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Riding the California Coast is an experience everyone owes themselves at least once in a lifetime. The highlights of the route are, for many, the iconic views of the Big Sur Coastline. Unfortunately, riding Big Sur in the summertime can feel like nipping out for a quick spin around Times Square. Big Sur is iconic, beautiful and uniquely Californian, but you’ll be stuck sharing it with the rest of the world, who have arrived via tour bus.
James Stout / Images: Daniel Sapp
Right now, they can’t. Two major landslides and a bridge collapse caused by winter storms have cut Big Sur off from the rest of the world. Until this week, the route through the landslide was only open to locals and only for 30 minutes twice a day. Unless you could find someone to bus you in and vouch for you, there was no way into this little piece of heaven. However, if you could get there, you were rewarded with incredible views, winding roads and menacing cliffs without another human being in sight.
This week, the northernmost slide, known as “Paul’s Slide,” was reopened to the public. Getting in still isn’t easy, but that makes it all the more worthwhile. You can’t come in from the north, because the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has collapsed. That leaves coming in from the south, but first, you’ll have to circumnavigate the much larger slide at Mud Creek. It’s not impossible, but to get your own little piece of Big Sur while it’s still cut off from the world, you’ll have to work for it. But we promise that as you embark on one of the most scenic—and challenging–descents we’ve ever ridden and drop into Big Sur from the Los Padres national forest, you won’t forget it. Right now, this is the best ride in California.
If you’re game for a weekend adventure, we’d suggest starting in Cambria, where there is ample overnight parking and a bike shop should you need it. Load up a bikepacking bike with a camera, a hammock and a bottle of wine, and you’re ready for a once in a lifetime ride. The route we recommend takes in the rolling hills around Cambria and the traffic-free military base of Fort Hunter Liggett, before dropping into Big Sur on the breathtaking descent of Nacamiento-Ferguson road. From there, you’re almost entirely alone for a stunning 20 miles of the Big Sur coastline. Spend the night at Kirk Creek campground before making the 7 mile, 5,600ft ascent out of the “Big Sur Island” and back into the real world. Fortunately, this is a gradual process; the roads, trails and swimming holes of the Los Padres national forest are still pretty otherworldly. For the single day option, there is parking at the entrance to Fort Hunter Ligget or in the town of Jolon.
This is the kind of riding that justifies leaving the power meter behind, using up one of your saved-up vacation days and calling an audible on that crit you had planned this weekend. If you can swing it, we promise you won’t regret it.