Cycling Tour of Big Sur / Central Coast California

In May 2017 the Mud Creek Slide came crashing down on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in California, turning an 80 mile section of highway with no exits into a 10 mile and 50 mile dead-end. As bad as that sounds, the situation was much worse. Additional slides and a bridge failure isolated the tiny and beautiful village of Big Sur. Months later, after a flurry of construction and repair, all the damage on PCH except Mud Creek was repaired.

But in the midst of disaster was also opportunity. I realized that the closure would dramatically reduce vehicle traffic along the coast, making a potentially good situation for a cyclists riding the area. But there was the matter of circumventing literally a million tons of earth burying the road 40 feet deep. Add the construction equipment and workers busy rebuilding the road and it posed a formidable obstacle for a lone rider on a bicycle. I kept track of the situation on the media, blogs and Facebook groups. There were reports of cyclists crossing the slide at night, defying the closure and the law. While I wanted to ride the route, a midnight poach in the dark by myself was not for me. I found a local tour company called Central Coast Outdoors that shuttled cyclists around the closure. The price seemed steep: over $300 for the ride, but it could be split up to 3 ways if other riders joined you, and it was way cheaper than Uber for the same thing. I thought about it for a few days and decided the opportunity to ride the coast with low traffic was worth it, and I began preparations.

I booked a flight on JetBlue to San Jose and planned to ship my bike to a nearby FedEx Office using bikeflights.com. I busted out may favorite bike ride planning site, ridewithgps.com, and began planning my routes for each day. I reserved a room for one night at the Radisson in Santa Maria with plans and gear to camp every other night of a 9 day 8 night journey. I reserved a site at the only campground that needed it. All of my other camping would be at California State Park Hike or Bike sites which were all first come / first served / no reservation sites. And finally I reserved an Amtrak ride home that allowed people to bring their bikes on the train. BTW, I am not sponsored by anyone, but I do like to share resources I find useful for other riders or anyone else interested.

JetBlue is a great little airline and Long Beach Airport is a great little airport.

I bike toured PCH on a similar trip many years ago. While the trip was great, I realized afterward that I had spent too much time riding for my preferences, and not enough time relaxing, sightseeing and getting to know fellow travelers. So as I planned each day’s ride for this trip, I reduced the mileage I would ride each day compared to my first trip.

I made sure to stop and take in the sights

 

I got to know the people I met along the way.

 

I decided that food pics were an important part of the trip.

 

Stopping to take pics took a lot of time, but it was worth it.

To be honest, I over prepared for the trip. I spent too many hours poring over routes and fine tuning them, reading updates on the web, and anticipating the details of the trip. By over preparing, I mean that I was a little burned out before I even started riding. I was beginning to doubt whether I would enjoy the ride at all. Plus there were the normal pre ride jitters and worries. Would I get a cold just before or during the ride? What if my frame cracked? Would I forget something critical? Was I in good enough condition for such a ride?

Is it possible to take too many pictures of the Big Sur coast?

 

I did get a few fellow travelers to snap a pic of me as well.

Of course I went ahead with the ride, starting on the Saturday the week before Memorial Day 2018 and riding through to the following Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Day 1 presented me with more than its fair share of problems. But I overcame them all, found myself well able to handle the rigors of daily riding, and went on to have a great trip.

You could make a tour of the art along the coast if you wanted to.

 

No, you cannot take too many pictures of the meeting of land and sea along this coast.

 

San Luis Obispo is one of dozens of great villages that dot the ride.

 

Rolling hills that are part of the growing wine country in this region.

 

Cyclists seem to be beer drinkers mostly. But I prefer grape based libations most of the time.

Actually, “great trip” does not begin to capture what the trip became. I had days of riding in idyllic conditions, I met wonderful people who had great stories to tell, and I “rode myself into shape” as the expression goes and felt stronger and stronger as the days passed.

Many of the campgrounds were next to the beach.

 

The last days of the ride were Memorial Day weekend, with busy campgrounds and many travelers.

 

Riders like these, traveling the country and the world, were not uncommon.

What started as a trip where I was worried that I might quit early turned into a ride where I was sad to see it end. In the days after the ride I felt like I was living in an afterglow, my mind drifting back to daydreams of the ride, planning the next tour already, and having a hard time focusing on my daily responsibilities.

As far as my blog goes, in the coming days and weeks I will post a blog for each day of the trip, documenting in more detail my route and  experiences from each day. I hope they will be helpful to others who ride the route. But I also hope to be able to capture the experience for me forever, so that I can recall the feelings of the ride and daydream about the experience of a lifetime over and over again.

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