The Angry Singlespeeder: 560 miles to Sea Otter the Hard Way

Riding an old steel Bianchi north up the coast from San Diego to Monterey

Every cyclist must experience Highway 1 at least once in their lives.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

It’s been a week since I rolled from Escondido on a 35 year old Bianchi touring bike tipping the scales at 42 pounds. My destination was Monterey where the Sea Otter Classic is underway as we speak. It was to be a five day journey of 560 miles to Santa Cruz, and the weather forecast was looking stellar.

People warned me about the headwinds riding north along the California coast, but on my first 140 mile day to Santa Monica, a 15 mph tailwind pushed me the whole way. Despite the cooperation of Mother Nature, I knew she was breaking me in nice and slow. And indeed she was.

A view of the engine room.

I didn’t need to pack any rain gear because the forecast called for nothing but sun throughout the five day journey by bike. But before my legs even swung over the saddle, I walked outside to find the Bianchi completely drenched in water after accidentally leaving it sitting next to a timed sprinkler that just happened to turn on. Something was telling me this was going to be an unforgettable adventure.

I’ve never done a bikepacking journey like this before, and leaving home on a bike with nothing more than a sleeping bag, hammock, some basic clothing, a camera and a whiskey flask was an incredibly liberating feeling. In fact, I’d never felt so free in my life. For the next five days my existence consisted of only three things: riding, eating and sleeping.

560 miles of beauty…with the exception of Long Beach.

Lately I’ve been going through some serious life changes, including the big “D”, so a trip like this seemed to be the perfect medication to cleanse my mind and soul. Spending time on the bike always clears the mind, and I was expecting to have some kind of epiphany about life. But as I spent as many as 10 hours a day on the bike taking in stunning natural beauty and the oddities of humanity (especially through Venice Beach), there were really only two things on my mind: what I was going to eat and where I could find a good place to pitch my hammock.

The simplicity of my existence was truly amazing. There was no television, no Twitter and no telephones ringing, just an abundance of time and freedom, a sensation that is all too rare in the complex modern world. Literally thousands of cars, trucks and semis buzzed by me during my five day adventure, and although they reached their destinations far faster and more effortlessly than me, they were missing out on the world around them, enclosed in their rolling steel capsules.

The redwoods of Big Sur.

They missed out on randomly bumping into friends along the way, something that happened to me twice; once in San Clemente when I came across my friend Eric riding to work and a second time near Los Olivos when my buddy Elliott drove by on his way to race mountain bikes at Santa Ynez.

They missed out on the post-apocalyptic industrial landscape of Long Beach, riddled with refineries, smoke belching big rigs and treacherous roads where bike commuters ride on bullhorned fixies with no helmets and bandanas over their faces to filter out the pollution.

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • bsd says:

    The PCH in Long Beach is next to my neighborhood. The PCH is horrible through here! LOL. Stoked you did this adventure!

  • John G. says:

    Great read! My accountant refers to the “big D” as a
    ‘financial enema”. Hope yours was not quite as “cleansing” as mine.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Upon hearing about me going through the big “D”, my buddy told me “I heard your marriage license expired”. I like the way he spins it!

  • Wish I Were Riding says:

    I was wondering about what the big “D” meant, but I get it now after reading the comments. Good luck.

  • Mr. P says:

    Great write up! Inspirational! I gotta do one of these rides!


  • aaron says:

    Great write-up my friend!… Sorry to hear about the unfortunate challenges you’re encountering as of late. Know this: YOU bring life to the sport (speaking candidly and Single Speed Specific) there isn’t a more fierce competitor out there…. Aa

  • Greg says:

    Hey! As a (former) resident of Long Beach, it’s not that bad. Seriously, someone who lived there could have recommended a better route than PCH to minimize the industrial wasteland. The trick is to ride along the backside of Palos Verdes.

    I’ve done that ride in bits and pieces, and you picked a great route.

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your writing. Thanks.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Hey Greg,

    I actually didn’t ride PCH through LB. I went through downtown LB, onto the LA River bike path then onto Anaheim. Once I got to Palos Verdes it was gorgeous, but Anaheim was pretty crazy with all the big rigs.

  • PMac says:

    Epic ride and tale, thanks for sharing. During my six years living in Santa Cruz I rode and ran (Big Sur Marathon) at least a portion of what you covered. It is as beautiful and immense a landscape that the planet can muster. If you care to try another tour of this magnitude, I recommend one I did with a friend on my Gunnar Crosshairs (same WTB drop bar!) and he on my steel Lemond Zurich, in May 2006. For five days we rode mostly self-supported from Ukiah to Ferndale on 101 N, then south along the Lost Coast and PCH to Mendocino; finally taking CA 128/253 inland (I don’t recommend the 128/253 route fully-loaded, better to take CA 20 in from Ft. Bragg) to Boonville. Trip summary, 600 miles, 60,000′ of climbing w/a few side trips off the loop.

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