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  • Mark Smith

Old Friends Still Pedaling

If I reach back past the brambles of adult life to the tender simplicities of my teens, I get a choppy film, practically in black and white, of myself and old pal Jay Wood, who lived five doors down and with whom most of my early escapades were planned and executed. Many were weekend cycling adventures in and around San Diego County. We thought nothing of spending an entire day on the bikes, and consequently covered a lot of ground, usually ending up in places we’d never planned to go initially. We’d pedal until we lumbered onto the conclusion that the road we were on led no place interesting. So we’d stop at the nearest 7-11 for a slurpy and conjure the shortest route home. In the spring of 1973 Jay and I set out on our biggest cycling adventure together—from San Diego to Ventura, California, a tad over 200 miles to the north, and back. I had just turned 15 and Jay was still 14. The stand-out feature of this journey was our passage through Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine Corps base and tank training ground that occupies the California coast between Oceanside in the south and San Clemente in the north. Established in 1942, Camp Pendleton became a permanent buffer of largely virgin nature between Southern California’s two burgeoning metropolises. On that day in 1973, we wheeled along a one-lane road nestled on the camp’s western foothills, a couple of miles east of Interstate 5, all alone but for the occasional jackrabbit. Without the federal government’s creation of Camp Pendleton, California’s southern third would now be a single continuous urban sprawl from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. I recently suggested to Jay that a Pendleton day trip would constitute a fitting reunion. Happily we are both still fit enough to cover 50 miles without heart failure. More admirable, my former brother-in-law, Bob Coles, 74, is also in fine fettle, and confirmed his wish to join us on the ride. So on the misty morning of March 19 we set off from Bob’s house in Carlsbad, three old soldiers taking their medicine together. Camp Pendleton has added some ugly housing and a drab strip mall since the early days, but the camp’s coast road is now closed to motorists for much of its length, and has thus become a happy stomping ground for cyclists of all variety. A spirit of athletic bonhomie reigns among the relative wilderness, even if the roar of I-5 is never totally out of earshot. Give it a try the next time your travels find you in So Cal’s otherwise crowded neck of the woods. It ain’t the back roads of France’s Périgord, but as havens from the madding mob go, it’s a fine choice, particularly when toiled over with old friends.

Former garage authority Janet Wood and her son Jay, grown slightly less mischievous over the last 40 years.

Team captain Bob Coles supervises tire repair exercise.

Thanks Camp Pendleton! Almost entirely untouched Southern California coastline. Who says military deterrence doesn't work?

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