Day 20: Pfeiffer Big Sur to San Simeon State Beach, 68 miles
Up at dawn, around 530am? Excitement? Or anxiety? Anticipating the ride ahead, I feel both. And also, confidence and humility. Three large hills, many smaller ones, and overall a long haul. My spirits are buoyed, by clear skies, warm temperatures, and a sleep with dreams that seemed to put things in perspective. Can’t remember how, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
The first climb is to the actual town of “Big Sur”, with a post office, small store and the Big Sur Bakery and Cafe. Great coffee and enormous almond croissant. And a price to match. I suppose one could share this, and ought to, unless cycling the upcoming coastal challenge. Fuel. A bit more climbing, then descent! And the views south near Nepenthe Restaurant, the water is so clear, blue and turquoise. Did I never notice this color before? Or in Oregon, so many coastal days are grey, simply hadn’t seen it?
I’m excited as I ride on towards Esalen, and a magical mark on my odometer. I’ll be turning 17 today, 17,000 miles that is. This is over the five years since i’ve resumed cycling and touring. So much has happened in these years, this number bears little to reflect this. Except a lot of distance on my Miyata. I’m looking forward to another writer’s retreat at Esalen this fall, the sixth I’ll have attended. My goal is to bring a manuscript or two, to ask other writers to engage, to meet new friends. And to cycle down. Again.
Esalen is soon up and gone, next I ride through Lucia, stopping for water and avoiding the ridiculous prices of the isolated coastal convenience market. Soon after, I ride through the avalanche shelter, and see what 200 Million dollars can buy. On a bicycle I get to stop and look out the giant windows, and scoff at the tacky fake rock facades, each died a different color, and the fake wooden rails on the bridges. Lots of money spent on the ticky tacky. Looks pretty strange. But I’m sure lots of tourists love it, as did the politicians who authorized CalTrans to build the garish structure.
The highway then drops down and follow the rocky shore, before climbing and dropping along Kirk Creek. Eucalyptus and sage, wildflowers, juniper and pine. I notice an absence: shore birds. Safe the soaring turkey vultures, I don’t see any sea birds. Hear just a few sea lions. Is this normal for the coast of Big Sur? Or is the ocean dying? Dark thoughts have me wondering, fretting. Things are changing. Such a deep drought will affect fresh water, animals, insects, food for birds. I see pine trees dying along the road. I ride on.
Two more tall hills, a long climb, then descent followed by another climb. I stop for a breather, leaning against the guardrail. I’m almost up and over Ragged Point. Another twenty miles lie past this last hill. A woman walks up the hill and asks if I’m ok. I assure her I’m just resting, but gladly accept the water she offers. The kindness of strangers. I head up the final big hill. I’m climbing around a corner and a bold cycling wonder comes blazing by, a long haired man, pulling a flat trailer with a dog atop, full American flag whipping in the wind of his madcap descent. “Almost there, brother!” he yells. “You can do it! Fuck yeah!” I smile and keep pedaling. I remember Randalf, how I met on this very coast, nearly 30 years ago. The German with a husky in his bicycle trailer, on the journey to find himself. As am I.
Rocky Point, last rest stop, partway down the descent. Tourist trap, but bathroom and fresh water. Snacks, but too expensive. Of course. Miles from nowhere. Another cyclist rolls up, says he’s riding down from Monterey today, headed also to San Simeon. We chat, he’s also ridden this coast before. Reminds me that once on the flats, the winds will carry me. And this is true, winds have me coasting at over 20 miles an hour. Exuberant, I pedal on. Past the a beautiful shore, waves crashing on rocks. The elephant seals are lining the beach, but I ride past, ready to reach camp. Just a few more miles.
Ah, San Simeon State Park! So happy to roll in, even the sign announcing that there are no showers due to “Class 3 Drought” doesn’t quash my mood. A British cyclist rides into the hiker biker, saying he just had is the best ride of his life. I feel it too. I walk down to the beach. Chilly south winds, so much like my home coasts in Oregon. I’m waiting for the sun to set, but can’t take the cold much longer. I head back to my tent, the full moon rising on the east. I crawl into my sleeping bag with a deep sigh. My legs are sore, in a good way. I feel the day’s sun, still warm on my face.
I did it. I made the Big Sur traverse, in good time. Yes.