The concept is beautifully simple: take a drive on one of the world’s best roads on the longest day of the year. You can argue about the exact road and the start/finish times. But I very much doubt it would beat this one: California’s Route 1; 21 June.
It’s 4am on the 21st of June, the longest day of the year. There’s a car in the garage, the keys on your bedside table and the Pacific Highway on your doorstep. Who needs an alarm clock?
Escaping the city
Being the longest day of the year, it starts early. Really early. But not as early as me. The official sunrise time is 5.47am but by then I’m already up and negotiating the exit from the bowels of the hotel parking garage. The idea now is to head out of town as fast as we can, before the rest of the city wakes up.
Our destination, Big Sur, is 147 miles away and home of some of the west coast’s most dramatic scenery. It also homes a section of Route 1 designated an American National Scenic Byway - ‘an honour reserved for highways that are so distinctive they are destinations unto themselves’.
Driving the Surf
We power down towards Half Moon Bay, with the surf rolling in on our right, a perfect blue sky overhead, and the road ahead totally clear for a miles. We drive past San Jose, soon flashing past Pigeon Point lighthouse; at 115 feet, it’s one of the tallest in the US. Our next planned stop is scheduled to be in Pebble Beach in Carmel, just south of Monterey, where the annual Concours D’Elegance car show is held, and where an old race circuit still lurks in the woods.
Even with that last stop, plus several others for pictures, it’s still only just past one o’clock as we stop in Monterey to admire the view across the headland to Pebble Beach. We have just less than 30 miles to run down the coast to Big Sur but there’s at least another 7 hours of precious daylight until the sun sets at 8.35pm. The weather is perfect and I know there’s a fantastic stretch of Route 1 just south of Big Sur that would be insane to drive.
Sweet Sea Air
With those thoughts swirling through my mind, the car crackles and lunges down the narrow ribbon of tarmac that lines the edge of the cliff road. This is perhaps one of the most dramatic sections of the great highway and the car feels more at home than ever, reeling in crest after crest in the road.
But then, just as I get into a rhythm with the car, Big Sur appears in the distance and it’s almost time to turn around and head back. Stopping at Rocky Creek Bridge, standing since 1932, I get out of the car to grab a last few lungfuls of the sea air.
I really should be heading back – but on this road, on this day, who could blame me for staying out just a little longer?