In Search of the Big Sur

I have always felt rather embarrassed that I didn’t really “get” the Big Sur!  What is it exactly?  It sound very American and “Uncle Sam” like – but people rave about it.  “Have you been to the Big Sur?  Isn’t it wonderful?”  Well I’ve driven down Highway one a couple of times so my answer is usually something like…….. “Oh yes! It is spectacular” all the time wondering quite what I am talking about……..  Is it the coastline? Or Route 1 itself? Or a National Park?  It doesn’t seem to be a place or have a centre – but maybe I have been missing something.  So finding myself in this part of the world again – rather unexpectedly- driven south by wild fires in the North of California – I decide to try and get to grips with it.

The original Spanish- language name for the unexplored mountainous terrain south of Monterey was “el pais grande del sur” – literally “the big country of the south”.  It was Anglesised by English speaking settlers as Big Sur.  So the rather negative connotations that I have carried with me of Uncle Sam, and a macho American life are somewhat unfounded.  And it is a rather ill-defined area of coast – south of Carmel by the Sea – where the land rises very steeply from the Pacific Ocean.  It has no clear centre.  It is not Highway 1 – but the road does pass though it.  And it is better appreciated by stopping and enjoying its peace and quiet – rather than simply driving the road and stopping, with the other tourists, at its highlights to take a look. Although that has its merit too! 

We leave Carmel and drive south – the road starts to climb and wind and – despite the mist – the coastline emerges and is wild and dramatic.  But the highlights of these early miles are the art-deco style bridges built in 1932 – The Rocky Creek bridge and the iconic Bixby Creek bridge.  Amazingly beautiful feats of engineering.  Man made structures that somehow improve rather than detract from the environment – in the same way that Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings settle into the landscape and become part of it.  I read somewhere that the bridges were built by convicts in exchange for shorter sentences.

A few miles further south and we reach the first of the State Parks in the area – The Andrew Molena State Park where we walk down to a rugged and wild beach – littered by driftwood that has been built into structures by early visitors.  It is quiet and beautiful with the pounding waves and seabirds for company.

Occasionally it is possible to see cormorants here – we are not so lucky.

Driving on we visit the childhood home of one of my heroes Kaffe Fassett – famous for his knitting and quilting and use of colours in his designs.  His father Bill bought a log cabin on the coast from Orson Wells – and Nepenthe is now a restaurant and gift shop still run by the Fassett family.  The views are unsurpassed (although wild and still misty) and go well with eggs and home fried potatoes.  The gift shop is full of colour – some of Kaffe’s designs as well as other jewellers and artists. – and the smell of incense.  Dream catchers, scented soap and books about yoga.  It has only been possible to drive here for the last week as winter rains destroyed a bridge closing route 1 to traffic.  It is still closed further south due to mud slides which have destroyed the road.

We turn and head north again This time stopping at the Pfeiffer State Park.  Very quiet – almost deserted – we struggle to find a trailhead but eventually find ourselves on the Buzzard’s Roost Trail – a mere 3.5 miles but steeply uphill to the summit and panoramic views – and then just as steeply downhill again. 

On re-reading my guidebook it tells me that the Big Sur is “more a state of mind than a place” – I think that I am beginning to “get” that.  Once away from the viewpoints – however beautiful – the place is remote and rugged, colourful and beautiful and totally unspoilt.

October – Tonbridge Half Marathon

Out with the old (September) and in with the new (October) in rather quick succession – just one week apart – the closest-together of our twelve halves this year.  We wondered how we would manage with just a few days to recover.  Just one short training/recovery run each during the week and some walking to stretch out tired muscles.  As it turns out our experiences last week meant that it all went rather smoothly…………………..

An eight o clock departure from Heathfield – we are travelling separately as Gill is meeting an old friend for lunch after the run (Tonbridge is her old stomping ground) – so no banter along the way – and we are parked at West Kent College just after eight thirty for a ten o clock start.  Our numbers are pinned on our vests and timing chips are on shoes…… So we have time to visit the very pleasant indoor flushing toilets as many times as we want before the off……………. and have several trips back to the cars………… and pop to the Running Hub’s stall for a chat with Cheeky where I could even have bought Shot Bloks – but I didn’t need them as I had my own bag of Percy Pigs with me.  And Valerie is organising the sports masseurs for the event – so we pop in for a chat with her too!  As I say – we had learned from last week…………..

The weather is almost perfect – cool with occasional light drizzle – nothing at all to moan about.  The race is well organised – so 10 am arrives and we’re off.  I remember Tonbridge being a hilly one – but it’s actually not too bad.  Gill and I run the first four and a half miles together and then our paces begin to vary so we gradually separate.  And to my surprise I feel very strong and begin to enjoy the run – quite a lot actually – it is great to run through 5, 6, 7 and 8 miles and know that you’re going to make the distance comfortably – the last three miles are my fastest (well they are mostly downhill at the end).   I’ve run Tonbridge twice before – this wasn’t my fastest or my slowest.  At first I thought the medals were the same each year – but careful comparison shows that somewhere between 2014 and 2017 more runners have appeared. 

And it’s interesting to compare how it feels in October with the blog from January this year – when the Farnborough half marathon wiped me out for the rest of the day.  This time I’m fine – I barely notice that I’ve done it.  I have learned a lot thins year about pacing myself for repeated long runs ans I’m tempted to start reflecting here – but instead I’m going to wait until all twelve are done to bore you all with my thoughts on the matter………..

One thing that has struck me this year though is that regular running keeps you outside and connected with nature and the changes in the seasons.  I remember the cold and wet of winter, the joy that spring and then bluebells brought – and outdoor yoga – and then how hard it is to run well through the heat of summer…………. And now autumn is with us – this year is all about fruit and berries – how prolific they are – and how beautiful the cuckoo trail looks at this time of year!

So now there is just two to go – November will be at Bedgbury – a bit of trail and a few hills.  Training will be light and warm in Southern California – so it could be a tough one – we’ll have to wait and see!