Today was a straightforward ride to town of Tecate and then border crossing into Mexico. It was cool and overcast, but fortunately stayed dry all day long. I decided to get on the road early since I knew I had a lot of climbing to do and it gets dark early (~4:40pm sunset). The first 4km were flat but then climbed ~1200m over the remaining 60km today. I initially followed larger roads through suburban San Diego, most of them with bike lanes and overall not very heavy traffic.
At 13.5km, I came to edge of suburban development and followed Otay Lakes Road. This was flat or very gentle grade as the road came past a sky-dive center and a commercial campground. At 28km, turned right onto CA-94. This road had more traffic and not much of a shoulder. Fortunately, all relatively well behaved. My odometer had a few short sections of ~7% grade but mostly less.
Close to noon and I could see Tecate in the distance. Interestingly, I didn’t see much of town of Tecate, CA but a lot more on the Mexico side.
Border crossing was remarkably easy. Nothing required to check out of USA. It asked customs officials about the FMM form which I knew I would need to travel further into Mexico. I was directed first to immigration to get the form, then to a bank office and finally back to immigration to get the form stamped. Glad I had read this on internet as it would have been surprisingly easy to enter and skip getting this form.
I was now in city of Tecate where photo above was taken as I passed the square. Traffic was remarkably easy and before I knew it I was already following signs to climb the hill to Mexico 3 – the wine route to Ensenada. There seemed to be several hotels, though I had made things a little easier by making a reservation online at place ~10km south of the town.
I can tell I’ll need to get out the dictionary to translate signs I don’t know (I think the one above is for “snow cones”).
The first kilometers south of town still had a nice shoulder, but expect this to go away at some point.
Overall, crossing at Tecate was simple. I’ve already passed the border town, but still need to get a few errands in a city center such as getting a Mexican SIM card.
Back in San Diego area.
Today I dropped off a rental car and had a short (18km) flat and somewhat rainy ride. Weather forecast says today should be worst of it and not much chance of showers from here on. Below is touring bike ready in my motel room.
Last Monday, I picked up a rental car and packed my belongings for a drive first to Colorado for Thanksgiving. Nice to see my parents and brother again and celebrate Thanksgiving. After that on Friday morning back on the road driving to San Diego. Stopped by REI and short errand or two before dropping off the car.
My plan is to cross into Mexico tomorrow at Tecate. I picked Tecate for two reasons:
- The crossing itself should be a bit quieter. According to the web, this crossing sees ~1.5 million cars per year and ~0.5 million pedestrians crossing. Compare that to the main crossing at San Ysidro which sees ~14.5 million cars per year and ~7 million pedestrians
- Reports are that Tijuana is a big and hectic city with some challenging cycling to get through. In contrast, expect Mexico Route 3 to Ensenada to be a bit quieter.
The downside to Tecate is it is a bit further away and I’ll end up with over 1000m of climbing tomorrow most of it on the small winding roads to climb back up to Tecate. Looking forward to the adventure.
Reached San Diego and completed Phase 2. By the numbers:
- 5,153 miles (8,293 kilometers) cycled
- 204,290 vertical feet or 38.7 miles (62,268 meters) climbed
- 124 days on the road
Looking backwards seems like I’ve come a ways. However, looking forward I’m only getting started with approximately 11,000 miles (17,700 km) to go with the additional challenge of cycling through Latin America. I’ve also got ~426 days until the December 2017 Solstice. So far, this is my fifth longest bicycle trip, surpassed by (a) Across Canada in 1997 (#4), Across Africa in 2013 (#3), Across Eurasia in 2007 (#2) and Around Australia in 2001 (#1).
My plan is to take an intermission until Thanksgiving to take a rest and finalize my equipment based on what I’ve learned so far. After that, the next three phases are:
- Phase 3, Baja California to La Paz (1510km)
- Phase 4, Rest of Mexico to Belize (3135km)
- Phase 5, Belize to Panama City (2400km)
Depending on how those go, I’ll then adjust the final and longest phases across South America. Still thinking of either riding self-supported or as a backup plan with TDA South America 2017. Also, still open for others to join me on some or all this riding.
It was a little over three miles cycling to a hotel in downtown San Diego. After that got a chance to walk some through the city. There was a street fair going on including these pumpkins.
San Diego has a bike share program.
The afternoon was a little warmer, but these fountains let some cool off.
Amtrak train I’ll take on Monday morning early. I bought a duffel bag to condense my belongings into fewer separate bags. I also asked and Amtrak will let me take apart the bike on Sunday and leave it and other luggage in the luggage room.
Part of the reason for waiting to Monday to depart is trains aren’t running this weekend between LA and San Diego.
My first destination will be Portland, Oregon. I’m headed to Sugar Wheel Works to pick up a new back wheel built around a different (DT Swiss) hub. Hopefully this hub will be easier to maintain on the road. Will see if this addresses the hub problems I had twice since Prudhoe Bay.
After Portland, back on the train to Austin. Plan to bring the bike in for a good servicing and otherwise prepare for next part of the trip as well as try a few shorter test rides on the new wheel.
“Where are you headed?”, “San Diego”. It is a conversation I have a few times a day. However, folks aren’t looking as strangely as before. I am now four or five miles from downtown San Diego and will go there this weekend to make an official finish before taking the train to Portland on Monday.
Today had a surprising high range of temperatures. My cycle computer told me 5C (41F) starting from Pine Valley. Middle of the afternoon it peaked a little over 37C (99F) so a range of 50+ degrees Fahrenheit or 30+ degrees Celsius. I had ridden most of the route on Christmas rides though the Adventure Cycling route also was slightly different through Lakeside.
I climbed up the first hill from Pine Valley and in a very short time, the temperature jumped more than 10F (6C). No longer in the cold valley bottom. From here it was mostly downhill.
At eight miles there was a 3.5 mile ride on I-8 again. After this it was frontage roads through Alpine. By now it was over 20C. My rear tire felt funny and then noticed it was slowly going flat. Stopped to patch and noticed I had two patch kits where the glue had dried out including one where I had never even opened the glue. Fortunately, had a spare tube and swapped it in.
San Diego was visible in the distance (this photo was actually from the interstate).
Through Lakeside it started getting hot.
Leaving Lakeside was a few miles of Father Junipera Serra trail. After this I came to larger roads (Mission Gorge, Friar) and past shopping centers before finding my way in hotel on outskirts of San Diego.
Now looking forward to a weekend in San Diego. Also time to finish out phase 2 and start planning forward. I’ve come a long way (5000+ miles, 8000+ kilometers, 4 months) but there is still a lot more both from standpoint of challenge (Latin America vs US/Canada) and also distance (10,000+ miles to go).
Is it better to know about the road ahead or to remain blissfully unaware? Today was a good example of the tradeoff. I’m normally in the camp that likes to know what is ahead so I can learn from others experiences and do some planning of my trip.
So yesterday I made a reservation at Jacumba Hot Springs so I could watch the debate. After that I read what others had to say about the route. I was surprised. I already knew there would be a solid climb from below sea level to over 3200ft. However, other reports seemed to include four additional challenges that had made their trips fun: (a) the 20 miles from Seeley to Ocotillo supposedly had an extremely rough road, some commented as the “worst on the entire southern tier” and others did inventive things like sneak on the interstate, etc (b) the climb on I-8 had two bridges with minimal shoulder (c) some complained of heat over 100F and even hotter (d) winds could be fierce.
After reading those accounts, I thought “wow! is this going to be a really rough day?” Fortunately, it turned not to be as bad as anticipated.
I got on the road twenty minutes before sunrise – to give myself some cool morning cycling and stay ahead of wind if it picked up.
The first seven miles cycling to Seeley the road was fine, only getting a bit rough once I came into Seeley. I stopped at convenience store and clerk told me the road was OK until the stop sign. There was a lot of traffic on the road, but turns out it all turned off in direction of the prison. After the stop sign it was much quieter riding.
At 17 miles was Plaster City. This was mostly a large plasterboard factory and nothing else.
The road was rough both before and after Plaster City. However, my expectations had been set for something a lot lot worse. On my trip so far, at least half of the gravel roads have been rougher. I also thought, “this would pass for smooth road in Ukraine”. So while it wasn’t smooth pavement, it also certainly was better than I expected.
I met a cyclist here who was on an around the world trip on combination of motorcycle and bicycle. He was from the UK and had started with ~30,000km across Russia, Mongolia, Japan and other places before switching to a bicycle where he had ridden another 6,500km so far. His goal was to ride across USA to Florida and then circle back to the UK.
I cycled the remaining distance to Ocotillo. The bad road was done, and shortly the climbing and interstate riding would start.
There were signs suggesting motorists turn off the air conditioning for next 10 miles of climbing to keep engines from overheating.
The temperature was just over 30C (86F) and no air conditioning for me.
The next 10 miles contained 19 of these radiator stops where one could get water. I stopped at almost all of them. While I couldn’t drink the water, I could pour it over my neck and shirt and use it to stay cool. It was also a nice excuse for short break from climbing. I had gotten this idea from reports I read the previous evening.
I passed the 1000ft level.
This was the second of two bridges. The shoulder was ~30cm wide (one foot) so it was narrow. On the first bridge the traffic all moved over on the second it passed a bit closer but nothing too scary.
I passed the 2000ft level.
Here was a tree with three teddy bears suspended.
San Diego country, hooray!
I passed the 3000ft level and shortly thereafter, left the interstate behind. Overall, these 10 miles had a substantial climb, but stopping and soaking with water helped. Despite being later in the day, it was cooler at the top than the bottom.
From here I followed “old 80” the last six miles to Jacumba Hot Springs. There was still 200ft of climbing and after that mostly descent. I also got quite close to the US/Mexico border. I saw many border patrol vehicles and believe this tent was also likely associated.
There were warnings about smuggling.
While not quite to Mexico, you can see it from here. The big line in the middle is a border fence and Jacumba Hot Springs is off just slightly to the right. I got there around 2pm, which was earlier than I had anticipated.
So is it better to know the road ahead? Today the advance reading set my expectations for a potentially much tougher day. The weather cooperated by not going much over 30C and not having to fight tough headwinds. The road was rough but not as bad as described. The climb was long but soaking with water multiple times kept cool. So I think still slightly better to know, but also need to be careful to not get too concerned on some of what I’ve read.
Two days riding has brought me to the Imperial Valley.
The Adventure Cycling Map warns “Services are extremely limited between Brawley and Palo Verde and may be closed seasonally. Plan accordingly and carry food and water”. There were ~20 miles to ride to Palo Verde and sign above summarizes the challenge. Google told me there was a store at Glamis which closed at 3pm – so goal for first day was to get to Glamis before the store closed and then assess whether to continue to Brawley or camp nearby.
It was still nice and cool as I cycled past flat agricultural areas.
These guys were in process of unstacking the trailer and then loading a double-length trailer with hay.
There wasn’t much in Palo Verde, though for only $79,000 you could own this restaurant!
Across from the closed restaurant was “Wheelies” gas station. I topped off on water and bought two extra Gatorade for a total of ~6 liters – which I figured should be more than enough, perhaps even to cross the entire gap.
A few miles of farmland and then the route climbed up past dry desert landscapes.
The Border Patrol had this station to check vehicles coming the other direction.
I met a cyclist riding the Southern Tier for his fifth time. In this area the road was a bit frustrating since it went up and over a lot of the same hill. Rather than climbing elevation I would go up to 925 and down to 875 and repeatedly. Fortunately, not long after climbed to highest point and with fewer ups and downs. However, the wind started to pick up.
I came past a large mining area and then as I came close to Glamis these signs prohibiting camping.
Not sure if it was because of the tortise or the mines or other reasons.
At 60 miles I reached Glamis. Only 1:45pm so I made my 3pm target. I refilled on water and assessed the situation. It was only 27 miles to Brawley and I had enough time. However, the headwinds were now 15-20mph with occasional gusts. I decided rather than fight the wind, would see where I could camp.
Glamis was an interesting place – particularly attracting those who come to play in the dunes with ATVs, dune buggies and other vehicles. Seems like particularly focused on getting people out for a long weekend of camping in the dunes.
I asked the store owners and they said I was welcome to camp underneath the store awning. So I camped next to the jail mural and the saloon mural. It was nice shady place to camp. The railway nearby is active day and night with a train every 1-2 hours. I was told this was a north/south line heading from Los Angeles to Mexico. Otherwise nice place to camp.
Second morning brought calm winds and beautiful morning. First seven miles were along the dunes.
A sand plow was grading some of the excess sand from the road.
After seven miles the dunes stopped and it was dry desert again.
Another seven miles brought me to edges of the irrigated regions.
Both dry dusty fields and green ones like this one.
Having a combination of feed lot and solar array was interesting.
Some fields had a lot of these birds.
I stopped in Brawley for early lunch and then cycled the last 16 miles to El Centro. It was getting warm and hence nice to have slightly shorter day. El Centro has a surprising number of motels and least expensive prices I’ve seen so far.
Maps tell me I am now ~125 miles from San Diego including climbing up and over the coastal mountains. Expect tomorrow to tackle the first of these hills and hopefully also get to slightly cooler temperatures. Also starting to make plans after reaching San Diego which roughly summarized are: (a) take train to Portland, OR to pick up my wheel (b) take train back to Austin to spend few weeks preparing/refitting for rest of the trip (c) Thanksgiving in Colorado (d) return to San Diego, cross the US/Mexico border and continue southbound.
Snowbirds and interstates were the themes for the day.
Waited until the cafe opened to have breakfast and then headed out. As expected today was warm (~33C, 91F) though not abnormal. Salome might have military connection as displayed by these missiles as well as map of middle east in the convenience store.
Pleasant cycling without too much traffic as the first 25 miles had many RV parks.
For example the KOA park above. The better ones seemed to at least have a few trees and perhaps other amenities nearby. It wasn’t yet high season as saw a restaurant announcing a November 9th opening as well as “help wanted”.
At seven miles I came to small town of Hope.
Here is the back of the same sign.
Here is the local church.
Generally descent in this first stretch as I came below level of the Arizona canal again.
It looked fuller here.
As I came closer to Brenda, there were many RV parks.
This one also still had the cafe closed.
This one advertised rates for the season ($1300) as well as bingo and a gospel jam.
Here one could jam less expensively.
After seeing all these parks (and more), I stopped in Brenda for a bite to eat as well as to understand how this all worked. The clerk told me:
- Brenda has a population of 200-300 year round and 800-900 at peak snowbird season
- Snowbirds are arriving now and almost all will be here by Christmas. December is particularly popular month for arrivals
- January and February are busy and then by March and April people start departing again.
So now we are at start of the season as the parks are all attracting new residents.
After Brenda, US-60 merged onto the interstate (I-10) and I had 11 miles of interstate cycling. This road is main route between Phoenix and Los Angeles and it was busy. It was also starting to get warm.
You can see Quartzite in the distance.
A few more RV parks here, including this one with high-wheeler bicycles.
If you run for Mayor, it seems to be important to tell people you are a “Year Around Resident”.
Had lunch in Quartzite.
Initially the route was six miles of a nice small desolate road before
Getting back on the interstate for another 12 miles. While I had done small bits of I-25 (New Mexico) and I-15 (Montana) on this trip, this interstate seemed a bit more aggravating. I decided to do a count of the next 100 vehicles that passed in the right lane:
- 62 automobiles
- 35 trucks
- 3 large RVs towing vehicles behind
All this in slightly less than 5 miles. This was only vehicles in the right lane and I didn’t count if they had moved over to left lane before passing. I guess it was a bit more aggravating because of more traffic (other interstates more of the vehicles could move over to left), 75mph speed limit (vs 65mph in New Mexico), lots of trucks and later in the day and a bit warmer. Nothing dangerous, just a bit annoying.
Fortunately, after 12 miles of interstate riding, the exit brought me to the frontage road and then the pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River. Also the border to California!
More official welcome sign a few miles later. Cycled into town and nice to finish the day with a motel. From here there is a bigger gap to the next town so likely some desert camping in between.