We’ve all had that teacher growing up who helped to make us the person we are today. Hard, strict, demanding, and disciplined are but a few of the characteristics which come to mind in identifying these master educators. I had them several times in my life: second grade it was Mrs. Brinson; sixth grade, Mr. Youth; eleventh grade, Mr. McMullen; and of course three years of upper classmen when I was a “smack” or fourth classman at the Air Force Academy. All of these persons challenged me in ways I couldn’t have imagined before; they accepted nothing less than your best all the time. I know I’m a more resilient and self-assured individual because of their teachings and practices. It all was worth it, no matter how much I griped, bitched, and moaned at the time. Recently, I had a park make me feel the same way: tough, demanding, and challenged to say the least. The park’s name: Andrew Molera.
According to Google Maps, Andrew Molera State Park resides 26.2 miles from Monterey—the same distance as a full marathon. Anyone who ever ran the Big Sur International Marathon passed by the park along California Highway 1. I ran the marathon, saw the park on maps and was always curious. Then on one of the last days of 2017 I convinced my wife to go running with me down there. Sure it was a bit of a hike to get there (26.2 miles down highway 1 equals about a 90 minute drive some days), but I was sure it would be worth it! And while I looked at pics online and studied trail maps, nothing could have prepared us for what we found. We arrived later than we wanted, nearly 3:30pm as the sun faded over the Pacific. We relooked our route: a trail could take us to the beach, then double back up something called the Ridge trail which we should be able to loop back around on. All in all, maybe 6 miles? And the run to the beach, well this was on the western side of the highway so that meant it should be all flat, right? And what was this little blue line going down the map? A creek? Surely it would be dried up this late in the year. With daylight our foe, we parked quickly, threw our shoes on, and headed out on the trail.
Things started out fine: the trail was an old horse path wide and flat—perfect for a casual trail run. Like all good first impressions, however, Andrew Molera proved us wrong as we turned the first corner: a 20’ wide stream to cross without a foot bridge. Apparently the foot bridge is only emplaced in summer, when the creek is down to a trickle. We took off our shoes and waded across the frigid waters. Talk about a shock to the system! Andrew Molera woke us up and started to demand attention. We continued on to the beach, a distance just shy of a mile. The beach opened up in front of us and was immaculate: piles of driftwood surrounded by groups of visitors all enjoying a relatively warm sunny day in late December. You couldn’t ignore the good vibe coming off the sands. We double backed and caught the Ridge trail for what would be the next phase of our run. At this point, Mr. Molera took charge. For the next two miles we found ourselves in an almost constant ascent from one hill to another. You’d get to the top of one hill and look ahead to see another one looming. The teacher had our full attention. Those two miles up nearly 1000’ brought us back to reality of being trail runners: we were being schooled. The teacher did provide amazing views as we gazed back down on the beach and valley from which we’d come. Finally, with the sun nearing the horizon, and more than another mile left before we’d hit the beach and follow another trail back, we threw in the towel. Our legs screaming from the climb up, made the descent almost as harsh as the ascent. We headed back full well knowing that we’d shown up for Andrew Molera’s class and he’d given us a lesson.
Truth be told, the real Andrew Molera, wasn’t a teacher at all, but a shrewd businessman. The history of this state park goes back over 150 years to land sold to fur trader Juan Bautista Roger Cooper, who’s cabin, known as Cooper Cabin, still stands on the state park and is the oldest structure still standing in Big Sur. Andrew Molera was Cooper’s grandson, and is widely recognized as a driving factor in the rise of the artichokes along the central coast. According to a 1995 Los Angeles Times article, Molera recognized that “Between the devastation World War I had wrought to the artichoke fields in France, and the United States’ swelling population of Italian, French and Spanish immigrants, there were plenty of people willing to pay plenty for a taste of home.” Even more amazing was the fact that per-capita consumption of artichokes was higher in the 1920s than it is now. Taking some 3,000 acres of land and developing it for artichokes in the Salinas area, Molera’s work paid off, and now Castroville is widely known as the “Artichoke capital of the world.”
After his death, his sister, Frances Molera, inherited all the family’s land and in 1965 turned the original land grant of some 2200 acres near Big Sur over to the Nature Conservancy who in turn eventually turned it over to the California government. Her only stipulation being that the land be named after her brother, Andrew Molera and thus the park was born.
Back in the present, my wife and I trudged back to our car in the fading daylight. The sun was setting over the Pacific and we’d just missed it. We were tired now and had taken our lesson to heart. We got to the creek crossing and just ran through it—what did we care at this point in the game? Besides the cold water felt good on our sore muscles. Finally we got back to the car and relaxed. I had a cooler in the back and pulled out two beers for us. I came prepared. On this day I chose cans of Black Market’s Deception Ale, a coconut lime blonde ale, which I thought hit the spot after this class. My wife had other opinions but wasn’t about to refuse it. Personally I thought it was a great porch beer—the light blend of coconut tones with lime, made me think of this more as a lighter Mexican beer. Whatever the case it hit the spot. With that, we swapped out our soaked trail runners for Luna sandals and drove back up Highway 1 in the darkening evening, fully aware that we’d learned our lesson today, and that we’d be better runners in the future for it.
We’ll be back for another lesson at Andrew Molera in the not so distant future. And this time we’ll be ready. Until then happy trails and bottoms up!