Rambler: Beth Drink at Hand: Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (thanks Devon and Aspen!)
To say I was excited for my training ride yesterday is an understatement. Everything aligned with the prescribed workout and weather and available time to go and the re-opening of Highway 1 after a landslide to go hit the dirt of the Old Coast Road. I rode part of the Old Coast Road a few years ago, but hadn't been back since. Its a beautiful gravel/fire road that starts right next to the Bixby Bridge north of Big Sur and heads south in the highlands along the coast to Andrew Molera State Park. Gorgeous scenery on a road that makes for perfect Leadville training. The road is a mix of hard packed dirt, gravel, rocks, and deep ruts and is 100% beautiful the entire time.
I quickly found myself fighting a conflict between my two favorite hobbies as I started down the road. The road is fun to ride, and there's something interesting to photography at just about every turn. I am a regular reader of Eric Benjamin's Adventure Money blog, drawing inspiration from his incredible photos during his epic training rides in the beautiful Kansas Flint Hills as he prepares for the Dirty Kanza 200. I wanted to make some similar images, but I had to discipline myself not to stop every 5 feet to snap a frame of something cool with my trusty Canon G10. The G10 doesn't get anything phenomenal like our regular SLRs will capture, but it gets the job done when I'm out riding.
When headed south, the ride starts with a quick and fairly steep drop into a beautiful redwood forest. The road is a fairly gentle climb here, cruising through lush green of redwood forest undergrowth along Bixby Creek. The road is nicely tacky here and I rolled along fairly quickly despite the uphill pitch.
A few miles in the first of the El Sur Ranch "No Trespassing" signs appear, which are a bit of a downer. The middle 6.5 miles of the Old Coast Road pass through the El Sur Ranch, with constant reminders of private property on either side of the road through this otherwise pristine land. The road starts a steady climb up here, out of the redwoods and into the wide open, rolling hills. The sudden transition from dark forest to bright grassland is startling at first, but the warmth of the sun is welcome.
The next section of the road is a little rough. Its a 2-mile descent down a deeply-rutted, curvy road with all sorts of loose gravel and big rocks. The ruts are ideal training for the Leadville Powerline descent, forcing you to look well down the road and watch your speed. While the legs recover on this descent, the arms and brain get a workout! Another short stint through another redwood forest and then a climb through coastal chaparral to the most beautiful views on the ride. Quail run across the road and fly startled out of scrub oak on the side of the road. Poppies dot green pastures all the way down to the Pacific. I could sit here for hours, but I don't think that's what my coach had in mind.
A view of the Point Sur Light Station...and more poppies.
I made a quick stop to take a few photos, but once my heart rate was back down to the 120s, I knew it was time to roll again (damn my quick recovery!). Finally the last of the "no trespassing" sign were behind me and the road got a little more rocky. I was headed down another tricky, rutted hill when I suddenly had a stop sign and Highway 1 in front of me. I thought the Old Coast Road was about 13 miles long, but my GPS said 9.93 mi. Guess I got bad information as there was definitely no more road; just the entrance to Andrew Molera State Park and a bus stop along Highway 1. Time to turn around and head back.
The way back was just as lovely as the way out, and I was feeling great. I felt a huge smile grow across my face so many times as a tootled along at a rather pedestrian pace, enjoying the warm sun and the alternating views of the Pacific on my left with the cone-shaped peaks of the Ventana Wilderness on my right. I even paused to take a quick photo of the road ahead, thinking it looked so nice snaking up the distance hills.
Yeah, that's the same tricky 2 mile descent I previously described. What goes down must go up, eh? I forgot how long that hill was when I started up it--fantastic training for Leadville! The sun suddenly felt hotter, the wind suddenly stronger, the rocks suddenly bigger. I picked my line through the deep ruts, put my head down, found a rhythm. Two miles and 1,010' elevation gain later, I made it to the top. A quick drop back into the redwoods and I was back to a great view of the Bixby Bridge...and sadly, the end of an awesome ride.
If you'd like to explore the Old Coast Road, head south from Carmel on Highway 1. The road is on the east side of Highway 1 at the north end of Bixby Bridge. I think its best sampled on a bike (mountain or cyclocross), but a car with good ground clearance could make it as well. The poppies are just getting to full bloom out there, so go check it out.
And lastly, a little plug for a fellow bike riding photog...if you enjoyed the photos on the Adventure Monkey site linked earlier in the post, check out the photocycling tour he offers in the Kansas Flint Hills. He's still looking for a few more participants for his May workshop and its seriously dirt cheap! Its definitely on my bucket list.