Cycle Tour Big Sur to Kirk Creek, a Concert on the Coast

My bicycle tour of the coast of California continued into its 4th day on a Tuesday. That put me right in the heart of a work week, beyond the feeling of a mere three-day weekend, and firmly into a vacation adventure frame of mind. My ride that day would take me from Pfeiffer Big Sur campground to Kirk Creek campground, which is a bit of a spoiler since I started the day not sure where I would end it.

I made breakfast in the vestibule of my tent, once again using its protection as a great way to get an early start without stepping out into the cold. The neighboring redwoods seemed to think their needles were a good accompaniment to any recipe and I had to go to extra lengths to keep from having them as an ingredient in my omelette.

Powdered Ova Easy eggs, pre cooked chicken sausage, coffee and redwood needles. What more could you want for breakfast?

After breakfast I went to the lodge and enjoyed a fancier cup of coffee, using the meager internet/cell service and charging my electronics. Michael and Yvonne, the staff at the lodge, were wonderful. We talked about Big Sur history, cycling stories, plans for the area, coffee-making tips, etc. Michael knew a lot about the history of the area and how it had changed over time. He took me on a tour of some of the pictures in the lobby, using them to explain how the bridge and road had changed over the years, how there used to be rooms in the lodge and other great local trivia.

Michael gave me an impromptu tour of the historic photos in the lodge .


Yvonne was very friendly and enjoyed talking about my travels and life at the lodge.

Back at the campsite, my bike touring neighbor Shane had changed his plan. Originally he was going to go for a hike that day. But instead he decided to do a local ride. He was traveling with a bike trailer and wanted to leave it behind for a day. His route would take him in the same direction as I was going, then riding up the challenging Nacimiento-Fergusson Road which was near at the campground I ended up staying at that night. It was sort of implicit that we would not ride together, clearly his pace was going to be faster than mine. For non cyclists this might seem a bit strange, but cyclists speeds can vary by a wide margin and you don’t presume to ask another rider to crawl along at your pace.

Shane, my neighbor at the campground, was good to go that morning too, but would end up back at the campground at the end of the day.


We took pictures of each other before we started riding.

I departed first so I knew we would see each other out on the road. The ride out of the valley was a long steady steep grade.  I was looking for the new bridge that was completed just a few months earlier after the collapse of an existing span. Its failure contributed to a situation where all roads into Big Sur became impassable and the town became isolated, creating an emergency. There are many bridges on the road, all with dates marked on them. There would only be one from the year before so I easily identified the new one. Construction was complete and the area was clear of equipment and returned to normal, all amazingly quickly.

This must be the new bridge that was built when the old one collapsed last year.

It was not long until Shane rode up effortlessly from behind. He was nice about it and slowed his pace to match mine for a while and we talked. Unfortunately, due to the long climb, I could not do a lot of talking. I think Shane could have delivered a State Of The Nation speech. Eventually we said good-bye  and hoped that our paths would cross again later that day, which they did ever so briefly as we passed each other going in opposite directions.

Traffic continued to taper as I went south, more as I passed each tourist destination. By the time I passed Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park traffic was getting downright sparse. The ride that day was pure, uninterrupted, classic foggy Big Sur coastal cliffs.

Many sections of the road were next to sheer drop offs to the ocean below.


The only place  for a cyclist to ride on a few sections was in the lane with cars. Fortunately traffic was low and visibility was good.


The rugged, steep cliffs afforded dramatic views mile after mile.


Big Sur revealing itself through the fog.


I could not help but park my bike here for a pic.


The road is visible on the upper left, and offered little margin for error in many places.


The occasional pocket beach.

I was not decided on where to stay that night: Plaskett Creek or Kirk Creek campground. Plaskett Creek had running water and showers that Kirk Creek lacked. But Kirk Creek is the only campground on the ocean side of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in the Big Sur area, offering a more intimate relationship with the coastline as you camp. And you could buy water by the gallon there, enough to drink, cook, clean and bathe.

I stopped at the little restaurant in Lucia and I was pleased to see they had expanded their small market. They way I reduced my load was to buy just enough food late in the day for that night and the next morning. Being unaware of this well situated market, I stocked up at the Big Sur Deli near the beginning of the ride and carried my supplies with me all day. The market in the remote area is good news for cyclists and hikers. They had food, ice and other vital necessities. Like a good wine selection.

I ended up deciding to camp where I always do: Kirk Creek. In the words of real estate agents everywhere: location, location, location.

Camping on the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean was an experience I did not want to pass up.

While I set up camp I met Tom and Michael. Tom was not a cyclist, but he was using the hike or bike area legally to get a first-come-first-served campsite the next day.  He was a sustainability engineer. I was very curious about what that meant, and he answered my questions. I learned a lot about his perspective and good stewardship of the environment even for big engineering projects.

Tom was meeting a group of other sustainability engineers who camped together at Kirk Creek every year. One of their college professors had started the annual event years ago. He had since passed away but the tradition carried on in his memory. The professor used to easily catch fish from the ocean on the shore below the campground during the trip to feed everyone, something that is not realistic anymore. The location and the changes in it in just a couple of decades served as inspiration to Tom’s and his fellow engineers.

Michael was a gifted musician traveling by bike with his guitar. He had arrived by descending the steep and twisty Nacimiento-Fergusson road and would continue to the north. He and Tom played guitar duets, we sang, I provided wine and whiskey and we watched for whales breaching in the ocean. You know, your every day chance meeting of strangers.

Michael and Tom, in concert at Kirk Creek.


The performance was worth more than one picture.

I got free internet from a guy who was traveling in his huge solar electric Mercedes Sprinter with  a Hughes Gen 5 Internet dish set up on a tripod outside. He had pitched a sign that said “Internet Cafe”. I asked him how much and he said it was a free, and he gave me his WiFi password. The van was a beauty and we talked about how it worked. He told me that had done an electric conversion on an old Chevy van and when Mercedes saw it they hired him to help them develop a solar electric Sprinter. The big beast was part of his compensation.

I went to prepare dinner that night but the flame on my camp stove fizzed out. I worked around it by changing my menu. I presumed, mistakenly, that the butane canister for my stove was empty, even though I had only used it a few times. More details on that in the next blog. I asked a few other campers if they had an extra butane canister. No one did, but every one I asked offered to lend me their stoves, which was wonderful. I planned to stop in Cambria the next day and buy a new fuel canister. In the mean time I threw out the canister I had, which I later realized was a mistake.

I climbed into my tent early as usual, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing against the cliffs below. I slept well in the fog of the coast, surrounded by fellow adventurers.

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