Alternate transportation: Santa Cruz to Sea Otter

I’m once again looking at my car-free transportation choices for traveling to the Sea Otter Festival at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.

The audio in this is lousy, but in this video from 2009 Sea Otter, Gary Fisher tells my buddy Erik how Sea Otter at Laguna Seca is a monument to our auto addiction. He suggests the Sea Otter Classic should take place at somewhere like San Francisco instead.

(Namedropping: To Gary’s right in the video are Joe of Plus 3 Network in the orange +3 jersey, and Mia of Momentum Magazine in the green shirt).

It takes about four hours for me to travel the 50 miles to Laguna Seca from my home near Santa Cruz through a combination of public transportation and bicycling. I can get to San Francisco (80 miles) via bike and public transit in under two hours.

For comparison’s sake, Google Maps tells me it should take about an hour to drive to Laguna Seca in a car; driving to San Francisco typically takes me almost two hours as well.

The accessibility problem stems from Laguna Seca’s location out in the hills east of Monterey — the Sea Otter Classic central feature is a mountain bike race, after all. The only regular bus that stops near Laguna Seca Raceway is the twice daily MST route 21 from Salinas to Monterey. To catch that #21 bus in Salinas, I need to be in Watsonville before 7 AM. Compare to someplace like the San Mateo County, which is served by Caltrain and 11 different bus routes. The Cow Palace in South San Francisco (location of the SF Bike Expo) is within easy biking distance of Bayshore Caltrain, Balboa Park BART, and SF Muni Light Rail T & K Balboa Park Station. SF Muni 9 to San Bruno (with its warts and all – bring air spray and don’t bend over) stops in front of the Cow Palace.

Look what Google Transit pops up with for a 6 AM departure from Santa Cruz: I have a choice between a 4 hour trip that leaves after noon, an almost 5 hour trip that gets me there at 6 PM. Finally, I can do a transit redeye! Depart at 8:40 PM for arrival at 7:43 the next morning!

Sea Otter: Transit default directions

The biggest problem is getting to Laguna Seca — it’s in the boonies, hence no good transit service. So let’s bike the entire way via the steep, narrow road to the Festival site. I did this Santa Cruz to Monterey trip in 2008 on a fixed gear bike.

The final stretch to the festival grounds can be fairly unpleasant: Last year, I was run off the road by a Giant Bicycles truck hauling a big trailer, and a handful of mountain bikers with trucks hauling their downhill rigs saw fit to harass the skinny road cyclist with taunts, honks, swerves and thrown objects. This year I’ll have the video camera running to catch the action for your enjoyment.

Google Maps bicycle directions, however, suggests the mountain bike trails that switchback across Fort Ord. It’s just the thing for one of Ammon Skidmore’s epic commutes — me, I just get horribly lost on goat trails completely unsuited to road bike tires.

Sea Otter: Bike there

The option I generally take is a hybrid: Santa Cruz 91X express bus to Watsonville, then Monterey Transit buses to either Marina or Seaside or Salinas, then bike the rest of the way to Laguna Seca. Google Transit suggests an option I haven’t considered before: Transferring to the 55 commuter express in Prunedale.

Sea Otter: Transit through Prunedale

From downtown Santa Cruz to Seaside, that total trip time would be about 4 1/2 hours. Interestingly, I can cut that down to under 3 hours by adding 20 miles and an extra county to my trip: From my home I catch the 7:05 AM Hwy 17 Express bus all the way to San Jose, then catch MST 55 at 7:55 for arrival in Seaside at around 9:45. From there it’s a 10 mile bike ride up the side of a 900 foot hill to the Sea Otter Festival. A bonus is that with my VTA Express EcoPass, this round the world trip is absolutely free!

I’m certainly not too proud to hitch a ride between Santa Cruz and Laguna Seca if somebody wants to offer :-)

2 Comments

  • April 15, 2010 - 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Whoa! Good luck Richard. You're definitely a better man than I. I would give a ride but I'm too far away. :)

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