Into the heart of Big Sur

Day 30, Pfeiffer Big Sur to Esalen, 15 miles

Another restless night, thrilled to be so close to my destination. I’m already feeling the bittersweet nostalgia of a quest nearing its end. I don’t want this to end. I’m just beginning to feel present, to really enjoy myself. I’m just beginning this journey, I told Lara last night. That is what I’ll keep in my mind, when I return home. This really is just the beginning.

The tent is wet from rain in the wee hours. I pack it damp, making a mental note to take it out once at Esalen. Esalen! So near, just a few more miles. But what miles these will be! Soon, I’ll ride the most spectacular part of the Pacific Coast Highway, Route 1 a thin ribbon of pavement etched into ragged cliff faces, sheer drops plummeting to the ocean, surf crashing against the shore far below. I can’t wait to see this, again. I’ll never tire of seeing this, ever.

I wish goodbye to Greg and Fenn, two Canadian cyclists who are heading on to Plaskett Creek. I head out the park road, rejoin Route 1 and begin the long climb to Big Sur proper. Up this hill are the Post Office, first stores, bakery, restaurants, and some 400 residents, who were isolated from Monterey since the spring when a landslide caused the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge to fail. In May a massive slide at Mud Creek cut off Route 1 at the south. Since then, the only way in and out of this 30 miles of Big Sur was a winding road over the mountains connecting to 101. I’m eager to see the new bridge, just opened to traffic a week ago.

My climb is steady, not as arduous as I’d remembered. My intrigue and anticipation seem to be pulling me forward, upward, each pedal stroke bringing me closer to the new bridge. Big Sur Station on the left, then another curve, more climbing. Ah, the turnoff to Pfeiffer Beach, Sycamore Canyon Road. A construction site on the left, then I see it, orange safety cones still lining the bridge. It’s a simple span, grooved concrete surface, new galvanized railings, wide enough for traffic and bicycles. There are construction workers still present, along with a lone pedestrian walking down with his morning coffee to check out the new span.

I’m over the bridge in a few pedal strokes, snapping a couple pictures. Cars whiz over it even faster. Normally this kind of bridge would take up to seven years to build, but CalTrans finished this one in seven months. I wonder how the residents feel now, traffic again flying through their community. They are certain to be relieved not to have to hike the mile through the gorge to get groceries or take their kids to school. I ride on, a bit more climbing past the bridge. I turn into the parking lot of Big Sur Bakery. Closed! I wonder when they will reopen, how much the road closure hurt their business.

Onward I ride, finishing the climb. As the road crests and I see the first views of the coastline to the south. Breathtaking! Clear skies, deep blue water, jagged cliffs and hills as far as the eye can see. Winding road, into coves, out over headlands, the most thrilling ride ahead. But first, breakfast. I stop at Nepenthe, enjoy a delicious eggs benedict, make an important phone call, update my blog. This is my first and last cell service for awhile. I continue on and begin to descend down the hill, but stop immediately again at the Henry Miller Library. Also closed for months, I see cars parked with several tourists visiting the literary destination. I don’t stay long this time, eager to ride on. More descending, then climbing, winding around the cliffs.

I’m pausing many, many times, taking pictures, taking in the view, taking my sweet time. I want to savor this. The impetus to ride fast and hard has melted away, now I am a slow cyclist, one who is more intent to wander, meander, ponder. The blues, the sun, the rock, I’m gasping at the beauty. Onward, a few more hills, then I reach the spot where the huge boulder landed in the road last January. No sign of the massive rock; I’d wondered if CalTrans would simply push it over the cliff. But the damage on the driveway where the boulder rolled is apparent. A brush with fate, cars on either side of the rock, a metaphor for this year?

A brush with fate, this massive experience of loss of self. How dangerous to my goals, my status, my health. How near a miss was my timing on everything. And my foresight or understanding of the eventuality of collapse, that called me to end the relationship in August. I’m again reminded of my grief, recalling the breakup. How I was planning, all year, to bring her with me on this trip. How impossible it seemed towards the end, that anything but disaster would have resulted. Lara helped me reflect on my loss of self, on my need for individuation, to call back my projections, off of the other, reclaim these lost parts of my psyche. Nonviolent communication, beginning with the conversations in my own mind. Grief yields to gratitude, for these experiences, all of them. In a recent dream, I’m telling her I am grateful for it all, that I love everything that happened. Everything.

And now, I’m totally engrossed, totally in love with this place, with this journey, with my single and solitary life. I want to drink in everything. Not to miss out on another precious moment, the glimpse of a vista, the buzzing chirping fluttering of a hummingbird, the raucous mocking calls of a raven, the belching bark of a sea lion, the frail glittering beauty of a monarch on a wildflower, the pungent jarring scent of fresh California rain upon eucalyptus. These and so many moments to come, I embrace, wholeheartedly, with the fresh gaze of a beginner’s mind. This really is just the beginning.

I ride the last few miles, passing Julia Pfeiffer Burns, then over the three bridges before Hot Springs Creek and the last hill at Esalen. As I reflect on my past workshops, I consider what George, a follower of my blog had written to me yesterday. He asked about my plans for my tour south, knowing the road was blocked by the Mud Creek slide. I told him about my writing workshop at Esalen. Ah, he said, this explains my ride into the Heart of Big Sur. If he only knew the depth of my journey, into the heart of this place, into my heart, in this place, Big Sur.

Well, I guess you do know now, George. Thank you for reading, for following my ride, for joining me along the path. I send my appreciation and love to you, and to all my dear readers.

3 thoughts on “Into the heart of Big Sur

  1. A magnificent adventure and accomplishment to have documented both your exterior and interior space. Now you embody what you have experienced. Your depth is expanding into a more enriching reality. Congratulations! I loved following you along your way. Thank you for sharing.

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