At about 18 miles we reached Jolon, an intersection where we turned right into Hunter Liggett army base. We stopped for a photo opportunity at an M551 Sheridan tank on display (a tank hampered by aluminum armor and a poor ammunition design) and then continued into the base through the unmanned checkpoint.
Riding along we heard the sound of heavy machine gun fire in the distance and watched as a C-17 cargo jet landed seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It only needs 3,000 feet to land.
This plane was coming from the March Air Force Reserve Base in Southern California.
Soldiers in their Humvees crowded the road in the wide, flat San Antonio River Valley as they gathered for maneuvers.
We headed up the road and turned left at the gated base, riding a short distance before turning left again and crossing the famous green bridge spanning the San Antonio River.
After a short climb we descended into Stony Valley where, to the right, we saw an aging M60 tank alone in the green field with a sprinkling of wildflowers. To our left we passed Lower Stony Creek Reservoir where two golden eagles buzzed the water looking for a meal.
Eventually we started a gradual climb in a narrow canyon cut by the Nacimiento River on our left. This was the gateway to the mountainous Los Padres National Forest, at the unmanned Hunter Liggett checkpoint.
The climb didn’t get much steeper than 7 percent in places. We stopped briefly at a stream to soak our bike caps as temps had reached into the low 80s. The climb continued as the road got narrower. The river moved to our right and got farther away in the steep canyon.
Before we knew it were reached the summit at 2,664 feet. I can’t say it was much of a climb. Anyone with a mountain bike who wants to visit the 5,155 foot Cone Peak, it’s off to the right on the dirt road. It’s not hard to believe this is a wilderness area considering the severity of the terrain.
The climb up the ocean side is another story. We made our way carefully down the twisty, steep road with plenty of debris, stopping for photo opportunities a couple of times. It was one of those picture postcard days without a trace of fog and no wind. Most unusual.
Calm on Hwy 1
At Hwy 1 we headed south to our destination hotel in San Simeon, blithely ignoring the orange and black Caltran warning sign that the road was closed 10 miles ahead. Must be an old sign, I thought. I knew the Gorda slide was this way, but I figured it had been cleared by now.
Wrong. We rolled into Gorda, a community with a handful of quaint buildings, and noticed the barricades. Inside the general store the owner showed us a photo of the slide. He told us Caltrans was working on the road but it would be weeks before it opened.
It was 3 p.m. so we had plenty of time to come up with a plan, but our options were few. We could wait until the road crews quit for the day and hope to cross the slide on foot, we could spend the night in Gorda and return on Nacimiento Fergusson the next day, or we could ride north to Big Sur and spend the night there, returning via Carmel Valley Road.
We weren’t about to give up the Gorda slide idea without further investigation. So we rode through the barricade. About a mile later we saw Caltrans working on the road, but it wasn’t the Gorda slide, which must have been hidden behind a bend in the road, maybe at Alder Creek, which I think is the so-called Gorda slide location.
After watching the road crews working for a few minutes next to the crashing surf below, we soon had our answer. A Caltrans truck came driving up and stopped. “You need to get off this road right now!” she yelled. “It’s a $350 fine.”
And so ended that plan….to be continued.