The first day we spent winding down the coast of the San Francisco peninsula, stopping at various beaches, walking on the sand, the cliffs towering above us, the waves rolling in off the overcast sea, a pound of pistachios from a roadside vendor, shucking nuts and cruising.
We enjoyed it to Santa Cruz, on the top of the Monterey bay, where we dropped off to see the boardwalk, spent a _long_ time in traffic, decided that we didn't need to see any more of another Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg kinda place, got back on 1 south, drove around the bay and decided to spend the night in Monterey.
Monterey is almost exactly what I see Chattanooga becoming, and it would do well to supporters of the Aquarium to look to Monterey. It consists of some nice walks along either side of the dunes (reminiscent of the greenway and river parks, except that skaters and bikers are quite a bit more accepted on the pavement), Cannery Row (kinda like Warehouse Row, only quite a bit more tacky, more restaurants, less useful shops) and, of course, the Aquarium.
The restaurants were your basic high-priced give the parents the feeling of a nice restaurant but tolerate the kids kind of place, nothing special, but okay. And I enjoyed drawing on the paper tablecloth with crayons. The Aquarium was nice, from stepping out on the deck and watching the seals play on the rocks in the bay, to the exhibits which were nicely laid out and informative. Worth the $13.50 per person once. I dunno if I'll be making it a regular thing.
Then we went south to the (in)famous "Seventeen Mile Drive", home of the Pebble Beach golf course and quite a few others, where they charge you $6 to drive around and ask you not to take pictures for commercial purposes 'cause everything is trademarked. Thanks, I live in Marin. I've seen upscale neighborhoods before.
And then, with our touron activities out of the way, we went south into the Big Sur. Yow.
This is not territory friendly to human life. I both curse and admire the folks (quite a bit of it convict labor) who cut route 1 through to San Simeon. Admire because it's one hell of an engineering feat. Curse 'cause the bastards let every obnoxious family that can rent a Winnebago into a place they have no business being.
Because it is so immensely overpopulated, California wilderness comes off at times like a museum. The newness of the mountains gives them a frailty that I haven't seen anywhere else; waver off a trail in the wrong season and come back in a year and you can see the effects of your actions. Despite the fact that we some campgrounds were full on a week day at this time of year, this terrain shows the wear a lot less than most.
The first day we stopped at every rest stop and, after securing a camp site, hiked up into the mountains to look down over the valley. And even being able to see the road, we were out of earshot of it.
Then we drove south to find a restaurant. Of the things that have been here forever, the good restaurants have been around about as long as people have been living in this area (Even the Esselen, the native American tribe that once inhabited this area, apparently moved out of their own accord). Nepenthe, Ventana, Deetjen are all places that have been running since the road was first cut through the mountains, if not before. We chose Deetjen.
Through some stroke of poor planning, we walked into this restaurant lit with beeswax candles, the small parking lot crammed with vehicles well out of my price range, wearing tie-dye and hiking shorts and asked the maitre d' if they've got room for two for dinner. I'm convinced that only in California would he not only say "Yes" but give us a rather nice table! And while it wasn't the most I've ever paid for dinner for 2 it was close, but the service was excellent, the atmosphere incredible, and the food fantastic.
Fed and rested, we woke up to Tuesday.
We started by hiking down to the beach, wandering down a half mile or so, feeling the rumble as the waves broke, the hard "slap" if they happened to hit a rock or cliff face as they did, then the hiss as they spent themselves in a white foam wash at our feet. We found a rock and spent a long time staring out at the sea.
Once again I was reminded that the world cares little whether you or I live or die. The waves aren't malicious, they'll do the same thing to you as to a piece of driftwood, hammer you against the rocks 'til what little remains is small, rounded and of little consequence. If you get in their path.
And then we climbed the bluffs and walked along them, through the various microclimates. Here we'd walk through a field of those beautiful bright orange California Poppies, there purple irises, or the yellow and blue flowers of the wild peas, or white blooms of wild strawberries, or numerous other plants I can't name. We crested one hill and came across a desert that lasted for maybe 500 feet, parched sand, sage brush, then cleared that hill and descended into a lush valley with birds, a creek, and flowering foliage over our heads.
There isn't that much publicly accessible shoreline in the Big Sur, but next time I want to take a pack and get back into the Ventana wilderness, the miles of nothingness that very few people see.
Anyway, Wednesday we drove the rest of the way down the coast to San Simeon, toured the gardens of the Hearst Castle (Proof that if you screw over enough people you can have the state immortalize you), and drove back home.
Nothing poetic here, watched a couple of movies (I highly recommend "My Dinner With Andre", Wallace Shawn, Andre Gregory, Louis Malle directs, and "Before Sunrise", a slightly lighter romantic comedy kinda thing, but extremely well filmed. Both require some effort on the part of the viewer). After experiencing the region, I read Henry Miller's "Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch" which I also recommend, it's a good set of character studies, a great view on a region, and just some all around good writing. Did some mountain biking, toured some galleries in the city, finally saw Good Vibrations (the store), and slept late.
Anyway, I'm back among the living for a while. I'll make no commitments, but I'm refreshed, have a couple of ideas and have a new desire to make some waves.
And yes, I did take the beeper with me. And the only time they tried to use it I was way out of range. Serves 'em right.