My tent’s rain fly slapped loudly in the wind, rousing me from a well-intentioned but poorly executed night’s sleep. As I rolled onto my side, eyes burning from lack of proper slumber, I discovered I was wet. The tent was wet. Everything was wet. I had been kept awake most of the night by a weather system that had plagued our trip with wind and rain for three days. I lay in my tent just a few yards from the ocean at a campground north of Ventura, California, along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Peeling myself out of my sodden sleeping bag and crawling out of the tent, I made my way to the edge of the breaking wall. The morning sun fought to make its way through thick clouds overhead. Soft, dreary light illuminated chocolate brown sea water. Six-foot waves slammed into the rocks, and large pieces of driftwood bobbed up and down in the surf.
I heard the sound of a sliding door behind me, and two familiar faces popped out of the side of the 20ft adventure van.
The three of us had embarked on a road trip through southern California’s section of Highway 1. Our idea was simple— head north from San Diego, riding and surfing until landslides blocked our path, a legitimate concern at this time of year. Compared to previous journeys, this one felt simple (one road), familiar (California), and relatively small-scale (Big Sur and back).
We were mistaken on all fronts.
But let’s rewind to day one, when our priority was pushing north through LA and exploring inland Malibu. Steady rain had already begun threatening our spirits. A brief burrito stop in Santa Monica provided temporary reprieve, but fog and rain met us as we weaved our way up the dark winding roads of Malibu. Bidding farewell to the lights and cement of LA, we entered into a mysterious version of Malibu landscape that began to erode our collective sense of familiarity with California.
Riding on the backs of a couple adventure bikes— a Kawasaki KLR and Yamaha Tenere—my friends would have to endure persistent rain for another three days. I trailed behind them in a roomy camper van that served as a critical shelter from the rain as well as a mule for gear, food, and boards.
Our journey coincided with one of the wettest periods in California’s recent history. While this wasn’t the springtime adventure we had all envisioned, the unprecedented moisture had brought new life to the hills and valleys of the California coast. Wildflowers painted the sides of the highway with bright yellows and oranges. Long, green grass rolled like waves in our wake as we cut down country roads. In fleeting moments the clouds would break, allowing warm rays of sunlight to illuminate well-fed cattle in open pastures. During small talk at restaurants, rest stops, and campgrounds, locals remarked on how lucky we were to see the state in what they described as “its true beauty.”
As we made our way north it seemed there was no end to the number of accessible coastal detours and pull offs. Mid-way through the trip it dawned on us that the scale of this landscape was insurmountable. In hindsight, I’m not sure how we ever made it to Big Sur. Within and between these “destinations” was an astounding number of beautiful unknowns, hiding in plain sight. We found ourselves spending entire days in a euphoric explorer’s high, rolling into campgrounds long after the sun had set.
Experiencing this landscape in its purest form reminds me that there are parts of this world that are worth spending your life chasing after, just to see them. Observing the cycles of nature – and in some cases, being directly affected by them – was a reminder that it has existed long before us, and will continue to long after.
That reminder came in the form of a landslide 400 miles north of where we began, blocking our path at Ragged Point in Big Sur. Though we had only just entered the mountainous southern segment of Big Sur territory, the few miles we were able to see made it all worth it.
As we shifted south, what continued to surprise us was the lack of people. Given its notoriety, we fully expected this segment of the PCH to be swamped with tourists. What we found instead were open roads, hotel vacancies, and empty campgrounds. So, how is it that a place can be constantly talked about, but at the same time ignored? Perhaps all of that chatter has given the masses a sense that this place – and many others like it – has been thoroughly discovered. On a societal level, this is true, and I believe it discourages the adventurous from discovering it for themselves.
While the collective ‘we’ have a strong grasp on this world and our place in it, the world will remain a never-ending source of discovery in relation to the individual. The sheer size of earth transcends any ability to comprehend on the individual scale, which is why places will always remain a secret to some degree. This is good news for the adventurous among us.
In today’s world, I believe the frontier for exploration and adventure is wherever you haven’t been. Novelty, beauty, and exploration can be found anywhere. We must scale our experiences down to the individual level and leave the collectivist notions of what has or has not been discovered behind. This is our modern frontier. See the world anew and behold it for what it is.
Descending once again on Malibu for the final overnight of our voyage, we traversed up a canyon road that led to our homestay. Within a half mile we found ourselves in a pristine and novel landscape – surrounded by wildlife and endless rolling ridges. We rode along the hilltops as the sun began to set, with a blue ocean horizon on one side and dozens of miles of layered mountain peaks on the other. A proper farewell from a place that stole our hearts.