Reconnecting with Old Friends in California, Feb 2024

You can’t make “new” old friends, so find ways to reconnect, preferably by bike.

When our family decided to spend a few days together in February on the West Coast, I brought along my new Brompton folding bike for a three-day 110-mile tour on the sunny Pacific Coast, and reconnected with old friends along the way. For reasons I cannot fathom, all of them moved away from New Jersey to sunny Southern California. View the full-screen map of my route (but don’t follow my westbound path out of Long Beach – see below) and click photos to view them in context.

Day 1: Dana Point to Long Beach, 55 miles

After Beth and our family spent time together in San Diego and Dana Point, I pedaled off on my Brompton for its first big ride. Sunshine replaced raindrops, and the guided me through a great network of bike paths around the Laguna Hills region. Felt spoiled while riding in 65° F weather in February. Note to self: Replace the Brompton factory-installed 50-tooth chainring with a more reasonable 40-tooth chainring to lower the gear-inch range from its default road bike mode of 33-100 inches to a touring-friendly 26-80 inches. While I never needed to walk my bike up a California hill, lowering the gearing would make it a more enjoyable ride for me. Check out this handy Brompton Gear Calculator site.

Departing the Bitchin’ Beach House in Dana Point with my Brompton, and pedaling along the Pacific at Huntington Beach

The night before my trip, I realized that my route would take me through Irvine CA, an excellent opportunity to reconnect with my old friend Keith Corpus. We taught together in Newark NJ from 1989 to 1992. Long ago I promised Keith that I’d visit him someday on a bike tour, but neglected to tell him which year or decade. A quick web search led me to the name and address of the school where he’s a principal, only a couple of miles from my route. But in keeping with the spirit of the early 1990s, when we did not have email or mobile phones, I decided to simply pop in and surprise him. Using my school schedule spider sense, my arrival just before lunch meant that Keith was standing in the school’s front lobby near the sign-in desk, exactly where my calculations predicted he would be. Keith greeted me with a big hug and kindly made time in his busy schedule to show me around the school, introduce me to several colleagues, and catch up with each other. So much fun to reconnect with an old friend and pick up again from our last phone conversation a decade ago.

Reconnecting with Keith Corpus at his school in Irvine CA

After departing Keith’s school, my route led me around the UC-Irvine campus and up and down some hills to the coastline. Pedaling along the Pacific Ocean put a big goofy smile on my face, and I held onto it all the way into Long Beach. Stayed at the small independent (and inexpensive) Hotel Royal built during the Art Deco era, right across the street from the city’s top-rated Thai restaurant for my dinnertime refueling, and two blocks away from the city’s top-rated bakery for the next day’s breakfast. A good day on a bike tour!

Day 2: Long Beach to Santa Monica, 38 miles

This was supposed to be an easy ride, I had thought. And it started wonderfully, with impressive separated bike paths and bakeries in downtown Long Beach. But the previous day’s path along the Pacific lulled me into thinking the next day would be similar, so foolishly did not double-check the route out of Long Beach offered by my trust tool. And rather than blaming the map tool, let’s blame whoever decided to mark this truck-infested industrial zone of the Pacific Coast Highway/CA Route 1 as the official “Bike Route.” While I’m fairly comfortable biking with traffic, I draw the line when there’s two lanes of trucks doing 45+ mph over a bridge, with zero shoulder due to concrete construction barriers. Even when it’s a sunny day. Do not follow my route heading west out of Long Beach. Instead, find yourself a better route, double-check it before you go, and email me your advice for my next trip through here. (PS: I also had Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast map 5 with me, but had already biked too far north by this point. Instead, I used Google Maps to noodle my way around some residential neighborhoods and storefront roads in Wilmington and Avalon Village to get back on track in Carson.)

Who decided to call the lower photo of Pacific Coast Highway / CA Route 1 a ‘Bike Route’? Looked even worse with two lanes of trucks speeding up the bridge with no shoulder.

Fortunately, getting back to the Pacific Ocean put me in a great mood again. Took a lunch break at the Redondo Beach pier. This was the first time I’ve strolled on a circular pier that loops over the water (and as Beth knows, I really like loops). Pedaling further north along the coast eventually brought me to the most gorgeous Trader Joe’s (next to a marina, with really wide shopping aisles!). At funky Venice Beach, lots of folks enjoyed the bike path, and an artically-minded person created a sand sculpture featuring Barbie-like dolls and Tonka-like trucks, but did not leave an interpretive statement. Eventually reached the Santa Monica pier, a landmark where my family and I played together several years ago.

Ferris wheel at Santa Monica pier and funky toy-doll-and-truck art on Venice Beach

Sharla and John, our friends and former neighbors from 1988-91, kindly hosted me overnight in Santa Monica (and unlike my surprise visit to Keith’s school, I emailed three weeks in advance). Decades ago we had a tradition called “Soup Club” where one of us would take turns preparing a simple soup meal during wintery Wednesday evenings. Sharla kept up that tradition and cooked up an enormous pot of chili to make up for the past three decades. The best part was picking up on conversations as if no time had passed by, or perhaps recognizing the need to reconnect because time had passed by. The saying You can’t make “new” old friends came to mind several times on this trip. Sitting down with friends who have known you for a long time gives you an opportunity to reflect together, how each of you have changed and in some ways remained the same as you’ve always been. Also, thanks to Sharla for asking me if I was planning to write a post about this trip, which nudged me to write this one on the train.

Reconnecting with John and Sharla, old friends who kindly hosted me in Santa Monica

Day 3: Santa Monica to Union Station, Los Angeles, 17 miles

Back home in Connecticut, a trip to the train station is a 15-minute bus ride straight down the road for about two miles into Hartford, or a bit longer and a few more twists by bike. But here in Los Angeles, planning a trip to the train station requires a bit more effort. From Santa Monica, hailing a car would be a 30-minute trip plus big bucks, jumping on mass transit would be a 75-minute trip, while riding a bike took only 100 minutes, with bonus points for being fun, plus a great way to experience more of the city. Once again, my trusty tool steered me in a good direction, mostly along separated bike lanes or bike paths, plus some quieter residential streets. Learning my lesson from yesterday, I studied the recommended route with Google Maps Street View to examine the road infrastructure. I was happy to see separated bike lanes in key sections of downtown LA, probably built within the past several years, guessing from the Street View image dates. Interestingly, although Google Street View showed these images, Google Maps did not recommend the same route as, perhaps because the latter relies on routing using the crowd-sourced OpenStreetMap. Caught my train with plenty of time to spare, and drank the probiotic beverage that Sharla insisted I take with me before it expired in a couple of days! Rolled my Brompton through the station, folded it up and handed it to the Amtrak employee at the baggage car, where it counts as one of my two free bags. Boarded the top car of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train for a $56 scenic ride for 12 hours up the Pacific Coast, where I’ll disembark at Oakland to spend the weekend with my son Eli.

Scenes from Biking in LA