Thursday, February 18, 2010
Pismo Beach to Monterey
Another 10 degrees would have made the ride tolerable. What should have been the gem of my California adventure was tarnished by cold, clouds, fog, mist and cold. After my ride I was warm, fireplaces wherever I went. Tomorrow I head back south, after touring Monterey Bay Aquarium. I am seriously considering the inland route because it may be a critical five or 10 degrees warmer.
I knew it was coming, one of the disadvantages of modern weather forecasting. I did a bit of work in the morning, allowing the outside temperature to climb a bit and the fog to back off the road. I could not yet see out to sea. The hills behind the sea had lines of fog hanging in their heights still at 11 a.m.
Three hours difference between California and Connecticut make work difficult. I returned what calls I could, replied to a few e-mails and forwarded others. Our Aquarium Graphic Designer Deb admonished me to stop sending her more work. She is preparing for vacation. She will be off to Ismaldora, Florida Keys for some serious fishing a day after I return.
In morning's nadir I was out and riding south. At times Route 1 mixes in with Freeway 101. So I ran high speed until just above San Luis Obispo, jumping off point of no return down the twisty, two-lane PCH. This is perhaps the most famous stretch. Known for unparalleled beauty, it hugs cliff side where California falls into the Pacific Ocean.
It wasn't too bad to start. There was no sun. Sun always makes you feel warmer, even when the air isn't.
As I rode I cooled. I kept a weather eye for some place to pull over and add some layers. Then there it was, the elephant seal viewing point. I pulled off and managed to park on a small strip of asphalt near, but not in, the entrance to a gravel lot.
Seals were there all right, huge, noisy, stinky, magnificent, animals. You could get pretty close, looking over the edge of a fenced cliff to the beach below.
After the proper gawking and zoo photos that I will likely never review, I started pulling more body insulation from the bike's saddlebags. I added the winter liner back into my riding pants. I pulled out a Ridehide shirt. I dropped a chemical hot pack into each boot, pulled out my neck gaiter and my heaviest winter gloves. Darn, I should have brought those goose down mittens after all. Wish I had my electrics, on the other hand, the rental bike has no facility for providing power to them.
Who knew? It's California for chrissakes.
As I rode north, the PCH increased its scenery with every turn. Soon it wound itself into tight, 20 mile per hour recommended speed twisties, and switchbacks, miles of 'em.
The road is cut into the sides of these outrageously steep sand and mud cliffs hanging out over the deep Pacific. There are “rock fall” signs every where. Heading north, massive hills and cliffs to your right; to your left a sheer drop, sometimes hundreds of feet, to the sea below.
Now and then the road apparently actually does fall into the sea with the rest of California. I worked my way through half a dozen repair crews. Some of them were drilling pilings into the cliff to shore up the disappeared roadbed.
As you approach one of these sites, a caution sign warns “rock slide ahead.” Then just around the corner you can see where all hell broke loose, along with a chunk of California. The thought flits across my consciousness, “What happened to the guy on the road when the hill let loose, the road plunging into the ocean below?”
One of the signs was more ominous, “pavement ends.” If you look at a map, Route 1 is basically the only option for miles. Fortunately the road continued on gravel, and only a small patch of it.
I skipped the rest of the tourist options. Hearst Castle was totally shrouded in fog. You could not see up the hill a hundred yards. By the time I passed Nemanthe, where everybody told me I just must have lunch, I was too cold and it was too late and I was in no mood to take all that gear off only to dress again for the run to Monterey.
Both options were passed by with only a momentary downshift to acknowledge their presence and passing. Maybe next time.
Despite its unrefuted scenic beauty, the cold and the attention required by me to manage the bike in relentless corners, was dulling my enthusiasm. Can you believe that for the last half hour I was thinking, “Okay, just another vista and amazing canyon. Brake, downshift, look, lean, roll.”
For the last bit the road climbs up, up, up to Big Sur. The rise in elevation of course meant a concurrent drop in temperature. By now it was getting on to three o'clock. The day's warmth was fading fast.
Then, slam! You are in stop-and-go, shopping center lined, Route 1, just like back home. It's called Carmel. I did not see the scenic part. I'm sure it's nice. I had had enough for one day.
Pulling into Monterey on Route 1 it looked like any New Jersey seashore town. Little boutique hotels, once independent, now owned by national chains lined the street, along with all the familiar brand names of fast food and pharmacies, with a few new ones tossed in, Carl Jr.'s, In and Out Burger.
Following my nose I wanted to see where the Monterey Bay Aquarium was located and then try to find a hotel nearby. Suddenly through a tunnel I emerged on the famed Cannery Row. It was lined with shops, quaint, touristy stuff, and very expensive looking hotels. One clue, management includes the word “Spa” with “Inn” and valet parking. Westin is not in my budget. Steinbeck would be shocked at the gentrification.
Riding to the end of Cannery Row I ran right into Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Completing my reconnoiter, I turned back for the strip of cheaper hotels lining Route 1. Fortunately I got lost.
Coming out of the tunnel I turned too soon, banged around the backside of Monterrey for a bit, and finally found Route 1 again. Except that I turned the wrong way, back toward the tunnel.
Fortunately, as it turns out. On the way to the tunnel I see a sign for visitor information
Figuring that I will be floundering through the city tomorrow to go to the Aquarium, I stopped in for a local map. The nice lady asked if I had a place to stay and recommended the Cannery Row Inn. I immediately asked the rate. “Just $69 king bed. Very nice. Right at the head of Cannery Row. Walking distance to the Aquarium.”
Turned out to be my second lucky hotel choice of the trip.
When I checked in the clerk said she did not have any more kings at the $69 rate. But for $10 more she could upgrade me to a king bed with a fireplace. Oh yeah! That was an easy up sell.
She also had a referral card to a local seafood restaurant entitling me to a free appetizer. She offered that if I was interested, she would call ahead and get me a good table. And she did. I was escorted to a table next to a fireplace and overlooking the bay. The restaurant is built out on a pier, likely a pier that once was part of a sardine factory. Sardines were not on the menu.
Monterey's history aside, I ordered the dungeness crab instead. They allowed me to split my free appetizer between a half order of calamari and a half artichoke heart. It was a very good combination. The calamari was spicy, the artichoke tart with vinegar.
As I finished a great meal, I glanced a final time into the crystal clear waters I had been watching below. There was a sea otter rolling around and playing with a floating chunk of driftwood.