It took all of 1 day to fall in love with San Francisco, but our schedule insisted we move along. After scoring an airplane bypass — i.e. 2 tickets for an Amtrak Sleeper for our return trip home (woo hoo plane travel is over!) — a double-shot of Peet’s Coffee and breakfast chow. the day could not have a better start. We tossed our luggage into the car-with-no-navigation and headed south keeping the Pacific Ocean to starboard.
As the DP (Designated Photographer) it was my job to capture the entire 4 hour drive along US Coastal Route 1 with the eyes of a child: taking hundreds of photos, insisting on random stops to stand at the edge of coastal cliffs, and tormenting driver Paddy with “OMG did you see the guy cross the street carrying a surfboard?” “OMG did you see the cliffs?” “OMG did you see the sand dunes?” “OMG OMG OMG …are you keeping your eyes on the road?”.
Our leisurely travels along the coast occasionally detoured onto single-lane dirt roads — the inland passage through coastal farmland. We watched close-up as the workers hand-picked strawberries and not quite sure why we detoured into what appeared mega-farm-private property, but the lush agri-crops were grand and we waved at the workers and soon our route returned to the Coast. Eventually we landed at Monterey for our 3-day stay at the Butterfly Grove Inn where life would revolve around biking 17 Mile Drive, running the Big Sur Marathon and relaxing.
At no time during our stay at San Fran, or the 4-hour coastal trip along Route 1, or the breathtaking coastal views from Monterey, or the stunning bicycle ride on 17 Mile Drive, or the endless stopping to oooh and aahh at the scenery with MOUNTAINS that grew straight up from the sea — did it occur to me that the Big Sur Marathon would likely have the exact same terrain. It wasn’t until the 4:30AM bus ride the morning of Marathon-21 (the 21 mile variant) to the start of the course, when forward momentum slid us to the edge of our seats that I realized my hill-less training on the suburbs of Washington DC was completely insufficient.
US Route 1 on the Pacific Coast goes from the Mexican border to Canada. The true gold for runners is the Big Sur Marathon — where US 1 is closed to vehicle traffic for a 6 hour window. This means, thousands of runners have both lanes of the spectacular coastal views to ourselves. My running mate & step-daughter Emma set our phones for ‘photo mode’ and by 6:30AM it was time to become running photographers.
Thanks to the uphill climbs, by mile 2 we both had stripped down to tank-tops, and were busy pointing out sights — coastal mountains with switchback roads with the hope that these giant climbs were not part of US Route 1. But they were, and we paused to take pictures next to sections of road with no guardrails and daring each other to peer over the edge. We climbed to Hurricane Point and pretended to be Taiko drummers, and we descended to the Bixby Bridge and paused for selfie’s with the Bridge, the mountains, the Pacific Coast, not wanting to leave the beauty behind. We photo-bombed our faces with the man in the tuxedo playing his Grand Piano to the tune of Bridge over Troubled Waters and moved along, uphill again, as there was a new mountain to climb. Volunteers handed us water and goo and strawberries and bananas and we pinched ourselves having the privilege to experience the most iconic Pacific Coast views, slowly, savoring each pivot and turn while on foot – as runners.
Toward the end, we tired, we slowed, and the coastal mountains kept coming but we never stopped moving and crossed that finish line hand-in-hand, receiving a clay medal for our efforts along with a giant gingersnap cookie putting the entire event over the top.
We spent the rest of the day feeding the ravenous beasts that roared in our bellies, walking the bike-path in Monterey, dipping our toes into the ocean and meandering Cannery Row because we couldn’t stop — we had to keep this day alive as long as possible.