Big Sur from the Top
Posted on February 8, 2012
Big Sur is one of the most picturesque stretches of the California coast with rugged craggy points flanked by the Santa Lucia Mountains that jump straight up from the coast to a height of over 5000 feet only 3 miles from the ocean. A couple of times a year I go camping with friends in the mountains above the Big Sur to surf and enjoy the vistas. I’ve never followed the rutted dirt road that winds along the ridge for more than a couple miles south and riding motorcycles seemed like to perfect excuse to do so.
My friend Steve drove down from Humboldt County and pulled into my driveway on a Thursday evening with a yamaha xt225 on the back of his truck and surfboards strapped to the roof. Having just narrowly missed out on the Baja excursion, Steve was more than ready to head off on a motosurf adventure. We would spend the following morning preparing bikes for a trip South from Santa Cruz, along the tops of the Santa Lucia mountains towering over the Big Sur Coast, continuing along the coast to the beach breaks just south of San Luis Obispo where our good friends lived.
The sight of Steve and his bike reflected the DIY spirit of adventure motorcycling that I like so much – figuring things out as you go along and bodging things together the best you can to carry forward. Steve’s bike had lots of creatively placed plastic tubes and whatnot bolted all over the place that didn’t do a whole lot for the aesthetics of the his bike, but did make it into a much more functional bike for covering longer distances with a load of gear.
We packed our wetsuits, camping gear, and made sure that our beloved boards were secure and then checked them two more times before and headed south on Highway 1 towards the Big Sur coast. We wound thru the highway 1 turns with turquoise waves smacking into the cliffs below, each of us trying to lay the bikes over to rail thru corners as best we could.
We turned off the highway up the Nacimiento-Fergeson Road just before sunset, which climbs straight up the mountains about 1600 feet, covering very little horizontal distance in the same space. At the the top of the ridge we turned south onto a dirt road and followed the ridge crest for a few miles before pulling into a flat grassy space that looked straight down a valley all the way down the Pacific Ocean just as the light was waning. It was about the most romantic looking spot to camp I could have imagined. And here I was. With Steve.
The temperature was dropping quickly, so I hauled a pile of wood from a nearby gully with branches wedged between my board and the bike and we made a fire to cook our dinner by.
The next morning we got to ride in the dirt along the top of the ridge, which was a blast! We even found a little hill climb to run up for kicks. It wasn’t so steep, so we didn’t bother taking anything off of our bikes, but what we didn’t notice from the bottom were the series of rain bars that were eroded enough on their upslope side that you had to goose the throttle a bit to jump over them. Steve had a bad landing, dumped the bike and bent arm of his board rack so that it pushed in against his leg and had to be repaired before we carried on. He was able to bend it back into shape without too much trouble or annoyance that I was filming the whole debacle rather than helping.
We traversed the range and wound our way back down to Highway 1 and into Cambria where we found mediocre windblown surf prompting us to motor onward to San Luis Obispo where we had good friends waiting to surf with. It was impressive how well Steve on that little 225 was able to keep up with me on the big 650 on the freeway. The xt225 has six gears and by Steve’s reckoning its not the engine revving high that limits his speed, rather its the lack of stability at higher speeds on a such a light bike. You just get blown all over the place above about 65 mph.
We were surprised that you can just drive your truck around on the beach just north of the Pismo dunes.
When Steve pulled his board out of the bag, he inspected the damage that he had done during our little hill climbing excursion for the first time. I find it amazing that you can fix both your motorcycle and your surfboard with the same magical sticky gray tool.
We found some little waves to ride, had a massive breakfast and went for a great hike – our hosts Dan and Jenna kept us well entertained during our stay. Dan and I met in graduate school in San Diego, surfing the peeling waves of Sunset Cliffs, behaving badly in bars, and running down the Baja peninsula whenever we could. It was a great crew of friends we had there that all seemed to disperse after a few glorious years living in out at the San Diego beaches.
On the way back we drove out to Morro Rock to look at the waves.
I was in a bit of a rush to get back when we got up on Monday morning, so we blasted along pretty quickly. Coming past Sand City at the southern end of the Monterey Bay we encountered the scariest feeling cross wind that either of us had dealt with up to then. We both had to slow way down to feel anything close to safe. The wind would have been challenging enough on its own, but having surfboards attached to us didn’t help matters. I cut the timing pretty close and ended up having to ride straight to the office all geared up to arrive back in time for a meeting, earning myself a few funny looks in the parking lot.