Thursday, May 22, 2014

San Simeon to San Luis Obispo, California

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
San Simeon to San Luis Obispo, California
45 miles

All good things must come to an end!

With the USA Memorial Day quickly approaching we found that traffic was increasing and campgrounds were filling up.  Our holiday days were winding down, so we made the difficult decision to end the ride and to begin planning our return trip home.

Big Sur was such a highlight, that I suppose it was fitting to finish the trip on such a high.  We had booked into a motel in San Simeon in order to get wifi access to begin researching our options for the return journey.  The long weekend made travel options challenging to say the least.

We woke up to a dull, gray windy day.  Very fitting for our last day of riding, as it always seems a bit sad to know that the tour has come to an end.  Our feelings were mixed as we packed up our bikes.  Thrilled to have completed such a wonderful tour and sad that we only had a few miles left.  Our plan is to cycle to San Luis Obispo and pick up a rental car.  All of our Amtrak options were booked so Rob managed to find flights home out of Los Angeles. Our intention is to drive from San Luis Obispo to LA.

We set off determined to enjoy the day, and were not disappointed.  We visited a couple of small, tourist towns and explored their downtown areas.  These seaside towns are really quaint and lots of fun to explore.

We were treated to a wonderful stretch through Morro Bay.  This little town has a great tourist vibe, lots of eateries, boutiques, stores, a busy harbour and views of  Morro Rock (a volcanic plug - one in a chain of nine that extends from San Luis to Morro Bay)

As we left Morro Bay, we found ourselves riding on busy four lane highways.  Traffic was heavy and it was noisy.  We found it really overwhelming after the quiet solitude of Big Sur.  We began to see McDonalds bill boards and took these signs of civilization as reinforcement that for us it was time to bring our ride to an end.  Big Sur to Big City was a shock to the senses!

From Big Sur to Big City

We arrived in San Luis and found a rental car company.

Our next challenge - fitting 2 bikes and all of our gear into a compact rental car.  Where there is a will there is a way.  We are excited for the next leg of our trip as we head to Los Angeles.

Giggle of the day:

We were in the parking lot in San Simeon loading the bikes for the day's ride.  I had been having trouble with my rear tire for the last couple of days.  I was slowly losing air.  We couldn't find a leak and were wondering if the valve might be faulty.  Rob was giving the tire another look, when a tour group come over to supervise.  We were offered all kinds of tips......unfortunately, nothing in English.

We faced a few challenges with logistics.  After a few hundred miles your bike becomes like a trusted friend and companion.  Many cyclists will name their bikes, and you will notice almost all cycling blogs feature picture after picture of the rider's trusted steed.

This being said, the biggest fear with the return trip is the challenge of packing your bike properly to avoid damage during air travel.  We visited numerous bike stores during our quest to find quality bike boxes.  Who ever thought Rob would be dumpster diving for bike boxes in Santa Barbara?

Dumpster diving for bike boxes
This tour has been a trip of a lifetime and we will treasure the memories.  The ride was more physically and emotionally demanding than we anticipated, but with big effort comes big rewards.  As always, we have learned many things:
  • the kindness of strangers - we have so many people to thank.  Those, like Ron and Sharon who welcomed us into their homes, those who gave directions, those who shouted encouragement and all of those kind folk who stopped to share a story or a laugh along the way
  • mileage means nothing - at times we found ourselves caught up with mileage targets, but we quickly learned that mileage means nothing.  Terrain, wind, food etc are all huge factors in your forward progress.  The beauty of a cycle tour is taking it as it comes....and finding time to stop and smell the roses....or elephant seals as the case may be
  • the bond with other cyclists is special - we met so many other cyclists with positive attitudes who were always willing to share food, drink, route advice, assist with repairs and always, always share a laugh and a groan about the last or next long climb
  • guide books are great resources, but your tour is your own.  Challenge yourself to find your own route

Cycling the west coast has been a dream come true -  thank you to everyone who supported our trip and special thanks to Emma, Adam and Ian who always cheer us on!

Giggle of the tour:

After 1150 miles and 20 days on the road we finally found it....and only 18 people were there.

Kirk Creek to San Simeon, California

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Kirk Creek campground to San Simeon, California
41 miles

WAWSOME (that is WOW and AWESOME combined)

Today was an epic day and probably one of the best cycle touring days we have ever had.  It rained during the night and we woke up expecting to be fogged in.  To our surprise, we opened the tent door to a beautiful, sunny and windless day.  Excitedly, we packed up camp ready to attack the hills during our last day in Big Sur.

Leaving Kirk Creek campground
Our goal was to put some miles behind us, but we are convinced this is nearly impossible to do when in Big Sur.  There are just too many opportunities to stop and explore and observe, and we couldn't bring ourselves to pass these opportunities by.

The first 22 miles were once again challenging, but the riding conditions were perfect.  Having an early start, we managed to get ahead of the RV traffic and at times we felt that we were the only people on the coast.  It was magical.

After fighting up one long, last climb we began the descent to Ragged Point and toasted Big Sur by stopping and having lunch - burgers!

After Ragged Point the terrain changed dramatically - a welcome relief I must confess.  We found ourselves on the flats.  Like magic our bikes felt at least 20 pounds lighter and we seemed to fly along the road.

Once again, we thought we would make up some miles, but then to our right we saw the whales.  Four grays were feeding.  We stopped, memorized and lost all track of time.  We were lucky enough to see two whales breach.....what a thrill.  Rob joked that if the whales knew how excited I got every time they breached, they would do it more often.

The whales moved on, and so it was time for us to get moving.  In the distance, we could see a few sandy coves ahead.  They appeared to be littered with drift wood, but something seemed odd.  The drift wood appeared to be moving.  As we neared, we saw one of the most amazing sights of the trip.  Hundreds of elephant seals basking in the sun on the sandy beaches.  They were massive!  We learned that an adult male can reach 5000 pounds.  We observed the elephant seals for what must have been hours before we could pull ourselves away.  According to Friends of the Elephant Seals, the Piedras Blancas rookery is home to approximately 17,000 animals.

Elephant seals as far as the eye could see

Finally, we pulled ourselves away from the Elephant Seals, got back on our bikes and pushed on to San Simeon.  It was now a race against time, in order to get off our bikes by dark.  We will never forget this day in Big Sur.....a touring cyclists dream!

Giggle of the Day:


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Carmel to Kirk Creek Campground, California

Monday, May 19, 2014
Carmel to Kirk Creek Campground, California
55 miles

Bridges, tunnels and RV campers - oh my!

We felt happy, confident and strong as we left the Carmel Mission Inn.

Pampered and well rested we were excited to for the ride ahead to Big Sur in central California.  Big Sur has to be one of the most spectacular coastlines you can find and today we were blessed with clear skies and warm temperatures.  Perfect conditions.

Our guide book warned about the upcoming day.  I quote, "riding the steeply rolling terrain is strenuous, both physically and mentally."  We didn't pay much attention, after all we survived the Crescent City Hill and Leggett Hill.....and then we found ourselves humbled.

It was an incredibly difficult day as we faced numerous long climbs and descents.  However, it was also one of the most scenic and thrilling sections of our ride.  Rugged cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other.

The road was challenging with shoulders ranging from great to non existent and the tourist camper traffic was definitely increasing making some of the corners really nerve racking.  We crossed numerous bridges - all with the most incredible views.

We stopped at almost every turn out and scenic view point, to catch our breath and to spend time taking it all in.

The mental challenge was an interesting battle as we both struggled with fatigue.  The spirit was willing but the legs were questioning the decision to cycle this section.  At times we wanted the day to just end, and at other times we never wanted the day to end.  There is something about Big Sur that captivates.

Our hiker/biker campsite is amazing - beach front and as I write this, the sun is setting.

Ocean view hiker/biker campsite at Kirk Creek
One of the cyclists we are sharing the campsite with is a professional photographer.  He told us that this campsite has been featured as one of the best places in the world to capture sunset photos.  He spends his vacations cycling between campsites in Big Sur and doing nature photography.  His "real" job is in Boston....but, Big Sur calls him back every year.

Giggle of the day.

Exhausted, we stopped at a convenience store in Lucia to restock supplies and purchase a little "treat" to help us get to the campsite.  A teenager approached us and asked if we found the road scary.  He told us that his family was from Ontario.  They had just rented a 40 foot RV camper and were driving the coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey.  He said his Dad was really, really scared to drive on this road.  He was scared?  We did not share our biggest fear with him.....

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sunset State Beach to Carmel, California

Sunday, May 18, 2014
Sunset State Beach to Carmel, California
54 miles

Strawberry Fields Forever

We have always enjoyed visiting our local strawberry farms come harvest time, but nothing could have prepared us for the vast expanse of strawberry fields that we cycled by today.  Acres upon acres as far as the eye could see.  We marvelled at the irrigation systems and of course, Rob wondered about pumps and water supplies - the engineer in him took over!

With the smell of strawberries thick in the air we just had to stop at Moss Landing for fresh fruit smoothies - delicious.

We also stopped at the local dock and spent a long time watching the harbour seals and sea lions negotiate space on the dock.  There was a massive sea lion, we nicknamed the BIG DOG, who ruled the show.  He was quite mean and ruled the dock with a firm flipper.

On our way out of Moss Landing we were passed on the highway by a parade of Ferraris.  Exactly 10 Ferraris in a row zoomed by us.  They have a little bit more horse power than we do.

We were thrilled to learn that we were travelling through Castroville - the artichoke capital of the world.  Who knew?

From Castroville we managed to find a bike path that took us past countless sand dunes all the way to Monterey.

Once we arrived in Monterey we decided to play tourist.  We jumped off our bikes and enjoyed a walk through town, visiting Fisherman's Wharf (of course we just had to stop and enjoy fish and chips), Cannery Row and Pacific Grove.

The paved bike path took us all the way along the coast to the 17 mile drive.  17 mile drive is one of the most famous stretches of road on the California Coast.  It took us past the most glamorous estate homes and out to the world famous Pebble Beach Golf course.  It is also a private drive and we were asked to stop and sign a waiver saying that we wouldn't sue should we be run over.  We took solace in the fact that later in the afternoon we were almost hit - by a driver of a Rolls Royce.  Yes - it had been quite the day for high end cars.

The Lone Cypress - 17 Mile Drive
We found ourselves entering Carmel and instantly falling in love with this seaside town.  The beach was beautiful, the houses were all character homes with unique gardens and landscaping.  Once again we played tourist and walked along Scenic Drive taking in all the sights and sounds of Carmel.

We passed the 1,000 mile mark and decided to celebrate with a night in a hotel.  We stopped at the San Carlos Mission to ask directions.  Everyone was extremely helpful, so tonight we find ourselves celebrating at the Carmel Mission Inn.  A perfect end to a perfect day.....and tomorrow Big Sur is within reach!

San Carlos Mission

Giggle of the day:

Traffic on the 17 Mile Drive came to a complete stop.  We cycled ahead to see what was going on.  A large deer was at the side of the road, attempting to jump quite a high fence into one of the estates.  We laughed at the irony of traffic stopping for a deer yet those same drivers will barely give us six inches of breathing room on roads without shoulders.  Maybe we should attach antlers to our bike helmets?