San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club
It was still dark when we left Ragged Point but early morning sunlight brightened the horizon. Three of us embarked on a bike tour to Big Sur on Highway 1.
We were exploring new territory. Tom Parsons regularly rides from his home in Cambria to Lucia and back. I had ridden as far as Gorda. Byron Hatcher, a new member of the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club, joined us on this ride out of curiosity and a sense of adventure. His wife, Brooke, drove their car and kept an eye on us.
Reverse Alpenglow painted the western clouds in shades of pink and orange as dawn broke. No cars passed; we owned the road in the early morning.
Near the Monterey County line, Caltrans had constricted the highway to one lane while construction workers rebuilt the outside lane of the road. A signal light controlled vehicles and alternated passage between northbound and southbound traffic. We stopped for the light and wondered if our bicycles would trigger it to change. The first motor vehicle of the day drove up behind us and tripped the light
The air temperature along the coast was warmer than it had been when I drove through Cambria. Occasional breaths of cooler air caressed us as we passed tiny canyon inlets. The rocky hillside was littered with clumps of pampas grass. A thousand feet below, long-plumed mare's tails streamed off the crests of breaking waves. Chunks of sedimentary rock on the pavement reminded me that Highway 1 is built across the foot of a mountain range that is trying to return to the sea.
We stopped at Gorda for a quick break. Another club member, Mike Curren, joined us there.
Tom and Byron led the way toward our next stop at Lucia. As we pedaled through Pacific Valley, Mike told me about panning for gold in the mountains nearby. He and his friend Gene used to look for nuggets but all they found was poison oak.
When we descended to sea level at Willow Creek, the iodine-and-salt smell of the ocean fish and floating kelp washed over us. I heard sea lions barking and saw a pair of them on an offshore rock , facing each other in pinniped conversation.
We climbed the last hill into Lucia past a high rock slope on the right that is covered with black chain link netting designed to confine falling rocks and protect bicyclists.
We chatted briefly at the store with Persay Bryant, who described himself as a thespian and expressed his philosophy of life by saying, "I am content in whatever state I'm in." At that moment he was in a state of California sobriety.
North of Lucia, rolling hills provided intermittent views of the coastline. We climbed to a summit at Nepenthe, then a long descent took us past Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park into Big Sur and Bob Robinson's Fernwood Resort. Bob had a big barbecue/smoker going out front and was cooking chicken, sausage, pork tenderloin, roast beef and ham plus baked potatoes, mushrooms and corn and all we could eat for $9.99. I don't think we put him out of business but we tried.
It took five hours to ride to Big Sur. We needed to return to Ragged Point by sunset at 5 pm. It was 12:30 when we finished eating. We started back with a sense of urgency that was frustrated by the long climb to Nepenthe.
We crossed the summit through wisps of drifting fog. The bank, which had been far out to sea in the morning, flowed in and settled just above the highway. It was delightfully cooling on climbs but chilling on descents.
Far out on the horizon, beyond the fog's edge, the ocean reflected a yellow gold from the descending sun. It was 2:00 when I passed Esalen; 36 miles to go with three hours of daylight remaining. Tom and Byron were out of sight ahead of me; Mike was behind.
Two hours later I passed through Gorda on schedule. I stopped for the signal light at the construction zone. When the light changed, I pushed off and slowly pedaled in low gear up the hill. Midway through the lane restriction, riding next to the concrete barrier, I saw cars approaching from the front. The light had changed already for northbound traffic. Mr. Driver in the lead car shouted as he passed, "You've got to watch the light just like everybody else," and drove on, giving me no opportunity to respond.
I turned into the parking lot in the last shreds of fading daylight. Byron and Brooke drove back up the highway to check on Mike. True to the randonneuring code, he declined assistance and rode the last few miles with headlamp and taillight.
On our next trip, we'll ride from Lucia to Carmel and back. I can't wait to eat more Fernwood barbecue.
You can email Robert Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org