It was strange to cross over the border of our last state, and still have over half of our trip ahead of us. The northern border of the state is a long diverse trip to the Mexican border. Yet there are a few constants in our daily lives. The sun continues to set dramatically over the beaches we find ourselves on each day. The waves crash on the shores covered in rock and sand. Gulls, pelicans and cormorants still fight over fish and watch us expectantly as we eat our food, hoping for a few scraps.
As we cycle south, we begin to notice changes that are sometimes dramatic and other times more subtle. In the north, we cycled through the wet redwood forests. These tallest trees can’t tolerate the salty air near the coast and are only found inland protected in the valleys. The highway cut inland around the Lost Coast region of the northern shore. We climbed over the coastal range and in one descent left the cool forests and landed on the windswept grassy beaches of Mendocino.
Our mornings were shrouded in fog and the afternoons were baked in sunshine. The hills were some of the steepest on the coast as the narrow highway undulated in and out of steep river canyons. We managed to avoid walking, but did take breaks at every pullout to enjoy the view and let our heart rates settle back down to less than explosive. Incredibly, we toured a historic Russian fort of named Fort Ross. This was the southernmost settlement of the Russian explorers and was used to grow crops and provide hunting grounds to support Alaskan settlements.
The northern coast ends at the Marin Headlands. We cycled around the headlands with views of Mount Tam and were gifted with beautiful sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco. We cycled over this incredible bridge while dodging tourists on bicycles, foot and pushing strollers. The city was gearing up for Halloween and we enjoyed wandering the streets with people in costume. We spent 3 days on foot as a recovery from weeks of pedaling. It was shocking to be around so many people after spending time quietly pondering the world on the coast. We filled ourselves with good food, beer and coffee and stayed with our friend Erica at her third story apartment in the southern part of the city.
We left the throng of the city just after a rainstorm passed through town. The sky was clear and everything glistened with a fresh wash. It wasn’t long after leaving the final suburbs of San Francisco, that we were looking at the northern hills of Big Sur. The highway returns to climbing as we crested over many headlands and descended into protected coves similar to that of the northern coast. This region was most recognizable by the migratory mammals. We saw our first pods of dolphins off the coast as well as our first large pods of surfers. These humans flock to the protected coves and sandy beaches and provide scenic entertainment as they try and catch a wave.
The hills of Big Sur flattened out into long rolling grasslands filled with grazing animals and spotted with oak trees. We visited beaches covered with enormous (up to 5,000 pounds) elephant seals who come to shore to sunbathe and strengthen the bone density on land. We watched yearling males joust like sumo wrestlers as they learn how to protect their territory and future mates. Just down the road and perched on the top of a hill is the enormous Hearst Castle. We toured the “house” and some of its 115 rooms that belonged to the millionaire media magnate. Each room was decorated with its original furnishings that included famous paintings from European grand masters, inlaid ceiling tiles from 16th century Spain and Ming Dynasty lamps and ornaments. The wealth inside was equally matched outside the home that was surrounded in Mediterranean inspired pools and fountains and decorated with marble Greek and Roman sculptures and Egyptian stone sculptures.
The route finally left the central coast to skirt around the Vandenberg Air Force Base inland. Away from the coastal weather influences, the dry air became uncomfortably hot in the day and we awoke with frost on our panniers this morning. This is the final stretch of central California before we return to the coast and long sandy beaches of So. Cal. tomorrow. It is with heavy hearts that we begin our final chapter in this tour: Both Sierra and I are not ready for the tour to be over and are happy we have more adventures to come. While we are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family, taking time off the bike and enjoying a wider variety of creature comforts, we will deeply miss spending every night outside, seeing new sights every day and the camaraderie of fellow tourists.