Day 34 – Pfeiffer Big Sur (and a giant recap)

I’m currently sitting in my first campground in the famous Big Sur area of the California coast after a week in San Francisco and a couple of days in Santa Cruz. You may be thinking, “Well your last post was on Day 30, so how does that make sense chronologically?” When I started this trip journal, I decided to title the days based on the actual days on the bike, leaving out the rest/exploration days from the total days accumulated. Confusing? Probably.

It’s been a week and a half since I last wrote about what I have been up to. Let me get you up to speed!

Arriving in San Francisco, I stayed with my first Warm Showers host right above the Mission Dolores Park with killer views of the city. They shared a Chinese meal with me that incorporated a spice that made your lips tingle, and then a different pepper that made the food spicy and hot. It was delicious. The mushrooms they used in the dish apparently only grow after fires, and they went scavenging for them the day before I got there. They go for $70/lb in San Francisco markets. A very rare treat indeed!

The theme of this trip seems to be pushing my body to its limits. I didn’t realize how tired I was, but I spent two nights in their spare bedroom sleeping a ton. Of course, I visited loads of coffee roasters and coffee shops, in addition to so many delicious vegan eateries. Thai food, Chinese food, Mexican food… I went nuts. The first full day in the city, I ate enough for four people. I actually wrote everything I ate down to marvel at after the trip. Even though I’ve been eating well on my bike, I seemed skinnier and was ready to switch up my diet. Big shout out to Caitlin and Devon for hosting me!

For the next two nights, I found another Warm Showers host named Miguel in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco. It turns out he was my age and a super cool dude. Very friendly and full of positive energy. We met up at Whole Foods where he instantly invited another biker that we randomly met over for a home-cooked meal. I joked with Miguel that he is a master chef because both of the meals he made were incredible. I seem to be saying that about a lot of the people that host me, but it’s true. I’m feeling inspired after his cooking to get better with mine.

Miguel also took me on a “quick jaunt” to the Land’s End area to watch the sunset on top of some cliffs. He told me about his recent trip doing part of the PCH as well and helped me get motivated again. I had been in a bit of a rut until a couple of days ago. While I was supposedly resting in the city, I didn’t feel rested. I felt exhausted, worried, and restless the entire time. It was strange. The more I thought about Mexico and doing the Baja Divide, the less excited and more anxious I got about the idea. I decided that I would finish the “first” trip from Vancouver to San Diego (pretty much at the border with Mexico), and leave the decision about Mexico for later.

Again, I failed to take pictures with Cailtin, Devon, and Miguel…

The Baja Divide is a super intense and off-the-beaten-path route, and I would be tackling it in the worst season of the year as far as heat goes. If I do go to Mexico, I may just do some portions of the route, or just follow the highway. But for now, I have decided to simply enjoy the rest of the PCH until San Diego, take time to enjoy the spots that I arrive in, meet creative and inspiring people, and ride shorter days so that I don’t deplete my energy so much.

It took a lot of motivation to not end the trip in San Francisco. I’m serious when I say I was exhausted! Part of the issue is that I have been trying to do the same distance as people on proper touring bikes that are much lighter with much skinnier tires. My bike is arguable the worst bike for this type of touring, and I’m using a lot more energy to go the same distance. All the cyclists I meet tell me I’m crazy. I take it as a compliment.

For the next couple of days, I moved to a new house… my friend Lucas from high school and his girlfriend, Becca, live in San Francisco! They offered to host me for the weekend, and it was so nice to see them. We had met up in Richmond, Virginia, briefly when I was in the initial phases of building out my van, but I hadn’t seen him for years before that.

We went to a food truck event, got some Brazilian açaí bowls, and caught up. They were both pretty busy with work and school, but they made time to hang out with me among it all. It was really nice to share some moments walking through the city together. They also have a dog named Hank and were taking care of Becca’s parents’ dog Bandit, so I got to walk them both throughout Golden Gate Park. I love dogs.

It was weird being in San Francisco without a job or routine… a place where people actually live and do similar things day to day. To be in a community without being a part of that community brought about a sensation of wanting that for myself, to set some roots somewhere… someday. Not now! Van life is coming up next after this adventure, and who knows where that will take me.

Reluctantly leaving San Francisco, I made it to Half Moon Bay State Park for a beautiful night camping right off the beach. Lots of bike paths were on the route, so I got to ease back into cycling after a full week of rest.

Getting into the campground, I met two English guys: Tom and Dom. They are both 23-years-old and full of energy and enthusiasm. They had also just spent a week in San Francisco and are doing the same route as me in the same direction. They are super friendly and funny guys, lifting my spirits even further out of the rut I was in. We watched sunset on the beach together and shared stories about Warm Showers hosts that we have stayed with. They stayed with Sam and Janelle as well and loved it! Small world.

I told them about my plans to get to Santa Cruz and stay with another host named Rita. They weren’t having any luck with hosts, so I messaged Rita and asked if they could stay too. We ended up all staying with her. Rita is an extremely generous woman and an expert bike mechanic. She set up a cool little trailer for me to sleep in, and she cleared out a backyard studio space for the other guys.

At night, we took our bikes to explore the city a bit. Santa Cruz has the best vibe of all the cities I’ve passed through yet. It has high-quality specialty coffee roasters, a great Mexican food culture at a fair price, and a somewhat San Francisco store/neighborhood feel but in a surf-oriented setting. I have no idea if any of that makes sense… but I could definitely see myself living there, or at least having a base. It’s a very laid-back kind of place, but also super hip.

Anyhow, we explored downtown, went to the lighthouse, watched some people surf, got specialty ice cream from a spot that sources all its ingredients from organic farms in California, and then feasted on burritos and enchiladas. Yes, we ate the ice cream first. Tom and Dom called our little bike gang the Santa Cruz Cruising Crew. Copyright pending.

Getting back to Rita’s house, we all passed out and planned to wake up early. None of us managed to get up that early, and Rita ended up offering the three of us another night so that we could explore the city. Dom needed some spokes fixed, and I finally decided to not keep risking using my punctured tire with a boot and get a new tire installed. One of the shops happened to have a 29×3″ tire, so I bit the bullet and forked over $90 for some new rubber.

We all took it easy and did our own things. As much as I would like to ride a couple of days with these guys, they are on touring bikes and crushing it each day with long distances. I’d hold them up. Tom did let me take his bike for a spin, and I instantly realized just how much extra weight I was carrying around using my mountain bike… I was actually doing quite well for the extra load! No wonder everyone else can do 70-100 km no problem, whereas that’s a big day for me.

The next day (yesterday) we parted ways as they tackled 120 km to get to the start of Big Sur and I managed 85 km to Monterey. We may cross paths in LA depending on how much time they rest there, so there’s a chance to share a beer with them again. They are working in Canada for the next two years on work visas and have such a great outlook on life, always up for adventure and good times. They reminded me of myself in my college years and just after, always up for an adventure into the unknown. I can’t lose that. They got me pumped up to cycle again and for that, I am extremely grateful. Writing this, I feel like I sound as if I’m 50-years-old. I’m still young, damnit!

Getting into Monterey, I climbed a massive hill to get to a park in the middle of the city. It was not ideal, but I didn’t have the energy to continue to Big Sur. I stocked up way too much food at Whole Foods before arriving, and the extra weight was brutal. This park is known for being occupied by homeless people and for theft, so I was a little weary.

Arriving at the park, I met two other cyclists on the same route as me: Jay and Peter. Jay started in San Francisco and Peter in Seattle. They both plan to get to San Diego as well. We swapped stories over dinner and set up our tents. Closer to dark, two drunk guys rolled up with a car and tossed a bunch of blankets, alcohol, and water into one of the sites. They wanted to pass as “hikers” to get the discounted rate. They later got belligerent and the cops arrived to escort them out after a lot of screaming. Another elderly woman at the campground was also homeless and living out of her tent… a sad situation in such a rich place like Monterey. I can’t imagine being over 70-years-old and living in a tent at a city campground.

Anyhow, once I woke up in the morning, Jay and Peter had already left. I made a coffee and got started for Big Sur!

I finally had a chance to use my big knobby tires off the asphalt and onto a dirt road no longer used by normal traffic. I take the old highway (now called Coast Road) from Bixby Bridge for 10 miles before meeting back up with Highway 1. The climbs were insane, but the views were fantastic. I was able to enter a meditative state and really enjoy myself and be present without the constant buzzing of cars. I passed through more redwood trees before getting to the top of the mountains. During the 1-2 hours on the backroad, I only saw two motorcyclists and one person walking. Amazing.

Arriving at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, I found Peter and Jay already chilling at the campground. A welcome surprise. Peter plans on making a campfire tonight, so after finishing this post, I will probably join for that among the company of the redwoods.

I hope to keep my spirits up! The past few days were really great and I feel motivated to get to LA and then to San Diego! One day at a time.