Day 37, San Simeon to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, 70 miles
I wake shivering. The alarm hasn’t gone off, so I roll over. It finally rings, then I reset the snooze. Twice. I finally get up, after 730, when I’d wanted to start before sunrise. Not happening. I pack up my gear, including my new tent, drenched with dew. That’s always fun with fingers already stiff from the cold.
I’m looking forward to the ride today with more than a slight trepidation. A long haul, all the way into Big Sur, all the major hills. I’m feeling road worn and weary, reluctant to be ending my tour, yet also not wanting to continue. I look ahead at the crises that await me back in Oregon. It’s time to go home.
I bid my new bicycle companions farewell and am ready to head out. Then I notice the back tire. Flat! I grumble, drop off the panniers, pull off the wheel. Strip the tire, replace the tube, check for the source of the leak. A tiny wire, still poking through the outer wall of the now worn Marathon Plus. Certainly lived up to their name, these tires. Nearing 1500 miles on this tour, first flat.
Tire repaired, rolling down the highway, thus I begin to count my blessings once more. First flat of the tour. I’d heard stories about major breakdowns, broken spokes on Leggett Hill for instance, and this was my only mechanical problem thus far. My odometer clicks past 29,000. The miles ridden since I resumed touring in 2010. Quite a feat. But I’m not feeling it.
My 2018 Gratitude Tour, what I named this tour when I first set out. I look back and see how my mood has often been anything but. Yet, gratitude is not a mood. It is a decision. I recall several tours back, rolling into San Simeon State Park all the way from Esalen, meeting another cyclist sitting at a table with a dazed look on his face.
“I just had the most amazing ride of my life,” he said dreamily. He was holding an SLR camera, talking about the day, the hills, the vistas, the elephant seals, the winds. I recognized this feeling. Drenched in all the delicious post ride endorphins, overwhelmed by the completion of an adventure and hard riding. The most amazing ride of his life.
And here I am, heading back over the same route, grumbling and anxious, wondering how I’ll make it. Suddenly it dawns on me, this will be my most amazing ride. Of my life. I don’t know what is coming down the road, literally or metaphorically. Today, now, this long highway ahead, this is it. My focus sharpens, I see my life now, in crystal clarity, all the lessons of the past struggles, the depth counseling, the poetry and writers block, the wandering and wondering and obsessing, all come to that marvelous inner fruition that David Whyte keeps referring to.
Today will be the most amazing ride of my life. My bicycle seems to move more easily, straight away. Pedal strokes reach their rhythmic pace. Miles are rolling, I’m merging the new with the nostalgia, there, here and now. I pass easily over the plains before the Big Sur mountains, eager to hit the first climb. Winds are mild, such a blessing heading North! I whiz past the elephant seal viewpoint, onward.
There, first sight of the mountainous coast. Big Sur! Just as ominous and inspiring as I remember it, from taking this reverse route a few times before. I’m ready to hit the first climb, gearing down, pedals strong. Up I climb toward Ragged Point, winding in and out of cove and headland. This climb seems so simple, just keep pedaling. Breathing, Trusting. Trusting my bicycle, my body, the motorists who pass with ample room, this life, this future.
I stop for coffee at Ragged Point, the warmth of the sun feels amazing. Then onward, climbing the first hill at Salmon Creek. It’s tall, but not so bad. Descent comes faster than I’d expected, I’m careening into the deep cove at the creek, then the turn and climbing the second hill. Halfway up, I’m stopped by dazzling green on the side of the cliff. Green rock. I want some. I lift a beautiful rock, then another. This would make a nice altar piece. I want to take them. All of them. How ridiculous I am now, shoving rocks into my panniers. I must be the only cyclist out here adding rocks for ballast. I’m laughing loudly at the absurd passion of my fancy with stones.
I ride on, marveling at the different kinds of stone and sedimentary formations. Riding north, I’m on the cliff side, close to the cuts. So many colors! Greens, rusty reds, black, grey. Around a bend, deep red! I stop, see a hillside which seems to be made of a dark red quartz, with strands of white running through it. A couple more rocks for the bags, smallish. Ha! Just a few more rides anyway, I think. What’s a little more weight?
I descend this hill, then see above in the distance the repaired highway at Mud Creek. A delight to cycle over this engineering feat again. I’m soon climbing, up over the new tarmac, watching road crews and heaving machinery busy in what will always be a perpetual work zone. A million tons of earth. How many million tons of road bed, rip rap, asphalt have been laid upon this highway, but a thin ribbon of roadway carved into the mountainous coastal cliffs of Big Sur. And why? All for the 400 some residents of the small town at the center? Or for the tourists, thousands who visit? Or for me, this lonely cyclist, among so many other cyclists?
Gratitude, deep in my bones now, for all the work and inspiration and dedication to make this experience possible. For all the road work, for the travelers, for the kind residents, for my cycling kin. I’m smiling, with tears welling. On I ride. Another hill, then descending into Pacific Valley, flying past Plaskett Creek, Kirk Creek, on climbing through the avalanche shelter up to Lucia. I pass Esalen, no time for the night soak this year.
I’m ticking off the distance now with the mileposts, calculating, will I make it there by sundown? The first 40 miles have taken 6 hours, since my departure at 830am. Yes, just after sundown. On over the four bridges, then the the climb to Julia Pfeiffer Burns and McWay falls. I stop for a break, eating a random roadside lunch: peanut butter banana wrap, jerky, sauerkraut. So delicious! The sun is beginning to set over the turquoise waters below. I must ride on, climbing now past the spot the huge bolder fell, blocking to road during that crazy January ride I took in 2017.
Climbing, rolling, descending, climbing again. I stop at my favorite vista to soak in the last Big Sur sunset of the trip. The sun eases down below the vast waters of the Pacific. The clouds in the sky light up in oranges, reds, even purple. The surf breaks softly against the rocks, hundreds of feet below. Ah, this moment, how precious and beautiful, may I always remember.
Then, back on for the final miles. And climbs. My legs are feeling it, my back aching a bit, my hands numb, I shake them out, straighten my spine, keep pedaling. Lowest gear, wishing for a lower one. Coast Gallery, descend, climb, descend. How many more! There, the last descent, past Henry Miller Library, closed at this hour. Jazz and boomer cover band playing at Nepenthe as I crawl past. Just a few more miles of climbing and the final descent.
I stop to turn on the phone, see messages cascading in across the screen. A car pauses, are you ok? Yes, I say, just a breather before the final climb. A call with Robert, checking in on a payroll detail. I’m home soon, I assure him. We’ll get thinks really rolling at the restaurant now, we agree. Then, back to the climb, past Ventana, and the crest.
I’m riding with my full lighting now, 900 lumen headlamp blazing a clear path, I begin the rapid descent. I pass Big Sur Bakery, not stopping, then the store and post office, the new bridge over Pfeiffer Canyon, then Big Sur Station. The bridge over the Big Sur River. Then, I roll into the campground, It’s dark, but I see other cyclists.
I set up camp, shower, revel in this day, the challenges and achievements of the ride washing over me. The struggles, the vistas, the obsessing, the release from obsessing. My body, my breath, my mind, my heart, beating and yearning and wailing and laughing. Cycling all day over this most spectacular landscape, filled with gratitude, held in one hand, with grief in the other, just as Lara counseled me, over and over. This was indeed the most amazing ride of my life.