Big Sur Gets Surly – Part 3

A fine day at the Big Creek Bridge viewpoint, Big Sur.


We rode back to Gorda and sat down to contemplate our next move. The longer we sat in the warm sun, the less we wanted to ride. Finally, at 3:30, we decided to enjoy the weather and head north 37 miles to Big Sur on this uniquely windless day.

Once we got going, the miles ticked by. Most of the climbs are short along the Big Sur coast, with the big one coming just south of the town by that name, reaching nearly 1,000 feet.

We passed a couple of slides still being repaired, with a stop light and one-lane traffic. Just before Big Creek Bridge we pulled over at the scenic view to take some pics. Along came some riders headed south, with sag support.

Whale Spout
We got to talking and while we were there a rider called out a whale spout. I’m sure the whales were enjoying the day as much as we were.

We watched the sun settle low over the ocean, hardly a car to be seen. For short periods we rode in shadows, soaking in the cool Pacific air. The long climb before Big Sur took away our remaining reserves. We coasted down the gently curving highway into Big Sur, stopping at Ripplewood Resort, 6:30 p.m., which I remembered from my 1989 ride, although we stayed at Glen Oaks right next door.

Our cyclometers recorded 97 miles for the day and 7,200 feet of climbing.

After freshening up, we had a satisfying dinner at the restaurant next door and called it a day.

Friday Headwinds
Friday morning we had breakfast at the excellent Ripplewood Resort restaurant before heading north. All seemed fine as we rode through the shelter of redwoods and downhill.

However, two miles into the ride the redwoods gave way to open vistas of the blue Pacific, and white caps. Our next 20 miles would be spent plowing through 15-25 mph headwinds.

At the old Coast Road we contemplated heading inland on the dirt road, but I wanted nothing of it. I would rather take my chances with the wind, knowing that at least we had a smooth road ahead.

One of the most interesting views leading to Bixby Bridge is the Point Sur Lightstation, which sits 361 feet above the surf on a large volcanic rock. Point Sur is the only complete turn-of-the century Lightstation open to the public in California, but only by docent-led tours.

We stopped for the obligatory photos at Bixby Bridge, the iconic bridge of Big Sur.

Just beyond Bixby Bridge there’s another one-lane traffic-light section, although it’s shorter than the other two we encountered.

Traffic was moderate to heavy most of the ride into Carmel as we wondered where it was coming from. Are there that many tourists going north?

Once into the shelter of Carmel’s forest, we made better speed, turning right at the first stop light onto Rio Road. We jogged left and then right onto Carmel Valley Road, suffering through heavy traffic for the next 11 miles into Carmel Valley Village. The traffic hasn’t changed since my 1989 visit.

Valley Tailwind
We stopped to restock with food and drink at the town grocery store about noon. We were still enjoying a strong tailwind, which would be with us throughout the day.

While the first 11 miles of Carmel Valley Road is insufferable, the next 43 miles to Hwy 101 make it worth the misery. Traffic quickly thins until you hardly ever see a car.

We continued a long, long climb up a wide valley. It takes about 20 miles to climb to 1,500 feet, so you hardly notice the grade. The road narrows and widens as it passes through valleys.

The final several miles to the summit where Finch Creek finally passes behind is a series of short up and downs that make you wonder if the 2,450-foot summit will ever be reached.

The summit comes abruptly, followed by a swift descent through wilderness broken by the occasional ranch house. With the wind at our backs we raced down the valley at 25-35 mph.

Once at Arroyo Seco Road, the pace slowed as we negotiated side winds to the green Elm Avenue bridge over Arroyo Seco, which had plenty of water.

After some more climbing we leveled out and began the run into Greenfield with vegetable fields on both sides. The wind howled. I thanked my lucky stars it wasn’t a headwind.

We passed over Hwy 101 and had to ride a couple more miles east to reach Metz Road for the final 11-mile straightaway into King City. The tailwind pushed us up hills like we were young bike racers. I remembered suffering on the same road pushing against brutal headwinds for more than an hour.

At King City we found our car and headed home at 4 p.m. in plenty of time to be home for dinner, 92 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing on the cyclometer.

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