Day 38 – Refugio State Beach

Towards sunset, about five more cyclists come rolling into Pfeiffer Big Sur. There are about eight of us all camping at the hiker/biker campsite and I already know it’s going to be a loud night. Peter buys some firewood, and just like that everyone is sharing stories and good energy until midnight.

I wake up pretty late the next day, not having slept well from going to bed so late after a hot and long day riding. I take a morning hike through a designated “nature trail” before packing my stuff up and hitting the road.

The ride is beautiful and sunny but very hot with no wind. Arriving into Plaskett Creek Campground, I am surrounded by loads of families with kids and it seems like everyone is out surfing. I find out there are no showers here, so I decide to fill up my 4-liter water bladder and head to Sand Dollar Beach. After hiking down the stairs from the top of the cliff to the sand, the view is so breathtaking that I couldn’t not go for a quick swim. Plus, salt water is as good as soap, right?

After diving into the frigid water, I hang my “shower” up on some rocks and scrub myself down with fresh water. Shower problem solved! I sit on the beach for a while before heading back before sunset to cook my famous couscous and lentils carb and protein-heavy dinner. An older cyclist with lots of experience traveling the world makes his way to the same campground after having been turned away from two other sites due to availability. I met him yesterday at Pfeiffer Big Sur. He is a talker, and luckily I am in a better and more energized mood to reciprocate the conversation now. He gets telling me about his converted trailer, so I show him pictures of my converted van. We watch one of the most spectacular sunsets yet. Our campsite sits right above the cliffside and slopes downward toward the beach, creating an optical illusion of the ocean looking like it slopes upwards into the sky. Bright reds, oranges, and yellows fill the sky before I retire to my tent before 9 PM, just how I like it.

The next day is full of killer tailwinds and beautiful ascents and descents. A misty fog starts the morning off before opening into another sunny Californian day. This is the last day in Big Sur. I make my way to the top of one major ascent called Rugged Point before getting a coffee and stumbling upon some live music. Before 2:30 PM, I’m already at the campground I planned to get to and it looks like the ups and downs of Big Sur are over. I decide to take advantage of the tailwinds and keep going to Morro Bay State Park, making my “easy” day another century 100 km ride.

Morro Bay has a giant “morro” or hill that sits in the water and reminds me of Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are lots of restaurants on the water and a thriving seafood scene. There is a strange microclimate here that creates so much humidity in the fog that it occasionally “rains” throughout the night and morning. It’s different from a normal rain and usually lasts less than a minute and is almost like a tree’s branches dropping massive dew drops.

I set up my tent and attempt to clean my MSR Whisperlite stove. Even since I switched to using car gasoline over white gas as a fuel source, it’s been burning a bit dirtier. The flames are almost always bright orange now and I can’t get the smaller and hotter blue flames to return.

I dirty up my hands with carbon residue and take everything apart, flush the fuel line, and try it again. It’s better, but still not great. It should work fine for the rest of the trip, but I am definitely sick of my hands always being black from handling the stove… I stain everything I touch.

I check one last time before bed if anyone on Warm Showers can host me in San Luis Obispo (referred to as SLO, like “slow”). It seems to be a rad college town and I’d love to explore for the afternoon without having to worry about reaching the next campground. Unfortunately, everyone seems busy or out of town, so I just pass through for lunch at Bliss Cafe and a Kenyan coffee superbly brewed at Scout Coffee Co. while charging my devices.

Of course, I manage to roll over a screw and have it puncture my brand new rear tire. Pulling it out, sealant initially sprays everywhere but quickly clogs the hole as I spin the tire. It appears the problem is solved. Fingers crossed I don’t need to put in a tube. I just had it set up tubeless at a bike shop in Santa Cruz, and it was not cheap!

I roll into a somewhat sketchy and rundown county park in the Oceano area of SLO county later than I want. I rush to set up everything, eat a big dinner, charge my devices, and get organized for an early morning start. I plan on my biggest day yet tomorrow… about 120 km (75 miles) to Refugio State Beach.

Waking up for my 6th consecutive travel day, it probably isn’t the best idea to try and tackle 120 km when my record is 103 km. That being said, I’ve already convinced myself that it needs to happen.

I get lucky with the wind and make the first 70 km to a sad town called Lompoc full of chain restaurants and fast-food spots. I stop by the only bike shop in town, owned by Loren who happens to be on Warm Showers. We exchange a quick hello, and I power down some “lunch” and energy gel cube things and get going.

The last 30 km of the day are brutal. After taking a glorious backcountry road called Harris Grade Road to avoid the highway to Lompoc, I get back on the interstate and make my way down Highway 101. It’s dreary. There is a view of the ocean, but nothing special… just asphalt.

Luckily, I arrive at Refugio State Beach and discover the hiker/biker site that sits in front of the beach. Tom and Dom, my two English friends, sent me a message saying I should definitely stay here if I could power through the extra mileage of an already long day. There was another state park 20 km back, but that would have been too easy.

There is a little convenience store still open when I arrive. I buy three bags of chips, a breakfast bar, an electrolyte-enriched water (usually I make fun of people who buy these, so today I am a hypocrite), and not one, but TWO beers. That’s right. The fridge is full of local, craft beer at $3.99 a can. I grab the Dusty Dank IPA and a pale ale to follow. I don’t drink much these days and I get a strong buzz on before setting up my tent.

Tomorrow is definitely going to be a rest day.

Shortly after the tent is up, a German guy named Volker on a folding bike shows up. We both must look pretty goofy touring the PCH on our bikes. He’s cycled all around the world, most notably from Norway to Greece, and is full of stories. We get chatting and exchange contact info. He has been living in San Francisco for four years now and was living in Amsterdam before that. My brain gets thinking about all the possibilities of future travel options… maybe I can rope my girlfriend into a cross-Europe bike tour. Let’s see! Volker says that Europe is extremely organized with its bike routes, unlike the United States. It would be an entirely different experience, one that seems to be calling me.

I look into some bikepacking off-road routes from LA to San Diego that look really fun and pass through some iconic landscapes such as Joshua Tree. Everyone says to avoid these routes during summer because of the desert, much like riding the Baja Divide during summer… I’ll need to make some decisions soon!

For now, though, a day on the beach writing and relaxing sounds great.