The morning gray had resumed. I rose, went into the kitchen and made oatmeal.

“You’re going to need protein to go with those carbs,” said my cousin. “I’ll make something for you.”

Five minutes later, he served it. “Hey, look!” I exclaimed to his wife. “My cousin made me a three-egg burrito. I can eat some now and some later.”

“See how we take care of you?” she said.

That they do.

I continued down the coast. If Manhattan Beach was not flat, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach were really not flat. It was a tough ride all morning, as my legs continued announcing their displeasure and my gut continued pushing calories to them. I had done parts of this ride before, but never the entire stretch. Although I passed nice scenery, I wasn’t in much of a mood to enjoy it. There was too much work to do and too many miles for me to cover. I stopped for lunch in Dana Point.

While I was eating, my friend from Santa Barbara texted: “How goes it? Where are you today?”

“Dyin’ in Dana Point,” I replied. “Trying to reach Oceanside today, but tough going because of the hills. I may join the Marine Corps just so I can catch a nap in Camp Pendleton.”

South of Dana Point, the Coast Highway Protected Trail runs alongside El Camino Real. A young woman on a coaster bike pulled out from the beach onto the trail ahead of me. Dedicating her left hand to the bike and her right hand to her mobile phone, she conversed with a friend for at least a mile, effortlessly pedaling while I huffed and puffed along in the afternoon gray. Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

When I reached San Clemente, the map did everything it could to keep me off of El Camino Real, indicating a zigzag route that probably involved ups and downs. My legs were having none of it.

“Get us the hell to Oceanside!” they demanded.

Trading off the ups and downs for a single, long climb, I stuck to El Camino Real and stopped to rest on a bench at the top of the hill.

The route south from San Clemente is a patchwork of residential streets, bikeways, ancient highways, a long, thin campground in a state beach, and something that looks a lot like a jet runway, all running alongside the I-5. At one point, you enjoy an almost pastoral view of the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

This stretch is a sort of carve-out from Marine Base Camp Pendleton. For me, it heralded the end of riding through L.A. sprawl and the return to landscape that is happily undeveloped (albeit for military reasons and with superhighway traffic).

The first order of business upon reaching the state park was to locate a wooden picnic bench – easy, now that the holiday crowd had departed – and lie down for a bit. To pacify my legs, I managed to doze off for a few minutes, then told them relief was only a few miles away.


I owed it to my legs, myself and those who love me to at least try to obtain a pass to ride the approved, off-interstate route through Camp Pendleton. I pedaled an unwelcome hill to the gate at Las Pulgas Road, where I spoke with one of three military policemen wearing body armor and toting machine guns.

MP: Sir?

Me (panting from the climb): I’d like to ride through the base, please.

MP: Do you have a base pass?

Me: No. I registered and was in the system a few years ago, the last time I rode through.

MP: Oh. That system is obsolete.

Me: So, how do we do this?

MP: You come back Monday, sir, and apply for a pass in that building. (Indicating Building 41501, next to the gate.)

Me: Monday?! Today’s only Thursday!

MP: That’s how we do this. (Pausing.) Sir.

Me: Well, then I guess I’m taking the I-5, right?

MP: That’s up to you. (Pausing.) Sir.

I made a U-turn around the median, coasted back down Las Pulgas and up the on-ramp to the I-5.

Do you ever drive the freeway with your windows rolled down? Of course not. Why not? Because it’s too bloody loud. Turns out it’s even louder when you’re riding a bicycle alongside the freeway. The roar of trucks, SUVs and ordinary sedans rushing past me was deafening and rather daunting. Even the surface of the shoulder – despite the small bits of litter all over it – was less troublesome that the menacing din of passing vehicles on the concrete highway. The noise level prevented the idea of taking a selfie from even crossing my mind; too bad, because it would have been one of the more riveting photos in this travelogue.

Fortunately, the shoulder was wide, and bright-green signs announced “Cyclists on Shoulder” as a warning to motorists – at least, to those motorists attentive enough to notice them. Also fortunately, the traffic generated a mild tailwind, or counteracted any headwind, enough to appease my legs and seat. Most fortunate of all, the nine-mile stretch is interrupted at mile two by a rest stop, where I paused to use the restroom, have a snack, rethink my life and hope the damage to my hearing would not be permanent.

“All right, legs,” I said. “One final push. Then we rest.”

“What about me?” nagged my seat.

“Yes,” I answered, “we all get to rest soon.”

So, nothing untoward happened, or even came close to happening, as I rode I-5. A long, loud way later, I exited at Harbor Drive in Oceanside and rode down Pacific Avenue, where the most perilous thing I did all day was to stand in the middle of the street and take a selfie.

I stayed at my parents’ place and inhaled a bowl of tortellini while enjoying the company of another high school chum. He knew me well enough to know that riding a bicycle on the I-5 was right in character for me, so I didn’t have to explain much.

Share This