Day 6 – From Bad to Serene
I’ve said it before, when you wake up to winds, you know you have trouble. And I said it this morning. The winds remained strong all night and into the morning. At first light I broke camp and high-tailed it to the first restaurant down the road. After my toss-and-turn night I was ecstatic to see the cafe was open! Food and water would be available to consume out of the blasting wind. I picked a table, pulled out a chair…and a cat hoped into it. I gently nudged the tabby to claim a bit of the chair but it was clear – we were either sharing the chair or I must find another. I chose share for a bit. A little bit of cat therapy was just what I needed – more than food and water. That cat made me feel as if I was the most wonderful human ever. It seemed to adore me, and at that moment the feeling was mutual. All my troubles melted away.
However, eventually I had to face the wind AND the two biggest hills of Big Sur. I’ll just say, it wasn’t easy. On the stretches of the road that turned remotely east, I had to fight to keep momentum…and that was downhill. The good news was, that any slight westward turn provided a respite. After summitting the first climb I had no doubt I’d make it to my destination. I was right. The second climb was tough and hot but it was also, like the day before, followed by a rest stop on the way down. This time it was Ragged Point Inn and Snack Bar for the win. Ice cold Starbucks Frappuccino and ice tea never went down so good.
Also pleasant, a couple of miles earlier was the sight of the San Simeon plains, a relatively flat and easy stretch of road ahead. I wondered what the wind had in store up there. Usually, this stretch flies by with the help of a tailwind. But, it appeared the Santa Anas had other ideas. I lolled in the shade at Ragged Point, took advantage of the first cell coverage in 4 days and made Mr. Mudlips aware that I was still alive.
My spirits lifted by conquering the climb, cool beverages, and a chat on the cell, I was ready for the road. As if on cue, the winds declined. I didn’t have the customary tailwind of this leg, nor did I have the cool ocean breeze but the crosswinds and headwinds were barely noticeable. I enjoyed the wide undulating road shoulders of the plains and enjoyed being a few feet above the surf rather than a few hundred feet above. Along with the many Saturday tourists I also enjoyed the belching and sparring of the elephant seals that line several of the beaches.
Finally, San Simeon. Views of Hearst Castle in the distance and a herd of zebras (yes zebras) told me I was almost done for the day. I turned into the charming old town and stopped at the store/wine-tasting venue. I grabbed more ice tea, treats, and a sandwich to go and then knocked off the final 3 miles to San Simeon State Park Campground. This one was open. But a sign on the highway indicated that it was full. Ha! The joys of being a bike tourist – California State Parks offer hiker/biker sites which are open to all comers. If you’re willing to share, you are welcome. I paid the big $5 hiker/biker fee and rolled into the campground. The most RV-park emulating campground ever but hey, it is open.
The hiker/biker site had all the charm of, of, of… well of a campsite on a flat gopher-ridden patch of sod next to a highway embankment. Its saving grace is its proximity to the beach. A nice barefoot stroll on the sandy beach full of frolicking weekend campers soothes my hill-weary legs. The setting sun and the dolphins surfing the breakers soothes my wind weary soul. And for company, one sweet woman from the hiker/biker site joins me to share in the ocean view. A most peaceful ending to a day that started with a miserable windy twist.
Day 7 – The Easiest Day Ever
When I was weighing my options at the closed campgrounds back on Day 5 one thing I considered was hitching a ride to Cayucos. Cayucos is a charming little beach town with cheap hotels and great food. As I arose this morning, I still had that town on my mind and told myself that when I got to Cayucos (only 19 miles away) I might just stop if I got the right signals from the bike touring gods.
The first signal came just a few miles down the road, and they weren’t happy signals. In fact, I considered naming this “Road Kill Day”. While the rolling hills and easy terrain between San Simeon and Cayucos made pedaling easy, witnessing the death of a crow made it unpleasant. I am one of the world who appreciates all things corvid so seeing this crow destroyed by a speeding car broke my heart.
It all happened in slow motion and the ruckus that arose from the other crows in the roadside trees was astonishing and really pushed my emotional buttons. Then there was the Cooper’s Hawk who exchanged glances with me as I passed by the fallen crow. It was hidden in the lower branches of a tree below the outraged crows. Someone would have an easy lunch (the hawk) but someone else would have this moment weighing on them for some time (me). After recovering (slightly) from that scene I passed several other birds, including and owl, a bat, a deer, and several dozen monarch butterflies: all traffic fatalities. Cars are lethal. Animals are vulnerable. When they meet, there’s generally one outcome. Did this bother me because it emphasized my own vulnerability as a cyclist? You bet. But, it also emphasized the yin and yang of the world: death was a sad moment for the crows and I, but it also would provide life to another being. Thinking on that, I carried on.
Rolling into Cayucos, it was time for second breakfast. The usual coffee shop of choice was no longer open, so I found a new place (with the most amazing lemon bars) and in finding that place found a beautiful hidden garden associated with Hoppe’s Bistro that needed further exploration. I took that as my signal that I needed to stay here for the night. I espied potential lodging and inquired within. Yes, they had a beach-side room (at a rate I could consider) with a view. As I handed over my credit card to pay, the manager told the clerk to switch the sign outside to say “No Vacancy.” Another sign – that room was indeed just for ME!
And the signs were spot on! I was a beach bum for the day. Munching Smokehouse tacos, sipping lemonade as I watched other tourist learn to surf, build sand castles, toss Frisbee for their dogs, I idled the afternoon . The day was capped off by an amazing supper and colorful sunset. Ah, this was not roughing it AT ALL, and not my usual bike touring M. O. but it was certainly an enjoyable stop.
Day 8 – Home Stretch
I took advantage of the free coffee and continental breakfast at the hotel – they had eggs! – and got another early start. The morning was calm and clear and quiet. Just the way I like a morning ride.
Stopping for second breakfast in Morro Bay I sat for a spell in a charming little café, sipped my coffee, ate my eggy sandwich, and pried into the business of the couple sitting next to me. When I heard her referring to her blog, I knew I had a conversation-starter. Turns out, they were traveling simply too, although by sail boat and not bicycle. They too had struggles with the wind, encounters with wild life, and amazing views throughout their trip (from Bellingham, WA). However, their trip would continue for some time and mine was coming to an end.
My final destination, San Luis Obispo (SLO), was only a short ride away. As I emerged from the café it was evident that the weather had changed. A dense fog had settled in. While that meant parting views of the sea would be a challenge, it also meant a shift to the wind – it was now blowing to the east: the direction I was headed.
I followed the bay, turned up a small river valley and pedaled inland out of the fog. Numerous birds sang in the riparian vegetation lining the small river, others sang out from the grassland. I climbed the small pass out of the river’s cut to the music of the Western Meadowlark, and the dancing of the Western Bluebirds. As I reconnected to the main highway I also reconnected with a big tailwind. As I cruised to town, I flew. The wind adding speed to my travels for the first time since day two.
Miles flew by and I soon took my last turn and was welcomed by the bike-friendliness of the SLO area. Then into town to visit a local shop where I had meeting planned, to the train station to pack my bike and wait for the train. I boarded the train in the late afternoon and 24 hours later it delivered me to my home town.
It’s difficult to relay all of the experiences, images, and people that made this a trip to remember. Some of those experiences are pieces of a larger puzzle that requires more contemplation. That’s why I travel. That’s why I love solo travel. The unexpected moments blend together to teach you about the world and yourself. It confirms things you know, but it also surprises you with new lessons and steps towards understanding the way of the world.