In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.
The towering cities of the East inspire in me a melancholy contemplation of humanity. The organized chaos of urban density forces me, hesitantly, to confront the relentlessness of time and cultural experience in a way few other places can.
But it is in the deep skies and open lands of the West that I find solace.
I left San Diego on Saturday after a week of good food, dog beaches, tennis in Balboa Park, and runs along the marina with Ben and Bridger. I dropped Ben at the airport on Saturday afternoon for his flight back to New Mexico, and set off north with my dog.
I made a slight detour to Nuevo to pick up a puppy that needed delivering to the Bay area, which routed me around Los Angeles the long way, skirting the metropolis to the east and the north. I always try to avoid L.A. whenever I can. Unlike the condensed vertical landscape of New York, Los Angeles casts a wide net, sprawling across an enormous stretch of terrain. Its labyrinth of congested freeways tangle together like a massive web, millions of cars shining in the sun like drops of dew along each strand. I sped though as best I could, knowing that if I stopped I would surely be caught in the sticky suburban web. Surely if I stopped I would be devoured.
My goal that night was to make it at least to Santa Barbara, and then to find a camp spot somewhere along the coast northward. However, I highly underestimated the popularity of the central California coast on a midsummer weekend. Every campground was full, every overnight parking spot on public beaches was packed with RVs and camp trailers. Bumper to bumper recreational traffic standing still along every imaginable stretch of camping space.
I kept driving, thinking the further away from L.A. I got, the quieter it would be. Nope. Not only was every campground full, but every pet-friendly motel was booked to capacity. Signs were posted along the highway specifically forbidding overnight parking. I was running out of options.
So I kept driving. San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Cambria, San Simeon. All booked. Even worse, I was driving this scenic stretch at night, so I didn’t even get to enjoy the view.
I made it all the way to Big Sur before I found anywhere to camp. A Forest Service road, dirt washboards with a steep grade, provided the escape I desperately needed at 1:30 a.m. I saw surfers camped in their trucks as I wound up over the hill, and I knew I had found a good landing spot. A hastily made bed in the back of the truck gave us five solid hours of sleep, puppy and all.
I awoke to a beautiful scene. Heavy fog had settled against the coast during the night, and it didn’t take long to find a hiking trail out along one of the many bluffs. I sat on the edge of a rocky cliff, huddled in my jacket against the chilly July morning. I gazed out across the Pacific, its thunderous surf muffled by the dense mist. Gulls screamed from rocky perches, and seals barked at one another amid the kelp forests near shore below me.
Early morning is always a great time to look for wildlife, and I was rewarded this morning by two treats: a bobcat curiously approached about twenty yards away, and a California condor alighted on a rocky outcrop not a hundred feet from me.
Despite the frustration of the previous evening, I was glad I had come to Big Sur. Reminiscent of parts of the Oregon Coast (a place near and dear to my heart), Big Sur provides long stretches of quiet beach, dramatic rocky shorelines, and steep wooded hillsides. After so much city time, I felt my body relax in the stillness of that morning fog. Bridger sat beside me quietly and gazed out across the sea as well, his wet nose twitching furiously to take in all the new smells in this unfamiliar place. And the siren song of emptiness called to us from the middle distance, enveloping us in the sweet and salty embrace of solitude.
And this is the great seduction of the West: the allure of stillness and solitude. The lonely wilderness trail that whispers its secrets among the trees. The open road that meanders beneath a gaping blue sky and across endless unfenced country. These paths beg to be traversed. They beckon to us all. And for a while, my little dog and I will answer.