Los Angeles to Phoenix: The Sister-to-Sister Tour Pt. 2

This is the second of three posts on our March 2018 unsupported tandem tour. Part 1 is here. The final installment will publish on Friday.

March 17: A Grand Gathering

Distance: 74 miles. Our route at Strava is here and our photos are here.

We got up early on Saturday and rode down Venice Boulevard through gritty central L.A. to a happy meetup with Patrick and Delphine on their red Co-Motion tandem. We were so glad to see them in person after  following each other on social media, they are #Tandemlosangeles on Instagram.

Patrick and Delphine

This meetup had been in the works for awhile. I contacted them when we decided on L.A. as our tour start and asked if they would take us out and show us how the locals see the the City of Angels by bike.

They expertly led us into Santa Monica and to a group of more than 20 riders gathered at the Performance Bicycle Santa Monica shop, housed in a converted movie theater, complete with marquee. It was easily the nicest Performance I have seen — the ones out here in D.C. are mostly strip mall affairs.

Performance Bikes Santa Monica

The group’s planned hilly ride to the iconic bike destination Pedalers Fork in Calabasas was scratched because of a mudslide in Topanga Canyon. The group decided to ride down the coast to Palos Verdes Estates, along the beach past Marina Del Ray, and back.

The sun shone brightly and the Pacific Ocean smell was delicious. We were the only bike with fenders, I noticed, and nobody’s bike was  dirty. At the Santa Monica Pier we saw some touring riders arriving to complete their trips across the U.S. – “from Virginia!” one yelled.

I envied them and felt a charge of enthusiasm. It would be our turn in a day.

The end of the road for cross-country tours

The group was as welcoming as could be and asked us about our trip and D.C. stuff and such. We rode in fits and starts in cool breezes to a sweet little coffee place and then turned back.

Living the California Dream

The return trip included some humorous navigation through a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan Beach. We got called out by the public address announcer for walking across the parade route between two marching bands — “There’s a parade going on!” — which evidently is a no-no. Oh well.

Just before the awkward moment

Jim, the manager of Performance, had snacks, drinks and free water bottles for the group when we got back. We were impressed by his support for his shop ride.

Our Saturday event ride ended too fast. Patrick and Delphine led us to coffee in Westwood, closer to their home, where we sat and soaked up the sun, before bidding then farewell.

We tooled through Century City and crossed the many four-way intersections in Beverly Hills, and then ambled through Central L.A. & Koreatown back to the hotel. There are so many neighborhoods in L.A. – we managed 74 miles and never got out in the country.

Mary and I are so gratified by the hospitality and friendliness of Patrick and Delphine and their riding buddies. It was a true touring magic moment. We’ll be back to ride again. Thank you!

We ate dinner again at Whole Foods in their brewpub cafe, mostly because we were too tired to go venturing around. For all the fun, urban tandeming is still draining. Downtown was hopping with St. Patrick’s partiers. The food was pretty good and service was fast.

We had good feelings about Los Angeles as we settled down at the hotel for our departure the next morning. I wistfully looked out our window over the Staples Center toward the coast, wondering when we’d come back.

March 18: Temecula

Distance: 96.9 miles. Our route at Strava is here and our photos are here.

Another early start for our first of five tour days. We dropped off the cases at the front desk at 7 a.m., tagged for FedEx Ground to pick up via Bikeflights.com. We’ve used this service to send our cases three times now. It all works really well and is reasonably priced – under $100 for all three to Phoenix. Half of the cost was for insurance, pick up and residential delivery.

Our first stop at 2.6 miles was Stumptown Coffee in the Arts District on the east side of downtown, which did not disappoint. The coffee was amazing, though we were a bit perplexed by the seeming isolated location. Added bonus: espresso before 8 a.m. was just $1.

Stumptown in the Arts District

I wanted to get an apartment down the street just for this special.

Cool industrial space

Mary finally nudged me out the door, against my will, and off we went into bright morning sun with moderate breezes. Our route crossed the Los Angeles River and left downtown behind. At least it was a quiet Sunday morning. We eyed the homeless camp, reminded that L.A. isn’t just beaches and pretty homes tucked into the hills.

The Los Angeles River

All was quiet until we rode right into a video shoot underway a few blocks later.

A helpful security guard escorted us through the closed street, where a scene was being shot featuring a vintage Datsun 240Z sports car rigged up to a cable. I was ready to get an agent and jump right in to my film career, but Mary again kept me pointed forward.

The route took us through Boyle Heights and points southeast to Fullerton, via side streets. The neighborhoods gradually changed from working-class areas with modest homes to leafy suburbs by the time we joined the Santa Ana River Trail. The trail was busy with riders and runners but not overly crowded, which is a good thing when you’re on an eight-foot bike going 20 m.p.h.

Santa Ana River Trail

I think I had a bit of letdown after all the excitement in the city and started zoning out. Mary yelped when she noticed the parked school bus directly ahead of us on La Mirada Boulevard before we joined the trail. I expertly (meaning, barely) missed it. A well-timed rest stop followed soon after at a Borders bookstore. Yes, Borders is somehow still open in southern California, and they sell Starbucks and have restrooms.

After the trail we rode near the Riverside Freeway until Corona, then started climbing. The whole Corona area had that new development feel, designed primarily for driving but with wide enough roads and a couple of well-placed paved paths. Sunday traffic was light, except around the shopping mall and the I-15 interchanges. Temperatures rose into the 60s.

Corona Climbing

Lunch was at a nice if not spectacular independent Bob Marley-themed coffee cafe, Xpresso Urban, and our final rest stop was at a Ralphs grocery store for one last coffee. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting to upscale Temecula via Lake Elsinore and Murrieta.

We rode into Old Town Temecula in fading afternoon light, where a car rally was ending. The day ended with a fancy bistro dinner at Public House, out on the porch under a heat lamp as the temperatures fell.

Approaching Murrieta

The day was not bad but took a lot of concentration. We looked forward to getting out of suburbia on Monday.

March 19: Brawley

Distance: 138.7 miles. Our route at Strava is here and our photos are here.

The big day loomed. We had to ride 138 miles this day, with the high elevation point of the entire trip, Julian, just about half way.

We got out the door at 7 a.m. (it should have been 6 a.m., but we needed the sleep), to coffee at Bean Coffee Roasters. They did OK. This was yet another shop that serves a big latte with foam and calls it a cappuccino. Anyway, it wasn’t bad and I got a big piece of crumb cake to top off the hotel breakfast. We faced 60 miles of climbing to Julian and needed lots of fuel.

On California 79 on the way to Julian

The road out of town, California 79, was mostly busy coming toward us, but we had our share of traffic pass us. The road had no paved shoulder. Drivers gave us plenty of room, but we were glad to reach the junction with Rt. 371/74 at mile 20, which pulled most of the traffic on our side away towards Palm Desert and Indio.

Not much shoulder, but not much traffic

We started in jackets and warmers – it was in the 40s in Temecula – but by mid-morning those came off.

The terrain turned alpine as we climbed up to our first summit, 3,290 feet, at mile 30, where the friendly Sunshine Summit store offered a rest stop. Nobody else was there but us on what was a peaceful, cool Monday morning.

California cows

The next two hours offered some of the most sublime riding of the tour. We pedaled through green farm valleys dotted with cows. The big push came at the end of this segment, with about seven miles of slow climbing after Santa Ysabel to get up to Julian, mile 60, at elevation 4,200 feet.

Downtown Julian. Really, about all of Julian.

I felt pretty gassed in Julian. This was our first day of extended climbing all year and my legs were ready for a break. I was also bonking. We had a hard time figuring out where to eat, everything looked touristy, but we got a good-enough lunch in the end.

Afterwards Mary held the bike while I tightened the rear derailleur cable, which had loosened slightly and caused some errant shifting. Lacking a better way to pull the cable taut, I used a set of nail clippers, which grabbed on just fine. It seemed to do the trick, as we had solid shifting the rest of the tour. I normally keep a little mini-tool with pliers on the bike, but we left it at home.

The descent from Julian down Banner Grade was a memorable one, all switchbacks and rocky hills. Too rapidly we gave back our hard-earned elevation gain as we steamed toward the southern tip of the Salton Sea.

Banner Grade

By Ocatillo Wells, which seems to be a destination for offroad vehicles, we were back at 166 feet elevation in pure desert. There was barely a sign of green or shade anywhere. Julian is the last high point before dropping into the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, a place aptly named.

Our goal now was to plow through the dead flat remainder of the day’s course and get in by nightfall. After a roadside rest stop, we made the turn at mile 111 onto CA 78/86, a busy highway with a big Border Patrol inspection station. The smell of the Salton was in the air.

Hello, desert.

We rode the wide shoulder in dimming daylight, glad for our generator lights front and rear. Our turnoff came at mile 121, Bannister Road. While bumpy, it was quiet, and we took it and a couple other farm roads to Westmoreland at mile 127. There we had a final quick stop at the Circle K just after dark. We had not made it to our hotel before sunset, but we were close.

Bannister Road, the way we hoped…empty

Brawley appeared just after 8 p.m. Our planned dinner place, Inferno Pizza, was on the left before the hotel, so we ate first, and everything tasted wonderful.  It was Mary’s birthday the next day, so we made that our celebration meal, complete with fried pizza dough things with ice cream, not knowing what we’d find in Blythe.

Dinner at Inferno, and it was good

We did it! Every tour of ours has at least one high-mileage day, and we always get through the low points to finish in good spirits. I’m glad our streak is unbroken.

Our home for the night, the Best Western, was clean and quiet; the best kind of hotel.

Friday: Tour magic on the last three days of our trip.

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