ATOC 2011 stg5: Searching for Dinosaurs

Words: Jeremy Dunn | Photography: Dan Sharp | Date:

It is nearly dark when the van rolls to a stop at the last possible passing point. Winter storms in the Monterey area have caused landslides that have taken out one of the roads on Hwy 1 just north of Big Sur, Ca. Twice daily, pedestrians and cyclists are allowed to pass through the construction zone to continue on their way. The policeman guarding the stretch of bridge is strangely very excited to see us. Turns out he “races a little cross” but more importantly has raced bicycles for the California Highway Patrol Team and has competed in the Police Olympics. He name drops a few of his favorite cyclists that will be coming through with the ToC and his face lights up when we introduce him to Tim.

The bridge is only open for 15 minutes, so we are urged to hurry across the expanse so a new shift of workers can continue their around the clock rebuild of Hwy 1. There is a very serious air to what is happening here. Construction workers still take the time to look, and nod at our funny outfits, but don’t seem to mind much that we are stopping to shoot photos with our phones and that one of us, the official photographer – Dan Sharp – has a huge camera slung around his neck and is grinning from ear to ear as he shoots their photos.

The first section of this ride is one of amazement. Possibly because of the early morning light, but also possibly because of the early morning, the conversation has been at the bare minimum. The only thing that seems to come from these seven grown men riding together are gasps and little giggles and pointing. The pointing alternates with the winding of the road – first to the ocean, then back up to the hills.

At the first stop, the legendary Big Sur Bakery, a comment from Tim belies what we have been hoping would be the case, that we, in contrast to the day before, are starting to have some sort of effect on him. (This could also be because he realized at some point yesterday that there would be no way that we would be able to do the entire route at the same pace as he.)

“Too bad for them [the Professional Cyclists] they’re going to miss out on all this fantastic coffee. I’ve been through here a number of times and never knew that this place existed.” He might be telling the truth, or it could be the latte and four shots of honey-espresso that he has imbibed since we got off our bikes 30 minutes ago.

But there is something magical about this place. If you have an inkling to wander off the beaten path (well, not much, this is Hwy1) stop in at the Big Sur Bakery to check out their little slice of heaven that they have going on there. The book that they have published has been sold all over the world and I recognized it instantly as one a restauranteur friend had acquired to steal all the secrets hidden within. The gravitational pull of the place is great and as we leave the thought crosses my mind that if you had to view the ToC from one spot, watch the guys whip past at breakneck speed, it might also be nice to have an espresso to help pass the time.

Again, possibly, it is PVB that urges us back onto the road with the promise of a long day if we do not actually get anywhere. But something has happened at this resting spot. Something has shifted in a way that would prove to be hard to break and the next 30 miles or so are dotted with frequent stops as Johnson presses his cytological findings on the rest of us. Cetology is the study of whales and it is every 400 yards or so that Tim slams on his brakes and points excitedly at the ocean: “There! Did you see it, there was a whale right there.” We all stop and look. Nothing but blue waves as far as the eye can see.

Pierre is getting anxious, looking at the mileage we have covered so far doesn’t help. Slate is making fun of Johnson for stopping us every so often for what has so far amounted to a wild goose chase. Peter, Cole and myself are content enough to stop and stand in the sunshine whenever one of these fits strikes and we laugh openly at them until finally someone else is convinced that they have seen Johnson’s mythical beast.

When we meet up with the van the sun is blazing full-on above us. There is a break in the road where loads of tourists have come to watch the seals lie on the rocks below. We have had a strange wind to our back for the better part of an hour at this point, and it presses us forward even though we dip in and out of the start crags that have remained to our left. This is the spot in the day when calorie intake is at maximum which means that conversation has gone the other way. The bottle of wine that we curiously polished off in a manner of minutes is long gone in effect as well as practicality. It is comical the way we stand around in the stark light blinking at each other and shoving food into our mouths.

There is also the distance we have yet to cover. It is always there. No matter how much we stop and swill wine and point out to sea.

When we make the left off Hwy 1 into Cambria and start to ride in through the hills the wind becomes decisive in direction. Finally choosing a direction in which to punish us. Fortunately the surrounding hills cause it to relent some. But quickly the stepping climb that finishes Santa Rosa Creek Road causes us to relent some ourselves.

With about 10 miles to go we make a right hand turn that conceals the drive to a winery hidden on the right hand side of the road. Everyone looks. Everyone thinks the same thing at the same time. But it is only when the near silence (always this buzzing sound from our rear hubs) is broken with the suggestion of one last stop does the group come to life: “We should stop for wine, because we can.” Who said it? Who didn’t say it, rather.

Though slightly confused, the purveyor of Chateau Margene guides us to the back deck. A suggestion of a showers might have been jokingly applied to the ushering. But once they see that we are serious about sampling a flight of their best wine we are treated most graciously. 10 miles does not seem like much at this point and it is all that we have left. One slight climb, maybe two and we will be home free, or at least free to not think about this day any longer, but the next.

While he pours, the owner mentions that he is planning a huge party in his yard the day that the Tour of California will be passing through and invites us all to join. In the back of my mind I wonder if one could actually catch the race from the Big Sur Cafe and Chateau Margene because that would be the way to do Stage 5.

We all smile at the notion that we have indeed have had an effect on Mr. Johnson, because as we sit in the shade of the porch of the winery, Tim frolics in the in back. Yes, you read that correctly, while the rest of us are spent and sunburned we hear Tim let out some kind of war cry of a whoop and then returns triumphantly with his kill. In the basin of his Riedel wine glass a tadpole swims through the murky water he has just scooped from the pond in the backyard.

10 miles hardly seems like much when you figure that the thing you love doing is transcendent. Or considering that we have 370 miles in our legs in these past three days, so 10 miles is really nothing.

This thought is fleeting and as we begin climbing out of the valley, the insulin shock from the wine has us all digging in our pockets for anything and everything we can put into our systems. That and my lack of food leaves me off the back to ponder, among other things, why whichever route that you are traversing looks exactly like the last one you were riding when you last bonked. And there they all go, happy on wine.

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