We reserved a spot in Half Moon Bay State Park for one night on our way south from Sacramento to Big Sur. Half Moon Bay is one of the California state parks that people rave about, for good reason. The campground is perched on a cliff right above the spectacular beach. A great paved bike path runs for about 2.5 miles right behind the campground and along the cliff providing amazing views along with the exercise.
As we were leaving, we followed a young couple in a 20’ Airstream (Texas plates) into the dump station. They spotted our New Hampshire plates and came over to introduce themselves since it turns out they were meandering to Hanover, New Hampshire where he was about to start graduate studies at Amos Tuck, the business school at Dartmouth. They mentioned they had not seen anyone else from New Hampshire in their travels so this was a unique connection.
We fell into the easy conversation of kindred spirits and fellow nomads, which makes this pilgrims’ life a rich and nurturing experience. The conversation gets deep and easy quickly and we talked for more time than it took them to fill their on-board water tank and for us to empty our grey and black water. We were brought back to earth by the next guys in line who were waiting to use the dump station. We exchanged contact information and hugged our goodbyes in an exchange of grace that was palpable.
We drove along the necklace that is Highway 1 down to our next campground in the Los Padres National Forest, 25 miles south of Big Sur and 55 miles south of Carmel. This is one of toughest places to snag a site for more than one or two nights since the demand far exceeds the limited number of dry-camping-only sites. We were on the cliff about 50 feet above the Pacific. Over five days, we witnessed the curves of the coastline draped in ribbons of fog, like gauze, that stretched into the canyons, dark and richly green this year with tall grass and redwoods and eucalyptus trees. One late afternoon, I watched the lazy path of two northbound humpback whales whose water spouts marked their journey up the coast. Peter thinks he has identified the magnificent tree on our north side as a rare Monterey pine.
Here, the ocean and the sky are mirrors of each other, striped in greys and blues and silver with brush strokes of eggshell and pink blended in so perfectly that it is hard to spot the horizon. Wild mustard is in full bloom just under the back window of T2 and rows of wild huckleberry round out a palette of yellows and greens that abruptly cut diagonally across the pale sheen of the ocean/sky. Somewhere under there, the sun is getting ready to close up shop for the day.
The day we arrived, Peter met a couple our age who were just setting up their campsite. They were from Washington and invited us over to share their evening fire as the sun set, rare for us solitary travelers. It turns out they are contemplating full-timing and were searching for input of our experiences to help in their discernment. They were open and curious and we soon learned that they had their own story about Keene. Years ago, they traveled with a mascot, a stuffed seal they named Douglas because he had been made by Douglas Toy in Keene, New Hampshire. Douglas had made the rounds and was a well-traveled guy (kind of like our Pig) and they had a soft spot in their hearts for Keene.
Peter celebrated his 70th birthday here on a spectacular California day of sunshine and cool temps with a hike up the Vicente Flats trail. Really. I’m not making this up, folks. For those who don’t know, this is the Portuguese spelling of my maiden name so I’m considering this a good thing.
The evening of his birthday, we wandered down the road to Esalen Institute for an AA meeting. Once a week, they open their very beautiful grounds to the community for AA meetings. We discovered this last year and it was something that Peter had looked forward to, knowing we would be in the area on his birthday. After the meeting, we enjoyed their mineral baths in the darkness of a no-moon night with the waves crashing below us.
The next day we drove up the highway to our beloved New Camaldoli Hermitage, only about fifteen minutes from our campsite. A sweet reunion with some of our friends the monks included a simple lunch in the refectory where we got an update on how they are doing. The short answer is “good”. All of the five private retreat houses have been replaced now and look simply beautiful. Check out their website at www.contemplation.com for a virtual tour and to book a spot there or a room in the nine-room retreat center. The silence will heal your soul.
While in Big Sur, we had a breakfast reunion with one of Liz’s friends from her days with the monks. He lives in Carmel and we melted into a conversation about the change going on in the world and how being around people who are content can set the best of ourselves in motion. Before we knew it, our two-hour parking limit had passed and the reality of moving on stepped in.
That afternoon, we headed over the hills to Salinas and the John Steinbeck Museum. After reading Travels with Charley last year we fell in love with Steinbeck all over again. After being on the road ourselves in T2, it was very powerful to see his restored truck/camper, which he had named Rocinante, from his cross-country journey in 1960. He lived in very tight quarters and yet it connected him to the essential parts of this country, renewing his spirit. Being on the road can certainly do that for one open to the experience.
Our final day here in Big Sur we hiked up our favorite trail, Soberanes Canyon in Garrapata State Park. This is a special place for us both. This time we went as far as the redwood grove at the seventh crossover to the creek, about one mile up the trail. At this point, we passed what we have named the “redwood altar”, a circle of five “young” redwoods (about 200 years old) that have sprouted out of the grandfather redwood whose ancient trunk is at least 12’ in diameter. This is a sacred place and each time we come here (this is our fifth visit over the past ten years) we are in awe of the majesty of the place. I didn’t even attempt to take a photo. Steinbeck once wrote, “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe.”
We end our time in this remarkable place, aware of the quiet and stillness that has fed our hungry spirit. We move on now, restored and refreshed, to the next adventure and we invite you to come along with us.
Peter and Liz continue their travels, leaving Big Sur as they travel toward Joshua Tree National Park, in their Airstream.