"And at first it’s so amazing to be able
to enjoy dreamy afternoon meadows of heather up the other end of the canyon
and just by walking less than a halfmile you can suddenly also enjoy wild
gloomy sea coast, or if you’re sick of either of these just sit by the creek in a
gladey spot and dream over snags—So easy in the woods to daydream and
pray to the local spirits and say “Allow me to stay here, I only want peace” and
those foggy peaks answer back mutely, Yes."
- Jack Kerouac, Big Sur
Our second trip to Big Sur wrapped up last weekend where the ghost of Kerouac (who had failed to permeate any notable part of the same journey a little later in the same season this time last year) seemed this time to have spun it's hat around every branch and bramble we passed along the way, making that long slow climb up the twisted mountainside seem especially nostalgic for me, even might I say - slightly eerie, in a strange way. By now you probably know how much I hate the slopping cliffs and narrow highways pushing us that close to the edge of the ocean for some 80 miles up the road. I think I mention it every time we go this route and I know plenty of people feel other ways about these views but my anxiety on such highways is a life long ailment that my friends and kids are now quite familiar with it. One I stopped hoping long ago I might (in time) come to outgrow. Fact being the same as it always was: I don't like two lane roads, or heights that involve windy mountain terrain. A fear I know is likely to ever change.
But with a light layer of fog settled on the windy road and a low sung playlist perfectly suited to the dense northern scenery rattling on the radio in between the fits of chaos and quarrels that erupt regularly on such road trips with four children packed in a wide Ford van, it wasn't probably as bad as I am prone to recall next year, when envisioning the same trek on the cusp of their Spring Break, as I can't think of another place we'd rather be on the one week they have off this time of year. Spring time at Fernwood, hard to compete with.
Anyway, as for Kerouac, I felt him - or his energy all along the drive up. Reviving dim notions of the books I read when I was 19, 21, 22, 23, with young fantasies hung on writers of this vein, when I was more in tune (mentally) with the hopped up prose of the ragged raging beatnik manifestos we are drawn to in the early days before the reality of such unchained existences slips too far away from us. Like it has now. As sad as it is to admit aloud. In my 30s I don't think I could read the same writers and feel the same connection giving light to the spark I felt over a decade ago. But maybe that's just part of aging. And man, maybe I'm just old. And then, somehow, totally ok with it.
Not that there's even all that much time to read anyway though,on vacations, right? I mean, by habit I can't but pack a few selected books and magazines I intend to devour on such a trip. Only to leave me feeling defeated upon return, seeing the same books left neglected and untouched. Part of me thinks I need to either accept the fact of it or redirect my sights on the books rather than the photos, and the beers by the river, and the laptop in the lobby after dark. I would argue that while camping, one's gotta settle on what luxuries they crave most. For me, it's always a sunny spot on bank of the river throwing rocks at the water, watching the baby push his metal trucks through the mounds of wet sand and the boys float in slow motion down the current in full wetsuits to keep them warm. The books, they can wait. Because I wouldn't trade in my late night hours alone a few flights of stairs above our blissfull camp spot at the restaurant, sunk into a plush leather couch at the bar lobby with a thin link to wifi allowing me to check in on emails while overhearing the worst parts of tourist single life unfold by the jukebox while I sip a stiff Moscow mule and thank God I made it out of that whole scene seemingly unscathed. Wouldn't go back to it, that age, that game, for anything in the world right now. Would you?
Mike's parents met us there this trip which meant we split our time between two camp sites. Ours was dark and shaded by an umbrella of Oaks locked in green overhead which made for some very photogenic airstream shots, and theirs, near the end of the river with open, bright sun when we needed a break from the shadows. Conveniently walking a short ways over to bbq hot dogs, steal a sweet, or drop off the kids to sneak away at dusk to watch the pink tinged sunset from the 1,000 ft peaks of Nepenthe with a basket of fries and an ice cold IPA by our side. From what I could tell (in the one glorious hour we spent there) the place certainly lives up to the hype. And for some reason, I can tolerate (even appreciate) the towering views of the coastline from the flat cobbled rock patio overlooking the best parts of Big Sur this restaurant is known for. So long as it doesn't involve a car on the edge of a cliffside I suppose. . .
We also had a brief fling at El Capitan Canyon on our way up. One night and some bad luck on the car ride headed out of town but noting that wasn't easily cured by the warm draw of those quaint canvas tents surrounded by dirt roads spilling out children of all ages bearing frisbees, zooming past on bikes, hanging from the Oak trees on the walk back to the car. It's boy's paradise and Arlo was quick to befriend a few of the same aged boys sliding down he dirt hills on skateboards on our way to dinner while their parents claimed family sized tables at the cafe. We went to the park, came home, and were in bed by 8:30. Which hasn't happened since ... gosh, I don't know when... But felt so good I'd welcome it back whenever the chance should visit us again.
All in all it was as dreamy as the last time, making me feel like such a fan I may have considered a tee shirt with the "I Left my Heart in Big Sur" confession as a "to - do" craft back home. Of all the spots we've become acquainted with along the coast nothing beats this one. For me it feels like falling into a time warp where the free loving liberals it attracts have all grown up and gotten rich but still drive old Volkswagens when in town, and then locals still think they've got the sweetest little secret in northern Ca. Which is not to say there aren't some flaws. But for now I only care to mention one: The Big Sur Bakery, who's praised reputation as the best breadery this side of the coast seems to have gone all to their head. My second encounter with the place and the verdict remains unchanged. Stuffy, pretentious, and sorely over rated. Spare me the 8$ latte and BSB please forgive me for asking for a side of butter with the loaf of bread I bought my family for breakfast before our Saturday morning hike. How dare I be so silly to think such a condiment might pair well with my warm hunk of top notch sourdough. And thank you for making me question my own integrity upon walking back in for a cup of water and overhearing your manager scolding the poor guy in the Hawain shirt who *almost* gave us butter for free before remerging from a brief scuffle in the kitchen that had him apologizing because unfortunately, no, he thought he could but he could NOT, spare the butter. I will never forget him defending his stance saying "if people are paying 10 bucks for a loaf of bread I just figured we could give them a side of butter." Hey guy. I agree.
In closing news. The baby airstream handled her first date like a champ. First adventure since pick up a few months back and she quick at proving she's not just another pretty face in a long line of vintage trailers that have passed through our possession. Just before the trip Mike outfitted her with a 72 makeover built of plywood, glued fabric sofas, and makeshift wood bench seating, complemented by dime store lighting and a fresh (professional!) polish that made up for all the other half assed attention she received to make her suitable for camping. Seeing how clearly the beauty of Big Sur was reflected in those gleaming side panels as we left, my feelings for her have intensified. She still has a long way to go before a renovation can be counted as such, and is apparently in desperate need of a proper name - these trailers need names people are telling us - so we've got to hurry up and decide on one for her soon I suppose. But that'll come after I find the means to sew her some tan buffalo plaid curtains seeing how my aesthetic for these things are always the same, focused on one main goal which is so simple it's stupid: just give me some muted buffalo plaid curtains and color me content.
But for now, camp season has officially begun. The only downfall being that nothing we'll know this side of summer will even begin to match the glory at FernWood, in our sweet spot parked over the river with the tire tubes carrying the boys along the river's pull and the wild lull of a restless seaside hinting at us from just behind the wall of green trees still whispering about the long lived pages of the Kerouac years locked in the bottom deck basement of my poor tired heart. So maybe the young and good times have shifted and slowed, but the string of boys that filter in and out of that little metal trailer hold so many new adventures waiting to be had, and I'm more than happy to sit back and watch them all unfold.
Read about last year's trip HERE