Big Sur tour: Paso Robles

Rolling hill country

It was surprisingly warm where we woke away from the ocean’s moderating influence, so we got a relatively early start finishing the climb toward Paso Robles. My pleasure at riding in just shorts and a jersey quickly turned to chills as we dropped down the other side, though, as the valleys east of the Santa Lucias seem to gather significant cold air overnight. We belatedly layered up, and met several groups of roadies riding the opposite direction in tights and booties.

Moro Bay from camp
After the initial descent, we passed through gentle valleys and rolling hills, entering central California wine country. I am not sure how the terrain is supposed to look, but it was dry and dead as we rode through, dead yellow grass interspersed with trimmed and leafless vines. Despite the abundant civilization, we began to think about water scarcity, since unlike in the more hospitable wine country of Argentina, neither vineyards nor passing motorists would be likely to fill our bottles if we asked.

We decided to stop at a store in Paso Robles, our last major civilization for the next few days, to fill up on water and get a few last-minute necessities. My clipped hair stays clean (or at least clean-looking) for a week or more in the winter, but Leonie wanted to try a recipe for “dry shampoo” made from corn starch and baking soda. The idea is to (1) rub the powder into your hair, (2) let it absorb the grease, and (3) comb it out. Steps (1) and (2) worked as advertised, but step (3) was only partially successful, leaving her hair clean but effectively dyeing the roots gray for the next several days. Online suggestions to change the natural dye color with turmeric, cinnamon, or cocoa seemed singularly ill-advised.

Pomegranate!
Clean-ish and well-stocked, we left Paso Robles on a country road toward Lake Nacimiento and San Antonio Reservoir. Leonie’s plant knowledge once again came in handy, as we soon found some wild (or “feral”?) pomegranates growing along the road. We picked a few for immediate consumption, and a few more to add color and flavor to our breakfast, then continued climbing back into the hill country. (Aside: our standard breakfasts were probably my favorite meal, a cold mix of mainly home-dried apples, granola, oats, and chia put out to soak overnight. The pomegranate seeds added color and a bit of tang to our two store-bought breakfasts of granola and oats.)

The two artificial lakes fill their eponymous river valleys, so the road climbs over one ridge, into the Nacimiento Valley, then up another ridge between it and the San Antonio River before continuing northwest near the latter. The vineyards gave out not far from Paso Robles, but the country remained sparsely populated and mostly private, with barbed wire and aggressive signage on both sides of the road. As is often the case in such territory, the frequency of American flags and comical diesel trucks increased; we even had one redneck shout “get off the road!” as he roared past, something I have not had happen to me on a bike in decades. California contains multitudes.

Nice pastoral riding
Though the locals were less than friendly, the riding here exceeded our expectations. When planning the trip, I had though of the route east of the Santa Lucias, between Cambria and the high National Forest roads, as a commute through dull inland terrain. However, while it would probably have been tedious on foot, it was enjoyable by bike. The scale of the terrain is just about right for touring speed, with near horizons occasionally opening to views of more distant peaks, and shallow valleys less than 1000 feet deep. The road winds along creeks and over gentle ridges, passing through open meadows passed gnarled, widely-spaced oaks. Though the area is less than a day’s drive from the megacities of southern and central California, and has been farmed and ranched for over a century, it feels soothing and spacious, distant from the cramped coast.

As the sun sank and our nethers became increasingly sore, our standards for what counted as a “campsite” sank, until any flat spot at least a bit off the road and not behind barbed wire would qualify. The hostility to passers-through dimmed my view of my fellow man — at least one property had a “protected by the second amendment” sign. Finally, near sunset, we found what might have been an old Forest Service road, branching off a ranch road warning that, contrary to how the law works, even “federal agents” were not allowed to enter. While I waited by the tandem, Leonie scouted the road, returning to say that, although it ended at an abandoned-looking RV, it was out of sight of the road and had some reasonably flat spots. We pushed the rig up the grade, then disassembled it under an oak. The area was not particularly flat, but at least it was not raining. We set up our tent near a covey of quail, keeping track of each other with their quiet “woop-woop” calls, and looked forward to getting back on government land.

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