Defeating Doubt on Two Wheels
Story and photos by Cierra Xavier // @c_xavier
“How do you eat an elephant?” Without having much time to reply to my boyfriend Dylan’s question, he quickly responded with, “Bite by bite.” I remember stubbornly feeling frustrated because I knew he was right. Most obstacles can be overcome if you work little by little, and I needed to adopt this mentality in order to prepare for the big bike journey ahead.
After a few New Year’s Eve drinks in Big Sur last year, Dylan, our friend Alex, and I agreed to do a bike tour down the coast of California. Unlike most drunken promises, this one held true. We were all in. From that moment on, I was filled with excitement—but also terrified—and I couldn’t help but fall into the quicksand of my anxious mind. “What if I’m not strong enough? What if I can’t ride the entire way? But what if…?” Inevitably, the thought of never trying outweighed all the what-ifs—and how could I face the what-ifs without even attempting?
The Pacific coast of California is an extremely popular route for cyclists; our tour would take us roughly 520 miles from San Francisco to Long Beach. This was my first long distance bike tour and one that’s been on my bucket list for over six years. By late May, I was running on little training or preparation when I met Dylan, Alex, and Daniel (our friend from New York who flew in to ride with us) on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge and began the journey that we’d committed to five months earlier. My hands were shaking, but I quickly realized that my fear and anticipated failure quickly subsided once we began to log some serious miles. Riding long distance is similar to any other bike ride; you just never turn around.
Early on in the trip, we got word from a friend who’d ridden the coast a week prior and had walked his bike (illegally) across the Big Sur closure. Until then, we weren’t really sure how we’d get past the Mud Creek slide—a closure just south of Gorda where 75 acres of land fell off the rugged coastline, completely decimating Highway 1. We weighed our options: face an extensive detour that would take us inland and included a grueling climb up Nacimiento-Fergusson, or pay for an overpriced shuttle that would drive us all the way around the detour. The decision was made in seconds—we’d attempt to cross the slide.
The only catch to crossing the slide was that we’d have to wait until construction was over and workers were gone for the day. It was 12:45 on day five of the tour when we arrived in Gorda, and we’d already ridden over 200 miles south from the Golden Gate Bridge, making it through the majority of Big Sur’s magical coastline. Feeling impatient, we tried our hand at bribery. Dylan approached a construction worker sitting in a small white car, offering him $60 to let us pass. A shake of his head said it all. Crap. We had another four hours to kill before the work construction crew went home for the day.
At about 5:30, the four of us hiked out from the shelter of the cypress trees we found on the bluff and rode back into Gorda. The little white car that the construction guard sat in was gone. Here was our chance! We snuck around the gate and rode swiftly past the road closure signs. My heart knocked wildly in my chest as we rode the two miles between where the highway was closed, and where the slide actually started. The devastation was massive: 100 yards of rocks and rubble covered the highway, and you could clearly see the vast portion of the hillside that had fallen into the water below—creating a new surf break for the locals. This was unreal! We unloaded our bags, threw our empty bikes over our shoulders, and began to walk our bikes and gear across the rock-covered highway.
We passed the closed gate on the south side of the road closure just as the sun started to set over the ocean, beginning the steady ascent up to Ragged Point. There wasn’t another car, bicycle, building, or person in sight for miles. This must have been what PCH was like in the ‘30s! Just us, cruising, laughing, and high-fiving across California’s highway that’s normally crowded with selfie-taking-tourists. It was just getting dark by the time we hit Ragged Point. Fueled with excitement, we continued to pedal for miles into the night guided by an empty moonlit highway.
My tires hummed along a vacant California highway under a luminous Flower Moon. It was such a simple moment, but I felt completely empowered. We had made it past the most challenging part of the ride, and all the fear and what-ifs were gone. Thousands of cyclists complete this same bike tour every year, yet I knew my experience was unique. You’ll never know “what if” unless you try. Proving to myself that I can overcome any great challenge, this adventure is one that I will remember for a lifetime.