Ride Recap: Monterey Bay Trail

East of Eden?

Two years ago the club staged a getaway weekend to Monterey to explore the hilly back roads between Monterey and Carmel Valley. Roger and I were eagerly looking forward to the trip when unfortunately we both crashed (separately) while mountain biking, he injuring his knee and I ending up with my first—and hopefully last—broken collarbone. Ah, a cycling rite of passage. We attended Mahvelous Monterey but couldn’t ride. This year as part of our post-vaccination “let’s-do-the-rides-we-couldn’t-do-last year” tour we decided to lead a club trip to the Monterey Bay area to do the exact opposite of our 2019 trip: a 53-mile flat jaunt down the Monterey Bay Trail through the “Pier 39” of Monterey, Cannery Row, and thence onto the famed 17-Mile Drive of Pebble Beach. Instead of hills we were going to stroll along the shoreline on an easy route with spectacular views of the bay. It had been a good decade since we had last done this route and to our surprise there were some changes, one excellent and the other not so much.

You never know what will whet the appetite of Spokers when it comes to riding. Monterey is sufficiently far away that the drive alone is a barrier to attending. That our two Santa Cruz members, James and George, showed up was not so much of a surprise since the ride is practically in their backyard. But Vanessa came down from Oakland and Tim and Carl drove down from the City, proving that a good enough ride will draw out the adventurous.

The ride starts in an unexpected location, Castroville, yet that is where the northern end of the Monterey Bay Trail ends. You have to know where it is because it is unmarked and literally off the beaten track. The first six miles of the trail are through ag fields and at this time of year the strawberry harvest was going full steam; we saw crew after crew harvesting and boxing fresh strawberries. There were also plenty of artichokes—no surprise since we were passing Pezzini Farms, home of the giant artichoke, and we also saw some gigantic cabbage plants. Passing the Dole processing plant there were scads of semis waiting to pick up or deliver their container trucks—busy! After the farms the trail continues through Marina, the old Fort Ord, and Seaside, but now you no longer have to hit the streets—you can continue on a separated trail. And, since there were almost no pedestrians, gliding along the Trail was both peaceful and safe! At Ford Ord Dunes State Park there is a new alternate trail that cuts through the dunes. The original path continues directly south parallel to the Cabrillo Highway and while functional it’s less scenic. The ‘new’ path seems to be an old military road repurposed into a multiple use trail with two wide marked lanes for bicycles and one for pedestrians. Here you roll up and down the dunes along decent asphalt. Despite being a Saturday there were almost no other users making for our own little private Idaho.

In Monterey the trail becomes very busy with beach users, tourists, and a ton of rental bikes. Although not as impacted as, say, the east sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge, one still needs to be attentive and keep it slow in order to avoid collisions. A bell also helps. Normally I’d avoid riding on a beach trail. But like the Embarcadero and Fishermen’s Wharf in San Francisco it’s just one of those things you have to experience at least once. Also, because of the beaches it’s the one place you’ll find open restrooms, of which we availed ourselves. You continue through Pacific Grove along the shoreline greeted by marvelous views of the bay, plenty of tide pools, surfers, and shore birds. You get a ringside seat to a strange mishmosh of housing: multimillion dollar decrepit tear-down shacks next to the latest faux Italian nouveaux riches villas followed by minimalist modern trophy homes. The crowds thin out and disappear by the time you enter the 17 Mile Drive. Although cyclists are excused from the entrance fee that cars have to pay, it used to be that we had to sign a waiver at the entrance gate. That’s no longer required and we even got to bypass the gate altogether. There’s really not a lot of difference between Pacific Grove and Pebble Beach except for the housing: it gets a lot bigger and grander in Pebble Beach but you still have the same great views. Ah, the homes of the 0.1%!

Life’s a beach

The lunch stop was at the Pebble Beach Market, which makes pretty good sandwiches. There’s a pleasant au plein air dining area with the nicest, cleanest public restrooms I’ve seen outside of an airport first class lounge! Oh, and you can shop for expensive souvenirs and golf attire next door. The sandwiches were so large that most of us (but not I) either split them or ate just half. I was ravenous and inhaled the whole thing, a turkey chipotle sandwich. Although it was past midday the sun still hadn’t made an appearance but the high overcast had kept the temperature perfect for cycling.

The return diverged from the 17 Mile Drive and cut through the hills above the golf course. Here the homes resembled what you’d see in any upper middle class suburb like Carmel or Montecito but certainly not over-the-top extravagant (eg. no security gates). Instead of following the shoreline we cut through Asilomar and returned through the center of Pacific Grove in order to bypass some of the crowds along the trail. However the Monterey Presidio creates a gigantic pinch point blocking any easy way to continue to Seaside except the trail. The only other options are to take the busy highway or go clear around the west side of the Presidio. At the Aquarium James and George decided to risk the surface streets and highway while the rest of us braved the trail. The trail was even busier in the afternoon—even the e-bikes were slowing down!—and necessitated a couple of emergency pivots to avoid wayward dogs and children.

In Seaside we were able to get back on the Dunes section and it was clear sailing from then on. Except for the headwind, which was comparatively mild. Back at the cars we bade each other adieu none the worst for more than 52 miles.