Tuesday, June 14, 2016

S24O with a Pre-Schooler: Sunset State Beach Edition

For a variety of reasons, we never managed to schedule a camping trip this year until now. Fortunately, the kids all loved their last trip and kept asking for them, so we decided on Sunset State Beach so that we wouldn't have to keep going to New Brighton. The freeway noise at New Brighton was always audible even at night, and Sunset was quite a bit further from the freeway and probably wouldn't have the problem.

Now that I'd figured out how to get the triplet into the fit, I no longer wanted to bring the single bike and a trailer. This was also my test run to see how the bike handled with all 4 panniers. We drove to the intersection of Sunset and San Andreas, and parked in a dirt parking lot that I'd spied earlier on street view. However, a man drove up and told us it was private property! I begged and cajoled until he relented and let us park on the condition that we assumed liability and that we'd move our cars at the end of the work day to another location on his property. We happily assented, showed him our bikes, and then I assembled the triplet and we were on the way.
When I first handled the bike, it felt like it fish-tailed ridiculously with 4 panniers. The load wasn't excessive, but I was simply not used to it. Bowen's every movement seemed to amplify the shakiness. Soon, however, I settled down and the bike felt like it handled as usual (for a triplet). Unlike New Brighton State Beach, Sunset State Beach had no gated entry time, so we were able to checkin and ride in at an early hour of 2:00pm. There are two minor climbs once in the park to get to the hiker biker site, which is co-located with the group camps. We were initially dismayed to discover that the hiker biker site had zero shade! I opted to pitch the tent without a rainfly and then we could abscond to the beach where it'd be a lot cooler. The site was cleverly hidden behind a bluff that would act as a wind shelter, so other than the lack of shade it was ideal. The lack of shade probably wouldn't bother most cyclists on a Pacific Coast Tour, as most such cyclists would arrive late in the day when the sun would be low and the warmth welcomed.
The trip to the beach on foot was terribly long.It involved traversing the group campground, going up a set of steps to a bluff, and then down a steep bluff. There was an easier route but it didn't look like it would be any shorter. We got down to the beach and played for a bit, flying kites, etc. The kids promptly played in the rising tideline and got themselves all wet, whereupon we had to take them to the showers. The shower facilities were limited: one of the two coin operated showers in the men's room was broken, so there was a line. Fortunately, with coin operated showers, each shower was never too long.

When we first moved in, the others, based on their experience at New Brighton, assumed other cyclists would show up towards the evening. After my shower, I experienced an epiphany, and told them that we'd have the place to ourselves that night. The reason is that Bicycling The Pacific Coast breaks down the entire trip into 60 mile segments for the reader, and Sunset State Beach did not make it into any of the segments as an end point. Most cyclists stick to the pre-made itinerary, because it effectively guarantees you a campground with a shower every night. As a result, if you're not camping at one of the end points, you'll have the place to yourselves.
After dinner, there was a show, which started with marshmallows, then songs, a game of charades, and a slide presentation about sharks. That was pretty cool, and the kids all had a lot of fun.
The next morning was fogged over, so we woke up, ate breakfast, packed, and rode to the beach. Despite the climb back out (which would have been easier without a load), riding to the beach is recommended over walking there if you have a bike! I certainly wouldn't suggest walking there to a cyclist.

All in all, Sunset State Beach has a lot to recommend it for the cyclist/family camping: it's much quieter than New Brighton (you can park at Seascape if you don't want to risk getting turned out by a property owner or getting your car towed), you will more likely than not get the hiker biker site to yourselves even on a busy weekend. The only minus is that the beach is much less accessible, but that's of little consequence if you have a decent bike. Recommended.

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