I recently took a train ride to San Juan Capistrano with friends. It was terrific. In San Juan Capistrano, we toured the mission (one of 21 Catholic missions in California with not so terrific history where Native Americans are concerned). Then two of us (guess which two) hiked about 9 miles to San Clemente, while the rest of the group rode their bikes. Why was I hiking instead of cycling with them? It’s a long story but I’ll try to be succinct.
Holding a Grudge Much?
Growing up I didn’t have a bicycle. In fact, I didn’t learn to ride until I was about 15 or 16. In my family, children didn’t have bicycles because our family couldn’t afford them. Some adults had bicycles but they used them more for transportation than for fun. I have many, many memories of being transported on bicycle bars, especially to kindergarten during the week and from church on Sundays. I also remember that once when we were children my sister was accidentally dragged by a guy riding a bicycle who wasn’t paying enough attention to where he was going. I was both scared and angry (his name is/was Lawrence Best – I have a long memory and I can hold a grudge). I think it was either after Sunday morning church or outside our church fair. Anyway, I digress. The point I was getting to is the fact that children in my family not having bikes changed with my brother.
When my brother was around 9 years old, my uncle gave him a BMX bicycle for his birthday. If I didn’t know before that I’d been displaced by my brother as my uncle’s favourite, that gift confirmed it. I think I’ve finally let go of that grudge. Can you tell?
Anyhoo, that bicycle turned out to be a blessing and a curse. I learned to ride it, but I also became the errand person because of it. My main errand/chore/punishment (really depends on one’s perspective) was riding from my grandmother’s house, “down de hill” to my mother’s house to turn on or off the sprinklers in the garden. Of course riding down a hill, however slight, required going back up. However it wasn’t riding up the hill that was the big problem because I liked riding, it was more that I was often asked to do this chore when I was doing or could be doing other things, like reading, watching TV or chatting with my friends. I don’t remember when I stopped doing that chore, but it was probably when my brother started to ride more and I couldn’t use the bike. After that, it was probably another 15 years before I got on a bike again.
Parked and Huffing
When I was preparing to go to Florida to do my PhD, I researched the area surrounding the university and where I would planned to live. It was walking distance between home and campus and I decided that a bicycle was a good idea. So what if I hadn’t ridden in 15 years? Gainesville was one of the most bicycle-friendly towns in Florida, so I figured it would be a good place to start riding again. Plus it would be good exercise and good for the environment. So I got a bike. Before I could ride it once, one of my professors (an avid rider) told my class that close to the start of the semester, a cyclist was killed in a collision with a car. That was just the most recent accident. Incidents involving cyclists and vehicles were on the increase. The bike remained parked in my condo, though I for sure rode it once or twice in the parking lot. I really had no strong incentive to ride, so I didn’t. There was a dependable bus system in Gainesville and I was also close enough to campus to walk. I had a car for the times when it was not convenient to do either. I eventually gave away the bike and I hope at least one person got more use out of it than I did.
My next experience with a bike was also while I was in grad school. I was consulting on a project in the Cayman Islands and my friend and I went over to Little Cayman to work with a couple of hotels. The hotel where we stayed provided bikes for guests and my friend suggested we ride to one of our other properties instead of walking or driving. My response – I haven’t ridden a bike in almost 20 years. Hers – no big deal, it’ll come back to you. It was a Huffy bike. The brakes were not controlled at the handlebars like every other bike I’d ever seen. I had to back pedal to slow down and stop. It was very strange. Fortunately, we rode to our site and back without incident. The riding was fine, stopping, less so. But that was Little Cayman, where there were few vehicles to contend with and even though the main road passed through the airstrip (or the other way around), it wasn’t busy enough to be a problem. So while that experience wasn’t fun, it wasn’t harrowing either. My next experience was more harrowing and even less fun.
Perhaps I need to attempt outdoor cycling more often than every 10-20 years. Two years ago a friend in my outdoor group suggested we ride the train to Oceanside and then do a bike ride along one of the trails there. He helpfully provided information on a bike rental shop for those who didn’t own bikes. I researched, ruminated, and decided I would go, but I would rent a 3-wheeler instead of a regular bicycle. As it turned out the rental shop restricted the 3-wheelers to specific areas and 3-wheelers were banned from the trail we were supposed to be riding. Maybe there was some fine print I didn’t see or maybe the rental shop didn’t post the information, but my idea of riding a 3-wheeler was ‘through the eddoes’.
What to do, what to do? One of my friends was also without a bike (issues with the train had forced her to leave hers at a previous stop) so she planned to rent as well. The rental shop had a tandem bike and someone (not me) had the ‘brilliant’ idea that Tiffany and I should rent it. That person should be in idea jail. Tiffany and I tried and failed; we didn’t even make it more than 2 feet from the rental shop. We would probably have killed ourselves if we’d gotten any further.
Then there was idea number 3 – we each rent our own bikes. Let me just say, if you have not ridden a bicycle in a long time, a worn out bike with a seat and handle bar that can’t adjust is not the bike to ride. I got fed up of having the others wait on me and told them to go on their ride and I would do my own thing. It didn’t go well. I hope there’s no evidence of ‘my thing’; my memory is bad enough. Let’s just say if it were possible to die from embarrassment, you would’ve missed out on the retelling of the adventures I’ve had in the two years since and of this one. There was starting and stopping. There was lots of walking the bike. There was a slight incline. There was a chain link fence. And bruises. And a bit of blood. There was no one else involved. It was only me. There was also a steeper incline and some curvature of the trail, but by that time, I had the good sense to say no, no more. I was done! I nicely rode, walked, stopped and started the bike back to the rental company. I patted my pride on the back, told it the sun would come up tomorrow, and kept on walking.
Interestingly enough, it seems like I took no photos that day 🤔. The next time or two someone suggested a bike ride I kindly declined. The trauma was still too real.
Rails and Trails
So now here we are. It’s 2020 and time for SCOBA to ride the rails and trails again, but I’ve wizened up, because I’ve seen this movie before.
Those friends who shall not be named: Let’s ride the train to San Juan Capistrano and tour the Mission.
Me: Sure, I’m in 🙋🏾
Those friends who shall not be named: Then ride our bikes on the trail from SJC to the San Clemente Pier.
Me: Hmmm 🤔.
Those friends who shall not be named: Are you riding?
Me: Hell. To. The. No. 😒
Also Me: I’ll stick to walking, but thanks for asking (because it’s important to be polite and not drop expletives in friendly conversation).
My feet firmly planted on terra firma have not failed me yet. Not over 60 miles x 7. Not over the 5,000+ miles my Fitbit recorded over the last 5 years as I walked the equivalent of a trail around Africa – the continent – not the country (not bad considering I wear it less than half the day during the week and usually not at all for most of the weekend). BUT I spin about 3 or 4 times a week and I can ride hell out of a stationary bike 🤣. Indoors I ride well over 2,000 miles a year.
San Juan Capistrano to San Clemente
For anyone interested in the finer details of tourism, though I’d traveled around 90 miles to get to SJC and it is not my usual place of residence, I was not a tourist. I was an excursionist, visitor, or day-tripper because I did not spend the night. I visited a historic site that is popular for tourists, spent money on mementos in both destinations (because that is important), and ate dinner at the pier – all activities that tourists engage in, but the overnight part is a key component of the definition. Similarly, if I treat myself and stay in a hotel 5 minutes from home (as I did when I was working on my book 😁), I would not be a tourist.
So this excursionist took the train to San Juan Capistrano, then hiked from there to the San Clemente Pier. Train rides are good. It’s nice to ditch the car and enjoy the experience of a group traveling together rather than in different cars. Train rides are also less impactful on the environment, so another win in my book. Plus everyone can see the scenery, join the conversation, people watch, etc. without having to pay attention to driving. The downside is that on weekends the train line in my area stops running fairly early, forcing me drive to LA to take the train from there to avoid rushing to get the one home. Still, taking the train is a very good alternative.
Since I decided in advance that I was not riding, I had the time to review websites for SJC and San Clemente so I could plan my activities in SJC and plot my route to the pier. I rely on websites to do most of my planning for travel and outdoor activities. If information isn’t available online it’s unlikely that I’ll plan to use a specific company, tour, etc. Since our train was scheduled to arrive in SJC around 10 am, I figured I had enough time to at least tour the mission, walk around a bit in the town, hike the 9ish miles to the San Clemente Pier, and finish in time to join the rest on the group on the 5:50 train back to L.A. I’d planned to hike alone but Jennetta decided to join me.
There are 21 Catholic missions in California. I’ve visited the Santa Barbara mission twice. This was my first visit to the SJC one. As with Santa Barbara, I loved the grounds of the mission and the preservation of the buildings. I do not love that missionaries coerced/enslaved/tried to erase Native people and their culture by ‘converting’ them to Catholicism. When I heard on the audio for the self-guided tour that the missionaries taught the Acjachemen People in San Juan Capistrano how to clear land for planting it galled me. When I saw plaques on tombs with the names of missionaries but none with native names I was enraged. “It is estimated that about 65,000 Native Americans lived in coastal zone of California (mission chain zone) in 1770 and by 1830 only 17,000 remained living, a decline of 74%” (missionsjc.com).
I’m showing photos of the mission, but I won’t dedicate more words to what I saw or how I felt there.
Hiking the Coastal Highway Protected Trail but Can’t see the Beach
When I looked for trails between SJC and San Clemente, the Coastal Highway Protected Trail (CHPT) was the first one that came up. In my mind, a coastal trail in California meant I would be hiking a trail along the beach or one with awesome views of the beach. Foolish me. I should’ve paid more attention to the ‘highway’ part of the name 🤨. The trail was coastal in the sense that it was along the coast, but most of it was not along the beach. The trail runs alongside the highway and for most of the way buildings blocked views of the beach. Fortunately, the trail we connected to, the San Clemente Beach Trail, lived up to its name and that part of the hike was great.
We ended the hike at the San Clemente Pier, which is not nearly as developed as the Santa Monica Pier or the Santa Barbara Pier, but is beautiful in its simplicity. I had a lovely (well-earned) meal (cause 9 miles) on the deck of a restaurant on the pier and enjoyed the sunset. I may need a better camera because my photos do not illustrate the awesomeness my eyes saw. The sunset was GORGEOUS! As I watched it, I thought of the restaurant’s wait staff. I hope they are able to pause each day and appreciate that there is at least one tremendous benefit from their jobs. I don’t know if it makes up for schlepping trays or dealing with demanding customers, but I think watching the colours painted in the sky by the setting sun offers a few minutes of respite from the not so pleasant parts of their jobs.
All too soon, it was time to board the train for the trip back north. The end of another wonderful day enjoying the outdoors with good friends. California is not Barbados or the Caribbean, but it’s an excellent alternative for this Bajan and it has its own special perks 😊.