A Bicycle Adventure Across The West:
Day 3 – Lucia to Paso Robles
A Steep and Beautiful Climb Away From The Coast
“Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence.”
- Hermann Buhl
I’ve only got 70-something miles to go today, so I have another leisurely morning, enjoying breakfast. I know there’s a steep climb first thing out, but figure it can’t be that bad, and then the rest of the day should be easy.
Dave Meyers, (the fella I met the night before), is finishing up his early breakfast as I sit down, and he’s headed out for an early start on the day. We’ll both end up at Paso Robles tonight, so I could see him along the way. After a leisurely breakfast, I walk outside, hanging out and enjoying the beautiful morning.
A car pulls up with two young girls in it. They’re visiting from France, and apparently couldn’t afford the prices at the Inn, so decided to just sleep in their car. They look like their night’s sleep was not a good one, and I chat a bit with them before getting on the bike and heading down the road. I’m a couple miles down the road before it dawns on me that I should have offered them the use of my room to shower and rest. Of course, the folks who own the Lucia Lodge wouldn’t have been happy had they found out about it – they missed out on the chance to move a little more silver into their pocket. But the girls would have appreciated it I’m sure, and I could have bragged about the two pretty French girls who spent the morning in my hotel room. I would have left out the part about me not being there… Life’s about creating good stories…
Headed south through Big Sur on the morning of Day 3
The first four miles follow the coastline up to the point where the road is closed, at which time I turn left, cross a cattle grate, and begin climbing on the Nacimiento Road. Those first four miles are really enjoyable, since there’s not a car on the road with the road closure. The morning air is cool and moist, and I savor the coastline, knowing this will be the last bit of riding I’ll get alongside it.
After crossing the cattle grate, I drop into my lowest possible gear, and will rarely leave that gear for the next hour and 20 minutes or so. I’d been told it was a steep climb, but hey, I live in Colorado and climb steep grades all the time. Such arrogance… The climb is a little under 3000 feet in about 7 miles – about 400 feet a mile, an average of 7% to 8%. A couple spots hit 16% and 18%.
Continuing to climb away from Big Sur - on a VERY STEEP road
That’s steep, and the extra weight I’ve packed isn’t helping at all during the climb. I stay lathered in a nice coat of sweat thanks to the hard work of climbing. I stop to take pictures a few times, but the chilly air gets me moving again quickly to stay warm.
The road is really quite beautiful, and the views back down onto the coast from the steep mountainside are stunning. There are spots where you’re climbing through stands of towering Redwood, and other spots where you’re pedaling beneath lichen-covered branches that overhand the road. Mixed in are vistas with views that seem to go forever back down the mountains and across the Pacific.
Looking back north along Big Sur on the steep climb over the coastal range
As I’m climbing, the support van from the touring group I passed yesterday passes me. Turns out they’d sagged the cyclists up to the top of this steep climb, and the cyclists then rode from there to their next destination. I wave at them as they pass. Their route is slightly different from mine over the next few days, and I’ll get ahead of them and not see them again. By the time I get to Colorado, they’ll be about a week behind me.
At the summit of the climb, I put on my jacket and start a cold descent. The road twists and turns as it drops, and after about 10 minutes or so of shivering, I’ve descended into warmer air that’s noticeably more dry than the air on the other side of the mountain.
It’s amazing how quickly the landscape changes from one side of the coastal range to the other. On the wet side of the mountain, there were towering Redwoods and plants that were almost tropical. This dry side of the mountain, though, reminds me a lot of my home in Colorado, heavy with grasslands and pine.
Reaching the base of the descent, the road passes through the gate into Ft Hunter-Liggett. In normal times, the gate is manned, and you’ve got to show your drivers license and proof of insurance if you’re in a car. However, since highway 1 is closed, and traffic is diverted to this road, the gate isn’t manned, and I pass right through.
The base of one of the giant oak trees on the inland side of the coastal range in Ft Hunter-Liggett
Largely deserted, the highway is a beautiful ride through oak savanna. I believe the oak trees that are abundant along this ride are Valley Oaks. They’re giant trees, massive trunks and beautifully shaped crowns. These trees are up to 600 years old, and I stop and enjoy a little rest, leaning my bike and my back against one of these old ents, soaking up that ancient energy again.
Continuing along Nacimiento-Fergusson road to Mission Rd, I make my way through Ft Hunter-Liggett, eventually coming to what they call “the G-14”. (An unusual language usage in this part of California is that people refer to roads like that – “the G-14”, or “the 1”, meaning highway 1.)
I head southeast along the G-14 into a headwind that’s a little frustrating. It’s not a heavy wind, but I’d had my expectations set for that NW wind that is supposed to be blowing this time of year. For much of the ride, the wind is very light, but at times, it gets between my ears and messes with me…
At Lockwood the road turns right. There’s really no town or anything else here, just a tiny store on the corner, and I stop and calorie-up a bit. As I’m sitting in the shade, I eavesdrop on a conversation some locals are having. A gal has gotten a new job with the county, and she’s telling her friends all about it. After they leave, I go over and talk to her, as I’m interested in what she does.
Turns out she catches bugs. I’m in wine country now, (though I haven’t really seen the evidence yet), and they go to great lengths to assure that certain particularly destructive bugs don’t make their way into their region. She goes around all day setting traps, and investigating what she catches. She’s really excited about her job and what she does, and tells me WAY more than I need or want to know about bugs. I politely tell her I’ve got to make my way down the road, and pedal off, leaving her making notes about bugs in her bug log.
Another 20 miles down the road is a little intersection called Bee Rock. I catch up with Dave Meyers here at Bee Rock, and we enjoy a sandwich together. Like Lockwood, there’s nothing here but a store. The store here is much friendlier than the one at Lockwood, with nice tables to sit at. Dave and I enjoy a nice long lunch here, chatting and enjoying the beautiful day. When I’m ready to leave, Dave isn’t quite ready, so I head up the road ahead of him.
And up it is. For the first 2 or 3 miles out of Bee Rock, there’s a steep little climb that’s a bit of a surprise. My legs are toast after the climbing this morning, so they complain quite a bit headed up over this grade. At the top of the grade, though, there are beautiful views in most directions. Lake Nacimiento is off to the right, and Lake San Antonio is behind and off to the left.
The views after climbing south from Bee Rock
From here to Paso Robles, the road gets quite a bit busier, with steady rollers lasting a good bit of the way. The road has little or no shoulder in spots, making for a few nervous moments with cars and trucks squeezing me to the edge of the pavement. By the time I reach Paso Robles, the wind has turned a bit, and sometimes quarters at my back. Still a light wind, but anything not in my face is appreciated.
Paso Robles is a nice little town. I can easily see coming here for a little vacation. It’s quite bicycle-friendly, and smaller than I expected. It’s probably not much more than a mile from the north end of town to the south. It’s a warm “homecoming” sense I get when I see my hotel – a feeling that I’ll come to expect and look forward to at the end of each day. I know there’s a warm shower and a soft bed waiting for me.
Tonight, I’m using Marriott points and staying at The Courtyard in town. It’s a great little hotel, and the folks are quite friendly and helpful. After I get checked-in and showered-up, I spread my stuff out on the bed, and start sorting through to create my second package to send back home. The steep climb this morning, followed by rollers all afternoon, taught me a hard lesson (again) about weight. I send home my iPad, iPod, tiny speaker, Kindle, 700-lumen headlight, all the chargers associated with this electronic stuff, 3 or 4 of my tubes (leaving me still with 3 or 4), and probably a few other items. While I don’t put stuff on the scale, it seems to me that I’ve cut my weight in half with this package.
It’s a nice lesson to me on simplicity and minimalism. When I was packing for the trip, I remember laying everything out, and going through some dry-run packs. I’d thought about trying to bring the iPad with me – I’d even found a pretty strong case with a keyboard built-in – seemed like the perfect solution for somebody like me who likes to write when I have a little spare time. The iPad only weighs a couple pounds or so – not a big deal. And of course the Kindle was pretty small too, and weighed only half a pound or so.
In the end, I had in my mind that I wanted to stay under 20 pounds, and I was able to do this and still carry many of these items that I might find handy. It all fit – why not take it?
Sitting in my room in Paso Robles, after climbing during the day that felt much more brutal than it should have, I have my answer. My culture has taught me that it’s “good” to have everything you might need. Having something is good, being without something is bad. That’s the world-view from which I’ve developed my values and guiding principles.
So of course, the lens through which I’d been looking when I packed was one of “how much can I take, within my constraints?” Tonight, looking down at all my gear spread out on the bed, my lens has changed a bit. Now, I’m looking at my gear, and asking instead, “how little can I survive with?”
It might seem like a small difference, but it makes a big difference in what gets packed. Frankly, it makes a big difference in how I look at every day of this trip I’m on. Tossing my iPod in the package to ship home, there’s no whisper in my ear asking me to consider, “but you might want to listen to podcasts or tunes…” I’m delighted to put as much into the package home as I can, with no regrets or “what if” second thoughts.
Climbing away from the Big Sur coastline
Getting rid of stuff is a cleansing sensation. Almost like “stuff” weighs down the soul. It happens to me when I clean stuff out of my house too – a liberating sense of “giving” and “lightness” happens after I go through and give away (or toss) large swaths of stuff.
I think it’s a “place in life” thing to some extent. When I was younger, I seemed more focused on “accumulating” than on “distributing and cleansing”. At the point I’m now at in life, I find myself constantly re-evaluating just how much “stuff” I want around me. Accumulated stuff is clutter and flotsam that I’ve got to wade through over and over again. It keeps me from moving along the path. It’s as though each “thing” I accumulate attaches a string deep into my heart and soul, connecting me to the thing itself, making continued movement down the path difficult.
Why do we do this? It feels like an addiction we’ve developed – an addiction to accumulation. This little tendency to take a little too much with me on a bike ride is one tiny symptom, but if I look at my culture at a much higher level, it seems we’ve built our entire civilization on the same addiction and sickness. Look at how much of our life’s energy we put into “accumulating wealth”. This is seen as a very good thing, this accumulation of wealth. We advertise how much wealth we’ve accumulated with the homes we live in, the cars we drive, and our pride in our continued pursuit of greater wealth.
We’ve accumulated so much wealth that there’s no way most of us would even attempt to climb the tough hills and mountains of the back roads of life. Instead, the vast majority of us stay on the flat and busy interstate highway system, where everyone else is. It’s just the way we live – stay on the well-traveled and flat expanse of “the bypass”, and you don’t need to confront the difficult climbs and rollers in life.
Continuing to climb away from Big Sur - on a VERY STEEP road
But that’s where the best life has to offer is – out there along the steep and windy backroads. The questions and issues are hard ones, and require deep and honest introspection, but the rewards are beyond words. I’m pretty sure that’s where we find the doorways to heaven – out there along those difficult backroads of life where the climbs are steep and the roads wind their way through tough questions.
Looking back to the great sages of the last few thousand years, I find that message loud and clear. I grew up in a Christian tradition, and Jesus was pretty clear when admonishing followers to avoid the temptation of accumulation of wealth. He instructed followers to leave all they owned behind if they wanted to become a disciple. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, He said, than for a wealthy man to be able to find heaven.
Morning along the Big Sur coastline
That’s on my mind this evening, as I look with satisfaction at the pile of “stuff” I’m sending back home. I’m grateful to have met Dave Meyers yesterday, as his inspiration gives me a bit more confidence in taking the drastic approach I’m taking. I don’t have any illusions of finding heaven on this trip, but the last thing I want is 7 or 8 extra pounds in my bag that might slow me down if I catch a little glimpse…
Fog in the morning along the Big Sur coastline