[continued, Part 2]
Our mood light, we left Carlsbad and started pedaling toward Whole Foods in Encinitas where we planned to buy dinner groceries. We spent most of the ride from Carlsbad to Encinitas talking about food and what we all wanted for dinner on our last night of camping. We settled on some kind of BBQ, thinking we’d cook on the fire. We pulled up to Whole Foods and leaned the heavy gear laden bikes just outside the store entrance. The boys went in the store to shop while the girls stayed outside with the bikes. Tim had been talking about Cocchi all day and was looking forward to some cocktails at the campground that evening. Unfortunately, unlike our local Whole Foods in Seattle, this one didn’t carry it. So he settled for a nice dry rose instead.
Tim sent a series of texts while he shopped. Carne Asada? I replied, Yes! Grilled peppers? Yum! Baguette and chevre? This is getting better. Cherry Pie? Why not? Even though Tim doesn’t eat pie or bread, he’s always thinking about the bread and sweet eaters in the family. He finally emerged from the store almost an hour later, carrying multiple bags for our celebratory feast.
We pedaled over to San Elijo State Beach, just 1.7 miles from the store, our panniers loaded with all of our yummy food.
We turned into the campground and were greeted by a horde of cars waiting to check in. We waited in line, rolling up to the booth a few minutes after we pulled in. Tim took care of the usual campsite check-in routine. Hiker/biker please, two adults, two kids. To Tim’s surprise, the woman at the booth began to grill him. “Where are you from?” Tim replied, “We’re on a tour from Seattle” Skeptical, she continued to question him. “No, no, where did you ride from?” He replied, “Well, Seattle, but not last night, today we rode from Doheny.”
Continuing with the disbelief, she asked, “You rode those bikes from Seattle?”
[Tim here]. Let me interrupt and tell you that normally when we meet people who ask that question their disbelief is usually toned with admiration. They may not be able to wrap their heads around why we’d do such a thing, but they’re impressed nonetheless.
This was not one of those times. Instead of admiration, her tone clearly telegraphed what she really wanted to say: “I don’t believe you. You probably parked your car across the street and now you are trying to get beach camping in our awesome park on 4th of July weekend by saying you rode your bikes. You are a liar.”
She then grilled us on our equipment (we didn’t have enough of it in her eyes), our bikes (not fancy enough to ride all that way), and outfits (how can you possibly ride a bike that far without a special bike costume?).
I then recounted our last couple hundred miles, talking about the roads we’d ridden, then sights we’d seen, and the parks we’d camped in. I was just offering to dig up the receipt from our glamorous previous night stay at Doheny when she finally relented and decided to believe me.
Her excuse for the rough treatment? Apparently they don’t get a lot (any!) of families on tandem bikes but they do get a lot of cheaters. She said she’d been working the park four summers and couldn’t recall any family bike tourists (and was absolutely positive she’d Never checked in a family on a tandems). Gee… based on the lovely welcome we’ve received from California State Parks in Southern California I can’t imagine why they aren’t more popular among families.
But that’s when things got really weird.
First she told us she wasn’t sure if there was room as another couple had already checked in (which we were pretty sure she was talking about our touring friends, Henry & Danielle). This concept of “fit” struck me as kinda weird because “squeezing in” is the nature of the hiker-biker site. We’ve talked about this before, but as a refresher: these sites can vary quite a bit in size, shape and amenities. The basics generally include a couple picnic tables, a fire pit or two, and enough flat space for 3-5 tents. Some, like Pfeiffer Big Sur go way beyond that providing privacy from the motorized area of camp, close-by restrooms (and phone charging abilities) and an all-around large, lovely forest setting.
Obviously we love the deluxe sites, but don’t really expect much beyond basics.
I assured her we knew the other campers and that we’d be willing share the space with them (and they’d be willing to share with us). But she still didn’t want to take our money, suggesting that we ride down and check out the site first to make sure it would be OK. She doled out some more scoop: Apparently this wasn’t their normal hiker-biker sites. A couple of the motorized sites had washed out in a big storm and no longer had parking pads suitable for cars and trailers. So they converted their hiker-biker site to vehicular use and were putting us in these washed out sites. Again, this didn’t seem like much of a problem.
At this point I was finally losing patience. A site without a parking pad seemed much preferable to the alternative—riding down the freeway to San Diego in the dark while toting cold beverages and raw meat.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” I said. “It’s not like we have anywhere else we can go if we don’t like it.”
I didn’t even bother to make the per-bike fee argument, at this point almost gladly paying the per-person fee for each of us ($40). Sure, this essentially meant we paid the same amount (more if you included what Henry and Danielle paid, total revenue collected for the hiker/biker that night = $60!) as the giant truck, RV and 12 people we’d have as neighbors in the next site over. But it also meant we had a flat spot, picnic table, and fire pit and could share a celebratory end-of-trip evening of food and drink with our new bike touring friends. Right?
[Now back to Anne]
We coasted down to the end of the campground to the “hiker/biker” site. As we pulled in, we noticed Henry and Danielle huddled in their tent. They looked kinda miserable but their eyes brightened when they saw us pedal up. They asked if we got their text. What text? Apparently they attempted to warn us about the dismal accommodations at San Elijo and to encourage us to stay in a hotel. We didn’t get the text. Shoot!
The reason they tried to warn us…. this site was the worst yet. It came with orange plastic barrier material strewn about, an abandoned wheelbarrow, and random piles of gravel and asphalt all over the site. Henry and Danielle said they even cleaned up before we arrived, I can’t imagine what it looked like when they pulled up. They set up their tent in the only flat spot they could find right next to the chain link fence. And the reason they were huddled in their tent: they had nowhere to sit, the site had no picnic table. Remember, bike tourists don’t travel with chairs and we do like to have a place to sit and eat after a long day in the saddle. To top it off it had no fire pit! We were counting on a fire pit to cook our dinner, we had gourmet raw meat in our panniers, how would we cook it?
After catching up with them, sharing our disbelief and making jokes about the worst hiker/biker site ever, we decided to deal with the site as-is. Priority number one: find a way to cook our grass-fed carne asada that was quickly warming up in our food pannier.
I decided to stop complaining about the situation and do something about it.
So I did what any seasoned mother will do, I went into full-on mama bear mode. This mama and her kids are hungry, and I need to find a way to cook our meat.
I wandered over to the packed site next to us (they were having some kind of family reunion, I counted at least 20 people in the site when we pedaled up) to ask if they could help us with our meat situation.
Luckily the neighbors were nice! I told them about our trip, explained our raw meat/lack of fire pit conundrum and asked if we could borrow their gas bbq to cook our dinner. They said sure, we’ll bring it over after we finish eating. Yay, we don’t have to eat raw meat tonight! This is getting better. After securing the bbq, I cracked some beers we’d been keeping on ice in our cold pannier and we set to work finding a flat spot for our four-person tent (not a simple task in the gravel pit site). The two perfectionists in our family are sometimes hard to please when it comes to finding the perfect spot for the tent. They settled on the only non-lumpy spot available and called it good enough.
The ten-year-old entertained himself taking photos of passing pelicans and surfers of all ages on the beach while we set up the tent. Our daughter tried to get rid of her disappointment about our last night of camping gone wrong. This is not what she had in mind for her last night of camping on the trip. I completely understood how she was feeling and gave her some space.
As we were setting up the tent, the neighbors delivered a Weber Q BBQ and a small side table we could use for cooking. We thanked them repeatedly! Not a minute later, they came right back, this time with a picnic table! They said they had extras — I guess when you arrive with big trucks and trailers, you pack extra picnic tables.
While we got the BBQ set up, Henry and Danielle wandered up to the camp store to get some food for our group dinner. We dug into the baguette and chevre while Tim BBQd the meat. When Henry and Danielle returned, we all gathered around the picnic table and shared a lovely meal featuring carne asada, grilled peppers and cherry pie with ice cream. We washed it all down with a nice dry rose.
We sat around our shared table laughing, telling stories and relishing our last night of the trip. Our friendly and generous neighbors stopped by a few times during the evening to chat with us. We learned they were from Arizona and multiple generations of family met in this campground every Fourth of July weekend to escape the Arizona heat. One of the guys in the group had kids the same age as ours and was curious about bike touring with kids. He said he was a mountain biker, but might want to give touring a try. We encouraged him to go for it, as it’s an experience like no other. And do it now while his kids still want to spend time with him. And that bike touring is the perfect family bonding experience. Oh and don’t forget, it teaches kids about perseverance, flexibility and resourcefulness!
We went to bed happier than when we arrived, content that we salvaged our evening and looking forward to our last day of the tour.
Route: Old Hwy 1, route goes through Camp Pendleton — Marine Base and the rest on Hwy 1
High: Tim rebuilt his hub on the sidewalk in Carlsbad about 30 minutes. And we met the nicest people! So many passersby asking about our trip and congratulating us.
Low: Started out as a low and ended up being OK. San Elijo — the worst campsite yet!
Sleep: San Elijo State Beach
Tomorrow is our last day of riding, we arrive in San Diego!
- Anne and Tim