Saturday, January 14, 2012

South Coast Ridge Road

We camped overnight near Big Sur and did a couple-hour drive on a "4x4" dirt road along a ridge between the Pacific Ocean and some valleys. We enjoyed some great weather and gorgeous views.

See all the photos of this trip. (To see photos that include people in them, you have to be my "Friend" on Flickr.)

Before the Trip

Last weekend, we went on an "offroad adventure." But because we'd never actually gone offroading before, we picked out one of the easiest roads from the book we bought, and we talked my parents (who have gone on other easy 4x4 roads), Forrest's dad Dennis, and our mutual friend Ben, into going along with us. Our destination was the South Coast Ridge Road, in the Ventana Wilderness in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Forrest and I went up to Walnut Creek the night before. Yes, this is an hour's drive in the wrong direction, which we then had to backtrack. We did this because the truck's power steering had died a while ago, and Forrest hadn't yet fixed it. The parking space at our house is a narrow, sloped patch of chunky gravel with poor lighting, so I don't blame him at all for not having worked on the cars. My dad, on the other hand, has a nice, flat, well-lighted working area with even more tools than Forrest has. So off to my parents' house we went.

This did have the side benefit of forcing us to be completely packed and ready to go the night before. Left to our own procrastinatory devices, we probably would have been doing last-minute packing right up until it was the agreed-upon time to leave.

Forrest stayed up late fixing the truck and continued the next morning, but he got it done. I went food- and supply-shopping while he worked. My parents left ahead of us, so that someone could get to the camp while it was still daylight and set up.

We ended up getting to Ben's house exactly at the agreed-upon 3 PM, but there was a slight hitch: we had discovered that one of the shocks had sheered off completely. Sorta important for an offroad trip. So I rode with Ben to the campsite while Forrest picked up his dad in Santa Cruz and repaired the truck with Dennis' help. Luckily, the job was as quick as Forrest had thought it would be, and they ended up only ~20 minutes behind me and Ben.

Camping at Bottcher's Gap

We stayed the night at Bottcher's Gap, which as windy as only a gap can be. Although, to be fair, even when the wind gusted and flared the campfire, it wasn't that cold. And once we got into bed and out of the on-again off-again wind, it was downright warm (for a January night). I even took off my long johns, and Forrest unzipped his sleeping bag completely. It was probably somewhere in the 40's.

Forrest cooked us all dinner, with help from Dennis. They cooked up some delicious steak on the camp grill, accompanied by maple carrots in the dutch oven and sweet rolls from Safeway. We had a near-incident with the table when Dennis sat on the unsupported end of the bench and nearly tipped the whole thing over, but otherwise dinner was good. :)

After dinner, we sat or stood around the campfire. Ben doesn't drink much, but one thing he does is Tullamore Dew, a tasty yet reasonably-priced Irish whiskey. So Forrest and I made sure to bring a small bottle of it. Between the six of us, we managed to polish off the entire bottle. What's camping without the drinking around the fire, I ask you? Not camping, that's what. :P

A Late Start

Ben and Dennis, both being early risers and/or directly in the path of the morning sun, got up sometime around 7 or so. I'm not exactly sure when they got up, because I was definitely still dozing. Forrest and I slept in the back of our truck, with the same setup that we used for our cross-country honeymoon trip. Unfortunately, the curtains' sticking-back velcro had un-stuck itself, so we had no curtains to block the sun. Which meant that I got to see the sunrise and only dozed off and on until I finally got up around 8. My parents slept in longer.

Eventually my parents got up too, and my dad started cooking his famous Mountain Man breakfast in the dutch oven. It was delicious, as always. How can you go wrong with an omelette with bacon and potatoes and melted cheese on top?

We finally got on the road around noon. We got slowed down by two slow-moving drivers along Highway 1 on our way to the start of the road, so we didn't even start heading out into the offroad part of things until past 1 PM. The offroad book had said to allot 3-4 hours for the road, and with it being winter and short days, I was a little worried about having enough light. But we headed off anyway, starting on the south of the Coast Ridge Road and heading for the northern end, where it T's into the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

South Coast Ridge Road

We turned onto Los Burros Rd / Forest Road 23S01, just south of Plaskett. We were immediately greeted by a sign warning us, "Impassable when wet." But despite it being January and thus supposedly winter, it hadn't rained in a while and the ground was completely dry. We headed up the road, quickly climbing into the coastal mountain range. We stopped at the first good vied of the ocean and took its picture. But I got the sense that the rest of the group didn't really want to make photo-opportunity stops, so that and the lunchtime photo were the only two I got of the South Coast Ridge Road itself.

We drove past a small section of houses. Like, normal, primary residence houses, not rustic cabins or camps. I can only imagine what their pantries look like, given that whenever it rains there's no getting in or out on anything motorized...

Once we got on the ridge, it was gorgeous views of the oak-covered canyons leading to the Pacific Ocean to the west, and equally gorgeous views out over the ridges and down into the Salinas Valley. We speculated about whether you could see the Sierra Nevadas themselves on a clear day, or just the thunderheads over them. But as it wasn't a particularly clear day, we could see neither. Even so, the views were great.

The road was surprisingly well-maintained and easy to drive. It was plenty wide, totally dry, and so long as you had an automatic or low gears, even the "steep" sections were totally navegable by noob 4x4 drivers. It was almost disappointing, except for the fact that I would not have rather had the conditions end up being to hard and get us stuck with no one being truly experienced at leading an offroad party. The only "exciting" thing that happened was when a group of three dirtbikers nearly ran into us as they came flying around the corner.

We stopped for lunch on a narrow section of the ridge with a pull-out space large enough for our vehicles to get off the road. We had a tailgate make-your-own-sandwich lunch. We stood around, eating our sandwiches, drinking iced tea. When the western view of the ocean got boring, you could just turn around and look out over the valleys, then back at the ocean, etc. It was a beautiful day, warm without being hot. It was hard to remember that it was January!

We headed onward and eventually made it to the paved Nacimiento-Furgesson Road, the only road that cuts east-west through the Santa Lucia Mountains. Rather than head back the way we came, north up Highway 1, we headed east toward the much faster Highway 101. The road took us through the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. It was predominantly empty landscape, full of old oak trees and rolling hills. It was sunset by then and rather picturesque, except for imagining unexploded ordinance lurking just off the road. :P

It was full dark when we finally got to Soledad (where it's happening!). We stopped at the traditional Soledad attractions: Las Delicias bakery and Starbucks. Unlike in years' past where I was super nervous about ordering in Spanish at the bakery, this time I was much more confident and just ordered. Like a boss.

From there, we went our separate ways. I had a good time and look forward to our next adventure!

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