The Bikin' Fools
The enthusiastic, youthful Ryan had been telling everyone around town that I was going on a bike tour with him. This wholly developed by virtue of me, one time, saying that "Yes, touring is fun." That was enough for Ryan to take the reins of this concept, blow my statement way out of proportion and actually pull it off.
The original plan was to ride from Calistoga to Los Osos. It is about 340 miles. We had a window of four days to pull this caper off. Early on in the planning process, I realized that 85 miles a day in touring mode, for four straight days wasnt likely. The plan morphed into; driving to Half Moon bay and starting from there. It would be exceptionally tight but it was barely inside the envelope of possibilities. Thursday morning, our departure date, dawned wet and dreary. The forecast was for more of the same all day. The plan changed further. Now we would drive to Santa Cruz.
This would be the best of the situation. Neither of us wanted to start in the rain. We elected to sit out our first day, visit with Dan and Paul, then get an early start on day two. It worked. The skies parted sometime Thursday evening and Friday dawned bright and clear.
We ate breakfast, packed our bags and hit the road. We had directions, but they were vague. It would be hours before the route was finally and for sure known. The streets of southeast Santa Cruz that parallel the beach are anything but straight or direct. The Pacific Coast Bike Route (PCBR) is there somewhere. It appeared, disappeared and reappeared several times as we tried to avoid Highway 1. We entered a neighborhood that had specific, similar architecture. After riding a half-mile or so the road simply dead-ended. We had to double back ask more directions and continue. This occurred more than once. Finally we spotted the PCBR. It carried us towards the beach. We missed the PCBR sign and peddled down the road nearest to the beach. Eventually we came to a closed gate. Humm... More directions.
Early on in the ride Ryans rear tire appeared a little squishy. We reasoned that it was the extra weight of the camping gear and panniers. Nope. The tire was going flat. It took us only a few minutes to change the tube and get under way. About an hour later the tire was looking squishy again. Then the Beast of Burden (the B.O.B. trailer) flatted. Dang, it was looking like a flat-a-thon and a huge work out for the tire pump. At least the B.O.B. flat occurred at the beach with spectacular scenery. After the third flat for Ryan he finally found the culprit. A tiny piece of wire slightly protruded inside the casing. That would finally put an end to the flat tire dilemma. The next 120 miles would be flat free. Six miles from Cambria would be the next flat.
As we left Santa Cruz we could see the distant mountains far across the bay. Two huge smokestacks, seemingly in the water, stood starkly at the bottom of the mountains. We would see them all day long. They stayed small for hours. Then they grew larger and larger, become full size and finally receded into the background. These ugly, imposing towers are the visual signature of current methodology for dealing with our energy needs. They represent the end of the waste era, the years of big Cadillac fins. They survive, but they carry the hollow veil of death, of an experiment gone awry. This country has sold its soul for waste-able energy. While we pedaled our little encampment down the highway, mega-sized camper busses passed us in stark contrast. Those rigs represented an unconscionable amount of wasted energy. When one considers that it takes more energy to make a vehicle than it will ever use in its lifetime, a whole other factor emerges in the energy scene. Bigger becomes more wasteful. In current policy thinking, this means more dependence on foreign oil, more wars, more terror, more draconian laws restricting our freedom and creating an atmosphere of terror at home. In this light, cycling becomes the most patriotic activity one can pursue.
Near Moss landing we became acutely aware that we were hungry. We happened upon a state beach facility, turned in and parked for a leisurely meal. We finally felt that we were solidly on track. The navigational errors and frustrations of the morning had faded into the creeping fatigue that represented nearly thirty miles of riding very heavy bicycles. Not only was the weight a factor, but especially in Ryans case the bike was very different in handling characteristics. All of the weight of the panniers and camping gear require a different but tiring, smooth style of riding.
Thus far the day had unfolded well. Despite the frustration of retracing miles of lost trails, hills we didnt expect and occasional headwinds, the day was exciting and fun. The daily grind of work, school and responsibilities began to melt with the miles. In the Santa Cruz and Monterey areas, there were so many beautiful girls that both Ryan and I were wondering if the overload of endorphins had fried our senses. Clearly they had. Everywhere our eyes happened to land, gorgeous women paraded across the landscape. It really wasnt our fault. They were just there
After Moss landing the busy Highway 1 turned into a freeway. Normally bikes arent allowed on freeways, but in this case we were allowed to cruise the nicely paved shoulder. At the next exit we were dumped off the freeway and onto a fairly decent bike path. This bike route paralleled the freeway for ten miles or so and went all the way into Monterey. The sun was settling lower in the western sky. It was time to find a market, buy dinner items and find a place to camp. We had already had one recommendation for Veterans Park. We asked directions to Safeway. Although we were perhaps only two blocks from the store, we pedaled blocked after block, around the block, behind the block and every way imaginable, before finally finding the store. After loading up on groceries we asked again about campsites. "Veterans Park." Was the next and only advice. The park was in town, but high in the hills above the downtown area.
One person at the bike shop said it was a long, hard climb to the Park. Others agreed. However, we found the climb to be mild and were at the facility in short order. We selected a nice spot with no neighbors and fairly level sleeping areas. The sun was near setting as we began to unfold our first campsite. We would want a fire. A fire is better than TV. The flickering flames create melatonan in the brain, the substance that brings relaxation and groovy down-home feelings of peace and comfort.
Ryan pedaled off to buy a bundle of wood. There was no hope in gathering wood. What trees there were had already been picked clean. As we were essentially in town, there were no woods beyond the confines of the park. He dutifully returned with a significant bundle, enough to get us most of the way through the evening. One more bundle would have given us the capacity to "Dave" the fire well into the night. We settled about preparing dinner and getting the fire started. We had no fire-starter sticks and thus had to do it the old fashioned way; with paper. Although it should have been an easy start, the process took an unreasonably long time. There was much huffing and puffing, fanning and tinkering before the fire came to life earnestly and finally the began the warmth and entertainment.
We started the water for the rice and sliced the veggies. When the rice was cooked, we steamed the veggies on Ryans killer little stove and prepared sticks to cook the sausages over the now-blazing campfire. We were mega hungry from the days riding. We had traveled close to 60 miles. We were in the saddles for six hours. Combined with our hunger was the bonus, culinary camp-effect. This phenomenon causes any food to taste superb. As it was, our steamed veggie dish was outrageously good. We had a nice combo of tubers, peppers, onions and garlic. The sausage-on-a-stick provided lots of fat and protein; both badly needed by our thrashed bodies. The meal was luscious and filling so when our neighbors arrived with ice cream, it was almost too much.
The day had started clear and blue and only became nicer. The temperature was as close to perfect as it gets for cycling. It was cool but not cold. After the sunset, the stars began to appear in the open spaces of the forest canopy above us. It was pleasant beyond belief. However, the fact that we were in town was made obvious by the roar of some sort of crowd nearby. It sounded somewhat like a sporting event, but not quite. We didnt get it until later.
As we sat by our mesmerizing fire, we had the sense that we really needed one more bundle of wood. Trouble was, the ranger dude had split and it would be impossible to purchase another. The fact that we had paid a rather premium price for the one bundle led our minds down the slippery slope of pesky thinking. "Humm," I thought as I looked at the empty B.O.B. About that time Ryan mentioned seeing several sub-retail quality, rejected sticks at the woodpile. The clandestine gears whirred, factors weighed. Would this be stealing? It was likely the wood we had in mind was destined for the trash trailer. "Humm..."
At ten oclock we received our answer to the question; "What was all the cheering about?" Over a very harsh loudspeaker, the distinct tune known as taps rang out through most of Monterey. This signaled beddy-bye time for the military installation that we were apparently camped near. From that point until reveille early in the morning, it was peaceful and quiet, with the single exception of the Navy reconnaissance plane that passed very low over our area on its way to landing.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. As we rallied for the day, we noticed that the Austrian cyclists were already packed up and ready to go. They had been on the road for some time and had their routine slightly more advanced than ours. None-the-less we got about the chores. First we had to encourage our fire to come to life once more. We had an ample stack of unburned wood to process. Breakfast was a generous offering of delicious, fruit enhanced oatmeal and hard-boiled eggs. We would need all the energy that we could muster. This day would represent the greatest effort of the three days. As we folded up our camp, a sense of excitement and adventure started to settle in. We were anxious to hit the road and explore new territory. Neither of us had been to the Big Sur (Big South) before. This fabled stretch of scenic highway awaited our arrival.
First we needed to find the route. Our directions seemed easy enough, yet as we plummeted down the first hill of the day, we started to have the sense that we werent on course. I stopped to ask a group of pedestrians. Sure enough we had just blown the first turn of the day and used up several hundred vertical feet of precious altitude. Hardly even warmed up, we had to drag ourselves back up the steep grade. Finally on course we began to chip away at the miles. Carmel passed quietly by. The ritzy enclave that is home to Pebble Beach golf course mercifully slid to the rear of our view. We were not interested even slightly in seeing Clint or any of his SUV driving compadres. We had a bead on the remote and wild areas ahead. The flash and artificial pizzazz of the over-priced Carmel area held no sway in our thinking. We looked forward to the visual, natural treats that lay along the relatively undisturbed pacific coast.
The setting changed dramatically. Thus far we had been immersed in densely populated areas or along busy highways. Now the ravages of civilization slid into the background. The traffic became nearly non existent. It was hard to believe considering just how popular the Big Sur area is with tourists. The ultimate plus for the day would be the almost total lack of motor homes. These gargantuan statements of American laziness and waste would not be a factor in our ride. Normally the inefficient, nature-deadening monsters would not harass us for the next two days. It is interesting the difference in thinking between the people who drive the big "campers" and those of us who use our own power to travel across the face of the earth. It is day and night. It is the difference between those who try to shield themselves from the outdoors and those who revel in the experience of adventure. The motor home people surround themselves with so many distractions that they may as well have stayed home. They look out of their big windows but dont seem to connect in an intimate way with the spectacular countryside.
The highway is anything but level. For the next 100 miles the road would rise and descend. It would resist rapid transit, but offered a constant Kodak moment. The view was breathtaking and stayed that way. Each section of coast offered a slightly different, beautiful view. As if we werent mind boggled enough, a pod of whales escorted us for several hours. They seemed to be traveling at least, if not faster, than we were. Their course was straight down the coast as we weaved in and out of the convoluted terrain. Each time we had to climb significant hills we got to descent at warp speed. Each descent seemed to get faster and faster as we became more comfortable with our heavy loads. The B.O.B. followed dutifully along and Ryan seemed to have his rig dialed for the scary downhill dashes.
We saw very few cyclists. It seemed interesting that among the few we did see, two were towing B.O.B. trailers. One man from Alabama had traveled over the continent several times. His slightly disheveled appearance combined with our brief conversation indicated that he was essentially homeless. He was cruising the Big Sur and enjoying the cornucopia of Californias natural treasures without the flashy attachments of wealth. His rig would stand in stark contrast to the summer crowd of six-figure motor homes. Yet the distant, peaceful feeling that he represented underscored the misconception that money equals wealth.
Ryan and I continued to attack the hills, shred the descents as we inched our way down the coast. We munched on trail mix, Cliff bars, fruit and go-juice. All five tires continued to hold air as added miles to our journey. We continued to marvel at our luck of having exceptionally little traffic. It allowed us to cruise in the middle of the lane, especially handy on the high-speed downhill runs when the curves of the highway were just sharp enough to create high anxiety. Cornering with a loaded touring bike is a whole new ballgame. The added adrenaline consumed calories. As the day wore on, we began to look for a nice spot to have lunch.
We came upon a park that filled the bill. The small facility had picnic tables and was located immediately adjacent to a mellow creek that burbled towards the ocean only a short distance away. This stream was near its destination. Sitting next to the water yielded a calm sense of transition. The life of the stream had been completed and it was now ready to merge with the greater body of water. This unique and lovely creek provided a nice backdrop for our lunch. The birds joined us. They knew an easy handout when they saw it. We fed them wholesome nuts and chunks of peanut butter sandwich. The jays squawked and carried on, the smaller sparrows darted quickly about, snagging bits of food then fluttering off. The rest of the world, school, the bills, the cares seemed very far away.
At this point of the day, we began to consider how far we could go before camping for the evening. A friend had suggested a camp near the town of Lucia. Unfortunately I couldn't remember the name. There were two campgrounds on the map. One was mostly redwood and the other was perched on the bluffs above the ocean. We still had nearly twenty miles to go to Lucia. At our rate of transit, that would put us in the neighborhood of the camps near sunset.
Our fantastic weather continued to underscore our great good fortune. Auto and camper traffic was so minimal that one could believe that there might be a problem "out there" in the world. For us, the only problem was that this trip was limited to three days of riding and attendant adventure. The ocean views constantly changed. They were never dull and always titillating to the view. We passed sections of ocean that sported some of the nicest wave breaks known to surfers. Small coves existed among the rocks. Often the road seemed perched precariously above the pounding surf below. There had been sections of the road that had failed and slid downhill during the winter storms. For us, there were no problems, other than trying to process so much beauty in one day.
Even though we were tiring, the body responds with a chemical overlay that allows one to continue to shred. Perhaps its pure adrenaline. However, as long as there is food to process the biker is able to continue. It is important to continue to eat energy food even when not hungry otherwise the dreaded "bonk" occurs leaving the hapless biker without much of a motor. The downside to marathon biking events is potential, extreme soreness in the saddle area. This prompts the biker to stand as often as possible which is not easy in touring mode. Especially for Ryan, standing was difficult with the nature of his load. However he managed to dial in a mode that allowed pedaling while precariously teetering over the bike.
Finally the town of Lucia appeared. There was only one building. This, however, marked the beginning to the end of our long, arduous day. We did not know how far it was to the two campgrounds or which one we wanted. Several miles out of town we came across Limekiln National Forest campground. The road led into the hills and presumably into redwoods. However, we reasoned that we typically have access to redwoods near our home area and not so much access to the ocean. We continued, now tired and ready to be finished for the day. It was several more tough miles before we came upon a scene that instantly decided for us where we were staying. Down the hill from the road was a beautiful, pastoral area perched on the bluffs above the ocean. This was Kirk Creek campground.
The upper part of the campground was set up with sites for cars and campers. We sailed past that area and found the hiker/biker area at the bottom of the hill. It was beautiful beyond description. Tall, soft grass blanked the entire area. The lower most spot bordered on the bluffs. From the picnic table we had a commanding view of the western sky above the blue ocean. The sun was nearing the horizon as we unpacked our gear and prepared for the evening. We sat in awe as the sun touched, then slipped below the horizon. We felt the comfort of tiredness, the peace of this gorgeous setting and were soothed by the sounds of the roaring ocean just below the bluff where we sat.
Our dinner was more or less a repeat of the previous evening. We had rice, veggies and bread. Again the meal was sumptuous and invigorating. It put us in a state of euphoria. The stars appeared overhead. There was no fog with the off shore breeze. The temperature was mild and pleasant. We sat contented for several hours staring mindlessly at the flames that danced and flickered about the logs. Life was good. This evening would provide a benchmark of good feelings. It would provide an opportunity for the rest of our lives to remember and reflect upon this most pleasant moment. Our bed for the night was the tall, lush grass. We simply threw our bags on top and settled, nest-like into a very enjoyable night. We expected that an army of raccoons would show up during the night and raid our food supply. We gathered the stores and heisted them up a tree.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. The breeze was still offshore and dry. There was not the usual dew associated with being near the ocean. We leisurely awoke and began to prepare for our last day. Breakfast consisted of oatmeal, trial mix and bread. It was powerful and satisfying. It would provide the needed energy to propel us towards Cambria some forty miles away. We stuffed what seemed like a mountain of gear back into the packs. The heavily laden bikes began to move once more. We were stiff at first but soon became warmed up as we climbed the first of many hills. We expected that the hills would pay off at some point and the terrain would become flatter. What we didnt expect was a monster climb that dwarfed everything previous. At each turn in the road, we hoped for the summit. Each time was a false summit until finally we reached the pass and could see the flatter land ahead.
Now, as they say, it was all downhill. The topography dramatically changed. The mountains receded and the coastal plains lay before us. We were the recipients of a luxurious downhill run that lasted for miles. Our here-to-fore turtle like pace suddenly increased to a respectable rate. The miles clicked off effortlessly. Once down out of the mountainous area, we were at the ocean's edge. Immediately we began to see elephant seals. Hundreds of them lounged about the beaches. As we took a closer look, it became obvious that it was the dating season for these size-large ocean mammals. Most of them seemed content to hang out, laze about the beach occasionally flipping sand over their bodies. Some however, seemed focused on creating trouble with their male contemporaries or insistent upon bothering the much smaller females. What we witnessed would qualify for abuse in our society, but they have probably been doing this for many millennia. I had to feel for the females. They seem to take a beating no matter what society they live in. In this case, the males were at least twice their size, acted like fools making a lot of noise and plowing furrows in the sand with their oversized noses. Humm, sounds awfully familiar.
We began to see signs for San Simeon and the Hearst castle. The Hearst castle was the last thing we wanted to see. We were on a nature quest. Our minds and hearts were open to the great mysteries and wonder of life. Watching the whales, seals, and birds added to our reverence for the great natural order of things. The Hearst castle represented all of the bogus qualities of greed, avarice and ill will among mankind. In nature one does not find any fish, mammal or fowl that has wealth way out of proportion to the rest of the order. There is a balance in nature that man has managed to pervert. We live in a system that is ordered by money alone. This artificial alignment is so bad that it defies analysis. It is only fair to say that it sucks. The system of greed and competition is one of the driving forces that inspire people to go to nature to seek answers. All of the answers are there, awaiting re-discovery by the upright bipeds who have strayed so far from the treasures that this blue-green spinning orb has to offer. In our arrogance we have come to think we know much, yet when faced with the wonders of the world our pitiful hubris crumbles at the complex and infinite wisdom contained in the natural order.
We stopped briefly at a nearby beach to get a close look at, and take pictures of the seals. We then pressed on towards San Simeon. It was approaching lunchtime. We eventually arrived at San Simeon and chose the State Beach for a place to stop. It was our reintroduction to civilization. The crowded parking lot teamed with beach goers and people simply enjoying the beautiful Sunday afternoon. We found an empty picnic table and proceeded to cook a packet of noodles and freeze-dried mashed potatoes. In addition we ate peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix and dried fruit. Once fully fueled, we turned to the dilemma that had developed with Ryans bike. The spokes on the rear wheel had loosened so badly that it was difficult to make true. We got the thing close enough to spin but not close enough to miss the brake pads.
Ryan had been in contact with his dad via cell phone. The plan was to ride the rest of the way into Cambria, 7 miles, and meet Gavin for the return trip to Santa Cruz. 100 yards out of the park, Ryans tire exploded with an impressive report. A six-inch rip in the casing eliminated any possibility of a fix. We pondered the situation. Ryan suggested trying to ride on the rim. About that time, a passerby noticed our situation and offered us a ride to town. We accepted. After a short time and a little confusion, we met up with Ryans dad. It was at this point that our energy began to shift dramatically. Our elevated feelings associated with the adventure and with the massive amount of exercise began to flag. Over the next six hours of driving back to the Napa Valley, we would return to normality. No longer would we feel incredibly high. Our moment of escape from the grinding reality of daily life began to close.
The journey provided Ryan and I with a lifetime of cool memories. We would return to our lives and await the next chance to slip the sullen bonds of average existence. We will dream, think and plan to do it again. The ride was simply too much fun. Concentrated in three days were experiences that rarely occur in any other venue. We will remember beautiful, sunny days along a nearly empty coast. We will recall the pod of whales swimming south as they have for thousands of years and we will remember our campfires and especially the comfortable night sleeping in the tall grass as the ocean surf thundered below.