Californication: Pacific Coast Highway

It’s quiet on the Pacific Coast Highway. The silence does not induce discomfort, however, like so many other sensory voids. It is Sunday, June 1st, five days into my weeklong tour of California. The Ford Escape Nathan and I have been driving for the duration of the road trip careens down this iconic highway. The Californian seaside landscape varies from pristine golden valleys dotted with dilapidated sea cottages that meet rolling surf to pavement pressed against rock hillsides that drop over 300 feet into the churning waters of the Pacific.

As scenic of a route the highway proves to be, it also proves to be dangerous. For three hours, the SUV’s speed varies between 20 and 45 miles per hour. Vibrant yellow signs warn for rockslide areas and I count my blessings that we chose to drive on a fair weathered day. For three hours out of the ten on our way back to Los Angeles my view is limited to the car ahead of me, the vast expanse of blue ocean on my right and rugged mountainous terrain on my left. There is no going back. There are no turn off roads.

Once you are on this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway there is no other way to go except north or south. Occasionally there are patches of gravel alongside the road to turn off of called “Vista Point”s. Families break out of their minivans and CR-Vs to snap a few photos, stretch their legs and proceed to pile back in and move along to the next Vista Point. I step out of the car and a cool sea breeze sends goosebumps racing up my legs and arms. I shiver not from the brisk air that whips around me but the sheer drop below me.

The yellow dandelions grip the cliffside, swaying with the breeze, and providing testament that beauty can be found in the most inhospitable places. The surf below smashes against the jagged rocks that lay at the foot of the cliff, seafoam rushing up the rocks before receding back into the tumultuous black water. The Pacific Coast Highway serves as a reminder of the awesome power of nature and I nod my head towards the ocean as a sign of respect. Nathan and I continue down the route, careful to not have too much speed going around the sharp turns that curve with the mountainsides. There is no phone signal, no radio waves, so we drive in silence and the quiet is good, at least for us.

I wedge my head in between the window and edge of my seat and gaze across the ocean, hypnotized by it’s interminable beauty. Nathan taps his fingers on the wheel and caresses my leg with a free hand, the tips of his fingers glide gently up and around the goosebumps that refuse to go away. I am content and I hope he is too. After several minutes of silence I sit up and bring up the Night M. Shyamala movie, The Happening. “There’s a bunch of things he could have done better,” I say.

“He could have done everything better,” Nathan corrects me.

“Yeah but just think about all of those suicide scenes,” I lean towards the windshield and gesture out towards the land before us, “We see a bunch of people throwing themselves off buildings or through windows, but only one scene of a suicide in a car. I mean just think about it, the thought of accidentally driving off a cliff with a 300 foot sheer drop is terrifying but what if Shyamala panned in on cars driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway during this outbreak. Just imagine a deafening silence as you see a multitude of tiny cars driving off these massive cliffs and imagine the people and families inside these cars not consciously aware of their doom that they’ll meet in a matter of seconds.”

Nathan just nods his head, “Yeah, that’s pretty damn frightening.”

I laugh out loud, “Look at us, talking about awful Night M. Shyamala movies and perfectly shot suicide scenes. We’ve contracted PCH fever.”

“Goddamn right we have,” Nathan reaches over and squeezes my leg playfully and the silence resumes for another several minutes. It’s almost therapeutic, being in your state of mind while being fully aware you have a travel companion by your side. Come to think of it, that’s what this entire trip has been. I have been encapsulated by my own wonder, my racing thoughts and mental travel notes I am incessantly taking all the while being led by hand through these different places and venues with little to no prior knowledge. At this point, I can’t fathom traveling without a companion by my side. It’s even better when your travel companion happens to be your significant other and you can pack away the Supertramp belt buckle.

I can’t imagine sitting at a restaurant in Santa Barbara and picking off food from my companion’s plate, sifting through their Sound Cloud playlist while they drive, digging through the glove compartment and the seat crevices for spare change to pay for any toll along the way while my companion makes nervous small talk with the toll booth employee, insisting to pay for the next tank of gas, sharing a blanket to lay out on on the beach, but most importantly, who else is going to take a photo of me with Big Sur? It felt strange, after the Pacific Coast Highway, after Napa Valley, after Tijuana, after the coves of La Jolla, after the port of San Diego, after the San Francisco Bay Bridge, after all of it, boarding a plane back to Boston seemed to be the road block that abruptly ended this wild road trip. My travel companion was being ripped away from me and I felt myself slowly assimilating back into society where I would have to work for another few months to make a voyage like this happen again. I was sad of course, but satisfied with the end outcome and eager for the coming adventure that laid ahead.

In another three months, I would be reunited with my travel companion, when there would no longer be 3,000 miles separating the two of us from endless adventure. We are now planning a weekend road trip up to the coast of Maine before the leaves start to turn. The Pacific Coast Highway was a quiet victory, one that I cannot relish too deeply in because greater victories lay in wait. Somewhere in the world, at this very moment, the sun is setting over something beautiful. I intend to journey to those beautiful places, travel companion and pen in tow.

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