Day 37: San Luis Obispo to San Simeon State Park, 40 miles
North?! Really, Ocean? Everyone knows you are supposed to cycle south, only south down the Pacific Coast Bike Route. Prevailing winds are always from the north, remember?
I’d been thinking about reversing my direction as far back as Esalen, turning around there and heading north all the way back up to Oregon. Warmer skies and the memories of Santa Barbara drew me south.
But at Carpinteria I decide to head north. I hop on the Amtrak Surfliner and skip over the Lompoc Peninsula to start at San Luis, to ride over Big Sur again and head home on the Coast Starlight from Oakland.
Why? Maybe I just want to buck the crowd. Maybe I want to be in Northern Californian for the big “end-of-the-world” presidential election of 2012. Maybe I just want to see that incredible Big Sur coastline once more. I don’t really know. All of the above, or none.
The three hour train ride north is relaxing. I use the time staring out the window at the beautiful shore and sunlit waves, sewing repairs in my clothing. I look out the east windows just in time to see the ICBM silos at Vandenberg AFB, squat square concrete bunkers, with winding rails heading between them. Hidden beneath the earth are the obscene wingless aircraft waiting to deliver their message of oblivion. I shudder at the thought.
I’m on the road again at 130pm, cycling full into an afternoon wind. Gusting up to 20mph, a warm wind. Not so bad. I think of my favorite training ride back home – Yachats to Heceta Head – riding south then north, all summer. Into the wind. I trained for this.
My spirits are high, once more. I’m making good time, over 10mph. Slower when a steady headwind. But there are also lulls, good downhill stretches, mountains to block the northerly gusts.
I turn the 1500th mile of the trip just as I’m grabbing a picture of Morro Rock, the massive volcanic sea stack whose iconic profile has been usurped by the ugly triple stacks of a PGE power plant. Twenty miles still to go to reach my evening camp. Cyclists are heading south. I smile and wave as I pass them. Now I am the crazy one going the wrong way.
Somewhere around Harmony, Highway 1 drops from freeway back to an empty two lane highway. Long hills provide ample time to reflect on the slow climbs. Something else is different… what is it? Ah, the smell! The acrid metallic skies of Southern California have been replaced with the sweet aromas of blooming desert, eucalyptus, sea air of brine and kelp. Ah, to breathe clear air again!
Past Cambria the sun is setting, and I finish the last few miles before San Simeon with another stunning sunset unfolding before me. Speechless again, so I whoop at the empty highway. How is it possible for such beauty to exist, and for me to have missed it so many times before? I vow to take on another handle: Ocean, Sunset Junkie. Never to miss another sunset!
Look there, flocks of pelicans in formation. There, sun behind clouds, colors of yellow, orange, red fading to midnight blue high above. There, rose colored clouds over the mountainous headlands of Big Sur. I will climb these headlands in the morning. I am ready.