Most people barely touch the surface when they “visit” Big Sur. I was guilty of it the first time I went – cruising down the highway, making all the touristy stops, visiting the little state parks. This time I wanted more. I wanted to experience the real thing. I wanted to actually feel what the locals felt, see what they saw, and do what they did. So I tried to head up the dirt roads and down the less beaten paths. However, on the first day there, I definitely had my encounters with the touristy side of things.
I must have heard 10+ languages during my time in Big Sur. I saw luxury cars in the hundreds, maybe thousands – Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, Mercedes, Bentleys, Alfa Romeos, and even a McLaren F1. I heard couples talking about drinks at Nepenthe, prix fixe dinner at Post Ranch Inn, driving topless cars to feel the coastal wind in their hair. There were children – tons of vibrant, squawking children – all hungry, thirsty, wanting ice cream, wanting the beach, too hot to be civil, fueled by parents who poured out money to make their families “happy” on their trip up the coast. Campgrounds were full – and not just one campground – every campground was full. I’m talking cars making rounds every 30 seconds, in and out of campgrounds to see if anyone had left yet.
Sure, it’s a great experience even if you just drive up/down the coast and make a few stops on the way, but you aren’t getting into the heart of the place by doing so. There are tons of views that are rarely seen, hidden coves that are seldom explored, and local people that are more often than not unnoticed by tourists. Time is usually an issue, and most people are only there for a few days. No, most people just “pass through” when they visit Big Sur, California.
Me and Denali? We finally got the raw experience (for the most part). We were on the backroads. We dug in as much as we could. So much so that even one of the local boys stopped at our campsite to ask us for directions (of course Denali just looked at me like WTF is this guy talking about). I mean, he was high off of some pretty good California chronic (which he shared) and was mind-boggled when I tried to tell him where we were, but I felt pretty damn cool being up on that bluff, overlooking the Pacific. He even ended up camping with us.
I can’t really take the credit, though – I was seeking it and the universe provided it. My old friend, Austin, from my “Golden” days (I literally went to Golden High School), told me he and his buddy were coming up the coast from LA to camp for a night on their motorcycles. He pointed me towards the backroads, and I took full opportunity to meet him there. When you live in your car, you don’t exactly turn down little-known, free places to sleep in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
So during our second night there, our new friend Ryan, our old friend Austin, Denali and I all sat on on this big, open bluff overlooking a large portion of the southern coast of Big Sur, sharing stories, catching up, getting to know each other, and simply enjoying the view. We photographed the Milky Way, drank whiskey from the bottle, rolled American Spirits from the bag, and slept in the quiet, open sky. It was great seeing an old friend and a familiar face after being alone for two weeks, as well as meet a new friend and hear the local side of things. It made me realize that it’s good to stay in touch with people from our past, even if we only see them once in a blue moon, as well as be open to meeting new people in the present. You never know when they might surprise you with an experience like this one.
After waking to the blazing sun in the cool morning breeze, Ryan, who works as a groundskeeper at the local army base, about 16 miles inland from the coast, told me he had just hiked Cone Peak. It’s the third highest peak in the Ventana Wilderness, where Big Sur resides, and makes for some amazing views. Although the sun was unforgiving, the hike was only 2.5 miles after a 6 mile drive on an unpaved road. We even met a local teacher – the only other soul on the mountain – and had a nice conversation while our pups shared some water at the top.
Two days in to Big Sur, and we were already meeting locals and sleeping in the backwoods. If it hadn’t been for Austin and his camping recommendation, and Ryan, with his knowledge of local peaks, we never would have seen either of those things. Human interaction is a beautiful thing. Keep your hearts open people. Know your roots, and be open to digging in with new ones. The soil is fertile – you just have to ask around to find out where to dig.
Stay tuned for more about our time in Big Sur, as I have much more to share, but for now, here are a few more photos from our experience and remember, stay wild my friends!