A Mission Without Emissions
Perfect surf spun off below us, the emerald lines marching through again and again in the afternoon light with no one there to ride them. The wind was light, the temperature mild. It was everything we could want in a surf trip.
Except this trip was different. We weren’t looking out on some remote point far from home.
We surf here regularly, a lonely seven-mile stretch of California beachbreak where we can simply paddle to the next peak in search of waves. But this session we’d pulled up to the surf on a different set of wheels: our bikes. We’d ridden from Dana Point to Oceanside and back with all our camping and paddling gear. And here, on the homeward leg, we were staring down at the best waves any of us had seen at our home spot. Plus there was no one out. Maybe Mother Nature was rewarding us for lowering our impact on her. Maybe.
The journey began with a book. The bold designs smattered over the gritty, recycled cover of Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man caught my eye at the Village Books Exchange in San Clemente. But it was his quest for sustainable living in an urban environment that inspired me.
Beavan, along with his wife and young daughter, spent a year in Manhattan working to create zero waste in day-to-day life. They used bike transportation only, gave up coffee (grown too far away thus using too much fuel to transport), and ate locally grown, unpackaged food. They only used stairs, shunning the elevator and many other modern luxuries. What Beavan found was that our modern lives—especially in America—are almost inextricably tied to waste and emissions.
The book left me feeling kind of guilty. As an active outdoorsman and writer who essentially makes his living off the Earth, was I doing enough to help protect the environment? I immediately started putting my produce in reusable bags; when I forgot them I’d carry purchases out by hand (seriously). I started thinking about how much water I was using and made sure I always carried a refillable water bottle. I cooked at home and ate less packaged, processed and shipped food.
Going deeper on my low-impact binge, I watched a documentary called Slow Is Fast; by Dan Malloy, Kellen Keene and Kanoa Zimmerman. They pedaled their bikes 700 miles down the California coast, surfing and visiting organic farms and other artisans shops. If they could bike and surf, I could bike and SUP.
I’d also been a fan of English adventurer Alastair Humphreys and his idea of a microadventure. The 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year has spent the past half-decade encouraging people to get out and journey near their homes no matter how small those journeys are. Adventures don’t have to be big. They just have to get you out there.
Obviously, I had to do a trip of my own. So I created an expedition to fit my location: a bike-supported SUP surf trip covering 30 miles from Dana Point to Oceanside and back. An adventure right out my front door and one that I could do without polluting, or leaving much of a footprint at all.
I enlisted SUP magazine’s bearded senior editor Dave Shively (he never misses a chance to sleep in the dirt during a mission) and photo editor Aaron Schmidt for his photographic skills. Though he doesn’t admit it—he likes to suffer along on the trips I scheme up.
Unlike Fight Club, there was only one rule: we go everywhere powered by our own legs.
After fixing a flat on my 1975 Centurion Le Mans 10-speed, fiddling with my trailer setup for a couple hours and getting my gear down to the slightest of essentials, I left my home in Dana Point on a sunny Wednesday afternoon towing everything I needed for the next three days.
Immediately, the double takes from passing drivers started. Once I’d swung by the boys’ places in San Clemente and we hit the road looking like the standup Beverly Hillbillies, people actually began swerving and slowing down as they passed us. We were drunk on the novelty of departing, hooting and laughing like children as our loads pulled us recklessly downhill. A guy in his yard asked me what we were doing as I biked by. Another dude gave me a thumbs up at the liquor store as we bought beer. Two hombres at the Mexican joint got a good laugh as we rolled into the drive-through to order burritos on our rigs. And this was just the first few miles.
The explosion cut through the tranquil seaside air like a gunshot. A teenage girl in cutoff jean shorts and a loose sweater screamed at the interruption to her afternoon. I thought someone had set off a firework as I rode past. And then I looked behind me. My right trailer tire had blown out under the weight of two SUP boards, paddles and assorted camping gear.
“I have a flat tire,” I said to Shively.
“No way that was your tire,” he said.
I looked back again.
“Definitely my tire.”
There was a nice, grassy ocean-side (in Oceanside) park located conveniently across the one-way street. My tire and tube had both completely blown out. We started calling bike shops. Schmidty dropped his trailer, hopped back on his bike and took off for replacements while I tried to repair the others for backup. Shively went and checked us into the Oceanside RV Park.
I lay in the grass waiting for Schmidty the gallant bike knight to return, thinking about how traveling by bike really slows things down. The trip from Dana Point to Oceanside takes 25 minutes by car and we’d spent almost a full 24 hours covering the distance.We’d woken up with the sunrise to catch a three-hours surf that same morning, then gorged ourselves with lunch on the cliffs overlooking the deteriorating conditions. Shively won the weirdness award with a peanut butter, anchovy and orange wrap. On unsettled stomachs, we spent a couple hours biking from San Onofre State Park through Camp Pendleton—there’s a bike route—listening to construction flaggers radio back and forth about concrete pours, cruising past tank crossings (there’s a sign for that), looking at brilliant roadside orange wildflowers and marveling at how many cars were continuously rushing by on the I-5 (the route parallels the Interstate). In fact, it was hard not to wonder at just how many vehicles were moving around us at any given moment. Helicopters buzzed by overhead, dump trucks moved gravel, Marines in Mustangs sped off to work, commuters flew down the freeway at 80 miles per hour while trains shrieked on the tracks nearby. We were usually part of that rush, but that afternoon we stood apart. We soaked it all in while pumping our legs in an endless cadence.
Three hours after the exploding tire incident, we’d sated ourselves with food and ale from Oceanside gastropub The Flying Pig and were sitting in the hot tub of Oceanside RV Park. Yes, the random RV park we’d chosen because it was the only one in Oceanside had a hot tub. We all agreed: traveling by bike to surf was slow and savory, much like The Flying Pig’s pork steadily working its way through my digestive system.
The next morning we arrived at the beach less than a mile from where we’d camped to find offshore winds and head-high waves. We locked our bikes together and looped the coil through our sandals, shorts and shirts as well, just to be safe.
The surf was fast and punchy, a far cry from the slow, lully waves we’d surfed the morning before at San O. We picked our own peak and did our best in the shifty sections getting a few here and there before the wind picked up. After a quick lunch of trail mix, peanut butter tortillas, freeze-dried “Breakfast Skillet” burritos and Pringles, it looked like all that was left of our trip was a long, slogging ride back to Dana Point against the northwest wind.
“If the waves are good later, we have to surf again, right?” Schmidty asked.
By surfer’s code he was correct, but I had my doubts. We wouldn’t see the waves until we hit the State Park after passing back north through Camp Pendleton. The white-capping winds that ended our morning session usually just get stronger during the afternoon. We retraced our pedal strokes from the day before, climbing steadily as we crossed the base. There are some significant hills riding north and our surfed-out, bike-weary legs started to protest. But as we approached the park again, we saw that the wind had laid down a bit, maybe enough to surf.
When we pulled up to our favorite overlook, our growing hopes were confirmed: a set rolled through and sent four overhead, 100-yard-long rights shooting through the lineup. It looked perfect.
And it was. The waves just kept coming. “I’ve never seen it like this,” Shively said in a rare break between waves. He was like a puppy with a stick, hardly stopping, no matter how much his tongue drooped. “These might even be the best waves I’ve ever surfed period.”
Schmidty gave up shooting photos to get some for himself. At one point, he was 300 yards down the beach after two consecutive waves. We rode until twilight, our wave- and bike-addled bodies fighting us the whole way. You couldn’t ask for a better end to the trip.
Except we still had to bike home.
This feature originally ran in the Spring 2015 issue.
Photos by Shawn Parkin and Aaron Schmidt