After dropping my sister off at the airport to fly back to Minnesota, I had the better part of a long weekend to meander back down to the mountain that I was calling home. I used this opportunity to explore Highway One, the westernmost road in the continental United States. This was an exciting prospect, with only one tiny issue that was nagging at my blissful, vacation-soothed state of mind.
During the camping trips around Mount Tamalpais, the van had sprung a rather alarming fuel leak. Fortunately, I was only 30 miles from a diesel mechanic. Unfortunately, it took me over 36 gallons of gas to get there. I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to the entire area for spraying your highways and roads with massive amounts of fuel. In the end, it was a simple fix, costing about the same as an oil change. After the engine problems I had faced over the last several months, this was not a promising sign. Yes, it was a simple fix, and yes, it was completely unrelated to the previous ailments I had experienced, but still – it didn’t inspire confidence in my mobile home.
The fatalism that I had entertained during the van’s hospitalization was back (albeit to a lesser degree), but I was also riding high on happiness from my familial reunion and enjoying a freedom in this vacation that I had not experienced since last November. It was this potent cocktail of endorphins that fueled my journey down the One, and it was affecting.
If you haven’t experienced this particular drive, or if you are unfamiliar with it, it may be hard to adequately describe. The highway follows the coastline, meandering with the tidelines and oceanside cities. It is not a road for those in a hurry, twisting and turning through forests and farmlands just long enough to lull the driver before exploding onto the rugged, wave-strewn coastlines.
Whether it was the emotional backdrop to the trip or the stunning visuals consuming my sight, I was fighting rising lumps in my throat for much of the drive. I stopped often, which is the best way to drive. Monterey offered low-stress van camping outside of the city and a great Fisherman’s Wharf in which I spent the wee hours of the morning, looking for fresh fish and laughing at the antics of harbor seals. Big Sur consumed much of the next day, with its high reaching conifer forests and precipitous roadside turnouts. I saw McWay Falls, one of the only waterfalls to empty onto a beach. While I didn’t catch it in the afternoon sun, I was lucky enough to be there alone (a relatively rare phenomenon, apparently). I watched elephant seals on the beach, fixated for over an hour by their flatulent vocalizations and blubbery movements – my occasional outbursts of laughter startling other, less disruptive visitors.
I stopped for the afternoon in San Luis Obispo. Mount Bishop, a local peak, was rumored to have some bouldering spots on its slopes, and I hadn’t been climbing outdoors for more time than I would prefer. The sun was high and the rocks were fun. I met a quasi-local who invited me to join some people that evening at a farmer’s market downtown, which ended up being a lot of fun. I arrived early, and waited at a rather untastefully decorated Tiki bar (are there any other kinds of Tiki bars?) and met an apparently wealthy banker who was familiar with Wisconsin. He was buying, so we bonded over a few too many cocktails. Once the rest of the folks arrived, I was in fine spirits. It was a warm night with good food, drink, and rowdy conversation.
Fortunately, the next morning came gently, and I was able to make an early exit to get back on the road. A clear head and surprisingly little LA traffic meant that I made good time back up the mountain.
In the few days before the next busload of students came up the mountain, a few of us did go do some more beach exploring at Crystal Cove. We found an octopus, some sea hairs, a groovy-looking sea slug (see picture below), and a whole host of crabs (hermit and otherwise), fish, and anemones.
The next week of work was wonderful. Having an energizing and rejuvenating vacation will do that. It also helped that I only had one week of work before my spring break. More about that in the next post…