Cross Country Day 11 – Santa Monica, CA to Marina, CA

I wish I had more time in Santa Monica but the siren song of the Pacific Coast Highway called to me like a soprano’s aria. The notorious road was one of the main reasons why I made the trek all of the way to California. I contemplated about skipping the Golden State all together, but then the trip wouldn’t have been cross-country and just a long trip. No. I had to do this drive. The time was now or never. When I first told people that I bought the Brick to do some touring, many non-motorcyclists would ask if I was going to drive the PCH. Today was the day I would do that very thing.

I woke up at 6:45am with the usual coughing and wheezing that I am learning to live with on this trip, and made my way out to the Brick. The morning had an eerie yellowish glow that I have never seen. The sun was rising in the east and I felt turned around with no orange globe of reference hanging on the horizon. I wiped the dew off of my Corbin seat and cranked the bike to life. The old buzzard always starts first crank. The dependability this machine has shown me so far is unbelievable. I keep waiting for Rod Serling to pop out from behind the bushes and blurt out, “ Imagine if you will an old motorcycle that will never stop running…next on the Twilight Zone…”

I headed towards the beach followed the signs for the PCH. I turned left and then right onto the famous tarmac. There were some cars on the road but they quickly thinned out as I rolled along. The road curved along the beach and watching the waves break to my left was a soothing sight. The first part of the highway was easy to navigate, but as I headed up the coast and tried to stick to the beach I kept getting turned around. I decided to drive directly up to Obispo and then head west where the map laid out the road more clearly.

I drove along and stopped often to take in the sights. An older couple on a Suzuki V-Strom pulled over the same time I did because they thought I was having engine trouble. They asked me if I had a problem and I said I was fine but stunned by the sights. “You haven’t seen anything yet!” the driver shouted as we both pulled away. This is the second time I have heard that said to me on this journey. The first time was when Pete said it to me in Colorado. He could not have been more correct with his statement and I assumed these high mileage road warriors knew what they were talking about as well.

I headed westerly on 1 and intersected with the ocean once again. The road dogs were right. The road twisted into high elevations with steep cliffs to my left. The weather was immaculate and my senses were overloaded by the scenic vistas and white tips crashing on the shore. California is not at all like the East Coast of Florida known for sandy flats and mild dunes where I grew up from the age of 12 forward until moving back to NYC in 2000. California has steep cliffs and cattle grazing right next to the rocky beaches. The air iss also cooler coming off of the water, and the humidity much lower. I understood why everyone considered the Pacific Coast Highway such a magical road.

I stopped in a small town called Cayucos and had lunch at Duckie’s which is known for their fish and chips. I bucked tradition and ordered a hot dog. This was a genius move on my part because the tube steak was delicious. It was spilt open and cooked on a grill and the bun was buttered and also thrown on the grill. It was topped with mustard, relish, and a few onions and really was exactly what I needed after the first leg of the trip. After lunch, I looked around the town. The vibe was quaint and family oriented and I was sure these people knew how good their lives were. I walked out onto a long pier and stared at the ocean for a while. What is this connection we humans have with the water? Is the evolutionary remembrance of crawling onto land that still remains inside our brains and bodies? I recalled a science professor teaching me about the swimming reflex in infants and how babies under six months will instinctively hold their breath and kick their arms and legs. We evolved from the water and the method to thrive in it still resides inside us when we are born. In almost every dating profile I have read, people throw out that old driftwood of a cliché, “walks along the beach,” as one of their top sources of pleasure. I seriously doubt all of these people walk the beach as often as they say because the costal sands would be more crowded than Times Square. The thought more so than the actual action of being near the ocean brings people peace. Sitting out on this lonely pier and staring out over the vastness of the Pacific I now understand what all of those lonely hearts are talking about. The typical vortex of anxiety inside of me was quelled for a few moments – I was at peace.

I popped out of my ocean trance as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers. I had miles to roll and a little goes a long way for me regarding the solemn peacefulness department. I am an adventurer and my adrenalin tank needed some juice. I pulled out of the town and continued my journey. The road began to get more challenging and I was really enjoying the elevation changes and mild sweeping curves. I passed the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery that is a few miles past San Simeon. I pulled to the side of the road, grabbed both brakes abruptly, and slid to a stop. Was I really going to pass up an opportunity to see herds of seals on the beach? I turned around southward and made my way to the entrance. I parked the bike near the walkway of the viewing area as the tourists stared at me like some road warrior charred by the fires of hell on my all black bike, wearing a black helmet and black armored jacket. I unscrewed my camera from the handlebar mount and clomped towards the beach. I have seen so few animals in their natural environments. My experience has been thick sheets of Plexiglas and iron bars utilized by zoos to keep the inhabitants safe from poking humans, so this was an amazing event to see the hulking seals sunning their blubbery bodies on the beach just a few feet from where I was standing. I watched the giant seafarers use their flippers to flick sand onto their backs and I looked at my own arm and hand thinking how I use the two together to twist the throttle. We are not far apart at all.

I stuffed a five in the donation box and got back on the trail. After a few miles I entered the Los Padres National Forest. The road got increasingly tricky with blind right-handers high in the cliffs. My adrenal gland was working over time as I carved the pavement, twisting back and forth trough the curves of the mountains. The experience was unforgettable, and I don’t think I have ever been more focused while in the seat of a motorcycle. The road finally calmed down and became easier to ride as I made my way up to Big Sur. I crossed the Bixby Creek Bridge and stopped to take some pictures. Bridges amaze me because they are such daunting structures. I could hear the project manager barking in my head, “Okay were are going to build this thing that crosses over a rocky body of water that is several hundred feet below. Oh yes, and millions of cars and trucks need to drive over it each year.” Bridge building takes guts and confidence like few men will ever know. The weather turned into a nasty cold low hanging mist after the bridge. This was not the California I experienced while driving through Malibu.

I made my way past Carmel and Monterey and into Marina. I would be heading back to Monterey in the morning, but I found a much cheaper motel in Marina so I did the extra 13 miles. The short distance was well earned, as the mist got even thicker. I had to wipe my face shield every 30 seconds and the temperature dropped even even lower. I arrived and checked into the Motel 6. I did some laundry and while my clothes spun I came up with the idea to stay another day. I had been hustling from town to town and I wanted to dig in and spend more time in a place with so many things to see. I phoned the front desk and made the new arrangements.

I found a Vietnamese restaurant called The Noodle Bar. A nice bowl of Pho would be warming after the chilly ride. I walked a little over a mile to get there because I didn’t want to drive if I found a bar nearby to down a few beers. The food and service were both excellent. I had the Pho Ga and some shrimp spring rolls. I was relaxed and thought about the day’s amazing ride on one of the best roads ever paved. I finished dinner and spotted a bar called the Otter’s Den across the street. I bellied up to the bar and ordered a Stella. There were some patrons at the bar but everybody kept to himself or herself. I did the same.

I walked home along the dimly lit street formulating my plan for the next day. I was in the land of both John Steinbeck and Wayne Rainey and I wanted to make the most of my stay. Booking the extra day was a big step for me. I am finally learning to let go of my anxiety and stop to smell the roses, or in this case – the fish of Monterey and racing fuel of Laguna Seca.

Starting Mileage PCH baby! Follow this
Long shadow Quiet road Mountain sunrise
Air Force base Sweeper Straight
Cayucos Beach Cayucos Pier Duckie’s
Great dog Elephant seals Close up
Basking Ocean ride Curvy
Into the hills Cliffs Bridge
Big Sur mist The surf More mist
Bixby Creek Bridge Resting brick Pho Phood


Santa Monica to Marina – 341 Miles

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4 Responses to Cross Country Day 11 – Santa Monica, CA to Marina, CA

  1. Amazing, Joe! Finally catching up with your catch up Blog. What a beautiful part of our country. I especially love the elephant seals, they are among my favorite animals! Glad you spent the extra day there to enjoy the beauty! xoH

  2. Kathy says:

    Ah, the PCH. What a day! I have never ridden it on a motorcycle, but know I would absolutely love it. I don’t understand the draw of the water either, but I feel the pull often. I absolutely loved every second of a visit to the NoCA coast in 2003.

  3. Joe Popp says:

    The Pacific Coast is a pretty amazing place. I will return someday, perhaps even on the Brick!

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