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Elden Carl , Danish BMW rider in Baja California Sur

Trip Report: Central California USA
Hwy 1/ Big Sur CA/Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd
by Charles Earl

In keeping with my goal of traveling more local roads, here is a report of a ride Conall OíBrien and I took in early March. The goal was to travel south down Hwy-1, turn east on the Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd , travel across the Fort Hunter-Liggett military reservation, connect to King City via the G-14, the 101 North to Greenfield and then take the G-16/Carmel Valley Road back to the Monterey Bay area. See Map

Monday morning I began packing for the trip. First, choosing which luggage to mount on my 2000 Kawasaki KLR650. For such a short trip maximum luggage space wonít be necessary, but itís nice to have extra room.
I mounted my Ortlieb saddlebags (food/cooking gear/tennis shoes/fleece jacket liner/six-pack of Budweiser/other misc. camping equipment), Aerostich front panniers (spare tubes/flat repair tools/other tools/spare clutch cable, other extra parts/2 1-liter Nalgene bottles/Leatherman/plate for kickstand/rock shield for headlight), Chase-Harper 750 tankbag (thick gloves/balaclava/helmet accessories/binoculars/maps/AA maglite/earplugs/other assorted small bits) and Ortlieb duffel bag containing my lightweight 2-person backpacking tent, tarp, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and clothes. I left the Givi 45L behind. I could have got away with leaving either the panniers or saddlebags behind, but then space would be at a premium and I get tired of the dance of packing so tightly. I wore my current outfit of Nolan helmet, 1st gear jacket and pants and CT boots.

I left my house in Santa Cruz by 12:30pm, perfect weather and warm enough for only shorts and t-shirt under riding gear. I arrived at the Chevron on the Hwy-1/Cabrillo Hwy in Monterey by 1:30pm and met Conall, who was looking ready for adventure aboard his '95 KLR650. He led us to the Carmel Highlands gas station (cheaper than Chevron!) where I topped-off my tank. We then casually rode down Highway 1 south into the Big Sur area. No matter how many times I travel this area, it is always impressive to enter the big sweepers and see that ragged, windswept coast in front of you. Once you pass the Rocky Point Restaurant (the skid marks are gone now, but I used to get the creeps passing here and seeing the only ~10-ft. long skid marks left by a GSXR-1000 that hit a bread truck here at plus 100mph a few years back) the area really opens up, no signs of humanity except a few cars passing. Of course, in the summertime, that would be lots of cars passing (all following a slow moving behemoth RV towing an SUV).

You ride and ride and ride. The road gently curves back and forth, emerald green hills on your left, sheer cliffs and blue Pacific ocean on your right. We pulled-over a few times to soak up the incredible, long-ranging views. As we approached the Pfeiffer ranger station pullout, I encountered the only psycho driver of the trip. I was following Conall, we were doing the speed limit. Behind me, an older Ford Fairmount flew-up on me, and after aggressively tailgating me, attempted to pass me on the right , with 2-wheels in the dirt. I blocked this bucket of monkey spunk while monitoring him to make sure he didnít ram into me/us. Given the circumstances, this was less risky then the possibility of being forced into oncoming traffic. Plus, if I had let him by he would of just been on Conallís ass. Fortunately, our turnoff arrived and this maddog driver was left to his own devices (probably checking out the bottom of a cliff ala Thelma and Louise-style). We scoped-out the visitors center, unfortunately they were all out of maps for the area. The AAA map shows all the roads we took on this trip, but there are other roads in the area, including dirt/Forest Service, etc.

Continuing south, we pulled into The Big Sur Deli and general store on the right. Conall purchased a sandwich and I bought a soda (to go with the sandwich I had brought from home). We fired down the road to a great lookout spot and had lunch. Organic necessities out of the way, we got back on the road and more or less rode without stopping to Kirk Creek State Campground. This was 51 miles from the Carmel Highlands gas station and the campground is almost directly across the road from the beginning of the Nacimiento-Ferguson Road east.

We rode into the campground loop, $18.00 per night, good god! I spoke with the young, dreadlocked park employee who said that, unfortunately, no cheaper camping was available in the immediate area. Obviously, they can command this price in such a popular piece of coastline like Big Sur, but many FS campgrounds are very cheap, sometimes free such as up in the Modoc Natíl forest area. Admittedly though, it did have flush toilets and running water. The free ones are usually pit toilets and thatís it. Relegated to paying the full price, the park employee suddenly called me back-over. ďYou know, thereís almost no occupancy here, why donít you just use a bike and hike spot and park in another empty site.Ē Cool! Only $5.00, and wow, what an absolutely unparalleled camping location. Site E was at the very edge of the campground, right on the bluff with a small forest behind to explore. There was a trail running down to the beach. Sitting on the picnic bench, you had a direct view of the ocean with the sun setting straight in front of you. Absolutely gorgeous. And only a 1-minute walk to the bikes. We went straight into kick-it mode and just enjoyed the natural beauty surrounding us.

The day was drawing short now. Conallís camping gear was unavailable for this trip, so he headed back home to Monterey (a short ride). I set-up my tent 20 feet back from the edge of the cliff. A beautiful sunset was in front of me as I cracked my first beer (I experimented with a soft six-pack cooler this time, I packed-it with a Blue Ice at 11am and it was still very cold at 6pm, I Love It!). Actually, I opened the beer and then set up the tent ; ) And that was my night. Sitting on the picnic bench, drinking a barley pop and watching the transition from blood-red sunset to silvery half moon and brilliant stars. The only other camper in my area was a Swedish guy who was pedaling his bike from South America to Alaska. He told me about traveling through the Atacama desert.

Later, when hunger pangs set-in again, I prepared dinner. Quick, cheap and light was the motto. I setup my MSR Superfly stove (propane/butane mix, accepts any brand canister. I have an MSR International gas stove also, which is technically more efficient, but I love this stove for quick trips. No assembly or priming, lights instantly and it actually simmers. It has also performed great for me at over 9000ft.).
Top Ramen (.25 cents), tuna ($1.25/3oz foil pack Starkist tuna, these are great, theyíre light and no water or oil to deal with) and one carrot (~.05 cents) scraped clean and cut-up with the Leatherman and simmered for a few minutes before the noodles and tuna (thank you Russell Stephen for this idea, I got it from your last trip report; Carrots! The Incredible, Edible, Camping Vegetable). A good meal, hot and fast, eaten out of the pot. (Note to self: bring a fork next time, noodles and spoons donít work well together. In my desire to go light I just brought a pot and spoon, but geez, how much could that Lexan fork weigh? I use my backpacking experience to pack my motorcycle, but sometimes I ignore the fact that I can get away with a few more ounces on the bike.

Back to the Budweiser and looking at the stars. At one point, while sitting on the picnic bench I heard a very wild sounding, almost doglike bark behind me. I whipped-around and drew my maglite like a gunfighter. The beam nailed a fox between the eyes, he just stood there and looked-at me for a while. He appeared unafraid and eventually trotted-off into the bushes. I donít know if he was barking at me or something else. I made-it to 10pm before crawling into my tent and sleeping bag. With the proximity of the cliff edge, high tide and the pounding surf, I could feel the vibration of bigger waves driving into the cliff base. That night, absolutely no man made sounds penetrated my tent walls.

I woke up at around 7am. The entire area was shrouded in fog and made everything feel mysterious. I had considered leaving the tent at home and sleeping under the stars. Itís a good thing I hadnít, the fog drizzle was like a light rain. I staggered out of the tent towards the picnic table. I rummaged through my food and cookbags and produced the Melitta, filters, coffee mug, coffee and powdered milk. The stove and prefilled pot of water were already waiting. Within minutes I was enjoying freshly brewed Santa Cruz Roasting Company Steveís Smooth French.

The Swedish guy was up now and I offered him a cup. He gladly accepted. He was traveling ultralight on his bike and didnít have such luxuries. He also didnít have a California road map, which I found amazing. I gave him my extra AAA copy. Apparently he hadnít done much research for his trip, which I suppose could add a sense of adventure to a journey. I gave him a few tips, like bear-bagging your food in the Northern areas. Breakfast consisted of a packet of instant oatmeal, some jerky and a handful of Fig Newtons. Not exactly eggs Benedict at the Ritz, but it worked. Actually, I am not a breakfast person at all, but I force myself when I know a big day is ahead. Thus fortified, I began breaking camp. This is the moment when I truly appreciate less being better. The only slow part was draping the rain fly and tarp over brush to dry in the sun (which was now shining intensely, having quickly burned-off the fog). Time to dig out the sunglasses, hat and sunscreen.

Right on time, Conall rolled-up at 10:30am. I pulled-on my riding gear and did my final cinching and inspection of the bike. The Kirk Creek campground entrance is almost directly across from the beginning of the Nacimiento-Ferguson Rd. You turn south on Hwy-1 out of the campground, and maybe 100ft. down the road is the road on the left. It immediately becomes steep and stays that way. It is paved, twisty, narrow and there are no guardrails between you and the precipitous drop. Extreme caution is needed to be prepared for oncoming traffic which may also swing wide on blind corners. That being said, any bike can be taken on this road. Of course, itís better on a KLR ; ) And I mean that, the easy torque of the 650 rapidly pulls you out of the slow corner approach speeds and up the steep hills. A lot of time was spent in second gear with occasional forays into third.

A few miles into it, we pulled over and compared deployment of our Dualstar and Five stars centerstands. Then we lubed our now-warm chains. The views were incredible, you are climbing rapidly, and below you lays a field of green leading to the blue Pacific ocean, your serpentine path laying in broken-up sections beneath you, like some crazy, drunken bulldozer operator had carved the road (perhaps the IQ-challenged cager who tried to pass me on the right).
Continuing on, you gradually lose sight of the ocean and are riding through lightly forested areas. Occasionally, the pavement is slightly broken-up and in a few curves there were some minor patches where light gravel had migrated from the roads edge. It is ~18 miles from the coast to the west side of the Fort Hunter Liggett military reservation. About halfway, there is a Forest Service campground by a river ($10.00) A very nice spot. Picnic tables, firepits and pit toilets. We saw our only other motorcycle sighting here (on this road), it looked like a FJ1300 (lucky so and so!). We checked-out each otherís bikes and admired our various modifications/add-onís. I gazed with wonder and awe at Conallís MAP rotor setup and then looked dejectedly at my stock setup. I was also impressed with his auxiliary cooling fan switch. This is a must-have item for me. Conall, in a moment of heroic foresight, had packed along an enormous, 2-ft. ham and turkey submarine sandwich. We whacked-it in half with the Leatherman and conversation temporarily died to a minimal as we feebly attempted to make a dent in these sandwiches. We had to move to another table, for some reason bees were in a frenzy at the other. Full, after only half of our portions, we wrapped-them up and hit the road again.

After 18 miles of great coastal range riding, we arrived at the guardshack for the military reservation. As you approach, Jersey barriers are set up in a staggered fashion so that a vehicle cannot run the gate. We wove our way through them. A sign said ďThreat Level Bravo.Ē The guard who came out of the shack had the definite appearance of military/ex-military, but his uniform appeared to be that of a private security company. He was very friendly and very thorough. He checked both of our registrations, insurance papers and driverís licenses. He was very interested in the KLRís and recognized them as the Marines motorcycle . He gave the thumbs down on the diesel conversion. He asked a lot of questions about the motorcycles and gave us some route advice and heads-up on the radar traps ahead. The speed limit was pretty slow, lotís of 20mph, some 30mph and occasional 45mph.

The road was very good with gentle curves that you could see through. It would be fun to be able to lean into them hard. The only military vehicles we saw were a large transport truck and a tractor. Looking around, it was very apparent that heavy, tracked vehicles are running around in these hills. Hillclimbs, sand and water crossings are setup. You could see a few dug-in emplacements. I got the feeling that if you left the main road it wouldnít be long before you were speaking with the MPís. It was a very casual ride through the reservation, and even with the low speeds it didnít take long to cross. Near the end, the road temporarily forks and you have the choice of either a wide, shallow water crossing or a one-lane bridge. Naturally we did the water crossing. Not hard, but fun. About 75ft. of 1-2 inch water, tires are clean now! On the west side you pass through another guard-gate with the barricades on the entrance side. You didnít have to stop there. There is a (I think) Vietnam-era tank on display here (Pershing?). Here we took a short break and posed for the obligatory KLRs and tank pictures.

From there, it is a short trip to Jolon, which is really just an intersection. We continued northeast on the G14 to King City (where I realized how far south I was from Santa Cruz, for what was, essentially, a day ride). Then, a very short (10mile) high-speed blast up the 101 north to Greenfield. Here you take the main exit and connect to the northwest bound G-16/ Carmel Valley Road . The road is a mixture of straights and mild curves, traffic was light. This is a pristine valley, full of green pastures with livestock wandering about, including goats (I think there is a goat cheese farm out there). Another perfect central California day, the sun shining, blue sky, the gently rolling green hills and black oaks straight-out of a Steinback novel. The road eventually begins to narrow as it twists itís way out of the valley. We made a final rest stop at a point before things begin to become more ďcivilized.Ē We finished our sandwiches and commented on how the temperatures were finally dropping. Approximately 60 miles out of Greenfield, we took the G-20 north to the 68 west which dumps you back onto Pacific Coast Hwy 1.

We pulled into a gas station where I topped-off for the ride home. This wasnít actually necessary, I had 162 miles on the odometer from the Carmel Highlandís gas station and was able to put 3.1 gallons in (52.25mpg). This is the first real ride after turning my pilot screw out from factory 1 and an eighth to 1 and five-eighths. That is almost as high of mileage as I have ever experienced. The funny thing is, my pre-adjustment experience with this bike says that a day of mixed riding like that, including lots of hill-climbing in 2nd and some crosswinds, should yield in the high 40ís (less mpg). Perhaps I am misinterpreting the trips gas needs. Maybe I am getting the same as always, but I thought I was supposed to get less mileage (itís not possible to get more, right?). Either way, I can definitely live with this mileage.

We split-off here. Conall went home to Monterey and I got ready to get back on the 68 for a few minutes to connect to the PC-1 to Santa Cruz. It was 6:10pm when I left. Close to dark and colder now. I cleaned the bugs off my headlight. I exposed the reflector on the back of my jacket and put on my fleece jacket liner and midweight Olympia gloves. Time for the heated hand grips.

(In regards to ideas about mounting switches for heated grips: My 3-way toggle switch came with a small metal plate to mount it with. The grip heater switch and my other 2-way toggle for the lighting system are mounted on this plate. This plate has a mounting hole. If you look straight past the left side of your tachometer, you will see a 10mm nut that holds the fairing bracket together. This is where I mounted the switch. The small plate hangs vertically, with the end of the left turnsignal stalk right behind it. It is out of sight and out of the elements. They are both switched (relay for grip heaters).

I rode the 46 miles in 45 minutes. The last of the light had left the sky as I approached Santa Cruz. Traffic was light with the leftover commute. I made it home by 6:55pm and pulled into my driveway just as my girlfriend arrived home from work. I rolled the bike into the garage and only unpacked the tent to dry-it and the sleeping bag to decompress-it. I let everything else wait, I was beat!

It was a great trip, it all happened in the space of about 30 hours. Total mileage (for me) was 262 miles. Total cost: slightly under $20.00 including gas. There is a lot of exploring to do in the Big Sur area, we discussed the possibility of encouraging others to join us sometime for a meet/ride with maybe one night of camping. More on that later. Thank you to all those who provided info about the area, and if you havenít done this ride, it comes highly recommended. Happy Trails.

Charles Earl
Santa Cruz, CA
KLR650 A-14


Copyright © 2003-2006 Charles Earl All Rights Reserved

This page last updated 22-Aug 2007.

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