From Sea to Summit - Page 2
Big Sur Basics
Big Sur encompasses over 90 miles of California coastline between Carmel and San Simeon. Reaching inland from the ocean for about 20 miles, it also includes the Santa Lucia Mountains, which rise over a vertical mile from the sea and contain hundreds of singletrack miles. "In Big Sur, rugged terrain and a feeling of isolation dominate," says Brian Rowlett, an adventure runner and a resident of Carmel Valley, which lies east of Carmel. "On a long run, you kind of disappear. You may know exactly where you are, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, you're gone. If you don't come back, no one will stumble upon you. Not soon, anyway."
Highway One runs the north-to-south distance of Big Sur (and beyond) and serves as the region's singular access point, adding to the sensation of seclusion. The road itself is an engineer's miracle, roller coastering over ocean bluffs, meandering around yellow sand beaches and clinging precariously to sea cliffs.
Here and there are smatterings of private land containing eating establishments, inns and campgrounds serving Big Sur's tourists. Most of the real estate, though, is entrusted to either the California Department of Parks and Recreation or U.S. Forest Service. So extensive and remote is Big Sur that it also enshrines two wilderness areas.
Called by the Wild
Over and over, I skid into the gravel of the road's scenic pullouts. We stare without words into a cyan ocean. We gawk at the historic Bixby Bridge, a Depression-era public works project that provides automobile access to Big Sur, and the technicolor canyon it still spans. We sit on a bluff and watch sea otters twirl and toss kelp like children swinging Wii remotes. We peer over a cliff just in time to see a swell pummel it in a spin cycle of whitewater.
When we can't stand it anymore, we peel off our traveling clothes, lace up our running shoes and turn our toes up the Vicente Flat Trail. It climbs hard and fast at a barely runnable grade, and I am working to keep up with Bryon. He's a two-time, top-10 Leadville 100 finisher with powerful thighs the size of railroad ties, but he is using them to put only a moderate hurt on me today.
Following the trail's sea-view switchbacks, we run through waist high grasses and the orange glow of afternoon sun refracts through salty air. The guidebook warned us of rampant poison oak on Big Sur's trails and immediately we recognize its three-leaf warning. We prance around the poisonous plants while watching pelicans circle the ocean. A thousand feet up, Bryon says, "Can't hear the crashing waves up here," just as a group of gulls makes squawking swoops in the wind.