Humboldt to Pacifica
I drive over the bridges on my way out of town. The bay glimmers. An egret skims to a landing, tiny birds on mudflats, the peregrine falcon on her lamp post. I pass Fortuna pastures. Mostly cows. I smile at the sheep. I admire the horses with a nine-year girl’s pure heart.
The highway winds along Avenue of the Giants. Redwoods perforate the fog, create a jagged line against the sky.
I stop at Flavors in Garberville. The line is for days. I order a panini, wait for the restroom so long that I tweet about it. Finally I jiggle the door handle, an action announcing, “There’s people waiting out here!” though I say not a word. A woman flings open the door, stomps out, gives me a death glare. I stare back coolly, already carrying too many burdens to be interested in adding hers to my load.
I drive and drive and drive and drive and listen to This American Life and About Race and Start Up and various Slate Gabfests and drive.
As I crest the hill above Pacifica, the scene glows like an Instagram waiting to happen. The sunset colors everything purple, pink at the edges. In this, the coastline curves inward, then out into a sharp point, waves rolling in reflecting the purple of the sky, fog stretching from the valley toward the sea. I can’t pull over to take a photo. I file the picture in my mind.
San Francisco to Sacramento
Bridges are marvels. I snake around the City, slowly, launch east over the Bay Bridge, take in the view as I have a hundred times before. Treasure Island. The Star Wars creatures. The other bridge I know less well, the one that crosses over toward Vallejo. My Fastrak beeps. I cross bridges often enough that I’ve invested in doing so more efficiently. As I get close to Sacto, Siri interrupts my podcast so often I turn off How To Be Amazing so as not to lose track of which of the 80s I should be on – but I haven’t set up the Bluetooth correctly so after each Siri interjection, Michael Ian Black interviewing Mary Roach returns. I would be annoyed, but I’m still too enthralled I have such a thing as a car with Bluetooth to do much more than laugh at myself – this life I have! I park on a Sacramento street edged by trees, charmed.
Sacramento to Ventura
The 5 unrolls the same as always. Clouds lend drama to the wide sky, semi-trucks chugging in the right lane as impatient drivers like me roar in the left. Fast food and gas stations dot the roadside every so often. I pass the usual signs blaming the drought on the Democrats and some new ones celebrating Trump’s victory. They’re very large. Huge, even. I pass the horrid stinking feed lots and despair over the choices humans make. I drive and drive and drive and drive and listen to podcasts and drive.
Sun shines bright overhead. Palm trees line the beach to the north, separated from the ocean from rocks and cobble. I know the stones are illegal, problematic, a temporary non-solution to the problems of poor planning and sea level rise. I know this because it’s my job to know this. I’m on a lunch break from the Coastal Commission surfing instead of eating because my hunger for waves outweighed that for food. I stop thinking about work as a waist-high set shows up. The sun keeps shining. For the moment, the palm trees stand. Seagulls soar. I catch a right toward the distant pier like the lovely California dream I’m in.
I ride my bike alongside the highway up to Rincon, down to Mussel Shoals. The beauty of the coast stupefies me. I nearly crash into the guardrail, too busy gaping at the juxtaposition of land against sea. Atmospheric conditions promise a fine sunset. I ride back to the Airbnb, grab my camera, walk back to the beach. I kick off my sandals. The sand is fine-grained, soft. I walk, take photos. Awe fills me, emanates from me like generosity.
I mean to drive straight to Pismo, but the peeling rights visible from the highway seduce me into stopping. I pull into the parking lot and open my car door to a bare-assed surfer dude pulling on his wetsuit. People in the water are similarly uninhibited, striking up conversation with me between sets. Even with only waist-high waves, Rincon’s magic is evident in the way they last, the face unfurling under my feet, a moving playground. The blue sky highlights the water’s clarity. I can see the ocean floor as I skim by above on my board. An hour of surfing, chatting, and then I catch a wave to shore, tip-toeing out over the rocks edging the spot like the tenderfoot I am. I pick up my sandals from where I’d left them on a flat spot out of the ocean’s reach, slip them on and stroll up the hill, glancing back twice to savor the sweetness. My mouth still tastes of the morning’s coffee.
Santa Barbara to Pismo
When offered a choice between the 101 and the 5, I go to Pismo. I drive, listen to more podcasts – 2 Dope Queens, Reply All – roll my eyes at the endless pretty of the Pacific, arrive to drizzle, duck into a café for a bad cup of coffee and excellent breakfast burrito.
The air’s chill discourages me. I’d brought only my SoCal wetsuit on this trip and fear the colder conditions here would induce misery in the water. My friends shrug and suit up. I follow. We paddle out under hazy gray sky, the pier to the south blurred by the wet air. I dodge the waves and reach the outside with dry hair. I’m not cold after all. Keeping my hair dry will help me stay that way. I catch a wave, a right, stay on until it closes out, step off my board into the whitewater, careful not to let my head go under. I fail to hold onto my board, however, which allows an oncoming wave to rocket it nose-first into my mouth. The board’s nose impacts my front teeth – a few weeks ago I’d broken one of them horribly and I’m sure as I reach up to feel them, they’ll now both be crunched off into jagged shards.
But they’re intact. I rub my fingers around my teeth and over my gums to be sure. When I pull my hand away, blood splotches my fingertips.
I think about sharks and knew technically I might be attracting them, but odds seem low and I want more waves. So I keep surfing, rinsing my mouth every so often, the cold and salty water a relief even as I rack my brain trying to remember if I should worry about the water quality. I picture my gums becoming swollen, infected with bacteria, oozing with pus.
The fog burns off. The sky blues. The sun lights up the hills, the closest ones dotted with houses, the more northerly ones a near-unbroken swath of green. Dolphins arch by. I catch another wave.
Pismo to Santa Cruz
This is not the best stretch of 101. I drive. More podcasts. Trump. His cabinet picks. Because I’ve been sexually assaulted, because I’m a woman, the results of this election infect my body. My skins crawls, my heart races, my gut clenches. We’re in a state of perpetual fight or flight. I want to flee. I will fight. I drive.
My daughter and I hike around Wilder Ranch. Or more correctly, we slog along the muddy trail, avoiding puddles. The hills roll out in three directions. The ocean waits as always in the forth. The entirety of my sense of place centers on the Pacific. We descend from the hilltop into a forested area. A creek babbles by.
Santa Cruz to San Francisco
I stop listening to the podcasts hosts talk about the new A Tribe Called Quest album and pull up Spotify, play the new A Tribe Called Quest album. Music fills the car, my heart. I take the coast route. Evening turns to night with little fanfare – no spectacular sunset for once, just a fade to black.