West Coast Birthday…1.2018

For a past few months Jill has been telling me she wanted to spend my birthday with me.  We started planning, then stopped, then started again & finally made a definite plan.  But the dreaded flu monster caught Jill in it's grip & wouldn’t let go.  We’d planned this trip with the two of us in mind & were so excited for all we could experience together, but the day before our departure, she was still running a fever. So, with a heavy heart, she decided there was no way she could go.  My heart was more than heavy, I was tearful that we couldn’t spend the trip together, but also hated it that she’s so sick & feeling miserable.  It’s meant so much that she wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion by my side!  I considered pulling the plug on the whole thing, but the oh-so-awesome hotel I’d reserved was non-refundable & the prospect of staying home just seemed pretty depressing.  So, I took off to explore one of my most favorite & loved places….Big Sur, California.

I’d booked my flight to San Francisco through Phoenix, thinking winter weather would be less likely to cause problems in the warm southwest.  The flight from Phoenix to SFO was really beautiful & I couldn’t take my eyes off the view the whole flight.  There is so much rugged coast along this route & the sun was just setting over the Pacific as the plane landed.

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I’d reserved a couple of bunks for us at a Hostel that’s only 20 miles south of SFO.  They let me cancel one of the beds last minute, but I knew most of the other people staying there were all in the same group…I just didn’t know what kind of group. The Point Hostel is housed in an old light house station; it was dark when I arrived so I couldn’t tell what the grounds looked like…but I could sure hear the booming ocean waves! Everytime I’ve stayed in a hostel, I’m usually about the only one from the states…most everyone else is visiting from another country.  But this time, the whole group was from Nevada…Reno/Carson City/Tahoe area in a hiking meet up group.  The only beds left by the time I arrived, were two top bunks.  They also had locking lockers, which is really great & everything was clean & nice.  I checked in, made my bed, then took off down the road for some dinner at the Half Moon Bay Brewery.  Ive eaten here a couple of times before & knew the food & beer are good.  The weather was so nice, I was able to sit outside near the fire pit & eat a fish taco for dinner & drink a yummy West Coast IPA.

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I was tired from traveling all day, so was ready to head to bed when I got back to the hostel.  Most of the women in my dorm were my age & two of them ended up chatting with me as we all tucked into bed…very interesting women…one had traveled internationally completing several long hiking treks.  Heres what my room & the inside of the hostel looked like:

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Hostels are really affordable, which is why many travelers choose them.  One of the problems of being in a dorm-style room, is trying not to wake anyone up when you need to get up…either to use the bathroom in the middle of the night or to leave early the next morning.  You can use a flashlight or headlamp to see, but the beds are always kind of squeaky.  I slept fine, but woke up each time one of the women left to use the bathroom.  I wanted to leave early in the morning, but knew the parking lot gate was locked until 7:30 (you can make arrangements to get the code & unlocking procedure if you need it, but I hadn’t wanted to mess with all of that). 

Day 2 1.14
I woke up at CST…about 4:15, tried to quietly get down off the top bunk, never successfully finding one of the steps & taking the last one as a giant plunge, but still quiet.  I’d grabbed my towel & toothbrush & headed to one of two bathrooms…figuring from 6am-7:30am…that was going to be one busy restroom.  I crawled back in bed with clean teeth, face & hands, just to lay there.  Finally, about 6:30, I started getting my stuff together, slipped off my pjs & pulled on my pants & shirt, tried to quietly remove my sheets & pillowcase off & stuff the towel & sheets into the case, fold up the comforter & gather all the stuff I’d had in bed with me (Kindle, reading light, phone, pjs, toothbrush, water bottle, etc.) & then quietly get all that stuff down to the floor.  I still never found that last step!  I unlocked my locker & put everything in the hall.  I think I was successful in not waking anyone up, as one woman was still gently snoring as I locked the door (that’s another problem with dorm rooms…snorers.)  I took all my stuff out to the car & grabbed my camera that I’d locked in there the night before.  I roamed the property, taking in my first views of the ocean…just perfect!

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It was 7:30 so I turned in my key & drove out the gate, heading south.   A quick stop for a couple of gallons of water, a jar of peanut butter & coffee from Starbucks & I was on my way.  The drive south from there is so beautiful…then you reach Santa Cruz….lots of traffic, then you hit farm country…lots of strawberries & artichokes grown here.  I stopped at a stand off the highway & bought some oranges & avocados.

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I made one more quick stop at BevMo just off the highway in Carmel.  I’m hunting a certain stout, but since they didn’t have it, I chose another.  Somehow, the cashier looked up my BevMo card number & gave me a $5.50 discount!  He also checked on the beer I’m chasing & told me what BevMo I can find it at once I head back north later next week.  By noon, I was in my happy place….Big Sur, California!  This remote rugged & wild place is so awesome.  I haven’t been here a lot…this is my 3rd or 4th time, but I’ve dreamed about it 100 times!  The day was spectacular….sunny & a warm 75 degrees.  So different from the 16 degrees I’d left back in Kansas.  The winter season here brings tons of rain & one day last week they had more than 9”, which caused a small mudslide.  Southern Cal has been hit hard by mudslides the past week, killing at least 20 & devastating many homes, Highway 101, & the rail system.  For once, I wasn’t worried about winter snow & ice, I just don’t want mudslides closing the highway.  Big Sur is along Highway 1 & last year, about 30 miles south of Big Sur the largest mudslide occurred…a mile wide.  The road is still closed & many of the trails were wiped out too. 

It was crazy busy on the highway & at every trailhead & State Park entrance.  I’ve been through here once in the summer & once in the spring & it wasn’t nearly this busy.  It’s MLK holiday on Monday & the weather is gorgeous, but I was so surprised to see so many people & cars.  I stopped at the Ranger station to ask some questions about some hikes & pick up some maps.  One of the hikes he suggested was about 22 miles south, across from the Kirk Creek campground.  I took my time (lots of cars & I wasn’t in a hurry anyway) driving this fantastic stretch of highway that hugs this rugged coastline.  It’s breathtaking!  Once I was at the trailhead there was no where to park.  Cars lined the 1 on both sides in many sections, but there was not an inch of space to be found.  After two U turns & no luck, I drove south to Sand Dollar Beach.  It’s about 5 miles before the ONE ends.  I’ve been here once before, at high tide & hiked down to the beach, only to be able to step off the stairs a couple of feet before the water & waves begin.  But today, I was at low tide…actually, a guy told me it was a ‘negative’ tide…guess that’s lower than low!  This is the largest unbroken stretch of beach along Big Sur.  Most of the coast here is more cliff-like….no beach access.  I think there a few…mostly known & frequented by the surfers, but today, lots of people were here on this beach, in their suits & barefoot — throwing frisbee’s & flying drones & little kids taking the kelp & running with it…everyone was having a good time!  I saw my first beach kitty & she reminded me soooo much of my Sammie!

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I took my time driving back north, stopping at several vista points just to take in the views.  At one vista point, I spoke with three birders….looking for my elusive California Condors.  They never saw one the whole time I was there, but I did see a big bird in the sky & pointed it out to them…causing a fast stir of spotting scopes & binoculars.  Turns out it was a golden eagle & they were full of praise that I’d spotted it.   It was kind of funny.  I hung out with them for awhile, hoping they would bring some good spotting luck, but no Condor was to be seen.  I look & look & look for them everytime I’m out here & have never seen one in Big Sur.  But, on my way back north along the highway, I spotted ‘spouting’ out in the ocean.  Once I pulled over, grabbed my binoculars & focused in, I spotted 3 migrating whales!!! yay!!!  This happened two more times as I went up the highway, for a total of 8 whales today!  Then once while I already had out my whale spotting glasses…I saw something black, flying & feathery up in the sky.  A Turkey vulture!  I’ve photographed about 50 of them, thinking it might be a condor, but not today.  Today’s tally:  8 Whales, 2 Vultures, 0 Condors.

My fave photo of the day:

The famous McWay bridge:

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I had been so excited about this lodging for me & Jill, now I was bummed even more she wasn’t here to see how cool it was (I’d already been thinking this all day, knowing she’d never been to Big Sur before & all the beautiful scenery she was missing plus shes still really really sick.)  The Glen Oaks Motel is wonderful!!!!!  Right off the highway & just a few miles north of the town of Big Sur.  The rooms are beautifully designed with intentional simplicity & eco friendly materials & NO TV’s.  The outdoor space is awesome too.  I love this room…even the linens are fantastic.

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I decided to finally get something to eat, so I went to the Big Sur Taphouse.  They were out of about 1/2 their menu, so I want to the Fernwood Grill near my lodging.  The atmosphere is wonderful…big fire pits outside in the forest, twinkly lights all over & big trees incorporated into the building. That was the good news; the service & food were pretty near the top of bad.  Win some, lose some.

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But, back at the perfect lodging….they had the fire pit going.  I poured myself a yummy Bourbon Barrel Aged Ten Fiddy Imperial Stout from Oskar Blues, walked the short distance up to the fire pit & planted myself on one of the nearby benches.  For the first hour, I was the only one there, which was peaceful & nice.  There’s also a japanese water sculpture in the same area, so I had the fire & it’s warmth, the trees all around me,  the music made by the water sculpture & a great beer…a pretty perfect night!  Then a couple showed up from North Carolina…they were both awesome!  I’d recognized them from the restaurant…they’d been there for 3 hours & were as disappointed as I was.  But the conversation quickly left the negative & turned interesting & fascinating.  I really enjoyed talking to these smart, funny & interesting women.  They were on the coastal trip from Washington State to LA & really having a blast.  They roasted marshmallows, then we said good night & they headed back to their room.  Three more couples showed up…one from San Francisco that visit Big Sur often; a couple in the movie industry from Hollywood; & a couple from Philadelphia expecting their first baby.  It turned out to be wonderful night & we all stayed until the fire turned itself off.  I love love love this part of travel.  People are so interesting & easy going & enjoyable to visit with.  The guy from Hollywood was super funny.  I walked the short distance to my lovely room, Face Timed with Danny (there is no cell service here & most everywhere for 20 miles in either direction, but I can message & FT Apple devices…yay!), then crawled into my super comfy bed!

Day 3 1.15 Happy Birthday to Me!    I’m 21,900 days old
I took my time this morning, showered (the floor is heated in the bathroom!!!), packed my backpack & drove up to Big Sur Bakery.  The last time I was here I ate a Bacon Maple Croissant…I have never forgotten how fantastic that tasted.  I was treating myself to scrumptious this morning, however I noticed none were in the case.  Turns out, I think I must have eaten the last one ever made! But their stuff is soooo good, I found a different replacement in a yummy ham & cheese croissant & a cup of coffee.  I sat outside taking in the view of the mountains & just enjoying the morning.

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I saw the North Carolina couple at the bakery & we visited a few minutes.  I’d see them again in about 45 minutes as we all ended up at McWay Falls…one of the most popular stops along this part of the 1 & so beautiful.  I’ve never seen the falls at high tide…usually there is big beach below the falls, but not today.  The skies were a lot more hazy than yesterday & the water less brilliantly blue, but it’s all still really magnificent!

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There is an old foundation from a house that used to be here.  The house overlooked the falls, as well as a northern view & one straight out over the Pacific…wow…bet that was some awesome place to live!

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There was a controlled burn going on just off the highway on the coastal side, & I could see it from the falls. 

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 I’d planned to do a short waterfall hike in the Julia Pfieffer State Park, but all the trails (except McWay) are closed from the mudslides last year.  So, I took off heading south, enjoying the same views I saw yesterday to the Kirk Creek (Vincente) trailhead.  There were still several cars parked along the highway, but today I found a space for mine, pulled in & parked, got on my pack & headed up the trail.  The dirt trail heads up the mountain & 5 miles up takes you to dispersed camping.  I wasn’t going that far, but the views just got more spectacular the higher I went. No one else was going up, but a boatload of backpackers were coming down…I bet there were about 50!


I turned around after about 2.5 miles to head down.  You can see the trail in the photo below looking to the south.

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I love the different colors of the water as you can see in this view to the north & the snaky wonderful coast-hugging Highway ONE.  

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This was an awesome hike & I felt so grateful to be HERE celebrating my birthday & healthy enough to do so!

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On the way back north, I stopped turn off at this sign I’ve passed like three times…I was really curious about the Holy Granola.  I took a beautiful 2 mile & super scenic drive up to the top of the mountain to a Hermitage.  I’m guessing it’s some sort of monk-related spiritual place you can go on retreat.  The bookstore was closed for lunch when I got there & I looked around a little bit.  There was a chapel & lots of other small cabin like buildings that said “for guests only”.  I saw one lady walking with her arms crossed at her chest.  I decided not to stay to wait for the lunch break to end, so I snaked my way back down to the highway really enjoying these wonderful views of the Pacific coastline!  I guess I’ll never know about that granola.

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Ohhhh!  Ohhhhh!  Was that a condor or five overhead?  Trying to look up into the sky for Condors & out into the ocean for Whale spouts while driving this narrow, curvy, road is to say the least…super distracted driving.  I pulled off at the first wide space & grabbed my binoculars….Vultures again.  Condors fly using thermals…so they don’t really flap their wings.  I swear all the vultures I’m seeing are not flapping either.  Still, zero Condors.  

My next stop is also a place I’ve passed dozens of times, but looked it up last night & decided to stop there today.  It’s the Henry Miller Library.   A local author & artist, this super quirky little bookstore sells Millers work but also other Big Sur authors (Kerouac was one) & books about the history of Big Sur.  I tagged a couple of titles in hopes to check them out from my library once I’m back home.

Then it was time for my much anticipated birthday lunch at Nepenthe.  I’ve been to this cliff side restaurant everytime I’ve come to Big Sur, but only for a beer.  I ate their famous Ambrosia Burger & salad & drank the same Russian Imperial Stout I always get & enjoyed the view outside.  The fog was just beginning to roll in.

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When I first got to the restaurant, the guy seating people asked me how my day was.  I told him it had been great & that it was my birthday.  He gave me a hug & said “Happy Birthday!” then seated me.  After I’d eaten all my food, I paid my bill so I could take my beer & stroll out to the back patio that overlooks the water.  My waiter brought out a box with an attached candle & said someone had told him it was my birthday…then he lit the candle & said “Happy Birthday” & left.  It was such a fun surprise!

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And inside the box?  A special Happy Birthday mug from the restaurant!  Really a sweet thing to do!

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I could sit out here for hours staring at the water.  There’s a field to the south (the green space in the photo below) just above the water with three horses grazing.  And the fog continued to roll inland & get thicker & began to cover everything.  I was surprised when my phone rang (didn’t usually get service here) & it was Sara & Claire Face Timing to wish me Happy Birthday.  I tucked into a corner of the patio & enjoyed that call more than I would have birthday cake with whip cream & a cherry on top.  Love those two!!!  After the call & all my beer was gone, I took one last long lovely look at this special place…I feel so lucky to be here today!


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I’ve been back at my hotel for the evening…the fog covered everything before it got dark.  Sadly, there was no fire in the fire pit tonight…don’t know why, but I’d been looking forward to it.  I’ve had nice Face Time's with Luke, Phyllis & a couple with Danny.  I’ve been sitting on my wonderful bed, downloading photographs & working the tripscribbles.   

I wondered this morning if I should be reflecting on my past 45 50 55 never mind years?  Should I be setting new goals or making a bucket list?  Should I feel something profound at being alive this long?  I just decided for today (probably tomorrow & the next day & who knows after that) that I’m just going to be grateful.  Grateful for where I am now…this place that is so breathtakingly beautiful; grateful for this body that moves & is pain free & healthy; grateful for my family & friends I’m hearing from happy that I’m still alive & taking a moment to send me good wishes; grateful for love in my life; & grateful for all the wonderful experiences I’ve had.  So, as Oprah would say, "this is what I know for sure":  I’m truly grateful & thankful.  


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