Month: January 2022

San Diego, to LA, to Tucson!

1/14/22

It’s late Friday afternoon, and I’m on the Pacific Surfliner train to LA as I type. We’re about to stop in Oceanside, a bit north of San Diego. The Pacific is to my left, and the sun is shining. I thought I’d write the blog post now, since tonight when I would normally do it, I’ll be on the Texas Eagle train, bound for Tucson, and there won’t be WiFi.

My last half-day in San Diego was lovely. I said goodbye to my wonderful host and her adorable doggie, as well as the French family of four—with their two heavily loaded tandem bikes—who have been camping in her backyard during my stay. Their tour is quite ambitious: a number of European countries, then Cancun, Mexico, now San Diego, and then up to San Francisco, and eventually all the way to New York! They are figuring out the itinerary as they go, taking into account temperatures, headwinds, elevations, and the end of their visa in 90 days.

I left the house and headed into Ocean Beach one more time, stopping for a burger at Plant Power. Then I pedaled to the train station, which took about an hour. The ride was lovely, mostly along the waterfront. I passed a unique park I’d never noticed before: Cancer Survivors Park, which contained several structures and sculptures. From what I could gather, it was conceived and funded by one couple, presumably at least one of whom was a cancer survivor. I liked the concept.

Shortly before I arrived at the Santa Fe train depot, I also passed the Maritime Museum. I’m not much of a “museum person,” but multiple people have recommended this one to me. Perhaps on a future visit. It did appear that the $20 entry fee might include tours of some cool-looking historic ships.

I’ve got a four-hour layover in LA, and I’m taking advantage of that by meeting up with another friend-I-haven’t-met-yet (another Brompton friend of Mimi’s) for dinner at a vegan restaurant near the station.

Then I’ll board the Texas Eagle, and probably go right to bed shortly after we depart at 10 pm. I’ll wake up just in time to disembark in Tucson at 8:28.

Once again, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in San Diego. Mark my words: I will live in that place someday.

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A fond farewell to the Pacific in Point Loma

1/13/22

Today was a beautiful day. Weatherwise, it was mostly cloudy; I wouldn’t have minded a bit more sun. But highs were in the high 60s, and the scenery was wonderful.

After a leisurely morning here with my host in Point Loma, I took off into “town” (Ocean Beach) to get a delicious vegan “chicken” burger at Plant Power Fast Food, one of my favorite vegan fast-food chains.

After that meal, I stopped in at the co-op again to pick up a few more treats. I love the old-time feel of that place.

Then I headed out to my main destination for the day: Cabrillo National Monument, at the southern tip of the Point Loma peninsula.

Nearly every time I have visited San Diego in these past ten years, I have made a point to visit the Ocean Beach area. However, it’s a pretty big area, and not close to downtown. In the past, I’ve never had a bike with me, either. So I’ve always had to dedicate a whole day to get out and back by bus, and then I’ve been on foot once I arrived. (Hence why I had never made it out to Sunset Cliffs until last night.)

I always kind of wondered what was south of Peace Pies on the peninsula, but I never knew. Today I found out: it’s actually a national park! (I was happy to have my parks pass, which granted me free entry, and which brought my tally of national parks visited—both on this trip and in lifetime total—to four.)

On the way in, I passed many acres of a military cemetery, which was sobering and visually striking.

Once I got to the park, the views were gorgeous: ocean all around. The geographic area of the park was small, but the views were wonderful.

While I was up at the lookout area, I ran into two bicyclists who looked like they might be touring, so I introduced myself. Nate and Jace (hi guys, if you’re reading) were out for a day excursion on their bikes. Jace was visiting San Diego, and in fact is flying to Portland tomorrow! He does a lot of seasonal work in various places. Nate was local, and surprised me by asking if I had been staying in North Park, in a green house. Turns out he had seen me with my Brompton rig out on the sidewalk in front of my Warmshowers hosts’ house the other day! What are the odds? I love the small world that happens on a bike tour, especially with a Brompton. (In fact, an hour or two later I passed a couple on Bromptons, back in Ocean Beach. We were all in motion on the street, so there was no time to stop and chat, but we waved.)

Back in Ocean Beach, I did stop at the not only all-vegan, but all-raw, dessert standby Peace Pies. I got chocolate-mint and chocolate-almond treats, and then headed back to the homestead, lingering along the way to catch the sunset at the beach once more.

I’ll miss this place.

But, I’m excited for the next segment of my trip: east to Tucson! I’ll be taking a train tomorrow to LA, then transferring to the overnight train to Tucson. I probably won’t have internet access on the train, so the next blog post might come the following day. But I’m looking forward to my last few hours in San Diego tomorrow morning, and then the rail journey forward (including a dinner meetup in LA with yet another Brompton friend of Mimi’s!)

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North Park to Ocean Beach

1/12/22

What a beautiful day!

I started out slow, relaxing in the morning, then venturing out for brunch. One of my longtime favorite restaurants in San Diego is Ranchos Cocina, very close to my Warmshowers hosts in North Park. I visited this place on my first-ever trip to San Diego nearly ten years ago. I’m pretty sure I ordered the same dish then (veggie scramble with tofu) and sat on the same patio, and was served by the same waiter. In a topsy-turvy world, I bask in such consistent institutions, especially a family-owned, vegan-friendly Mexican restaurant with delicious food.

After brunch, I pedaled over to Balboa Park once more—the northeastern corner this time—to appreciate the special place that it is.

Then it was time to hit the road. I packed up my things and headed out for about a two-hour ride to Ocean Beach.

The first part of the ride was not very pleasant. (Luckily that 15% grade was downhill! Even so, with a trailer it can be a bit scary to descend like that, especially on a busy road with two left-turn lanes at the bottom of the hill that I needed to get over into from the bike lane on the far right.)

Then a bit later, I had to cross a busy freeway overpass with not much bicycle infrastructure. I snapped this chain-link pic to give the feel of that segment of the ride.

Fortunately, soon after that I arrived on the car-free bike path that took me almost all the rest of the way. But I did make a strategic stop in the charming area of Old Town, so that I could enjoy some chocolatey goodness at another of my San Diego favorites, Nibble Chocolate shop.

Thus fortified, I continued on my way. I arrived in Ocean Beach just as the daylight was fading, which was the perfect time to catch gorgeous views at Sunset Cliffs. I had heard about these cliffs for the past ten years, but somehow never seemed to make it there. But my friend-of-a-friend host (thanks again, Mimi and Nicole!) lives right near this spectacular area.

And, it turns out she’s also a Warmshowers host, and she even has other guests tonight! It’s a family of four from France, who have been bicycling all around Europe and Mexico, just arriving in the US a couple of days ago, with their two recumbent tandem bikes. They are camping in the backyard in their tent, while I have an indoor room.

I’m looking forward to my last full day in San Diego tomorrow. I have two tentative coffee meetups with people I’ve met locally. And I plan to visit Plant Power, a local vegan burger chain, and probably also Peace Pies, an all raw dessert place. I’ve enjoyed both in the past. I already visited People’s Co-op this evening for dinner; it is San Diego’s only co-op, which is unfortunate for the rest of the city since it’s not at all centrally located, but lucky for the folks in this neighborhood. I got my dinner from their deli tonight.

I’m happy to be here, and looking forward to tomorrow!

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More friend time, more restaurants, more park time

1/11/22

Today was pleasant and mostly low-key. I had a very leisurely morning, taking care of a few chores such as cleaning and lubing my bike chain (which was way overdue; eek!)

Then I cycled over to Hazel & Jade bakery in Hillcrest, one of two wonderful all-vegan bakeries along a brand-new (since I was last here, in October!) bike lane. The two bakeries are just about three blocks apart, although sadly I discovered that Starry Lane was closed today. But I got a decadent chocolate-peanut butter brownie at Hazel & Jade. (No pic—I ate it too soon!)

Michele came down with her doggie Dawa from Escondido to meet me there, and we drove out to check out a little vegan hotspot on the northeast outskirts of town: Grossmont Center, which is a shopping area with a very vegan-friendly food court. We got some good Chinese food at Tasty Inn Express. (Again, no pic—oops!)

Then we stopped at the vegan grocery store nearby, Mission Square Market. I always enjoy visiting there when I’m in town.

And then Michele dropped me off, just before sunset, in Balboa Park again. I watched the sky dim, with the purple mountains in the distance, from the rose garden. Then I biked back to my Warmshowers hosts’ house in North Park. We had some good conversation over a meal of homemade garbanzo bean curry. Before dinner, I had spent about an hour just sitting out on the porch; I love that it is now warm enough here to do that! I’m really looking forward to spending longer chunks of winter time in San Diego in future years.

Tomorrow, I hope to soak up a bit more time in the park, and then I’ll head west for two nights, to say a fond farewell to the Pacific Ocean in the fun little hippie enclave of Ocean Beach.

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Balboa Park cactus garden and surrounds

1/10/22

Today I got to see a few friends, which was wonderful. But mostly, I spent the day in Balboa Park, which to me has always been the heart of San Diego. My favorite part is the cactus garden, as you may recall. I always have to visit every time I come to town, and center myself amid the particular beauty that is that place.

Then I always walk the Prado, and admire the fountains and architecture.

Meanwhile, on the way to and from the park, I got to enjoy the neighborhood signs that are such a classic part of this city.

I really do love San Diego. I’m continuing to set an intention that I will live here for part of future winters, for somewhere between one and five months.

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Riding, relaxing, and restaurant-ing in San Diego

1/9/22

Today was a luxuriously slow day (I didn’t even get out of bed until noon) which felt wonderful after the past two active riding days.

The weather was beautiful. My first destination was a vegan Vietnamese spot for lunch, Thanh Tinh Chay, in the City Heights neighborhood southeast of my friend’s place. The only time I’ve been to City Heights before, actually, was about ten years ago, on my initial “recon trip” to San Diego. I had been researching cities that I might want to move to for the months of December through March, and San Diego looked like my best bet. So, never having seen it in person, I hopped on a plane—in late April, as I recall—and spent three or four days here checking it out “on the ground.” (No bike, of course; I got around by bus.) At that time, I stayed in the cheapest Airbnb I could find in the whole city, which turned out to be a tiny but very cool spot in City Heights. It was a small vintage travel trailer parked in the recently remodeled backyard of a woman who owned a small two-bedroom house. The remodel added two bedrooms’ worth of outbuildings—not including the Airbnb trailer, which contained a king-size bed but little room for anything else—as well as an outdoor bathroom complete with shower, and a complete outdoor kitchen! She had a contractor friend who had done all of the work. She herself lived in one of the outbuilding bedrooms, and I think her boyfriend lived in the other. She rented out the two bedrooms in the main house on a long-term basis, and the trailer for Airbnb.

It’s funny, too, because the only other time I’ve seen an outdoor kitchen was yesterday, at the house of my Mira Mesa Warmshowers hosts! They had had a flood a few years ago that nearly destroyed their house. (Hmmm, I wonder what that’s like?) They chose to live in their RV in their front yard rather than move into temporary housing for several months (like I did, first in a hotel and then in an apartment) and they used the insurance company’s “housing allowance” to build an outdoor kitchen instead.

Anyway!

The restaurant meal of crispy eggplant was great. I ate it at a park nearby. The woman at the restaurant was extra nice and friendly, and even gave me two free desserts: some sort of sweet bean pudding, and a vegan flan!

After relaxing in the sunny park for a bit, I decided I wanted to check out a vegan cookie place I had been hearing about in vegan circles since they opened a couple of years ago. Maya’s Cookies is a Black-owned, woman-owned business, both of which I always enjoy supporting. Plus, I had heard the cookies were amazing.

They were indeed, and I even got to meet Maya herself! I enjoyed a classic chocolate chip on-site, and later, a s’mores chocolate chip.

Unfortunately, the ride over there from the park showed me some of the bike-infrastructure gaps in this city. It was a bit harrowing at times, with green bike lanes (kudos to the city for that) sometimes “pausing” for freeway on- and off-ramps. The photo shows just one of probably at least three of these situations I encountered on that one segment of the ride today. (I also encountered three similar situations in Mira Mesa the other day, traveling from the Loving Hut restaurant to my hosts’ place.)

But I made it, even crossing the 8 freeway on a dedicated bike-and-ped bridge.

When I was looking up directions to Maya’s, I noticed on the map that there was a basilica nearby. Despite all my trips to San Diego over the years, I had never been in these areas in the NE section of town. I rode over to check it out, arriving right before they closed so I couldn’t see inside, but the outside looked pretty cool; again I admired the Spanish architecture and multiple-bell towers.

Then I headed back to my home base. What should I discover along the way but the actual bike path along Interstate 15 that I should have taken yesterday. I had misunderstood Google’s directions; they didn’t mean to route me onto the shoulder of the freeway itself, but to the off-road path on the east side of the freeway.

This was much better!

When I reached the end of the path, the light was starting to dim, but I decided to stop for a rest on a bench in a lovely neighborhood park before heading back inside.

Tomorrow I’m meeting a friend for a tour of trees!

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The scenic route: Mira Mesa to Normal Heights

1/8/22

I am tired right now! It was a beautiful but challenging day, with close to 30 miles and about 1200 feet of elevation to climb. I did indeed follow the route my Warmshowers hosts recommended last night—including UCSD, La Jolla, and Mission and Pacific beaches, before turning inland to get to my friend’s place in Normal Heights—and it took me about seven hours! I left at 10:30, and arrived as dusk fell, about 5:15. I continually marvel at how snail-like my pace is out there on the road, but I have to remind myself it’s not a race.

I’ll mostly let the pictures tell the story.

I did get lost for what felt like about an hour, but was probably less, on the beautiful campus of UCSD, in La Jolla. I was near tears of rage and helplessness as I kept going around in circles, always in the wrong direction, in this one particular spot. (I was using my newly downloaded/highly recommended app, Ride With GPS, and my hosts’ personally curated route was superimposed upon it, but the GPS didn’t seem to be tracking me exactly right, and meanwhile the pathway system was like an octopus in that forest. Good grief! But at least it was a pretty setting to be frazzled and losing my mind.)

Very shortly after I made my way out of that vortex, I found myself in front of some incredible views of the ocean. Unfortunately I couldn’t really get pictures of them, since it was a very busy road. But, it was another example of situations turning on a dime.

La Jolla itself was incredibly beautiful. The route took me along the beach, and also through the neighborhoods and business districts just a block or two away from it. The weather, the architecture, the ocean… wow.

Once again, the temperatures varied continually throughout the day from too warm to too cold to just right, and back again. I’m so grateful for my layers! Although I feel like I must look like such a weirdo to these Californians with their T-shirts and surfboards, when I’m wrapped up in my North Face fleece and REI rain shell!

The end of the route was probably the toughest: I had switched to Google Maps at that point, and it routed me onto the freeway! Like, literally, the Interstate 15, for about a mile or so. I turned skeptically into the on-ramp, which specified no bicycles. The shoulder was actually quite wide, but it was very unpleasant to be riding alongside all that speeding traffic. Meanwhile, I was keenly aware of the high cliff to my right, assuming I would need to climb a steep hill to get to the neighborhood up there. (Google had told me I would be climbing more than 300 feet in a mile.) Somehow, though, most of the climb felt very gradual.

But the daylight was waning, and the shoulder was thoroughly strewn with debris, including many pieces of steel-belted radial tires, which I had to keep carefully swerving to avoid. If there is one piece of warning advice I have heard emphatically from fellow bike tourers, it’s to avoid running over any shred of this material, at any cost. Apparently those little “hairy” fibers get into your tire and cause a flat, while being nearly impossible to detect and therefore remove. Ugh.

My tires did remain firm until I arrived, so I trust I did manage to avoid all the debris, but it was ubiquitous, and I didn’t want to swerve too dramatically on that freeway.

Yikes.

Glad I’m here! I was greeted by my friend’s housemate, as well as her two small elderly dogs, and I immediately set out on foot for the neighborhood Vietnamese restaurant for some eggplant-tofu curry, which I devoured with gusto.

I think tomorrow will be mostly a rest day. Balboa Park and Ocean Beach later in my stay.

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Beautiful views + fruit surprises: Escondido to Mira Mesa

1/7/22

Today I bade farewell (for now, though we hope to meet up again before I head east) to Michele and Dawa. They were kind enough to indulge me in a selfie, although Dawa might not have been fully ready for her close-up.

I hopped onto my rig and set a course for Mira Mesa, about 18 miles south. There was about 1000 feet of elevation along the way, so it was a good way to get a bit of exercise after several mostly slothful days.

Two decent-sized segments of the route took place on dedicated bike paths, which was really cool. I went through Hodges Lake, although the lake itself was barely visible from my vantage at the far eastern edge. But the bridge was cool.

Shortly after the bridge, I got back on some busy roads. I made a couple of wrong turns, and had to double back for short distances. Google Maps couldn’t seem to make up its mind on the routing, either: after scaling a 100’ hill, I checked again to see where to go next, and it had apparently changed its mind and told me to go back down the hill and take a different turn.

No thanks, Google. I’m going with your first instinct.

At another point, I turned right where I thought the map showed me to do so, but it was onto a very wide and busy road, with multiple lanes in each direction and a concrete median bisecting it. I double-checked after going maybe 100 yards, and found that no, I was supposed to have crossed that big road, and then turned right on the sidewalk on the opposite side, to meet up with a bike path about 100 yards in, right across from where I was at that moment. So frustrating! I wished I could just cross the road right there, but there was no way I’d be able to get the rig over the median with three lanes of traffic swooshing by in each direction. I’d need to turn around again. Not a big deal in terms of distance, but this was becoming a pattern, and I was becoming cranky.

But then!

I happened to look down at my front tire, and what should I see but two red madrone berries lying right next to it on the sidewalk.

Could it be??

I hadn’t been sure if they really did grow this far south, and if they did, I had been concerned it might be too late in the season for the berries to still be good. (Google had told me that November and December is the season, at least in the Bay area.) I thought I might have had the last of this delectable treat for the year.

I glanced up at the bank to see where those two might have come from, and lo and behold, my eyes fell upon the motherlode! I had never seen a madrone tree so full of spoils! The branches were laden, and the ground—my favorite place from which to glean almost any fruit, since I know they’re nice and ripe there—was absolutely carpeted. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I clambered up the steep bank, and sampled a few.

Perfect!

Well, actually most of them were not perfect—too hard and dry, not soft and flavorful—but there were so many that even if only 5-10% were perfect, I could still enjoy a dozen or more.

And I did. And they were warm from the sun, and it tasted like eating strawberry jam. (No wonder these are sometimes called strawberry trees.)

I giggled with glee, looking up at the boring strip mall above, from whose parking lot I’m sure no one had ever noticed this tree. I looked down at the passing commuters, zipping by in their metal boxes, surely never having noticed this tree, nor even having any safe way to enjoy it. If they even knew that madrone berries are edible. Which most people do not, I’m finding—and I only found out this marvelous secret within the past couple of months, myself!

It was another reminder of the magic of this journey, and of this way of traveling. (Including my slow pace!) It was also a reminder of how situations can turn on a dime, from good to bad or bad to good—or both!—in a very short time frame.

Having had my fill, I descended the bank. Now I had a smile on my face as I backtracked to join the bike path on the far bank.

There were more pretty views to be found there, as well, as the sun began to set.

I arrived at the house of my Warmshowers hosts after dark, and was greeted warmly by the human and canine denizens. They made me a lovely dinner of vegan burritos, and regaled me with amazing and hilarious tales of the highs and lows of their own bicycle tours, in the US and Europe. (They ride a tandem when they tour, and they are waaaaay more athletic—and adventurous!—than I.)

When they showed me my room, I had to appreciate the themed comforter!

Tomorrow I will head south again, to the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego, where I’ll be staying in my friend’s house for a night while she’s out of town. I may take a longer, more scenic (coastal) route than I had initially planned, because tonight’s hosts have hand-curated it and highly recommend it. We’ll see how I’m feeling in the morning.

But today was a good day.

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Sunny Escondido

1/6/22

Today was a quiet, relaxing day. Michele and I hung out and chatted; I sat in the sun for a while (even napped a bit!) and I had a wonderful hangout with my former-Portland friend Trina (and a brief hello to her sweetie Phil).

Trina and Phil live just about a mile away from Michele—having moved here about a year ago to escape severe seasonal depression in Portland—and we sat on her beautiful balcony overlooking the pool, with hummingbirds buzzing by at the feeder. Her balcony is filled with beautiful plants, reflecting her passion for them.

We talked about trauma, chronic pain, and healing. Trina is dreaming up a plan to share her own painful life experiences with others, to share her powerful healing journey and help others who may be struggling. (She gave me permission to share this info.) I love her vision, and can’t wait for her to manifest it and help others who are struggling. These are the kinds of conversations I most seek out, and enjoy, on this journey: people who are dreaming up cool ways to make the world a better place. Goodness knows the world needs all the healing it can get right now.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my little respite here in Escondido. Tomorrow I’ll be heading south to Mira Mesa.

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Del Mar!

1/5/22

What a wonderful day! I was hand-delivered from the gracious hospitality of my Newport Beach host Janna to the gracious hospitality of my longtime friend Michele in Escondido. (Some of you may recall that I stayed with Michele for a few days back in October, on my way to northern California from Arizona.)

Janna and I stopped on our way down, to visit the beautiful mission church at San Juan Capistrano. I loved how the sun hit the architecture at that particular time of day.

Shortly after Janna dropped me off in Escondido, Michele and I headed out for an excursion to the dog beach at Del Mar, with her adorable hound Dawa. While the two of them scampered on the beach with the other dogs and their people, I climbed the stairs to the serene lookout area on the cliff above. It was so restful, and I drank in what will be one of my last experiences of the Pacific Ocean until probably next September, when I complete my loop.

Today felt especially poignant, when Facebook reminded me that exactly two years ago to the day, I had been here in southern California with Michele and her friend Jennifer, visiting a wolf sanctuary in Julian. Looking at myself in the photo reminded me, in turn, that this was only two days before my life would begin turning upside down: January 7th, 2020, was when my condo flooded and displaced me for three months, beginning the nightmare that was 2020 and all the challenges that followed. In hindsight, I can appreciate that all of those “rugs being pulled out from under me” led me to this most amazing journey of my life, so I can value it from that perspective. Still, it’s interesting to look back at this previous version of myself, who had absolutely zero idea of what was coming down the pike, for myself and for the world.

Synchronicities.

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