Day 2 – Santa Barbara to Monterey

Day 2 – Santa Barbara to Monterey

2019/05 - LAX to SEA
4 May 2019 in California, Some Infidelity, Uncategorized

Saturday started off a little bit foggy. There was also some pretty heavy mist outside. Both fogs promised to burn off later in the morning.

Breakfast at B&Bs is often awesome and delightful. The Cheshire Cat’s breakfast is spectacular. We had sweet potato frittata (as yummy as it sounds), yoghurt parfaits with fresh fruit, and some really amazing dark roast coffee. Amazing to me. A little much for Breton. But what was required to clear the cobwebs from the recesses of my frontal lobes.

Our destination for the day was Monterey. I’ve been near there (Carmel, to be more specific) several times, as for many years the American Moto GP race was held at Laguna Seca. More on this can be found in previous travels. The ride would be about 250 miles, and worked out to about 5 or 6 hours of riding, over the course of the day.

A couple at breakfast had been chatting with Breton the previous afternoon before I arrived, and they came to the table again this morning to catch up and welcome me into their milieu. They also mentioned a road that led through the mountains to a former stage coach outpost, and was a more direct (if somewhat more circuitous) way of getting to the northbound US 101 than just getting on the freeway.

A quick review of Google Maps suggested that it was full of curves, hairpins and—judging by the surrounding terrain—some pretty serious changes in elevation. Pretty much perfect for motorcycling, then. After breakfast, we got the bikes packed up, and prepared to head out.

When we got there, Highway 154 was all that was promised and more. Smooth, scenic, twisty, fast and epically fun. We have no idea where the stage coach road was, or the track up to the ruined ‘castle’ (there is a risk that we were just having too much fun) but it was a delightful detour to get us moving in the direction we wanted to be going in. And it was a significant contrast to what I had needed to put up with the night before getting to Santa Barbara.

What was particularly delightful was the moment that the fog lifted, replaced by sun and blue sky. One moment you’re in Kansas, everything filtered to shades of grey by the mist. Then, magically, you find yourself in Oz, with everything in glorious technicolor. We eventually made our way back to US 101, a throughly welcome detour behind us, and continued the journey north.

An essential rule-of-thumb to travel with Breton is that about an hour or so into the morning, a rest stop is in order. Which usually means that I get another coffee, and he gets rid of his last one. About 40 miles up the highway, we came upon the town of Los Alomos. The GPS suggested there was a coffee place called Cafe Quackenbush there, which I found whimsically amusing, and set as our destination. Although sadly, the locals apparently didn’t find it amusing enough to keep it in business, for it is no more.

A detour back towards the popular bakery we had passed led to an accidental find of another cafe: Plenty on Bell. Which is the perfect illustration of our strategy for locating cool and funky rest stops. We stumble upon them through sheer dumb luck, and then celebrate the brilliance of our find.

This what random and serendipitous coffee find looks like.

Plenty on Bell in Los Alamos. All the funky.

Millennials of the world, behold. Avocado toast.

Plenty on Bell was all that and more. A really great americano, and for second breakfasts I had avocado toast with pickled onions, tomatoes and sriracha. Which tastes far better than it might sound, trust me. Breton stuck with a cappucino, with plain toast and peanut butter. I think that makes me more millennial than he is.

Another serendipitous consequence of stopping in Los Alamos was the realization that the main road turns into Highway 135, which takes you all the way to Highway 1 on the coast. I had expected to join 1 further north, so this was a welcome realization. We headed west, cleared town, and found ourselves for the first time this trip enjoying an empty road that was truly ours alone. This is when, in a ride, you truly find your rhythm. The road is winds on ahead of you, and its just you, the motorcycle and the curves. Ride the torque, weave through turns, soak up the surroundings and just delight in being.

We carried on in this way for a good 90 miles or so, until we arrived in Cambria. It was nearing 1:00pm by this point, so time to think about lunch. The astute reader will note at this point that when Breton and I travel, the theme is riding, food and wine. Also gin and scotch (and for him, occasionally, beer and tequila). The even more astute reader will also note that from an abundance of discretion, we skipped elevenses and went straight to lunch.

Lunch was courtesy of the French Corner Bakery (which in retrospect I think might be a chain, thus braking one of my very few essential rules of motorcycle travel—the other one being to never eat at an establishment with the phrase “family restaurant” in the name). I will ignore the provenance of this particular establishment, though, because their hot pastrami sandwich is some pretty awesome road food. Which we dines on al fresco on the patio (which would be the sidewalk, actually, if we’re being factually descriptive). Thus giving ourselves an excellent vantage point by which to enjoy people watching, scan the bikes going by and be able to take in the absurd number of vintage Porsches that abound in Southern California (I gave up counting after seven).

Hot pastrami. All the categories of good road food in one sandwich.

The number of vintage Porsche’s in these here parts is nothing short of astonishing.

From Cambria, Highway 1 ventures further north to Big Sur and ultimately our destination for the evening, Monterey. The road pretty much hugs the coast, meaning that you navigate tight hairpins around every inlet, and spend a delightful time climbing and descending the cliffs that dominate the landscape. This is awesome on a motorcycle, probably tiresome in a car and I can only imagine it to be entirely terrifying in a rented RV. Of which, even this early in the season, there were an abundance.

The California highways department is very helpful in this regard, in that they post signs quite regularly that indicate “Slow Traffic Must Use Next Pullout.” Unfortunately, they missed the next mandatory sign, which should read “This Means You.” Because no one considers themselves the slow traffic (and I suspect they erroneously think that they’re going as fast as the road will allow). Pro Tip: If you’re in an RV, you’re very likely the slow traffic. If you’re in a car, you might be. If you can see a motorcycle in your rear view mirror, then you absolutely are.

The odd car driver was considerate enough to let us pass. The driver of the white Acura MDX that was too busy playing with her har, not so much. After cursing BMW for not providing a photon torpedo option on their motorcycles, I opted to try and simply enjoy the ride I was on. Road rage and motorcycles are not a healthy combination. Although the new California driving game of pulling on to the highway in front of traffic without stopping does interfere somewhat with my zen happy place.

The fleet takes a well earned break.

Took me a few seconds to translate the drink order code.

After a quick coffee stop to breathe, stretch and take on board further caffeinated product, we headed back on the highway for the last stretch to Monterey. A distance of about 6 miles. Which Google Maps suggested should take us about 23 minutes. Doing the math, we recognized we were in for some traffic. Which, if you’ve ever driven near Carmel, you’ll recognize to be about par for the course.

In California, lane splitting is not illegal. Which is—to put not too fine a point on it—slightly different from it being actually legal, but it is not frowned upon, and the locals expect it. A general strategy is to stay within 10 miles of the speed of traffic, and you should be fine. Emphasis on the word “should.”

For reasons of self preservation, I’m not willing to lane split in moving traffic. It takes only one unplanned and proximate lane change to ruin your entire day. I have no such compunctions, though, in a line of traffic stopped for a red light. And the delightful thing is that traffic will actually move aside to facilitate the process. I imagine it’s a little like what Moses must have felt. The upshot is that you usually get to the front of the queue before the light changes, and you’re away first with (hopefully) a clear road ahead of you. Sometimes, though, you’re just away first into the next line of traffic that you need to leapfrog.

We finally arrived at our destination, the Merritt House Inn, in downtown Monterey. This was one of the hotel bookings that was filed under the category of “total crapshoot.” The price was right. But the web site of the property is circa 1999, and has no pictures of the rooms that are actually accessible. It did have pretty good online reviews though, and so on an act of faith we booked ourselves in. Spoiler alert: it’s in fact pretty awesome. The main house that our rooms are in is a historical property with character oozing out of it’s plaster-and-lathe walls, the furnishings are delightfully worn antiques, and the whole vibe says casually elegant old-world California getaway.

The Merritt House. Gorgeous hideaway.

As you can no doubt tell, we’re roughing it this trip.

Old world California charm.

Our last order of business of the day was, unsurprisingly, dinner. We had booked a reservation at the Montrio Bistro, which is quite literally around the corner from the hotel. I had an awesome Eden Mill martini, which I had not tried before (I recognize regular readers will find to be astonishing). Caesar salad was served with Wraith Pinot Noir, followed by the burger with 48-hour bacon (which is as awesome as it sounds) paired with a Requiem Cabernet Sauvignon. Because it’s all about the pairing, and I find moving from Wraith to Requiem appealing to my sense of mischief.

Montrio Bistro was hopping.

It was a delightful end to a mostly delightful day. I’m now feeling entirely comfortable and connected on the bike, and looking forward to continuing up the coast tomorrow. We’ll head up past San Francisco, and I got the wilder stretches of the Northern California coast.

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