The Ultimate Bucket List: Biking PCH From San Francisco to Santa Barbara on Level.2
November 15, 2022
We’re sharing the story of how a bond between an adventurous soul wanting to accomplish his last bucket list item and a local bike shop owner resulted in crossing off an ultimate bucket list experience. When Bruce Walker, now in his early 80s, originally connected with Marty Schlesinger, owner of Small Planet Ebikes in San Antonio, TX, the two formed an unlikely friendship that far surpassed Bruce simply being a regular, valued customer. With each new trip around the sun, Bruce’s persistence to actualize his dream of biking 300 miles along Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, California to Santa Barbara, California intensified. All it would take was 6 days, 5 nights, 4 Aventon electric bikes, 3 generations of Walker’s biking together, and 2 extra batteries that would lead to the ultimate bucket list experience of a lifetime.
How The Dream Came To Be
Marty shared the entire story with us on his crew’s behalf, saying that Bruce is the epitome of an adventurous soul. He loves cycling and was an avid white water rafting guide, guiding trips of 4-5 boats with full crews of 20 people at a time down the Grand Canyon and in the US’ upper North-West. Bruce, his son Steve, and grandson Reed would also plan on and prioritize some sort of an annual family adventure!
In addition to being an adventurous spirit, Bruce is a long-time customer of Marty’s; He’d purchased several electric bikes, all of which were Aventon’s. His favorite, in particular, is the Aventon Level. Marty told us that Bruce easily rides about 18-20 miles a day on his Aventon Level ebike, and this bike-packing trip was Bruce’s way of changing things up while fulfilling the last of his adventurous goals.
Bruce had been asking Marty to join in on his bucket list adventure for about 10 months. The hope was for Marty and a friend of his to be their guide and help achieve the 300-mile trip from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Although this wasn’t something on Marty’s bucket list, as he looked into what it would take to bring this journey to life, his outlook shifted from one of indifference to “Yeah. Let’s do this!”
Pictured from left to right: Bruce, Reed, Henry, and Marty.
Preparing For The Journey Ahead
They were a crew of 5 total: Bruce (83), Steve (52), Reed (24), Marty (55), and Marty’s friend Henry (52). At any given time, four riders would journey Pacific Coast Highway via ebike while the fifth would drive their Toyota Sequoia, switching out at various points. Carrying cargo via a SAG vehicle allowed them to not only carry the best fuel (food!), camping equipment, and tools needed to charge their batteries! By installing an inverter into their SAG vehicle, they could quickly recharge, whether during the day or at night and keep journeying on.
The crew needed to determine how many miles they could realistically travel per day, to then shed light on where they could plan their overnight stays. From Half Moon Bay to the Redwoods in Big Sur, they reserved each of the 5 nights at various campsites along the coast.
While planning the route and logistics was one thing, the most important was safety throughout the biking journey itself. Marty prepared for every best and worst case scenario during their daily rides, packing plenty of tubes, extra tires, batteries, shifters, and brake levers; “All of the tools you’d need to basically tear an ebike apart if we needed to.”
They initially were going to utilize four Aventon first-generation Level ebikes, with the group getting together to do a few ‘training rides’ prior to embarking on the journey. Around the time of their preparations, Marty received news about Aventon’s Level.2 release, thinking it would be not only a great opportunity to see, experience, and promote the bike in action, but its torque sensor would be the perfect balance of motorized power and human output for Bruce. A quick pitch and some days later, Aventon sent two Level.2 ebikes and two spare batteries for the journey!
Biking the Iconic Pacific Coast Highway
Starting in San Francisco, the crew of five leisurely made their way down to Santa Barbara in 6 days and 5 nights, biking a total of 300 miles. Though they’d average about 50 miles a day, the journey wasn’t so much about reaching the destination as it was enjoying the experience: every twist, turn, and stop along the way!
Rules of the Game
All five were in agreement that one thing was for sure - there would be absolutely no throttle usage. Additionally, they’d use pedal assist to a degree. The crew prided themselves on standing by absolutely no throttle use and even more so for never going above pedal assist in level three. Their batteries even regularly stayed in the 40th percentile, only dropping to the 30s through hillier sections!
A Glimpse into the Journey
They’d always have a comfortable start to their days, saddling up no later than 10 am. With excitement high on the first day, they took to the road with their two first-generation Aventon Level’s and two Level.2’s, biking a total of 66 miles. Marty told us he was amazed how all the bike batteries went to full capacity, with the Level.2 not even needing a replacement!
Every day, completing the 50-mile trek would take roughly 6 hours. That’s also factoring in countless stops to admire breathtaking scenic overlooks. The best part of traveling PCH on an ebike was that they never knew what they’d expect. Marty says, “One minute we’re descending through steep bluffs with heavy fog, only seeing about 100 feet in front of us, then we’re climbing a few thousand feet back up the hill into the sun. Cascading through mountains in the morning fog was spectacular.” Every day, they’d reach their campsite sometime in the late afternoon or early evening, and wind down with a delicious and nourishing meal courtesy of Bruce’s love for cooking.
Aventon Effortlessly Paving The Way
Although it was a blast comparing the first-generation Level to Level.2 with torque sensor, Marty said that both bikes performed flawlessly. Being a longtime fan of the Aventon Level, Marty says that the Level was appropriately named; “It leveled the playing field for a bike that’s priced in the high teens, competing with bikes in the mid $3k range. And with the torque, it only makes you stronger. Instead of needing to pedal faster, pedaling harder when we’re tired made us feel like we still had that extra power behind us.”
While PCH had mostly flat, excellent road conditions to bike effortlessly through, there were fair amounts of hills. Marty said they encountered a lot of descents. They’d climb a few thousand feet for 5 - 7 miles, then transition into a descent, coasting at top speeds down the mountain on both first-generation Level and Level.2.
Averaging about 16-22 miles an hour on the Level became no challenge for the crew, especially for Bruce who rode Level.2 in the journey’s entirety! Marty said the ebikes allowed the journey to be an almost effortless adventure for him; “He did it like he was in his 20s.” And it was quite an amazing accomplishment as a friend to see him do the journey, when he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to on a traditional bike, and fulfill one of his dreams.
The Best Memories Are Unexpected
The journey in and of itself was the key to making this the experience of a lifetime. It was one thing for a group of adventurers, who love cycling, to travel via ebike. But it was another to immerse themselves everywhere they went. From the Monterey Aquarium, Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk and Surf Museum, and countless food trucks along the way, every day was an opportunity to experience the unexpected.
Marty says that making all their stops along the journey was more fun to do on a bike than in a car; “You’d have to find a place to park, pay for parking. Instead, we were like ‘Oh, we’re here! Let’s just lock up the bikes.’ and it made the experience more fun and hassle-free.” Everywhere they went was on their Aventon ebikes, oftentimes finding the best food trucks in the middle of nowhere and knowing they had to stop because they’d never be in that exact spot again.
While the electric bikes made the daytime journeys thrilling and hassle-free roaming experiences, the memories continued on into the evenings. They chose their camping sites methodically, hearing the owls chirping and creatures of the night wandering around or waking up to the sounds of the surf pounding at the shoreline. As Marty says, it was “pretty epic.”
How Adventure Keeps The Soul Alive
One of Marty’s favorite aspects of the journey was meeting people along the way. Because, everyone has a backstory, and swapping stories of resilience not only keeps the person going, but inspires you to carry on as well. He recalled meeting a young cyclist from Europe throughout their journey. He started in Eastern Canada and rode all the way across reaching the Vancouver / Seattle area, then decided to ride south to San Diego before flying back home since he had more time on his visa. Marty says, “There are some pretty adventurous souls out there, and you have to give credit to them for just going for it.”
For Bruce, the journey was one of those. Being the epitome of an adventurous spirit, biking Pacific Coast Highway with his family and chosen family was his way of saying “I’m going to go for it.” I’m going to cross one more unforgettable experience off the list. That his physical limitations would not hinder him from achieving his goals, even if it meant that adventure didn’t look the same as it might have in his youth. Although adventure can be a subjective experience, ultimately it is any sort of a journey that brings about growth or realizations, fond memories, connection to people from other walks of life, a chance to experience the unexpected, or a feeling of being most alive, even if it’s only fleeting.
Although this was never Marty’s bucket list experience per se, it became one. He’s grateful to Bruce for pushing him to bring this journey to life. He’s grateful to have lived vicariously through Bruce, his son, and grandson because Marty would unfortunately not be able to share a similar experience with his brother and father. And he’s thankful to have received Aventon’s support in leveling up this journey for Bruce with spare batteries and the new Level.2.
Marty has always looked at bicycles like the fountain of youth. He believes they keep you young in mind, body, and spirit. Being a lover of 2-wheels his whole life, bikes are Marty’s escape to reignite his fire and make him feel most alive; “Anytime I feel like I need to clear my head, or I’m too tired, that’s where I recharge my soul. I hop on my bike and go out to play.”
With that in mind, we hope this story has inspired you too. Whether you’re trying to get back into biking, planning to go the extra mile on your next trip, or simply being more present on your next ride as you soak in your scenery. However you’ve found this article and however it has inspired you, we’d like to leave you with one last note; However you’re feeling today, we hope you prioritize some time to go outside and play.