Pacific Coast Cycling Adventure

By Ken Robertson 

When we embarked on our 1,400 mile self-supported journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Monterey, California, last July, my daughter Julie and I were sure of only one thing: We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But a month later, by the time we were on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Salinas to Seattle, our anticipation and nerves had evolved into gratitude and new friendships.  

We were able to connect with some wonderful people and nature, using hiker/biker campsites throughout the trip. Our typical daily routine started with oatmeal for breakfast, packing our bikes for the day’s ride, taking a break mid-morning at a bakery or coffee shop, finding a spot with views of the Pacific to eat lunch (tuna, flatbread, fruit, and chocolate was a classic), pulling into a grocery store by mid-afternoon, and then riding to our destination for the night. 

We set up our campsite, bought firewood, and then Julie would disappear to write or paint in her journal while I would befriend fellow campers. Without a doubt, we were fast asleep shortly after sunset. We quickly got into a rhythm of life on our tour, which was all consuming in a wonderful way.    

We were able to connect with many kinds people and, of course, the beauty of nature along the way. Jerry and Rea in Elma charged us $5 for camping and gave us eight homemade cookies and great advice for cycling the Oregon and California coasts. Through Oregon, we cycled and dined with Chantal, Sonny, and Paul for about a week. All three were hearing-impaired. They inspired us with their gourmet cooking, kindness, and bravery and became great friends.  

Ken and his daughter, Julie, take in the view. // Photo by Ken Robertson

When our friends Edward and Emily—another father-daughter duo from Richmond, Virginia— joined us for two weeks, we formed an awesome cycling team. A third father-daughter duo, Tom and Angela, rescued me on Highway 1, when I took a spill and Phyllis at the Tomales Bakery gave me first aid supplies—and leftover pastries for breakfast the next morning! 

My lifetime memories of our trip will be of Julie’s compassionate leadership, the many friends we made at our stops along the way, and the friends with whom we rode. I will always recall the stunning views, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the Redwoods and other magnificent forests. 

What did I re-learn from our bicycle tour? Resilience and determination at any age works! It’s okay (even good) to ask others for help. And finally, enjoy what each day brings—even if you’re not sure what it will be.

Pacific Coast Trip Planning Tips 

  • Buy the Adventure Cycling Association’s paper map set and app. 
  • Read “Cycling the Pacific Coast” by Bill Thorness.  
  • Create an Excel document with a tentative day-by-day plan. However, hiker/biker sites throughout Washington, Oregon, and California do not require an advance reservation, and we had no problems with them filling up.  
  • Test all gear. In the months preceding, we did two trial runs to local campsites to make sure our set-up was ready for the long haul. Our trial runs helped us dial in the packing list and allay our questions and concerns.  
  • Trim excess. Nothing like a two-hour climb to remind you every ounce counts! Even so, we had about a 70-pound set-up each. 
  • Preserve some space for grocery runs. Food is a central part of a cross-country trip and a great morale booster. 

Ken Robertson graduated from WSU on an Army ROTC scholarship and spent over 20 years in the Army, where he deployed in the First Gulf War. In retirement, he now enjoys yoga, cycling, swimming, and quality time with his wife, children, and grandchildren.   

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