Friday, 9 March 2018

California Winter Wonderland part 1

Another successful trip completed, but another one immediately under way.  I am finishing this post while on the road in Australia, but looking back on a spectacular 2-week tour of Northern California.  Again, this one had some adjustments to the original plan, but that didn't take anything away from how spectacular it was.  Probably my most unique and educational trip so far.

The first part of the trip.

I started and finished in San Francisco, beginning with just over 300Km of riding down the Pacific coast, which was the best riding of the trip.  An absolutely stunning coastline, and I was fortunate enough to have a gentle tailwind most of the way.

 There were plenty of scenic views all the way down, but the area around Big Sur was very impressive, with towering cliffs, beautiful beaches, and some of the best riding you are likely to get anywhere in the world.  I also enjoyed the Monterrey Bay area, its pristine coastline harbouring some of the most famous golf courses in the world, as well as some of the biggest mansions I have ever seen.  I took the scenic route through this area in very pleasant weather.

Overnight camping was pretty easy in this section, as there were a number of "Hike and Bike" campgrounds along the coast, which only cost $6.  It was especially nice camping in the Redwoods in Big Sur, but the great views at sunset at the aptly named, "Sunset State Beach", were also very good.

Up until Monterrey, things were a little tricky at times.  I was mainly on highway 1 going South from San Francisco, but occasionally I had to take detours off because the road turned from a highway into a freeway, which I wasn't allowed to cycle on.  This happened a few times on the trip, but I did manage to avoid the freeway each time, although sometimes the detours were a nuisance.

Camping in the redwoods.
I had a couple of issues with the bike as well that I managed to self-diagnose and cure, which was encouraging, as I am not especially mechanically-minded.

One of the beautiful golf holes near Monterrey, an area which included the famous courses of Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.
I have to say that the ride down the coastline, after Monterrey, was one of the best ever.  It was seriously nice, and the road undulated without ever being too steep.

I had to share the occasional view with the odd Chinese tourist, with one mother and son combination being particularly irritating.  At Bixby bridge, I swear the son took 1000 photos of his mother from about 20 different angles at 50 pictures a pose, each pose getting more ridiculous.  I had to interject at one point and ask them to step aside while I clicked one photo.  I must say, however, that I know for a fact that many Chinese people are not like this, as I teach English to Chinese students and most would never do this.  There are a lot of Chinese, though, and many of them like taking a lot of pictures, hence why it is always worth considering doing a cycle tour to beautiful places out of the peak seasons, putting up with possibly adverse weather conditions.

Once I got a little further down the coast, the tourists disappeared, and soon it was time to turn inland.  Even if I wanted to, I couldn't have gone much further South as the road was blocked because of mudslides earlier in the year.  I knew I had a bit of climbing to do, but the Nacimiento-Fergusson road into Los Padres National Forest was seriously steep.  It was a pretty road, narrow with high views of the coastline and then the inland hills.

The road goes on, but I turned inland.
Still, this was a painful road to cycle on, and the people in the cars passing by knew it, with plenty shouting words of admiration and encouragement from their windows, except a car full of Koreans, who seemed utterly unimpressed, but as I puffed away in exhaustion had a full conversation with me about where the road was going.

Cutting inland towards the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The road led to an area on my map that was outlined in red, indicating it was a special area.  It was actually a US army garrison called Fort Hunter Liggett.  It was quite an interesting area and an array of army vehicles passed me, and I passed various training areas.

As the afternoon wore on, it became quite clear that finding somewhere to camp was going to be tricky.  I couldn't camp within the territory of Fort Hunter Liggett, for obvious reasons, and then it was all flat farmland with not a tree in sight for cover.  In the fading light, I rolled into a small town called San Lucas in the hope I could camp somewhere there.  There was absolutely nowhere.

Obstacle course.

Passing -through a US Army garrison area.
This was man main concern for this part of the trip, there were no campgrounds and just miles and miles of farmland between the settlements.  I had no choice, especially as I was on my last legs, I had to ask someone if I could camp somewhere.  After a couple of inquiries, I settled down to camp behind the local church.  The following night, I had a similar problem after a really long day in the saddle and ended-up camping behind a nice old man's shed in his backyard.

That day included another testing climb, although it was a fair bit steadier.  It then flattened-out and the winds blew hard into my face for the last part of the day.  It was a long day and the furthest I cycled in a day on the trip at 152Km.

I was getting pretty exhausted, but luckily the next day I only had about 70Km to do to get to Horse Creek campground, a short distance from the entrance to Sequoia National Park.  The road was also pretty flat the whole way, but I had hit a bit of a wall from the previous 5 days of riding.

I passed acres and acres of crops, mainly oranges, but also pistachios, lemons, and limes.  It was an unremarkable day but I was sure glad to finish it and finish-up at one of the most beautiful places I have ever camped, with a host that also made me super-welcome.  He was an older guy minding the campground on his own with his trusty dog.  He stayed in a trailer next to the campground office, which he fixed-up himself with woodworking skills he had perfected over the years and it looked really stunning.

He reminded me of the old guy in the movie, "Into the Wild", and had a similar story.  He gave me some steak and we had a bit of a chat around the fire, then I settled-down to an early, but chilly night, with an awesome view of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and a nice camp fire.

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