Day 4: Big Sur to San Simeon

Just south of Big Sur

After another big breakfast, we got the bikes pointed south and started riding. As we were leaving, a tour bus filled with senior citizens pulled into the Big Sur Lodge and headed straight for the gift shop. We later were passed by that same bus; I guess their method of “seeing the coast” is hopping from gift shop to gift shop. “Kids, here’s a postcard of what Big Sur probably looks like. We don’t know for sure, because we never left the bus”.

For the record, Big Sur, or more accurately Point Sur, looks like some medevial castle, a huge rocky near-island separated from the mainland by maybe a kilometer’s worth of low, sandy beaches. Truly among the most unique and bizarre geological formations of the world.

It was still foggy and chilly, but we had a climb coming out of Big Sur that got us warmed up quick enough. On that climb we saw our first sign with mileage to LA (at left); the picture had a lot of glare so it’s been shamlelessly doctored in Photoshop, but the numbers are accurate.

This area of the coast has some of the most unusual water I’ve ever seen. I have been to Florida and Hawaii, so I’ve seen the clear blue waters of the tropics, but even LA doesn’t have that kind of water, and in San Francisco the ocean is usually a murky grey-green. But the central coast has this amazing, clear emerald green water which is impossible to describe and, judging from my own photos and the postcards I looked at, nearly impossible to capture in photographs. I’m rather disappointed with all the pictures I took along this stretch, because this was definitely the most breathtaking part of the trip for me, but the photos really aren’t differentiated from any of the other rocks-and-crashing-surf shots.

Looking at our route profile, we were in for at least three sizable climbs today; the one leaving Big Sur, another one near Lucia, and a third south of Gorda on the way to San Simeon. I decided this would be a good time to let John go off the front on the climbs; he still had that crazy attack-the-hill attitude, but I felt it prudent to return to my more standard relax-on-the-hill, attack-the-descent strategy. So John probably has more photos on this section than I do, although I was compelled to stop to take the picture of the sign.

We spent most of the day chasing the sun; on descents and flats it was still pretty chilly, and we were getting tired of the roof of gray over our heads, particularly when we could see lots of areas of blue in places other than where we happened to be riding.

Double cove, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The picture at the right is another one I’m disappointed with; at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park there’s this amazing double-cove, mirrored across the sand-and-rock outcropping you see in the photo. You can see a little of the deep, clear green of the water, but again it doesn’t really capture it.

We were feeling a little stronger today, since we’d done just 40 klicks the day before, but John felt that part of the reason we’d been feeling weak late in the day is that we hadn’t been having a real lunch. Now, I usually don’t eat lunch when I’m doing day trips–I usually have breakfast, a bunch of snack food/PowerBars on the ride, and then a big dinner. But maybe touring requires more significant replenishment. Anyway, we decided to stop at Lucia, the only civilization in the first 50km south of Big Sur, at the inn there. We had absurdly overpriced sandwiches, picked up some ride food, and got back on the road.

Salmon Creek waterfall
There was a small amount of climbing still to do out of Lucia, then the ride started rolling along the cliff tops into Gorda, where we stopped for more liquid refreshment and odd energy bars. We rolled out of Gorda, stopped by the Salmon Creek waterfall for a while (see woefully inadequate photo at right), and then stopped one more time at Ragged Point, about 40km south of Lucia. There’s a lodge with food at Ragged Point, and we still were somewhat enervated by the lack of sun on the trip so far. But we sat down and did some projections, and our future looked like it held a couple hammerhead days if we didn’t push on to San Simeon that afternoon, so we remounted and prepared for another 30km or so.

It turns out that shortly after Ragged Point, Highway 1 declines to near sea level, so we got a good head of steam going at around the same time we caught our first glimpse of sun on the hills–on Hearst Castle, to be exact. (John’s comment: “They must have ordered sun up there!”). We were still in the shade, but even the sight of sun was enough to motivate us.

I think I must have started it. We could see the road for kilometers ahead of us and it was all pretty much flat, and we had momentum coming off the descent, and a tailwind. In short: Big Ring Territory! So I got on the big ring and started grinding away, giving John a good pull. Then when my lungs started to give out, John thought, “man, that was a good pull, I better crank it up too,” so he got out front and pushed the pace up a notch. Then when it was my turn, I thought, “man, that was a good pull, I better crank it up.” This kept on for about 15 km, where we averaged over 43kph, bags and all. We were both busted by the end, but, for the record, it was John who called for slacking the pace. We calmed it down a little but still enjoyed the rest of the roll into San Simeon, where we found an entirely reasonable motel for $39.95, and a Mexican restaurant where we once again gorged ourselves, and once again ran into the four tourists, as well as Ted Kazinsky. We managed to waddle back to the motel and collapse in a pool of lactic acid and tryptophan. We agreed that the adrenaline rush of that hammerhead section combined with the change in the weather to make this the best day yet, and in retrospect, the best day of the tour. If there were a reasonable way back from San Simeon (but there isn’t), I would love to re-do that part of the trip as a 4-day-weekend tour. As a general rule, the closer you get to LA, the worse things get, and we were now about halfway there as the crow flies.

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