USM8s Part II: Highway 1 & Big Sur
With the boys bundled in the back seat and Phantom Planet blasting, we bid LA adios. We were itching for the California Coast. City became suburbs, open spaces widening, and then parched rolling hills dotted with small towns. Lunch involved the delicacies of In-N-Out-Burger, which was satisfactory. It stayed in. We ended our first Walmart visit with appropriate frustration and mild disgust. Simon was deposited at a friend’s coffee house in San Luis Obispo, where the street signs are written in hard-to-read Lord of the Rings font. Weird.
Helena, Mario and I continued on to Morro Bay, a picture-book seaside town and our home for the night. The tiny embarcadero is packed with touristy beachside attractions: saltwater taffy; oysters; a maritime museum; a very short pier. At the campsite, our neighbour wanted to know how we’d booked the site next to his, did we know that was his table we were using?, and he’d have some friends over later so we’d better have cleared out. We politely pointed out our site number on the table but he insisted it was his property, despite its large CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS embellishment. In the morning, he offered to rent us the site at a “great rate”, but we were due in Big Sur and hurriedly waved goodbye to this unwanted landlord.
Simon had had a better evening at a county fair, swilling beer, riding the log flume and having a good ol’ fashioned American hoe-down. We picked him up significantly worse for wear, and he nodded off in the back seat. The previous May, after a particularly wet winter, a massive landslide had spewed a million tonnes of rocks and debris over the highway near Big Sur. This landslide is visible from space. Clean-up is estimated to take 12 months. From Ragged Point to Big Sur itself, Highway 1 was inaccessible, so we headed inland to the Salinas Valley. This is one of California’s most agriculturally productive regions; we drove by vineyard after vineyard and may have had a cheeky taste. Fkn yum.
After duct-taping the GoPro to the windshield wipers, we ventured off the beaten path and through some bush which reminded us a lot of home - weeping gumtrees, cattle ranches, and scrubby brown plants. The drive was long, rambling, and hot, Simon snoozing all the way. But suddenly, we could breathe again: the sea! We’d burst from the stifling scrub to the saturated colour of California’s central coast, and could not believe our bloody eyes. We roused old mate and spilled eagerly on to Garrapatta State Park, a pristine white sand beach. The afternoon was spent coming to terms with paradise.
Abutting the beach are low cliffs covered in short, dense shrubs in all the colours - amber, wine, jade, citrine, olive. Giant kelp rots on the shoreline, buzzing with black flies. Human activity is evident in the driftwood structures adorning the beach, ranging from simple teepees to elaborate bungalows with picket fences. The mighty Pacific laps at the shore, icy and indifferent. In every direction there is an explosion of vivid colour. Simon and I discovered that the porous cliffs leak fresh water and, in a hidden cove, found thick and milky moss oozing from the rocks like a dang beard. The California Coast is bananas. Go there.
Energised by the salty breeze, we headed south towards Big Sur and our next forest home, replete with tiny rivers and towering redwoods. Highway 1 skirts the edge of the continent, meandering carefully over rocky cliffs that tumble into turquoise depths. The famed Bixby Creek Bridge, a concrete arch affair constructed in 1932, is arguably the most photographed part of the California Coast, and we cheered as we made the crossing. Shortly after that we transited another bridge which looked exactly the same. We didn’t cheer, but knitted our brows. Which bridge is The Bridge? Dunno, Joe, but we crossed it at some point. Probably.
We pressed north to Santa Cruz, winding our way through the forest to the tiny town of Ben Lomond. Here we’d booked a campsite through HipCamp at a property owned by the enigmatic yogi-shaman Juko. She met us at her yoga studio in town and, questioning the abilities of our hire car, led us up the hills to her property. But we had faith in Helena the Gun, and she maneuvered our silver Accent along the treacherous path to the top. Waiting for us were Juko’s partner Jerry and their big-hearted, tiny-bodied terrier, Little Dog.
All of our campsites along the coast had compulsory bear-proof food storage lockers except for Juko’s. I emailed her asking if we’d need to figure out our own solution, but she said not to worry about bears: the mountain lions keep them away. Gulp. I’d rather a bear, I think. Despite Juko freaking us out with reports of big cats roaming Fall Creek Unit, we thankfully didn’t encounter any (though I stupidly took a shower at dusk, their peak hunting time, scooting madly back downhill afterwards to my human friends). Our isolation, though, meant dark skies, bright stars, and a show provided by the Delta Aquarid meteor shower. This is livin’.
After a single night, we sadly said goodbye to Juko and co. We could happily have stayed weeks. Helena carefully guided the Hyundai downhill and pointed it north to San Francisco. The fog on the horizon crept closer. We were still passing through a massively productive agricultural region, and were tempted by fresh, juicy and cheap AF roadside produce. I think we stopped at least three times. We were propelled by sugar up the last leg of Highway 1 to Fog City, The Paris of the West, City of the Golden Gate: San Francisco.