Summary – day 20 – Ventura to Los Angeles (Wednesday 14 September)

Summary – day 20 – Ventura to Los Angeles (Wednesday 14 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 67 miles, actual: 73.95 miles
Avg. speed: 14.3 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,489.91 miles

Bit dull and grey this morning as we left Ventura. But actually that’s really good cycling weather. There were some routing dilemmas today. Garmin and Google didn’t agree, (as usual) and we suspected that there was a ‘third’ or better way if we just followed the waymarked Pacific Coast Cycle Route. However, sometimes the cycle routes are not that particularly well signed, especially in the towns and cities. We have often arrived at a junction and there’s absolutely no clue about which direction the route takes, but it generally doesn’t matter if we’re following Garmin. Also, on a trip like this we know that if we keep heading more-or-less south, then there’s a good chance that we’ll probably be going in the right direction. Usually we find that we happen upon the Pacific Coast Bicycle Route again.

A further complication today was how to get beyond Oxenard as we moved south around the coast after leaving Ventura. It just wasn’t clear how to navigate our way through a gap between the mountains and the sea, where a number of large military bases are situated. The map showed that the Interstate cut right through, but Garmin made it clear that we couldn’t go on that by bicycle, (and he’s always right about that sort of thing). So, Dilemma of the Day … would there be an alternative route for cycles and should we risk just trying to find it or take stupid Garmin’s advice and go on a 20 mile, hilly detour? We decided that we’d risk it.

We passed the naval base without any difficulty. The old town of Oxenard is a really pretty, traditional-looking fishing port. Then came the naval/air base at St Mugu. This was more complicated, there was a road running parallel to the Interstate, but Garmin showed it feeding onto the Interstate itself about 3 miles further on – maybe there’d be a cycle track unknown to Garmin. I was feeling tense about either having to brave the Interstate or turn back. We’d just have to see.

As we rode around the perimeter of the air base, we could see some really big helicopters coming in to land. Then we passed a curious permanent outdoor display of planes and missiles set on posts. We continued on to see what would happen as we approached the turning onto the freeway – the road we were on did lead us on to the Interstate, but there were no signs at the entrance forbidding cyclists, so we decided to risk it. The police might chuck us off – but we only needed to travel for one junction – about a mile or so – and then we knew we’d be on the Pacific Coast Highway again – a road that we knew we’d be permitted to ride on. As luck would have it, about half a mile along the road, a notice proclaimed the end of the freeway – we’d done it and were on our way to LA.

Between Point Mugu and Malibu we passed rocky cliffs with incredible folded rock strata and huge rectilinear blocks of stone strewn everywhere. We could could just make out people hiking up in the mountains in the far distance. The road itself ran along the water’s edge and huge blocks of black stone sloped down from the road into the sea to absorb the waves. There were warnings of rock slides every few hundred metres and people were working to try and stabilise the cliffs. The sea was calm, but the waves were breaking against the rocks and throwing spray into the air and onto the road. Inevitably, the road was incredibly deformed and breaking up. There were road works all along this section.

As I looked out to sea, I could see some big birds with long beaks flapping their wings rather languorously and flying only a few metres above the water – Matthew recognised them as pelicans! Superb!

As we approached Malibu, the surf beaches began. For miles there were huge cars and pickup trucks parked one after another in the narrow space between the sand and the road with surf boards propped against them. People, (overwhelmingly young men) were milling about, getting changed in or out of their wetsuits or diligently rubbing their boards with something (wax?). In the sea there were surfers riding the waves and paddling about on the water. It was a real treat to watch – although we were nervous about someone opening a car door just as we cycled past or that someone might pull their vehicles out into the road and into us. Thankfully that didn’t happen – but getting through Malibu was pretty fraught, as there was generally very little space between all the parked cars on our right and the moving cars on our left.

There were some fabulous houses on the way into Malibu – big detached affairs, either strung out over the hillside on our left or squeezed into the narrow spaces between the road and the sea on our right. Mostly we only caught glimpses through trees or deduced the splendour beyond the elaborate, chunky (and very secure) gates. Matthew spotted an outdoor hot tub carved into the rocks next to one house. We could see that some houses had complicated stilt-like supports in wood or concrete and that they were cantilevered out over the beach or even over the sea.

Leaving Malibu, we passed a September 11 memorial in a big grassy sloping area outside Pepperdine University. A national flag for every victim – all the same dimensions and evenly spaced in rows and columns.

I was hoping that the traffic on the road between Malibu and Santa Monica might reduce somewhat … but of course it didn’t. But as we arrived on the outskirts of Santa Monica – Los Angeles city limits – a cycle path began. It was really good to be off the road again. Suddenly the cycle path veered off the roadside and onto the beach itself. A long, wide flat pathway made from concrete bounded with broad flat areas of sand on both sides – quite a bit of it on the surface, too, sometimes. I’m not normally happy about cycling on sandy surfaces, they can be slippery and sand just wrecks bicycle drivetrains. But it was away from the traffic on the road and actually a lovely experience, with plenty of other cyclists and runners about. Before we arrived in Santa Monica centre, we had to turn off the beach path and head inland towards our hotel for the night: the Wilshire, towards the Downtown end of Wilshire Boulevard. Ten miles along a very heavily trafficked, fast-paced, badly surfaced road with intersections every few hundred metres or so – we were not looking forward to it.

Fortunately, Matthew had picked up a map of Santa Monica at our hotel in Ventura that showed a cycle route running parallel to Wilshire Boulevard, so we proceeded along that. Unfortunately, it stopped at a T-junction after a couple of miles and we had to join Wilshire Boulevard itself.

Matthew wanted to try and find another quieter parallel street that we might be able to ride along instead. Garmin didn’t show one and Wilshire doesn’t run in quite a straight line, so there was a danger that any parallel streets would just diverge. I was also a bit sceptical that there would be any particularly quiet streets in West LA at that time of day. We weren’t enjoying cycling in LA so far – and had only just started. We didn’t agree on the best way to get to our hotel and a fairly ‘heated debate’ ensued on the street by the Beverly Hills sign. We rode on not speaking to each other until we arrived at the hotel.

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Our room is on the top floor (12), with views to Griffith Park, Observatory and the Hollywood sign. Incredible. We were allowed to take our bicycles in the lift to our rooms, too, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I fell asleep almost as soon as we arrived, then went to have a shower.

Matthew was in the lobby downstairs while I cleaned myself up for the evening. Somehow I slipped over on the wet bottom of the bath while I was taking a shower. I tried to grab on to the shower curtain to steady myself, it was wet, so it slid through my hands and I went flying out of the bath and over onto the bathroom floor, banging my hip really badly and cracking my head on the toilet cistern on the way down. I gave myself a real fright. This was not turning into a good day.

I took some pain killers and got dressed.

Happily, things improved. We’ve had some really wonderful surprises on our trip along west coast; but one of the most astonishing happened before we’d even arrived. Our friend Michael had been due to start a new job in America this month. He’ll be working in Maryland on the east cost for the next two years. Michael had decided to spend a bit of time travelling before beginning work. He was travelling to Baltimore the long way round – going first to Turkey, then on to Japan to climb Mount Fuji, and then by complete coincidence was passing through Los Angeles on the same day as us. Extraordinary. We’d arranged to meet at 7.30 at our hotel so we could go eat dinner together.

When Michael arrived we headed up to Hollywood – to the ‘walk of fame’, Chinese and Kodak theatres, (where the Oscar ceremonies take place), then walked over to Sunset Boulevard to a restaurant called California Vegan for a wonderful meal – lots if tofu and soya – delicious and heaven! Such a nice change From the stuff we’ve been eating so far.

After dinner I thought we might take a taxi up to the Griffith Observatory to look down on the lights of the city (a famous inspiration for the underside of the space ship in Close Encounters, I think). This turned into a bit of a disaster, there was an enormous concert emptying out as we went up into the hills to the north of LA and the roads were closed. The traffic was terrible and we were not moving, so we had to abandon our plans and headed back to our hotel. The taxi driver was a nice guy and amazed when we told him about our cycling trip. Michael was falling asleep in the cab by now, and headed back to his hostel. We went off to bed.

So a day of mixed fortunes, really. It was lovely to meet up with Michael again. I expect that I’ll be a bit bruised after my fall tomorrow! But at least it’s only a short ride to the other side if the city to Seal Beach.

LA Confrontational

I’ve been dreading today’s section of our cycling trip for some time. Travelling into Los Angeles, the most car-dominated city in the USA, by bicycle is not for the foolhardy. To be honest the first 40-50 miles from Ventura to Santa Monica via Malibu were not as bad as I’d expected. Most of the way there was a broad shoulder or a cycle route. Even when we reached Santa Monica and had to head towards downtown LA the roads were signed bike routes and passed quiet residential streets for about 20 blocks. Then we had to turn onto Wilshire Boulevard for about ten miles of car dominated hell. This is when the nerves started to fray. I suggested we could try to see if there was a quieter parallel street we could use. Garmin said not and Mike wanted me to look at the Garmin map. I wouldn’t as to me there seemed no point as Mike was going to follow Garmin come what may. Mike still wanted me to look at the Garmin map, I still refused, this conversation repeated itself several times until I finally blew and cycled off into car-hell that is Wilshire Blvd. I only went two blocks then stopped to wait for Mike, but it was two blocks too far. A silence has descended on our holiday. Hopefully it won’t last long and providing we can get out of LA ok tomorrow and in one piece, (and speaking) we can resume normal holiday communications, which have been rather good up to now.

On a positive note the hotel were fine about us putting our bikes in our room (something we were slightly anxious about in LA) so Mr Van Nicholas and Mr Condor have a very nice 12th floor view towards the Hollywood Hills, the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory.

Summary – day 19 – Buelton to Ventura (Tuesday 13 September)

Summary – day 19 – Buelton to Ventura (Tuesday 13 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 65.5 miles, actual: 69.81 miles
Avg. speed: 13.6 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,415.96 miles

Woke up to puncture #10! (Mike, rear – not sure of cause – but a fresh hole in tube, rather than a mis-repair). The tyre had gone down overnight. I generally have a rule with inner tubes: three strikes (patches) and it’s out. So this particular inner tube was jettisoned and replaced with a new one. Then on to a good, hearty breakfast of muesli and fruit with Joe. Carol had left earlier to play golf, she’s quite an accomplished player by all accounts – well Joe’s account, actually. It was a shame to miss her this morning though – no picture of her unfortunately or any opportunity to say “thank you” again in person for our lovely dinner last night and for hosting us.

Joe needed to do some errands in Solvang, so after breakfast we rode in together. He on a Raleigh! We passed an ostrich farm: Ostrichland USA, Joe told us that one ostrich egg is equivalent to 18 – 24 chickens’ eggs and they’re available to buy. We weren’t tempted, there’s no room in our panniers!

We mooched around Solvang for a bit and bumped into Joe again! We were looking at the Danish pastries, (of course). Joe recommended that we try aebleskiver, a Danish delicacy available in several of the restaurants. Supposedly invented by some Dane back in history, aebleskiver are like a waffle or a pancake, but formed into a round, about the shape and size of a tennis ball and must be cooked in a special pan with ball-shaped hollows in them. The name rather suggests that they would have apple inside them … but they don’t. They were served with powdered sugar sprinkled over them and topped with raspberry jam. Matthew was offered ice cream with his, which he (too) readily accepted. I asked for a plain one … little knowing that this would mean mine would arrive without any sugar or raspberry jam! So in the picture is my ‘wholesome’ aebleskiver, Joe’s conventional aebleskiver and Matthew’s extravagant aebleskiver. Sums us up, really, I think.

We had a chance to talk some more with Joe while we ate. I mentioned cycling past the Vandenberg air force base yesterday evening and seeing the NASA plaques at the entrance. Joe said that satellite-carrying and other types of rockets were launched about once a month in the middle of the night from there. All the houses around shake and the windows rattle. If they get out of bed to look out of the window, they can see the rocket flame arcing through the sky. This sounds like a rather thrilling thing to watch to me!

Solvang has been a host town in the Tour of California for several years now and there was a really nice cycle-friendly vibe to the place. Lots of posters in the shops and restaurants advertised the Tour of California. Many people were riding around on bicycles and the town has a really good bicycle store, where we bought a spare inner tube. The bicycle shop had window displays with pictures and souvenirs from the Tour de France – excellent stuff. The store owner was away cycling – it’s Solvang’s centenary and he was leading a group anniversary ride from San Francisco back to Solvang.

Solvang reminded me a bit of München or Salzburg, quite a lot of tourists and all somewhat fake and unreal. We picked up some pastries and left Solvang at about noon to head for Santa Barbara before finishing up in Ventura, down the coast.

It was searingly hot as we headed out of town, even the wind was scorching. Joe had warned us that there was a big climb on the way to Santa Barbara. I thought, “Surely not, we’re heading to the coast.” Guess what? He was right (of course) and there was a HUGE UP AND OVER CLIMB to negotiate. It was just past Lake Cachuma in the Santa Ynez Mountains and through the San Marcos Pass on Highway 154. As well as being long, we were sweating buckets, as it was the middle of the day. To make things even worse, there was another super-scary bridge to negotiate. The Cold Spring Canyon Arch Bridge – a mere 370 m (1,214 ft) long and 128 m (420 ft) from the ground, (it’s a popular suicide spot apparently – 54 and counting and no-one has ever survived). I was not going to take a picture, I refused to look left or right, I just kept my head down and focused on the road in front of my wheel. Here’s what it look like:

Half-way up the climb, puncture # 11 (Matthew, front). To be honest, we were glad of the respite. We couldn’t actually find the hole in the tube, but the tyre was definitely soft – so we put in a new inner tube and continued upwards. Once at the top we were greeted with a sign that read: descent 8 miles at 6%. F***k! (Obviously the bit after the full-stop back there wasn’t actually on the sign, although perhaps it should be). As luck would have it, a sheriff’s patrol car was descending at the same time as we were, so all the other drivers were behaving themselves and not speeding past us around the bends. There were some really incredible views down to the sea with Santa Barbara in the distance, along the coast and around the Los Padres national forest.

We made it to Santa Barbara, which is an exquisite town. Loads of people on bicycles, nice Spanish-colonial style buildings, an attractive pier, a waterfront cycle path, lots of runners, three good looking bicycle shops and some lovely cafés in shady courtyards and squares. We decided to stop for lunch!

Garmin was playing up today, so he only routed us to Santa Barbara, then I turned his routing off because he wanted to send us back into the hills on a 45 mile jaunt to avoid the section of Highway 101 south of Santa Barbara that we can ride along because it has a cycle lane running beside it – although Garmin doesn’t seem to know it. We followed a well-marked coastal cycle route out of Santa Barbera to Carpenteria and along a beautiful stretch of waterfront to Ventura. There were at least a dozen other cyclists out on our route, on training rides. It’s been amazing to notice how many more people are out riding since we came to the southern part of California. We passed another ‘ghost bike’ though in memory if another fallen comrade.

We arrived in Ventura at about 6.30. The Pierrepoint Inn is 100 years old and in a lovely wooden building with views out to sea, (across the very busy Highway 1/101). The gardens are exquisite and the receptionist told us that the same gardener had worked here for 50 years!

The Pierrepoint Inn is unfortunately let down by its restaurant. We cleaned ourselves up, came down for dinner and saw that there was nothing on the menu for vegetarians. Not a thing! And we’re in California not Texas. We asked if the chef could rustle something up … “I’m afraid not.” Said our waitress. “Sorry, we get this problem a lot.” I replied: “Well there’s a lesson there somewhere for you”.

The waitress suggested that we try a local restaurant in the town for dinner. It was just around the corner and it was called Zack’s. She was sure they would have food that was suitable for vegetarians. So off we went.

As it happened, the suggestion to eat at Zack’s was a really good one. The food was lovely and we had a really nice evening. Shortly after we arrived, we started talking with the couple on the next table. They had overheard us discussing our cycle ride today and they asked us about our journey. They told us that they’d met Mark Beaumont when he was cycling from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Apparently Mark was staying on the same campsite as they were and they shared a beer with him. Good for them for helping out a fellow long-distance cyclist! It turns out that Roy and Lorissa were real genuine and knowledgeable cycling fans – they were at the restaurant to celebrate Roy’s birthday. They’d worked for a mortgage company in the past, (before all the economic mess – but they kind of saw it coming – it seems that lots of people in the banking and finance industries knew about the high levels of unsecured loans and unsustainable debt). They got out of that world and now worked as artists, living about 4 miles from Lake Cachuma, (we’d cycled past it this morning). They always go to watch the Tour of California and they’d even been to Europe just to watch the Giro D’Italia. We spent the evening chatting with them about cycling; in two years they’re planning to go to the Tour de France … maybe we’ll see them there, that’d be wonderful! Matthew said it was as if our cycling friend back in Bristol Andy Herbertson had turned up and was sitting on the next table, which was a nice thought.

After dinner and back to the hotel. We were still a little hungry, so Matthew went to find some chocolate and asked at reception. They didn’t have any, (what’s wrong with this hotel?!). The receptionist, (who I thought had already taken a bit of a fancy to Matthew as he’d knocked $10 off the bill for keeping him waiting for a couple of minutes when we checked in), offered Matthew some doughnuts for free! He’d been given these doughnuts by his ‘friend’ who owns a bakery, but he said that he didn’t really like them and usually gave them away to the old folks. Well, we certainly had no scruples about taking food from the elderly, so we enjoyed them over a cup of tea before taking to bed, happy in the knowledge that Matthew’s status as a fully fledged member of the Symonds’ clan (donut lovers) has been restored in his brother Philip’s opinion.

Next stop, Los Angeles – we’re just a little bit nervous about cycling there … it’s carmageddon!

United States of, er … Scandinavia!

As we’ve headed south I’ve been expecting to see more Mexican-inspired architecture and generally this has been the case. What I wasn’t expecting was to find myself in Denmark, but that’s where we appear to be, having arrived in Solvang!

Solvang translates from Danish to mean ‘sunny fields’. The town was settled in 1911 by Danish immigrants and they tried to recreated a bit of Denmark right here in sunny California. In addition to timber framed buildings, there are windmills, lots of shops selling Danish pastries in abundance and a statue of the Little Mermaid and its creator Hans Christian Anderson. It’s all very lovely and a bit weird at the same time. Who knows where we might arrive next on our travels?

Summary – day 18 – San Simeon to Buelton (Monday 12 September)

Summary – day 18 – San Simeon to Buelton (Monday 12 September)
Posted by Mike

Estimate: 111 miles, actual: 110.2 miles
Avg. speed: 15.7 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,456.35 miles

Breakfast at Sands by the Sea, (in the Cavalier restaurant – an apt name as it turns out). The whole thing was a bit of a disappointment. Waiter-service, food ‘from the griddle’ (yuk); vile coffee, (quite unusual so far in the US, where coffee standards are generally high) and precious little that a vegetarian who errs towards vegan could eat. The ‘continental breakfast’ was a tiny bun with a big pot of clotted cream on the side. What ‘continent’ is that from I wondered? The promised fruit never materialised unfortunately. I settled on glutenous warm oatmeal, at least the sugar came in a little pot on the side, so I could avoid that. There was no soy(a) milk available and the toast arrived already buttered. I’d given up by now, so didn’t send it back.

We’re heading to the town of Solvang today, established by Danish settlers in 1911. The architecture is apparently faux northern European and there’s a surfeit of Danish-style bakeries, (Mr P’s face lights up*).

*MS: references to me as ‘Mr P’ (pelican) are, I believe misplaced as it was not I scoffing M & Ms in bed last night after a full delicious meal.

We made fantastic progress in the morning. Highway 1 through Cambria, by the sea along the Cabrillo Highway – dead calm sea, with rocks jutting up out of the water, through Cayucos where there was a nice off-road cycle-lane, (unfortunately it was almost at its end before we spotted it and startled to ride on it!), Morrow Bay and into San Luis Obispo for brief lunch stop. We had set off at 9.30 and completed the 40 mile to lunch at an average speed of 16.2 mph. Really good going. We saw a few racing cyclists whizzing by in the opposite direction out on the road this morning, too.

Lunch at the Black Horse Uptown Espresso café – not Starbucks or Safeway’s for a change! They had a cycling jersey in a frame on the wall – they part sponsor a local cycling club. Hooray! We were in a student area, near the California Polytechnic State University, (which seems like a bit of a mouthful), so there were lots of young people about and they were being a little bit too loud, (sigh). We sat outdoors in a courtyard and someone sat nearby had a beautiful golden labrador, which was lying stretched out under their table … and wearing a disposable nappy (that’s diaper in US)! Only in America, as they say!

After all the good cycling progress in the morning, our luck turned a bit after we left San Luis Obispo. On the Edna Road just past the San Luis Obispo golf club punctures #6 and #7, (both in Mike’s rear wheel, caused by pieces of fine wire).

We’ve been doing well to avoid punctures recently, so I suppose that we shouldn’t complain. But having taken the inner tube out, finding the hole, patching the tube and finding the piece of offending wire the actual getting it out of the tyre can be quite tricky. It’s difficult to get a hold of the wire and it’s often broken off on the tyre surface, so it’s necessary to try and push it back out from inside, but it’s sharp and pointy so enormous care is required. This can take half an hour. Once the puncture was repaired and the wheel reassembled, it was obvious that there was a second hole in the tube, because the tyre wouldn’t inflate properly. Argh! So, start over again. Another half an hour lost.

At least we were by a nice café among the vineyards – the Old Edna Deli Café, housed in a big old tin shed, with benches and tables outside, so we could sit and work on the bike while having a cooling drink.

We set off and had just gone through Arroyo Grande – about nine miles and would you believe it … another puncture: #8 (Mike, front wheel, a thorn). We were stopped by a slightly strange ‘new age’ post office by the Temple of the People on South Halcyon Road.

Still, another opportunity for a sit down and a snack. Front wheels are always easier to deal with – but it was probably another half an hour lost – this was all becoming a bit of a problem – we weren’t likely to get to Joe and Carol’s in Buelton before 8 and it’s dark by about 7.30.

We pressed on though and had an amazing ride on Highway 1 after Guadalupe – along a straight road in a broad flat plain, with mountain ranges to our left an right in the distance, through fields and fields of brassicas – the smell was extraordinary: cabbages, broccoli, sprouts. The wind was being kind and we were bombing along at over 25 mph – fantastic!

We passed the Vandenberg Airforce Base – lots of NASA signs, very exciting for Mike.

Passed by Lompoq an headed to Buelton as the sun set. It was necessary to ride the final half an hour or so with our lights on. We arrived to a glorious dinner at Joe and Carol’s – vegetarian lasagne, enormous wonderful salad and ice cream for pudding at 8.00!

Joe works in microchip technology, but has recently been laid off. Carol is an artist and there were examples of her work all around the house – big canvases with muted colours – really seemed to echo the landscape around here. They have two lovely dogs too – who were very excited to meet (and sniff) us!

Animal crackers

We’ve met lots of nice pets on our travels (and their owners of course), but we have also seen some alarming animal sights.

In San Francisco we saw a man walking his cat on a leash – I suppose I should have expected this since it was the Castro. When passing through San Luis Obispo yesterday morning we saw a dog wearing a babies’ nappy. Initially I thought it must have been incontinent but then overheard the owner talking to a friend. It turns out the dog had come on heat the day before she was due to be spayed. Fortunately the nappy prevented us and other customers being put off our morning pastries.

The most alarming animal image we’ve seen was in the Giant Redwoods. I know that the USA has a strong gun culture but I wasn’t expecting it to have extended to a familiar children’s character, but sure enough there was Paddington Bear with a riffle. Heaven help anyone who touches his marmalade sandwiches! Whatever next, Tinky-Winky with an AK46 or Thomas the Tank Engine pulling a cruise missile? Guns are one bit of American culture I can definitely do without.

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From Green to Brown

As we head further south in California the landscape is becoming far more arid. Gone are the lush ferns and dense pine forests that were so familiar in Washington, Oregon and northern California and hello to palm trees. The sun has been our constant companion so far today, from the look of the earth it has been around these parts for a while. The grass is very yellow and brown which makes the dark skinned cattle stand out very clearly. The only break in the dry landscape comes with artificially irrigated land such as golf courses or private gardens, these too would shrivel if it weren’t for the constant sprinklers at work, (not sure I approve of such a carefree use of good water when California apparently has water shortages). Lots of suncream needed today – quite a contrast to the weather in the UK at the moment.

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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!