ILIA CARSON Six 5-15-15.jpg

One cool thing you could do with your spare time is to walk 800 miles from Mission to Mission on El Camino Real right here in Californy-I-ay. If you hurry, you will not be alone because right now, this very minute, that’s what Hollywood’s own Ilia Carson is doing.

I hosted Ilia (accent on the second syllable, like Maria) through the travelers’ hospitality we site last month after she blew in from Santa Cruz to see the Mission San Juan Bautista. She began her pilgrimage a couple of weeks before that up in Sonora at the Mission San Francisco de Solano. When she arrived in San Juan, she had already completed 200-plus miles, averaging between 15-20 miles per day. Wonder Walker!

I have always thought it would be fun to bicycle from Mission to Mission and many times I have wondered why there weren’t hostels (or other warmshowers hosts) at or near each one. That seems like something that would catch on with touring cyclists. It appears that a growing number of hikers is taking the challenge every year ( Maybe in time my dream of Mission pilgrim hostels will take form.

The promotion of bicycle touring and Mission walking is not a bad economic idea for our community, fellow Bautisterians. A recent Adventure Cycling Association blog post ( cited the top 10 things a town can offer pedal-powered eco-tourists. Perhaps you can add to their list (don’t be shy; they are offering prizes for the best ideas).

“Here are the top 10 things you can offer cyclists to make your community or business bicycle travel friendly:

  • Access to water
  • Secure and safe bike parking
  • Charging station for mobile devices and free Wi-Fi
  • Bike lanes or paths through town and signs showing the way
  • Covered pavilion or simple shelter for cyclists to rest, eat, or camp
  • Message boards for cyclists to leave notes for each other and/or a service binder for local businesses to post ways they cater to cyclists
  • Bicycle repair and refueling supplies available for purchase, such as repair kits, tubes, spokes, bike tools, energy bars, and drinks
  • Bicycle maintenance tools such as a bike stand, a floor pump and tools for making repairs
  • A website to provide information about the bicycle friendly things that your community/business offers
  • Low-cost hotel, hostel, or camping available within walking distance of cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, service stations, and/or other services.”

San Juan Bautista already has many of these things, not to mention the top attractions of the Mission San Juan Bautista and our in-town State Park. Many bicyclists already take the challenging side trip to Fremont State Park, and the increasing allure of Pinnacles National Park is just a day’s ride or two days’ walk down the road. Our restaurants serve great food and the Windmill Market is a perfect re-supply station for hungry long-distance athletes. The Mission Farm Campground offers tent camping and hot showers to bicycle travelers for an economical $15 per night.

What the town lacks is an on-line presence inviting walkers and cyclists to come here and one or more of the businesses willing to cater to the simple needs of the travelers, like hiking socks, patch kits, tubes, and an accessible floor pump. Off the Chain in Hollister is a great bike shop for more serious things like repair jobs, tune-ups, clothing, and equipment.

What sort of benefit can the town expect from tooting our horn as a cycling or walking destination? According to some sources, there is a good bit of money to be made. An article about the economic impact of cycling in parts of Colorado and other locales has this to say:

“A 2015 study commissioned by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and shows that 1) bicycling contributes $28 million per year and 2) bicycle tourism contributes $23 million per year in direct economic impact to the Pikes Peak region. For each dollar invested in cycling, the Pikes Peak region can yield $1.80 to $2.70 in direct economic benefits to the community, making bicycling among the most cost-effective transportation investments the region can make.” ( Food for thought?

Meanwhile, Ilia the Wonder Walker is getting it done. After a tour of the Mission San Juan Bautista, I steered her over to Jardines de San Juan, my local go-to dinner eatery for out of town visitors. I ordered my favorite Baja Tacos; Ilia chose one of their gigundo carnitas burritos.

When the food came, she inhaled that burrito faster than I could say “Has your hiker hunger kicked in yet?” FOOM, it was gone. I had to laugh. There is nothing better than rigorous long distance exercise followed by no-holds-barred consumption of tasty, jaw-noshing food. It is a savage pleasure known only to a crazy, privileged few.

Ilia hopes to use this walk as a preparation for a 2016 trek of El Camino del Santiago in Spain. She is already a bright, talented organizer. Completing all or even part of El Camino Real in California will give her yet more confidence and teach the lessons only learned by road experience: flexibility, patience, and the happy holiness of mindless repetitive motion.

After a shower, about a hundred shared stories, a deep slumber on my Mission Farm Campground redneck deck, and a jumbo morning bowl of heart-healthy oats and almonds, Ilia the Wonder Walker was on her way up and over the San Juan Bautista de Anza Trail toward Salinas and beyond. At last word, she was approaching Mission San Luis Obispo de Toloso, more than halfway on her journey to San Diego. Que mujer!

“No problem. I got this.” – Ilia Carson, Wonder Walker 2015

– Jim Ostdick

A retired San Benito High School Earth Science teacher, Ostdick has been a San Juan Bautista resident since 2005. He has bicycled more than 12,000 miles around the United States and section-hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Recently, Jim published Palomino and the Dream Machine a chronicle of some of his cycling adventures. It is available to check out at the San Juan Bautista Public Library and for sale as an e-book or paperback on Amazon (