Superbloom and Steinbeck: Southern California in Spring

Surprise, surprise, I took another bike trip. Admittedly, Southern California in spring might not seem as exotic as other trips I’ve taken recently. At this time last year I was drowning myself in gas station vodka to deal with the sheer brutality of Northwest Uzbekistan. This year I ate strawberries in wildflowers and read Tortilla Flat in the warm sun.

Camping at 5,000 ft in Spring with only a light sweatshirt? Frigid.
Support public lands!

A mixture of cockiness and laziness made me not put much thought into this trip. I’d been mentioning to a few people that I’d be going for a trip, but the details only really came together in the final days leading up to departure. I had about 8-10 days in mind, hoping for LA-SF-LA, but with the recognition that I might end earlier if traffic got bad enough. I knew I wanted to go inland and see some wildflowers, and at least make it to Big Sur, but this path ended up with 150+ mile stretches of pretty tough, punchy riding on lonely roads with no services. Turns out that wine country is pretty damn hilly. Even with my super lightweight setup, my massive one-by 48t chainring brutalized my knees on any steep, short hill, and required me to really attack longer ones so I could keep up any sort of reasonable cadence.

Epic wildflowers for miles and miles.
Miles and miles.
All colors.

On that bike note, I was riding a new bike on this trip. It is the flagship model of a tiny Santa Monica-based bike manufacturer BMK Bikes. The frame is carbon fiber, and is named Pamir, after a mountain range in Tajikistan. If you want one yourself, I’d be happy to set you up with the builder, because it’s me.

This bike was so much fun. It certainly passes the ‘staircase test’ of maneuverability. But my knees are aching with that gearing.

The route: I went through Ojai, over the pass on 33 and down through the Carrizo National Monument. Through Paso Robles and Hunter Liggett Army Base. The Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, followed by a long stretch on the PCH to Monterrey. From Monterrey, back through the Carmel Valley and back to Hunter Liggett to retrace my route back to Santa Monica. It ended up being about 750 miles in 8 days, with more than 40,000ft of elevation gain. I paid for a campsite one out of those nights, the rest were spent wild camping on public land in my bivvy. It was amazingly beautiful, with a little adversity thrown in to make it interesting, admittedly some of my own doing. I just sort of forgot how massive the West is, and how much space there can be between things.

I prefer to camp high up on ridges, which is much more possible with a bivvy than with a hammock.

I highly recommend this route in springtime. It is so incredibly green and lush, and with the superbloom this year I was riding through fields of wildflowers the whole way. The roads are very light on traffic outside of the PCH, and even there I managed to find an early morning hour without many cars. So many people ride up and down the coast on this highway, and of course I’ve thought about doing that before. But the coast has a bunch of private, camping-prohibited land, and no matter how lightweight my setup might be, rural landowners can be a territorial bunch. And then apparently guns get involved and if I’m honest I’m just trying hard to keep that particular threat at a minimum this year.

Big Sur in the early morning.

I don’t have much more to say about the trip than that. To be honest, I just ended up having slightly more photos than I wanted to put in an Instagram post, so I’m throwing them here in a post instead. Final notes, there’s a particularly good campsite here and here and the guy who filled my water here was wasted at 9am so go to the pistachio farm down the road if you’re not comfortable with that. There is no water in Carrizo.

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