Where the vultures are circling: Cycling Central California

Highway 1 in Central California

Highway 1 in Central California

Where the vultures are circling: Cycling Central California
Country
: USA
From San Francisco to Avila Beach
Lesson learned: No Halloween without allergy free sweets!
Laughed about: Baby-Chewbaccas!
Most wonderful miracle: Zebras and elephant seals
Greatest challenge: Snot
Days on the bike: 7
Kilometers cycled: 466
Average kilometers per day: 66.6
Total kilometers cycled till Avila Beach: 25,315

Cycling Central California. Missed the last entry? Here it comes: Cycling California Part 1

Blog auf Deutsch: Wo die Geier ihre Kreise ziehen. Mit dem Fahrrad durch Kalifornien Teil 2

 

Thanks to Jeff and Jesse we got to know San Francisco’s tattoo culture. We were even invited to an event in Jeff’s shop where we were clearly the only ones without a single tattoo to show off with. But that was fine for everybody.

San Francisco's streets

San Francisco’s streets

Summer in San Francisco

Summer in San Francisco

Jeff showed us around and we took some days to meet Roberto’s friends from primary school, high school and university. San Francisco was a very interesting city, where many realities met. There were big shiny limousines, many homeless people, tourists, surfers, hippies, business people and grandparents. We had a great time.

At the Golden Gate Bridge

At the Golden Gate Bridge

Biking San Francisco

Biking San Francisco

Ever since we entered California, the weather was great. Departure day was no exception. Compared to big cities like Honolulu or Seattle, it was quite easy to leave San Francisco. We climbed a few hills and that was it.

Beach walk just South of San Francisco

Beach walk just South of San Francisco

Roberto's highschool friend Gabriel and his girlfriend Yukira

Roberto’s highschool friend Gabriel and his girlfriend Yukira

Our new smartphone and the little red dot in google maps made a big difference though. I had visited several book stores and bike shops, but none had any bike maps or detailed road maps in stock. Even without data, the phone’s GPS was a great help.

With Roberto's primary school friend Hector and his boyfriend Pierre

With Roberto’s primary school friend Hector and his boyfriend Pierre

Relaxed evening in Gabriel's backyard. Gabriel lived in the Mexican neighborhood and we got great genuine Mexican ingredients for food!

Relaxed evening in Gabriel’s backyard. Gabriel lived in the Mexican neighborhood and we got great genuine Mexican ingredients for food!

We had a great tailwind, but due to the early sunset, we couldn’t keep on going forever. It was just before 5 pm when we left the highway and followed a smaller road, in order to find a spot to pitch the tent. The very first building was a fire station. Jackpot!

Pretty beach near San Francisco

Pretty beach near San Francisco between Miramontes Point and Cowell Ranch Beach

Good times at the beach

Good times at the beach

We have learned that usually the local fire fighters know their area like no other and we were sure they could give us directions to a place to pitch the tent. Things turned out even better, when we were allowed to pitch the tent right there next to the building.

Smokey Bear knows it best: "Only you can prevent wildfires!"

Smokey Bear knows it best: “Only you can prevent wildfires!”

There were a lot of sandbags around and despite the dry heat we knew they were preparing for a strong El Niño.

We reached Santa Cruz early in the afternoon. In the outskirts we stopped and got into our improvised Halloween outfits. Due to what I had seen on TV and in facebook I had imagined the US-Americans to be all crazy about Halloween, but for some reason we were the only ones dressed up. We felt a bit stupid in our outfits, but since we had spent money for them, we decided to keep them on.

Halloween in Santa Cruz

Least creative Halloween outfits. Well, at least we tried!

We took a little detour into the city center to get bread and milk and there they were: hundreds of kids of all ages with their parents in the most creative costumes! They were trick-or-treating and got bags full of sweets from the shops downtown. There was a surprisingly big amount of tiny Chewbaccas and who grabbed nut-free, gluten-free, lactose-free sweets. They still contained sugar though.

Superhero Family!

Superhero Family!

Cycling in Halloween Outfit

At first we thought we were the only ones …

We just couldn’t get enough and stayed downtown for more than two hours. Again and again locals told us: “This is nothing. You should see the party later tonight!” Our original plan of staying at a state campground further south, was ditched in no time. How could we miss the USA’s best countrywide party?

The Moonrise Kingdom Team!

The Moonrise Kingdom Team!

"The Tattoo Artist"

“The Tattooist”

So we made our way to a private campground in town, “Bobs Pine Grove Campground”, some 3 kilometers from the city center. There were no signs or flyers and it was quite clear that somebody had just turned their private garden into a campground. We were the only tourists. Most of our neighbors stayed here more or less permanently.

The Muppets Band

The Muppets Band

Halloween Parade in Santa Cruz

People are so creative!

Living in a tent was the only option for those who couldn’t afford a room or an apartment on their own. The housing market was crazy, they said. We had heard these complaints all over the West Coast. Prices were said to be unrealistically high and yet people fought about tiny and overpriced apartments in the outskirts.

Both Finn and Jake in one single Halloween outfit!

Both Finn and Jake in one single outfit!

Our camping neighbor Keenan had moved here from the Midwest. It was hard for him to find a job and he finally got an offer when he barely had enough money left to survive a week. The income was fine, enough for food, water, gas, lots of beer and the campspot. It would probably be enough for a small apartment too, if only there were any available.

Halloween Superhero Team

We’re here to save our city!

In the evening we returned to the city center. The general mood was great and we spent hours and hours just walking up and down the main road, looking at the people. There were vampires, zombies, six Waldos (from Were is Waldo), the entire Muppet band, several sexy tigers and cats, the Ninja Turtles, three Germans in leather pants (none of them German, but one spoke some German), pirates, sharks, Darth Vader, Super Mario and the Go Kart crew and pretty much every single super hero that ever existed.

Bicycle decoration

From now on my bike will look a lot more elegant!

People here are incredibly creative. The amount of time, money and effort that they have put into tonight’s costumes is just amazing. But tonight everybody with a creative mind, no matter how shy or unpopular, could make it to the center of attraction. Isn’t that wonderful?

Welcome, you foolish Mortal!

Welcome, you foolish Mortal!

It was nearly midnight when we reached the campground. Clearly we didn’t start at 7am next day.

Even without a map it had been relatively easy to stay on the bike route. We had followed a mix of bike route signs and the blue GPS line for bikes in google maps. Moreover we checked our route with pictures I had taken of somebody’s West Coast cycling book. But today there was a bike sign missing and a road had the wrong name written on it. Therefore we made a long detour against the harsh wind.

Biking along the Pacific Ocean

Biking along the Pacific Ocean

In between Marina and Monterrey there was a uniquely beautiful dune park, but we had lost too much time at the detour and sunset was near. To our left and right there were fences and no-entry signs, so camping here wasn’t an option. There was no time to admire the dunes, we had to get going.

Soon the trail turned into a pretty beach bike path and we followed it all the way into Monterrey’s center. Here we took a turn and faced a long and steep climb. Not quite what we were hoping for at the end of a long and tiring day. When we reached the campground (situated for some reason at the highest point of town), it was pitch dark and we were soaking wet with sweat.

Scenic ride along the coast

Scenic ride along the coast

The campground was temporary home to some homeless people who were sent here by the authorities down in town. Without a car they counted as hikers and paid $6 each per night on the hiker biker spot instead of some $30 for a regular campspot.

One of our neighbors had paid three nights in advance, but now she was struggling with food. She didn’t know where she would spend the fourth night yet. Her tent leaked, but she was happy to have one. Another neighbor was going to spend the night in a hammock. Somebody had left a box of third choice apples in the raccoon-box, for everybody to use, but nobody knew this was public food, so the apples remained untouched until we spread the news. We shared vegetables, pasta, granola bars and dehydrated food in bags.

Even the dunes are green

Even the sandy dunes are green

The shower was freezing, smelled like cigarettes and was very dirty. We called it a day before 8pm, because it was a drizzly evening with no roof for shelter.

It was 8am when the first campers left their tent. Those campers were Roberto and I. Usually half the tents are packed by 6.30 am, but today nobody could be bothered. It was a rainy morning. Roberto had a brilliant idea. We didn’t have any data on our phone, but we had free messages, so we texted a friend and asked him to look up the weather forecast for us. We wanted to know whether we should stay and wait it out, or better get going.

Easy cycling just some 20 Kilometers outside San Francisco

Easy cycling just some 20 Kilometers outside San Francisco

We found out that the rain was going to head further south in the afternoon, so we would be rained on all day if we left town. I had a bit of a sour throat that turned worse by the hour, so for now we packed our soaking stuff and rolled down into town, where we got ourselves hot tea in a café. We didn’t have much luck with last minute couchsurfing. Here in the café Roberto started chatting with Susan and her brother Frank. They had been on a short holiday and had spent the night in a car at the campground on the hilltop too. Before hitting the road again, Susan invited us both to come and stay at hers in Avila Beach, a few days further south.

My very first Halloween Party!

My very first Halloween Party!

By noon I was facing a real bad cold. There was no way we would bike back up the hill to the muddy and cold campground. The next campground was a rainy 50 kilometer away and the ride was said to be pretty. Even if I had been healthy, we wouldn’t have wanted spoil the beautiful ride by cycling through the rain. So we used the café’s wifi to find out how to get to the town’s cheapest accommodation. My cold was a good enough excuse.

Views near Big Sur

The next day we enjoyed absolutely terrific views over the ocean.

I don’t know when we have turned so soft. Back in the beginning we wouldn’t have stopped for a $2 cup of tea in a café, for an actual motel room or changed our perfectly fine ten year old foam camping mats for comfy air mats. But at some moment in those past four years we have grown older, maybe softer. Little “ouchies” didn’t disappear that quickly anymore and drinking the same tap water every day just wasn’t enough anymore.

Cycling through Big Sur

Cycling through Big Sur

I wanted a rest for my aching neck and an iced tea for my mood. I personally needed more treats and enjoyed doing “normal” things like going out for a beer, reading a book or simply going to the movies. Not that I hadn’t wanted those things before, it’s just that now I actually gave in quite easily. I was having a weak moment. What had happened to my spirit of adventure? I felt guilty.

Scenic bike ride Big Sur

It was a pretty ride and I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

When we reached the motel, the rain was nearly over. I stuck to my weak moment and got ourselves a room anyways. The guilty feeling disappeared in the moment I held the room’s key. We turned on the heating, Roberto boiled some more tea, we watched movies, had a hot shower and I filled about half a roll of toilet paper with snot. No time for self-criticism. Today was a day for self-pity and laziness.

We reached the Big Sur Area, that was know for its spectacular views.

We reached the Big Sur Area, that was know for its spectacular views.

The rain disappeared and we had a sunny morning with a blue sky. This was by far the cheapest indoors-accommodation we had found during our stay in North America, but it was time to continue. We had some climbs to do this morning and I decided that the easiest thing for me would be to go very slowly but steadily. Usually the campgrounds were about 90 kilometers apart, but around here they were closer and we were able to cut our cycling days in half and do some 50 to 60 for the first few days. I could get used to slow and relaxed days like that.

Big Sur Camping in the woods

Big Sur Camping in the woods

We had stunning views. One of the advantages of cycling north to south on the West coast was, that we had the sea right next to us. We passed viewpoint after viewpoint, but I was so sweaty I didn’t want to risk getting a worse cold by stopping in the fresh wind.

I stopped counting the viewpoints after half an hour. It was just too many. Even at our slow speed we saw the same people over and over again. A chubby man in leather jacket and with grey hair awaited us at every single one of the viewpoints.

Stunning ride through the Big Sur Scenery

Stunning ride through the Big Sur Scenery

The sea was deep blue and the waves dramatically crushed against the big rocks. Here and there we spotted carpets of algae and from a high viewpoint we even observed some seals that surfed the waves.

Big Sur Viewpoint

The view from the saddle

At the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground we ran into John from the US and Daniel from Germany again. They had camped next to us back in Monterrey. Half an hour later we were surprised by Josh’s appearance.

Cycling the Pacific Coast Highway

Cycling the Pacific Coast Highway

At his average speed we were sure he had long reached Los Angeles. Josh explained to us that he had discovered a new self-timer function on his phone’s camera, so now he stopped even more frequently.

Breakfast at the Campground

Breakfast at the Campground

We had met Hannah, Kate and Ben back in Santa Cruz. As usual they arrived long after sunset. “We got lost again”, they shrugged. There was only this one highway all day. I began to wonder whether they got “lost” on purpose, knowing that after sunset there wouldn’t be a ranger to check that people actually pay their fees.

We saw this car parked on the most scenic viewpoint. Their drivers sat next to in on camping chairs, sharing some wine and delicacies. Life can be so good.

We saw this car parked on the most scenic viewpoint. Their drivers sat next to in on camping chairs, sharing some wine and delicacies. Life can be so good.

The men sat together after dinner and had tea and conversations on how to solve all the world’s problems. I didn’t feel like joining them, my head was more snot than brain.

More Big Sur views

More Big Sur views

It was another sunny morning and a day full of spectacular views and stunning sights. But I couldn’t have cared less. My head felt double its size, my nose was runny, my legs were shaky and my sweat was cold. All I wanted was to arrive some place. There was even a place with a waterfall that fell right onto the beach, but we didn’t even bother stopping. What a waste of beautiful sights.

Big Sur Bridge

It must have been difficult to build this highway. We were happy to be able to ride it!

We spent the night at Murdock’s from warmshowers. He wasn’t a cyclist himself, but he loved hosting them. Murdock is a fire fighter and this year he had made his biggest dream come true: he had climbed the Kilimanjaro!

Go 49ers!

Go 49ers!

Murdock is probably the country’s biggest American Football fan and pretty much everything in his home had something about the San Francisco 49ers printed on it. He had even purchased the two original stadium seats prior to the stadium’s renovation. The seats made a great couch.

Cycling the Pacific Coast Bike Route

On the way to Murdock’s

What a ride!

What a ride!

I had a hot shower, a big plate of Murdock’s delicious pasta and a glass of red wine and suddenly everything felt much better.

Cycling Highway 1

Cycling Highway 1

Murdock provided us with a special treat: a fire fighter’s Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE). This was an emergency supply of food that was used a lot in the military too. The packet contained 4000 calories in form of Tortillas, cheese paste, beans with beef, cappuccino-powder, lemonade-powder, cookies and applesauce plus a chemical stove that heated up when brought in contact with water.

Warmshowerer Murdock

Our new friend Murdock!

After an hour on the road there was a vulture up in the sky. Then another one and a third. After a while a group of them were circling high up in the sky above our heads. Hey, I’m only having a cold! Later we were surrounded by bright orange monarch butterflies, saw a few condors and later even elephant seals!

Elephant Seal Baby

Chubby little sweetheart

The Elephant Seals filled entire beaches!

The Elephant Seals filled entire beaches!

There were entire beaches full of those beautiful animals. The adolescents played, while the adults and babies slept, grunted and threw sand all over themselves and each other. We stopped for quite a while and just couldn’t get enough.

Elephant Seal Colony in California

Here’s another colony. The young ones played and the older ones relaxed.

It was animal-day for us and we weren’t even too surprised anymore when we spotted zebras between the cows on a field next to the road. Yet I stared so much, I almost overran a snake.

Ride through Central California

Ride through Central California

Elephant Seals Viewpoint

Elephant Seals Viewpoint

We spent the night camping with four German backpackers. Two young men got themselves a baby stroller to carry water and things that are too heavy for their backpacks. A nice couple arrived after sunset. They had done an extra hike to the village to get three bottles of wine that they shared with everybody.

On the way to Avila Beach

On the way to Avila Beach

It was a nice and chilled morning. We biked right by the coast and crossed several nice villages full of cafés, art, shops for surfers, beaches and nice and relaxed people. We hardly saw anything of San Louis Obispo, because we took a right to Avila Beach instead.

Highway 1 in Central California

Highway 1 in Central California

Feeling much better already.

Feeling much better already.

Susan was going to meet us at night, so we decided to go for a beer by the beach to shorten the waiting time. Our bikes clearly raised some attention and soon we found ourselves chatting to a lot of other people.

Sunset beer in Avila Beach

We met some very nice people who invited us for a second beer, and a third one.

We were having our third beer (thanks to some very nice customers) when Susan and her cousin Michele arrived. We got some ingredients and headed to Susan’s place, where Roberto prepared a delicious vegetarian wrap buffet. Susan’s neighbors arrived with more beer and wine and we decided to try out a new game that we had learned high up North in Inuvik, NWT, Canada.

Tonight's team

Tonight’s team

One participant choses an animal and another player. Next he or she imitates the animal to the other player, until the other player can’t keep from smiling anymore. Then it’s that player’s turn. Needless to say: we had a fun evening.

Avila Beach

Avila Beach

Susan grew up with her three brothers on a farm with farm shop. She loves nature and her little dog Olive. Her constant smile and positivity is contagious and the four of us had a great time in her one-room apartment. Susan had long been thinking about bike touring herself and we were happy to answer some of her questions.

We had such a great time with Susan!

We had such a great time with Susan!

We spent the next morning hiking in the Montaña de Oro State Park and in the afternoon we relaxed in the Jacuzzi on the balcony. We had cold beers and could see the sun setting in the sea from our bubbly and warm spot.

The perfect Californian evening

The perfect Californian evening

Beautiful hike!

Beautiful hike!

With Susan and Michele it felt as if we had known each other for a long time and just spent a relaxing weekend together as old friends. Seriously, we couldn’t have had any better luck. All thanks to that terrible rainy day back in Monterrey, when we all had fled into the same dry café downtown.

Hiking in the Montaña de Oro State Park

Hiking in the Montaña de Oro State Park

Susan and her Cousin Michele

Susan and her Cousin Michele

Growing old on the veranda by the beach

Growing old on the veranda by the beach

Great times with Susan, who will start her bikepacking trip very soon!

Great times with Susan, who will start her bikepacking trip very soon!

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