Down the Pacific

Riding Adventure Cycling's Pacific Coast Bicycle Route


As I sat watching the various shades of blue tumble together in a blur of foam, I was left incredibly satisfied, for my favorite jacket — the one that has been keeping me warm and dry over the last few weeks — was finally clean. I’d planted myself at a laundromat in Crescent City, California, the swirl of color already making me feel nostalgic for the days behind me. Just a handful of miles to the north lay the rugged coast of Oregon. Beyond that lay the islands and peninsulas of Washington and, farther yet, Vancouver, BC, the starting point for the Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast Bicycle Route. I’d spent the last 20 days cycling south through this route, and now, with a full day to rest, I had time to reflect on my journey. My goal was to bike the entire Pacific Coast Bicycle Route from north to south, and so far I have soaked up every moment of the tour. It has provided everything I’d hoped for including scenic passages through exhilarating landscapes, chance encounters with generous strangers, and a sense of spontaneity and freedom that can only come in the form of bike touring. 

A quiet back street amidst the bustle of Vancouver and the jumping-off point in the author's Pacific Coast journey.

Vancouver, BC, and Washington

My journey down the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route started not by bike, but by train. On a drizzly afternoon in Seattle, Washington, I rolled my fully loaded bike from my apartment to King Street Station and onto an Amtrak train headed for Vancouver. The train traveled north, following the many bodies of water encompassing the area in the northwestern region of the state. After boarding I immediately moved to the rear cabin where I could sit next to a west-facing window and watch the landscape roll by. I watched the Olympic Mountains in the distance, followed by the San Juan Islands, and then the sun setting on Bellingham Bay, all of which I would be riding through in the days to come. The sun dipped under the horizon shortly before my train crossed the border into Canada, and I allowed myself a few final moments to collect my thoughts before departing the train and heading to my hotel in downtown Vancouver. From there I would begin the long journey south.

R&R: Route finding and relaxation.

Getting to the starting point of the Pacific Coast route was an adventure in itself. There were a number of enticing spots to stop and explore along Vancouver’s downtown waterfront, but I eventually made it to the route’s starting point at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. From there the route got to business immediately and headed in the direction of its end point 1,857 miles later in Imperial Beach, California. I rode along a quiet residential street through a beautiful tree-lined neighborhood and passed by kids playing on playgrounds and local residents quietly going about their daily routines. This initial section was a taste of the diverse observations I would make along the Pacific Coast, for soon thereafter the route would change constantly and pass through industrial districts, suburban sprawls, and into British Columbia’s countryside before finally leading me over the border and into the United States. 

Roadside repairs.

Other than the initial section of island hopping along Washington’s first 100 or so miles, the state presented a similar feel to that which I had found along the rural eastern portions of the TransAmerica Trail. Although looking at a map of the Washington section of the Pacific Coast route might suggest consistent views of mountains and oceans, the landscape along the route here was more similar to the rolling hills I found in rural Virginia, the farmhouses of Kentucky’s countryside, or the small-town, single-stoplight intersections scattered across central Missouri. From my perspective, this portion of the route essentially passed through rural middle America, which helped to diversify the Pacific Coast route in terms of both culture and landscape. I enjoyed ambling through the small downtown strip of Port Townsend, which, as one local boasted, hosts “a different festival every week between now and August.” He talked of flower festivals, parades, food festivals, and lots of music. During my stay in town, my travel companion Josh and I sought out the local music scene and found ourselves in a basement bar listening to two white-bearded men jam out on guitars and harmonicas at Cellar Door’s open mic night. Farther south the route presented another small-town experience in Elma, Washington, where we took the opportunity to sleep indoors at Grays Harbor Hostel. Owners Jay and Linda Klemp had converted their home into a hostel, and the transition was apparent in its homey feel and their generous hospitality. The hostel was also surrounded by an 18-hole disc golf course, which Jay expertly manicures and maintains, a fact that he proudly shares with all visitors.

It's not east to escape the Pacific Northwest without getting rained on at least once.

Much of the Washington section of the route boasts a healthy taste of small-town Americana, but the unique beauty of Washington comes out in many ways. During the ride out of Bellingham, I traveled along the scenic Chuckanut Drive, which provided gently rolling, forested roads. As I passed between gaps of trees, I caught sweeping views of the Bellingham Bay to the west and the many islands and peninsulas that lay beyond. Farther south the iconic Deception Pass provided me with a quintessential Pacific Northwest experience complete with fern-filled forests, tall evergreen trees, large expanses of water, and distant views of mountains. This section was one of the most scenic spots along Washington’s route and one that I was lucky enough to bike through under clear blue skies. After island hopping and passing through a number of small towns, the route began to follow the scenic Hood Canal and offered stops at Kitsap Memorial State Park and Twanoh State Park, both of which provided occasional sightings of the Olympic Mountains to the west (when the mountains weren’t shrouded in clouds). Finally, Washington’s route underwent a grand finale at the Columbia River and gently glided next to the massive river’s waters for 20 miles. In order to fully take in the experience, I opted to camp at County Line Park, which sits next to the river on the Washington side. I woke to gentle fog floating over the river as the sun slowly burned off any moisture from the land. From here my ride west was an easy jaunt to the Cathlamet-Westport ferry, which crossed over the river and dropped me in Oregon. My first state along the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route was complete. 

Faces from the road.


If the Washington section of the Pacific Coast route represented the heart of America, Oregon represented the romanticized, stunning West of America in full glory. Dramatic cliffs met the ocean with stark contrast, and cycling over the many tall viewpoints made this section of the route feel wide open. As I crossed into Oregon, I noticed the welcoming infrastructure that benefits bike tourists immensely. This section of the route might seem daunting, for a good majority of it travels along busy highway 101, but the shoulders are very wide and clean, making for safe riding the entire way down the coast. Additionally, finding a place to sleep along Oregon’s coast was never an issue, as the entire shoreline is dotted with small beach towns and more state park campgrounds than I could count. 

The spectacular Oregon Coast accompanies touring cyclists along the Pacific Coast Route.

Starting with the northernmost section, bike tourists have a number of options for resting weary legs. The Norblad Hostel in Astoria is a clean, modern establishment located in the heart of downtown. Here visitors are only a short walk from the town’s boardwalk, which is next to the Columbia River and is decorated with a number of quaint cafés, restaurants, and shops. Farther south, the beach town of Seaside offers more bohemian lodging at the Seaside International Hostel. The hostel’s employees encourage travelers to bond with one another through community amenities such as complimentary pancake breakfasts and a backyard garden area ideal for social travelers looking to mingle. This hostel is also a short walk from Seaside’s Broadway Street, which carries a unique beach town vibe and is home to an open-air arcade called Funland and a number of ice cream shops. The street eventually carries visitors to a long boardwalk overlooking a wide, scenic beach that stretches to the far end of town. I spent time in both Astoria and Seaside taking short days on the bike in order to soak up the coastal vibes and chat with the locals, as well as fellow travelers. 

Beautiful roads and wide expanses of sand are daily sightings — "Oregon" sad castles slightly less so.

Moving south from Seaside, I began to get a taste for Oregon’s strong coastal character, which offered up consistent themes for the next 350 miles. Gentle climbs rolled up to the tops of tall cliffs, providing rugged views of towering sea stacks scattered along the shoreline. Often times these viewpoints pull in their fair share of coastal fog, which only adds to the dramatic nature of the landscape. When the clouds break, the views are spectacular. For every tall climb to the top of a viewpoint, I was rewarded with a soaring downhill ride back to sea level and, more often than not, another small beach town. As I coasted down from one particularly scenic stretch, I came across a notable stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory where I was able to satisfy my hunger by sampling the brand’s many aged cheeses and eat a hamburger made from locally sourced beef. I topped the visit off with a big scoop of Mudslide ice cream and was on my way.

Throughout Oregon I was graced with multiple days of blue skies and sunshine. The clear weather revealed the beauty of places such as the Otter Crest Loop and Scenic Viewpoint, which follows a quiet road along a dramatic 500-foot cliff above the coast, and, just south of it, Devil’s Punchbowl, an iconic, natural rock feature at the water’s edge. Even farther south, I climbed up and over an outcropping and the clouds broke to reveal Heceta Head Lighthouse and the impressive landscape it sat upon. Midway down Oregon’s coast, the rugged cliffs disappeared and were replaced with the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, a 40-mile stretch of tall, sweeping sand dunes. I rode in to this area shortly before sunset, dropped my gear at a campsite, and explored the dunes as the warmth of the day’s final rays left the sand. It was nice to be on foot for a moment and in such a unique area when compared to the rest of the coastline.

Enjoy the scenery, but watch the road.

Probably the most notable aspect of the accessibility of the Oregon section of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route lay in its many great coastal State Parks. Each Oregon State Park along the route offered dedicated campsites specifically for human-powered adventurers. Many of these “hiker-biker” sites were located next to clean, spacious bathrooms, and some sites even had electronic charging stations. Hiker-biker sites were also often slightly removed from the bustle of the rest of the campground, giving hikers and bikers traveling the coast a continued sense of seclusion. On top of all that, the sites were cheap, especially when compared to campgrounds I’d visited in other states or privately owned campgrounds along the coast. Ultimately, Oregon seems to be set up with cyclists in mind, and it was an absolute pleasure to bike through every inch of its stunning coastline.

The big trees of the Oregon Coast offer quiet camps for touring cyclists.

The Path Beyond

The more time I spend on the bike, the more time seems to slow. On the 20th day of riding, I stopped at the border of Oregon and California and took a moment to appreciate the fact that the past three weeks of my bike tour had felt more like three months. I couldn’t believe I was only one-third of the way through my tour, which would eventually take me down to the border of California and Mexico. On the bike, time slows down, and each moment that passes is amplified. For that I am grateful to continue the journey. Ahead of me lay the great redwood forests of northern California, the passage into the south at the Golden Gate Bridge, and the warm beaches of Southern California. I rolled across the border ready to experience the next phase of the journey, which I hoped would be packed with enough adventure to fill a lifetime. 

Part 2

As I sat watching the various shades of blue tumble together in a blur of foam, I was left incredibly satisfied, for my favorite jacket — the one that has been keeping me warm and dry over the last few weeks — was finally clean. I’d planted myself at a laundromat in Crescent City, California, the swirl of color already making me feel nostalgic for the days behind me. Just a handful of miles to the north lay the rugged coast of Oregon. Beyond that lay the islands and peninsulas of Washington and, farther yet, Vancouver, BC, the starting point for the Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast Bicycle Route. I’d spent the last 20 days cycling south through this route, and now, with a full day to rest, I had time to reflect on my journey. My goal was to bike the entire Pacific Coast Bicycle Route from north to south, and so far I have soaked up every moment of the tour. It has provided everything I’d hoped for including scenic passages through exhilarating landscapes, chance encounters with generous strangers, and a sense of spontaneity and freedom that can only come in the form of bike touring. 

Northern California

Memory can be a funny thing, especially when it props up lofty expectations. When I was a child, my family took a road trip up the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to Monterey, California. My brother and sister and I sat in the back of our minivan as our parents drove us along the length of Big Sur’s coastline, and I remember gawking at height of the cliffs and the endless waters of the Pacific Ocean. We traveled north and visited Hearst Castle, a magnificent fortress on a hill overlooking the coast. In the town of Monterey, I tasted some of the best clam chowder of my life, and we camped next to the beach, falling asleep to the sound of waves folding gently against the sand. By our standards — three children growing up in the landlocked state of Oklahoma — the experience was heaven, and I continued to dream about the trip well after it ended.

Golden hills and blue breakers in the distance — a perfect California scene.

Twenty years later, these memories resurfaced as I made my way south along Adventure Cycling’s Pacific Coast Bicycle Route. As I approached Monterey on the 38th day of my tour, I anticipated the same string of moments from my childhood. I dreamed of the tall, winding cliffs of Big Sur, the delicious clam chowder, and the idyllic oceanside campsites that lay ahead. It turns out that setting such high expectations can be disappointing. Instead of reliving the same moments from my past, I experienced an entirely different series of events: landslides blocked my route south through Big Sur, forcing me to find a way around; the clam chowder in Monterey tasted nothing like the five-star meal from my childhood; and the morning after my arrival to my campsite in Monterey, I was robbed. Things were not turning out as expected.

But let’s back up a few weeks — and 500 miles north — to Crescent City, California, where I began the second half of my journey. For the first 20 days of my bike tour, I traveled nonstop from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Crescent City, where I resupplied, refueled, and wrote Part 1 of my feature. During my stay with a Warmshowers host in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, I had the fortune of meeting a handful of touring cyclists, including Sirvydas and Toma, a couple from Lithuania, and Polina, an energetic Russian girl traveling from Vancouver. The four of us rolled out of town together, and for the first time on the trip I was happy to find myself riding with a pack.

Having hugged the coast for almost the entire stretch of Oregon, the route now turned inland, offering a nice changeup in scenery. Toward the end of the day, the three of us found ourselves no longer looking over our right shoulders at the ocean, but straight up to the tops of the tallest trees on earth. We made our way into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, marveling at the beauty of the trees. To my delight, the park closes the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway to motorized vehicles during the first Saturday of each month in the summer, allowing visitors a chance to explore the redwood-lined road by foot, scooter, bike, or any other nonmotorized mode of transportation. We happened to arrive the day before one of these road closures, so I chose to stay in the park the following day and explore the empty drive without the bustle of traffic. I stopped at trails leading into the forest and wandered through large groves of ferns and tall trees, and I found that the silence of the forest contrasted nicely with the constant noise of traffic from my day-to-day travels on the road.

Cycling solo has many charms, but riding companions add a new dimension to any tour.

From Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the route moved back toward the coast and through a number of small, unique Northern California towns. I passed first through Arcata, where I had the pleasure of staying at the Redwood Lily Guesthouse, a cozy eco-hostel with modern amenities and a beautiful garden surrounding the urban property. Farther south the route passed through the slightly larger Eureka, which offered a number of markets and outdoor stores for resupply. I then came upon the most surprising town on the map: Ferndale, a small town that carries a unique Victorian vibe and is set in the middle of flat farmlands. Its one main road is lined with beautifully colored architecture from the late 1800s, and I enjoyed spending an afternoon exploring the small community.

After this brief stretch of small towns, the route moved east back into the hills, and for the next 275 miles I was treated to varying shades of landscape. First, the route moved along a 30-mile stretch through the Avenue of the Giants where groves of tall redwood trees stretched on forever. Beyond this the road dropped and wound through a steep descent out of the mountains, reuniting again with the edge of the coast. In Leggett I connected with Highway 1 (or the Pacific Coast Highway). For the first few hundred miles, the highway was unforgiving, with steep and consistent hills through Mendocino County. In Sonoma County, I was rewarded with high views along rocky cliffs, which are iconic to Northern California’s coastal wine country. I arrived in this section late in the afternoon and climbed up a handful of big horseshoe turns while peering out over the ocean. Long shadows cast over rocky outcrops stretching south along the coast as far as I could see. The climbs were beautiful, and I took the chance to stop at every outlook along the stretch. Then I plunged down toward Sonoma Coast State Park and experienced some of the most thrilling moments of my bike tour. Finally, the route bobbed through the hills and small towns painting the edge of Marin County before crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco. 

Is there a more iconic American view than this?

The Gateway South

Upon reaching the Golden City, the route shifted its focus from dramatic landscapes to a diverse array of cities and culture. Large urban sprawls dot the coast for the remainder of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, hopping between big cities like San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and San Diego — all within a stretch of only about 600 miles. I took a few days in San Francisco to visit a good friend and explore the city by bike, and I had fun weaving through the city’s seven-by-seven–mile urban grid. I cruised along Ocean Beach and tried a bowl of clam chowder at the scenic and historic Cliff House restaurant. I moved through Golden Gate Park, taking in the sights and sounds of its colorful gardens. In the Outer Sunset neighborhood I sipped on a coconut at Trouble Coffee while listening to a musician play his handmade kora, a beautiful 21-string lute-bridge-harp instrument from West Africa. 

The City by the Bay delivered perfect weather and a chance to relax and soak in San Francisco.

After my third day in the city, I moved on and continued traveling south. The route here carried me gently down the coast, abandoning the somewhat unforgiving hilly terrain north of San Francisco and replacing it with gentler climbs that bob up and down along the coast. I passed through quaint coastal towns such as Half Moon Bay and visited historic lighthouses like the one found at Pigeon Point. I then arrived in Santa Cruz, a hotspot for youngsters on skateboards and thrill seekers flocking to the boardwalk amusement park. I weaseled my bike between the mass of pedestrians and followed the route along Monterey Bay, arriving at its southernmost point opposite from Santa Cruz in the city of Monterey. It was along this stretch where the fond memories from my childhood family vacation began to surface. My expectations for the next few days along the route were building.

Before departing on my trip, I read the news of multiple landslides that had created road closures in Big Sur, but it wasn’t until arriving in Monterey that I was sure I couldn’t get through. I had been holding on to hope that there might be a path through for those traveling by bike, but after chatting with locals in town I learned that my route south was indeed blocked. I would have to backtrack north and find a detour around the most iconic section of the route. 

The following morning I was robbed. My plan was to wake up early to begin the long detour around Big Sur, which headed southeast through a wide valley and then up and over a mountain range before reconnecting with the main route along the coast. I found directions to this detour on Adventure Cycling’s website and downloaded the digital maps to my phone. Amenities would be sparse, so my external battery pack would be crucial to keeping my phone charged over the next three days of travel. The morning of my departure, however, my battery pack was stolen from an outlet in my campground. I felt frustrated and violated, but this series of events would ultimately change the course of my journey in a positive way.

Catching an unexpected lift.

The Tides Turn

By noon I found myself still in town searching for a replacement battery. It was Sunday and many electronics stores opened late. By the time I had located and purchased a new battery, half of my day was already gone. I had planned to bike 65 miles to the closest camping spot on the detour, but the temperatures were already rising into the hundreds and I hadn’t even begun riding, so I made the decision to camp next to the ocean for one more night and get an early start the following morning. That evening I met two cyclists, Chris and Liv, who also happened to be looking for a way around the road closures in Big Sur. Their plan was something I hadn’t even considered: take a train from Salinas to San Luis Obispo. Having cycled solo since Northern California, I jumped at the opportunity to travel with them. The following day we loaded our bikes onto an Amtrak train and found ourselves on an entirely different type of adventure. After only an hour into our train ride, we collided with a semitruck attempting to race across the tracks. Amazingly, no one was injured, but the wreck caused a three-hour delay in our ride to San Luis Obispo, which meant we would ride to our campsite in the dark. We arrived at our stop just after the sun had set and rode 15 miles under the stars, and then thick fog, until reaching our campground on the coast. Although unfortunate, the series of events was a refreshing and exciting take on the journey, and I felt happy to be experiencing it in the company of new travel companions.

Due to our quick detour by train, Chris and I opted to bike back north along the coast toward Big Sur. I was determined to visit Hearst Castle and had no problem backtracking up the coast in order to do so. For the first time on the trip, I found myself moving into headwinds, riding on the east side of the highway with the sun at my back. The experience felt backwards. The trek north was well worth it, though, and we arrived at the magnificent Hearst Castle by afternoon and spent the evening exploring the opulent mansion’s wealth of art and architecture.

Hearst Castle required a detour back up Highway 1, but this one-of-a-kind compound was worth the extra riding.

For the next few days, I traveled south along the coast with Liv and Chris, and we were later joined by Sirvydas and Toma, the two Lithuanian cyclists I had traveled with for a day in Northern California. The five of us arrived in Santa Barbara on the same evening and spent a few days celebrating the town’s annual Solstice Festival. Live music, local beer, parades, and an outrageous number of people dressed in elaborate costumes filled the streets to celebrate the year’s longest day. We felt lucky to have arrived during such an occasion.

From here I parted ways with my travel companions and rode south to Malibu where I spent a few days learning to surf with a good friend. In Los Angeles the route begins its final leg to Mexico and moves through consistently populated urban areas for the rest of the journey. After arriving in Santa Monica, I spent hours exploring the amusement park–like pier. The crowded area stood as a reminder for how far I had come on the route, not only by way of miles, but by way of culture as well. I was now in the thick of one of the most populated urban areas in the country, and far from the small towns and quiet spaces near the start of the route in Vancouver and Washington.

As I moved south through bustling Orange County, the scenery stayed consistent in its hoards of beachgoers and tourists. By the time I arrived in Encinitas, the date was July 2 and masses of people had set up tents along the coast in preparation for the upcoming Fourth of July celebration. For miles and miles, I cycled past people who were grilling meat, playing beach games, and enjoying their time under the sun.

A quiet scene during a hectic Fourth of July parade day.

It felt ironic that the end of my journey would align with one of the nation’s largest collective celebrations, and on the morning of July 4 in San Diego, I packed up my bike for the last time to finish the final stretch of the Pacific Coast route. By early morning, I was on a ferry headed toward Coronado, where I began riding on a 10-mile–long bike path to Imperial Beach. As the sun reached its peak, I scooted along a dirt road toward the border of the U.S. and Mexico, and by noon I had arrived at the end of the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route at International Friendship Park.

The sun was out, a cool breeze swept off the ocean, and I took in the moment while looking out over the surrounding landscape. To the south, the border fence stretched east as far as I could see, and to the west the Pacific Ocean glimmered. The bright blue waters were complemented by a blanket of purple flowers covering the ground around me. I was alone and happy to be experiencing the moment in silence. The journey along the Pacific Coast route wasn’t always what I had expected, but oftentimes the unexpected moments are what I remember most from such a grand adventure. Like my childhood memories from my family’s vacation up the coast, this trip raised my standards for what a bike tour can be. The route presented an endless array of opportunities to witness beautiful landscapes, offered a slew of chance interactions with people who shared inspiring stories, and the 54-day experience allowed me to slow down, take in each moment, and gain new perspectives on life. For that, I couldn’t be more grateful.

Pedaling the final miles to the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego after 54 days on the road.

For one final moment, I took the scene in, breathed in the cool Pacific air, and then stepped onto the pedals, leaned into the handlebar, and let my bike’s momentum carry me north, back to where I came from.