Adventures Out West

Nothing cures a case of self-doubt like a road trip to the West Coast. Amid an emotionally chaotic rut with the encouragement of my lead foot counterpart, Ryan Wix, we packed our bags and headed for the sunshine and surf. Uncertain about any of our destinations, the van carried us eleven hours to the small casino run town of Mesquite, Nevada, right on the border of Utah, eighty miles north of Sin City itself.

We spent the first leg of our trip determined to hit the town, avoid the crowds, and perhaps get lucky. Yielding the benefits of a traveling engineer, we booked a room at the “fabulous” Tropicana and stayed free of charge for our first evening. Walking the strip, I realized the particular distaste I had towards the gimmicks, flashing lights, and commercialized godi-ness of this overrun street in the dessert. Now, Rachel, you must embrace it. Together we ate an obnoxiously large plate of nachos and prepared for our evening attending Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood. The next morning Ryan and I tested our luck with the Black Jack table and slot machines. Placing a wrinkled five-dollar bill into the Willy Wonka machine, we watched our money raise to $240.00 back down to $150.00, along with an extra $100.00 from Black Jack it was time to leave and head towards Death Valley. Sunshades on and the music was running high; we drove through the desert towards our next destination Carpinteria, California.

The highway already felt congested, and we were in the middle of nowhere on a Tuesday. Oh, boy, headed to the city of Angels. Entering the hustle-and-bustle, our first stop was to fulfill our cult dreams––visiting the Halo Top Ice Cream shop in Topanga. Largely overrated, we swerved through an upscale shopping center to find the golden halo above the marbled kiosk. Yes, we made it. Sampling five of the eight flavors offered. I settled on a waffle cone with Chocolate-Peanut Butter swirled soft serve. Yes, satisfied and bucket list checked. Back to the van, we went. Driving through the curvy Topango Canyon, we were ready to see the long-awaited waves. Around the final turn, we met the ocean during golden-hour, where we started on Highway 1 through Malibu.

Pulling into a beach parking lot, we were confronted with an honorary community of authentic van life members. This parking lot served as the basecamp for hundreds of surfers catching their evening waves. Ryan and I didn't stand a chance in competing with these van living vagabonds. An epic memory engrained with the visions of dreadlocks, seagulls, and wetsuits. What a happy place. Driving further down the road we took in the beautiful scenery. How lucky were we? Arriving in Carpenteria, we took a pit stop for salad supplies before heading to the home of "Big Buff" John, Ryan's good friend. A quaint spot in a quaint beach town, Big Buff and girlfriend Amanda shared from their fishing excursion, and we had a delicious dinner of smoked rockfish and salad with avocados right off their tree. Ryan was particularly content being able to use his pocket-sized Traeger Grill; he can't leave without it. It was a wonderfully fun way to spend the evening visiting with even better people.

The next morning we stopped for breakfast at the Worker Bee Diner, where I had a beautiful veggie omelet, and Ryan dabbled in the Mexicali cuisine with Chiqquiles. Headed North to see the long-awaited Big Sur. Passing Santa Barbra and driving through San Luis Obispo, I understood the appeal of these little spots of paradise. We took a pit stop in Morro Bay and walked around the towering rock formations and content beach walkers. I was sold. I could sit by that bay for days. Driving North, the coast only became more beautiful and more ragged. We stopped at frequent turnouts to take photographs, one-stop nearly ended in a flattened Rachel, as I crossed too soon in front of a fast-approaching car. Thankfully I made it to the other side. Passing beaches of elephant seals and the Hearst Castle’s field of intermingling cows and zebras, I was at peace. The coastline and the sea breeze was what I needed to see.

Entering Big Sur exceeded my expectations of beauty morphing components of the Pacific North West coastline with the tropics of Hawaii and Auckland territory. Being present can only do the scenes justice, but pictures will have to suffice. Driving the full day, we made it to Julia Pfeifer State Park, where the McWay waterfall sat.

We watched the sunset from this point, and it was magical. Following the Pacific Coast Highway into the dark, we made it to the small town of Big Sur composed of a few cabins and motels. Looking for a spot to park the van, we were skeptical of calling it a night on the side of the road, so we inquired about a spot in the campground. There was exactly one spot left for a whopping $75.00. Passing up the opportunity, we decided to head further north to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we would find a parking lot of other campers in front of the posh and luxurious Safeway supermarket.

Using the amenities of a Starbucks, we planned the day and waited for the arrival of our friend Chad. Chad drove down from San Jose to meet us and head back into Big Sur. The views between Carmel and Big Sur were unbelievable, and to think we missed all of it in our journey through the dark. We were not the only people taking a scenic road trip that Saturday. The highway was flooded with all walks of life, smiling at the surrounding beauty. We pulled into one of the state parks where we hiked up the valley and took in the magnificent stature of the Red Wood trees.

After our hike, we enjoyed our picnicked lunch in one of the road pullouts. Looking into the ocean nearly a thousand feet down, Ryan spotted two brave surfers catching massive waves. Entirely isolated from the rest of the world, these water warriors stood up countless times, caressing the blue, green, and white-capped water. That was living. Driving slightly further down the road, we found a wide trail that climbed down towards the sea and through a foot tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel, we were right beside the rough rock and crashing waves. Climbing between each mini peninsula, my heart was happy. Documenting each ebb and flow, Ryan wanted to borrow my precious camera to take a video, hesitant I let him take it. With my own eyes, I watched a massive wave soak my passion and part livelihood. Ryan Wix, you did not just let that happen.