After we escape the clutches of San Francisco’s urban sprawl the houses give way to the exposed Pacific coast. Long open beaches who waters run amok with waves, surfers attempt to tame them but the water always wins bucking or gently letting them go before reaching the sandy shore line. We maze our way southward along the coast in and out of smaller and smaller towns all the while making use of the fantastic cycle routes. Even the Dutch would be envious of the space we are afforded and the ample signage. The Pacific Coast Highway which makes up Route 1 runs the length of the Californian coastline and is a mecca for the North American cyclists.
We make our way further south and into a mass of agricultural land. I play guess the crop using only my nose. Subtle whiffs of strawberries or more domineering pangs of celery give a clue as to what hides in the shade beneath the leaves. They were the only crops this noze was able to pick up. Hundreds of workers are harvesting the strawberries bent over from the break of dawn; it must cause havoc for their backs. This region is productive, but it shouldn’t be, there is a drought and it has been this way for quite some time. Fields are thirsty beasts and the solution, mass irrigation siphoned off the mighty Colorado River, so much so that by the time it reaches the US’s southern border it is reduced to a knee deep stream as it peters into the country where many of the farm hands have come from.
The farming is intense and I believe heavy on both pesticides and fertiliser which rather dramatically are dispersed via airborne means. Helicopters with gold fish bowl like domes, allowing them to remain vigilant of all the power cables, buzz the fields in mosquito like forays spraying the crops from the air. It seems a touch dramatic and expensive until you see how cheap fuel is. I was aghast at how expensive petrol was, almost 4USD, until I cottoned on to the fact that its sold per gallon; I can only assume aviation is equally as cheap.
South of Monterey the coast changes from beaches backed by dunes or sand stone cliffs who’s edges you dare not tread near for fear of disappearing into a rugged coast, waves of white horses charging the beaches before dispersing on the rough sand or crashing into gnarled plinths of dark rock. Along the surface just above the crest of the breaking waves fly flocks brown Pelicans or they follow the cliff line at eye level as I meander south through California.
Marine wild life is in abundance, sea lions make a ruckus in Monterey harbour, you can get so close that you can smell the big buggers, sea otters frolic in small coves or just in the marinas and the bird life is spectacular with flocks cormorants, ungainly pelicans and an number of smaller birds attacking the surface as they probe beneath for dinner. I’m massively jealous of a group of divers who are literally walking into the ocean to explore the kelp forests of these rich waters in Monterey Marina. I would chip off a piece of my bike and porn it to go diving here but unfortunately its not made of gold.
Elephant Seal taking a snooze.
As I ride the sweeping roads of Big Sur I tune in to the local radio, it seems fitting that my theme tune to this American route should be the likes of Clapton or Dylan but unfortunately country music is all that I can find, there are too many “Yee Haa’s”, mouth organs and foot stomping (which in my opinion doesn’t count as an instrument) for my taste.
Out at sea on blustery afternoons the kelp is corralled into relatively organised lines running the direction of the prevailing winds, white spray streaks the surface and the waves roll south. Outcrops of rock almost snow caped in colour break up this flow; torrents churn at their base spraying them with lashings of salt rich water which crusts to their surface. But these are bastions of the birds who add their white paint, guano, to the rock faces.
The Pacific seems an endless expanse of water, more so than any other; infinite layers of blues lift to crystal clear water at the base of the cliffs; when the surf is up these clear waters are turned opaque as clouds of sand murk the shallows. It is abundant with marine mammals and feeds the avian flocks above. It must be held as the best coast line I have had the pleasure of traveling to date. A coastal triumph. Sorry Australia.
Unlike Australia wild camping isnt ideal though, signs line the road side stating in bright red, NO TRESPASSING VIOLATORS WILL BE PROCECUTED; so on the first night we camped hidden in the dunes which required climbing a fence, it was knee high so required no heroics, and dashing up the subsiding sand for cover in the hummocky dunes at the back of a beach. This is all well and good aside from the fact that I hate camping in sand, until we discover that its a bird sanctuary and a protected area. But needs must. If we were rumbled a hefty one thousand buck fine would be slapped on us, neither George or I can afford such and expensive and sandy bed for the night.
We later discover that in the state of California you must have a permit for a camping stove and that you are only aloud to use it in State Parks in designated areas. Get caught and its another grand fine a pop. This is on account of the fact that California is a tinder box and currently there are twelve wildfires ranging out of control. I will be pleading ignorance if a sheriff catches us cooking up one of our one pot slops.
A few nights later however we legitimately camp, we have made a discovery, Bike and Hike; any state campsites of which there are many, are required to provide camping spots for any hiker or biker that ambles or rolls in and at a significantly reduced price to boot. We find ourselves camping in a tranquil spot amongst the redwoods of Pfeiffer State Park. Down its centre runs a crystal clear ravine which feeds these mighty beasts. Unfortunately this gulch of juvenile trees is one of a few along this stretch of coast. In the 1850-1920s they fell victim to their great size, hardness and straight trucks as mass logging saw the redwood population decimated. We asked the park ranger where the tallest specimen was in this here park and she directed us to Car Park 4, sadly adding “without any of his friends.” A touch sad to say the least.
Amongst the redwood glade and in what is possibly the best campsite I have ever paid and stayed we meet a couple who have just completed the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail, is a 2650 mile long trek from Mexico to Canada passing through California, Washington and Oregon; it has taken this retired couple eight months to complete. This is no small effort considering only eight others have crossed the finishing line this year, apparently. I take my helmet off to them for that’s a damn sight more impressive than what I’m doing. He was a touch smug with himself though. Bike and Hike is an unbelievable public amenity but unfortunately for us we stayed in a premium spot on our introduction and they were a touch more rough around the edges as we migrate south.
As always one of the focuses of this wee adventure is meeting the people and in this case the American People. In the quaint village of Cambria just off Route 1 we pull in for a coffee and take a pew outside in the weak morning sun. Unbeknown to us, our perches are the usual seats for the local retired cronies who congregate most mornings. Before we know it we are in amongst the herd deep in good humoured conversation; a good hour or so later and we have discussed everything from Crufts to Trumps toupee, solved the worlds problems and fortunately not talked about religion; as with everyone we have met so far they had the height of manners, were friendly and so welcoming.
Later in the week we are collared by an American, “I love my country, if you cant make it in America you cant make it anywhere, I’ve a good job, a hot meal ever night and a good church, what more could a man want?” he says in a slow drawn out accent. Maybe I’m a cynical arse but, get out more and maybe leave the village at some point to see the world or even more of your “Great Country.”