Summary – day 17 – Seaside (Monterey) to San Simeon (Sunday 11 September)

Summary – day 17 – Seaside (Monterey) to San Simeon (Sunday 11 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 102 miles, actual: 102.7 miles
Avg. speed: 13.6 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,346.15 miles – we broke our long-distance cycling record today! When we cycled on our round trip from Bristol to Hamburg we rode 1,320 miles in one trip.

Waking up in the USA on September 11 feels a little unsettling. The news is full of the anniversary. I can’t help comparing the US response to September 11 atrocities, the British response to the 7/7 bus and tube bombs and the more recent Norwegian response to the bombings and shootings there. It seems to me that we in Britain and the Americans over-reacted. The events were dreadful, but such things are rare and random events that directly affected relatively few people – how many have died needlessly from road traffic, I wonder? More security, more and more intrusive policing, more spying, curtailment of citizens’ liberties, hassle and harassment, just continue the terrorists’ work for them really. Perhaps more important, such measures are not really likely to prevent determined fanatics wreaking havoc. In contrast, I heard Jens Stoltenberg the (Labour) prime minister of Norway say that the proper response to the hateful bombing and shootings in his country should be “more democracy, not less”. I do have a sense that perhaps there is a desire for this among lots of people who are fed up with being treated in a cavalier way by officials and politicians, but so far there hasn’t been a politician willing to articulate that view. I’m quite hopeful that Ed Milliband could be the person to start to put the idea of more democracy into Labour’s policies back home.

Anyway, when we got up I was still feeling a little sore after yesterday’s exertions. We had breakfast with Katie and Nick along with two of their friends, Cheryl and her partner. A big breakfast today, (there’ll be lots of climbing): oats and muesli with soya milk, scrambled eggs (eggs courtesy of the hens that they keep, supplemented by a batch laid by 7-Eleven), corn pancakes with peppers and also some fresh fruit.

We set off later than planned at about 10.15 – this meant that we’d be lucky to get to San Simeon on the other side of Big Sur by 7.00.

We climbed out of Monterey, through Carmel (home of Doris Day), to the sweet sound of Matthew singing ‘The Deadwood Stage‘ (Whip-Crack-Away!) from the film Calamity Jane. This all rather reminded me of a poster that Sue, my secretary in my first permanent academic job at the University of Birmingham had on the wall by her desk. Doris Day is wearing her Calamity Jane garb: a kepi, a brown suede jacket with tassels hanging from the sleeves and a neckerchief. She is pointing a shotgun out of the picture. The caption read: ‘Do you want to speak to the man in charge, or to the woman who knows what’s going on?’ Well that certainly put me in my place!

We cycled through the beautiful 17-Mile Drive, past trees that were just beginning to look a little autumnal with their leaves going orange and yellow. On into Carmel, a charming – but touristy little town. The one-time mayor of Carmel was one Clint Eastwood, whose central campaign theme was to have the ban on eating ice cream in public in Carmel lifted – you couldn’t make this up, could you?! Carmel has some very pretty detached bungalows with well-tended gardens and a bustling tourist-orientated centre. The whole place was actually a little too twee for my tastes and rather reminded us of Stow-on-the-Wold on a busy summer Sunday: art galleries, delis and coffee shops galore. Heaven help you if you need to buy something as mundane as a replacement fuse! Just on the edge of town, a lovely old stone church: Carmel Mission. It had really nicely kept gardens – there was a service going on, with singing, but we couldn’t really go into the church wearing Lycra cycling shorts (someone might faint), so we watched from the door for a while.

On to Big Sur – a spectacular section of Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast where the where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. This section of the highway in a really remote and previously inaccessible area of the Californian coast was mostly built by convict labour in the 1930s. It must have been horrible work – the area is steep and undulating. It was challenging cycling up the climbs and negotiating the descents. The ride was tough today and the wind was still coming from the south, (although not nearly as strong as yesterday). Our difficulties were compounded by the fact that we are both still sore from yesterday. But it was worth it … too many Magic Moments of the Day to count.

I was pretty worried about the time and I’ve been a bit concerned that on some days the end points that Matthew drew up mean that the distances are a little bit too challenging when combined with the fact that we’re carrying bags, the undulating terrain, an unremitting headwind or any kind of mechanical problem. We didn’t really stop for lunch anywhere and mainly relied on our shop bought oat energy bars, bananas and nuts.

The hills and mountains gave way to a more gently undulating grassland along the coast as we neared San Simeon.

On some beaches to our right we saw several herds of elephant seals – absolutely amazing. They were honking and basking, using their flippers to flick sand over their bodies, pulling themselves along by their flippers through the sand or frolicking in the water with their bellies arched downwards so their noses and tails were both in the air. (Matthew has posted a video link). We could have watched for hours but, the full moon was already visible in the sky and there was a beautiful red/orange sunset over the Pacific.

We watched the sun set on the coast just below Hearst Castle, (built by Randolph Hearst – who Citizen Kane was based on). The castle itself is incoherent and vulgar – the man had too much money and bought whole Roman temples, medieval ceilings, Jacobean staircases etc. etc. from Europe. The house, (which is now maintained by the state), was designed to house his collection in a rather random way.

Our hotel just south of San Simeon: Sands by the Sea, was our last stop – I was too tired to even go out go eat and we ordered food through room service – very extravagant!

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