Diary of A Wildman in the Big South

I set out north from SLO, determined to find out what the big deal was about Big Sur. It was supposedly a haven of unparalleled natural beauty that could not be missed. I tried to wipe my mind of the hype and have an open and pure experience. Just in time to distract me was a pull off from Hwy 1 with a sign that said “Elephant Seal Viewing Area.”
A friendly squirrel ran up to greet me, and even came right up and nibbled on my fingertips.

I followed the strange cacophony to a beach, where hundreds of enormous seals were in various stages of lazing, flopping, barking, biting, and throwing sand on themselves.

The whole scene was really hilarious. You could pick the females out because they were nearly half the size, and all were clearly paired up with a larger male. They flopped about unproductively and made incessant and remarkably human noises that I can only describe as ‘bitching.’ Every once in a while the disgruntled husband would roll over and shut his woman up, but for the most part, the males lied around lazily, and the females whined without cease. Periodically, one of the females would get fed up with her man, and attempt to migrate to another seal’s harem, and a fight would ensue. It was pretty spectacular, because these seals were huge. The larger ones were as long as my car, and big enough to eat a full grown man.

I drove onward, and soon the rural coast gave way to a rugged coastal wonderland. To everyone who raved about Big Sur to me: you were right. I really don’t know what to say, words are pretty inadequate, and frankly, so are pictures, but it’s all I’ve got to share. Hopefully you can get an idea:

What makes Big Sur so special is that the mountains come up and meet the coast. And with the mountains come everything that goes with them, like wildlife, streams, valleys, etc. But it’s completely remarkable, because this stuff that is normally found inland is in direct collision with the coast.  I felt like I had entered a cheat code into the console of life or something. It seemed some divine authority could come down at any moment, revoke what was apparently a glitch in the earth’s topography, and say ‘You’re not allowed to have the best of both worlds like this.’

I reveled a good bit, and was almost paralyzed by the beauty. Every time I got in the car, I felt like I was missing something. I couldn’t help but pull over to gawk every few minutes. It probably took me over an hour just to get 10 miles in.
After a bit I noticed a subtle wooden sign for a place called “Treebones.” The name was interesting so I followed the steep, narrow and winding dirt road to find an awesome yurt colony:

 My going was so slow that before I knew it, the sun was starting to set. I realized that, now that I had reached the promised land, I had absolutely no plan; no idea where I was going to sleep or anything. Based on my past experience, this was positively the best plan of them all, and soon the idea was reinforced as I came to a breathtaking cove, with a little waterfall going directly into the ocean, and perfect spot to hang my hammock above it. Warning me of the steep drop off was this sign, with an excellent sticker to boot.

I set up my hammock in the trees over the waterfall, and climbed down a precarious cliffside to a thin point protruding out into the water. 
On the far side, facing the ocean, there was an inlet where the waves would crash in and splash up 20 feet or so.
I managed to catch an action shot just as the surf hit, to awesome effect:

Here’s a view looking back at the waterfall:

And out on the ocean:
The sun started to set,

so I headed back up the cliff to stable ground. I walked around the cove to get a better picture of the area in the sunset. It was absolutely incredible. You can see the thin stream of water coming down from the rocks slightly left of center. My campsite was in the trees directly above, and the little peninsula where I just was is on the right.

 I admired for a while, and was eventually was swept up in exaltation of the masterwork before me:

As the sun continued its descent, I took a several more pictures of my idyllic surroundings. Once again, I am at a loss for words. There’s really nothing to say.

—————–Day 2——————-
I woke to a beautiful sight: the marine layer of mist rolling off the ocean into the mountains.

Soon enough the mist cleared and you could see for miles out over the water.

I jumped in the car to drive further up the coast, but was soon distracted by the sound of running water as I passed through a gulch. I pulled over and walked down into it to investigate:

At the bottom I found a clear stream running right into the ocean. Amazing.

A fork off the trail led me to a tunnel bored through the cliffside.

It led to a tucked-away perch that went right out on the rocks to the ocean.

If you continued the trail went all the way down to the shore.

I continued on further up the coast and eventually came to a ranger station. After some questioning, I found out there was a hot springs hidden deep in the backcountry, so I strapped on my backpack and set off down the 10 mile hike there.

 The backcountry proved just as beautiful as the coast, with the trail dipping down into dense and lush redwood forests, and up out onto high mountainsides.

The trail inclined steeply, and by the time it leveled out, I was walking on a thin flat track cut high into the side of a mountain. The scale was so big, I couldn’t even get a picture that included the base of the mountain. It was quite high up.

The trail was carved so narrow, and so high on the mountain, that when I looked out on the awesome sprawling view, I would lose my frame of reference and catch vertigo. Literally, if I turned my head to the left, I couldn’t see the ground I was standing on. I almost fell to my death a couple of times, before I learned to come to a full stop and brace myself against something before looking.

After several miles, a majestic grey mountain came into view over the horizon.

Other pictures from the hike, chronologically:

After much sweat, toil, and beating of feet, I finally arrived at the promised springs. I set up camp on the river.

 I spent the evening hours in varying states of relaxation in the remote canyon; sleeping, soaking, lazing. The hot springs were excellent, but I couldn’t take any pictures because there were always naked people in them, myself included.

———————Day 3———————–

I hiked back out the following morning, and collapsed exhausted at the trailhead after 20+ miles with a 40 pound sack. In the parking lot I met a black-clad guitar-playing adventurer named JJ, and his faithful Australian shepherd, Lamb. After some conversation, I learned that JJ worked as a bartender at a world renowned highbrow restaurant in Big Sur, and had been living homelessly (by choice) in the Big Sur area for close to 5 years. He explained to me that here in Big Sur, one can live completely off the radar, and nearly for free, indefinitely, and proceeded over the next several days to show me. Big Sur is one of the few places where you would actually want to do this; of course the landscape is incredible, perfect weather (it was the dead of winter and it didn’t ever get below 45 degrees), no police force, open-minded and woodsy locals, beaches littered with valuable jade….I could go on forever.

We talked and played guitar together for a while, and discovered that we had a lot in common. After the sun had set, JJ pulled a slew of world class ingredients out of his car, cooked us up some amazing bacon-cheeseburgers on his camp stove, and we slept under the stars.

—————-Days 4-???————-
In the following days, with JJ’s help, I was sucked into the life of a bona-fide Big Sur wildman. It absolutely suited me, and was the stuff of boy’s dreams. We climbed secret paths down cliffs, and JJ jumped into the ocean with a spear and came out with fresh fish. We snuck into state parks and had picnics, we camped in tucked away clifftop camping spots. On the night he had to bartend, he brought me in with him. His workplace was a ritzy restaurant situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the water. 

I got there just as the sunset hit, and it was spectacular. Whoever built this place really knew what they were doing when they picked the spot.

After the sunset, JJ invited me to the bar and fed me like a king with a 3 course meal from the restaurant’s fancy menu.

At some point we met a gem-obsessed traveler named Halacombe, who joined us in romping around the beaches. One of the cooler things we did with JJ was perform in a music class at the tiny local school. The teacher was a friend of JJ’s and we all came to the class and shared the gift of music with the kids there. 

Halacombe inspecting a molecule in the classroom

Another highlight was jade hunting with the locals. We climbed down a cliff on a rope down to a series of coves littered with jade. There JJ’s friend Jesse taught me the finer points of identifying and finding jade, and I walked away with a handful of jade that is probably worth a little money, but I’ve been giving it away piece by piece to the many folks I meet on the road.

There is something very serene and calming about wandering the rocky beaches, gazing downward, and looking for that ever so slight greenish glint of jade. I began to see why the locals were so…cultish about this practice, and why they were so attached to the pieces they found. I was shown various pieces from different folks’ personal collections/trophies, and though many were worth up to $5000, none of them would even think of selling any of it. At the time, it seemed strange and foolish, but now that I was let in on the whole experience, I had a drastically different perspective.

 There is something truly special about this place. It fascinated me in a way that no other location has. Every person I met, I felt compelled to find out just how they came to live in such a wild, remote, and unique place. Not a single soul that I met had come to Big Sur out of premeditated intention. The answer was always the same: ‘I was just passing through, and never really left.’ It would appear that Big Sur has a will of its own, and the land itself picks and chooses who stays and who goes. Over the week or so I spent under the sky in Big Sur, I learned a lot. I gained a working knowledge of a secretive and wild place, and I now feel like I have a natural haven to retreat to any time I like, with nothing required for entry besides physically getting there.

But what hit me the hardest about the whole experience was a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. As much as I enjoyed the life I was living at the moment, I was uncomfortable to be so far removed from any significant population. I was having a blast, but the idea of living like this indefinitely scared the shit out of me. This was disconcerting and hard to accept, because I have always relished the time I have gotten away from ‘the masses.’ I consider myself a loner in a lot of ways. I’ve always felt fundamentally different; I grew up in an atmosphere of social distance and alienation from my peers. I find very very few people who I can truly speak my mind to and not be met with confused stares. I’ve become accustomed to this, and as a result, I often relish the idea of retreating and cutting myself off from humanity in general. When I’m surrounded by a lot of people for any sustained period of time, I feel an overwhelming need to escape, much like I did in LA. But now that I was getting my wish, I couldn’t handle it. As much as I hated to admit it, I actually missed civilization. And worse, at this juncture in my life, I needed it.

It totally unexpected and hard to learn and accept this about myself. It rocked my belief system to the core. Yes, I function more efficiently without intimate personal ties, and I need my space, but I still need people around. How inconvenient.

But soon, in Monterey, I was to see the light. Smashing my notions of secession from society at large mandated that I be less judgmental. The people of planet earth, no matter how alienated I feel from them, have something that I need, that I can’t get anywhere else. So why not be grateful for that nebulous belonging they give me, and get to know them? If I can’t get rid of them, why not make friends with them instead picking apart differences from afar? If I’m stuck with humanity, I’m damn well gonna make the best of it.

I spent my last night in contemplation at secret campsite high above the road and the coast. Just as I reached a conclusion, a crew of rambunctious young folks came rolling into my area. They asked a camp with me, and I was happy to oblige. It turned out they were from Santa Cruz. Little did I know, I would serendipitously meet these fellow adventurers again very soon. We shared an excellent dinner and conversation around the campfire, and I slept like a baby.

In the morning I took some time to thank Big Sur for the experience it provided me. I was leaving this place a new man, in more ways than one. The beauty of this place goes much deeper than I originally realized, and really can’t be communicated in words. I would encourage anyone reading this to visit it at some point in their lives.
I rolled slowly and almost reluctantly out of the Big South towards Monterey, to rejoin society, and reclaim my rightful place as a sovereign member of the human race. 


——————–Day 1——————-
Renewed, rejuvenated, escaped and recovered from the devilish vortex of Los Angeles, I awake and get to know my host, Tim, a bit better. He is a grad student in Industrial Engineering at local Cal Polytechnic University, and is a very nice and laid back guy who likes to laugh. He’s got things to do, but quickly points me to a nearby hike that is visible from his house: Bishop’s Peak. I took this picture from the driveway:

After a few minutes walk I come to the trailhead and start up the wide trail. While the mountain looked impressive, I imagined I would reach the top in under an hour.

As the elevation and the sun rose, so did the temperature, all the way to 80 degrees (in February). I was a fool. My eyes proved much bigger than my now-chafing thighs. I’m no stranger to long and strenuous hikes, but I had worn my city boots and ultra-thick indestructible Carhartt pants and was paying dearly for my underestimation. But I was halfway up and the view was already excellent.

The area’s green and rolling hills felt warm and inviting after braving the winter all alone in the sharp South Sierras. But if I was to consummate my ambitions of summitting the peak, I had a while to go.

After much huffing, puffing, and cradling of my tender loins, I reached the top and climbed up a rock formation to reach a flat plateau-like vista. The view was spectacular; you could see the whole city.

I turned around and looked towards the coast and took another picture:

 Soon I met a couple of college students, Tony and Rachelle, who had climbed up as well. They told me to follow them and took off across the ridge to another high point. At the very top of a precarious rock formation there was an army ammo box bolted to a rock in a life-threatening position. Inside was a bottle of water, assorted Jesus propaganda, pens and a journal with various signatures, diatribes, poems, and other forms of expression. It was like a strange guestbook from Narnia or something. I drew some strategically offensive mustaches on the many Jesuses that were in the box, and Tony wrote a quick segment of prose in the book to document our passing. For what was apparently an upper-middle class white college town, I was surprised at the amount of proclivity I had stumbled across in less than 24 hours. What surprised me just as much, though, was these relatively clean-cut and square college kids’ willingness and ability to prance and jump about these dangerous rocks and crags. Not that I disapprove; in fact, I had been doing the same thing in Arizona the whole time I lived there, but it was always met by some mix of admonishment, concern, and amazement with my peers. But here, jumping, running, and even dancing on uneven natural surfaces where a fall can kill you is the norm. Awesome!

We chatted a bit more and cleared up some confusion when they explained that people had taken to calling the place SLO (pronounced ‘slow’). I thanked them and trekked back down the mountain. In my sweaty state of exertion, I craved the ocean, and figured nearby Morro Bay would be a good place to see the sunset.

I had figured right. The bay and its namesake; Morro Rock, reveled in the sunset like a painting.

At this point I was a bit swept up in the beauty of the scene and realized that after 2 weeks of meandering on the coast, I had yet to enter the ocean. Without hesitation I stripped down to my shorts and ran into the icy water. Bystanders pointed, stared, and probably explained to their onlooking children that I was on drugs as I emerged from the freezing cold water with my hands outstretched to the sky. It was so invigorating; why the hell wasn’t everyone doing this?

A towel and a jacket later, I found my way to the shoreline to relax and play some guitar as the sun disappeared. The surf was uneven and playful and sent just enough mist at my perch to be refreshing.

After nightfall I returned to Tim’s place and joined he and his roommates in an impassioned match of Halo 4, before crashing soundly on the couch.

——————-Day 2——————
After my Sequoia extravaganza and the prior day’s hike-in-Carhartts debacle, I was exhausted. I resolved to laze about and regain my composure. I think I did just that, because I can’t remember what the hell I did that day.  Here is a picture of the downtown train tracks that appears to be from the time frame. What was I thinking?

Edit: Ok now I remember. There was a farmer’s market that night so I went downtown to busk. I was discouraged initially after being kicked out for not having an expensive permit, but soon I found a busy thoroughfare and ended up making great money. Take that, the Man. 

The prior day I had gotten in touch with Lindsey, a friend of Kimba’s and she tracked me down at the market and presented me with a palmello, a huge and exotic fruit she described as sort of a cross between a pomegranate and a grapefruit (not genetically). It tasted better than both and I quickly devoured it, making a huge mess. She brought me to an upscale wine joint where a stiff funk band was playing what everyone wanted to hear and I met her cool, chinese, and hilariously fast-paced friend, Kat. I had planned on leaving in the morning because my host Tim had to leave town, but Kat offered to let me stay at her place and promised to entertain me the following day. Her demeanor inclined me to believe her, so I accepted.

———————————-Day 3——————————-
Kat’s house proved to be an excellent co-op commune sort of environment called the ‘Broad House’, with an interesting and eclectic cast to match. There was Gene, a Russian aerospace engineer who had worked on the first-ever private space flight. He left the industry after being blown up (literally, Kat explained) in a horrendous lab explosion, and now had dreadlocks, smoked lots of pot and ‘banged girls in other people’s beds.’ Then there was Patrick, an attorney who worked for the local newspaper who was laying low in SLO while he found ‘the big job.’ In a tree house in the back yard was Josh, a thickly dreaded wildman who would appear at unexpected moments and move and speak quickly. There were Dave and Rusty, who grew their own pot and smoked a ton of it while watching reruns of 90’s SNL. And last there was Kit, an extremely husky and hysterical pitbull mutt who guarded us all:

And of course Kat herself, who is a phlebotomist at the hospital, lives in a tent in the backyard and keeps up the organic garden.
Kat burst into Patrick’s room to roust him for our adventure. Apparently we were going to tour a local brewery and then go to a hot springs. After much rushing and nagging from Kat, Patrick and I finally got our shit together and made it out the door.
We arrived to Firestone Brewery and were confined in a small lobby and bombarded with pretentious beer-snobbery and company history. After much hooplah we were finally allowed through the doors into the secret chamber to witness the age old art in motion. To be honest, I couldn’t give 2 shits about all the highbrow stuff our enthusiastic tour guide was saying, but I was grateful to walk amongst colossal industrial equipment that was fully active. Soon the mob of note-taking bearded hipsters distracted our guide with obtuse questions about yeast propagation blah blah blah, and so overwhelmed him that I was able to slip off the tour path unnoticed and get some compelling shots of the hermetically-sealed industrial wonderland. The network of pipes, wires, cauldrons, and control panels was a sight to behold, and made so much noise that it conveniently drowned out our uppity guide.

Eventually I rejoined with the group as we were led through the bottling assembly line. Even after seeing this kind of thing ten billion times on “How It’s Made” television programs, it was super cool to be up close and personal with a completely mechanized obstacle course.

Since we’re talking about beer, I want to go on the record as saying that beer as an institution is totally contrived bullshit and I hate it. It doesn’t taste good, doesn’t get you drunk fast enough, and serves no real purpose. In my opinion, the proliferation and attention paid to meticulous detail with beer is a product of people obsessively ‘accessorizing’ their means of intoxication. I mean, this place had a bona-fide sterile and decontaminated laboratory with highly qualified scientists (Masters Degree), a mass spectrometer and other extravagantly named analysis equipment, just to cultivate their ‘proprietary strain’ of yeast to ferment their beer.

And yes, I know that beer is an ‘acquired taste,’ which is another way of saying that it tastes like shit, but if you drink enough of it, you’ll get used to it, and eventually delude yourself into liking it, because everyone else seems to. Well I tried that, and it didn’t work. After a few years and a few thousand beers, the voluntary brainwash just wouldn’t take, and I was left wondering when everyone would just snap out of it and admit that beer tastes like fucking garbage.

There, I said it. Beer seemed stupid to me back when I used to drink profusely, and it’s only lost credibility now that I don’t. The way I see it, if you want to get drunk, why don’t you just pound some moonshine and get it over with? There is absolutely no need to create and legitimize alcohol consumption and production into an overblown and pretentious ‘art form.’ I understand that everybody likes to get wasted now and again, but let’s stop making such a big deal out of it.

After the tour we headed off to the hot springs. Along the way we saw this guy, who was fervently protesting Jack in the Box. He’s “fighting for our rights as well as his.” What a champ.

The hot springs were quite relaxing and there were even friendly ducks that swam around the pool with us. We soaked for hours and I was so enthralled, I didn’t take any pictures. Eventually we returned to the Broad House where Kat took some time to point out various points of interest within Big Sur, where I was headed in the morning. Kit patrolled dutifully about and kept us all safe from the myriad of threats around the perimeter:

 I slept deeply and well, knowing it would likely be my last night indoors for some time.