The Big Sur Ocean

Day 22, Veteran’s Memorial Park to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 34 miles

Groggy and grumpy I greet the day. Thunder, barking sea lions and noisy drunken campers made sleep a challenge. But I’m feeling a different unrest. I’m stuck again, ruminating and fretting about the problems back home. Restaurant sales so fickle, a mountain of debt, how will I pay the mortgage, where do I really want to live, what do I want to do? Sitting in the coffeeshop, staring at the numbers on the accounting doesn’t make it any better. But I know one thing will: riding. I off I go.

Down California Route 1, heading south of Carmel, alongside beaches and grasslands, the sun is bright overhead, warm breezes at my back. I feel better immediately. Live in the moment because it’s all there is, said the graffiti on a bathroom wall somewhere a few hundred miles ago. Latrine wisdom. And it is so true. I’m relishing this moment, and this one, and this one. The bicycle is my flying machine, my discipline, my vehicle and toy and anchor.

The highway begins to climb steeply through Carmel Highlands, a swank strip of gated and fenced million dollar estates line the road. I stop at a beautiful overlook, then notice the barbed wire and “no trespassing” sign. Look, but don’t touch! I’m reminded of the Oregon Beach Bill, which preserved all of Oregon’s 380 miles of beach for public access. The People’s Beach. The Commons. Oregon writer Matt Love painstakingly and relentlessly reminds us of this great progressive act of socialist politics, a law to forever protect the beaches from developers, land-grabbers, capitalists and exploiters. Not here in California, where most of the beaches are privately owned. How can someone own a beach? Own a beach?

I take some pictures, as to the tourists, who are stopping in their metal driving machines, escaping briefly to gawk, snap selfies, gawk, more selfies, how about one of both of us, ok, back in the car, the SUV, the mobile home, drive on. I ride on, aware again of how my views are infinitely better than the cars which fly by, how the speed of 10mph allows me to see, to experience, to feel, to become the landscape I’m traversing. Pedal stroke after stroke, distance measured in feet and yards, not miles. I ride all day to reach the same distance the cars travel in an hour or so. How much is missed at that speed. Well, all of this.

The road levels, and begins to follow coastal plains, then up and around a corner, I see the first of the Big Sur mountains. I stop in my tracks. This view always takes my breath away. Even after riding this six times, in five years. Takes my breath away. My spirits are high again, as I begin to crawl up this narrow highway, which seems to have been etched from the stone of these mountains. The roads skirts around the headlands, rising, falling, rising again and falling again. Coves, bridges over chasms, cliffs, and then deep blue, endless seas. Sea lions share the offshore rocks with sea birds. The briny scent of kelp wafts in the breeze.

Around the next bend, the iconic Bixby Bridge. I’m going to get the best selfie here! If the tourists would just get out of the way. I laugh, then stop and breath. I’m in no hurry, I remind myself. I look south to the towering cliffs and turquoise surf crashing below. The tourists are only here for a minute or so. I’m going to be crawling up the big hill ahead for an hour. Ah, a clear shot for a funny picture of myself and my bicycle, and my bridge. Then onward. I notice the bridge has sitting areas built into it, though no sidewalks. Was it built in the days when cars went slower, so pedestrians could safely walk the bridge, sit in the benches for resting and views? Some cars from that ear are riding the highway today, drivers waving at me.

Vintage cars, vintage bicycle. Vintage cyclist? At times I’m feeling old, but also younger as well. A strange place, this middle age. My bicycle makes me young again. Every time I get in the saddle, pedal down the road, I feel a child in me laughing and singing again. And playing, playing, playing. Here on the Big Sur coast, I’m feeling all of this again. I’m growing so endeared to this place, this highway, these cliffs, this ocean. The Big Sur ocean, working its magic on me, Ocean. I’m becoming the Big Sur Ocean, again. And I like it.

The highway peaks past Bixby, more views, more tourists, more selfies, one lone cyclist amongst RVs and SUVs and cars and trucks. I head down the descent, faster and faster. I hear Alice’s cycling friends saying “On your drops!” so I try it, finding the lower hand position does make the descent faster and also more stable. Finally the road crosses are bridge and then climbs again, this time past a beautiful beach, below a bluff covered with crimson ice plants. But more barbed wire, many signs saying “No Trespassing” and “Private Property”. Look, but don’t touch! I want to touch this beach. I want to run on the sand, and throw off my clothes and jump naked in the chilly turquoise waters. I want to feel the beach, the sand, the sun, the salt spray.

Luckly, I forgot my wire cutters. So the fence stands. I remind myself I’ll be getting naked and into hot water soon enough at Esalen. And that the cattle grazing below need that fence. And that if all those tourists lining the highway could get to that forbidden beach, it wouldn’t be so pristine now, would it? Ah, Oregon, I’ll be walking your beaches soon. And the beaches in Southern California sooner.

The last few miles are a delight, descending with a tailwind, right into Big Sur. I stop briefly for an expensive burger at a greasy spoon resort, then on to the campground. Cool from tall redwoods, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park sits in the gorge of the Big Sur River, which is flowing with water now from recent rains. I meet other cyclists, set up camp and head to bed early. The Big Sur Ocean is content and happy to have arrived again, to this place, this home, this moment.

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