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Day 34 - September 22, 2010

Claremont/San Diego, California to Mexican border
Miles: 55
Terrain: A couple of big hills early then mostly flat
Weather: Sunny and cool with moderate crosswinds/headwinds

Well, today was the last day of the ride. Checking the route map in the room last night, I figured out I was only about 26 miles from the border, so finishing would be just a matter of making it through downtown San Diego safely. I was on the outskirts of town so there were a few hills to climb and small neighborhoods to get through. Here's one now. You can see some of the buildings of downtown through the trees there on the left side.

There were bike lanes most of the way into San Diego, but they hardly mattered because most of the time the road was so awful I kept having to weave back and forth to avoid horrible potholes, cracks and lumps in the pavement. They were really testing my tires in this city. In some places the gaps were so wide and deep that if I'd hit them, I'm pretty sure I would've bent my rim, even with the extra heavy duty back wheel I'm using. As it was, I managed to get around them by riding a bit more slowly than normal and riding a little further out into traffic than I usually do. There was lots of parallel parking adjacent to the bike lanes anyway so I normally stayed away from the cars anyhow, so as to not get "doored."

Anyway, after going up a pretty steep hill near some college buildings, I started down 4th St. towards downtown and came across this unusual sight, a huge chasm running right through the city. They even had a wooden pedestrian bridge leading across. Apparently this is some sort of protected natural preserve they've left untouched. There was no one down there, so it wasn't a park or anything, just a piece of wilderness inside the city.

Just a few blocks later it started to look like a real town after all. I got to descend for a while, but didn't really enjoy it because I pretty much missed every light, which is par for the course. And I couldn't go too fast or I might hit some obstacle in the road surface. Notice the parallel parking, which kept me well out into the lane all day long. This was typical of southern California, though, so I was used to it by now.

Here's a double pic of San Diego. You'll have to use the scroll bar at the bottom of your screen to move to the right and look at the rest of the scene (I took two pictures adjacent to each other).

Some of the taller buildings of the downtown skyline:

This is the convention center (obviously). Once, many years ago, I came to a game convention at this place. I'd forgotten what it looked like until now. Definitely one of the nicest convention centers I've gamed in.

Also downtown, just across the street from the above picture, is the historic district. I biked through here on my way to Harbor Boulevard, which would take me further southeast along the coast.

The route today had many turns and direction changes, but the instructions I'd copied from the Internet worked perfectly and I soon found myself leaving San Diego proper and heading into outlying areas. There was a naval base (which had signs warning you not to take pictures or videos) followed by the wide streets of Chula Vista. There was so much room here I could keep well away from the parked cars and dodge potholes, especially the cutouts around bus stops, without any real trouble. Only the wind, coming directly out of the south, made this difficult. Plus I refused to stop for a break because I was so close to being done.


As I counted down the miles, I reflected on how I felt about finishing this ride compared to the cross country trip a decade ago. That time, I was constantly hurrying, always leaving early in the morning and pressing myself to do as many miles as possible. There was no camping gear (after the first week, anyway) but trying to average 95-100 miles a day in frequent bad weather and headwinds was really taking its toll on me. By the end of that ride I was desperate for it to be over, and that really wasn't the case this time. I feel great, and despite my frequent complaints about hills and whatever, I really feel like I could keep going a lot longer. If I felt like it, I could probably bike home from here, even though it would take another month and a half to two months. I'm not going to do that, of courrse, but feeling like I could....well, that's a good feeling. I didn't really want this to be over, and once I get back home, I have a feeling I'm going to miss it a lot.

So with all that going through my head I finally got within sight of Mexico. There it is, on the other side of that big wall. Maybe the flag gave it away?

That little sign in the bottom right corner warns that only authorized personnel are permitted in that area, and there were border patrol vehicles driving back and forth, so I didn't try to get to the fence that way. Instead I rode on another mile or so to a pedestrian entry point:

Those turnstiles there mark the entrance to Mexico, but they were a one-way barrier. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to get out of there once I went in, so I just put my hand on the fence. That was it, I'd gone from Canada to Mexico in 34 days of bicyling.

No fanfare, no fireworks, nothing, just me with my hand on a fence, but that was all I needed. I set out over 5 weeks ago with this goal in mind, and here I was. Quest complete.

Though I was officially done, today's ride was only half over, as I still had to get to my hotel. As my reward for finishing, my sister got me a night's stay for me at a nice resort place near Sea World, another 20 miles northwest and close to the airport. I headed back that way, passing through San Diego again, and eventually making it to Sea World, which looks like this from a distance. Some of the buildings from downtown can be seen on the opposite side.

Finally, here's the actual resort where I was staying tonight. By far the best hotel I've been in so far, bar none. Thanks, Cathy, for the high class ending to my long bike trip!

Final stats from the ride:

Total miles: 2260 (doesn't count off day minimum rides)
Average miles per day: 66.45 (not counting off days)
Riding days: 34
Off days: 4
Days camping: 5
Tires worn out: 3
Puncture flats: 0
Broken spokes: 0
Other bike problems: 1 (handlebar tape)
Accidents: 0
Close calls: Too many to count

Amazingly, I didn't get a single flat tire in over 2200 miles. The only time my tires went flat was when the tires themselves wore out. The kevlar interior and extra lining inside the heavy duty tires I started using after the first blowout were enough to shrug off glass, chunks of metal, bad pavement and everything else. Which leads me to my post ride lists:

5 things I learned about the bike on this trip:
(1) Always bring a spare tire
(2) Apply chain lubricant every couple of days
(3) Three water bottles isn't always enough
(4) Don't neglect the brakes
(5) Put your camera close enough to get to while riding

5 things I should've done differently:
(1) More climbing training!
(2) Used front panniers to spread the weight around more
(3) Started 3 or 4 weeks sooner (it was a lot colder on the coast than I thought it would be)
(4) Taken more pictures
(5) Stayed in more hostels

Best experiences of the trip (in no particuar order):
(1) Riding through the redwood forest (especially the hiking path)
(2) Making it through that death climb into San Francisco
(3) The views on the coast (all of them)
(4) Pulling off that century ride into Santa Monica
(5) Finishing

Worst experiences of the trip (in no particular order):
(1) Camping on the beach with that foghorn going all night
(2) The seemingly endless, brutal, and mind-numbing climbs on the coast south of Legett
(3) That one day of constant rain (at least it was the only rain day)
(4) Crossing the Astoria Bridge
(5) Any night I couldn't use my cell phone or get on the Internet

Five things I just don't understand:
(1) Why does every intersection in California require private left turn arrows for every direction?
(2) Why do only the most expensive hotels charge you extra for Internet?
(3) Why do pizzas cost so much more on the west coast than they do in Ohio?
(4) Why do people think it's funny to scream out their windows at bicyclists?
(5) How can convenience store owners sleep at night when they charge $2.95 (or more) for a 24oz bottle of Gatorade?

5 things I didn't know before, but do now:
(1) There's a waterfall near Seattle that's as tall as Niagra Falls
(2) You can make a left turn on red from any street onto a one-way (leftbound) street in Washington State
(3) You can't pump your own gas in Oregon
(4) You can ride your bike on freeways on the west coast, unless posted otherwise
(5) Hostels are cool

Strangest conversation of the trip (this actually happened):
I'm stopped at a light. An old guy, looking like a bum, shuffles up.
Bum: "Hey, you."
Me: "Yes?" (I figure he's going to hit me up for money, which isn't easily accessible while I'm riding.)
Bum: "You kill people?"
Me: (not sure I heard him correctly) ".... What?"
Bum: "I said, do you kill people?"
Me: ""
Bum: "Oh, okay. Just asking." And he walks off.
I don't really know what that was all about. And I really don't want to know.

5 tips about staying in cheap hotels:
(1) If they don't have an ice machine, ask for ice. Usually, they will get you some out of their own fridge. This works best if you've been polite and friendly with the desk clerk (even if they don't speak English well, which is all too common).
(2) If they put out free shampoo, use some of it, then take the bottle with you. You may not see any more for days.
(3) Shop around. If there are several hotels in an area, get prices from all of them before choosing. Don't pay for amenities you don't need. I only wanted Internet and a bed and shower, so why should I pay more for a place with a pool or continental breakfast?
(4) You can sometimes haggle. It's easier to get away with it mid-week, late in the day, and if the parking lot looks empty. I got winter rates at a really nice place because there was almost nobody there that night and they didn't want to let me get away. Saying I was heading off to a campground also saved me money on several occasions. Oh, and if you do haggle, don't expect to get a AAA discount or coupon discount afterwards.
(5) The outside appearance of a hotel means nothing. Some of my better rooms on this trip looked like absolute crap from the road, but were surprisingly nice once I got indoors.

5 new bicycling tips:
(1) When riding on freeways, assume everyone you see is going to exit at the offramp you're about to cross over.
(2) Allow extra space when riding next to parallel parked cars. You never know when a door's going to open.
(3) Don't pass on the right unless you have a bike lane. Drivers hate this.
(4) Signal all turns and stops, and make room for people turning right. Drivers love this.
(5) Remember to have fun at all times. If it's not fun, what are you doing here?

People I want to thank for helping make this possible (in no particular order):
(1) My parents, who gave me plenty of moral support, and talked to me every day I had cell coverage, easing the loneliness factor considerably
(2) Cathy (my sister) who took care of checking my mail, watching my apartment and car, and got me a nice hotel room as a reward for finishing
(3) Tom, who picked me up from the airport, let me stay at his place for a few days, and came to visit in Astoria
(4) Phil, who drove me to the starting point, and helped out regularly by checking the Internet for me when I didn't have a connection
(5) Bobby & Betsy, who put me up for a couple of nights in San Francisco when I desperately needed a day off
(6) Brandon and his family, whom I'd never met before, who let me stay at their place for a night, and another night in their cabin
(7) Dan, who kept me updated with gaming stuff I otherwise would've missed while touring
(8) Jason and his girlfriend, who bought me lunch in LA as I was passing through
(9) Anyone who stopped and talked to me on the way, boosting my ego and reassuring me that what I was doing was pretty cool

I did have a lot of fun on this trip. I saw things I never thought I'd see, and will probably never see again. Many of these are here on this site in pictures, but there was a lot more that I wasn't able to post. Those will just have to live on in my memory. I highly recommend the Pacific Coast if you're up for a long adventure. Even if you don't bike it, at least drive it, or parts of it. You'll see some truly amazing things, I assure you. Enjoy!

A few bonus pics from the Day After Ride

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