Whales and Otters and Sea Lions, Oh My!

Leaving Half Moon Bay was hard on Alex. Thanks to our new Polish friends, she had spotted another pod of whales in the morning – so she planted her little butt in the sand and sipped her coffee staring at the ocean. Having seen her first whales the night before, she still couldn’t get enough of these magnificent creatures. (Note from Alex: Conny, you can actually see a little bit of whale in these photos!)

The gray whales ventured in a little closer to shore…

…and gave a show before continuing north.

This is getting fun.

Sadly, we eventually had to say goodbye to the whales and the Poles and push on to Santa Cruz. The riding was easy enough, but the dead heat of close to 100 degrees really beat down on us. Stopping for smoothies and cherries along the way made it all slightly more bearable. Once in Santa Cruz, we decided to go all out by spending the night at a hostel. The hostel turned out to be more or less right in the middle of town, nestled between a beach filled with surfer bros, a touristy boardwalk and amusement park, and some nice old Victorian homes. We spent a pleasant night strolling around town, eating (and drinking) at the Seabright Brewery, and taking a creepy nighttime walk through the amusement park, which was by that point basically abandoned and reminded both of us of that one Scooby Doo episode.

Kindred spirits.

Unfortunately, our relatively pleasant evening was interrupted by the drunken shitshow unfolding back at the hostel. We were sharing a little cottage with a group of Spaniards in their late teens, and they were in Santa Cruz to PAR-TAY. Either we’ve been spoiled by the peaceful calm of state park campgrounds, or we’re just getting old, but we were not on board with their party plans – which mostly consisted of drunken yelling from about 10PM to 4AM, interrupted by a blissful two hours around midnight when they decided to try out the local bars. After being woken up for the third time in the wee hours of the morning, Alex confronted them with some choice words that I cannot repeat here (that girl has a potty mouth) to make them shut up. But it was too late, the night was already wasted, and we were doomed to a measly four hours of sleep.

That, of course, meant that the next morning both of us were not in the finest of moods. But we headed to the local bagel shop, where we loaded up on caffeine and carbo-happiness and planned out the 50 mile day that lay ahead of us. Once we were on the road, we found that our old friend headwind was back to complicate our day. Headwind, combined with our lack of sleep, made for some frustrating riding, especially for Alex. Her mood got a good bump though when we spotted a dock with, I’m not kidding, about a thousand sea lions on it. These guys were out en masse to catch some rays and flop around on top of each other. It was a real sea lion-o-rama!

Why hello there…

…and welcome to the sea lion cuddle puddle…

…a vicious cuddle puddle.

Gotta get the best face spot!

We could have stayed there all day if there had been any decent places to camp nearby. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, so we pushed on into the wind. Following our guidebook’s suggestion, we were headed to Veterans Memorial Park in Monterey. What our sweet little guidebook didn’t tell us is that that park sits atop a pretty damn steep hill, which climbs up and up and up from downtown Monterey for two long miles. Alex was no longer speaking by the time we reached the top, and she may have shed a tear or two out of sheer frustration. We didn’t expect to have to go all out at the end of the day just to make it to our campsite! Completely exhausted, we pitched our tent and collapsed. Lucky for us, we soon discovered that we’d be sharing the hiker-biker campsite with the local transient population. Awesome.

A whopping three of these tents were bikers, the rest showed up sometime after midnight.

After the trials and tribulations of the past couple days, it was time to lay low. We had heard that Monterey was a cool town from our dear friend Annie, so spending the day there was a no-brainer. First and foremost, we set off in the morning to break the egg curse once and for all. A huge omelet and six coffees for me at First Awakenings cafe (should I go easy on caffeine from now on?) gave us enough energy for hundreds of bike days. After breakfast, we stopped by a bike shop to check out the true of my rear wheel, which was in question after being exposed to my heavy butt day in and day out. The bike mechanic, who looked exactly like Alan Arkin, took care of everything and even gave us some free maps and advice for the next days. What a nice fella!

Then, some magic happened: we came across a place called… Candy World. Anyone who knows me can probably imagine my excitement upon seeing that colorful explosion of sugary awesomeness. I had to drag Alex in, she was so embarrassed. But being the good Frau that she is, she let me have all the fun I wanted.

Sugar high imminent.

I feel this way about whales, Tom feels this way about candy.

Next stop was the Monterey Aquarium, which Alex was pretty excited about. However, once we saw the astronomical prices ($40 per person, are you kidding me?!) we opted to check out Monterey’s “natural” aquarium instead. Yep, sometimes we’ve got to be misers.

Armed with burritos from Papa Chevo, we headed out to the commercial fishing dock to check out the wildlife – namely sea otters and sea lions. (Note from Alex: More mind-exploding animal excitement for me. Sea otters were my favorite animal when I was younger. I was so obsessed that I wrote reports on sea otters… during the summer… in preparation for the coming school year. I was a pretty cool kid. Fun fact: sea otters hold paws when they sleep so they won’t float away from each other. AWWWWW.) Anyways, these guys were just out there sunning their big bellies and chewing on abalone or anything else they could get their little paws on. Meanwhile, seagulls would follow them around, trying to snatch up any morsels they could with their greedy beaks. When the sea otters got tired of this harrassment, they just dove under the water, leaving the seagulls looking immensely confused.

That alone could have entertained us all day, but even better was a little discovery that Alex made. All along the dock we could hear the barking of sea lions loud and clear, but we couldn’t spot any of them nearby. Alex got curious and used a rusty old ladder to climb down over the side of the pier, probably breaking some safety rules in the process. Lo and behold, those sea lions were right beneath our feet, tucked up into the rafters high above the water. There were hundreds of these enormous beasts under the dock, and after seeing this we’re pretty sure that sea lions will do just about anything to get out of the water. They sure didn’t like us finding their secret lair though – seeing us peeking into their hideout got them barking at us and showing their teeth in a lazy fat sea lion sort of way. But not pissed off enough to hop back into the dreaded water, of course. We tried to limit our gawking time to a few minutes to not disturb them too much, but those few minutes were awesome. Such a great way to spend a rest day, getting barked at by fat sea lions, three feet away from your face!

We didn’t expect that a little detour…

…would bring us face to face with these guys…

…and they were similarly confused…

…about who let intruders into their top secret clubhouse.



2 thoughts on “Whales and Otters and Sea Lions, Oh My!

  1. This is a blast to read, enjoy and live thru your adventures! Thanks for sharing . We will look forward to more!

    • Hi Kathy and Cam! We’re way behind on our comment replies, but I just wanted to say thanks so much for reading! Hope all is well with the both of you.

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