Seven hours. Seven hours we drove from the comforting buzz of suburbia up the California coast. Two hours of which were spent slogging through Los Angeles freeways in the thick of rush hour. It was night time before we were able to leave the city.
Chatting passed the time, as there was little to look at beyond headlights behind us and the whale-like semi-trucks we passed. Eventually we exit the highway, wandering into unknown territory. A narrow, two-lane road through what seemed like endless rows of an orchard. It was somewhat eerie, only making out the passing lines of trees that the headlights illuminated, but knowing the labyrinth that laid beyond. There would be no charity for hitchhikers here.
Finally, we reached the coast. Backs sore, Spotify-exhausted, and out of politics to discuss, we began the treacherous drive along PCH, just south of Big Sur.
Did we hesitate when passing a construction sign warning of a road closure in 40 miles? No! Surely we’d reach our campground before then. The drive became tense and quiet. As the road danced nearer to the ocean, the signs began to indicate slower speeds and tighter turns. Before long, the roads illustrated on these signs were nothing but a squiggle.
Sharp banks and hairpin turns took us feet from the edge. We attempted to rationalize that maybe it was better that it was dark because we could focus on the road instead of worrying about the sheer cliffs we drove along. We held our breaths rounding a particularly tight turn with no guardrail. Daylight would’ve been better.
Did we panic when we passed a construction sign warning of a road closure in 5 miles? A little! But we had come too far to turn back now. However, to our dread, my headlights finally fell upon our heartbreaking defeat. A roadblock. We would go no further and the only way out, was back.We would later find out we had only been 15 miles from our destination when we hit the roadblock.
Pulling over to the side of the road, we attempted to triangulate our position with our phones. A $500 super computer in our pocket was rendered a trendy-looking brick without any hint of cell service.
There is no place in the story where this fits, but I saw a fox for the first time in my life here. I don’t know what he was doing on the edge of PCH in the middle of the night. But I saw a fox.
Fuming, we made the same exact, treacherous drive back to the closest town we passed south of Big Sur, San Simeon. We needed to find an inn, as the alternate route to the campground would take us inland, north, up and around. Hours more on the road. It was getting late and much to my disdain, I was forced to admit defeat… but only for the night.
We stopped at one very nice looking inn, only to find it void of any discernible life. They were closed. We quickly went from grumbling travelers to lost puppies, wondering who would take us in. At (almost literally) the stroke of midnight, we found an inn with a room available. We arrived minutes before they closed, brought only our essentials into our modest room, and spent what was supposed to be our first night camping among the stars, sleeping in a motel.
We awoke refreshed with a renewed determination to reach our destination. After a hardy breakfast of milk-less fruit loops, we embarked on the second leg of our journey.
Two and a half hours of driving. That’s all we had to reach the campground. We back tracked inland through rolling hills and wineries. At least we now had the luxury of daylight to enjoy the drive. Large farmhouses and cows. So many cows.
We had discussed stopping for gas before we got too far off the beaten path. We then passed what we’d later discover to be the last gas station we’d see without a second thought.
As my fuel gauge dipped under a half a tank, we turned off the highway and began what would be our favorite drive in recent memory.
A strange mix between southern countryside and west coast forestry, the drive was only 20 miles but took well over an hour because of the terrain. Meadows with yellow and orange trees eventually gave way to a mountainous climb through roads tunneled by an emerald canopy. We saw two doe grazing, a coyote cautiously scouting, and one lone chipmunk frantically crossing the road at the absolute worst time possible. Without the previous day’s mishap with the road closure, we would never have discovered this drive.
As we pressed on, we remained optimistic about our fuel situation. However, the goal posts soon began to shift.
We hoped to God we’d have enough gas to get there, then make the return trip back to civilization. Then we hoped to God we’d have enough gas to get there and merely find a local gas station. As the fuel gauge sunk below a quarter of a tank, we PRAYED to God we’d have enough gas to make it there at all.
So what did God do? He gave us a gas station! And a sign!
Scrawled in sharpie:
We continued through the mountains on the lookout for wildlife, narrowly missing oncoming traffic at every turn, and maintaining worried glances at our depleting fuel supply.
Finally reaching the apex of the mountain, I put the starving car in neutral and we rolled down the twisting roads until we saw water. We had reached the open side of PCH. Fighting off hunger and car sickness, we finally coasted into the campground. Only to find out… they had vacated our spot to someone else, since we missed our check-in the day before.
…just kidding. But had we been an hour later, that’s exactly what would’ve happened. We set up camp and were pleasantly surprised to find our tent to be not only a breeze to set up but almost big enough for my 6 foot, lanky frame to stand upright. After a mid-day ramen snack cooked on a tiny flame, we laid in the tent listening to the stream rushing not 15 feet from us. Then it was time for sunset.
We walked down, under the massive bridge connecting PCH between two cliffs, to join other campers for the evening showing. Everyone found a spot amongst the sand and rocks just as the sun began its descent. I was pleased discover every single person on that beach was completely in the moment as the sun went down.
We eventually left our stone couch and returned to camp.
We only had to wait 40 minutes for the fire to get going! Eventually, we had a blaze that was borderline out of control. Hot dogs, chips, and s’mores made up the remainder of the night. I also dropped our marshmallows face-down in the dirt. S’mores no more.
We eventually retreated to our tent for a game of chess and some reading. However, before bed, we couldn’t help but sneak back outside to gawk at the sky. If you have ever been in the middle of nowhere and looked up at night, you know the feeling. Completely surreal.
We woke up frigid and sore, but happy. The hike this day was indescribable. But ok, I’ll try.
Quiet pathways through trees hundreds of feet high and along a creek that purposefully weaved at our feet.
After about a half-mile, we discovered the historic Limekilns. Four gargantuan, rusting towers in the middle of the forest. Over 100 years ago they would’ve been hard at work, melting the region’s deposits of limestone. Exposure to extreme heat allowed workers to extract the lime, where it would be shipped off to Monterrey and San Francisco for use as a key ingredient in concrete. Eventually, the area was depleted of its limestone reserves and running out of redwoods, which were used to fuel the kilns. The deteriorating monoliths were the only things left behind, slowly being reclaimed by the very same wilderness that they had once consumed.
A half-mile in the other direction brought us to the end of the canyon and a 100-foot waterfall. We sat at the base of the falls, undisturbed and quiet for over an hour; reading, journaling, sketching, and taking in nature’s temple. It never ceases to amaze me, the natural composition in which the wild is created. Random, yet with purpose. If man attempted to place every boulder and tree with an unlimited budget and time, it would not even begin to compare.
After stopping back at camp for a snack, we decided to lie down and rest before catching the ocean sunset once more. An hour later we awoke, realizing we missed it. Taking advantage of the fleeting light, we crafted our fire and huddled around its warmth for the remainder of the night. Happy campers at last.
As luck would have it, on our way out, we did end up finding the one gas station for 30 miles in any direction.
$6.00/gallon never looked so good.