Despite all of their (understandable) busyness, I finally coaxed Beat and Liehann into a weekend bikepacking trip. My idea was to ride one of the few bike-legal sections through the Santa Lucia Mountains, from the Arroyo Seco Gorge to Cone Peak and back. The route was 60 miles each way through sparsely traveled country, often surrounded by "big W" wilderness, big scenery and tough climbs. I've been to all of these places before, but when I consider all of my favorite aspects of bike touring, I can't think of a better overnight route close to home. There isn't a single compromise mile; it's 100 percent awesome.
Comfort levels increased substantially as I traversed the Santa Cruz Mountains and dropped toward Monterey Bay. Thick fog engulfed the coast, and a strong west wind aided in my swift transition from sweltering to shivering. It was actually quite cool, but instead of adding layers, I decided to relish in the sensation of "just being cold." Fog reduced visibility to a few hundred meters, and I made another decision to keep my mind in the present and observe everything around me. I pedaled hard against the buffeting wind, feeling warm blood surge beneath cold skin and watching the world go by. Near Sunset Beach I contemplated the ornate adornments on luxury homes and the austerity of Steinbeck-era farmhouses next door. I avoided Highway 1 as much as possible by winding along coastal farm roads, where I watched beach grass, lupine, and stalks of unidentified produce dancing in the wind. Busloads of farm workers were scattered across the fields, huddled in hoodies. I know little about farm work, and I wondered about their lives. Did they feel tired and cold and hungry right now? Where will these buses take them tonight?
Overnight, I awoke in my tent, drenched in sweat, heart racing, in an involuntary panic because I was so desperately thirsty. I've never had a midnight thirst quite like that. It was intense. I drank most of the water in my Camelback, and then I drank all of it, even though it was probably more than a liter and would cause me to get up two more times in the night to pee. Even though I felt great for most of the later miles of my Friday ride, I did not take good care of my body — didn't replenish the salts, and didn't drink nearly enough water (I basically quit after the ice water ran out, and consumed fewer than three liters total.) I'd pay for this on Saturday, waking up with a swollen face and feeling a bit like a desiccated piece of road kill.