For the longest time, I thought of Big Sur as a state a mind, a breathtaking, transformative place where you wind up—maybe half-naked and giggling—when you're exploring the edges of consciousness. I was sure it was a brazen, in-between state made expressly for Americans. It didn't occur to me that a phyiscal place had existed before things like Esalen, that usually nature comes first.
The approach to Big Sur is a good equalizer: we all eventually slow to a crawl on Highway 1. We all get stuck several cars behind someone in a rental who's white knuckling their way up the coast. Which is pretty ok. We need time to swoon at the crashing waves, the churning and frothing whitewater and the rocks poking their eggheads out of the ocean floor. We need time to look back at the hearty shrubs clinging to the bluffs, hopefully painted in so many wildflowers. We're in Big Sur, baby. Of course, there's always that one asshole honking the horn, swerving passed car after car, pumping their fist out the window.
On our first approach to Big Sur, that asshole was me. We were meeting Dan, Willie and Estrelle for a road trip that started and ended on Highway 1. We were tired, late and stuck half a dozen cars behind a rental with his foot planted firmly on the break. Everyone behind him had piled up like segments of an inchworm, all bunching together around each bend. I honked and swerved and generally ignored everything around me, still stuck on a freeway somewhere in Los Angeles. After twenty minutes, the car in front waved me on. "Get on with it if you're so unhappy," the driver motioned. So I did. When I finally got up to the rental—who had pulled over by this point—all I could see was the crown of the driver's head, held low. He looked a bit shaken. "You know, you're supposed to be enjoying this," Matt said beside me, smirking. Indeed. Instead of enjoying myself, I was ruining it for others.
I stopped leapfrogging and road raging. I slowed down. I sniffed the salty air like a dog and relished the chaparral landscape, following this incredible road sandwiched between mountain and ocean. California is not lacking in muses; if you focus on the road, you might just drive on by.
We met at Glen Oaks, a modern, no-comfort-left-behind approach to a woodland cabin, where Dan and Estrelle were staying. Then Matt, Estrelle and I kicked it off with an afternoon walk in Andrew Molera State Park. We hiked up a sandy trail that turned uphill and onto a bluff, exposing us and everything around us to the full brunt of the ocean wind. This was where Estrelle always came first, she said, to set the mood for whatever followed. Watching the gulls and surfers riding the wind and water, I wondered what it would feel like to wake up to this environment every day. How many years would it take before I looked as hearty and rugged as the landscape? I had half a mind to stay and find out.
We broke bread on the patio at Nepenthe under the warm glow of the heat lamps. Then, we reluctantly scattered up and down the coast to our respective accommodations. Willie made the winding way to Treebones, and Matt and I headed on to our campsite.
Somewhat late to the game the following day, Matt and I headed back to Andrew Molera in search of Dan, Estrelle and/or a good hike. In his gravely voice, the ranger directed us to a trail that cut up through the middle of the park. We climbed passed the scrappy scrubs up through a small grove of twisted trees, wondering if we'd spot our friends. Instead, we followed a bobcat over the ridgeline as it slinked its way back downhill, heading towards the coast. Then we scrambled up the side of the bluff and made our way back.
At dusk, all five of us piled into cars and headed to Deetjen's, only a stone's throw from the Henry Miller Library. Following the parking lot, we looped passed the inn's rustic redwood cottages, nestled amongst redwoods and obscured by ivy, over the Castro Canyon Creek and toward the restaurant. After perusing the small Library, we sipped tea in wrought iron patio chairs under a heavy cloak of flowering trees and vines, feeling much like little kids playing adult games. Not a moment too soon, a hostess escorted us into the restaurant and nestled us by the fireplace as carefully as any of the dining room's beloved art curios. We poured over the menu by candlelight and ordered a feast for our eyes. An inn that serves guests fresh from exploring is the best kind of inn there is. At the other end of adventure, at the base of so many hills, at the end of the conscious world, I hope there's an inn like Deetjen's in a place like Big Sur and friends like these.