The Penultimate Pedal

Day 34, second-to-last (according to plan): Yet another lightly overcast coastal morning, quickly turning to full Southern California sunshine. We walked a few blocks from our hotel for breakfast at an 80s-themed diner, BC-DC (Breakfast Club Diner California) with pictures on the menu of various hair bands, of “the miracle on ice” pulled off by the 1980 US men’s hockey team, and of Michael Jackson, and really good, fluffy blueberry buttermilk pancakes.

Soon we were a-rollin’ south again, through coastal communities like Carlsbad and Encinitas (the latter especially re-visitable), up and down little hills, over causeways, past harbors and surfing beaches, mostly on wide shoulders and the occasional stretch of bike path. Packs of recreational riders swarmed past us, and posted bike route signs proliferated. It was warm, maybe one of the warmest days of the whole tour, but whenever our generally south-by-southeast heading veered one way or the other, we welcomed the steady cool Pacific breeze.

In Encinitas we paused at a bluff-top picnic table to snack and slather on more sunscreen (it’s David who slathers, Ashley content with a few strategic dabs). Down below, as we’ve seen almost continuously for days, frolicked packs of surfers in wetsuits, their vans and RVs parked along the highway, lines of them coming and going along the beach paths.

“If everybody had an ocean

Across the USA

Then everybody’d be surfin’

Like Cali-for-nye-a”

Also in Encinitas we passed the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple, founded by Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, the Bengali guru who relocated to Southern California in the 1930s. Fun facts: Mark Twain’s daughter Clara was one of his disciples, and it was here that he wrote Autobiography of a Yogi (1946).

Climbing into Torrey Pines Preserve was the first and only time the shoulder was divided into two bike lanes, the polar opposite of Laguna Beach. It was also the only significant climb today, a few hundred feet. Far cry from the thousand-foot climbs of yore!

Atop the hill sits the UCSD main campus, and a long descent brought us into La Jolla with its elegantly landscaped homes, upscale shops, and, weirdly, some badly cracked and rutted pavement.

Here we paused for a quick lunch at a corner bistro — well, David’s chicken tortilla soup and croissant were instantaneously served, but Ashley had to wait 30 minutes for a milkshake (“the ice cream is hard, they’re working on it”). (That’s right, a milkshake for lunch. Ah, touring life!)

We followed a winding harbor road among lines of cars going 5mph, serenaded by barking seals, and the traffic steadily picked up as we got closer and closer to San Diego.

In Mission Beach we turned onto a crowded pedestrian/bike/skateboard/rollerblade oceanside path that had us half-riding, half-walking our bikes past shops, bars, dudes drinking beer on the verandas of rental apartments, and wetsuited surfers vaulting the low sea wall with their boards pivoting unpredictably. It could have been tedious, but the sheer human interest kept us fascinated.

The scene was wild, hugely entertaining even when one is in the middle of passing it by. We’d love to sit for a while and watch: the bearded hippies on old-school skates, gray-haired women learning to ride scooters, the kids hopping the dividing wall between their rentals and the beach, the women on cruisers wearing backpacks full of dog…. we want to come back and spend a few days living on this chaotic spit of oceanfront. But there’s a dark side to this kind of scene: it’s frequented by mid-life-crisis-aged men with too much gel in their thinning hair, driving Chevy convertibles with license plates that read, “SLICK EH.” The question is perhaps rhetorical; the answer is undeniably no.

Some busy but well-shouldered urban riding brought us to San Diego harbor, past the airport and along a park-like shoreline to downtown, past the HMS Surprise, a precise replica of an 18th-century 24-gun British warship used to film Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander, and a few short blocks up to our hotel.

Although we still have 20 more miles to the Mexican border, we decided on a premature celebration, what we decided to call a “blur” of breweries. San Diego is lousy with breweries, not only the titans like Ballast Point, Stone, and Coronado, but more small and new ones than we can count. Ballast Point is a favorite, the mango even keel (David) and all varieties of sculpin (Ashley), so we started there, with a 20-mile Lyft ride with Josh, a Fort Worth emigrant who was probably the flat-out craziest rideshare driver we’ve ever experienced. He was going through some kind of personal crisis, and was too inarticulate to explain it very well.

So I was smoking weed with some people I met at Walmart, and it was, like, the universe, man. It sucks, man. I have this calling, you know, but all my life I’ve been lost. Good and evil, man. I have all these thoughts, and, like, I need a tape recorder so I don’t keep forgetting them.

Josh kept talking as we got out of his car at Ballast Point, even as we thanked him and walked away, happy to have survived what we thought at times was a potentially scary situation.

At Ballast Point we had dinner, a little early but we’d had no real lunch, so: calamari, fish tacos, and a lamb burger. All excellent, and we admired the rows upon rows of house brew but sampled only two. From there, a half-mile walk to two smaller spots, side by side: Pure Project (tiny, trendy, packed, with a first-rate saison and a proclivity for triple IPAs, which we always skip); and Amplified, decent but not spectacular, with less range and way fewer patrons. At this point we were shadowing the San Diego beer tour bus, which charges a piratical $75 a pop for a measly three brewhouses. Lyft was cheaper.

The fourth stop, also within walking distance, was the charming Duck Foot.

The best we sampled here (and it was only tasters at each spot) was the coconut IPA, summery and nearly perfect, if less complex than the offerings at either Ballast Point or Pure Project. Duck Foot was having its trivia night, and the emcee was a little grating, so we moved on. Decided to try Saint Archer, a brewery big enough to distribute to Reno.

The Saint Archer tasting room.

It was a longer walk, but it helped work off the lamb burger. Another warehouse-style space, another trivia night, but good IPAs and a comfortable atmosphere. Any other night we would have lingered, but we greedily wanted to collect one or two more, and since we were limiting ourselves to tastes at each one, that seemed doable. We Lyfted the mile or so to Rough Draft: the writing-teachers in us were taken with the name, but it was a depressing spot and we didn’t linger. Unexceptional in every way. Another short Lyft ride brought us to 32 North, a vast industrial space which was by 9 pm basically empty: us, a distracted barkeep, and one other quiet dude. Another good saison, less memorable than that at Pure Project. With a group, on a bustling weekend, this would be a destination; tonight it felt sleepy, like us.

And so to bed, confident that we’d made all the right decisions.

Today’s ride: 43 miles, 1616 feet, 3:45.

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