each of the major candidates for mayor - more on that origin story here) I was sitting on a plane turning my watch back three hours. My Bike Friday New World Tourist, packed in a Samsonite suitcase, was somewhere in the cargo hold underneath my feet.
You see, for several months my wife and I had planned a final summer trip that would come on the tail end of a conference she was attending in Anaheim, California. I'd have two days of solid cycling while she was at the conference, and I wasn't going to waste them.
For this trip, we stayed at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel, a short walk from Disneyland and 'Downtown Disney.' I liked the hotel a lot - the staff was always pleasant and never objected to my wheeling my bike in and out - but honestly I had an easier time navigating through the highway-like streets of Orange County than I did walking through the vast hotel. Going for coffee the first morning I got lost twice.
But when I took the Bike Friday out later that same morning, I was easily able to find my way past various hotel guests wearing Mickey Mouse ears and the like to head out the front door. The day before, I had gotten a tip that if I were to pedal just a few miles down Katella Avenue I'd find the Santa Ana River Trail & Parkway that led all the way to Huntington Beach - where I could go to sit on the beach and watch people surfing.
After turning on the Garmin, I mounted the bike and left the hotel, heading south on Disneyland Drive. My original instincts about Anaheim felt correct at first: Narrow concrete shoulders, annoying raised reflective thingies in the road, and three lanes. Some of the intersections themselves seemed bigger than entire Stamford city blocks - and I was thankful I was out there early on a Sunday morning when there weren't many cars.
However, not fifteen minutes after beginning my less than stellar experience cycling on Katella Avenue, I had arrived at the Santa Ana River Trail and Parkway.
Eventually, they want this trail to run 110 miles - from Big Bear Lake to the Pacific Ocean. The 14 miles or so I did from Anaheim to Huntington Beach was…I believe the technical term for it is…a blast.
Now there aren't a lot of truly interesting things to see along this stretch, but aside from the crossings it doesn't run alongside any roads: just one golf course but mostly flood control canals, so it is surprisingly quiet most of the time.
Because it was flat I could build up a lot of speed, and because the trail looped under bridges there were no road crossings to have to contend with. I'd often see homeless people living under some of the bridges, but seeing them made me realize there were people out there who had far greater problems than seeing homelessness on a bike ride while staying in a nice hotel.
I had definitely brought the right bike: fresh off its trip to Barcelona and with a new front tire, the Bike Friday worked perfectly as I covered the miles from Anaheim to Huntington Beach. From time to time I stopped to actually venture up to the roads and take different pictures - including one shot I've been wanting to get for years.
As I got closer to Huntington Beach, the flood control canal eventually turned into the river mouth. I also noticed that there was a lot more fog down by the ocean.
The trail ended at the Pacific Coast Highway, which I pedaled down a short ways to get to a public beach. By now the fog was quite thick. But undaunted, I walked down the beach, lay the bike gently on its side, and watched the surfers.
And in the sand I saw…the footsteps of a gigantic hound; possibly the same one I had heard braying on the moor.
Wishing to leave the soothing but rather Baskerville-like setting, I returned to the path the ran alongside the beach and realized there were more V.W.M.P.S.M. in this part of the country than in any other place in the U.S. I have ever been (that's VW Microbus' Per Square Mile).
Before long, I came upon a large group of cyclists on the beach. Naturally attracted, I headed up and asked one what was going on. As it turned out, it was a gathering for a memorial ride in honor of Michael Ray Vega, an artist and cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver a year before. Talking for just a a few minutes with a couple of the participants made me wish I had known him or had planned ahead to participate in the ride.
I continued up the path, through additional fog and steadily thickening crowds. Soon I was able to get a glimpse of a cycling innovation I never see in Stamford.
Not long after, I stopped for lunch and decided to head back the way I came and go to Costa Mesa, where I had to buy some accessory for my wife at the Apple Store. Yes, just like with our trip to Orlando, Florida where I had to retrieve something from Penzey's Spices, she had talked me into using my ride for her own purposes.
But instead of doing a U-Turn, I decided to ride back along the Pacific Coast Highway. This is a lot easier than it sounds. It's obviously quite noisy as you've got three lanes of traffic on your immediate left, but on the other hand it had a good wide shoulder most of the way.
The miles tumbled right out, and after passing the Santa Ana trail and making a left on Newport Boulevard, I found something in the road: an iPhone.
It seemed I was about to cap off yet another summer with finding an iPhone in the road. Just like the last one, it was locked and had less than 20% power. But I was able to see who had called in to the phone last, so after asking the dodgy, pre-Siri voice recognition system to dial, I was able to leave what I was sure a rather odd message. I put the phone away and continued on.
Miles away, at the Apple Store, I picked up the accessory my wife wanted. I also asked the two Apple Store employes who were helping me what to do if one were to find an iPhone that didn't belong to them. Their answers didn't give me hope: Beavis and Butt-head did a better job deducing what had happened to their missing television than they did articulating what to do with a lost iPhone (Tim Cook: please see to this). But I had them email the receipt to my wife - I found out later it had tickled her that I was using a receipt as a form of telling her I had made it to Costa Mesa safely - and left the store minutes later.
Now I was able to visit 'my' stores on this day, such as the Let It Roll Bike Shop. The inside of the store is nice but it was their van that got my attention.
The guy working there that day apologized to me for being so shorthanded; explaining that some of his employees were at Burning Man. I nodded to keep from laughing, as I knew that was an excuse that just doesn't see much use on the East Coast.
Speaking of such:
This is Newport Velo; a shop I ran into later on the PCH. Now I am usually annoyed when stores are not open during the times that are printed in vinyl lettering right there on the door, but I was too much in delighted awe to care. I hope the waves are good, I thought, as I climbed back on the Bike Friday.
Instead of heading straight back to Anaheim, I backtracked onto the Santa Ana trail, and noticed a couple of cyclists in the canal itself, which I believe is a no-no. Still, none of them were being chased by an indestructible android from the future driving a Peterbilt, so there's that.
Around the time I took this picture, I got a phone call…on the found iPhone. In spite of the confusion, I managed to get the name of the phone's owner and the phone number of the owner's mother, which I jotted down.
After pushing my way back into Anaheim, I found my way back to the hotel - having pedaled 69 miles since that morning. I set up the found iPhone to charge with my iPod cable and left a message with the iPhone owner's mother.
When I woke up the next morning, I discovered a rather happy text message on my own phone. Realizing the iPhone owner was quite a few miles away - and not in a direction I had much interest in riding - I texted the woman back and said I'd leave the phone for her at the courtesy desk at the hotel, which I did.
This wouldn't be a true away-from-home adventure without some tire issues, and that morning I got one: after topping off the front tire with air, the valve snapped off (a problem I never get with a non-Presta valve, I must add).
The tire was full, but this meant that I couldn't put more air in, so I resigned myself to have to change the tire at some point during the day.
After checking to make sure I had no fewer than three spare tubes in my pack, I headed north through Fullerton. I figured I had already done the coast and what I wanted to do now was head into San Bernardino County, which is quite a contrast to the motor-vehicle filled streets of Anaheim.
It was during this period I realized just how odd the temperature changes could be: just like I was surprised at the amount of fog by the coast, I was astonished that riding just a few miles inland seemed to make the temperature rise ten degrees. The Camelbak I brought got lighter and lighter each mile.
Luckily, in Chino Hills, I found a Circle K - the West Coast 7-11 - and drank a Frostee - the West Coast equivalent of a Slurpee.
Since I was a little tired from the day before, I only intended to go 30 or 40 miles tops, but even though the terrain was hillier, I kept going.
When the hill crested, I began to descend, but I stopped when I looked off to the horizon and realized what I'd be descending into. I have no idea what town or city this is, but I realized that riding down into it would mean riding up out of it - and I wasn't confident I'd have the strength for that.
So I turned back.
Forty miles would be good for a vacation ride; and it would still put me at over 100 for the two days, I thought.
However, I realized just how much climbing I had already done, because this descent was rapid and blissful. For some of the stretches the bike was simply rocketlike.
I felt as though I had a second wind as I headed down Carbon Canyon Road through President Nixon's hometown of Yorba Linda and arrived at Imperial Highway.
I knew this road from the Randy Newman song 'I Love LA' (played in 'The Naked Gun' montage when Leslie Nielsen's character was searching all the baseball players). For those of you who are familiar, this song has a very different tone from the rather mournful tune he sings about Cleveland, 'Burn On.' However, I would appeal to Mr. Newman to write a happier song about Cleveland another day. For now, I wanted to thank him, because if his lyrics were accurate, I knew that if I were to follow Imperial Highway, I'd make it to Los Angeles.
I did Orange County and several miles of San Bernardino County. Why not add Los Angeles County to this ride? Before I could respond: 'Because I'm tired and my legs are sunburned' I began mashing the pedals.
I passed where I would have turned left (Harbor Boulevard) to begin the journey back to the hotel and just headed down Imperial Highway, where I passed chain store after chain store after chain store.
After piling on a few more miles, I searched for signs that I was in Los Angeles County, and before long I really was tired enough to wonder if this was a silly and/or stupid exercise. But I had plenty of water, plenty of places around me to buy food, and I spoke the language. My journey off the map in the Dominican Republic this was not.
Not only that, but I had another bike shop which did not seem to be understaffed and wasn't closed due to surfing: The Cyclery.
Sweating profusely, I pushed the bike inside. Good, how are you? No thanks, I'm just looking. Am I in Los Angeles County? Great.
After explaining to the employee what I was doing, he suggested that I buy a store T-shirt to prove to others I had actually visited Los Angeles County.
My word is my word. But I bought a T-shirt anyway.
After thanking them and stuffing the shirt (black with green letters) into my pack, I began the journey back to Anaheim.
Close to the hotel, and running on caloric fumes, I caught this fellow with my camera. If I cared enough about my Twitter account, I'd post this and give it the hashtag: 'only in California'.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I looked at my Garmin: 54.24 miles, which meant I had ridden about 123 miles in two days in Southern California. It was more miles in less time than I had done in Barcelona, and I quickly realized why: not only did I not confine myself in one city, but the roads and flat landscape in Orange Country (and the excellent Santa Ana trail) meant I could ride for miles. And, for better or for worse, I didn't stop to take my camera out very frequently.
I also took out my phone and saw a text message: the mother and daughter were reunited with the latter's cell phone as they had picked it up from the hotel - and I was thanked for leaving it there.
And the tire with the broken valve didn't fail, so I changed it in the comfort of the hotel room before packing the Bike Friday away. We flew back home on a red-eye that arrived Friday morning. Over this past weekend we discovered that catching up on 'Breaking Bad' doesn't make up for the three hour time difference.
However, on this, the unofficial last day of summer, I am posting about a truly unforgettable California bike ride I was very lucky to take and would't hesitate to take again or recommend. I will hopefully have more news about Cycling With Candidates in the coming days, and I hope you spend the final days and hours of summer with your loved ones on a good ride. And if you want to learn about the second leg of this California trip, which involved seeing a lot of sights from the seats of a rental car, check out my wife's latest blog post.
Enjoy the rest of your summer. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding.