Whilst this page is written for self-supported bikepacking and long-distance cycling in general, the advice and information may be useful for randonneurs.
Have you ever been bothered by the plastic hex nuts that Ortlieb uses inside their bags? Quite possibly your answer will be “no” and you haven’t ever thought about them. However, some people are bothered by them, as they stick out into the inside of the bag and can get snagged on things—and also look a little cheap.
When, after many years of heavy use, I lost one of the nubs, I remembered that I had once seen an alternative on a German bike touring forum. Unfortunately, several different local hardware stores didn’t have the required parts. But hey, McMaster-Carr to the rescue!
Here’s the before:
Much nicer, isn’t it?
These are the required parts, from left to right:
I picked up Heather at LAX after only two circuits of the lengthy pick-up zone.
We headed out of town to try and get away from the busy-ness of LA.
The traffic was the usual stop-start six lane freeways and I managed to rear-end the car in front when it stopped more quickly than I could brake.
Luckily the damage was limited to a bent number plate on our car and a very small scratch on the one I hit.
That was my first prang since I was a teenager.
I am glad it was not worse.
I was getting very tired by now so we stopped for the night at the Hilton Double Tree at San Bernadino.
Sunday 28th February
Woke up feeling as though we had not eaten last night. The “food” here is not what we are used to.
Went looking for a healthy food shop but the one we found was closed.
Someone suggested Clarkes Nutrition in Loma Linda which turned out to be better than expected.
A good range of products at sensible prices. Some things we cannot get in Brisbane or NZ.
They are a local operation with only four shops.
Then we headed North to Big Bear Lake for lunch.
There was snow on the ground around the lake and a few ski parks where people were skiing on the sparsely covered slopes near the road.
Over the hills we drove through Yucca Valley to get to Joshua Tree, after the distinctive “trees” here.
They were named by a group of settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.
They are actually Yucca brevifolia, for the botanists among you.
This is in the high desert country of California and I thought that at last we might find a more secluded spot away from the crowds.
Not so. There are scattered communities throughout the desert with many derelict houses. We were wondering what people survive on here and one of the locals said that after WWII the government offered free title to land if people built a small house and stayed for a few years, “improving” the land.
With only two or three inches of rain per year it would be a hard life.
Joshua Tree’s main street is a four lane highway with the speed limit reduced to “only” 45mph. The traffic never stops.
This is looking across the main street along one of the few paved streets.
Most of the side streets look like this:
There are lots of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings, but a surprisingly vibrant local community with specialty shops catering to discerning locals and tourists.
The local health food shop has stuff not even available in the LA shops we have been to. The cafe even makes a decent chai, unsweetened at that!
The Joshua Tree Inn’s main claim to fame is that it is the place where Gram Parsons (International Submarine Band, The Byrds, and The Flying Burrito Brothers”) OD’d on morphine and alcohol in 1973 at the age of 26.
We stayed in the Donovan suite, so named as his favourite place when he is in town, though I am not sure he stayed more than once.
There have been workman tromping along the roof over our room for two days with a concrete mixer going outside the window while Heather is trying to finish off her presentation for her webinars on the weekend.
Even with that distraction, it was a peaceful place to rest for a few days.
We met a vegan cyclist who had ridden on 100km of bike paths around LA and arrived at Joshua Tree via Salton Sea where he was horrified by the hundreds of dead fish on its shore.
On our last day we drove through the National Park
to its high point which looked across the San Andreas fault to Palm Springs, established as a getaway resort for the Hollywood stars.
We then drove through the park to see Palm Springs but it was just another urban sprawl on the far side of the valley.
Salton Sea was nearby so that was our next stop, just long enough to read the signs. What a depressing place.
Fifteen-lane boat ramps! Not where I would want to take a holiday.
While we were staying at the Joshua Tree Inn the wisteria blossomed remarkably quickly over the last day or two.
My wife, Heather, was going to Belize for two weeks of advanced training in Maya spiritual healing and I had the chance to accompany her and explore the place on my bike.
However my daughter had recently moved from Chicago to Palo Alto in the San Fransisco Bay area so I decided to visit her for a few says and then ride the Pacific Coast Highway to La where I would meet Heather after her Belize adventure.
My preparation for this trip could have been more thorough. Not only had I not done a test ride to see how much I was going to be able to comfortably carry, I was taking a new bike that had not even been completely finished, let alone painted. Added to that, I had a wisdom tooth extracted three days before leaving.
For some time I have been wanting to build a fast, comfortable recumbent that I can fit in an airline-friendly suitcase. I do have an Airnimal Chameleon that does exactly that but my backside can no longer tolerate riding and upright bike for more than about twenty kilometres.
I tried fitting a Cruzbike kit to the Airnimal a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised at how well it handled. However the kit is ugly and heavy.
I thought about having a custom fork made up but so far have not done that. Turning the Airnimal into a recumbent meant that it no longer fitted into its suitcase so that reduced its appeal.
Recently I saw someone had bought an airline standard case from S&S and managed to fit his Cruzbike Silvio in it for travelling to France.
I have a Silvio but after riding it for a year decided I wanted something lighter and with proper suspension. Maybe I could design my ideal bike and build it using carbon fibre?
Late last year I met local framebuilder in Greymouth who has a couple of recumbents in his shed that he has not ridden for a while. For the last four years he has been perfecting his skills building beautiful chromoly upright bikes.
After chatting about bikes in general and recumbents and tandems in particular, he agreed to build a design I had been working on. It would be steel, but that would let me know if it worked as well as I hoped and a carbon version could follow later.
By mid-January I was able to test-ride my new design. It worked! Not only was it comfortable, but I was able to ride up the 16% hill to my house easily, something I had not been able to do on the Silvio, which lost traction too easily. I think a longer wheelbase made the difference.
The bike still needs rear mudguard mounts and has not been painted but I decided to keep an oily rag handy to keep rust at bay until this trip is over.
It does fit into a 26″ x 26″ box (smaller than this photo) which is easy to move around using Qbicle straps with attached casters.
I flew to Brisbane with two bikes and my gear for the trip on 9th Feb for a couple of days before heading to LA.
Friday 12th Feb
We left Brisbane at 11:30 am and landed at LAX five hours earlier at 06:30 after a thirteen-hour flight. That gave us a day to explore the place before flying off to our separate destinations: Heather to Belize and me to San Fransisco.
We hired a car with the intention of dropping off some of our luggage at the Lotus Institute where Heather is to record her webinars after returning from Belize.
The first surprise was the weather. Having come from a New Zealand summer to winter in LA, I did not expect to be shedding clothes and looking for shady spots to escape the heat. Then again, we had not seen a lot of summer weather up till I left.
I have a nephew who is an aspiring actor living the dream in Hollywood and we arranged to meet for lunch at a cafe somewhere between the airport and his place.
We did eventually manage to meet after several txt messages and changes of destination due to our lack of familiarity with the area and our slow progress because of the traffic volume.
Getting from one place to another takes a long time in LA.
After lunch we headed for City of Industry (another suburb) to drop off my bike box and gear not needed for my trip.
LA is known for its freeways and they are in evidence everywhere we looked. In the morning traffic was moving freely enough but after lunch it was a different story: every road seemed to be clogged with traffic.
We eventually realised we were never going to get there by 6pm when they all went home for the weekend so I decided I would have to take all my gear with me and get a trailer to carry the excess luggage.
My plan for touring had involved carrying all I needed on my bike, however we were to be away for a month so I had brought more than I needed for a brief cycle tour.
Just before leaving I found the large M5 panniers I had intended to take did not fit on my bike so I had brought my smaller Radical Design banana bags instead. These fitted much better but were not large enough to hold all my gear so I decided a trailer was the answer
I should have learnt from one of my recent Warmshowers guests. She had bought a bike and trailer and set off on a tour of the South Island without trying it out. After getting as far as Greymouth she was fed up with walking up hills so I agreed to store her trailer full of gear while she explored the rest of the mainland. She is here for a year and it is still in my shed.
I had thought of building one to take with me but ran out of time. A friend had offered me his trailer but I left it too late to get it.
A quick look on Craig’s List showed a number of trailers available, including a couple built for cargo rather than children.
Saturday 13th February
I flew to SF at 10:30am where my daughter, Beckie, picked me up and took me to Palo Alto. She and her husband had just moved there after being in Chicago for the last few years. They had taken the opportunity to experience a leisurely Route 66 road trip all the way from Chicago to California.
Stayed with Beckie & Jeremy in their apartment near Stanford Uni.
It is a very quiet neighbourhood with lots of bikes and very few cars being driven around. Most of them seem to be parked all day.
It is a very cycling-friendly place with residents from all sorts of unlikely places. A neighbour I met on the stairs was from NZ.
Sunday 14th February
Rode around Palo Alto wetlands
Dinner in downtown Palo Alto
Monday 15th February
Jeremy drove us to San Jose where I bought a very useful-looking cargo trailer which folds flat for storage from the Good Karma Bikeshop. They donate a reconditioned bike to someone in need for every one they sell.
I don’t know if they had another trailer to give away – I only saw one in the shop.
We then drove to the coast through the hills of La Honda, stopping for a walk through the Redwoods, then on to Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Coast Highway for lunch.
Lots of tourists there queuing for lunch at our intended restaurant – recommended on Yelp and obviously very popular.
This reassuring sign was displayed in every Starbucks I saw:
I assembled my bike and sorted my gear for the trip in the morning.
Tuesday 16th February
Beckie and I rode around Stanford campus and poked our heads in Jeremy’s office window.
He is waiting for an upstairs office to become available where he won’t have the tourists looking to see what a real live professor looks like.
Looks like some serious landscaping is planned.
Went to the Palo Alto Hardware shop in the afternoon and bought a tarp to use as a groundsheet and cover my trailer.
Wednesday 17th February
Breakfast at Coupa Cafe in Ramona St, Palo Alto with Kathleen, one of the many people who responded to my request for feedback on my route planning on the Bentrider forums.
Then Beckie and I took a mid-morning train to San Fransisco then explored bike paths around the waterfront.
The bike carriage had racks and bungy cords to secure bikes. Tags identify destination so they are stacked together when busy.
Even in winter there are lots of tourists in this area and the bike paths were crowded, mostly with pedestrians and the occasional cyclist.
We then rode around some nearby suburbs and near Spreckels Lake, along John F. Kennedy Drive, came across a grazing herd of American bison looking very large and peaceful. They are cared for by the San Francisco zoo in grounds maintained by the local Recreation and Parks Department gardeners and have been kept there since the late 19th century.
Then it was back to the waterfront and across the Golden Gate bridge to catch a ferry at Sausalito back to San Fransisco, sailing close to Alcatraz on the way.
I would like to have been able to explore the rest of the Bay area and visit people like Zach Kaplan but the distances are huge. Alcatraz
I decided to take a Surface 3 tablet on this trip to save weight. The tablet was getting slower and slower so I took it into the Palo Alto Microsoft store (laid out just like an Apple Store) and waited two hours while their technician deleted unnecessary files and optimised the system. It seemed to be back to its usual self after that.
The helpful technician told me not to bother installing separate anti-virus software as the included Defender program was perfectly adequate.
When I got back to the apartment I installed a Garmin app to transfer files to my gps.
That was a mistake!
I managed to inadvertently install dozens of malware apps in the process which completely disabled the tablet.
Apparently Defender is not able to recognise malware, only viruses. After ten years of using Macs without any virus or malware issues, I was too complacent.
Thursday 18th February
Back to the MS store this morning (when I was planning to set off for LA) to find it would take all day to sort out the problems.
I rang at 6:30pm to see if it was ready and was told a technician would ring back within 15 minutes. They were open till 9pm but no-one rang back that day.
The forecast rain appeared that night and it was quite a wet night.
I had been warned that I would get wet on this trip as winter is when most of the rain happens, not that they have had much here lately with a severe El Nino weather pattern happening.
Friday 19th February
Still a few showers this morning but it seemed to be clearing.
The MS store did not open until 10am so I set off to find a hardware store in Menlo Park.
The route I had mapped out online was straightforward but I stayed on the sealed path to avoid the nearby muddy track and missed the footbridge and the direct route to the Menlo Park hardware store on Santa Cruz Ave, resulting in an unplanned tour of the suburb.
California’s history as part of Mexico is very evident, with Spanish being widely spoken and in this area every house I passed seemed to have a stocky Latino wielding a leaf blower.
Back at the MS store at 11am my tablet was ready but reset to its factory settings so I spent a couple more hours loading apps, making sure I avoided malware.
Finally, I was ready to go at 2:30 so my plan of getting to Santa Cruz on the coast was falling apart already.
It was mostly suburban streets and busy roads with the occasional bike path to Los Gatos and by then it was getting late so I decided to find somewhere to camp there.
GPS directions to the nearest campground took me to locked gates on a private road.
Next I was directed to the Los Gatos Adult Recreation Center but I was not sure I had the energy for that.
There was nothing else nearby so I looked for a cheap motel without success and ended up in the rather up-market Los Gatos Hotel. At least they let me wheel bike and trailer into the room.
Saturday 20th Feb
The Los Gatos Creek Trail took me off-road beside a pipeline alongside the freeway which was a mixed blessing. The surface was smooth gravel and good riding at first.
Then it got steeper and muddier for a while before a steep climb to the local dam wall. Water levels were low and the signs of drought were obvious.
After a stint on the main road I was able to take the Old Santa Cruz Highway which was pleasantly free of heavy traffic until I reached the top of the climb.
My route took me onto Summit road which was extremely busy and relatively narrow so I continued across on Old Santa Cruz Hwy.
This was almost completely deserted but for a garbage truck. The surface was very old concrete with large cracks and lumps where tree roots have intruded but the surroundings were very peaceful.
I was enjoying the tranquility of this section when suddenly I found myself funnelled onto the new four-lane major highway with nowhere else to go. There was a small shoulder and it was downhill so I gritted my teeth and rode on.
After few km I came to a dip followed by a sharp climb with absolutely no shoulder and 65mph traffic whizzing past. This was not what I wanted!
As I stopped to contemplate my options a road worker came up to me and suggested taking the side road marked Glenwood Cutoff and onto a much quieter route to the coast.
My previous impression of Americans had been formed on a trip to New York in 2003 where it seemed like a TV set: baseball caps worn backwards, shirts hanging out, stars and stripes flags everywhere and warnings not to take valuables of any sort into Central Park because of the threat of mugging. The hostel even recommended taking a disposable camera!
Everyone I met in California on this trip was very courteous and helpful and I felt much more at ease.
The road goes right beside the sea and there is a shared bike path at the water’s edge. Very pretty but I had to keep and eye on the many surfers carrying their boards to the next beach, turning every few steps to watch the waves.
Here I was surprised by the general friendliness and particularly the courtesy shown by almost all drivers towards cyclists.
The road down Scotts Valley to the coast at Santa Cruz was very easy and generally free of traffic.
It was time to look for a place to sleep and another search for campgrounds took me to Camp St Francis. This turned out to be a church campsite for community groups, not for travellers, and the only people I met were part of a group that had booked the site for the weekend.
The grounds looked inviting but I did not want to intrude on the all-female school group who were occupying the place.
I carried on and found a quiet spot for wild camping on private land off the San Andreas Road south of Aptos, hoping I was not too close to the fault line.
Sunday 21st February
I was up early in case the locals objected to my camping on their land.
From there to the coast at Santa Cruz I went through intensive farmlands worked by large groups of workers attended by multiple portaloos on trailers.I am sure they were not all organic farms.
More strawberries, and artichokes:
Moss Landing is renowned for its Sea otters, seen here resting on the marina walkways.
Monterey Bay is picturesque – very crowded with tourists, even in mid winter. So crowded I did not have time for photos.
The seaside bike paths would be unrideable with the summer crowds.
Big climb out of Monterey Bay and down to Carmel-by-the-sea.
That night I stayed at the Carmel Inn and again was able to wheel my bike into the room.
The included breakfast on offer was the usual sugar-fest of cardboard cereals, toast and preserved juices, and, of course, stewed coffee so I looked for a cafe en route.
Big Sur – big hills, great scenery, heavy traffic and minimal shoulders.
Plenty of campgrounds along the Big Sur River but it was the middle of the day and too early to stop.
Los Padres National Forest seemed to have no trees to speak of.
I was tempted to hide in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (day use only) till sundown and camp but there were not many spots to hide.
I was on the lookout for a secluded tent site out of view from the road and local inhabitants but the local authorities seem to have gone out of their way to block off any likely campsites.
Eventually I noticed a gap in the roadside berm with a fence behind it. The land dropped steeply to the sea so there was no chance of being seen from either the road or the locals.
There was lots of activity in the parklands below me with children playing musical instruments and noisy games. As I climbed into bed they too settled down and I had a good night’s sleep.
When I left next morning I found I had been looking down on the Esalen Institute
Note the lack of shoulder – typical of most of the coast road.
Where there was a decent shoulder it did not last long.
Monday 22nd February
The traffic much lighter this morning, must have been all the weekenders on the road yesterday.
Lunch at the Whale Watcher Cafe at Gorda and even saw a whale.
The elephant seal colony just North of San Simeon was huge!
Ground squirrels were abundant.
Tuesday 23rd Feb
San Simeon – Arroyo Grande
After dragging a heavily loaded trailer all this way my progress was slower than planned and I was not sure I would be able to get to LA in time to meet Heather.
A quick search online located a UPS shop further along the coast at Morro Bay.
My box of excess gear weighed 32 lbs on the UPS scales and the trailer must have been another 15 lbs. Without them, riding was much easier. Little did I realise that the big hills were mostly behind me by then.
The local Bike Shop was happy to buy my trailer so I was looking forward to an easier ride from here on.
Morro Bay Coffee shop served a very welcome burrito and a very generously sized berry smoothie, a very friendly place.
For the rest of the day the road took me inland, past the California Mens Colony (hospital or prison?) through San Luis Obispo to Arroyo Grande.
This bit felt like Australia – gum trees everywhere
Wednesday 24th February
Arroyo Grande – Galeta (Santa Barbara)
The Pacific Coast Highway took me through Guadalupe past the Vandenburg Air Force base and Lompoc and ended with a two mile 7% descent to its junction with Highway 101 – the main freeway to LA.
After Lompoc there were a few state parks but nowhere useful for the camping I was looking for.
For the next 40 odd km, mostly in the dark, I was riding on the relatively wide shoulder of Highway 101 to the outskirts of Santa Barbara.
I had to share the shoulder with a one-foot wide rumble strip which reduced its effective width but did keep most of the traffic (mostly large trucks) out of my way, except for one which drove along the rumble strip as it passed.
I was grateful to reach suburban Galeta and find a quiet Motel 6 for the night.
Citrix HQ is huge.
Thursday 25th February
Galeta – Thousand Oaks
After getting through Santa Barbara it was good to get out of town again.
The road goes right beside the sea and there is a shared bike path at the water’s edge. Very pretty but I had to keep and eye on the many surfers carrying their boards to the next beach, turning every few steps to watch the waves.
Then there was the Rincon Parkway campground:
Huge motorhomes, most with slide-out sides to enlarge the interior, parked along the waterfront and people set up tables and chairs to sit and drink in the view. There seemed to be miles of them!
with the highway right behind:
Not my idea of a peaceful holiday spot!
California has many ancient looking oil wells.
After Ventura the road went inland again towards Thousand Oaks.
Ridewithgps route took me up Santa Rosa Hwy to High Canyon Road which was a blissfully quiet narrow road up into the hills which unfortunately ended at the locked gates of the Thousand Oaks Waste Water Treatment Plant.
It was a nice ride back down to the highway again where the traffic had eased off a little but was still very busy all the way to Thousand Oaks.
I had arranged a Warmshowers bed with Paul Schwartz and expected to arrive by 6pm but that was not to be.
With the backtracking and significant hills (including one signposted “Historical Norwegian Grade” built from 1900-1911 by Norwegian immigrants as a path to get supplies to the farming areas of Oxnard. There is apparently a Viking Village nearby with an annual Scandinavian festival.
Without a decent shoulder to ride on it was almost 8pm by the time I arrived.
Paul’s wife had thoughtfully prepared a meal for me which was very welcome.
Friday 26th February
Thousand Oaks – LA
RidewithGPS says only 70km to LA from here, most of it downhill!
I looked forward to an easy day and picking up a hire car to collect my box and find the place we will be staying at when we return from Joshua Tree.
Malibu beach houses, built right in the sand with waves lapping at the piles driven into the beach!
Volleyball courts by the dozen
Concrete bike paths set into the beach with separate pedestrian paths though they don’t seem to realise which is which.
More Volleyball courts.
Lots of people trying to attract attention and money from the passers-by with amateurish dance routines and other antics.
From here on there were off-road bike paths all the way which was a relief.
I rode to the rental car place near LAX and managed to pick up a rental car.
I upgraded to a BMW X5 because of the luggage we would be carrying for the rest of the trip. My bike was unboxed as I was hoping to use it along the way.
The X5 was not as roomy as I had expected but was big enough to squeeze in all our luggage. An ordinary staion wagon might have been a more useful option.
A drive to the Lotus Institute at City of Industry took an hour and three quarters from the airport in stop-start traffic with bursts of up to 80mph. I can’t imagine wanting to live in this place!
The truck wheels rolling from one side of the road to the other and back slowed the traffic somewhat but I only saw one car hit them.
From Saturday night we are booked into the local Marriott hotel about a mile from where Heather will be working.
That night I stayed at La Puente Motel, the cheapest one I could find nearby.
Saturday 27th February
This morning I drove to BentUp Cycles in North Hollywood (home of Carbent recumbents) and was welcomed by Kate and given a cup of tea. Unfortunately it was Dana’s day off so I missed meeting him.
After exploring the bikes and trikes on hand and having a brief ride I met my nephew Iain at the Echo Park lake before heading back to the airport to meet Heather at 3pm.
Another two hours in the car!
I did map out a route online to ride from Hacienda Heights where we stayed later to BentUp Cycles. It was 60 km so I thought it should make a decent day out.
The first 5 km were on quiet suburban streets that were a joy to ride on. Then cam a long straight stretch of busy six lane divided road – not a highway – just one of the “streets” of LA.
There was no bike lane and the traffic was mostly large trucks and busses interspersed with cars. After thinking back to the way traffic builds up in the afternoon I pulled the pin and gave up on the idea of returning to North Hollywood.
Heather has been invited back to record more webinars next year so maybe I will catch up with Dan then.
Next: a car trip to Joshua Tree before returning to LA