Soaring cliffs to Esalen

Day 32, Pfeiffer Big Sur to Esalen, 15 miles

Today is a short, spectacular ride. For the next 60 miles, Highway 1 is a narrow ribbon of blacktop, etched into sheer cliff face. I’m riding the 15 miles to Esalen today, Tanguy is heading on towards San Diego and Tijuana where he has booked a flight to Cancun. We leave the hiker/biker site before the other campers, a total of eight tents last night.

I climb the first hill to the town of Big Sur proper, a long steady incline, over the new bridge at Pfeiffer Canyon. Tanguy gets a flat and stops to fix it, which gives me the chance to get to the bakery before he does. The prices are ridiculous, $8.50 for an almond croissant, $6.50 for a double Americano. Catering to the elites, clearly. I always warn other cyclists there’s no affordable food until San Simeon.

Tanguy arrives, but heads on. We bid each other a cyclist farewell, “Seeya down the road”. He says I should visit him in France, maybe we’ll ride Norway together. He’s the only cyclist I’ve sustained contact with this tour, unlike other rides. I think of the loneliness that often often plagued me on past tours. I’ve been struggling with the physicality of this trip so much I didn’t have time to feel lonely. This will change at Esalen.

I’m headed to a workshop titled “Thriving in Uncertainty”, on the process of Sensory Awareness. I have no idea what this is, thinking I might just hang out in the hot springs the whole weekend. One thing I do know, I’ll miss the usual connections I’ve enjoyed by attending eight Sun Magazine writers retreats. None of my usual, yearly friendships will be resumed.

The ride south to Esalen is glorious, blue skies, crystal ocean below, temperatures in the mid-70s. A stop at Henry Miller Library, of course, then I ride gently and steadily along the cliffs, past the waterfall at Julia Pfeiffer Burns, then counting the four bridges before my destination. I roll down the hill, check in, and head immediately to the hot springs.

The sulphur smell wafts up from the bathhouse farm below, just a few yards above the rocky beach. Into the hot water, my muscles relax immediately. I soak, alternate with a cold plunge, hot again, cold again, until I can’t remember my anxiety or loneliness or confusion. I only experience the hot water, the crashing surf, the brilliant sun light, my beating heart. I dress, walk back up the hill for dinner, then the evening session where I will meet my new companions for the weekend.


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