Savoring Summer Along California Route 1

A good bike. Good company. And a good cappuccino. It doesn’t get much better than this.
A good bike. Good company. And a good cappuccino. It doesn’t get much better than this.
(Photography by the author and Alfonse Palaima)

Where exactly do the summers go? As I get older and older the summers seem to get shorter and shorter. When I was a kid summer seemed to last an eternity; from that final school bell of the year until classes resumed in the fall, summer was an endless string of days filled with play, with fun. For motorcyclists, summer represents a continuation of that childish fun, with long, sunny days for trekking to new places. But if you’re not careful, before you know it, the glorious days of warmth pass, the back to school ads start up on TV, and you’re staring at the calendar wondering how another summer slipped past.

Because of this all-too-familiar scenario, my lady and I made a point to have a proper two-up trip before summer ended and our respective schedules consumed us. It was to be our end-of-summer sojourn before the realities of our lives absorbed us.

Two-up and outward bound. The BMW R 1200 RT in its natural habitat.
Two-up and outward bound. The BMW R 1200 RT in its natural habitat.

We rose early on a Monday in mid-September, the 2014 BMW R 1200 RT already loaded up. After a shot of espresso we began the arduous crawl out of the congestion of Los Angeles. I tend to tolerate the morning press of traffic better when I know that in a few hours, we will be blissfully sailing up the Pacific Coast Highway, headed to Carmel. At just 320 miles distant, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a perfect two-up, multi-night escape for weary Angelenos.

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After 20 tedious miles of low-speed freeway lane splitting we were rewarded with a spectacular reveal of the Pacific Ocean as we emerged from the tunnel that officially transforms Interstate 10 into the PCH. That is the point of true invigoration, when the traffic suddenly evaporates and the ocean air hits the nostrils at speed. We passed through Malibu as the rising sun evaporated the morning chill. Cutting inland from the coast, we timed it to avoid traffic in Ventura. After a smooth 70 mph blast up U.S Route 101, we made a spontaneous exit at Summerland for breakfast at a picture perfect diner.

The Central Coast. Ragged, wind blown, and beautiful.
The Central Coast. Ragged, wind blown, and beautiful.

After eating and refueling, we headed into Santa Barbara and onto State Route 154 (aka San Marcos Road). This was the main road before U.S. 101 was built, originally serving as a stagecoach route. This scenic alternative takes you up and over the mountains into the Santa Ynez Valley. We detoured onto Foxen Canyon Road, a local motorcycle staple that winds through vineyards and rolling hills, which brought us into Santa Maria. Then it was a straight shot up 101 to San Luis Obispo, where State Route 1 splits off to Morro Bay where Morro Rock stands sentinel–and into the transformative atmosphere of the Central Coast. The last town of any significance is Cambria, gateway to the Big Sur section of Route 1. This is the traditional gas and food stop, getting prepped for the 90-mile coast road that parallels the Pacific from here to Carmel. The gas gauge tapped full, we opened up the RT onto that ribbon of paved bliss that washes away the city. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

There is a serene kind of unity that comes with riding two-up. Here you are, two people in close quarters, sharing the experience of riding, the views, yet it unfolds without words. A shared, private meditation of calm, of quiet, save for the sound of the boxer-twin engine and the road passing beneath the tires. For me, Hearst Castle is the landmark that signals the start of the Central Coast ride. William Randolph Hearst built his Xanadu out of the enormous profits he made publishing popular—albeit somewhat dubious—daily newspapers. The castle on the mountaintop is the last real vestige of civilization until we reach Carmel.

Motorcycle paradise.
Motorcycle paradise.

The beauty of the coast road is multi-faceted. The ride itself, the sweeping corners, the pavement, is all sublime motorcycle stuff. But beyond that is the almost total lack of cross traffic for 80-odd miles and the fact that the mountains crush any phone signal so drivers must forgo their various devices, eliminating one of the bigger threats to motorcyclists these days—distracted driving. My lady and I settled into a spirited pace on the BMW; a gently swaying waltz of man, woman and machine indulging the Pacific Coast.

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There’s a reason Bixby Bridge has become a cliche for California coast travel; it’s awe-inspiring.
There’s a reason Bixby Bridge has become a cliche for California coast travel; it’s awe-inspiring.

After a full hour and a half of non-stop adrenaline (punctuated only sporadically by tortoise-paced rental cars and campers that were easily dispatched with a twist of the wrist), we arrived in Big Sur and the stopped briefly at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Miller, an infamous resident of Big Sur, settled into the rugged landscape in 1944 following his time in Paris, where he stirred controversy penning Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer (books that were banned in America until 1960). Ironic that the coast ride started with Hearst Castle, a publishing symbol of American values and mindsets, somewhat intolerant of the likes of Miller, yet the two divergent men were so ardently associated with this part of the world.

With the sun dropping toward the horizon, we eased out of Big Sur, past the Point Sur Lighthouse, and continued the serpentine journey north. The coastline here is what poet Robinson Jeffers (yet another writer who settled here) said was, “The greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” As we drew closer to the Monterey Peninsula we caught sight of a pod of humpback whales breaching offshore in what appeared like play. This was the essence of motorcycling; two-up on Route 1 at sunset, capping a full day of riding with a view like that, knowing that a hotel room with quality bedding awaited us.

We arrived in Carmel and our hotel for the night, the Cypress Inn. Built in 1929, the Cypress Inn is a vintage-style Spanish mansion located in the heart of Carmel. Co-owned by Doris Day, the establishment is dog friendly, making for some interesting guests roaming about the sitting area and patio. After checking in, we washed off the road and walked down to Carmel Beach to watch the sunset. It felt a million miles away from where we started this morning. With the BMW safely parked for the night, we enjoyed a bottle of wine, bruschetta and pasta at my favorite wine bar. There’s nothing quite like the sleep you settle into after an all-day ride followed by a good meal and red wine.

The Cypress Inn, in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
The Cypress Inn, in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

In the morning, after fortifying ourselves with espresso, we were ready for the trek south. Despite several route options, I preferred to simply head back down the coast. Once again we found ourselves spiriting down serpentine Route 1. To draw out the trip we indulged in a stop near San Simeon to see elephant seals sunbathing on the beach.

We detoured over State Route 46 to Paso Robles, the 30-mile stretch of road offering views of Morro Bay, rolling hills with oak trees and the Pacific, all slightly obscured by a thin veil of fog. After managing to somehow get lost in the tiny city of Paso Robles, we eventually found our way to the outskirts of town and CaliPaso Winery, our hotel for the night. A private villa with only eight rooms, CaliPaso is a luxurious inn and winery spread over the rolling hills of Paso Robles’ wine country. Once night came, the field of stars above and the absolute quiet, a commodity in very short supply in Los Angeles, astonished us.

In the morning, we were treated to a gourmet breakfast prepared by CaliPaso’s private chef, who pampers the inn’s lucky guests. Schooled in one of New York’s culinary academies, we were spoiled with scrambled eggs and prosciutto: a host of creative cakes, fresh squeezed orange juice and cups of rich, strong coffee.

The elegant main house at CaliPaso Winery.
The elegant main house at CaliPaso Winery.

Departing Paso Robles, we made our way south toward Los Angeles without real purpose or urgency, detouring over State Route 166 and turning south onto State Route 33. This motorcycle-friendly road snakes up and over the mountains with a seemingly endless series of turns that cut through the pines. Route 33 brought us into the Ojai Valley where we stopped for Thai food, our last eats before reaching Los Angeles.

With the end of the day now fully upon us, we gradually and somewhat begrudgingly made our way back into the city and were eventually swallowed up in the bustle of Los Angeles, a stark contrast to the serenity and solitude of the Central Coast. Thankfully the excursion, with its long, deep breaths of ocean air, good food and wonderful company, had made us momentarily immune to the chaos around us. Easing off the freeway and onto familiar residential streets, we pulled into our condo’s underground parking garage. After 800 miles of that wonderful thumping boxer twin, I shut the RT off. Our ears ringing from the incessant buzz of movement, we smiled and hugged, a tacit thank you for sharing the experience, stealing that last little remnant of summer together to hold us until next time.

(This article Chasing Summer was published in the June 2015 issue of Rider magazine.)

Where great wines begin.
Where great wines begin.
Staircase leading to the elegant main house at CaliPaso Winery.
Staircase leading to the elegant main house at CaliPaso Winery.
Map by Bill Tipton/Compartmaps.com
Map by Bill Tipton/Compartmaps.com
The picturesque grounds of CaliPaso Winery in Paso Robles.
The picturesque grounds of CaliPaso Winery in Paso Robles.

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