Day 2: Santa Cruz to Carmel

We woke up fairly sore–we’d ridden long and hard the day before, and the cold and rain contributed to a general achiness. But the morning was mostly sunny and bright, and we were looking forward to the day’s ride. We got going pretty early, shortly after 9 AM.

Sea lion at the Santa Cruz wharf

We began by deviating from the Bikecentenniel route; on the advice of the motel front desk we headed out towards the beach immediately, instead of following inland streets through the more developed parts of the city. This turned out to be a good move, for while we didn’t really have a reliable map, it wasn’t hard to figure out how to go south, and the road along the coast was quite enjoyable. We passed by the famed Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which at that time of the day and year was closed, and then went out onto the wharf and got a large breakfast.

Tall ship from the Santa Cruz wharf

This was a traditional American breakfast place, and we both ordered pancake stacks. They brought us what looked like several shot glasses filled with syrup, and when John (who is always the one to chat up the waitresses–“they are required to be nice to me!”) mentioned this to our waitress, she told us a story about a group of Austrian tourists who actually drank them. Now that’s a carbo drink.

After that we headed down to the end of the wharf and took in the local sights. The sea lion at the right was just lounging in the water and occasionally sticking his head up for air (as pictured). John’s comment was, “what a life!” The water was a deep green, much greener and brighter than it is up near San Francisco–a precursor to some of the remarkable ocean colors we were to see on the central coast. There were dozens of sea lions making a racket on the pilings underneath the boardwalk; their activities were not much different than the ones on platforms near Pier 39, but because there were fewer people around and we were a lot closer to animals, there was a sort of intimacy that you don’t get in San Francisco.

In addition to the sea lions, there were all kinds of marine birds hanging around the wharf. I saw a breed of gulls unlike the ones which hang around the Bay, a number of other smaller sea birds, many of which I couldn’t identify (I’m only a casual bird watcher), a whole bunch of typical gulls, and of course the occasional pelican. The second picture at the right was taken as a pelican glided by a two-mast tall ship anchored in the harbor.

We saw lots of birds gliding on thermals by the sea cliffs on our trip down; they always seemed to be going faster than us, and working less. I’ve heard that cycling is the most efficient form of movement (power output->speed), but it’s hard to believe that when a red-tailed hawk that’s not moving its wings can blow by you at 50+ kph.

In any case, with somewhat leaden stomachs we got on the bikes and started heading south, looking to hook up with the Bikecentennial route. We picked it up in Soquel, and proceeded slowly but steadily through the commercial and residential roads of Soqel and Aptos. 20 km later the dwellings started to thin out, and we headed into rural Santa Cruz County.

Strawberry fields outside Wastsonville

Many of the crops had already been harvested; most of what was left was strawberries. It was sorely tempting to go over and pick a few, but there were workers in most of the fields, which kept us from being able to surreptitiously score some fresh fruit. The smell coming off a field of ripe strawberries is bizarre; there’s a strawberry smell, of course, but there’s also a sour tinge to it as well, maybe from the overripe ones.

The last time I rode down to Monterey, the bridge over the Pajaro River on the Bikecentennial route was out; this forced a 10 km detour eastwards and back again. Fortunately, it has been repaired, so we were able to continue on the rural back roads. The roads were for the most part similar in character; flat with occasional bumps, farmland interspersed with small hills and creek beds on either side, and not much traffic other than farm vehicles and pickups.

The character changed when we got back on Highway 1 near Moss Landing. Highway 1 at this point is busy and unpleasant; there’s a lot of truck traffic to and from the farms and urban Monterey. I was also disappointed to see that the sign which used to read “TOPLESS Fruits and Vegetables” has been changed to a prosaic, politically correct version.

After Highway 1 passes Moss Landing State Beach, the Bikecentennial route heads back to side roads. At one point we passed a large fruit market, where we decided to stop and refuel. My stomach still had not recovered from the morning meal; I had an apple and some juice to hopefully calm it down. I did feel a little better afterward.

After we started moving south again, the lands around started to be less agricultural and more coastal, and as we rolled into Marina, we started to see commercial establishments again. The route switches over to a side path (one which I find particularly distasteful due to its uncontrolled intersections with major roads, and the fact that it is essentially a side path to Del Monte Boulevard, which is the main commercial drag in Marina), and then heads past Ford Ord/CSU Monterey. That is a gorgeous section of the coast, where iceplant and native coastal foliage crawl over the sand dunes, with the beautiful Monterey Bay in the background. I am so glad it’s being put to civilian use now.

The bike path ends back at Del Monte Boulevard in Sand City; busy, commercial roads took us through Sand City and Seaside. Del Monte Boulevard becomes narrow and unpleasant as it passes the Naval Postgraduate School. Fortunately, right after the NPS the route turns off onto quiet residential streets (though that left turn is a bitch).

Lavatera at El Estero Park

At El Estero Park we stopped to reconnoiter. After watching the ducks and coots for a while, we decided that it would be best if we pressed on to Carmel instead of staying in Monterey; that would give us the most flexibility in our decisions over the next couple days. It also would allow us to start out the next day on less urban streets; it’s a real drag doing stop-and-start riding with cold legs (particularly for John–as an every day commuter I’m more used to it).

Leaving Monterey, the route climbs up a ridge and then reconnects with Highway 1. We were both feeling pretty weak on that climb, and were grateful that after we crested it, the rest of the day’s ride was downhill. We had originally considered getting our motel in Carmel and then riding back over to Monterey to check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but the climb got that idea out of our heads pretty quickly.

On the downhill curve into Carmel, we had our second mechanical glitch; as I was braking, I felt a front spoke pop. We were not far from our motel, so I just rode it in and figured I’d deal with it later. Later I was to discover my second packing glitch–I usually tour with a couple spokes taped to the seat tube, and I’d meant to bring a couple on this tour, but I’d forgotten in the last-minute preparations.

On the same curve, John was nearly run over by a Rolls Royce–“I could have been set for life!”

We arrived in Carmel around 6 PM, got our overpriced room, and walked down to the beach. The beach in Carmel is one of the true gems of the California coast; I return there often because of its beauty and the prevalent sense of peace, particularly at sunset. I shot the rest of my first roll of film there; the gallery is below.

We hung out at the beach until shortly after sunset and then walked up to the overpriced and pretentious shops, looking for a place we could reasonably eat dinner. We found an extremely confused restaurant called “Cafe Americano,” where French, Italian and Greek collided in a rather appetizing but perplexing manner. Later we stopped by a bakery for dessert, and then crashed for the night.

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