Since being back in LA, the place that initially inspired me to get into cycling, I’d been wanting to do the LA to San Diego bike ride. 135 miles was a little daunting to someone who had never even done a century so I looked around. I found that the Orange County Wheelmen, a cycling group embarks on their annual “Amtrak Century'” leaving from the Irvine Amtrak Station all the way to San Diego.
Up at 5am, I met Felix and Chi at the Irvine Metro station at 630. Unlike the map above, we cut directly from Irvine down to Laguna Beach through Laguna Canyon. It was a slight uphill starting out but about 10 miles of downgrade until the beach. The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) was two lanes and pretty mellow in terms of traffic. It had a few nasty hills that I wasn’t quite expecting, especially because I was riding my fixed-gear bike in single-speed mode.
Why bring a Fixie on a long ride like this? Well, it was pretty much my only option and having it as a single speed made it so I could at least rest my legs. Needless to say, I actually led the group on the first few sets of hills. It was once we warmed up on the flats that Felix and Chi started to leave me behind.
I was surprised by the amount of closed-lane bike paths available along the route AND our ability to follow them without getting lost. We picked one up just before Dana Point and pretty much stuck to bike paths or bike lanes the whole way down. The hills disappeared after San Clemente and we were left with a beautiful, easy ride down the Southern California Coast.
Well, until we hit US Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton, which people had warned us “you’ll have to ride on the freeway.” No such thing, we rode to the front entrance of Camp Pendleton, showed our IDs and they waved us through, letting us cycle on the main road through the base. There wasn’t as much activity around the base as I had seen in previous drives to San Diego (I’ve seen Huey Choppers and APCs in training exercises), but it was cool enough just riding through the base.
Upon exiting the base at Oceanside, we were treated to 20 more miles of straight, flat, beachfront riding. We saw “The Hill” at Torrey Pines looming up ahead: 1.45 miles at a 6% to 7% grade. We’d been warned of this before. Compared to a few of the hills I’ve done in Colombia, this wasn’t too bad, but I was on a single speed, 75 miles into a ride at the heat of the day was getting bad. I stopped after the first 200 feet and sucked down some water. I stayed behind Felix, standing up and sitting down every 10 seconds. Finally we made the top and rested, finishing all of our liquids.
On our way into San Diego, we were subjected to several more hills as a result of getting a little off course, but slowly but surely, we edged our way into the Gaslamp District of San Diego at 5pm. Our total riding time was about 9 hours, though our time on the bikes was considerably less. After a few beers and some college football we grabbed some very authentic Mexican food and hopped on the Pacific Surfliner ($23 one way) towards Irvine.
Our bikes fit perfectly in the racks below and to make things even better, they had Arrogant Bastard Ale (San Diego’s finest beer) in the galley. We reached Irvine at 10pm, full, happy, tired AND beaming about our first Century. My advice to anyone wishing to do this ride is to leave early enough and bring more liquids than you think you need. Maybe I’ll be able to get a group together to do it next year!