June 20th marked the first time in nearly 70 years that a full moon coincided with the Summer solstice, and although it’s been our home-base for some time now, I couldn’t think of a better time to finally traverse the iconic stretch of highway on which we live, guided by the glow of Earth’s only satellite. The roughly 90 miles of coastline referred to as Big Sur is accessible only by the snaking, crumbling, edge-of-the-continent, two lane asphalt strip of Highway 1. As could be expected, summers here are a shit-show of buses and RVs, SUVs and motorcycles, car club outings, gawkers and aggressive drivers, camper vans mulling in the turnouts, 12 person tents in the State Park, fools in the backcountry starting wildfires, seas of poison oak, ferocious ticks, rattlesnakes, selfie sticks, and more often than not a dense marine layer of fog that often doesn’t burn off for days. Wise locals often take holiday elsewhere in the summer, and with every passing season here I understand why.
At the moment VA and I reside in the more heavily populated area of northern Big Sur, essentially a residual splattering of wealth dripping down the coast from the Carmel area. The property we caretake sits at the epicenter of the Clear Ridge Bowl; a southern facing collection of ridges and winding redwood canyons that snake their way out to sea. Twenty miles to the south Lopez Point can be seen jutting into the surf. On the other side of this prominence sits the lonely outpost of Lucia, consisting of a restaurant, general store, and a strip of cabins perched on a cliff that look as if they’d fall in the drink should the Big One ever shake things up. For a year or so we worked at Lucia, and the house in which we lived was perched in the same manner, slowly tilting towards the briny depths 300 feet below. Sitting in the kitchen over a cup of tea, the view to the west showed the earths watery horizon tilting relative to the window frame. Butter would run to the back of the pan and that sort of thing. One afternoon in early 2014 we pushed our bicycles out of that rickety dream of a house, saddled up, and pedaled to Florida.
The 30 miles of highway between our old home and new is arguably some of the most dramatic coastline in the world. For those who stay long enough, the once perpetual visual stimuli becomes the new normal, as with anywhere else. What was once a languid Sunday jaunt up the coast turns into a 100-mile roundtrip grocery run. Big Sur speaks to many, but most do not hear (or perhaps do not know how to listen). As Henry Miller stated, and I’m paraphrasing, “Once there is nothing to improve about your surroundings, the tendency is to improve upon oneself”. I believe that in Big Sur this is the seperation of wheat from the chaff, and may explain why only a few thousand souls choose to live here. Although it’s easy to forget, we’re reminded of the awe it invokes through the fresh eyes of a friend or stranger who comes to stay for a day or a week. Our most recent guest was Erin Saver, better known as Wired, an accomplished and well-established long distance hiker who’s just set off for a long season of trips, including the Sierra High Route and Wind River High Route. Motivated by her upcoming adventures, I threw some energy bars and a heaping helping of pasta in a bag and hopped on my bike an hour before sunset. I would pedal to our old home at Lucia, leave the bike with a friend, and walk back following the moon across the ocean; an off-the-cuff Big Sur Full Moon Duathlon.
The climb out of the valley is a heart thumper with narrow shoulders and heavy traffic. Waves of car snakes twist their way up and down the coast looking for an answer to so many questions. I’m thankful to have the sun on my back and pause at the top of the climb and wait for silence. An especially long row of cars zips by and I pull away from the entrance to Post Ranch dropping into another long descent, zipping past more businesses: Nepenthe, Henry Miller Library, Deetjen’s. The cliffs begin and business ends, names become landmarks and geographic distinctions. Big Creek, Lime Creek, Vicente Creek. Cooper Point, Indian Point, Point 16. Grimes Canyon and Devils Canyon, Seven Pines (now six) and Three Palms. What’s left of 13 Stone.
It’s familiar on a bike and I enjoy the ride. The warm afternoon melts into photo-ops like the ones you see on religious pamphlets, and I stop often in brand new spots to capture a view never seen before. After the post-sunset traffic, the road becomes deserted with only the occasional passerby, most likely a local running errands after the tourists have gone. Seals bark along the jagged beaches below and music pulses from the grounds of the Esalen, the beat helping me keep pace on the long uphill out of Hot Springs Canyon. Eventually I top out by Indian Point just north of Lucia and see the approaching glow of the moonrise from behind the Santa Lucia range. I push the bike up a dirt driveway onto a friends property and stash it in his shed, stuff pasta into my mouth and fill the Platypus with a garden hose.
By this time it’s 10 pm and I’m just beginning the 28-mile roadwalk back home. And just in time as the moon crests over the horizon to light the way! Big Sur takes on a lunar glow and the light reflects across the water like a cold sun. The golden hilltops and green canyons that plunge steeply into the sea shift between light and shadow as the moon begins it’s arc across the sky. As I walk the road, I hear heavy creature activity along the bank of the northbound lane, so I strap a headlamp on backwards and turn on the red lights in an attempt to dissuade any mountain lions currently stalking me from locking down on the back of my neck. The construction stop light at Big Creek bridge up head is visible for hours, the three red lights occasionally turning green for no one. I finally reach the bridge at 2 am and quickly walk beneath the crumbling, anxiety inducing future road closure known as Cow Cliffs.
The miles pass by rather blandly, as they often do with roadwalks. Hours of wandering the middle line of that lonesome road as the swell busts and booms below and the salty air smells of eucalyptus and fennel. I tighten the hood of my windjacket as a chill breeze blows down the mountains to the vast darkness of the ocean. Big Sur is a strange and lonely place at night but I find solace by singing out loud and peeking over fences to admire the multi-million dollar properties that sit uninhabited along the coast, illuminated by the moon for my viewing pleasure alone. The music at Esalen has stopped but I know the baths are still open, and for a moment I consider having a dip, but a glance at my watch tells me it’s 3:30 a.m. with 16 miles to go, so on I plod.
As I follow the moon along, the eastern horizon grows brighter as the sun makes its way back around, opposite of where I’d watched it set earlier that night. One by one, sleepy turnout campers are waking up, wondering where they’ll poop. Traffic picks up, and by the time the sun hits my back I’m once again at the entrance to Post Ranch Inn. I wearily make my way down into the valley, following another morning wanderer for a while as he searches the roadside for cigarette butts. I duck off onto Sycamore Canyon road, driveway for occasional resident Ted Turner. A few miles down I teeter off onto Front Hill Road and began the long, last climb home. On the way up I look down onto the historic Pfeiffer homestead, now the home of Al Jardine of the Beach Boys, which sits along Bear Killed Two Calves Creek. It’s hard to imagine grizzly bears roaming the hills of Big Sur, but just a few generations ago they did. This thought intrigues me the rest of the way home, which I reach around 7:30 just as Virginia’s waking up. Just in time for coffee.