It could be our last trip up this stretch of Highway 1. We both knew it, RF and me. Could be the last time to travel up this road through Eden, to a place called home.
That day, I knew that I'd soon be moving out of the State of California, where I've lived all my adult life, where I came to maturity.
RF was thinking something similar, so we agreed we would take our time that February day and do as much photography as we could.
RF is my housemate, friend, and former coworker. We have a lot in common. We both have wrist injuries that limit our use of our dominant hands. We've both been laid off from our jobs. We're both trying to establish careers as freelance writers. We both can't afford to live in California anymore, so we'll be moving in a month or two.
Perhaps we've been given each other for this time in our lives as a gift, so we can help each other just get by.
We were traveling that day up a road we both love. We were traveling from the small town of Cambria, where we had been to a concert the night before, to the lovely town of Santa Cruz, a place called home.
I was driving, because it was my car, and I love to drive on curvy roads that hug the land, where my car and I dance along together in rhythm. On roads like Highway 1, I can fly. Today I wasn't flying all that fast, just soaring along.
Even after living in this state for nearly 20 years, I don't know the names of a lot of the places we passed, but the names don't matter. The towns along these miles of road are tiny and seem even smaller, when compared with the vast land they cling to, and the endless ocean that sometimes caresses and sometimes threatens them.
What matters about this stretch of coast is the raw magnificence of nature and the insignificance of the road and the towns that grip the edge of the continent for dear life.
What matters to me as a traveler here is the gasp that escapes my lips every time I come around a new bend and see what I think, for the umpteenth time, is the most beautiful vista in the world.
Traveling Highway 1 is an organic experience, where every part is connected to the next part in space and time, where around every curve is a fresh vision of loveliness too extraordinary to imagine. This is a place that a Creator who wasn't afraid of heights and sudden chasms and surging waves spent a little extra time on, just so that travelers here would learn some respect for nature.
Though names in human language are useless to describe them, I know the names of some of the places.
Immediately after we left Cambria, we drove past Hearst castle at San Simeon, just visible through the fog off to the right on the crest of the hill. Even from a distance, it sparkles like a white jewel. It should. It was media mogul William Randolph Hearst's dream house, built by architect Julia Morgan, and he poured a fortune into it.
We didn't go there on this trip. We'd been there before. We looked for the zebras from Hearst's private menagerie grazing among the cattle at the side of the road, but we didn't see any this time. Sometimes they're there.
The first place we stopped was along Moonstone Beach. I suppose we just wanted to see what the beach was like, because it has a pretty name. We didn't know about the elephant seals, but as we were walking along we came upon them on the beach below us.
There were a lot of them. They seemed to be only females, not the much larger males. We'd seen them before, at Año Nuevo State Beach north of Santa Cruz, where we'd been told by a docent that they are easily disturbed by human noises. We were quiet and respectful as we took our pictures.
The next several places were just pull-outs where I could stop the car along the road. I don't know if they had names, but at each of them something lovely awaited our cameras.
We drove through part of Los Padres National Forest, and we drove through Big Sur. These are places on the map, but there's almost nothing there, unless you count the mountains and cliffs diving into the sea that crashes against their rocks and the road that winds along the edge of precipices. The views can make you forget that anything else matters, but get distracted from your driving even for an instant, and you could plunge into the waiting arms of death.
When we got near Carmel, we decided that instead of following Highway 1 the whole way, we would take a detour to explore 17 Mile Drive, between Carmel and Monterey.
This is a gorgeous stretch of road owned by the Pebble Beach Company, also owners of the famous golf course.
I had been there before, but years ago. I thought it was just a road along the coast between Carmel and Monterey, but when we got there, it turned out to be more of a loop. We came in through the entrance near Ocean Beach in Carmel, went straight where we should've gone left, and ended up in the part of the loop that doesn't go along the coast.
By the time I understood what I had done wrong, we were practically to Monterey, but we just looped around, took the coastal part of the loop back down toward Carmel, and now we were on the part of the road that I remembered.
There are stunning views at every turn on this stretch of road, with convenient parking for every one of them. As long as you remember to aim your camera away from the road and the other tourists, it's a photographer's paradise.
We left 17 Mile Drive by the way we came in, back into Carmel. Ravenous, we searched for a place to eat something fast and tasty. We found it in Nielsen Brothers Market on 7th & San Carlos, a couple blocks away from the main drag.
We were close to the end of our trip. From here, all we had to do was go back out to Highway 1, which becomes less interesting between Monterey and Santa Cruz. In any case, we'll probably drive at least to Monterey a time or two more.
Now that all I had left to do was drive, with less beauty to distract me and more everyday surroundings, it was harder to ignore the feelings I'd been trying to push away all day. These were the feelings that told me that I live in paradise, and God or fate is casting me out of it. These feelings can't always understand that this is a choice in which I'm a somewhat willing participant.
I wonder if in the next place where I live, I can recapture that feeling of driving a beautiful road to a place called home. I wonder if after I leave this Eden, I will ever be able to return.