North on the Pacific Coast Highway from San Simeon to Ragged Point

Saturday, January 6

OK well that’s it, I want to live here. Somewhere between Morro Bay and Cambria and the as yet unseen Big Sur – this is it, I like it here. Today was an almost perfect day. I paid for yet another day at my dark damp campground despite or because of the high drama last night. Some dude got super drunk and spent several evening hours yelling along and just plain yelling to, of all odd choices, loud mid 70s AOR hits. I mean, everyone has the right to freak out and get drunk and scream along, gods know, but to do it to She’s Gone and Afternoon Delight is just appalling. I believe there are Geneva conventions in force about it. Anyway, the campground cops came and then there were high powered flashlights and a truck with the lights on and the doors open and voices raised then lowered then raised. I watched the whole thing from my window like a complete creep, pausing only when I got ashamed or my feet fell asleep. I couldn’t hear anything and it was very dark and there was a tree in the way, so it was all kind of surreal and very noir. This is totally the Goth Beach. Pity about the soundtrack. Although there are frogs.

_MG_5944Anyway, I decided to take Route 1 as far as I could today, all the way up to the landslide.*** I did just that and my first stop was the elephant seal sanctuary, which isn’t a zoo, or a sanctuary as we know it, or, well anything except a long stretch of rocky coastline full to bursting with elephant seals. There’s a parking lot and a couple of walkways and a long trail with a bit of a wire fence but really, it’s just you (and a whole lot of other people) and the elephant seals. It was – I have noticed that I use the word amazing too often but, um, it was amazing. I mean WILD ELEPHANT SEALS. RIGHT THERE. They are huge. There were mothers and babies and large old men, all lying about in the sand or the rocks. The ones in the sand kept flipping more sand over themselves and sighing gustily, just exactly the way my mother’s friends used to put on more Bain de Soleil in the 70s before they rolled over _MG_6007to toast their other side into fine Corinthian leather. Every so often a small argument would break out. The gentlemen elephant seals (one of the signs jauntily referred to them as e-seals and, just, NO) occasionally decided to make a lot of noise about how mighty they were. There was a lot of farting, which the seals seemed to find entertaining as well. The babies complained at their mothers; the mothers chased seagulls away from the babies and OH MY GOD THEY WERE RIGHT THERE BY THE SEA AND ME. I watched a few of them have fortunately minor, mostly seeming rather playful, battles. I watched one gentleman try to mate with a lady and be told right off. He sheepishly floompfed his way down the beach. I walked in the wind and listened to elephant seals talk and smelled god. I don’t know what the hell it is growing on those bluffs but I want to bottle it and smell it forever. Like salt and cinnamon and maybe a little pine and I don’t even know, but it was fantastic.

Then I drove on down Route 1 and the scenery, well, the scenery lives up to the hype. I just wish I had been here back in the glorious days when you could park anywhere overnight. Now, there are fences along the roadsides, and signs at every possible pulloff that say NO CAMPING OR OVERNIGHT PARKING. Those at least are nicer than the signs that just say NO TRESPASSING PRIVATE PROPERTY NO PARKING ANYTIME and there are a lot of those. Sigh. The roadblock, which is just a few miles from the townlet (it may actually just be one resort, not even a townlet, I couldn’t quite tell) of Ragged Point was womanned by a super nice lady a little older than me. Her job is to sit on her car, eating apples and reading and not letting tourists through. She let me use her portapotty and we chatted about traveling and how nice it is to travel alone and grown children and that sort of thing. I really liked her and I wish I had taken her picture, a film picture with the Praktica. But of course I am too shy to ask people to do that.

_MG_6050Then I turned around and headed back and this time I stopped at just about every overlook and scenic vista and pulloff spot I could find. At the very first one, i met a lady about my age and traveling, or starting to travel and live, in her pickup. She was really nice and we talked for a while. I wish I had taken her picture with the Praktica as well! New vow: more black and white film portraits with the Praktica. Anyway, this is for her: If you read this, J, I thought about you all afternoon and this is what I think. I think you are trying to go too hardcore. The great thing about an actual camper is you have a table and a chair and a refrigerator and a stove and a toilet, so it’s like a little house. When I get home from a day trip like today I am home: I sit down at the table and have some wine and crackers and break out the laptop – basically exactly the same thing I did in my real house. I have something to do! It gives structure to my day and it’s just like a regular house except there’s way less space so it’s much faster to clean up. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s okay to want to be comfortable. Asceticism is fine and all but fuck it, it’s the 21st century and we’re entitled to refrigeration and occasionally netflix. Anyway, if you can afford it, I would go more camper rather than less. And it was super cool to meet you!

_MG_6076The road back was full of places to pull over and go hiking and take photographs and so that is exactly what I did. There were landscapes of fog and translucent green sea and pines and that smell, that intoxicating amazing smell. There were rocks and a dry river bed I stumbled down to the edge of the beach. There were black birds I am not even sure what the hell they were and huge white egrets in the fields and fog like smoke on the mountains and MORE elephant seals and finally, finally at the last place I stopped there were ZEBRAS.*

_MG_6150Yes. No, I’m sure. Yes, I know a zebra when I see one. No, it’s been years since I did any hallucinogens. THERE WERE ZEBRAS HANGING OUT IN A FIELD WITH A BUNCH OF COWS JUST LIKE ALL, HEY I AM A ZEBRA, YEAH, WHAT UP? There were baby zebras! Or, as my son used to say when he was small and doing that logical English toddler thing, baby one! And then the type of baby. Baby one cow! Baby one dog! Or, well, you get the idea and of course I still say it, so if you hear me going BABY ONE HORSE! You know that I’m not actually losing it completely, I mean, more than usual. But, I must say, BABY ONE ZEBRA!

So I saw wild, or close to wild, zebras. And wild elephant seals. And rocks and surf and cliffs and plants and birds and, in other words, today was basically utterly perfect and I could totally live here. Now if only I can figure out a way to afford it.


*** California Route One, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, is currently CLOSED due to massive landslides last year from a few miles south of Ragged Point to a few miles north of Ragged Point. So you cannot drive the whole thing from Cambria to Monterey, which was my original plan. There are no detours, either – it is some wild geography, in there. You have to go the LOOOONG way around..

* The zebras are because William Randolph Hearst, he of Hearst Castle fame, had a private zoo, much like Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar!** And, when he died, his zebras apparently either got loose or were let loose, along with, apparently, some exotic deer but not, fortunately, the polar bears and now they all hang out with the cattle who belong to his descendants. His descendants farm cattle and run a winery which is industrious of them and I must say that their Malbec is absolutely to die for which, since it is $35 a bottle, it fucking well should be.

** Pablo Escobar’s hippos got loose and now they hang out in Colombian rivers where they are if not an actual scourge than perhaps a sort of scourge lite, but they seem to enjoy it there anyway and the zebras certainly seemed happy here in California too.

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