Day 3: Carmel to Big Sur
Starting out this day, we were in the position of deciding where we wanted to end up. South of Carmel, the coast is largely undeveloped, so stopping places are few and far between. Consulting our altitude chart, it looked like the stretch coming up was going to be one of the more difficult ones on the coast; there are big climbs on both sides of Big Sur. Taking that into account, there appeared to be just two possible targets for the day; Big Sur, about 40 km south, and Lucia, 80 km down the road. We still had to fix my spoke, plus we still felt kinda weak, and there was at least one other side trip we wanted to take, so we decided to make this an easy day (At least, those were our rationalizations, and I’m sticking to them, dammit).
The spoke turned out to be more of a problem than it should have been, because “Carmel-by-the-Sea” is too darn quaint to have a bike shop. We had to go several miles up Carmel Valley Road to the nearest shop, Carmel Bicycle, and, of course, there is no other way back to Highway 1 other than to go straight back down Carmel Valley Road. I fiddled with my wheel enough to get it ridable, and off we went.
The party sunny weather of yesterday had fled, leaving us with typically coastal fog and low clouds. It was a little chilly heading out. We had consulted our various maps and talked with the motel manager about routes out of Carmel–we were trying to avoid having to ride up the hill we had come down heading into town. We did find a way to largely circumvent it, and headed out into the Carmel Valley in search of replacement parts.
While this particular side trip was neither planned nor desired, Carmel Valley is still a pretty nice ride, and we mostly enjoyed the three miles out to the quaint little set of shops where the bike store was. (“Quaint” is a theme in Carmel.) Carmel Bicycle, in addition to having a monopoly on the bicycle industry in the valley, has a chicken, several chicks and a rooster (pictured). I purchased a few spokes from a guy who tried to lecture me about touring on inadequate equipment, but he changed his tune when I gave evidence of having a good deal more wheel-building knowledge than he.
The spoke had broken at the elbow, so I was able to re-lace it without having to change the nipple. While I was stress-relieving the re-laced wheel another spoke popped, also at the elbow; I replaced that one as well and trued the wheel. John picked up a rack trunk and a couple other things, and the bike store threw in a few energy bars (link to John’s Energy Bar Report forthcoming).
We retraced our path to Highway 1 and headed south. South of Carmel, Highway 1 is not as busy, and returns to the coast it left in Santa Cruz. It also starts to become very twisty; outside of Carmel Highlands we found the clear winner for Best Road Sign on the trip (pictured at right).
Since we had decided to do just the short hop to Big Sur today, we had time to spend on side trips, so we decided to stop off and see Point Lobos State Reserve. That turned out to be an amazing place, and we spent a couple hours walking the trails by the ancient Monterey Cypress trees and down to the ocean, where we saw sea otters cavorting (note: the California Sea Otter Advocacy Society requires that all descriptions of sea otters make at least one mention of the word “cavort”) amid breathtaking rock outcroppings and coves.
By the time we left Point Lobos it was already well into the afternoon; we didn’t have that far to ride but we did need to get going. It was still chilly but we warmed up soon on the climbs of Highway 1. The highway is very close to the actual coast for most of this trip; the portions which are not above the crashing surf are mostly plunging through redwood forests. We took it fairly easy–we still were not feeling that strong–and enjoyed the scenery.
Shortly after leaving Point Lobos, we had our first “fellow tourist” encounter; we met (and passed) four older guys with light gear heading the same way as us. We exchanged the standard pleasantries and went on. Later we stopped by the side of the road to check our map (we still were not sure where we were staying) and have some bars, and they passed us up again. We were considering having lunch at a restaurant listed on our map, but when we arrived there it not only seemed that it would be above our price range, it was also several hundred feet below the level of the road, and neither of us relished the thought of undertaking that climb right after a meal. After reconnoitering, we got back on the road and continued up the climb.
The climb is one of the biggest on the coast, peaking at just over 300 meters. The altitude chart showed a drop-off to near sea level following, but even that did not prepare us for the thrill of the descent. John led the way over the crest (seeing as he’s the one who loves to climb), and we worked up a good head of steam behind him until he spun out his big ring and tucked in–then it was time for me and the 53×12 to take over. As I started grinding it out, I began to have one of the problems that owners of unframed bags always have to deal with; my bags were flapping into my wheel when I pedaled. But there was no way I was going to slow down, so I just ignored it for the moment.
The descent wound around cliff edges over the crashing surf (side note: since I am splitting up this report into many different files, I’m allowed to use “crashing surf” at least 8 times) but never got twisty enough that we had to slow down. Then, as we came around a curve near the bottom, we saw the 4 tourists we’d passed earlier. We passed them again, this time with a good 20kph relative velocity, as we finished the crank down the hill and tried to get up some momentum for the small climb afterward.
The rest of the day was largely uneventful, except for the fact that we nearly missed Big Sur. We had intended to stay at the furthest place on the south side of Big Sur, but we didn’t have a very detailed map to find out just where that would be. My Bike centennial map indicated there was lodging a few miles south of Big Sur proper, but when we stopped at a ranger station just past the center of “town” (Big Sur is a gas station/convenience store and a couple of lodges), we were told that there was nothing less than a couple hundred dollars a night until we got to Lucia. So, we backtracked into Big Sur and stayed at the Big Sur Lodge, which is a rather interesting place nestled in the redwoods. There are a bunch of hiking trails originating on the grounds, and the cottages are quiet and rustic (meaning, no TV, no phones). It seems like it would be a great place to stay for a few days and check out the area; a little pricey, but restive. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do much more than hike down to the restaurant, where there was approximately a 1:1 table/waiter ratio but we still got bad service. The food was good and, of course, in large quantity, so we were reasonably pleased anyway.
While we were there we ran into a guy who was doing the coast solo. My theory is that he was actually running from the law, because he was very suspicious of us when we tried to converse with him. Maybe the Unabomber isn’t actually Ted Kazinsky
At least partly because there was no hope of seeing Andy Pettite highlights, we got to sleep fairly early to prepare for the day ahead.