Summer ’86: Part XXIV

After checking out of the Holiday Tower, I took off north up the coastline on U.S. 101 through Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, and San Luis Obispo where I veered off onto CA 1, a.k.a. the Pacific Coast Highway. The two-lane road led me up a precipitous route overlooking the Pacific Ocean where a fog suddenly enshrouded the highway and mountainside.  And as quickly as the mist came in, it summarily dissipated revealing a cobalt blue sky.  I continued up the coast on probably the most amazing highway engineering feat of the century outside of the so-called “million-dollar highway” between Durango and Ouray in the Colorado Rockies.

About midway up the coast, I pulled off at a beautiful spot under a cluster of live oaks and close enough to the ocean to hear the waves crashing against the rocks below.  It looked like I would be sharing the area with a couple in a pickup with a camper perched on the back bed.  I parked a comfortable distance away and strolled over to meet my neighbors.  I greeted them with, “I hope you don’t mind me sharing this spot with you.”  They said there was no problem and they actually enjoyed having some company.  I added, “I discovered this spot five years ago and immediately fell in love with it.  You know, you can walk down to the edge of the cliff and hear the sea lions roar.”  I had a nice conversation with Hank and Maria Martin from Fresno as we sat around their campfire.  I retired to Ol’ Blue and noticed through my open cargo door that the couple had squeezed themselves into their bedrolls in the back of the cramped camper.  The cool Pacific breeze quickly put me to sleep.

The next morning was a real joy.  My neighbors already had a fire going so I took my charcoaled coffee pot over to heat up some water.  The Martins seemed amused by my blackened pot and I explained, “This old coffee mate has heated up water over many a campfire.” They invited me to stay for breakfast, which consisted of eggs scrambled in a wrought-iron skillet (just like the one I had in my cook box) and a side order of toast.  During our moveable feast in the morning light, I said, “Hope you guys slept well last night.  I couldn’t help noticing you were tucked away in pretty tight quarters.  Compared to what you two had to sleep in made me feel like I was staying in the Holiday Inn.”  Hank replied, “We slept just fine.  Thanks for asking.  We like sleeping off the ground and still be outdoors with the tailgate down.”  I had to add, “Yeah, I know what you mean. Earlier this year I took a short trip to Colorado in my Jeep and spent most every night on a four-inch thick foam spread out on the back bed and open tailgate.  It was risky business, but I figured it was worth the experience of sleeping outdoors and live to tell about it.”  They totally emphasized with me.

Before leaving, the three of us took a stroll through knee-high wild grass to the edge of the cliffs where we could catch a glimpse of the sea lions and listen to their symphonious baying.  As we stood on the precipice panning the Pacific Ocean, I just had to comment, “You know, being here makes you feel like you’re literally standing on the very edge of the continent.” They wholeheartedly agreed with Maria saying, “That’s a very insightful observation.” Back at the campsite, I told my new friends how much I enjoyed their company and they said the feeling was mutual. I departed marveling how complete strangers could become good friends in such a short period of time.  Travel certainly had its wonderments.

I headed north on CA 1 (a.k.a. the Pacific Coast Highway) along one of the most picturesque highways in the country. Somewhere along the way, I passed a clean-cut young man with a suitcase simply sauntering along the shoulder making no effort to hitch a ride.  Well, I decided to take a chance and made an impromptu pull off to offer him a ride. He was somewhat taken aback by my generosity, but nevertheless, he climbed in through the cargo door and plopped down in the easy chair.  I immediately said, “I know you weren’t asking for a lift, but I’m just glad to have a chance to talk with someone.”  It turned out he was from Encinitas, an oceanside town about 15 miles north of San Diego and was headed to the Big Sur.

We had a good talk along the way as Mitch told me he was looking for work along the coast taking a sabbatical from his studies at UCSD in computer science.  I said, “Hey, my son is enrolled there going for a Ph.D. in physics.”  He replied, “You must have one smart boy.  All we have time for at UCSD is study, study, study.  There’s not even a lacrosse team for crying out loud.  Don’t get me wrong.  I feel very fortunate to be accepted in such a fine school.” We passed by Cape San Martin and Lopez Point along an incredible cliff-hanging highway overlooking the peaceful ocean.  I dropped off Mitch at Big Sur thanking him for a most enjoyable abbreviated trip, and then after surveying the scenic surroundings, I decided to hang around for the night.  I nestled Ol’ Blue under a grove of pine trees and settled in for the night. I dozed off thinking of how the unexpected could turn into such an enjoyable experience.