Bicycling From Malibu to Santa Cruz: What I Learned

Taking in the Big Sur coast, with the Bixby Creek Bridge in the background

370 miles cycling, 5,000 feet of elevation gain, 80 pounds of equipment, six days. It sounds daunting. But you know what? Turns out it’s totally doable.

This last week I set out to experience a small taste of what it will be like to cycle across Eurasia by completing a short bike tour up the California Coast. Setting off from Malibu on my brand new Trek 520, I was able to make it to Santa Cruz along California’s scenic highway 1 in just six rides…And without too many mishaps.

This was my first time ever attempting loaded bike touring. Let me tell you, it did take some getting used to. Managing a 30 pound steel bike with an additional 50 pounds of equipment loaded into the saddle bags was kind of like learning to ride all over again. The responsiveness of the turning and gearing was nowhere near as flexible as the light, carbon-framed road bikes I was used to. But after a few hours I began feeling more adept at commandeering my virtual tank of a ride. Below are a few insights I gained through my first bike tour.

On the Physical Challenge:

One of the initial things I discovered: Bike touring is exhausting. With so much weight, you can only average about 14 mph when accounting for hills and varying topography. It takes about 5 hours to complete a 70 mile ride, and I definitely was feeling the strain of the haul in my muscles at the end of each ride. By far, my toughest day was the third, when I was so sore that I began flirting with the idea of ending the trip. In fact, I ended up 20 miles short of my intended destination that day and had to find an alternative campground in the Morro Bay Area.

But at this time I also had a major realization: I had been so focused on completing my first three rides that I was forgetting to have fun while doing it. It occurred to me that the duration of the rides is half the beauty of bike touring: there’s really no rush. Since the bikes aren’t built for efficiency, but instead for endurance, bike touring is more about taking your time and enjoying the scenery rather than trying to race from point A to point B. This was perhaps the most important thing I gleaned from my trip. And either through my changed mentality, or by overcoming a physical benchmark on day three, I awoke on the fourth day and had no problem powering my bike up the coast for the rest of the trip.

On Nutrition:

Nutrition was another challenge. With some estimated calculations, I figured that I was burning about 3,000 calories in just one days’ riding. Indeed, I found myself eating ridiculous amounts of food just to keep my body sustained; a couple of times I was so hungry I downed three bagels and a third of a jar of peanut butter in a single sitting. And yet, I still found I’d lost weight at the end of the trip! It turns out the highly caloric and dense foods I brought like nuts, cheeses, and salami were to be my biggest assets because they didn’t leave me feeling bloated. These are all things that Morgan and I will need to be mindful of in the many miles ahead.

On Camping:

Morro Bay Campsite

I camped two nights along my route – in Morro Bay and Big Sur. Things went pretty well except for two aspects.

  1. On my first night camping along the coast I left all my clothes and miscellaneous equipment lazily strewn around the floor of my tent when I went to bed. I awoke the next morning to find everything drenched by the morning dew that entered through the tent’s permeable fabric. This sucked.
  2. I discovered it’s hard to get motivated to ride in the morning because it’s so freaking cold. Instant coffee became my best friend.

On German Bike Tourists:

In Big Sur I made friends in the form of Marcus and Gundola – two German bike tourists who had flown to Los Angeles all the way from Frankfurt just to ride the same stretch of California coast I was. In their late 20’s, they had toured all over the world, from the coasts of North Africa to the heart of Central Europe. We had fun commiserating over the almost laughable 40 mph headwinds we had encountered earlier that day (seriously, for about an hour I had to pedal just to go downhill), and it was cool to hear their stories and advice. For instance, apparently I had brought way too many clothes. Oh, and they were quite impressed that I had bought imported Ortlieb pannier bags from Germany. German engineering, they assured me, would serve me well in the next two years. Not like there was any bias!

Other Random Little Anecdotes and Observations:

  • On night two I couchsurfed in Santa Maria with the lovely Ferdolage Family. Before meeting them, I had not been aware that the son, Kyle, was a culinary arts graduate who would greet me after my tough day of riding with his homemade risotto and braised beef dinner. Amazing.
  • In Monterey I stayed with some acquaintances of my friend Amanda whom I didn’t know. Within minutes of arriving, they stuffed me into a car with a six pack of beer to see their bohemian coworkers from a pizza restaurant perform at the Alternative Café. Fun, and bizarre, night.
  • Aside from the high winds on day 4, the weather was absolutely beautiful. So admittedly I still don’t know what it’s like to ride in the rain…but it will happen.
  • Most important item I forgot: Bandana (for sweat absorption)
  • Most useless item I brought: Bananas (way too heavy for the amount of calories they provide. Plus, you can buy them anywhere when you need them rather than carry a bunch)


I essentially completed 1/30th of the “big trip” coming up in just six days time. So yes, it is possible. And yes, I’m absolutely stoked for it.

Bike Touring, , Permalink

3 Responses to Bicycling From Malibu to Santa Cruz: What I Learned

  1. Kyle says:

    Glad you made it safely man. Was great getting to know you. Have a great trip and keep up the great posts. Look forward to reading more.

  2. Sagar says:

    Great post man, looking forward to reading more. Glad you reached safely!

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