Awoke to another beautiful morning, all set up for my first big days ride. The plan was to do the 300 mile ride south along the coast through Big Sur. But it all went a bit wrong. The best laid plans of mice and men…
I rode out of Santa Cruz along the cliff road, to the ocean, to a beautiful view of Monterey Bay, then on the Cannery Row in Monterey for breakfast at the very nice First Awakenings cafe. The along the headland Pacific Grove headland around to Carmel where I tried and failed to get onto 17 mile drive. I still can’t quite believe that Motorcycles are not allowed on this famous ocean drive, and so I tried something I picked up on a forum somewhere and tried to smile and wave as I rode through the checkpoint. The guard ran out and flagged me down, and I played innocent. But no go.
South of Carmel the coast gets really wild, and Big Sur is this 100 mile stretch where the mountains come down to the sea, with crashing waves and giant redwoods in the canyons. It is a breathtaking place, and Arthur Miller had a place there which is now a library which I wanted to revisit, and the famous McWay falls are not to be missed. California had been in drought for the last 6 years, but that had broken in dramatic fashion in March. And the aftermath of the torrential rains were still being felt. Riding down route 1 there were roadsigns that the road ahead was closed due to landslide. You always take those notices with a pinch of salt, especially on a GS, where there is usually some way through. But then up ahead, red and white road barriers and flashing orange lights and enormous earth movers. I stop to watch. The whole side of the mountain had come down, sweeping the road into the sea. Not only was there no way through, apparently there was another landslide further south and communities in between were completely cut off, and would be for days.
So maybe I’m not going that way. I rode back north looking for another route. Eventually I spotted a little road heading up the wonderful Carmel Valley. This was never the plan, and you wouldn’t find your way here with the world class option of Route 1 through Big Sur, but this part of rural California is real Steinbeck country. One of his earlier works is ‘To a God Unknown’ and that is set exactly here, and the story centres on a settler coping with years of a drought that he had been warned about, but believed would never come back. However now, after the rains, the countryside is lush and there are flowers everywhere, and the only sounds are the rustling of the trees and the birds. This must have been how it looked to the original settlers who believed they had found paradise. Sheltered from the north wind the sunshine is warm, and the narrow roads wind through beautiful countryside, past occasional red barns and ranches, and up over the Santa Lucia Mountains.
At the summit, spread out ahead of me is the vast Salinas River Valley. As I roll down out of the other side of the mountains the wind starts to seriously pick up. I’ve largely avoided it, sheltered by the hills, but it is funnelled down the long north south valley, and it is really strong and cold. I join the 101 at Greenfield, and now I’m flying along with the wind behind. Riding on the freeway is kinda of missing the point on a trip like this, and it is a bit of a slog through farmland, and I am missing the good stuff but no choice. I stop for gas and coffee outside King City and make plans.
Eventually route 101 swings back to the coast at Pismo beach, and so I stop for some food and to watch the big waves crashing on the beach.The place is busy, and has a really touristy feel, full of gift shops with Harley Davidson signs and US flags, and all I can find to eat is a Subway.
South from here route 1 comes inland, and I’m trying to hug the close. The vast Vandenberg Air Force and the Point conception nature reserve are in the way. This is the point that is generally reckoned to separate north and South California, and it feels sort of in between places. Some beautiful landscape, but neither here nor there.
There are cyclists on the road, apparently doing the coast on a bike but they are literally failing to make any headway against the wind, and I see one flagging down a pickup for a lift.
At at Gaviota you reach the ocean again sparkling in the sunshine, and sheltered by the coastal mountains the temperature starts to pick up. From here the coast starts to get much more developed, and I ride into the beautiful Santa Barbara, and park next to the beach. I realise I am quite tired, and lie down on the warm sand, and doze off. Blissful.
Suitably recharged I have a wander along the seafront, but I spent a night here on my last trip, so I’m ready to keep moving. New things to see! This next stretch of road is freeway, but it is next to the ocean, and it is fabulous, 6 lanes of american dream.
It doesn’t feel like I have done much today, but I have ridden 350 mile, and I’m ready to stop soon. I’m planning to stay in Ventura and I have booked a motel by the railway tracks. I like Ventura, it is a proper town with an industrial heritage, and it is also on the Ocean.
Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, started out here fabricating mountaineering metalwork. Chouinard chose this spot because it meant he and his employees could down tools and go surfing whenever there was a big swell.
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation.”
― Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing
There is a good thought to end the day on.