Early Sunday morning, what looked like a friendly but somewhat intimidating motorcycle gang, revved their engines and listened to classic rock booming from the fairing of a candy apple red Harley. They were waiting for the rest of their crew to join them in the parking lot of the Naga Cafe on Heritage Loop right next to Lake Nacimiento. But this was no ordinary biker gang, this was a group of local heroes, small business owners rallying to brave the gnarly but gorgeous Nacimiento-Ferguson Road to check in on other businesses that have suffered from the recent mudslide on Highway 1 in Gorda.
Paso Robles based small business owners Scott Miller and Jim DiMauro organized this group ride in an effort to help other small businesses that have been practically devastated by the mudslide. Lucia Lodge has been closed since January and the Whale Watcher Cafe and Lodge has been completely cut off from the outside world when it comes to communications, both internet and land lines.
Tony Barthelow owner of Naga Cafe and fellow rider said, “I’m pretty excited. It’s a beautiful ride and I love supporting other businesses.”
“We’re just a group of people that ride together a bunch and we just started posting out on Facebook saying ‘hey, Whale Watcher Cafe, they’re in trouble and let’s ride’ and people just come from everywhere,” Miller said. “We’re trying to raise awareness that they are still in business. The owners are stranded around the other side of the slide. They live in Ragged Point and now because of the slide it takes them four hours to reach their business (from home).”
Miller continued, “Right now they have the general manager that has been living onsite. Their phone lines have been cut off. They still have food and gas and the market is still open, but they have no means of communication. We were there a couple weeks ago on a ride just to see what was going on, if they were open and we found out they had no phone service. Fortunately we own a messaging company so we provided them with a greeting that says, ‘hey, we’re open.’ And now we’re having AT&T forward their three business lines to this greeting so at least people know that they’re still open.”
After two hours of winding roads and stunning views the ride entered Big Sur from the back door of Nacimiento-Ferguson Road and emerged onto Highway 1 just eight miles north of the slide area.
When the rumbling hogs rolled into the parking lot of the Whale Watcher Cafe a huge smile spread across General Manager Leo Flores’ face. But when asked how things were going, the smile faded slightly.
“Its bad, I live in Gorda Mountain, four miles south,” Flores said. “For me to go home it was five minutes but right now it’s four hours. I have to take Nacimiento just to get home. At one point, after the first slide, it only took me a half hour, because I would walk across the slide — you could see cracks in the road and rocks would fall slowly but now you can’t even walk across it — now that it’s gone all the way down to the ocean it takes me four hours.”
As a solution to the problem Flores and his staff are temporarily living on the premises in some of the rental cabins and the owners, who live in Ragged Point, only come once every two to three weeks.
“Business is slow — we have no internet, no phones, nothing,” Flores said. “But we’re still open for business, it’s just first come first serve, that’s just how we have to do it right now.”
But Flores believes that with four cabins available and the traffic being so low, your odds of booking a cabin are very good.
One business that has fared much better than the rest is Treebones Resort just a couple miles up the road.
“On the weekends we’ve been fully booked for the most part, so it’s been pretty incredible considering all the other businesses who have been impacted so much,” said front desk clerk Jamie Oksas. “Customers are coming from all over, but a lot from the north like the San Francisco area and also the L.A. area. We send alternate route directions to everyone so everyone is in and out Nacimiento-Ferguson Road to the 101.”
Apparently a little preparation and some fortunate timing made all the difference. All of the employees already live on the Treebones property with the exception of two that live just a couple miles north of the slide area.
“Our main phone line recently went out with the slide, so thankfully we have a satellite phone right now,” Oksas said. “It’s pretty wild. We had it set up a little before it even happened. We were going to have it for the staff to use it so thankfully we already had that set up. The weekdays have a lot more vacancies than usual yes, but I just feel super grateful where we’re located with Nacimiento-Ferguson and the stretch where Highway 1 is open and that there is still a ton of great hikes, the guests can still really enjoy the nature and everything we have to offer up here.”
A heed of warning from an expert though in regards to traveling Nacimiento-Ferguson, “Take it during the daytime because during the night it’s a totally different experience,” warns Oksas.
The group is organizing another ride to take place on June 24. Riders will rally at the 7-11 on the corner of 24th Street and Spring Street. For more information about the ride you can join the closed Facebook Group “Das Krü.”
The Whale Watcher Cafe is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m but will stay open longer if busy and the market is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
For the latest, most up to date information on traffic and road conditions in the Big Sur area check out BigSurKate.blog
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]