It was still dark outside when Andrew woke up. 5 AM. 2 hours behind schedule. The forecast for 30 degree nights and rain made it that much harder to get out of bed. We packed two tents, a couple sleeping bags, plenty of snacks and everything warm we own (not much, considering we live in Los Angeles) into the car and, along with our buddies Max and Billy, headed off.The sky looked threatening and the wind was far too cold – it was December after all, but Big Sur was calling.
The drive had really only just started when rain began coming down in buckets and the impending night outdoors was looking interesting, to say the least. The scenery along our route started out rather unspectacularly. A whole lot of highway and brown brush. But just as the ocean came into view, the rain broke and a perfect double rainbow appeared overhead. A general feeling of (please excuse the french) fuck-yes-ness crept into our minds. We snaked our way along the coast as the foliage changed from the sprawling desert of Los Angeles to the ancient forests of Central California. The low winter sun reflected off of the ocean as we traveled along narrow roads and cliffside bridges. What was once apprehension had morphed into anticipation and excitement.
After unpacking our things and setting up a quick camp, we figured we should explore the river next to our campsite. The late afternoon light would soon be gone. There wasn’t much in the way of a path, so we followed the river and made our own trail. We came to somewhat of an impasse at a set of massive boulders that created a series of small waterfalls and eddies. Here we sat in silence and took in the nature. It wasn’t quiet, but the sounds of nature were anything but noise to us. We found some roots tucked beneath a riverbank that served as our amphitheater while we watched ducks swim by and birds dance in trees. The light was fading so we headed back.
We prepared a dinner of steak and roasted vegetables while the sun went down. The fire (and the whiskey) kept us warm and happy. No one really checked what time it was, but we must have gone to bed early. It’s a nice feeling when your body syncs back up with the cycle of the days and nights. Sleeping wasn’t hard because we’d had a long day, but the cold did its best to remind us we weren’t tucked away in our warm apartments.
As we retired when the sun went down, we rose with it too. The air felt even colder in the morning so we stoked the fire and cooked some eggs and sausage. Instant coffee is pretty much the worst but it did its job and got us all going. After a quick run in with some furry friends, we packed up camp, checked out, and followed some insider information to a trail we had never heard of.
The Tanbark Trail was hidden down below Highway 1 which, along with the fact that it was December, left us with the trail to ourselves. The trail followed a bubbling brook into an endless forest of massive redwoods. These were the kinds of trees that made you feel you were nothing. They were of a scale you could hardly comprehend. The forest seemed so ancient we felt like we had stepped into Jurassic Park (or, you know, a time that actual dinosaurs lived). Just behind us was the Pacific Ocean, vast and unexplored, and in front of us – around us – was this untouched wilderness, just as expansive.
Sandwiched in between the two were four guys who, just hours ago, felt they were significant and that they had life figured out. The nature around us mocked that idea. The rare intersection of isolation from people/possessions/communication/the internet and the infinity of the ocean and the forest was something to behold. You couldn’t help but ponder your very own existence. In fact, it was absolutely terrifying. Though, at the same time, there was a peace about it. A peace that convinced us to block out the noise and the notifications of day to day life, and consider the things that really mattered – our passions, our hopes and dreams, our pasts and our future.
All those early feelings of uncertainty were replaced with what felt like an enormous exhale as we piled into the car and drove home. Any thoughts of “why are we doing this?” had melted and given way to “why don’t we do this more often?” We realized it doesn’t help to overthink things. Sometimes you have to just go. Sometimes, you have to pack up your borrowed car with insufficient camping gear, a lack of experience, and good friends, and drive 600 miles just to see what happens. Why listen to your expectations? Why not test them? The expectation was that the trip or the weather or the bears could be dangerous. The only dangerous thing about that is that those fears could have kept us in LA, safe in our comfort zone. Yeah, it was extremely cold. But we survived, and the cold was the LAST thing we remember from this trip. You have to respect your doubt, but not hide underneath it. So when someone asks you why you’re going camping in Northern California in December, don’t question it, don’t even try to defend yourself – relish the fact that when you get back the experience will speak for itself.
On to the next one,