07.04.2017

A two-month discovery of the American West


 

 

Sylvain Bazin leads the life you dream about. He goes from country to country every month, trekking across long distances either on foot or by bike. Wherever the wind blows him in the world, he breathes in deeply so he can describe it all in articles and books. Today, we discover American West.

 

 

 

 



Head to the United States for over two months to explore its wilderness, culture and the wide-open West – that was my plan for summer 2016. And it was a traveller’s dream come true. Though long drawn by the country’s scenery and the adventurous vibe of the new world’s great outdoors, I’d never yet had the chance to explore them. Combining cycling and long-haul hikes, it proved an intense discovery.

 
 

 

 
 
 

It was a tremendous opportunity. A two-month journey with my bonny Breton girlfriend, who was able to take unpaid leave And the appeal of planning a travel project about the easy-paced discovery of outdoor activities in California and the American West, liable to interest my partners and give me precious material for my blog content and journalism. In early June, we flew to San Francisco.

 
A standout bike trip along the Californian coast

After some urban sightseeing to acclimatise and savour Cisco’s charms, we saddled up and began a standout bike trip along the Californian coast, setting our long journey in motion.

  
A hop to Napa and its fine wines

But we kicked off our two-wheeled odyssey with a hop inland, to explore the famous wine-producing region of Napa Valley. Its hills sometimes called to mind southern Spain, and the wine tastings – at wineries or in the pleasant towns of Napa and Calistoga – went down a treat. Only the high price-tags kept us on the straight and narrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

  
On Highway 1

This viticultural warm-up had sharpened our wanderlust: we joined the famous Highway 1, which we would basically ride alongside to the Mexican border and Bodega Bay. This fishing village came to fame as the location where Hitchcock shot The Birds. The environs conjured many movie memories, but we were also swayed by the beauty of the scenery and the wild, unspoilt coastline.

We were also swayed by the beauty of the scenery and the wild, unspoilt coastline

 

 

Our first seaboard stopovers, north of San Francisco, were terrific. A string of small tranquil bays, oyster farms, cliffs and steep hills, and an array of unbeatable ocean views.

We began to alternate between nights in the tent at campsites and in brick-and-mortar accommodation, more conducive to recovery. Our bikes were quite heavily loaded, with all we needed for a two-month trip, including our hiking gear – even though this was perfectly fine for cycling. I often rode in the shorts and T-shirts from the next Lafuma collection, and every day I slipped my Kempi sandals on – they were just right for California’s hot sunny climate.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Just before San Francisco, we discovered the awesome primeval redwoods in Muir Woods. In these parts, nature quickly acquires fascinating proportions. A few more miles in the saddle and we were crossing the renowned Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.

 
The cliffs of Big Sur

After a further city stage, we made for the beaches and then a jagged coastline with wonderful cliffs. We also spotted our first whales in the ocean, not far away.

 

 

 

 

Big Sur was looming: the gradients grew steeper, and steeper. But our efforts were rewarded by consistently stunning vistas and a nice variety of coastal scenery. The woods were dense, and the trees were arresting.

One evening we met some other cycling travellers at one of the superb campsites, where some pitches were reserved for cyclists and hikers; and the price was modest, if you’re self-powered. Every third night, however, we treated ourselves to a motel for better recovery.

 
 
 
 

 

Warm Shower and mythical beaches
 

We also tried the famous “Warm Shower” network, a community of cycling travellers who play host to kindred spirits in their home. We had an excellent evening with Jeff and Kim in Santa Maria, deep in the farmland that marked another original section of our route – an ocean of strawberry fields.After a tough stage, pedalling alongside the highway for much of the time, we returned to the coast for the final furlong of our grand cycling journey.

The big southern beaches beckoned, albeit interspersed with some pretty and even more jagged cliffs. We won’t forget riding through Los Angeles on 4 July, Independence Day, with so many Americans, bedecked in national colours and full of good humour, strolling along the mythical sands of Venice Beach. And yet it was beyond the metro area of LA, at the very end of our journey, that we again felt a powerful impression of beautiful and wild nature, and saw beaches straight out of paradise.

 
These last days, en route to San Diego then the border, were full of good surprises.

There was still time to be surprised by stupendous herds of elephant seals, and beautiful colonies of pelicans, as we pedalled towards the end. San Diego – a super-nice city where life felt very good, with its Andalucia-esque park, its seafront and its artisan cafés – made a fine terminus for our journey of Californian discovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later, we hung up our bikes and continued our American trip in hiker mode!