Big Sur by Cycle

(The past few weeks have been a little crazy, what with several flights, border crossings, weddings, and the like. We’re a bit behind on the blogging, but long stretches in the deserts of Baja will help us catch up. In the meantime, we want to give a shout out to a few friends who are embarking on adventures of their own: Annie and David, who are heading to Chile to teach English for a year, and Laura, who is enjoying a summer backpacking trip in Europe. Enjoy!)

Monterey was but a distant memory when we left town on the famous 17 Mile Drive, a beautiful patch of land right along the water on the peninsula. What makes that sweet ride somewhat bitter is the sight of hundreds of old white dudes in dumb baseball hats and even dumber khaki pants playing golf on what could be one of the prettiest places along the California coast. We’ll show you the pretty parts, without the golf carts:

After taking our time on 17 Mile Drive, a gusty and uncomfortably strong tailwind pushed us along the coast towards Big Sur. That’s what we had been waiting for! Everybody had told us how mindblowing and profound of an experience it is to drive or ride along that stretch of coast. Here is where it all came together, majestic in its vistas and so pretty, it makes you want to cry. Well done, Big Sur! Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was our final destination of the day, probably the second best park we’ve stayed at so far, right after Half Moon Bay.

Another epic Big Sur day followed, graced by wider shoulders and lighter tailwinds that made for easy riding. During the day we met a couple of guys who were doing a bike ride from Vancouver BC to San Diego to raise money and awareness about Parkinsons. We had a nice little chat and were impressed by the riders, many of whom had Parkinsons and were riding double our daily mileage (if you’re interested in their cause, you can find them at

The day continued with great riding along the coast to Plaskett Creek Campground, a nice little spot with a beautiful beach and cliffs that we explored that very night. We chanced upon the park ranger coming into the park, and unlike many of the previous park rangers we’d met, he went ahead and offered us the nicest available campground for a hiker-biker price! Which is how we ended up in a scenic $100 campsite, with bathrooms all to ourselves, for a measly $10. Score! Unfortunately though, no showers, so that night we stayed dirty (or at least I did, Alex is diligent about baby wipe showers when water is nowhere to be found).

Selfies are hard…

…and we may be going a bit stir crazy.

The next day, we were sad to leave Plaskett Creek but tailwinds were again calling. Early on, we chanced upon Andreas, an Italian finishing up a journey that took him around the national parks of the West. We originally met Andreas in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park a couple days before, and we were happy to come across him again when we were filling up on camp fuel at a gas station. His arrival pulled us away from a group of inquisitive Frenchmen, who were filling up the gas tanks on their Harleys and watching us in astonishment as we filled up our 20 oz. fuel bottle…for a whopping $0.69.

Anyways, we spent the day with Andreas climbing up and up – the two biggest climbs of our trip thus far – but thanks to our trusty tailwinds we were literally being pushed up the ascents. Despite the help, we were still working pretty hard, so we were surprised to glance over at Andreas and see that he was calmly climbing these monster hills in his highest gear. In a combination of spotty English and fluent German, he pointed to his quads and explained that he hails from the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy, and that his daily commute is steeper than our biggest hill of the trip. Basically, Andreas is a pretty badass guy. He flew into the US almost two months ago, took a week of English lessons (his first ever), and set off to bike the national parks of the West. The trip had taken him through the deserts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California, all on very little English and several days that exceeded 110 degrees. He plans to return to Italy, continue working as a carpenter, and come back in a couple of years to cycle from Alaska to Argentina. We think that he’s awesome, go Andreas!

Make a wish!

The majestic cliffs of Big Sur soon gave way to the rolling hills of San Simeon. Just before reaching San Simeon State Park, we stumbled upon something extraordinary: a gigantic elephant seal colony. And when I say gigantic, I mean it! There must have been many thousands of these massive creatures lounging on the beaches for miles on end. This is another one that wasn’t mentioned in our guidebook, probably because the colony had established itself so recently. Apparently, elephant seals were thought to be extinct in this area until the late 1980s, when a small colony was discovered off the coast of the Baja Peninsula. Mexico became the first country to officially protect elephant seals soon after, and in late 1990s a few of these fatties showed up on the beaches of San Simeon. Fifteen years later, the surfers and kite boarders of San Simeon are fighting the elephant seals for prime beach access – their comeback has been pretty spectacular.

And if you weren’t alerted to the elephant seals by their constant barking, then you would have probably noticed them thanks to their beastly smell. They were constantly burping and farting, it sounded like a school cafeteria that exclusively serves bean soup. When they weren’t lazily lying around looking like logs they rose up, bumped into each other, roared, and kept doing so until they got too tired again. Then they would topple over and use each other as living, breathing, furry pillows. What a life, I wish I was an elephant seal!

We soon made it to San Simeon State Park (but not after stopping to check out the zebras that were roaming the land), a supposedly scenic place that turned out to be a little limited. The hiker-biker site was located directly at the highway, and due to California’s drought all restrooms and showers were locked up – a situation that seems to be increasingly common as we cycle further south in this thirsty state. No water means no shower, but we three bikers were stinky (we’ll blame it on the elephant seals), and desperate times call for desperate measures. Time to break out the bucket shower! And what do you know, it works like a charm.

Unfortunately we never got a photo with Andreas, but this is a pretty accurate representation of his camping style.

Remember those zebras we mentioned? We spent the following day touring around Hearst Castle, the Mediterranean-inspired mega-mansion built by William Randolph Hearst throughout much of the 1900s. For those of you who don’t know, William Randolph Hearst was more or less the first media mogul, a filthy rich guy who built this fortress up in the hills overlooking San Simeon. He was quite a controversial figure, a fact that was hugely downplayed by the state-operated castle tour (watch Citizen Kane, which presents a fictionalized account of his life). Rather, the tour presented him as an outdoorsy, sentimental rancher’s son with really, really big (and expensive) dreams. We had the pleasure of watching a Hallmark Channel-type movie about “Young Willie” appropriately titled Building the Dream, which was so ridiculously earnest and whimsical in its tone that Alex and I couldn’t stop cracking up throughout the entire runtime. Then, we boarded the bus that would take us up the long, winding road to the castle, a ride which just so happened to be narrated by Alex Trebek… just another WTF moment.

But if you ignored all that (and our annoying, motormouth tour guide), the place was actually pretty impressive. Obscene in its scale, but it did leave us a little speechless. The castle took nearly thirty years to build, and after all that time parts of it were never even finished. Literally no expense was spared. The main swimming pool, named after Neptune and featuring a replica of the Parthenon, was ripped out and redone three times. The Roman swimming pool (that’s the other one) has tiles made of gold. Beyond the architecture, Hearst was a serious art collector, and kept in the castle various paintings and tapestries that have replicas in places like the Louvre. And as for the zebras roaming free amongst the hills… Of course, Hearst had his own personal zoo, and these guys are the great great grandzebras of the originals. Damn it, why didn’t he also leave the polar bears behind?

Following that eventful day at Hearst Castle, we packed up and left San Simeon behind for a short ride into Morro Bay. There, we settled into a tiny café to take care of some logistics for our upcoming interlude in Germany. Randomly, we met a girl who was starting her bike trip from Morro Bay to Alaska that day! After imparting her with all of our hard-earned wisdom, we made for our campground: Morro Bay State Park. From the park, it was just a quick ride the next morning into San Luis Obispo, where (gasp!) a train was waiting with our names on it.

I know, I know, we’re cheating, but we have a plane to catch! Time to hurry, no more lazy biking around, making miles is the motto. The train brought us into Santa Barbara, what a stunner! Right at the ocean, surrounded by a lovely mountain range, with clouds hiding away parts of the hills. But with that beauty comes a price. Hotels and other accommodations are horribly expensive, which was reason enough for us to seek out some help through Air BnB. That’s how we came across Burke, a middle-aged, outdoorsy carpenter from New Zealand who’s been living in the US for the past two decades. Upon our arrival at his place, he immediately took us on a little bike ride to show off even more of Santa Barbara’s scenery, and then out to a great dinner. Even better for me, he had a bunch of parakeets. I myself used to have three of those guys (RIP Toni, Olli, and Hardy), and Burke’s birds quickly took to me, climbing on my arms and shoulders and gnawing on my nose and ears. Alex’s surprise at seeing me being so well aquainted with the birds cannot be overstated, she always gives me crap for being awkward around animals.

In preparation for Mexico, the next morning was all about tacos and sunscreen. Our friend Katie had given us a recommendation for a great taco place, and if there is anything that gets Alex riled up it’s good Mexican food. So we left Burke’s place (thanks Burke!) and soon found ourselves armed with tacos and burritos, and after a short but precarious ride down to the waterfront, feasted like kings. Then back to the train station bound for Los Angeles, but not before winning over a new fan. While we were waiting around for the train to arrive, this great British cop came up and was just beyond excited about our bikes (the exact kind he wanted!) and our trip (just what he wanted to do!). He had Alex write down the name of our blog in his little policeman’s notebook, and after shaking hands and going our separate ways he runs back to us ten minutes later with a Costco-sized pack of sunscreen. And not just any old suncreen, but four brand new bottles of fancy Neutrogena sunscreen. People are awesome. Thank you for that, it’ll come in handy very soon!


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