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Chasing California: Planning a Trip to the Tour, Part 2

This is part 2 of Gav's Guide to following the Tour of California. Here we'll look at how to follow the southern stages. As with the previous edition, I've tried to minimize hotel transfers and drive time. But you're headed into SoCali. Freeway surfing is a way of life.

2009-map_medium Southern Comfort
Description: Chasing the southern stages requires driving. Boo! But, you will see the sharp end of the bike race, the stages most likely to determine the outcome. Yay! The Tour takes on its first real mountain, Mount Palomar outside San Diego. There could be snow. There will be suffering. Epicness may ensue. What's not to like?

Stages Covered: Stage 6, Solvang; Stage 7, Santa Clarita-Pasadena; Stage 8, Rancho Bernardo-Escondido.

Getting There: Already, things begin to look complicated. Solvang is about five hours of driving from Escondido, including several stretches through the deepest, darkest heart of the Los Angeles freeway system. But you are not afraid. No, you are determined.

There are a couple ways to solve this dilemma.
One, is to fly into San Diego. Advantages: Easily-accessible airport. You won't have far to drive when the race is over. Escondido to San Diego airport is about 40 minutes, with minimal chance of traffic delays. Also, it's not LAX. Disadvantages? The drive from San Diego to Santa Barbara-Solvang is not so joyous. On a good day, it'll run you four hours. On a bad day - and we're talking the 405 and 101 freeways here, the epicenter of badness - it could run you six or more.

Or, you can fly into LAX. WHAT?! LAX? You must be fucking kidding me, Gav. No, no, I'm not kidding you. See, with the southern stages, you're going to experience LA one way or the other. If you fly into San Diego, you will have to drive through LA to get to the Solvang stage. And, on your way there, you're going to drive right by LAX. Right by it. The planes will fly over your head. So, why not just fly there? The advantage of this approach is that it splits the extra driving in half. You do half your "getting there" driving before the race and half after. Using LAX means you will suffer from a busier airport, and the 405-101 surfing that gets you up to the Central Coast may cause you to grit your teeth in pain, but you're looking at about 2 hours of suffering (that Mapquest estimate is a total lie), compared with a solid 3-4 from San Diego. Bike racing, always about the suffering.

What about Burbank, you may ask? Not a bad choice at all. From Escondido to Burbank airport is about 2 hours of driving, with relatively light traffic. On the front side of the trip, Mapquest gives us a drive time of 1 hr 30 mins for Burbank to Santa Barbara. I'm going to call that optimistic. Two hours is more likely. Still Burbank, not a bad choice.

I'm going to assume either LAX or Burbank, for the scheduling. If you go the SD route, allow up to six hours of travel time to reach the Central Coast.


Thursday, 19 February, fly to Los Angeles area airport of choice. From LAX, drive to Santa Barbara. Note the laughably optimistic time estimate from Mapquest. Or, drive from Burbank. Note the somewhat accurate, though still optimistic, time estimate at Mapquest. Find a place to stay. Check Buellton, Goleta, or Ventura, for alternatives. Book for Thursday and Friday nights.

Friday, 20 February, drive to Solvang for the crono. Watch bike racing.

Saturday, 21 February, drive to Pasadena. Party on the circuit. Watch the finish. Cheer loudly. Find quality eats in Old Town Pasadena. Yum. You will do the transfer to San Diego on Sunday morning, so find a place to stay in Pasadena. Or, anywhere along the 210 freeway. Like say, Arcadia, Asuza, San Dimas, well.. you get the picture.

Sunday, 22 February. Wake up bright and early. You have some driving to do, but really, as SoCali driving goes, this isn't bad at all. Here are the Mapquest directions. I suspect this is the shortest way in terms of mileage. Me, I would just head East on the 210, then south on the 15, and skip all the Riverside freeway crap. They're trying to give you a little short cut there, but eh, it's more trouble than it's worth. Here's a googler map of the 210-15 connection. Uh, you just jump right on that thing. The 15 is a relatively new freeway as freeways go. Nice, wide lanes. Good pavement. Yum. Watch for pooled water, if it's raining. Do I sound like your mom?

Okay, back to the race. Me, I'm heading for the mountain, if I'm going to drive to this stage. From the 15, you're best route is the 76, east. Note that the 76 is a two lane highway. That is, last I saw it. Anyone local want to give us more up to date info? You will want to watch the weather for this stage - the elevation is sufficient for snowy conditions. California weather is not so easy to predict, but generally if actual snow is going to fall, they pretty much know it. (This is also a consideration for anyone wishing to drive the 5 between the Central Val and Los Angeles area. They close that section of road, the Grapevine, during winter storms, on occasion. Again, you will probably know if this is going to be a problem, unless you are living under a rock.) There is no information available just yet on what, if any restrictions, the Authorities will place on access to the climb. If you are planning to attend this stage, you will want to keep tabs on this detail. The climb itself is a twisty mountain road, and they may well limit car access.

The climb is in beautiful SoCali back country. The kind that burns up a lot. On the lower slopes, grow scrubby, dense, chapparal. No trees, and on a warm day, little shade. As you ascend in elevation, trees start to appear - live oaks and eventually pine. It's a different world from the rain foresty redwood forests of the Northern coast where the race begins. Well worth the visit, with epic views and some real honest-to-gosh uphill bike racing.

After experiencing all this epicness, it's time to go home. The stage is scheduled to end anywhere from 3.30pm to 4.45pm. Weather will play a role, natch. What happens next, depends on your airport choice.

If you chose LAX, you will want to drive up the coast and get yourself closer to your final destination. I would look for a place to stay somewhere like Irvine, Huntington Beach, Long Beach, well, pretty much anywhere along the 405. You will encounter traffic on the way to LAX on a Monday morning. Inescapable, like gravity. You may wish to use the toll road. Save Trestles! Was that political? I think that was political, Gav. But it's Trestles. Anyway, drive time from Escondido to LAX is well, Mapquest claims 1 hr, 54 min, but really, who are they fooling? Add an extra hour. It's Monday morning. Gravity is a constant.

If you chose Burbank, you will retrace your steps from your Pasadena transfer, up the 15 to the 210 west. Monday morning traffic north on the 15 will be solid, but flowing. West on the 210? Ack, you may experience delays. As with LAX, I would try to do a chunk of driving Sunday night and get yourself in the neighborhood of Burbank, if not, in Burbank itself. It's about 2 hours from Escondido. You do the math.

Monday, fly home!

Phew, I'm tired and I didn't even leave my couch. Good luck to all the race-chasers!