The Pacific Coast Highway

Last fall I successfully completed Smokey Coast to Coast when I rode my motorcycle across Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier, the end of Route 66. The van didn’t see the Pacific, but that was okay. By my rules, which I made up myself so they’re always right, I got myself there with one of my vehicles, so it counts. But it remained true that my van had still never reached the Pacific coast. That changed today.

But first, I had to escape TV Tower Road. I let Lister have his morning romp, which I’ve found makes him far more willing to travel than if I just take off immediately. Once again, I was inside a cloud. There was no scenery to admire, so I slowly began my slow descent. First, I backed straight up onto the road, which continued up the mountain. Then I dropped the transmission down into 1 and crawled back down the way I came. To be honest, it wasn’t as bad as I remembered going up. I think that knowing I’d gotten up OK gave me confidence about getting back down again. It was early, and there was no one else on the road, so I used the whole width (which isn’t saying much) and got back to US 101 safely.

Unintuitively, I got on US 101 south, even though my destination was north. This was just a short hop to San Luis Obispo, where I’d pick up CA-1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway. Soon this would take me, as the name implies, to the coast. I drove through Morro Bay, which I’d seen from my overnight spot before the clouds rolled in, and pulled off in Cayucos when I saw a sign that promised coastal access.

Since it was still somewhat early in the morning, street parking was plentiful, even for a vehicle as long as my van and trailer combo. I took a walk to the end of the Cayucos Pier, taking in the ocean once again. I also enjoyed watching some surfers do their thing.

While not as big a deal as my first time, this did mark a literal turning point in my current journey. If I kept going west from here, the van would rust out very quickly in the salt water.

I got back on the Pacific Coast Highway, which soon changed from a divided four-lane highway to an ordinary two-lane road. The moment I saw the first sign for an elephant seal viewing area there was no question that I was going to stop.

I’ve been surrounded by seals off the coast of Maine, but they kept a fair distance from the boat because they’re not dumb about humans. Here, though, they were right there in front of us, hundreds of them. Since it’s not clear from still photos, let me assure you that they were all alive and well, just sunning themselves on the beach. There was a constant flow of traffic in and out of the water. Some were flinging sand on top of themselves and others. A couple of them were even fighting!

As I continued to enjoy my trip up the coast, my experience was soured a little bit by the vast proliferation of signs like this.

This part of California does NOT like van lifers. I was greeted in Monterey County by a sign saying “No overnight parking or camping next 72 miles.” The few and far between campgrounds are expensive, full, and booked through the end of time. The ones I saw along the PCH even prohibit vehicles longer than 24 feet, which rules out my van and trailer (the van alone is barely short enough to qualify). So this left me no choice but to blast through this area in a single day, rather than slowing down and enjoying the ride. My schedule worked out so that I was able to dedicate a non-work day to do this. I’m glad I did, but I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d been able to slow down a bit.

As Neil Peart wrote, “Still, mustn’t grumble.”

And really, with views like this all day, I wasn’t grumbling at all. I may not be able to park overnight, but I could park during the day, and I did so often. I avoided the well-marked “scenic vistas” that had lots of cars and no room for my van and trailer, and instead took the frequent dirt pull-offs scattered all up and down the road.

I was usually the only one there, and many of them were wide enough for me to park far enough away from the road to let Lister out on his tether with no chance of him darting into traffic. This gave him the chance to see an ocean for the first time, as well as my favorite picture I’ve ever taken of him.

I could do an enormous photo dump of pictures I took along the way. This has been just a sample.

Another interesting and unexpected experience was driving over the Bixby Creek Bridge. This is one of the most photographed bridges in California, and as a result, I wasn’t able to stop because I didn’t fit in the parking areas. Its significance to me is in a very roundabout way.

Years ago I got my Honda Silverwing, my first motorcycle set up for touring. I started thinking more about traveling this way because it’s quite affordable to do it on a motorcycle, and I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time. It was the first opportunity I had to actually scratch my itch to travel, at least a little bit.

In researching motorcycle touring on the internet, I discovered BamaRider, a long-distance motorcycle tourer who rode all over the place. I read his blog, devouring his stories of travel and adventure. (It’s actually one of my main inspirations for this website.) We swapped an email or two, and he was very supportive and encouraging of my own adventures.

He, in turn, was inspired to do his thing in part by the TV show Then Came Bronson. It was before my time and I’ve never seen it, but the opening sequence features Bronson riding his motorcycle over the Bixby Creek Bridge. That scene stuck in BamaRider’s head and made him want to travel around on his bike like Bronson did. Eventually, he got to ride over the same bridge in his travels. And now, so have I, just like BamaRider, and just like Bronson.

The PCH got busier and busier the closer I got to Monterey. It’s to be expected, as people pour out of the more populated areas to go enjoy nature, especially on a weekend. I pressed on to San Jose, where my friend Yellow Wolf from Quartzsite has been tying up the loose ends of her past life. We met, talked, had Chinese for dinner (something I haven’t done in months), and talked some more. It was great to catch up with her. I made her a little jealous that I’m off adventuring, while she’s stuck in San Jose getting things done that she needs to do. I’m sure we’ll meet up again, though. That’s how these things work in the nomad life, especially when you connect with someone the way we have.

I followed her to one of her regular urban stealth camping spots, which I won’t reveal here for her privacy. I put up all the window shades, then settled in to watch videos on my phone, rather than on my iPad and Bluetooth speaker, to keep the volume down. I slept well on the side of the road. The next morning we met at a nearby park. I let Lister wander around a bit while she made me coffee. We talked a bit more until she had an 8:00 am meeting. That’s when I set off toward San Francisco. But that’s a story for another day.

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