500 Miles Down PCH On A Fixed Gear Bike
May 15, 2018
This is Esteban at Aventon Bikes. You may not have heard of Tyler Richtman, but if you have, you know he took our Aventon Cordoba on a 500-mile journey from San Francisco to San Clemente. That's quite a long ride considering he did it on a single gear. We think everyone should go on their own adventures in life, so we reached out to Tyler and he put together a post about his experience. Hope you enjoy the read.
On June 30th, 2017 at approximately 12:30 pm I left on a 550-mile bike ride from San Francisco to San Clemente, California that would change my life forever. It was a dream ride I had talked about doing since I was in high school. I had just driven through Big Sur for the first time instantly falling in love and wanted to experience it on a fixed gear.
While all too many liked the idea and said they would join, from my best friend to my brother, when it came to the day of, I was all alone. I had just lost my mom to cancer and graduated college, so I felt it was something I had to do for myself. I was a momma’s boy my whole life and she was my best friend, so after losing her I really felt like the shine was taken out of my world. I started to feel cold and hated by people I didn’t know, expecting the worst from every situation. It was something I knew my Mom would shake me out of if she had the chance. She was the best elementary school teacher and I spent so much time with her talking about her passion for helping others, and the joy she got from seeing kids learn.
This inspired me to focus the bike ride on finding the positive things the world had to offer and to not be selfish. So, I decided to raise money for a children’s cancer foundation in Southern California, the ISCC. I wanted to help anyone avoid the road my family went down, and knew the idea of a kid having another day with his family would keep me pushing.
I had never done anything like this before. The only “training” I did while in school and working full time was riding around the city. Luckily, I had spent a good amount of time camping and researched the right gear, which saved me in the long run. But I had no true gauge of my strength and was planning on riding about 80-90 miles a day (which I had never done before) and never took a test ride with the new racks and weight. On top of that I did not make any campsite reservations or even set route, just ignorantly knew that if I followed the coast I couldn’t get too lost (insert skull emoji). The only other thing I had planned on, was leaving at about 9 am everyday…. so, on day 1 I was already 3hrs behind schedule, and that would happen almost every day. I set myself up for failure the day I left and didn’t even have a spare tube or wrench to fix my tires on the road. Still, somehow, I made it to Southern California. Having no route, Google Maps was my chauffeur, leading me the most interesting of ways. From riding up mountain bike trails to riding through neighborhoods, and even running into a Burning Man party, I saw a side of California I never knew existed. My 7-day ride realistically became a 10-day (9 riding, 1 rest) ride covering 552.234 (550) miles and so much more than I could put into words.
Throughout the whole ride, the more love I put into it, the more doors that opened. Having to ask for directions at times without cell-phone service introduced me to some amazing people, and some of them might have just saved my life. I had everything from families’ feeding me dinners, to offering their couches to sleep on. I even had a guy who worked at a bike shop in Santa Cruz change the entire path of my trip by helping me get through Big Sur, which until then was something I was told was impossible. If it was not for him, my trip might not have been as epic.
He is responsible for me having the entire coast highway, south of Big Sur, on the 4th of July, with the weather as beautiful as could be, all to myself. He showed me where a few side trails had been made by locals and when the construction workers went home. Every other rider I tried to tell about this said I was insane and had gone inland in Monterey at this point. Even the locals in Big Sur said I was the only rider they’d seen try to go through that weekend. It was worth the risk, I rode down the center point of the coast highway for about 5 hours straight, taking as many stops as I could to take pictures and really soak in what was happening. It was an eerie feeling having been on the same highway a few years back, in a car going about 10 mph because half of Europe was right there with me, now having it to myself. It was amazing, and a day I will never forget, it is one of those cliché moments where the pictures do not do it justice. It was a day I felt truly at peace and got the idea that my mom was right there with me. I eventually ran into a highway patrol car who gave me a trespassing ticket, but even he admitted that what I was doing was epic and that he thought it was just a rumor someone had made it through. But by the end of that night, I had made it through the road closure in time to set my tent up cliffside and catch the sunset.
The ride did not come easy though, the lack of planning and experience came to a T after 3 days in Big Sur without cell phone service and not knowing what was open (food-wise) south of me. I did not pack enough food and water, assuming my camp would not be far from food - a mistake I cannot afford to make again. I didn’t realize the camp was at least 35 miles away from food and water, and the weather would go from a paradise-like 70-degrees in Big Sur to a sweltering 110-degree dry heat in Lockwood, California. That day is where shit hit the fan, and the painful idea of reality set in.
I left Big Sur thinking I was king of the road by having made it this far, only to ride myself close enough to a heat stroke that I asked a cop for help. He was just outside the naval base and out of pure pity he gave me a banana and a Gatorade, which is what people are saying might have saved my life. All I had eaten was a protein bar and had less than a ¼ bottle of water left. Coincidentally, it was at this point I finally had service on my phone again and got a flood of phone calls from my girlfriend and family wanting to talk to me, while it suddenly began to rain. It was the first time I had talked to my dad in 3 days and he was worried sick, so the mixture of heat exhaustion and the slur of curse words coming out of my mouth did him no justice and he swore they’d find me dead on the side of the road. He insisted that I rode to Lake Nacimiento, where my aunt and uncle had a place, and it was about 30 miles south of where I was. I had refused all help up until this point and was reluctant to go, but there wasn’t a campsite near. It was 110 degrees outside, I was dehydrated, at the only gas station in a 40-mile radius, and all they had was beef jerky, dusty boxes of cereal, and an old fan. I felt it was either help or death, and at this point in my trip, I realized I could use all the help I could get, otherwise, I’d be doing the rest of my ride in the back of an ambulance.
My dad has always been one of my best friends, he was a huge supporter of the ride and wanted nothing more than to see me finish this - alive. He surprised me by showing up at their house, just to check on me and assure I made it. I felt blessed because it was my 26th birthday and he didn’t want me to “die alone”. Especially with what had just happened to the family, he was extra sensitive to anything that could have happened, and I completely understand. I really don’t know how much farther I would have made it without him. So, he helped me refuel with a few meals and avoid a complete heat stroke, resetting my mentality on the ride, as he was not going to let me quit or forget that I had to finish what I started.
The ride south from there was much smoother in comparison, riding through a mix of the coast and highway 101, inches away from Semi trucks. I was able to average about 65 miles a day, with my high being 80, and even though it was 90-100 degrees inland, when I got to the coast it was as beautiful as could be. I rode through some of the most majestic beach towns I never knew existed and this part of the ride really started felt like a vacation. I was so much less anxious about what was going to happen and more confident that I would just be able to handle it.
I kept running into the same group of European riders who came down from the Canadian border in hopes of making it to Mexico. In addition to being amazing people, they assured me that I was only doing a fraction of the coast and needed to do the full ride. They talked about how in Europe it a rite of passage to do it, essentially, and how surprised they were with the lack of Americans on the road. At this point things really felt like they were coming full circle, I was riding through familiar territory as I got to Santa Monica and was able to stop by LA Brakeless and tell the story of my ride. I might not have had a place to call home or showered in a few days, but I felt like I was in the right place.
The final stretch south of LA felt like I was 40 pounds lighter, and that’s because I was, I had mailed my luggage home in hopes of finding a hotel in Long Beach to really celebrate the last night. My ass hurt and the people in southern California are significantly meaner to cyclists, apparently, if you have racks and bags on your bike because you might look more like a homeless person than a man with a mission. But the feeling of riding through Laguna Beach and into San Clemente was like nothing I can put words to. To have worked this dream into reality and ending it in a town that my mom loved, meant so much. I was a bit overwhelmed upon finishing, but my sister had met up with me as I rode in and finished the final 3 miles. We shared a lot of smiles and tears as we were both surprised I made it alive, much less in the condition I was in. I had figured that I would be barely making it to the finish line but if you ask anyone who met me there that day, I was ready to ride to Mexico.
In the end, I would do it all again in a heartbeat, with better planning and a more logical sense of the world. I truly see it being one of the best ways to travel and cope with the pain of losing someone. It puts you in control of each day and reminds you how strong you really are. Next, I hope to ride the full west coast of the United States, like those crazy Europeans said I had to. Then from California to New York. From there I am open to ideas of what ride I can do next.
This trip has inspired me to start a charity that will raise money for cancer research by doing these types of rides. I also want to write a full book about my travels in honor of my mom and in hopes of inspiring you to go on an adventure of your own.