Pacific Coast Tour: Day 24
Day 24: Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA to Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico to Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA
Approximate daily mileage ~ 62 miles
Approximate total mileage ~ 1,919 miles
Approximate daily elevation gain ~ 1,000 feet
Approximate total elevation gain ~ 73,600 feet
The last day of the tour had finally arrived. The feeling was surreal. It was around 6 AM and I was wide awake with excitement. Normally, my heart rate would be low and calm after waking, but instead my chest was pounding as if I had just sprinted up a hill in Northern California. Staring at the ceiling for about 15 minutes I didn't want to move. The sooner I moved from the couch, the sooner it would all be done, no longer real, and only a memory.
Soon enough, I was up and packing my things for the day trip to Tijuana and back. My kind friend, Alba, had made a delicious breakfast of Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and blueberries which was the perfect fuel to start the day. By 9 AM I was on the road first cruising through the quiet beach neighborhood of Pacific Beach. Next, I took the Bayside bike path and Mission Blvd across a bridge and past Sea World. After passing through the neighborhood of Point Loma Heights, I continued on North Harbor Drive passing the airport and scenic harbors of North San Diego Bay. The first stop was at Embarcadero. This is where the ferry departs for a quick trip across the bay to Coronado Island. Taking the ferry over to continue on Coronado Island was an easy choice compared to navigating busier city traffic. Additionally, from previous ferry rides near Vancouver and San Francisco I found out how great they are for a change in views. The bonus was that there was a great coffee shop nearby which had very tasty almond butter, banana, and honey toast in addition to great coffee. Waiting for the toast nearly caused me to miss the ferry, but I made it just in time. I was the last to board, and it was well worth it.
The ferry ride was calm and short with numerous other cyclists on board who had already been riding in San Diego for the morning returning home. Once on Coronado Island there are a good number of restaurants and shops at Coronado Ferry Landing. It seemed to be a good place to visit for a day while in San Diego. The roads through town were smooth with little traffic. Then there was a nice long stretch along a dedicated bike path called the Silver Strand Bikeway/ Bayshore Bikeway. This was the perfect route. It led past Silver Strand State Beach, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado (where Navy SEALs are trained), and eventually San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The route then returned to the city roads of South San Diego. I quickly found myself riding by a shopping center just before the US/Mexico border. It had really warmed up again, and thirst had set in. To remedy this, I stopped at a McDonald's for a chocolate sundae and refreshment. Finally, the border was less than a mile away.
Following a few signs I found the pedestrian crossing area to leave the United States and enter Mexico. This seemed to be a better option than riding on the interstate and waiting in traffic. I was able to ride right up to the turnstile gate. Just before passing through, I dismounted from my trusty bicycle and walked it through toward customs. There was a short line with less than a 5 minute wait to speak with the customs agent. They looked at me, had zero questions, and let me go while stamping my passport. Next was the security checkpoint with most people scanning their luggage through the x-ray machine. Again, I waited in line for a short while expecting to be searched or questioned. Quite the opposite happened as they ushered me through quickly without a single word or glance in any of my bags. Apparently they weren't concerned, and I was now officially in the country of Mexico!
I walked my bike the remainder of the way along the elevated pedestrian pathway until reaching the first road. It became immediately very apparent I was in a different country. Other than the language difference on the signs, there was a great deal of difference in organization of traffic and obeying of traffic laws. This made for interesting and slower travel through the city streets of Tijuana. My plan was to check out the city with a good ride and then find some tasty food for lunch before heading back across to the US. Considering the traffic and lack of anything resembling a bike lane I decided it was best to cut the ride short after only a few miles. I felt extremely fortunate to have avoided any serious accident up to this point of the trip and didn't want to push my luck on the last day. During this time, I came across a large sign over the road that read, "Bienvenidos Tijuana B.C. Mexico". Indeed, it was a warm welcome to Tijuana.
The next search was for a place to get some lunch. Fortuitously, a small place on a somewhat quieter side street appeared. It was called Casa Cacao. It turned out to be the perfect place for lunch. As the name would suggest, all their cuisine is focused around chocolate. I ordered an espresso and the owner gave me a piece of dark chocolate on the side. After conversing with him some more, I found out that they roast their own cacao beans on site and make all their own chocolate. The chocolate was delectable as was the pollo y mole I had for a main dish. The owner and I continued conversing throughout my meal. He said I was the second person who had done a similar bike trip and stopped there along the way. He showed me around, and before I left he was sure to take my photo to post on their well followed Instagram page.
From there, I slowly made my way back to the border crossing. This took longer than one might expect as there was very little signage leading to the correct location. Nevertheless, I was able to find the way back and walked with pedestrians back toward the US boarder crossing. Upon re-entering the United States, I anticipated a full search of all my bags and heavy questioning of exactly what I was doing. However, it was the just the opposite treatment and very similar to when I had entered Mexico just a few hours prior. They only asked what I was doing for the day, and there wasn't even a hint of checking any of my bags or bicycle. Just like that, I was back in the United States! Only about 30 miles of backtracking along the same route remained for the day and to complete the 1900 mile journey.
The ride back went swimmingly and felt like a celebratory leisure cruise. I chose the route across Coronado Island again. This time I stopped to take a photo of the entrance of the Naval Amphibious Base. This didn't last long as the guard shouted across the street at me, "Sir! No photos are allowed here!". This was good to know! I proceeded back to Coronado Ferry Landing then purchased a ticket to take the ferry back across the bay. While waiting, I was sure to stop at Coronado Cupcakery which is owned by the daughters of the owner of Casa Cacao where I ate previously in the day. The owner of Casa Cacao had sold me, and the cupcakes were well worth it. In fact, I enjoyed 2 of them! On the ferry ride back I was sure to sit on the open upper deck for unbeatable views of the bay and the city. It was around this time that sheer bliss had arrived. There were only about 11 miles remaining until completion of the journey.
I took the same route back passing the USS Midway Museum, taking the bridge over the bay, and arriving in Pacific Beach. Each city block became sweeter. I even circled around about 7 extra blocks just to prolong the glorious day a little while longer. Braking slowly to a calm stop I couldn't help but smile wide with a tremendous grin. That was it! My trusty bicycle and I had rolled past one of the most beautiful stretches of land and sea in world all the way from Vancouver, British Columbia to Tijuana, Mexico covering over 1900 miles. It was complete.
As soon as I had conjured up this idea many months before, I had anticipated this day. When I first decided on this journey there was no way to fathom what all would transpire or how it would unfold. As it turned out, each day played out exactly as it was intended (whether I knew it at the time or not). Every moment and event throughout the trip, no matter whether it would be labeled as difficult or trying versus easy and joyous, made for one unforgettable and illuminating experience.
People often ask, "So what was it like?". Even with all these words, blog posts, pictures, and the YouTube movie trying my best to explain, the only proper answer would be, "You had to be there". My only hope is that some aspect of these blog posts spark an idea for someone. My intent was to provide insight to one route great cycling route, an example of traveling by bicycle in a beautiful area, a glimpse of the random kindness of strangers, or possibly even inspiration for someone to set out toward a dream of their own.
What did it take to make it happen? An idea, persistence, and perseverance. Simple but not always easy.