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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

DRIVING THE PACIFIC COASTLINE FROM MONTEREY TO LOS ANGELES

Into the trunk of my stale-hadn't-been-driven-in-4-days, brake-challenged, 100,000-mile-plus Acura, I loaded my overstuffed overnight bag, my laptop, and the decidedly un-me black nylon backpack with the Adobe logo stamped in white across the back pouch, one of several giveaways from the just concluded conference I attended last week in rain-soaked Monterey. The combination of losing an hour the night before to Daylight Saving Time, an hour I rarely have use for but on this day really would have liked to have had back, and having endured days of presentations by software designers, photographers, and graphic artists had rendered me dazed, weak and surely vulnerable to attack. I felt nervous but too tired to do anything about it. When I first received the invitation months ago, it seemed like such a good idea. And it was. I learned a lot, had some fun and most likely improved my chances of accomplishing some as yet undefined future goal. These events are like an investment that you hope will pay off someday. The thing is that when you sign up you never picture yourself being exhausted, hungry and caffeine deprived, heaving luggage into a musty sedan on a rainy Sunday hoping that this isn't the day the brake pads finally wear down to nothing and that this isn't the day that you fall asleep at the wheel.

I just wanted to get home.

335 miles separated me from my wife, a cheese omelette, a pile of mail and my couch. Six hours. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I knew I had at least one thing going for me. One thing that I knew would keep me alert and awake and interested and happy. Because for the first hundred miles or so I'd be enjoying one of earth's greater pleasures, one that not everyone is lucky enough to experience, but one I now looked forward to with bleary-eyed anticipation.

Driving the Pacific coastline from Monterey to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles is truly a test of one's talents and skills. It's not just about driving. Yes, the road curves and rises and banks and sinks and winds and dips, and yes, there is just one lane for each direction and no passing is the rule. But if it were just a matter of properly executing a series of turns, the drive would be little challenge and no fun at all, the real world equivilant of the Greg vs. Marcia Behemoth Convertible Driving Contest of 1974. It's when you add to the mix the astounding variety and seemingly endless parade of earth's most beautiful tricks that you grasp the full nature of what this route is about. Breathtaking vistas, saltwater sprays, cool ocean breezes conspire to distract you from the mechanical requirements of the drive. Look, yes. How can you not? But don't get so distracted that you delay the return of your attention to the road ahead. That's the buzz.

Monterey behind me, I glided through Carmel-By-The-Sea, through Big Sur, surrounded by the huge, lush greenery that canopied around me. The sun hadn't yet crested the horizon, but the pre-dawn blue mixed with the mist to create a glow that illuminated everything. Around a curve the ocean surged below, crashing against massive crags. The passenger side window whirred down and I slowed to a crawl just so I could hear the waves smashing into the rock. When I did, a rush of salty moisture poured into the car, fogging the glass and curling my hair.

Past Big Sur and the State Parks – Molera, Pfeiffer, John Little, Limekiln – cliff after cliff, cranny after cranny, vista after vista, turn after turn. Farms with cows feeding right up to the beach. The struggle was to not turn into every turnout, park the car and get out to take a better look at the ocean. Pick and choose a few to photograph but too easily giving into that temptation would keep me from home for at least another day.

As the road dipped down and bottomed out between two mountains, a quick peek to the left revealed waterfalls cascading into creeks that wash into the sea. At first I thought they were caves because of how they carved out a dark void in the woods, but then I saw the white water gushing out of the earth.

Before San Simeon, with the mountains behind me, the road straightened out. Up ahead a beach. Something moving? Seals. I stopped and took some more photos.

Proceeding south past Santa Barbara and Ventura, the coastline stretched farther and farther away from the road until the 101 splits from the 1 in pursuit of the great populace of Thousand Oaks, Agoura, Encino, Glendale, and finally Los Angeles. Home.

Click here to see the big picture.



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