Big Sur to Cambria. 72.7 Miles. 6092 Feet of Climbing Elevation.
This past September, I completed a charity bike event with the California Coast Classic Bike Tour for the Arthritis Foundation. I rode my bicycle for 8 days from San Francisco, to Los Angeles California; 525 Miles, and climbed 26,278 Feet of Elevation. It was extremely challenging, rewarding, and amazing. I’ll be blogging multiple segments here about my journey.
Day 4 will find Us out in the Wild, Wild West…..as Wild and as West as Big Sur will take us.
Yes, the Day 4 ride from Big Sur to Cambria was almost as tough in mileage (72.7) and climbing elevation (6092’) as Day 1, but it really didn’t seem so mentally mysterious, stressful, and overwhelming; maybe for a “newbie” overlooking breakfast on Day One at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but as a 3-day veteran I now felt “battle-harden” and “lesson-learned” and not a moment too soon!
Today, I am not going to dwell on and on about the huge climbs I had that day, though to exclude them altogether would be a grave disservice to the adventurous nature of this blog.
As we read on Day 3, my mind was occupied by Pop Culture in California. Day 4, would find my wandering mind also in California, but tuned into Nature itself; specifically, a few members of the animal kingdom; the Whale, the Seal, the Condor, and the Mountain Lion.
So, at dinner the night before, one of the veteran riders was telling me about what was to come on Day 4. “Here’s the most important piece of advice I can give you,” he said. “Don’t eat a big breakfast tomorrow!” He was unaware of how this dilemma was already mentioned in this blog, but I took his advice to heart and scaled back even further.
Early in the morning, I ran into Dave when I was reorganizing my bike bag. He’s the one who told me about eating a small breakfast. He took one look at my bag which was carrying far more stuff than most of the riders combined, and shook his head and laughed. He wasn’t cruel; just amused. It’s possible he was just jealous of my extra First Aid Kit, or additional flat tire rim tool, or perhaps my trusty yellow jacket. Ah, no. “Zulu,” he said. What the hell are you doing with 20 packs of Fig Newtons in your bag?” BUSTED!!!! I contemplated telling him I was on my way to the local charitable soup kitchen, but I would probably have to wait to get to Beverly Hill before I actually saw one. I explained that I had taken his advice, skimped on breakfast, and because we were told of the remoteness of Big Sur, I, like all great sailors, should be well prepared for hardship. Let’s face it; in Rhode Island, “you’re” probably never more than 4.26 miles in any direction from a Dunkin Donuts, but out “there,” I couldn’t risk all-out calorie depletion, mental disorientation, and muscle fatigue due to the lack of foresight (thank God I didn’t actually write “Bonking” here!!)
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Martin Luther King Jr.
I had a plan! I would assemble all my cycling power and grit, reel in all the lessons I learned or re-learned from my first 3 days riding, throw it all on my bike and let it fly…..or roll….or crawl.
SPOILER ALERT!!!……………. It all worked out awesome!
(Editor’s Note; “Zulu,” you really don’t have to worry about spoiling the story for “someone,” if nobody is actually reading this nonsense!)
The grounds of the Big Sur Lodge had some really cool scenery and I would have loved to linger and take more pictures, but I also had the idea in my head that I would be one of the very first riders to get going, and I was. Immediately “out of the gate” from Base Camp, I started to climb. At the time, my attack plan started out with “voluntary ignorance.” I wasn’t even sure how long the climb was, how high in elevation the hill was, or what the percentage grade was. It didn’t matter. I lowered my gears and my head. I would be done, when I was done. Either I would finish the climb to the top, pass out, or improbably, actually ride past a Dunkin Donuts, where I would have no choice but to stop and take pictures.
Halfway up, I passed a woman waiting with two young children for the school bus. “Good Morning,” I said. My voice seemed to send an echo boom into the high trees. “Good Morning,” she said. The 2 children had this blank look on their faces which I could only assume displayed their confusion. ”If that man is not on his way to school, or work, why would he ride his bike up this huge hill of all places?” Very wise children. Not surprisingly, 10 minutes later, I got the exact same “double-take” look from a group of contractors standing outside a little store drinking coffee. By the supplies on their truck, they appeared to be plumbers, so for all I know, they could have been sipping Gin. (“Ha, ha, Zulu, I get it….an Electrician’s joke!” Zulu; “NO JOKE!”…..OK, maybe a little joke….maybe).
One other aspect that made a challenging morning was because the climb started right away, I had no time or mileage to “warm-up” before the ascent. Never a good thing for me. Something to be sure of; by the time I got to the top, I had “gotten the lead out,” and was not only smiling but ready for the rest of the big day. The statistics for the first climb? 2.2 Miles traveled, and 758’ of climbing. The Max grade was 9.8%, while the Grade Average was 6.2%. An impressive start to the day.
When I got to the top of the first massive climb, I was feeling pretty good; mentally and physically. I was rolling along fairly slowly enjoying the “once-again” magnificent scenery; despite the serious lack of advertising billboards, strip malls, and convenience stores (hello, sarcasm!). Suddenly, Michelle S, “The Alpha Dog,” came up behind me. We chatted for a few moments, and then I burst out with “Hey, somebody snap a picture of us; it is and will continue to be the only time all week that I am actually ahead of Michelle!” She smiled and said “Yeah…….save your strength for the Twin Sisters later today,” and suddenly she was gone! Impressive!
Well, since I manage to survive the first ascension (blasphemy!), I decided to return my stream of consciousness back to something unrelated to controlling my breathing and “fight or flight” cycling instincts; The Animal Kingdom Of Big Sur.
A few years back, I had seen this documentary about the landscape and wildlife habitat of Big Sur. It was as awesome as the spectacular route I was riding through. Regardless of where I’m riding my bike, I often think about what I learned from that program, and what I have continued to learn since. Out of the love for nature or the possibility of an encounter, I kept a sharp lookout for animals and specific geography. Let me run down a few things.
- The Blue Whale. I have seen whales in the water before. I never get tired of them, but I have never seen a Blue Whale, the largest creature on the planet Earth; sometimes reaching 100′ in length and weighting up to 150 Tons. Today, there are fewer than 10,000 blue whales in the oceans, in 1931 alone, 29,649 blue whales were killed; lets hope for a better future for these Giants. It’s said the Blue Whale could hold their breath underwater for 90 minutes. I get it; there were times this week I felt like I couldn’t breath for 90 minutes!
- The California Condor. Always depicted in old “Western Movies” as the scavenging, circling buzzards of death, these majestic creatures can have a wingspan up to 9 plus feet, and can stay afloat for hours. As disheartening as their demise and razor-close brush with extinction was, their survival and reintroduction back into the wild with help from those who were to blame for their near extinction; the human race, is a fascinating story. By 1987, only 27 California Condors existed in the wild. All the remaining birds in the wild were captured by the United States Government and placed in a captive breeding program. These surviving birds were bred at the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Los Angeles Zoo, and beginning in 1991, the birds began introduction back into the wild.
- Seals. Later in the day, about 59 Miles into the ride, we came to Vista Point. It was a spectacular sight to go out on a board walk and view the Elephant Seals close up. I have a few photos and phone movies, but it was a little foggy that afternoon and my shots were not so great, so I “borrowed” a picture. As I came rolling into the parking lot at a slow speed, I rounded a bus of tourists checking out all the seals. Suddenly, I hit a huge patch of sand, slightly lost control of my bike and started to swerve. Milliseconds before I though I was going to wipe out magnificently, I regained control and remained upright. As I pedaled over to the bike racks, I temporary lost my excitement for viewing the seals and could think of just one thing. I had been biking for 4 days, climbing mountains, dodging cars and trucks, overcoming apprehension and the unknown, racing down cliffs and steep city streets while just a few miles back, I had climbed up and over two of the steepest and toughest back to back challenges of the week; The Twin Sisters, only to suddenly crash in a parking lot full of sight-seers while I’m traveling at 5 miles per hour?” OUCH!!!!” The injustice of it all! It would not have been good for my body, bike, or ego. Ha!!!
- Mountain Lions. The California Mountain Lion has additional names; Puma, Cougar, and Panther. It’s legendary status ranges from local royalty, elusive, notorious, and “BigFoot-like” to pest, feared, and misunderstood. One thing is certain, I don’t EVER want a chance encounter with any Mountain Lion, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate and respect them, as well as wish them peace, harmoney, and survival. It would seem odd that a man such as myself, quite skittish of the animal, would find the need to worry about the peace, harmoney, and survival of these top-tier apex predators, but they do need “our” help and attention.The most amazing tidbit I know about the lion, and I’ve said this, and written this many times, but………….a Mountain Lion is an animal that can leap a school bus…..THE LONG WAY!! Respect!!!!
As I was watching a second documentary about the California Mountain Lion, I was thinking about so many people in California; especially my new bike friends, and the dangers and fears about riding among the lions. Theresa D and I were recently posting about the subject. She lives near Santa Cruz and offered this about the lions; “My biggest fear is riding my bike in our area. We’ve seen several over the years on our property and have heard even more (just last week). The CZU fire has thrown everything off. I feel like I don’t know the “pattern”. I have always felt they see me more than I see them. My main training area is gone (all homes and miles of acres burned) so I always wonder if they’re closer than ever.”
These are understandable and legitimate concerns. I love these animals, but it’s not always easy to put aside our fears and attempt to “coexist with nature,” as much as so many of us want to do. I had some of the same thoughts and was only riding there for a few days.
I have learned this recently; one of the largest causes of death to this animal is “car/truck strikes” as they attempt to cross the highways. It’s not only hazardous for the animal but hazardous for the drivers. The lions are looking for new territory or food, and many are being driven away, also by the wildfires.
I read an article recently about this situation, and the author made a great point concerning all the affected wildlife in the area; The Animal kingdom is also on the move; they are tired, hungry, and thirsty. They may be injured or burnt. They are frightened, and they too have lost their homes and some of their family.
I hope my own co-existence starts with a little sympathy.
Oh, and you thought my “chat” about Cougars was going to be something “completely different” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge!). Shame on you!!! (Hehehehehe).
Well worth watching……
Yellow Is The New Black!
I was amazed at how often I wore my yellow bike jacket this week. I am far more comfortable with the cold weather than I am with the heat. When I left New England, it was still very warm, and I’m not sure my body had made the transition. Of course, it was cool along the cliffs and I was glad to have it. The moment we turned “inland,” I was too hot. At one point, a woman asked me why I was wearing that heavy jacket all the time. She told me to leave it at the rest area, and I could pick it up at the end of the ride. I was just about convinced, and at the last second, I decided against it. A few hours later after I had climbed up and over the Twin Sisters, I was drenched in 43.521 Gallons of Water. You heard me! The final descent of 4 miles and almost 900′ going as fast as I dared (there was some caution) would have been a lot colder due to the ride and sweat had I not had my jacket. One guy told me he purposely left his jacket behind that day and suspected he caught a cold from the ride down in the same conditions.
With the end of day 4, our larger climbs along the ocean cliffs would come to pass. There was still plenty of mileage, amazing scenery, and hill-climbing to go; just a little less remote.
In my next blog, I’ll throw out a little story about climbing over the Twin Sisters. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be some “suffer-fest” so much that you’ll have difficulty breathing just reading the account, but a funny and strange encounter of some other creature from the animal kingdom; Magnus Homo Moronic, Media Via, which translated from the Latin would be, Big Moronic Man in the Middle The Road!