Lovely though the idea was of staying with family for a few weeks, I was concerned that having a base might also mean missing out on the outdoor life, in particular the wildlife and wild views that we’ve grown so used to these past months.
Turns out I needn’t have worried though as the last 2 weeks have given us some of the most spectacular nature of all kinds.
To start with, staying in Pebble Beach, on the famous 17 Mile Drive has given access to an amazing array of coastline and, if you are that way inclined, world famous golf courses. A short cycle ride downhill brought us to some wild, spectacular coastline packed full of all kinds of bird and marine life as well as some of the most expensive real estate and putting greens after which Mike could only hanker (and take covert photos)!
Lingering along these exclusive shore lines, amongst the multi-million dollar mansions, there were pelicans, sealions, sea otters, gulls, hawks and even dolphins.
My knowledge of birdlife is pretty limited to generic brands such as duck/pigeon/gull/big/small but, fortuitously my aunt is a docent (volunteer guide) at the Point Lobos state park and has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the local wildlife, especially the feathered variety. As well as taking us out on coastal walks she would also patiently answer all our ‘What was that thing?’ questions about everything from crows to butterflies.
A trip to the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History was enlightening too due to its enormous collection of local birds and wildlife, even if they are all stuffed! Christened by me as ‘The museum of dead things’ the curious viewer is invited to view everything from small humming birds to a huge bear all subjected to, not always sympathetic, taxidermermy. Disconcertingly there was also a rather gruesome exhibit where children were invited to re-clothe various naked plastic animals whose skins had been removed, fake fur pelts provided which could be slipped back on like a sweater!
The museum did win kudos however as one of the only ones in the area to voluntarily return all of its native American artifacts to the relevant tribes without being mandated by the courts. Quite something it seems.
Amongst the many things this heavenly slice of coast is famous for are its whale populations. We were amazingly luckily to join a whale watching trip out of Monterey where we got to see, swimming right alongside the boat, a pod of Orcas feeding and playing, including a small calf learning to hunt by splashing a poor unsuspecting sea bird with water whilst the parents literally played with their food, one balancing a mola mola fish on their rostrum (nose) entirely for amusement. Apparently this was an unprecedented occurance for the guide and crew and an amazing first experience for us as well.
As if that wasn’t enough the trip also took in dozens of beautiful humpback whales breaching the water and displaying their tail fins as well as seals playing along in the waves as we reluctantly headed back to shore.
My poor phone camera couldn’t do the day justice but luckily both my aunt and uncle are incredible photographers. The pictures below were shamelessly stolen from them (the links at the end leads to their individual websites and more amazing photgraphs).
The other major highlight of the last fortnight was a trip to Yosemite National Park. It was a place on both of our ‘visiting wish lists’ and wow, it didn’t disappoint.
It was exciting too packing up the tent and camping gear again and heading out, this time by car. A five hour drive from the coast led through a diverse landscape of vast flat plains filled with fruit and almond trees and an endless horizon, up into dry, dusty hills with vast rocky outcrops, culminating in a 60 mile uphill pull to reach the park itself. I was very glad we weren’t cycling that bit!
Although there are 14 campgrounds scattered across Yosemite, finding a space, even at the end of October was difficult. Whilst some of the more remote areas were shutting down, our site at ‘Camp 4’ was full, despite the temperatures which were forecast to dip below 0 celsius during our stay. The site is actually a designated historic monument due to its significance amonst the early climbing community or “dirtbags” who live and climb pretty much all year round at the park. Apart from us and the cheerful Mexican family next door though there were few, if any, tourists. Instead the site was full of die hard climbers, skinny, bearded, intense individuals in puffy jackets and down trousers (oh how I coveted a pair of those) who disappeared at all hours slung with ropes and carabiners, only returning to gulp bowls of noodles before heading back to the rockface.
Yosemite is a Mecca for hikers and climbers. For the serious hiker there is Half Dome, a strenuous 14 mile round trip to altitude that requires ascent of a sheer rock face via a rickety chain ladder to reach the summit. Disconcertingly the park website states that ‘relatively few people’, tend to die nowadays but there are lots of serious injuries each year!!’ Not remotely tempted with this (it is also closed from mid-October) we were more than happy to hike the flat trails from the campground which wind sinulously through deserted forests and meadows cloaked in the most stunning autumn colours and enclosed by soaring rocks which tower over the landscape, illuminated in an ever changing display by the sun and shadow. It was with reverence that we stood at the base of El Capitan, a cliff made famous by climbing icons such as Tommy Caldwell in his ascent of it’s Dawn Wall and by Alex Honnold in the film Free Solo about his terryfying ambition to climb the 1000 metre face, entirely un-roped.
When you see the magnitude of this rock, this behemoth, your rational mind refuses to believe that anyone would even consider something so insane, even with ropes, but the longer we stare we see start to see signs of activity. We spot a red portaledge (climbing tent) anchored to the sheer face 2/3 of the way up whilst a steady stream of climbers head to and from the site itself.
Walking back to the campsite squirrels and birds dart across our path, particularly entertaining were a team of 2 ravens, brazenly trying to rob an unattended bicycle, working in tandem (and succeding) to undo the zip of its saddlebag.
Fortunately what we don’t encounter are any bears, which we are advised are sighted daily at camp and in the woods beyond. What we do see however, last thing at night, are a myriad of stars framed against the towering rockface surrounding the campsite and lit by the embers of our fire as we sit and stare in wonder at our surroundings.
Back in Pacific Grove and there was time for a final trip. This time to visit the monarch butterfly sanctuary. This small grove of trees has been visited by the colourful monarchs for multiple generations. It seems these butterflies are born with the inbuilt sat nav to congregate in the same few places each year despite never having been before. In Pacific Grove thousands flock back to the same small patch of cyprus and pine trees to wait out the winter in relative comfort where they cluster together for warmth in huge, tightly packed bunches, stacking neatly together. The current count is 11,000 which sounds a lot until you realise in decades past it has been over 70,000. A stark indicator of a declining population in modern times.
On our final day a major storm was brewing and we took advantage by walking the coast path, accompanied by Ranger the collie, to watch and hear the huge waves breaking along the rocky shore and to admire the lines of surfers and seals riding the huge breakers.
Fortunately what we didn’t see was the shark that has reportedly been taking bites out of surfboards just down the coast.
Chatting to a surfer who had just come ashore Mike asked how the waves were. “Great” was his reply. “Didn’t get eaten by a shark, so it’s a good day!”
So there we have it, the end of the North American leg of our tour. Two months and it has gone by impossibly fast.
There’s been less cycling than before, but what ground we have ridden has been far hillier than in Europe (see below for stats). We’ve also covered a huge number of miles by car, over 2000 in fact, but this has allowed us to see, camp, ride, relax in and experience places we never would have had time to reach by pedal power alone.
All that remains now is to remove any traces of nature from our bikes and camping gear and pack it into boxes again. New Zealand’s strict biological controls for entering the country mean we will be scrubbing bike tyres with a toothbrush long into the night. Hopefully we’ll measure up. Fingers crossed!
The stats to date:
This north American leg: miles cycled: 673, feet climbed 37,926.
Total (N.America + Europe): 2229 miles cycled, 96,048 feet climbed.
Comparison: 37 feet per mile in Europe, 56 feet per mile in North America
Miles driven: 2083.
The biggest ever thank you to John, Susan and Ranger for an amazing haven, for putting us up and putting up with us including wildlife questions, bike cleaning and stuff borrowing. We are entirely grateful!
Photography links to some more of the stunning work by John and Susan.
If you enjoy reading about adventure, travel, cycling or all 3 why not check out my book: How To Cycle Canada the Wrong Way.
It’s the story of a forty-something woman with no clue in life and no cycle touring experience. What she does have is a sense of adventure, a second hand bicycle and a skirt and the idea of riding across Canada….the wrong way.
Available on Amazon in e-reader and paperback formats.