There’s something strangely serene barreling down twisting one-lane roads with the ocean waves crashing below. As I continued riding through the freezing morning air, battling the cold and wiping away the mist on my helmet visor, I knew this was going to be an unforgettable trip.
This past month hasn’t been easy. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve had one of the toughest months of my post-grad life thus far. It’s never pleasant when everything comes crashing down on you at the exact same time, and even though I’ve dealt with plenty of setbacks in the past, dealing with them just as I’m foraying into life after school is both a challenge and opportunity for growth.
So what could I do but to look on the bright side and do my best to work away my worries for things that were beyond my control and take the time to pause and reflect? The insight came to me in a flash – I’d been wanting to visit Big Sur since my senior year of college and I’d just upgraded my motorcycle several months ago. Why not go camping? I’d buy a one-person tent, ride the Pacific Coast Highway, and spend some time in nature. The timing couldn’t have been better. My company was moving that Wednesday, so I’d have to work remotely Thursday and Friday anyway. I’d just do work during the day and camp in the evening. It was perfect in my head, but I had doubts how well it would translate.
I decided to take a leap of faith and just go for it. I booked a camping spot, bought a tent, read up on camping basics, and figured out how to best pack my gear on the back of my Ducati Monster M620. In less than a week, I found myself staring at my motorcycle, with all my gear bungee-strapped to the back, and taking a deep breath before firing up the engine.
First Leg: San Francisco – Santa Cruz – Monterey
It was early morning Thursday, and I entered the freeway in high spirits as I took in the morning air. Pretty soon, it was apparent that the first leg of my trip, from San Francisco to Monterey, would be less than pleasant. For one, I’d vastly underestimated how cold it would be – being next to the ocean didn’t help either. Between bouts of some serious shivering, I managed to power on for 80 miles or so, constantly having to manually wipe away the water from the mist on my visor and opening my visor to de-fog. I made it to Santa Cruz and took a quick break to get gas before continuing on.
At this point I’d become numb to the cold, and I actually started to feel pretty good. I realized that in my life, this was probably the best time to be doing something crazy like this – I can’t imagine myself pulling this off in another 10 years or so. It was that difficult at some stretches and I wanted to just stop and hide from the cold. At the same time, the scenery was so beautiful and breathtaking, even as everything was covered in fog. I could hearing the waves over the sound of my engine, and the roads were pretty empty this early in the morning. I felt like such a small part of this beautiful world, and it was a calming feeling.
I finally made it into Monterey (Seaside) after 2.5 hours of riding. It was a battle but I’d gotten through it. After a quick breakfast at McDonald’s (the most delicious Sausage McMuffin with Egg I’d tasted), I checked into a Starbucks and proceeded to work remotely for the rest of the day. Lunchtime saw a quick stop at a local sandwich shop called Mundos Cafe, where I enjoyed delicious Argentinean tri-tip. The sun had appeared by now and I sat outside basking in the warmth. Soon, it was time to clock out and head to my campsite.
Second Leg: Monterey – Big Sur
The second part of my journey was the part I was really looking forward to. I’d read so many positive things about the stretch of highway for this route. Soon I knew these accounts were true – I was in motorcycle-riding heaven! Even though there were more cars now and the roads were mainly one or two-lane twisties, I had so much fun just following the flow of the road. It reminded me of my favorite riding roads at Grizzly Peak in Berkeley from my college days, but even more enjoyable with its sweeping turns disappearing into beautiful cliff-side ocean scenery. The forested parts of this route were equally nice, and though the ride was about 1.5 hours, I felt like only 20-30 minutes had gone by as I pulled into the campsite at Limekiln State Park.
Camping at Limekiln State Park
The friendly park ranger directed me to my camping spot, which was located right next to a creek. Families from the other campsites stared at me and my bike and measly gear as I pulled into my spot. I quickly set up camp, which was simple since I’d only brought a small tent and sleeping bag, along with a bag of essentials and some reading materials. By now it was a bit past 6pm but there was still an hour or two of day light, so I decided to go exploring by hiking an easy trail to the famous lime kilns from which the park gets its name.
By now it was relatively late for hiking and I was basically alone in the forest with myself and my thoughts. After 20 minutes or so I reached the lime kilns, which were built in the 1880s and purified lime being mined from those parts of the hills. These kilns were magnificent, springing up from the ground and covered in plant growth – it was like a scene from a movie. I walked around the kilns admiring the structure and snapped a couple of photos before heading back to the trail.
There was still some light out but I held onto my flashlight in case it got darker quicker than expected. As I continued walking among the trees and foliage I stopped thinking so hard and just began to experience. I could see the different shades of green and brown, feel the ground beneath my feet, and smell the slightly aromatic evening air. And suddenly, I visualized myself melting away, carrying all my worries with it, and it was one of the most peaceful and beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I began to tear up as I continued to take in just how beautiful this trail, forest, and world really was. Although I’d been telling myself for some time that I’d be okay, it was at this point that I knew I would be fine, that things were going to turn out alright.
With this new sense of joy I returned to camp, enjoyed a simple sandwich for dinner while sitting next to the creek, and spent the rest of the evening reading with the sound of the creek and the pitch black night surrounding me. I called it a night around 10:30pm and had a nice (for camping) sleep.
I woke up early in the morning, packed, and was out of the campground by 7:45am. I’d planned to work for the first half of the day back at Monterey so I started my ride on the Pacific Coast Highway, making sure that I had two layers of clothes underneath my riding jacket. This time around I’d say the stretch of road was the most enjoyable riding road by far. There were virtually no cars and I was free to really test out my Ducati’s handling (flawless) in the twisties all the way to Seaside.
After another stint at Starbucks for work I grabbed a quick lunch and headed out for San Francisco. It was a beautiful and sunny day, much warmer now than during my trip here. I continued to enjoy the ride and made it all the way to San Francisco directly from Monterey. As I pulled into the parking garage I almost couldn’t believe that this trip happened. It was one of the few instances where everything I thought out went according to plan, with a lot of added bonuses along the way. I felt completely refreshed, despite being physically exhausted. I knew that I needed this trip and was glad to have done it.
I got back to my apartment, unpacked, and proceeded to pack for my flight to Seattle later that evening. That coming weekend would be another fun one in the Emerald City spent with old friends and new.
GoPro video of my ride below: