September 10, 2016

Shades of Gray

Mystery solved: The reason I never see two folks I know on the road—the reason I never see them pass me on this ride—is that they start off with a shortcut. Instead of turning right at the start with the rest of the pack, they skip the first six miles and head directly toward the coast.

Tempting. But I have always done the full route, and today is no exception.

Floral centerpiece, Best Buddies Hearst Castle Challege opening ceremonies, Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley, California
Last night I broke with routine and attended the opening festivities. The invitation said “cocktail casual,” so I turned to the Interweb for fashion advice. I forgot how cold it was likely to be; my nice dress ended up hidden under a less-than-cocktail jacket. [Most of the guests paid far less attention to their attire.]

The marine layer was thick in the morning; with that, we trade a visible sunrise for warmer temperatures. The gray fog, however, would shroud us all day. Around Big Sur, we climbed high enough to feel the tiny droplets ping our faces. The yellow flower that adorns my saddle bag was often the only spot of color in the landscape, and it drew many comments. “It makes people smile,” I'd say each time. And that's true. One rider recognized me from last year (well, he recognized the flower).

Dense fog hangs over the Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, California
The route down the coast is up and down, with a just a few extended climbs. Big Sur is the first, and that's where I begin reeling them in. Riders from flatter places, or those who haven't sufficiently trained, start blowing up there. One was already off the bike, walking up the hill. [That did not bode well for the tougher climbs after lunch.]

There were a few short stretches of pavement that had been scraped and grooved, as if in preparation for re-paving. I took extra care on each of these, wary that I'd catch a tire and go down. Later I would learn that at least one rider required a trip to the emergency room to get his arm stitched; his bike was damaged and his helmet destroyed, but he had no broken bones or concussion.

The Soberanes fire was still burning; having consumed more than 103,000 acres, it was only 60% contained. There was a hint of the sour smell of damp ash as we reached Big Sur, and signs for firefighter staging areas and encampments. The fog denied us great views of the coast, but I knew it could only help suppress the fire.

Hand-drawn and colored sign: "Thank You Firefighters, We ♡ U", Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur, California
On the east side, near Fernwood, the fire had burned down to the edge of the road. Homes, and the life of one firefighter, have been lost. All because some selfish fool lit an illegal campfire on July 22.

Charred trees and hillside near Fernwood, Pacific Coast Highway, California
Hearst Castle itself was closed just 10 days ago, and some of the Hearst Ranch property was scorched by another wildfire (dubbed “Chimney;” cause, as yet, still under investigation). Battalions of firefighters defended the historic property as the flames advanced to within a mile or two.

We were quite fortunate indeed to be able to proceed with this ride.

Foggy view of the coast with yellow flowers, Pacific Coast Highway, California
Today marked my tenth foray down the coast for Best Buddies; by now, the route is very familiar. The speed sensor on my bike was acting up (as in, not functioning), which meant that I needed to rely on memory (and the event signs placed at 10-mile intervals) to gauge where I was, between rest stops. I focused instead on the elapsed time from one stop to the next, and tried to keep each stop to a minimum. Ten minutes at the first stop, fifteen at the next two.

A patch of blue sky along the Pacific Coast Highway, California
Past Rocky Point, where we used to descend a steep hill to our first rest stop. Past the private home that hosted us, one special year. Over the Rocky Creek Bridge, the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge. Past Andrew Molera State Park, closed as a staging area for firefighters. Through Big Sur, past Ventana and Nepenthe. Over the Big Creek Bridge, through Lucia and Gorda. Past the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, to the finish line at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach.

Elephant seals facing off at the Piedras Blancas Rookery near San Simeon, California
100 miles in all, with 6,205 feet of climbing. My legs were a bit sore afterward, despite my recent 500-mile tour of Greater Yellowstone (more, and steeper, climbing on this route).

This year, after several moving speeches, we were entertained by The Beach Boys. [A subset of the original band, of course.] They rocked us with one hit after another, projecting images of the sixties on a giant screen at the back of the stage. Pictures of their own youthful selves, of cars and surfer girls. Their music is just fun ... [fun fun fun till her Daddy takes the T-bird away ... ]

Projected image of a sunset with palm trees, performance by The Beach Boys, Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, California
The sweetest moments came when a very talented Buddy, Marlana VanHoose, joined them for vocals on “Help me Rhonda” and “Barbara Ann.” And when Maria Shriver (and more) flooded the stage for “California Girls.”

And now, a word for my sponsors ...

I wouldn't be here for the tenth time without the generous support of all the friends who respond year after year when I reach out for donations (and my employer, who matches them). I learned a valuable lesson about fundraising years ago, when I was too timid to solicit a single contribution. A more gregarious colleague, with experience in sales, counseled me: “Just ask.”

Even then, I agonized over the list of people I would approach. There was one, in particular, that I almost skipped—someone I knew professionally, but hadn't seen in years. “What's the worst that could happen?” I thought. “Someone might tell me never to ask again?” Okay, I could handle that.

Not only was he the very first person to donate—less than an hour after receiving my email message—in later years, after I started riding for Best Buddies, he went on to hire a Buddy.

There is no better outcome than that.


  1. Once again, an excellent and entertaining recap. I yearn for these, annually.

    I'm interested in learning more from you on the target slash minimum amount of contribution necessary to participate. :) Gimme a ping.

  2. Very jealous. Glad you didn't get sunburned through the fog!

    Off to read the Yellowstone post...