Ride Report - Central California Coast and Beyond, March 2004

by Mark Sapiro


Some time in January, Bonnie Faigeles suggested that we do a week or so tour during her spring break. This sounded good to me so we started thinking about what to do. Bonnie wanted to go during the first week of her break which technically at least would still be winter so we wanted to go south which would be warmer. Little did we know amidst all the rain and cold that this would be a time of record breaking high temperatures. We seem to be developing a trend in this direction (see the write up of our trip last June).

Ultimately we decided on a motel trip from Carmel down the coast to Cambria and then to Paso Robles, Parkfield, Coalinga, King City, Pinnacles and back to Carmel. We planned to stay Sunday night in Monterey and start riding on Monday.

Ann and I had theater tickets for Sunday night so I couldn't leave until after the play which ended a little after 9 p.m. I picked up Bonnie around 10:00 and we got to the motel in Monterey around midnight. Bonnie had made breakfast for us that we could reheat in the motel microwave so we could get an early start as we thought we would be going all the way to Cambria from Carmel which is nearly 100 miles.

We got to the motel, and I was going to get the cable lock out of my rack trunk bag to lock the bikes to the car, and I couldn't find the rack trunk. I soon realized I didn't have my helmet either. I had staged all my stuff in my utility area before loading it into the car. I knew I had put some tools, the lock and some spares in the rack trunk and put it in the staging area. I was sure my helmet, gloves and glasses were there too. I was also pretty sure I had checked the staging area before leaving and it was empty. I didn't know how that stuff had not gotten in the car, but it was clear that I didn't have it. I felt pretty foolish.

It turned out when I got home after the trip, that the helmet with gloves and glasses and the rack trunk were on a counter top under the cupboard where I keep my water bottles. Evidently, while carrying those things to the car, I detoured to get a couple of bottles and put the other stuff down and never thought about it again.

Bonnie and I discussed options including driving back to Mill Valley (5 hr. round trip) or calling Ann and asking her to bring the stuff. We decided to get a good night's sleep and I would buy some stuff locally in the morning.

Day 1: Monday, March 15

Actually, my forgetting the stuff may have been a blessing in disguise. If I hadn't, we probably would have ridden all the way to Cambria or at least to San Simeon which would have left a very short day to Paso Robles the next day with little other option for scheduling the overnight stops. As it was, we phoned the lodge at Lucia, and much to our surprise and apparently theirs too, they were full for the night. We asked about accommodations further south and they told us there was Gorda by the Sea and the Ragged Point Inn. We were unable to get a person on the phone at Gorda, but we did get the Ragged Point Inn and they had a room with two beds overlooking the ocean for $89 which we said we would take.

I then tried calling bike shops and spoke to a person at Joselyn's in Monterey who said they would open at 9:30 and could sell me what I needed. We finished eating the food Bonnie brought and a couple of bananas that I had brought and checked out of the motel and drove to Joselyn's. I bought a helmet, gloves, a cable lock, two tubes and a set of tire levers for just under $95. Of course, I still didn't have my cycling glasses with mirror or miscellaneous tools and spares, but Bonnie had a few tools and a patch kit, and I did have my regular glasses and a spare tire and chain lube. I figured we'd make do with that.

We next drove to Carmel and looked for a place to leave the car. I had thought we might be able to leave it in one of the lots in the Carmel Rancho area (east of hwy 1 and immediately south of Carmel Valley Rd.), but the lots were all pretty prominently posted with private property - no overnight parking signs. We finally found a cul de sac a couple of blocks west of the highway with no houses on one side, and we parked there.

We put our panniers on our bicycles, and as we were getting ready to leave, Bonnie noticed something shiny in the tread of her front tire. I figured that even if it was through to the tube and plugging the hole, we wanted to know since it would be bound to start leaking sometime in the next five or six days, so I pulled it out. It was a shard of metal about an eighth of an inch long, and it hadn't pierced the tube so we were ready to go. We began riding just a little before 11.

Those who've been along the Big Sur coast know how beautiful it is. For the rest of you, all I can say is I hope you have as nice a day as this was when you go. The weather was warm but not too warm. The traffic seemed a bit more than when we rode from Andrew Molera down to Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd (and through Ft. Hunter-Liggett to King City) last November, but it wasn't too heavy.

Not too far south of Carmel, I found a Victorinox multi-tool (full size Leatherman type) on the side of the road to supplement our tool kit. It was a little scratched up, probably from having been run over by a car or two, but it was completely functional.

We stopped for lunch at a gas station/cafe complex on the left in Big Sur. We had sandwiches and salad which were quite good. We then began the climb to what I think is the highest point on highway 1 south of the stretch between Rockport and Leggett in northern Mendocino County.

A little further on, we stopped again for a rest where two other cyclists and a UPS truck were already stopped. These two guys had more stuff tied to their bicycles than any other cyclists I've ever seen. I did get a picture as they were leaving, but it only hints at how much stuff they had (see below for picture link). I asked one of them where they were riding from and he said "Shasta County", but the UPS driver said they told her they'd been on the road for a year.

We rode on to Lucia which is about two thirds of the way from Carmel to Ragged Point. We stopped there for some refreshments from the store. I bought a SoBe which I think was $2.75. Bonnie bought a bottle of water, a cookie and something else, each of which were about $3.00. At that rate, the unavailable rooms were probably at least double the price at Ragged Point.

We continued to Gorda and stopped for ice cream bars. Bonnie asked in the store how much the rooms there were just for reference. They only have cabins for about $200. By now it was after 5:30 and we still had 12 miles and 1200 feet of climbing (two climbs and two descents) to get to Ragged Point. I did stop for a sunset photo, and we stopped a bit later to turn on our rear lights. We reached the Ragged Point Inn about 6:40 which was about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight and about 10 minutes beyond the comfortable light level.

We checked in and went to the room which was large and very nice with a back door to our own porch and bench and a common yard overlooking the ocean. We cleaned up and went to the restaurant on the property which was also quite nice, and we had a nice dinner before retiring for a good night's sleep.

Daily Totals - 74.4 miles, 6080 feet
Elevation Profile

Day 2: Tuesday, March 16

The restaurant at Ragged Point opened at 8:00 a.m. and we managed to get up in time to be there then. We had a quiet breakfast and got ready to go and started riding a few minutes after 9:00. Ragged Point is at the southern end of the rugged coastal area that begins around Carmel. There is a 300 foot downhill and then the terrain abruptly becomes flat and open with green fields and cattle.

Our first stop for the day was about 8 miles south at Piedras Blancas, There is a gas station/store and a motel there. Bonnie wanted to use the rest room and I bought a biscotti. They were playing a video about elephant seals in the store and we were reminded that there is a large colony about two miles further south.

We continued on to the elephant seal colony and stopped there for a few minutes. There were many other people there checking out the seals, but we were the only ones who had arrived by bicycle. At the time we were there, the adults had already left and all we saw were the weaner pups who just hang out on the beach living off their fat until they teach themselves to swim. More information on these elephant seals is at the Friends of the Elephant Seal web site.

Next we continued south on Hwy 1 through the town of San Simeon and on to Cambria. It was early for lunch so we went to the grocery store and bought some sandwiches and V-8 juice to take with us. We then left Cambria on Santa Rosa Creek Road.

At first the road is fairly open and not steep. We passed by several farms and stopped at one with a fruit and gift shop. We got lemonade to drink and some sesame stick snacks. As we continued, the road got narrower and more wooded and began to climb more steeply

Soon we stopped along the creek and had a good rest and ate our lunch. This section is shaded and wasn't too warm, but as we continued we left the creek and trees and the road got even steeper. It was hot and we were working hard and even walked one or two of the steepest sections.

Eventually, we reached the intersection with Cypress Mountain Road. This is a dirt road which connects after about 7 miles with Klau Mine Rd which one can take to Adelaida Rd to Paso Robles. Cypress Mountain Rd appears from the map to climb about 400 feet from the intersection and then descend to Klau Mine Rd. We had been considering going that way, but there was a sign just past the intersection that said "road closed to through traffic". We thought we could probably get through on bicycles, but at that point the thought of getting over the summit and possibly having to turn around and go back up hill deterred us, and we just continued on Santa Rosa Creek Rd to Hwy 46 to Paso Robles.

Highway 46 is a good road with only moderate traffic, good pavement and a wide shoulder. This is Paso Robles wine country and we soon came to a little spur road called Zin Alley with a fruit and wine shop. We stopped and went in and I spied 48 ounce bottles of natural (no added sugar or water, just apples) apple cider in a cooler. Bonnie wasn't sure we could finish the whole bottle, but I pointed out we had water bottles if we needed to carry any. We bought the bottle, and the clerk gave us two cups, and as it turned out, it took us less than 10 minutes to finish the whole bottle.

We continued on to Paso Robles. We saw a couple of cheap motels on the way in, but we were looking for a swimming pool. We stopped at the Paso Robles Inn, and Bonnie went in to inquire while I watched the bikes. Bonnie came back and said they had a room for $105 and did we want to look at it. We figured we would look so Bonnie went back to get a key and they told her she could get the room for the commercial rate of $95. We looked at the room which was small but nice, and the grounds and pool were very nice so we took it.

We cleaned up and went out to the pool area. We were sitting around the hot tub, and a woman came into the area and started talking to us. First she wanted to know where we were from, and when I said "the Bay Area", she wanted to know what city. We told her, and then she asked if Bonnie was my daughter. This was apparently a segue to her telling us that she was about 30 years younger than her 88 year old husband of 30 years and a story or two about how she'd been mistaken for his daughter.

I asked her where she was from, and she said they were from Carmel and they'd come to Paso Robles to escape the fog. We told her we'd bicycled from Carmel and that other than Sunday night around Monterey, we hadn't seen any fog. She asked us where we'd left our car and then proceeded to tell us about all the break-ins and car burglaries they'd had in Carmel. I figured we'd left the car in a safe place, and there wasn't anything I could do anyway, so I resolved not to be concerned about the car.

In the evening, we walked a couple of blocks along the town square and had a good dinner at Lombardis Pasta Familia followed by dessert at the Cold Stone Creamery next door.

Daily Totals - 54.3 miles, 4160 feet
Elevation Profile

Day 3: Wednesday, March 17

This morning we called the Highway Patrol in an attempt to get some information for the next two days. We were ultimately referred to the Coalinga office which confirmed that there was a cafe but no store in Parkfield, that Parkfield-Coalinga Road was about half unpaved but was passable with at most some washboard, that there were motels in Coalinga but the only one they could recommend was the Cambridge Inn and that there was water available at Los Gatos Creek Park on Los Gatos-Coalinga Road. Most of this information turned out to be correct. We called the Cambridge Inn and reserved a room for that night.

We ate a nice breakfast at the hotel restaurant and got checked out and started riding at about 9:00. We rode out of Paso Robles on North River Road which, not surprisingly, is along the Salinas River and through the adjacent farm land. We then took Vineyard Canyon Road to Parkfield.

Vineyard Canyon Road had almost no traffic. It passes through farm and ranch land and climbs gradually at first and then a bit more steeply to a summit at around 2500 feet before descending about 1000 feet to Parkfield. The surface was mostly chip seal and although rough, was in generally good condition.

We got to Parkfield which is a fairly limited town with a school, a cafe and a lodge, all of which seemed deserted except for one guy who was talking to someone else passing through in a sports car. There is also a US Geological Survey station of some kind, but it wasn't clear if anyone was there. The sports car left just after we arrived and the remaining guy said the cafe was closed Wednesdays, but the water in the outside tap was good.

We talked about where we were headed and he said it was a good climb but the road was OK. He lived on a ranch on the Coalinga side of the hill. We sat on the porch of the cafe and ate some Clif bars for lunch and then refilled our water. We then went to the school. No one was there, just a barking dog, but the restrooms were open, so we used the toilet and headed out of town.

Parkfield-Coalinga Road is paved and climbs gradually for about five miles along Little Cholame Creek. Then the pavement ends and the road turns uphill. It was quite warm and there wasn't much shade, but the dirt surface was hard packed and fairly smooth and the grade was not too steep. It took about an hour and a quarter to climb the five or so miles of dirt to the summit at about 3500 feet. The views from the road while climbing were of oak-studded green hills with a few patches of mustard. It was actually a very nice ride.

We rested a bit at the top and then started down. We descended about 2000 feet in about five miles on very good dirt. Then there was a short climb and another descent on pavement to get to Highway 198 and about another eleven or so miles on the highway, mostly gradual descent, to get to Coalinga. We ate some snacks at a Taco Bell and then checked in to the motel.

When we checked in, the clerk told us they had two pools and the one across the street might be cleaner. I took a quick look at the pool on our side, and it didn't look too bad, but Bonnie thought it was pretty dirty and when I looked again, I had to agree so we went across the street. The pool over there didn't look any better and Bonnie decided not to go in. I thought I'd been in many lakes and streams that were no cleaner so I'd give it a try. As I walked down the steps to about thigh deep water with silt billowing off the floor with each step, I noticed the surface was littered with wasp-like insects. One of these was not dead and I lifted it out and placed it on the side to dry. It sort of flopped around in a very uncoordinated way and never did recover. I don't know if it was just nearly dead or if it was impaired from something in the water, but I lost my enthusiasm for swimming.

I decided to just go back to the room, but as I tried to leave, I found the gate to the pool area had latched shut behind us, and I couldn't open it. For a moment I thought we were locked in, but there was another gate which wasn't latched. That was enough for both of us, and we went back across the street.

From the outset in planning this trip, we wanted to go to the Pinnacles. Initially, we thought we might camp there, but when we decided not to bring camping gear, we thought we could ride to King City one day, and then ride to the west side of the Pinnacles, walk around some and ride to Soledad the next day. Today, we had discussed other options including staying two nights in King City and riding unloaded to the Pinnacles. We decided to stay two nights in King City and rent a car and drive to the Pinnacles.

Back at the room, I called Keefer's in King City and reserved a room for Thursday and Friday nights and asked about car rental places. They referred me to Enterprise in King City which is about a ten minute walk from Keefer's. I called Enterprise and reserved a car for Friday.

We then went to the restaurant at the motel for dinner as there was nothing else near by. The food wasn't bad, but it seemed to take a long time for the entrees to arrive. After dinner I think we watched a little TV and then went to sleep.

Daily Totals - 63.1 miles (10.2 unpaved), 5180 feet
Elevation Profile

Day 4: Thursday, March 18

It seems that the slow food preparation at the motel restaurant last night wasn't a fluke. This morning we ordered fairly simple egg dishes for breakfast, and there was only one other table of two in the place, and it must have taken 20 minutes or more after we ordered to get the food.

We knew we'd be riding a long way today with no services, so we each carried two large water bottles and a Camelback. We left the motel around 9:15 and rode back west a bit to the nearest grocery store. Bonnie went in and bought French rolls, Kiwi fruit, cheese, green beans, an avocado, a tomato and a 48 ounce V-8 for our lunch, and we headed out of town to the northeast to Gale Ave and Derrick Blvd. There were oil pumps and what appeared to be a county jail along our route, but we soon turned northwest on Los Gatos-Coalinga Road which had scenery more like we'd become used to.

After not quite 20 miles total we reached Los Gatos Creek County Park and took a brief rest there. Contrary to what we'd been told by the Highway Patrol, there were prominent signs indicating that the water here was not potable and not to drink it, so we continued on without getting any additional water. I had noticed a fire station on the map about 30 miles further on and I figured we could get water there if necessary.

This area is quite remote and very pretty. There were a few ranch houses and we did see a little traffic, but we felt quite on our own here. We rode along basically climbing along Los Gatos Creek and then leaving the creek and climbing to a summit at about 3000 feet followed by a descent to the San Benito River. We stopped for lunch at a shady spot next to the river where Clear Creek Road takes off and fords the river. Last April, Ray Hosler, Brian Cox and Jobst Brandt rode a 112 mile loop that included Clear Creek Road. A write up by Jobst is here.

After lunch, we continued northwest on Coalinga Road in the opposite direction of Jobst et al. The road leaves the river and climbs to the head of Lorenzo Vasquez Canyon and then descends the canyon back to the river and the fire station. As we rode in to the station grounds, we saw a fireman and asked if we could get some water. He said sure, and we followed him to the kitchen where he produced two pint bottles from the refrigerator. We drank that and must have looked like we needed it because he proceeded to open a case and remove and open four more bottles while we were still on the first ones. We drank some more and put some in our Camelbacks (which weren't totally empty) and thanked the firemen before heading on.

From the fire station, there is one more little climb on Coalinga Rd before Hwy 25. Then it is about two miles on 25 to Bitterwater which is just a couple of houses and a school and looked almost deserted. From there, King City Road climbs to the west for about a mile and then descends moderately all the way to King City. I stopped at the summit above Bitterwater to take a couple of pictures, and I saw a couple of abandoned bicycle frames in the tall grass at the side of the road. I thought perhaps two other cyclists did our route on a hot day and neglected to stop at the fire station and died from dehydration and exhaustion at the top of the hill, and their bicycles had been picked clean by vultures, but more likely the frames were just dumped there.

We rolled easily down the hill to King City and were on our way to the motel on a side street when we saw a family with a couple of kids on bikes and a man and woman (another kid?) on a side-by-side pedal tricycle which was being pulled by a team of four dogs. They were playing music on a radio or tape or CD player and made an amazing site. We got a picture and then stopped for ice cream cones at a coffee and ice cream shop before finally checking in at Keefer's.

We had dinner at Keefer's and were seated at the same table we'd been at last November. We had a different waitress though.

Daily Totals - 70.7 miles, 4240 feet
Elevation Profile

Day 5: Friday, March 19

We had breakfast at Keefer's and Bonnie went back to the room while I walked over to Enterprise to get the car. I had to wait a bit while the people ahead of me got a car, but I soon got signed up and was offered a free "upgrade" to a pick-up truck instead of the compact I'd reserved. I guess she had extra trucks and was short on compacts, this being King City. I took the truck which was actually quite nice with am/fm radio-CD player, cruise control and air conditioning. The downside of course was that it was big and used more gas than a compact would have, but we were only going about 75 miles and it didn't make that much difference.

I drove the truck back to Keefer's and we then went to the Safeway to get another tomato and avocado to go with our left over rolls, cheese, beans and kiwi for lunch. We then drove back the way we'd ridden yesterday and up 25 to the east entrance of the Pinnacles. We parked the truck near the visitor's center and hiked up through the caves.

We were fortunate to be there during one of the few periods that the caves are open to visitors. During most of the year, they are closed to protect the bats that nest there. It was nice and cool in the caves and there was quite a bit of water in the various waterfalls. I took one picture in the caves, but the flash didn't reach to the water I was trying to show. Near the top, we had to work through a passage with a very low ceiling and about six inches of water on the floor.

We soon reached the top of the trail at the reservoir and then took the Rim Trail to the High Peaks Trail. We saw a few climbers and I told Bonnie about some of the climbing I've done there. When we got to the high peaks, we sat in the shade of some rocks and ate our lunch. We then continued on the High Peaks Trail to the Condor Gulch Trail and back to the truck.

On the way down the Condor Gulch Trail, we stopped at the overlook and saw a couple of rangers on trash patrol. They asked if we'd seen the Peregrine Falcons that were said to be nesting in the high peaks. We said no, and just then we heard some shrieks and looked up and saw (according to the ranger with binoculars) a Red Tail Hawk chasing a Peregrine Falcon.

We drove back to King City, got gas and returned the truck and walked back towards Keefer's. Our dilemma at this point was whether to get ice cream cones at the same shop as yesterday or to get ice cream at the market and take it back to Keefer's and eat it by the pool. Ultimately we decided on a quart of Starbucks coffee chocolate chunk by the pool.

We again ate dinner at Keefer's although we did strongly consider the Mexican food next to the coffee and ice cream shop. This time we were seated in the coffee shop rather than our "usual" table in the dining room. The dining room is busier on a Friday night. We were able to take some cheese, celery and carrots from the relish dish to go with the last of our French rolls for tomorrows lunch.

Daily Totals - no cycling

Day 6: Saturday, March 20

We decided to try and get an early start so we got to breakfast about 7:00 and we were able to get packed up and checked out and start riding by about 8:00. We left King City on Metz Road which runs along the east side of the Salinas River valley with farms on the left and hills on the right. It is flat except for one point where it climbs to go over a railroad tunnel. We were on Metz Road for about 11 miles and then took Elm Avenue west to Arroyo Seco Rd. In November we had gone up 101 a few miles to Central Avenue to Elm. Metz is longer, but also prettier.

A curious thing happened here. I had been kind of looking for Hwy 101 as a landmark as we rode west on Elm through Greenfield, but when we came to Central, I knew we'd passed it without my seeing it. This is not too unusual; I sometimes space out on rides and don't remember seeing things I know I've passed, but this time Bonnie asked where 101 was and she hadn't seen it either. Do you think they put it underground? We did notice a new housing development in Greenfield. I suppose the people buying those houses commute to the Gilroy, San Jose, Silicon Valley area. It seems that as a society, we could do something to create good housing that people could afford that was closer to their workplaces.

Arroyo Seco Road climbs moderately to Carmel Valley Road which also climbs moderately and then more steeply to about 2400 feet before descending (mostly) to Carmel Valley and Carmel. We stopped part way down the descent at a nice spot and ate the lunch food we'd brought, and then continued to Carmel Valley.

Here, we had the only "incident" of the trip. We were riding along in front of a kind of strip mall on our right and we wanted to pull in and get an ice cream bar or something to eat. There was a car pulling out of the driveway and Bonnie went in front of the car and up into the parking lot. I was signaling right and trying to convey to the driver to go as I was going to turn before her. She didn't go and at the last minute I realized I was turning rather sharply right through a patch of sand. I slid on the sand and fell, but I was going quite slowly, and nothing was hurt, and I just picked up my self and my bike, said I was fine and walked up to the little deli/store where Bonnie was.

We got ice cream bars in the store and sat out front at a table and ate them. While we were eating, an older man who had been in the store buying liquor and who appeared to be drunk came by and made a few strange remarks to us and walked on. He then got into a car and proceeded to drive quite slowly and not too well out of the parking area and back up the road. We talked a bit about what if anything we could have done about this and finally just hoped he would get home without hurting anyone.

We rode the few miles back to Carmel and found the car just as we had left it except for a coat of dust, the warnings of the woman in Paso Robles notwithstanding. We then finished the trip by driving to Turtle Bay in Monterey where they have some of the best fish tacos anywhere. After three fish tacos and a beer each (I had one each - calamari, rockfish and "baja" - and Bonnie had calamari, salmon and I think rockfish), we drove back home.

Daily Totals - 67.4 miles, 4260 feet
Elevation Profile

Trip Totals

Days, distance and climbing:
  6 days (5 cycling), 329.9 cycling miles (10.2 unpaved), 23,920 feet of climb.

Average per cycling day:
  66 miles, 4784 feet.

Mechanicals: 0

Flat tires: 0


Bilenky touring bike with Continental Top Touring 2000 700x32 tires and rear panniers.
REI touring bike with Michelin 700x23 tires and rear panniers and Polar S-710 altimeter.

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