Big Sur Bike Tour – Part III


Day 4 – Another layover?

Have I  mentioned that I love redwood trees? Can’t say it enough. They are remarkable trees AND I have a bit of a history with them so they are dear to me. I bet though, if you spend a few moments in their shade, you’ll feel the same way. So, doesn’t it make sense to linger a bit where they dwell?

Of course it does. So, after a very pleasant evening under the big trees, I decided another was in order, so instead of breaking camp, I locked up my bike and donned my walking shoes. Pfeiffer Big Sur has some hills to climb and they are only open to pedestrians.  Who could resist hiking to the Buzzard’s Roost. I do love my buzzards – well actually they’re correctly called Turkey Vultures but still, the name drew me. A lovely little hike, not too taxing and good thing, I was only barely impressed with the view. Although I was excited to see some evergreen huckleberry growing near the top of the peak. No berries, but that was the highlight of the hike for me. Well, that and moseying through the redwoods at the foot of the hill.


Poison Oak – don’t be deceived by its lovely appearance…

Did I mention that I hate poison oak? I’ve never had it but my mother was horribly allergic to it- to the extent of requiring hospitalization if its rash got a good hold. The only challenge with Redwood country is that it is also poison oak country, and on narrow trails that are slightly overgrown you have to step oh so carefully. I delivered myself back to camp without risk of rash but with a giant appetite. So, off to treat myself to lunch out at the park’s lodge.

Hike, lunch, a little knitting and the day passed quickly. Soon, bike tourists started arriving in camp. Met some nice folks. Got to bed early.

Day 5 – Let the games begin!

Arose early.  No slouching today, back on the road.  And a hilly stretch of road it is too.  With no warm up a 3-mile climb awaits just outside the park entrance. Fortunately, there are several good things about that climb:

1) If you stay at Big Sur, you’re doing the climb early in the morn before it gets too hot;

2) About 3/4 of the way up that climb is a post office and a store. Both good excuses for stopping and letting your heart rate settle a bit. I mailed a post card and bought some food. Yes, I know how to work it! And;

3) Just over the top on the other side of that climb is Nepenthe.

Nepenthe has been around for ever – Jack Kerouac mentions it as a fab eatery in his book Big Sur , and it’s still a must-stop for the hungry traveler. Also, ideally situated for a bike tourist’s second breakfast.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Fueled up, off I went. No more attractions for many miles ahead, I pace myself, pedaling nice and steady. I take in the views, even stopping at some view points which is a bit of overkill for a cyclist whose bike seat provides a constant viewpoint. But, that stopping paid off, as I took a slug of water at one pull out I spied a big dark shape soaring by in my peripheral vision. Jackpot! Not Turkey Vultures – instead it’s a pair of California Condors. If I’d hoped for one thing to happen on this trip, it was spotting the condors . Now, here they were. If you don’t know, once upon a time only 22 birds remained in the world. Controls on DDT and captive breeding program have increased their numbers and now over 60 birds call the Big Sur coast home (more at the Grand Canyon too).  I pull out my binoculars and gawk.

That gawking attracted a few passing cars and soon several cars are in the tiny pull out, their passengers getting out and looking skyward.  I do my impression of an interpretive nature guide, answering questions, and confirming for tourists, “Yes, they ARE California Condors.” As the birds soar off toward the peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains, I remount my bike and pedal south.

I have one last big climb and one last stop – early dinner in Lucia – before the final 10 miles of my trip. I meet a group of guys, all on lightweight road bikes, who’d passed me just before the last climb. They cheer as I roll into the Lucia Lodge parking lot. I look confused. I have no idea why they’re applauding but evidently, they had just arrived and were impressed that I had arrived so soon. Hmm, I had no idea. But, that’s sometimes how it works. I felt at ease, relaxed, slow and steady. I guess the steady part is what delivered me in good time.

I took my time at Lucia knowing I had my choice of three campgrounds in the next ten miles. Ten easy miles at the very most so I also pedaled very slow and easy on down the road. I approached the first campground and could see from a distance it was quite crowded. It was a Friday night after all, so that’s to be expected. On to the next option. The next option was mysteriously empty. Turns out it was closed. Oh, did I mention I did this tour in the middle of the US government shutdown. Who knew that meant that State Parks on National Forest Land were part of the whole shenanigans? No worries, I still had an option, one more campground ahead. But, no, I didn’t. It too was on Federal land.

Now what? It’s late in the afternoon. The next campsite is 30 miles away over 2 of the biggest climbs Big Sur has to offer.  Even at my applause-bearing pace there would be no way to get there before dark. I had to come up with a different plan. I figured I had the choice of either hitching a ride south or I camping in the “ditch.”

With a little help of a couple of locals I’m able to acquire water and directions to a potential camping spot in some Eucalyptus trees. Not ideal but I didn’t have too many other options. I loathed the idea of hitching  so I checked out a small grove of trees that could hide me for the night. After exploring thoroughly I was certain I would be okay here for the night and resign myself to a lonely, night hiding in the trees. Then just before dark, I hear a familiar voice. Thank the stars! It’s one of the cyclists from the night before; he too had been directed there by the locals. So, this near stranger and I laid out our turf and settled in for the night. He was absolutely delightful company and soon its dark and time to turn in.  I snuggle into my sleeping bag thankful for kind strangers and warm down sleeping bags, and fall asleep.

I awake suddenly in a sweat! My first thought is that I’ve a fever and am sick. Nope. Feeling just fine. Then I realize the wind is whipping the trees like nobody’s business and the wind is coming from the east. It’s a Santa Ana wind. These hot winds were the last thing I’d expected (or wanted) and they made for a very rough and restless night. I tossed and turned and grabbed what shut-eye I could. Tomorrow would be a big day – hills and wind, and this gal needed her beauty sleep.


2 thoughts on “Big Sur Bike Tour – Part III

  1. Oh wonderful part of the world — that coastline called Big Sur. I haven’t biked it, but been there many many times. I have a friend from my one graduate year at Mills, who now lives in Carmel. When ever I visit her we go to Nepenthe — as we did 52 years ago. At that time we too camped overnight in one of those sites among the redwoods. Such gorgeous-ness. Driving down that Pacific coast line always makes me weep – it is so magnificent. Not only the steep parts with Redwoods and curvey roads and long vistas – but also pastures that slope and roll gently down to the sea’s edge. How grand that you were able to see Condors!! A very magical part of the world.

    • Martha,
      Hearing of your experience at Nepenthe enriches my experience there. Knowing the chain of visitors that have paused there adds even more volume to its appeal. Big Sur is a constant of beauty and because of the ruggedness of the coast I do believe it will stay that way. I hope you can get back to visit it and the Redwoods again – and do take your camera!

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