12.8 mi / 9.4 mph / 738 ft. climbing
Home: Sunset State Beach hiker/biker campsite
Rett, inspired by the sunset the night before, surprised me by suggesting that we set our alarm early enough to get up, make some coffee, and head down the cliff to watch the sunrise from the beach.
In our previous life, Rett had a childlike stubborn resistance to going to sleep before the clock on the wall showed a certain number, and equally, resisted rising before it showed a certain other number. So it’s been relieving to see how, over the last several weeks, she’s let her sleep/wake cycles fall into rhythm with the only clock that matters out here: the sun. Then, when she suggested that we set the alarm for even earlier than our normal pre-sunrise wakeup, my thought was “I don’t know who has taken over your body, but, yes!”
And the benefits for her ended up even greater than the expected celestial portion: there were a lot of excited dogs to watch, and even a couple of harbor seals that swam right up to the beach.
Although our plan to spend two nights at New Brighton was foiled by their restrictive
hiker/biker rules, we were lucky that there was another option I’d had in my back pocket: just 12 more miles down the road would take us to Sunset State Beach. That short hop would still keep us from passing my stuck-in-a-post-office package in Moss Landing, it would shorten the next day’s ride, and it would give us a new place to see and explore.
The ride was surprisingly hilly and winding, mostly because bicycles are forced to stay off the more-direct Highway 1 in the area, and instead switch inefficiently back-and-forth to roads paralleling it on either side. And the long campground road gave us some steep hills too.
But unlike Brighton, the park rangers let us occupy the hiker/biker site at our noon arrival, and said we could stay more than one night if we wanted to (we didn’t). Then, the friendly and helpful campground hosts, Donna and David came over to sweep up some broken glass they’d noticed, custom-delivered a (large!) bundle of firewood directly to our site, and gave us good warnings about protecting our food from raccoons.
A couple miles outside of the campground, we saw another bike tourer repairing a flat. We asked if he needed any help, and his cheerful negative response (for a guy whose bike wheels were currently facing the sky) made us excited when he said he’d be stopping at Sunset Beach too.
Jarvis, originally from Nebraska, rolled in wheel-side down not long after us, and we learned he was finishing up his similar southward journey, in order to let the winds carry him to a new opportunity for experiences in Hawaii. We spent the afternoon chatting in the sun of the hiker/biker site, and drew inspiration from the free-flowing (but not structureless) path he’s been surfing.
Then camp got even better as Emma and Evan, a third set of philosophically-similar (short-distance, early-arriving, smell-the-strawberries) bike tourers rolled in. From Vermont, they’d had a line-up in their perfect Vermonter stereotype-reinforcing jobs that freed them to try an extended tour, and they picked northern-to-southern California as the obvious November choice. Once they got set up, we all went together as a group down to the beach to watch the sunset.
Sunset Beach wholly lived up to its name. Orange glow in the clear skies, with ever-increasing flocks of back-lit pelicans skating and sliding and swirling as the orb dropped lower.
Returning to camp, we all got started on our relatively-fancy (for bike tourers) dinners, worked on the best way to keep raccoons out of the somewhat-dilapidated wooden food locker, and ended the night gathered around the fire. Three separate parties, coming in from afar, and then dispersing onward. But for one orange day and orange night, gathered like those pelicans in the sunset, a community formed, built, and celebrated.