I’m a simple guy. The thought of a good burger and a beer on a veranda somewhere magical appeals to me; perfect roads, inspiring views, some sort of isolated Shangri-La, it’s not a lot to ask. Well, okay, maybe it’s a lot to ask, but it is nice to imagine. A guy can dream, and then the strangest things happen, only in California.
Take one of the most highly praised stretches of asphalt in North America through a region of unparalleled beauty, a place MO senior editor Brasfield praised in his recent top 10 roads list thusly: “The ride up the California coastline on U.S. Highway 1 should not be missed even though its international fame means you will have to contend with car and RV traffic.” If you remove the only demerit frequently cited when the ride is discussed, what do you have? In our case, in a few short weeks we will have an already remote and breathtakingly beautiful Big Sur accessible through a portion of the Pacific Coast Highway that will be virtually devoid of the tourist and RV traffic that is customary during the summer months.
It is only through the confluence of a number of unfortunate events, and the labors of Caltrans to do what they are so often called upon to do, namely put California’s highways back in working order, that we stand to benefit from such a unique opportunity. Catastrophes have aligned themselves such that you may have a chance to experience Big Sur sans Winnebagos and other rolling chicanes, as well as the habitual failure-to-yield miscreants in large numbers. Heaven is about to get a lot more exclusive, and the two-wheeled set are the chosen people. How you might ask? Hear me out.
In order to access the portion of the Pacific Coast Highway that serves the Big Sur region, and that Caltrans is right now trying to bring back on line, you will have to travel one route almost exclusively: the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, an experience in its own right. Whereas anyone can traverse the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in the best of times and most often do, particularly in the summer months, two mudslides and a bridge that is no longer bridging preclude that sort of thing presently.
Here is the situation: The Pacific Coast Highway is blocked to the south by two mudslides: the Mud Creek slide just south of Gorda that is still active, and one north of the intersection of the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, Paul’s Slide, which may be open as soon as mid-June and is the gateway to Big Sur salvation. Farther to the north, access to the PCH is closed due to the failure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge which must be replaced and will not be available until September at the earliest.
The Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is a serpentine beauty of a motorcycling road, or sheer terror, depending upon who you talk to. It winds across the Santa Lucia range and connects Highway 101 to the coast. Because the road passes through sections of Fort Hunter Liggett Army Base, you should be prepared to show valid registration and proof of insurance. The road is narrow, the Armco is nonexistent, the views are stunning, and it is not for the faint of heart.
In short, the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road will keep the large and the lumbering – which is to say the riff-raff – out, which is good news for us. This is not so good news for the coastal communities that rely upon the seasonal influx of tourist dollars to survive, however.
The good news, what good news there is, for Big Sur businesses is that with the opening of the PCH at what is presently the Paul’s Slide site, everything on the PCH between the Pfeiffer Bridge to Gorda will be accessible to the outside world via the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.
Douglas Adams could have taken the words right out of the mouth of Kirk Gafill, owner of the renowned Nepenthe restaurant and Big Sur Chamber of Commerce President. Gafill, when asked by The Mercury News to summarize their situation, said that he anticipated business to return to 10% of normal with the opening of Paul’s Slide, and 30-35% of normal once the Mud Creek slide south of Gordo had stabilized and been addressed. Consider what that means. You will be able to experience the vast portion of the Big Sur region, already known for its relative isolation, in the sort of solitude that would be unimaginable under any other circumstances.
So there you have it: A magical place isolated from the outside world by calamity, accessible only to a few; the well-heeled in rental helicopters, and the likes of us, the daring and resourceful who are a bubble off. We have a local economy in dire need of an influx of tourist dollars, and we can influx with the best of them. Why, it is almost a moral imperative to ride to the relief of this beleaguered paradise. And should you want to make it more than a day trip, you can stuff the tank and saddlebags and set course for one of the available camp sites at Limekiln State Park (27 sites), Kirk Creek Campground (33 sites), the Plaskett Creek Campground (44 sites), or find other suitable accommodations.
For a brief point in time you have a chance to experience Big Sur as few do before it would disappear maybe to never replicate itself in quite the same manner again. The season, the closures, the access – it has all aligned to make for a unique two-wheeled opportunity. Ride safe, look where you want to go, be mindful of your fuel situation, and tip big.
For PCH updates check with Caltrans or click: TheBigSurBlog.com
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