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Big Sur Notes

By John Locke - Posted on 21 March 1996

California thoughts, Big Sur coast, March 22 (Happy equinox!)

I pulled into the village of Cambria half an hour before sunset, and poked around the town. My father lived here for years, back in the 70s and early 80s. I stayed with him for spring of 5th grade and a couple of summers. I go to find the old house he lived in the first time. In between all the upscale coffee houses, art shops and bars, I find. . . an empty lot.

For many years now, I have avoided California, intimidated by the sheer numbers of people, endless houses, and too many cars. But after a little while in Santa Barbara, and now on the central coast, I can see why my dad loves it here. Even in LA, as I drove up and down and all around searching for my bike, I breathed a sigh of relief as I drove through Palos Verde, Redondo beach, Hermosa beach, old haunts of my dad. Perhaps this place isn't so bad. Rounded green mountains, dropping straight away to crashing surf. Falcons soaring on the thermals where at other times hang gliders and parapentes join in. Relative solitude, even in the midst of the most populous state in the country.

I drive along highway 1, right on the coast, pulling over at every turn-out, tempted at every trailhead to go for a hike, at every logging road to pull down my bike, put on the knobbies and go. I might yet, but I am enjoying just sitting in the sun, listening to the waves, watching an otter frolic below.

Yesterday I was thinking, how come more people don't do what I do, work hard for a bit to save up resources, and then go adventuring. I've met lots of really neat people on my trips, but most were either on short vacations, or about to start a new career or job, or were permanently on the road, for several years, without a home base. On the one hand, the people had resources and had saved long and hard for a once-in-a lifetime trip, on the other, the people were barely scraping by, and seemed to have a complete lack of direction. But I met nobody who is making adventuring a way of life, and yet returns regularly to some sort of homebase to recharge. . . It seems a uniquely Alaskan thing to do.

And sure enough, as I'm driving north from San Simeon, just after sunset, looking for a comfortable pull out to sleep in, I spied a van. . . Now wait, that looked like Alaskan plates. . . I screech to a halt, back up, and sure enough, it's an adventurer named John Crater, from Girdwood and Anchorage. He paints commercially in the summer to save up some money, then comes south to play in the surf, formerly with a windsurfer, now with a kayak. He recently returned from climbing Aconcagua, in Chile. And. . . he carries around a laptop with which he's written some magazine articles and short stories. . . He's been living this part-time life for 8 years now. Gives me great hope.

I drive along the coast at 40 mph, mesmerized by the waves, gazing up each valley, pulling out at every gravel shoulder to let people pass. . . What's the big hurry, I wonder. Why is everybody rushing around so much, especially out here? If they want to go fast, why are they on this road? Oh, well, their problem.

In New Mexico, Jane, Dennis and I walked up the Catwalk, a trail in the Gila Wilderness. Miners put a pipe in this canyon to send their diggings through to where they could work on it, and people then walked the pipe to get through the canyon to the valley beyond. The pipe is long gone, but the forest service has bolted a catwalk to the cliff walls, and you wind through and up a couple miles. One branch of the trail crosses a suspension bridge and ends under an overhanging cliff wall with a view of a small waterfall. Another branch continues up the valley, where it connects with a whole trail network in the high country.

On our way back down, we passed a couple people. "How much further?" they asked. "Oh, a couple more bends." Around another corner, were more people. "Does the trail go on very far?" they asked. We passed about 8 groups of people on the way down, and all but two had to know how much further they had to go. "You can go as far as you like, you can turn around at any point, there is no end, you're here to enjoy the trip, not to accomplish something," I wanted to yell at the next person who asked. Why are we americans so intent on our destination, that we don't enjoy the place we are now?

March 23.

Further up the coast, I pulled off at yet another turnout, looking for whales. There was a sign there, all about grey whales--they migrate south October-December. Best time to see them going north: March! Great. But all I see are hundreds of whitecaps, the wind she's a blowin'. Even with the binoculars, no sign of whales, anywhere. I get back in the car and drive on. Not 3 bends later I see a distinctive puff-cloud of a whale blow. And another. And still another. I drive on, one eye glued to the whales, the other looking for a good pull-out. I find one, with a half-dozen people, but noone has noticed the whales--until I point them out. The rest of the afternoon, I drove even slower up the coast, pacing the whales, pulling out to watch for a while. . . It seemed odd, but nobody else seemed to be noticing them.

Saw the comet last night, a big fuzzy patch near Arcturus. (follow the arc, to Arcturus! the arc formed by the handle of the big dipper, that is. . .) Now it's supposed to be at its brightest. I'm in Berkeley watching the sunset now, but I think I'm going to drive up north until I get out of city lights tonight, so I can catch more of this astronomical event. It caught me by surprise. . . I only heard about it 2 days ago. . ..

And on to points north. . .

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