“Pacific fury flashing on rocks that rise like gloomy sea shroud towers out of the cove, the bingbang cove with its seas booming inside caves and slapping out, the cities of seaweed floating up and down you can even see their dark leer in the phosphorescent seabeach nightlight.”
From the book Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. Stories that inspired me to seek the road and loneliness living in nature.
It was early morning on a biker-hiker campsite at the Sunset Beach State Campground in central California.
Larry, Owen and Rich sat around the table discussing with serious faces.
Larry didn’t like the idea and he was probably the most wise person.
“I don’t want to get in trouble,” he said, “it’s illegal.”
Owen was open to it but didn’t want to push Larry into doing something he didn’t want.
Larry and Owen were on an adventure from Seattle to San Diego and somehow I bumped into them all the time.
Now there was Rich too a friend of them that joined along the way. Rich, who wasn’t afraid to do something adventurous, suggested they would split up so he would give it a go.
I stood at the side of the table listening to their arguments and decided that I would go for it like Rich.
Then there were two other cyclists on the campground, Loui, who I talked to briefly and Jason, who was the most disciplined of us all and left already at 5am in the morning to never be seen again.
We were about to go on the highway 1 from Monterey down to Big Sur along the coastline. Big Sur was supposed to be the most stunning coastal ride ever. Very remote along a curling road with beautiful views all the way down to the sea. With a raw coastline filled with seals, seaweed and rocks. And there was that misty layer of moisture that often would be seen over the sea and mountains. It would be the most beautiful ride of the entire coastal length of California.
There was only one important problem, the road was closed due to landslides. Not small ones, no, an entire football field with big parts of the highway 1 slid right down into the sea.
Landslides occur sometimes in California when there has been heavy rain. Large masses of soil, rocks or debris just move down a slope. It’s a dangerous happening. In the Big Sur area there happened to be one small and two other bigger landslides that took large parts of the highway 1 away. The road was closed from a place after Big Sur called Lucia all the way down to Ragged point.
Already for weeks there had been impressive road work done with the help of tens of big machines that should heal the road back together not too far from now. The media was already talking about local convoys that made it through but for the public there was no trespassing allowed.
Rich was convinced it was possible.
“In daytime you’ll be stopped by the workers but I’ve heard stories of bicyclists who did the crossing after 7pm in the evening.”
I was in for something exciting but it was a real big gamble.
Down from the village of Big Sur the last very small village was Lucia and from there was no traffic aloud, no cars, no bikes, no hikes. There was no detour either, once I would go down I couldn’t go into land over the Lucia Range mountains. There was absolutely no way then to return the some way back to the city of Monterey. That would be all the way up in headwinds for nearly 100 kilometers and then take a far more busy highway 101 and going through hot dry land with all military training camps.
That was too much of a big trade for Big Sur which no one really wanted to make.
And Big Sur was a thing for me. I was all made excited by the book that was even named Big Sur from Jack Kerouac. He talked about Big Sur if it was that place that would cure you of all illness and addictions. I might take that possibility for curing my cycling addiction.
I made up my mind and knew that there was risk involved but I really wanted to cycle see Big Sur and what was the worst thing that could happen? That I would be send to go back for a two days delay in my schedule to reach Mexico? A fine? Deportation from the country?
“No,” said Larry, “it is dangerous as well, the worst thing that could happen is you get in trouble in one of those slides. It might not be safe out there.”
Larry was right, but weren’t they already working on it for weeks and weeks now? Rich made his decision, he would go. And I believed Rich by his stories that it could be done. That bicyclists had crossed over the already established but dusty roads. There wasn’t any pavement yet but we agreed, there would be a way through it and others have made it safe around so we could do it as well.
The idea was to go for a long day riding into an adventurous but illegal night crossing of Big Sur.
We left the campground, all four of us together. Cycled to a little farmtown called Castroville, known for the artichoke crop. Here we did the split up.
Rich and I got off together to Monterey. Rich already got a motel in Monterey and would try and make the cross the next day. I decided to do the full 110 kilometer over Big Sur to Lucia and then the 40 kilometer crossing of the closed parts of the road that same day. It would be a very long ride but absolutely doable.
It was all so beautiful. That road to Big Sur. Breathtaking. Sea, cliffs, rocks, mountains, forests, seals and what not. And there was this nice tailwind so I was able to reach Big Sur in the evening and on time.
I walked into the Big Sur River Inn for a break leaving my bike around the corner.
“Are you coming for dinner?”
The lady at the reception was asking while she made a little joyful jump towards me.
“Well, I can’t effort that. But, I can effort a coffee!”
I said in an exciting tone and that wasn’t a lie because Big Sur over the years has become a most popular and expensive place.
She made a laugh and told me I can sit at the bar for a coffee watching a telly with people suffering indescribably running a marathon in the hot Sahara desert. Asking myself what’s the point of the suffering and drinking coffee at dinner time.
Then things changed.
A lady came and sat next to me. She looked at me and said nothing. I took a sip of coffee with my eyes gliding from her to the bar bottles back to the telly. She ordered a cocktail of $20 and a plate of fried squid of $25 like that was just the most normal thing to do around here. I sat there manifesting that the golden crunchy squids would somehow take a swim towards my mouth.
You might not believe this but it worked.
She took a few bites and unbelievably left the plate still full of squids so I could secretly finish the rest of the plate. And that was the right thing to do, because I don’t either like high prices or food waste.
It turned to be the perfect night out.
It was 5pm and I got over the plan for tonight. I had to still cycle 40 kilometers until that checkpoint at Lucia. The rest of my dinner I would have to make and eat along the way.
I wanted to go up but just stared out of the front door for a bit and suddenly saw two red bags passing by on the road. Was that a cyclist?
It was. And I didn’t either know what the cyclist was doing out here or who it might be. I finished the last sip of my coffee and took the last of the already cold squid. Then I filled some bottles of water and took a fast walk towards my bike, jumped on it and got ready for the big happening.
The game was on.
Everything that would happen from now was decided to become either miserable or the most exciting adventure ever. From Big Sur to Lucia was climbing up through beautiful redwood forest.
The harbor seals made noises like barks, honks, grunts, growls, roars and moans. They didn’t care.
I forgot already about the passing cyclist because that person might took a turn for a campground. I wasn’t paying attention too much and suddenly saw that cyclist standing at a little parking place taking a rest from the climb.
What on earth, it was Loui from the campground!
“Where are you going here, the road is closed!”
I yelled at Loui.
“I know. My plan is to go over this evening and maybe in the night.”
He said excited.
“Well, that’s my plan!”
I said bad to him.
Loui, a 20 year old, from Wisconsin, in search to find himself in a biking adventure. He was on a journey from Vancouver to the border with Mexico and from there he didn’t have any clue what he was about to do. He saved up some money at a cheese factory and then headed for the road.
We joined forces to do the crossing. Soon it was dark and we putted on our lights, made some dinner along the way and got more and more excited. Would there be people? A watch? Or anything that would stop us from going further? We didn’t know but soon would be finding that out.
When a car came we jumped into the sideways bushes. And I got all my stomach messed from from who knows what, maybe the excitement from this adventure. It sure wasn’t helping to make speed but in the middle of the night we passed the last sign saying that the road is closed.
A dog barked loudly.
It was over, we thought. They most have a check point and with dogs around we would be screwed. Destined to go back for two days the same road.
Luckily we found out that the dog barking came from a house up in the hills. It wasn’t a security dog and it made us feel a little less worried. Soon we walked on the new established dusty road. If it would look too dangerous, we agreed, we would go back and do the detour anyway. But it all looked just fine.
Loui had to go for a visit on one of the workers toilets. I waited in the dark and at one point I putted on my head torch and I was shocked for a moment for what I saw.
A skunk was sniffing my bike and run away like he was caught stealing something.
We walked over the dirty roads that weren’t paved yet but already got established in good shape. There was nothing to worry about then a stop for me to empty my stomach over and over again. That wasn’t fun but somehow I had to deal with it.
We passed an enormous slide and helped each other to stay on the road. Nothing special and no one was there. It was all way bigger in our minds and the passing was without any trouble or danger. We just hoped that no police or sherif would go around to check for cyclists crossing in the night.
The second slide more to the south was already open and we passed that one pedaling slowly. We enjoyed the night riding so much that Loui told me that he was having one of his best rides ever. And I was too enjoying myself from the silent night. No noises. Only the waves of the sea hitting the rocks. That’s was all.
A night’s rest
That night we found a nice little forest, checked that we didn’t walk into that little poisoned oak and made up our camp. It was almost 3am and when I looked to my odometer it said that we did almost 160 kilometer that day.
Happy, tired and free from any worries, we lays down and instantly fell in a deep sleep.