Other Side of Adventure

The idea was a surf trip via bicycles riding over 500 miles down the California Coastline from Stinson Beach to Seal Beach. Bike trailers were stuffed with camping gear, food, and surfing equipment. The goal was to experience the coast slowly, surf new waves, and survive like nomads for two weeks.


We had a rough plan but left much of our trip open to serendipity.  No Air B&B's, hotels, or campgrounds were booked.  We drove north, were dropped off, and our only goal was to ride back home in 13 days. Everything else was open and free.

Spontaneity became a theme, and when implemented, the experiences were the most memorable moments of the journey. We held our agenda’s loosely and were slow to say no and quick to say yes. Some days the surf dictated our plan, other days it was new people we met.  The elements and terrain tested our limits.  Traveling under your own power reveals limitations. At times we submitted, at others, we pressed through.  


 “I used to think God guided us by opening and closing doors, but now I know sometimes God wants us to kick some doors down.” 
- Bob Goff


From the onset of our trip, even as we were driving north, my imagination ran wild envisioning the original settlers who traveled west.  They faced impassable rivers, unscalable mountains, and soul-crushing challenges. Yet, they passed the impassable.  They saw closed doors, kicked them down, and on the other side discovered the pristine lands of Big Sur, Half-moon Bay, Hollister Ranch, Malibu, etc.  Men and women who forge new territory and set records, test what is possible. It is scary, risky, even unwise perhaps, but that’s adventure.   Mystery beckons us to more, to something unknown, to the impossible.  We all stand on the shoulders of adventurers and pioneers who have forged the trail before us so we can enjoy this comfortable life. 

Not being a cyclist and pulling over 100 lbs of gear up and down hilly terrain for 9+ hours, for 13 days, revealed my limits and established new ones.  Our first night we stayed at Steep Ravine campground. The name held up. The ravine's road up was vertical. My folks who live in northern California, rode their motorcycle out to see us off. For perspective, my mom refused to ride down the hill.  Conquering Steep Ravine at the onset made every other hill we faced seem manageable.  

Night two we bedded down next to meth heads and other homeless folks in the bushes of beautiful Golden Gate Park.  We arrived in San Francisco at dusk and was greeted by a random biker called Ben, who treated us to a shortcut to Ocean Beach. He challenged us to a game of "who can coast the farthest" after bombing one of San Fran's famous hills. Ben won, but by the time we caught up, he had three cold beers waiting for us. The sun had set, and we needed to find a place to sleep. The trees and shrubbery of the city park seemed our best option.  I met a park resident named Mo as he passed through our camp and asked him what the vibe is here at night. He said our biggest concern will be the Rangers. Neither ranger nor mugging murderer disrupted our sleep or life that night. The morning met us with sunshine and head high swell.  We traded surf sessions while the other watched the gear on the boardwalk.  We opted to trunk it in honor of our cold water guru, Wim Hoff.  30 minutes of northern California springtime water was plenty time to numb ourselves.  The waves were fun, the current was not. 
 

I managed to lose a bag that held my most essential items, including my wallet.  The bag bounced right out of my trailer during mid bomb of a hill somewhere in Pacifica.  Miraculously the police department got a hold of me to tell me they had my bag, with all my cash and items intact. Another biker found my bag and turned it in. How cool are people?! Thank you, God.  We only made it to Half-moon bay because of the debacle, but it was a beautiful place.  I slept in a hammock that night that dreamt what it must be like to surf Mavericks, home to one of the largest & hairiest waves in the world.

Next stop, Santa Cruz, 62 miles.
The expansive coastal untouched land didn’t have a category in my mind.  I grew up in San Diego and live in Seal Beach, where every square foot of beach property is claimed. The sights were breathtaking.   
         
That night at our campground a fellow biker delivered a punch in the gut news.  He told us that a rockslide in Big Sur rendered the road impassable.  He heeded the warning and went around.  It translated to a 120-mile detour through miserable desert terrain. Big Sur was our most anticipated part of the journey.  We refused to accept defeat. There had to be a way around the rock slide. We decided to call all the bike shops nearest the slide to see if anyone is making it through. The first 3 bike stores I spoke to said to call the CHP to get an update or said it was impassable. We also learned that anyone caught trying to pass, gets 6 months in prison or a $5,000 fine. Hope was getting bleak, but I dialed another.  The fourth shop I called said he heard some bikers had made it past. That was all we needed to hear! The following morning we set off for Big Sur! 
 
“Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.”
– Dan Brown

My wife and kids were meeting me in Cambria on Sunday.  Saturday morning I left Marina at 9:00am.  My travel buddy, Pete Rocky and I split up as he was going to surf and hang in Big Sur while I was with my family.  We devised a plan to pass the rock slide closure.  It had to be done at night while the workers were sleeping.  We understood the slide to be somewhere in the middle of Big Sur, but after riding for nine straight hours, I learned the slide was much further than we had anticipated.  Exhaustion was an understatement by the time I made it to Julia Pfeiffer Falls at 6:00pm.  I decided to eat dinner and sleep for a couple hours and push on. This ride was hands down the most challenging thing I have ever done.  Everything in me wanted to quit.  The terrain was one of the worst sections of Big Sur. To add insult to injury, a random south wind came up that hit me in the face making my trailer feel like an open parachute.  I begged God to stop the wind.  Coincidentally(?), the wind stopped! 

My most intimate and real experiences with God have been when I am vulnerable, out of control, and at my end. I have been trying to recreate that state. A life lived in safety, control, and comfort is a boring life, and boredom is my biggest fear.  Yet, the culture I swim in relentlessly sells safety, control, and comfort.  It is a battle to intentionally push back and embrace the opposite.

At 3:15am I arrived at the barricade.  A floodlight shown the obvious "do not enter" fear tactics.  It was well blocked; however, 3 small cones filled a space just wide enough for my trailer to pass. The pavement turned to gravel, and my bike light grew dim.  I strained to see what was ahead through my sleepy eyes.  There before me was the rubble.  Boulders covered the road that once was.  I looked for a path or alternative route around, but there was neither.  I climbed over a few feet to get a sense for what I had to cross.  To my dismay, all I could see was the same decimated road for about a half mile to the other flood light.  It looked impossible to take my bike, two surfboards, camping gear, and trailer a half-mile over a landslide with an edge dropping over 500 feet to the rocky ocean below.  But I had no other option. Obstinately I moved forward and broke down my gear.  Starting with my boards on one arm and bike on the other, I hobbled for about 100 meters.  To my amazement and gratitude was a small dirt path that wove between the rubble, making the crossing much more manageable.

Additionally, the actual rubble was much shorter than the floodlight lead on.  The whole slide of rocks was more like 300 meters, not a half mile!  A few trips pack mulling the gear, and I was through the “impassible rockslide.”  

"God has placed the most amazing things in life on the other side of fear."
-Will Smith

I was nervous to face the landslide, but when I saw what it was, the nerves turned to fear.  I was scared.  Thoughts of not having enough energy, getting caught and going to jail,  breaking my ankle, falling off the edge, all swirled through my mind.    But I knew my wife and kids were on the other side of that fear, so I pushed on.   It wasn't until I stepped out to do it, was then a more straightforward safer path revealed.  So much of life is about stepping into risk that shows the illusion of fear and uncovers new paths and opportunities.

After passing the slide and riding for another 45 mins, I found a place to bed down. The terrain was nothing but dry, steep cliff and winding road.  I begged God for a place to sleep, any bush or flat area would do.  Nothing.  Until the road bent back towards a canyon.  It was 5:00am and the faint glow of the coming sun shown a ravine.  Though it was steep, I held my hopes for a flat space to pitch my tent and hide my gear. Sure enough, a perfect wall of bushes and trees hid my bike and provided a space to pitch my tent.  I woke a few hours later, sun beaming in my face and hearing the sound of water.  My camel pack and water bottle were dry.  I walked back to discover a three-tiered waterfall, with a crystal clear pool, surrounded by giant redwood trees.  I landed in a fairyland. 

Reuniting with Amy and the kids in Cambria was the best payoff. Six days of grueling riding had gone by and having the 7th day to rest only seemed right. We build a driftwood fort on the beach, played in the tide pools, and enjoyed our 2 days for me to recover.  They became part of the adventure, and forever get to share that experience where it wasn’t just dad’s trip but all of ours. 

I got a nervous call from Pete’s wife. Pete didn't have cell service while in Big Sur so no one heard from him in two days. (Funny how two days of no communication now feels like certain death).  I couldn't reach him and also grew nervous.  Big Sur is one of the sketchiest roads in California.  Many people don't even drive it, let alone ride a bike through.  I told his wife our plan to split up and reunite after two days in Cambria.  It was the end of day two, and we both were starting to fear the worst.  Flying down some of those windy hills makes it easy to pull a Thelma and Louise.  A few hours later, he called, and Pete and I were both stoked out of our gourd to have passed through Big Sur, the rock slide, and survived!

I was a grom in the 90’s, and the next couple days I slipped back in time to a frothing, childlike state.  I knew Pete Rocky was a former pro surfer, but I never realized just how legendary he really is.  While we were drinking beers by our campfire in Moro Bay, his old childhood friend, Jamie George showed up.  I listened in as they caught each other up regarding their friends, sharing stories about Kelly, Rob, Shane, Chris, Keith, and Dan. . . Jamie George at one point battled Slater for the best surfer in the world.  It's said Jamie was the top surfer of the west coast, and Kelly the east.  I tried to play it cool as the two reminisced about surf comp shenanigans they had around the world, with the idols I looked up to as a kid.   
The following morning we found ourselves alone at a secret spot in Moro Bay, surfing waves so good, they beckoned us to extend our stay.  We paid the camp host an extra $5 for the night and determined we'd figure out how to make up for lost time later.

“Okay, cool. Sounds good, Chris,” said Pete as he hung up the phone. 
“We’ve got a place to stay tonight!”  He was referring to Chris Malloy’s place.  
“Oh, by the way, we are going to have a BBQ with the Malloy’s at THE RANCH, (the coveted Hollister Ranch) and the south swell is filling in!!!” 

I think I cried a little.  This trip was already a life-changing experience, and it was about to get better.  We piled our bikes, trailer, and gear in the back of Jamie's truck and he drove us to Chris Malloy's new ranch outside of Santa Maria.  Chris and his oldest son greeted us as we pulled up the steep grade. He was dressed in all denim, dusty boots, and a beard that could hide a small child. He shook my hand and looked at me suspiciously.  I'm guessing my all black sweat suit and flip-flops through him off a bit.  A scenic yurt perched on top of a hill looking over a valley was prepared for us.  It was all canvas, and he said his family of five lived in the yurt for a few months as their house was being built. He welcomed us with warm hospitality.  I enjoyed being a fly on the wall as the three old friends caught up and discussed surfboard evolution, old fistfights, and the philosophical implications of their friend's new business venture in artificial wave manufacturing.  

We arrived at the best-kept secret of Southern California, a surfer's promised land, flowing with perfect waves, and no crowds to speak of. The Ranch is relatively untouched and a jewel of California coastline, protected by a large gate and around the clock guard to help keep it that way. There is one access point in and out, and only residents and their limited guests are allowed through the pearly gate. Dan Malloy and his friend, Kanoa were in the water manning a glassy A frame by themselves, warming it up for us. We traded waves and played like children at Disneyland. A couple of years earlier, Dan and Kanoa did a similar bike trip and route we were on. They released a film, and a book about their experience called Slow is Fast.  It was fun to reminisce and trade stories with them about a trip that few people have done. 

I was the last to get out of the water. The waves were too fun to stop. But when the last light ray was behind the horizon, I had to call it quits.  The water temp was oddly low for May, and I was cold. I noticed a structure in the middle of a field as I walked up the path back to our bonfire on the cliff.  A shower was on the back, and a nob said "hot."  My hands were almost too numb to turn it.  In my disbelief, steamy hot water cascaded over my frozen body.  I was in heaven. It got better.  I walked up to the fire, and Dan handed me a goat rib and a beer.  I don't know what heavens like, an honestly you can have the streets of gold if I can trade it for eternal glorious days like that.


“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 
- C.S Lewis
 

The world’s best travel agent couldn’t have planned my “heaven on earth” day. It came to pass because of desire, risk, and action.  I am beginning to discover the significance of some unwritten, mystical laws that govern this beautiful world. In my experience, childlikeness, wonder, and surrender have been my guiding laws that have netted life, joy, and freedom. The people that are the freest are those who don't take themselves too seriously.  Think of your favorite teacher growing up.  Were they stuffy and strict, or were they light-hearted and easy going?  Their lightheartedness brought joy, and likely is why you remember them fondly.
 
The desire was to see California’s coast from a bike.  
The risk was a one-way ticket to NorCal. 
The action was pedaling south. 
The reward?  
It's the stuff you take with you when you die. 
Freedom, new friendships, sights, experiences, joy, wonder, discovery, adventure. . .

Life is a gift.  Pete taught me that. He sees the world through a lens of eternal optimism, opportunity, joy, and hope.  As a result, he leads an awe-inspiring life. He loves Jesus with all his being, and Christ's effect on him has enabled him to live a good and beautiful life despite growing up in poverty with his single mother.  His story is deserving of a book; a couple probably. Pete Rocky showed me what abandonment looks like. Right and reckless trust in the law of surrender, release, faith, and joy. In a word, it’s freedom.  

I want you to take something. Take a second and answer these questions:

Where are you being too easily pleased?  
Where have you become too serious?
Where have you settled for mud pies in the slum when the coast is waiting, inviting you to so much more? 

Our story continued after Santa Barbara, complete with a sketchy ride in a windowless van at 2:00 a.m., from a man on drugs, whose bed was in the back and had the start the engine by crawling underneath with a screwdriver.

Pulling a bike trailer with surfboards down Sepulveda Highway in a tunnel under LAX, with no bike lane was another treat.
I can tell you about these stories later if you like. 

I am on a journey.  I don't have the answers nor even know the destination, but one thing I can submit to you if you are willing is that this life is meant to be LIVED, not survived. Our modern times require very little of us to survive anymore.  Fear, worry, and anxiety are elements of an inferior reality, like hell for example.  

There is so much more!
Identify your real desires, risk to get them, and take action.  Face down the fear that has been holding you back. Give up making mud pies in the slum, when a holiday at the sea is awaiting you. 
 
Zac

zacernst@adventurefreedom.co
adventurefreedom.co
savageseals.com

Zac Ernst