Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tues, Apr 28, 2009: Salsa!

((Haha... in this blog, I talk about it being fun to be lead around by men in salsa dancing... exactly the opposite of what I wrote a bit ago! This amuses me...)).

* * * *

Since moving to this side of town, I have seen a couple of foxes trotting around the neighborhood. They usually appear when it's too dark out for me to get a good look at them. This morning as I was driving away from my apartment, however, a black fox crossed the street right in front of me, then paused in a neighbor's front yard to stare at me as I passed. I stared right back, wondering if it was the same fox I've been seeing since moving here. The internet wasn't particularly helpful, and I learned that it was probably a red fox with its coat in the black stage of color (red foxes have stages of color?!) or a grey fox. I've never seen a black fox before!

Tonight I went out salsa dancing with one of my friends. It was my first official lesson, aside from what my friend has taught me on a couple of random occasions. If there is one natural talent that my body possesses, it is being able to move rhythmically to music. I loved being lead around by men who know what to do with their body, and somehow manage to signal to me what to do with mine. It's a strange experience for me to be passive, to willingly hand over the reins and give someone else permission to steer. While strange, it was a light-hearted evening of laughter and spinning in circles (or rather, being spun in circles).

I have been spending a great deal of my time going for drives, and now that the sun is out so late I am able to drive into the mountains after work. There has been a good amount of stress and discord in my life lately (and a lot of good things too!) and I worry at times that I am losing my perspective. Yesterday I drove down an intensely twisting road towards Mount Evans. I let my car loose and took the corners fast, laughing as the mountains swiveled around my visual field. I pulled over at one point where the road barely hung on the edge of the mountain and opened my windows to hear the sound of the wind in the trees. The mountains and trees lapped up against me, then poured over me in such powerful waves that I could feel myself swaying even with my eyes closed. All I could manage to tell them was, "I love you too".

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tues, Apr 28, 2009: I Just Wanna Fly...

I've been talking to several of my friends about backpacking this summer. I think most of them are thinking of backpacking along the lines of going out for a weekend, or a week.... As for me, I just want to start walking and never stop. I wonder if part of the reason I am having a hard time finding a job is because I'm not exactly sending the universe clear messages. I told my father last time I was back in CT that I don't want to work - he made some comment like "yeah, neither does anybody". So like... why do we? I don't want a house. I don't want a fancy car. I just want my freedom.

Trying to stuff myself into a regular life for the past 2 years has been like stuffing myself into a tiny cardboard box and attempting to shut the lid. My limbs are sprawling out of the cracks, my head is up my a--, and I can't breathe. My soul feels pinched and squeezed and suffocated. I don't want to participate in the "rat race"... The material desire that we have created for ourselves in this society is not something that I want to be a part of - yes I like being comfortable, but that costs way less than being fancy. This has always been the case throughout my life, and in the past I have dealt with it by creating my own mini-society of friends and family. But I'm not sure that any of my friends and family is ready to run off with a backpack like I want to....

I don't even have all that much debt... but I also don't make much so it won't go away. Can't I like say "debt, debt, go away" and sprinkle some vanishing powder in a circle during a new moon and have it all disappear? That's how life works, right? ...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sun, Apr 26, 2009: Mt. Galbraith Reprise

Today I headed out to Mt. Galbraith with two friends, which provided a very different experience for me than the last time I hiked there.

This time, instead of my soul and ego dialoguing about my broken heart, I spent joyful hours with my friends chatting about whatever came to mind: work, backpacking trips this summer, travel, relationships, projects, being outdoors... everything! I'm not sure what happened to me, but at some point over the past couple of days it's as if a switch was flicked and the light inside of me turned back on. I feel clean inside and good all the way through to my bones. I feel like, instead of sadness and darkness, my body is filled with ME again... and it feels so beautiful to once again be fully possessed of myself.

The rainstorm of coincidences that has moved into my life is still raging full-force, though I don't understand yet what its purpose is or where it's taking me. All I know is I'm enjoying walking in air filled with tiny upside-down reflections of the world around me. I'm still not sure if these are "meaningful" coincidences or just random ones, but my body is literally soaked through by them.

Here's one odd one: when I was first upset over being hurt by the person I used to date, I went on a hike to Mt. Galbraith. I took a picture almost like this one, possibly even in the same spot, of a little holly plant with a mini snow drift thriving in the shade of its leaves. This time, shortly after having the light inside of me illuminated once again, the hollies were bursting with stems of bright yellow little bell flowers. Life is bursting from every crevice in the earth, and it's contagious.

This time, it was my friend who pointed out a single female mule deer as we ate a snack perched atop some rocks that hung off the side of the mountain. This was part of our view from the rocks:

It's so strange to me how the laws of attraction work. I'm not sure if I've been calling to Washington state or if it's been calling to me, but there is something going on between us. Today while hiking we began planning a trip to Washington this summer - a trip that will hopefully include Portland and a drive up to Seattle, camping on the islands along Washington's shore, a rainforest visit, possibly some hiking, and a wine tour in the interior of the state. It's like there is this collective consciousness in the driver's seat of my life at the moment, and I'm growing more and more delighted every day as I discover how many of my friends are in the car with me. At this point, in order to fit everybody it's most likely a bus. :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fri, Apr 24, 2009: Better Every Time...

I have found that every time I go for a bike ride, I am able to see little improvements in my abilities and find success in my growth. It's so nice to find an arena in my life in which I am improving in such a noticeable way - not that I am awesome, but I'm actually comfortable on my bike now, can ascend (small) hills without feeling like my legs are going to fall off, and at the end of my ride actually wish that it wasn't over yet. It feels soooo good!

There is a little path that leads from Golden to Wheat Ridge that I've been practicing on, and each time I go out I am able to ride a little farther and faster. Today I stopped for a bit beside a stream and sat in the shade of a cottonwood tree and watched families walking/running/biking/rollerblading by, playing in the stream, and lounging around in the shade. One young boy and his grandmother stopped, and the boy picked up a stick and attempted to hurl it into the stream. Unfortunately for him, the stick stopped somewhere in the vicinity of my back. I turned around and gave the grandmother an amused grin, and she couldn't hold her laughter back as she told her grandson not to throw sticks near where people are sitting. I love when kids make adults laugh at things they "shouldn't" laugh at.

When I ride my bike, I can't keep this ridiculous glowing grin off my face. I love that it's contagious - most people who I pass grin right back! I. Love. My. Bike.

I will be heading back to Connecticut for a visit once school gets out, through the end of May into the beginning of June (after (hopefully!) a visit to Moab over Memorial Day weekend with my friends!). I can't wait to see all that green grass... and those beautiful trees... and hopefully at least one wicked thunderstorm! I told my parents that we should spend one weekend in New Hampshire so we could hike Mt. Washington, and one in Cape Cod so we could do the bike trail. I have no idea what will happen, but it's gonna be good times for sure!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sat, Apr 11, 2009: Devil's Thumb Ranch

A friend and I headed out yesterday morning to Devil's Thumb Ranch for a day of snowshoeing. It ended up being a day of snow hiking really, which was fine by me - just clipped my snowshoes on my backpack and headed off!

Devil's Thumb Ranch is a 5,000 acre property which seemed mostly geared towards hosting upscale business meetings. They allow the public to use their land for free and have miles and miles of trails, and even more miles of straight wilderness. A stream meanders through the center of the property, which expands into a large meadow surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains.

There are several abandoned structures around the property, and I learned that my friend shares my fascination for abandoned buildings.

We also share the same obsession for naming things. I looked up the snowy hillside that we were hiking and exclaimed, "Oh! A fox!" The fox stopped and stood with his side to us, checking us out for a moment before hopping across the snow and past the old barn. When we reached the point where he crossed the path, we could see his little muddy footprints in the snow. He sat for a bit down the hill from the barn, scoping out his kingdom. We named him Fang.

We continued up and up into the hills, all the while catching greater and more expansive views of the land around us.

There were several rusty car shells scattered about the property, which saddened me more than the abandoned cabins - somehow I find cabins decaying into nature to be a more acceptable process than cars decaying into nature. I think it was around this time that a skiier came up beside us and pointed out a set of moose hoof prints that were following the path we were on.

A bit down the road from the car we came across a neat little abandoned cabin whose structure was in various stages of decay.

As we were walking out of the cabin, we heard the piercing cry of a hawk. Looking around the sky we noticed 3 of them circling and weaving above the treetops. I think that in this hike I crossed paths with the animate side of nature more than in any other I've done out here. It was really amazing to see the fox, and I realized that I have missed seeing them since moving from Wheat Ridge (there was a den of foxes near my old apartment).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tues, Apr 7, 2009: Trip Map and Thoughts...

Here is a map of my trip! The purple line is my trip to Big Sur and the blue line is my return trip.

I feel strange today, and so completely disconnected from my life here. I almost drove past my exit to work this morning, forgot the password to my computer, and spent the whole day in awe of how fast everything is moving around me. I don't feel disconnected from people or my friends at all, just the more mundane elements. This morning I woke up and realized I had to go to work. I didn't want to get up. Then I realized that despite getting up with the sunrise all week during my vacation, I never once greeted any morning with a feeling of disappointment that I had to go out into the world. Instead, I greeted every morning with happiness and excitement to be a part of the world. I thought about the time I spent living outside and realized that I greeted every day with happy anticipation during those seasons as well. Nobody should wake up and not want to get out of bed in the morning... and this is coming from a person who loves and feels fulfilled by her job. I can't imagine living as someone who can't stand going to work.

My brain changed over my vacation and I didn't realize it until I tried to function in my normal life this morning. My brain felt so stimulated and awake, my body felt so alive, and my soul hasn't felt so close to my thoughts and actions in a long time. Today, I could feel the new strangeness to my brain as I attempted to perform my normal job functions like answering my phone and writing an email. The cycles and patterns of "everyday" were broken and being applied to a brain still filled with grass and wildflowers, trees and sparkling ocean waves. My brain didn't resist performing the activities exactly, but it was taken aback in the vein of "woah, what's that ringing of the phone I hear?".

It was interesting feeling the changes in my brain throughout my day, but it made me sad at the same time because I know they will fade with time as I fall back into the routines of "everyday". How can I keep my brain in that wonderfully awake and alive state? I remember facing this struggle when I returned from living outside... I want to keep facing it, because it reminds me to concern myself with where I am and what I'm doing, versus where I want to be and what I want to be doing. If I ever stop facing this struggle it will mean one of two things: that I am doing exactly as I please without restrictions, or that I have truly turned into an "everyday" zombie. I'd prefer the former!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sat, Apr 4 and Sun, Apr 5, 2009: - Big Sur, Part 4

Day 7: Saturday, April 4 - Big Sur to Ely, NV
The biker I spoke to last night mentioned that Route 50 might be an interesting road to take home. It's called the "Loneliest Road in America". I woke up excited to see it!

I packed up my camp to the sight of frost covering the grass and some of the beautiful purple flowers that grew along the edges of the campsites. I felt sad to leave the eucalyptus grove and the song of the ocean.

I picked up Route 50 in Sacramento and at its origin was a sign declaring that it was 3,073 miles to Ocean City, MD. This struck me as an odd coincidence as I had just been thinking about a friend from college and Ocean City is one of the places we visited when I went home with her one summer.

Route 50 took me up into the mountains and past many people parked along the street near the heads of hiking trails. Once again, I wished that I had months to make this trip instead of days! I longed to have the adventures I was passing by. The drive was beautiful, with thick bright green moss growing on the bark of the pine trees and a river running beside the road. I passed through the woods, rocked back and forth by the bends in the road, and came to Lake Tahoe:

The town of South Lake Tahoe was a little crazy to travel through due to a ton of traffic and a car accident closing one lane of the road, but everything cleared up outside of the town and I was happy to have freedom on the road.

As 50 tumbled down from the mountains, the landscape quickly changed from massive pines and water to sand dunes and tumbleweed. In Carson City Nevada, John Mayer sang to me "I know the heart of life is good". I know it is too.

The road wound through small towns for a while, and finally... fiiiiinally... cleared out until I was the only car speeding across this flat desolate space of desert. It was wonderful! I could see sand dunes and snowy mountain peaks in one view. The hills were long and seemed never-ending, and I thought of the biker who had crossed the country on this road. I can't imagine biking up those hills...!

I enjoyed this journey across the state much more than seeing it from I-80. The sunset was soft and peaceful, and the white peaks of the snowy mountains reflected the twilight long after the sun itself had disappeared into the mountains behind me.

I stayed in a little town called Ely on the eastern side of Nevada. Motel rooms were pretty inexpensive as it was their off-season, so I headed into a civilized room... and took a shower... and slept in a bed. As I lay in bed with my eyes closed, waiting for sleep to overcome me, I wondered why it didn't seem able to find me. Then I realized what was missing: the lull of the waves crashing beneath me. Also, it felt really strange to be clean!

* * * *

Day 8: Sunday, April 5 - Ely, NV to Golden, CO
As I checked out of my motel room, I noticed that a sign on the store across the street from me said "Happy, Joyous & Free". I like that.

I was obsessed with the idea of having an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, and was totally psyched to find a McDonald's less than a mile down the road.

I passed by many more sights that I would have loved to explore: charcoal ovens, earthquake faults, sand dunes, archaeological sites... I wished I could have seen them all!

Nevada is starkly, uncompromisingly beautiful. It's little more than deserts and mountains and challenges you to take it or leave it, not caring which one you choose. It has far bigger matters to attend to - like nurturing tenuous desert life, painting clouds and colors across the sky, watching the migrations of herds.

I joined I-70 at its point of origin and followed it through eastern Utah. I loved eastern Utah! The deserts and mountains gave way to canyons and buttes and amazing rock formations.

At some point during this journey, I realized something odd: the idea of heading back to Colorado put a little smile on my face. I've left Colorado many times and returned again since moving here, and I would never describe my returns as happy events; it's always been more like "well, here I go back to Colorado". But not this time. This time, the little smile on my face had nothing to do with an effort or any thought beyond the fact that I was returning to Colorado. Perhaps it was a result of the excitement I feel about the adventures I look forward to having with my friends this summer. Perhaps it's due to adventures I plan to have on my own. In any event, something inside of me felt deeply satisfied to know that returning to to this desert mountain state brought me reflexive happiness, the kind I didn't have to think about.

I was hoping the approach to the Rockies would be as grand from the western side as it is from the eastern side, but instead of views of 14,000 foot peaks I saw low snowy mesas.

I realized that I felt more like myself than I have since perhaps before I moved out here. I felt awake and alive and centered. The trip had completely removed me from the "real world", and it was refreshing to live outside of it again for a time. (I spent 2 summers living in a tent with friends in 2002 and 2003, and have always wanted to return to that experience). I wonder if, once you have been removed from the real world, it's easier to remove yourself from it once again. I was only gone for a few days, but it felt much longer. I deeply enjoy having experiences that are outside the realm of normal life, and meeting people who live outside of normal - such as the biker I conversed with my last night at the campground. I miss being around people who live life in a different way.

It began snowing around Avon, CO, and snowed on and off all the way back down the mountain. I didn't run into any of the ski traffic I thought I would meet, but the drive was a bit slow because of the weather. It feels odd to be back.

I hiked, biked, climbed, explored, relaxed and lost myself in the waves, the wind, the sun, and sand. I crossed the desert and mountains, overcame fear and worry, and challenged myself. And I did it all with a dirty body, cute hat on my head, little backpack on my back, and a smile on my face.

Thurs, Apr 2 and Fri, Apr 3, 2009 - Big Sur, Part 3

Day 5: Thursday, April 2 - Big Sur
I started off my morning with a bike ride down Route 1, which wouldn't have been a good idea except for the fact that it was so early there was no traffic. I was surprised by the lack of a bike path running along the road, but apparently Route 1 *is* the bike path...! It was so peaceful feeling the cool wind against my body, and the only sounds were my tires on the road and the ocean waves breaking beside me.

I headed off to Sand Dollar Beach, which is one of the few popular soft sand beaches in the Big Sur area.

After wandering around on the bluffs for a while, I finally found the staircase that takes you down to the beach.

The ocean is very playful (sometimes it's more gentle than others...!), and I got caught up in its playful spirit. I hopped and danced down the beach, stepping on little bladders of seaweed and popping them like bubble wrap - only better, because it's natural!

The beach was completely void of shells and its namesake sand dollars, which made me sad because I really wanted to bring home a sand dollar! I wished that I would find one, and about 20 yards up the beach I finally spotted my first one. It was cracked, but I kept my eyes peeled and found a whole one! When I held it up to the sun there was a dark patch inside of it, which made me wonder if there was a creature inside of it. This was disappointing as I didn't want to kill a creature and would have to leave it at the beach. I washed it out in a little tide pool, and it turns out the dark shadow was caused only by a buildup of sand inside the sand dollar. Hooray, I got to keep it!!

The tide pools were similar to those I'd explored at Garrapata State Park, with one difference: these had anemones in them! This one was the most colorful, with arms that ranged from pink to purple, and green to yellow:

This is me on the beach!

There were some really neat tidal caves that I poked into. Most of them didn't go back very far, and it was strange to experience this wet world full of darkness and musty old seaweed.

These beautiful succulent plants lived all along the coast, and their red-tipped arms lent strong color to the scenery:

I wanted to go for another long-ish hike and decided to head up to Andrew Molera State Park, a route that would take me past the Forest Service station again. This was a good thing as my camera batteries were dying and I hoped the ranger would let me charge them. He did. :)

Andrew Molera State Park held the hikes that the ranger told me I'd have to cross the river to reach, so I was psyched about exploring there! The river looked deeper than I'd expected and was very rocky at the bottom, so I rolled up my pants as high as they could go (they ended up looking like daisy dukes...) and passed through the water. Woo hoo! I rubbed my feet in the soft sand on the other side and hung out for a few minutes while they dried. Reacquainting my feet with my hiking boots, I took off across a beautiful green field...

... which in turn lead me to an even bigger beautiful field:

Somewhere near this time, I was approached by a woman and her son asking me where the Bluffs Trail was. I took out my map and showed them, happy to be useful. The woman seemed like she wanted me to say "turn left here and right at this big forked tree", which I couldn't do as I had never visited the park before, but she did appreciate the "just keep going straight and it will be on your left after the Ridge Trail" that I was able to give her. Her son was funny: he looked like he was totally embarrassed by her. Hehe. :)

The fields lead to the beach, which was rocky and extremely windy. I stayed and got sandblasted for a while for a chance to stand in its beauty:

I took the Bluff Trail as well, deciding to do the big hike even though there were clouds blowing in parallel to the shore. I figured as long as I didn't see lightning I was ok.... And it was completely worth it (especially since I didn't get struck by lightning).

Around this time, I ran into the woman and her son again, traveling in the opposite direction as me (a couple of the trails met up and made a big loop). The woman asked if I was traveling alone, and told me she thought I was brave. She also said she liked my hat. :) I spent some time thinking about being called brave: it seems to me like it's only bravery if you think it's scary in the first place. It did take a certain amount of letting go, though, of the fears I've been conditioned to have. It was a nice compliment, and the encounter left me feeling happy with myself and grateful to her.

Here is the view to the north. You can see the river I crossed winding through the trees:

The trail took me back down the ridge across soft grassy hills, and the storm maintained its distance just off the shore. I did feel 4 little drops of rain on my face at one point, and stopped in the middle of the trail to bust out some dance moves. That was the only precipitation I experienced the whole time I was there.

As I was walking down the hills, I realized that my belly button was feeling sore. I joked with myself at first and said I must be using my belly button muscles... then I realized hey, it's really hurting me. And I looked down... and there was a TICK IN MY BELLY BUTTON.... I could see its legs and the back of its body sticking out. I brought tweezers with me but left them in the car, and it was all I could do to keep myself from running directly to retrieve them. Instead, I made myself stop freaking out and hiked the rest of the way back like a normal person. I crossed the river again like a normal person and reached my car with a sigh of relief - then did "tick removal surgery" in front of my car for all of Route 1 to observe. I didn't even care who saw me, I just wanted the thing out! It didn't look like it had taken much blood and I wondered it maybe it had just attached during one of my hikes that day. I'm still nervous that I might get sick from the bite, but I did some research and it sounds like getting sick from tick bites is pretty rare, especially if it had just barely begun to feast on my blood.

So that's the story of the river crossing, 4 rain drops, and my first tick bite ever.

Later that night, when I was dead asleep, I heard "bang!bang!bang!" on the walls of my tent... or as close to a "bang!" sound as a tent can make. It happened again, "bang!bang!bang!" and I said "WHAT?!" A voice said, "What state are you from?", to which I answered "...what?" and he repeated himself. It turns out it was the camp host (who never announced himself as such, which I think is an incredibly disrespectful thing to do to anyone and especially to a solo camper...) trying to make sure I wasn't ripping the camp off. I wasn't, but apparently some other car with CO plates was. I was terrified and wide-awake for what felt like hours (it was probably more like 10 minutes...), afraid that he would come back and scare me again, or worse that it was a camper posing as the camp host and determining that I was truly alone so they could come back and hurt me.... Then I reigned in my imagination, talked some sense into my head, and pretended that I was sleeping back-to-back with some big protective spirit who wouldn't let anything mess with me.

* * * *

Day 6: Friday, April 3 - Big Sur
I woke up on Friday wondering how to spend my last day in California. I seriously considered going for one last hike, but this little voice inside of me asked "Can't we please slack off today? It would be so relaxing...". So that's what I did!

I drove back down to Secret Beach, the unmarked beach I had visited on the second day of my trip, as I knew I would really miss the peace of this place.

On my way down to the water, I saw several big white birds. I have no idea what they are called, but they were very cautious and graceful:

There was a stream flowing out to the ocean which I hadn't crossed during my first visit. I did cross it this time and ran along the beach playing tag with the waves, looking for pretty rocks and watching the white ocean spray hurl itself against the rocks.

This place felt so good to me, and I created a "picture" for the driftwood hut using stones and sticks. I am so thankful to that beach for putting me in such a state of peace.

The next peaceful stop of my day was the McWay Waterfall at the Julia Pfeifer Burns State Park. The little cove that held the waterfall was so beautiful and fit the picture in my imagination of what a little tropical beach must look like (I've never actually been to a tropical beach!).

It's funny to experience the way that different people's energy feels when you meet them. There was a man walking around the waterfall area and his energy felt like he was trying to attract me. I usually like it when random people come up to me and start chatting, but with this man it bothered me. His attempts to attract me made me wish he would leave me alone, which he did eventually when I left.

I headed down to this old cave called Pardington Point which had been built for the smuggling of goods about a hundred years earlier.

When I emerged from the tunnel, I found myself faced with about 10 tourists, which was way too many people! I hung out for a bit and enjoyed the view, but wasn't too sad about turning around to leave.

My lazy day took me back to the campground, where I read at my picnic table and enjoyed the view while being bathed in the scent of eucalyptus and the sound of waves crashing on the bluffs below. The air was much colder due to whatever front blew by yesterday while I was up at Andrew Molera State Park, but the sun was nice and warm and made it pleasant to sit and relax outside. I spent a lot of time thinking, as I tend to do in such places.

I realized that Colorado has a lot of triangles and pyramids and straight lines in its landscape, while California had all of that plus spheres and circles and cylinders, ovals and squares, and I was grateful for the chance to see so many different curves and shadows.

There was a lot of "fording" or "crossing" during my trip - crossing land that I've never driven across, crossing mountains and deserts, crossing physical and emotional hurdles, even physically crossing the river. This crossing is all in search of myself, in search of a dream, in search of the life that I want to live and bringing myself closer to that.

I'm a pioneer spirit who was born at least 600 years too late (and probably the wrong gender).

A few hours later, a man walked into my camp and introduced himself. Unlike the energy of the man earlier in the day, this man's energy was great and just said "here I am!". We chatted for a while and he told me about his biking adventures. He took a train out from the Denver area (he lives out here) to Sacramento and had spent the past 10 days biking from Sacramento to where we were standing. His plan was to head down to San Diego, then back up to Colorado and through the Tetons and Yellowstone up to Montana over the summer. I was in awe of this man (he's biked across the country too and on many other journeys, and used to spend a lot of time backpacking when he was younger). He asked me about my trip, and then told me that I am a "different sort", which I took as a big compliment. Hearing about his adventures made me all that much more excited to continue to have my own!

He came back again later to get some water (I had offered him as much of my water as he wanted to take, as I would be leaving and wouldn't need it) and we ended up chatting again. He told me that he admired me for being out and making this trip on my own, which again I took as a huge compliment coming from someone who's had so many adventures. I encouraged him to tell me more about his travels, and he started off with a story involving a couple from Holland who was biking from the very southern tip of South America up to Alaska. I completely freaked out in my head, because I told the guy I used to date that we should do that, and that memory tainted the idea for me because it made me sad. Now I have something else to associate the idea with! The biker said he was actually planning on making that journey himself this year, but wasn't able to due to some family issues that arose. He has a travel blog and gave me his card; I told him I do too but my travels are nowhere near as grand as his.

He said, "no, no, don't say that. Never diminish your experiences". He said he is impressed by how comfortable I am in my skin. That made me smile.

It's funny how connecting with another person makes me feel so alive inside. I had been freezing cold, and during the conversation I completely forgot about the temperature and was just focused on him and our exchange. I am so thankful to have met this amazing person who was so happy to share his adventures with me and ask me about mine. The entire encounter was very encouraging and uplifting.

My last sunset of the trip was gentle and unassumingly beautiful:

Tues, Mar 31 and Weds, Apr 1, 2009 - Big Sur, Part 2

Day 3: Tuesday, March 31 - Big Sur
I woke up so nice and toasty in my sleeping bag that I didn't want to get up, but the urge to explore this new place quickly overtook my laziness and I enjoyed a quick breakfast while gazing at the silvery pale morning ocean.

I went for a very quick (15 second long) walk down a little path in front of my campsite for another view of the shoreline:

I drove up to Big Sur to visit the Forest Service station and get some hiking maps. The views along the drive were so beautiful, and I couldn't believe how lush the hills were:

I was very worried that I wouldn't be able to stay at the campsite where I slept the night before, since it was pretty crowded and I hadn't made reservations. As I approached the Forest Service station, I finally got cell phone service and called the campground management company. They said it was no problem, just pay every morning before I head off hiking and I'll be all set. A huge weight lifted from my shoulders - I had been hesitant to fall in love with the campsite (though it happened without me trying...), but now that I knew it was really mine for the next 4 days I was filled with joy and gratitude!

The ranger at the station informed me that the Ventana Wilderness east of Rt. 1 was closed to the public due to a big fire in the area this past summer. I was disappointed as there were tons of great hikes in that area, but he told me about 2 wilderness areas just north of it (Garrapata State Park), and to the south (Silver Peaks Wilderness) that were open - hooray! I got some maps and he told me about some good long hikes I could take, both along the coast and in the hills. He even told me about one that I would need to cross a river to reach - that sounded awesome! But for the day, I decided to head to Garrapata State Park, as I was already fairly close to it and was ready for a long hike.

The park, like many parks in the area, was divided into an east and west side by Route 1. I started off on the west side and hiked around the bluffs overlooking the wild ocean.

There was so much poison oak that it prompted me to start making poison oak jokes in the same vein as my "California is so flammable" jokes. (I do recognize that people have lost their lives in these fires, which is obviously not a laughing matter. I attempted to instill in myself an appropriate spirit of reverence, but the jokes kept coming out...). If you remove all the poison oak along the Big Sur coastline, the entire state of California will lose half its weight in plant matter... seriously.... It more than makes up for it in wildflowers though, and I wound through fields of every color: purple, yellow, white, coral, red, blue.... At every turn I was swept away by the beauty of this place.

The path wound around the rocky cliffs, and I found myself yearning to touch the water, even just to put a finger in it.... So I did what any curious person would do and made my way down the cliffs to the ocean, throwing off the voice of "what are you going to do if you fall or break your neck?" inside of me and instead deciding that I just wouldn't fall or break my neck!

That tiny rocky beach offered me the only seashells I found my entire trip. The little tide pools sheltered among the rocks were alive with muscles and barnacles, but not much else. I climbed over the rocks, surrounded by the whirring wings of the sand fleas as they left their meal of giant sea kelp and descended again after I had passed. My face spread into a wide grin as I stuck my hand in the water. It was entirely worth the climb down the cliffs.

I could hear sea lions calling on the rocks just beyond me, but decided to make my way back up the cliffs in favor of disturbing them.

There was a beautiful hillside to climb right near the water, and I stopped to eat an apple and gaze at the ocean while a breeze cooled my skin, warmed by the sunlight washing over me. The hill was about 800 feet high, which was plenty high enough to give me a beautiful view to enjoy.

Having toured the paths on the west side of the road, I crossed Route 1 and headed up into the hills on the east side. I was greeted by a huge field of wildflowers, which set the stage for the rest of my hike:

I felt like I was in Jurassic Park the entire time I was on the coast, but in this park especially. The diversity of plant life was amazing and ranged from enormous cacti populating the hillsides: horsetail ferns, which have been around since the age of dinosaurs: massive redwood trees:

Try to imagine the tallest tree you've ever seen. Now double it. That gives you roughly an idea of how tall these were, unless the tallest tree you've seen is a redwood. Then you know exactly how majestic and humbling an experience it is to see one.

The path, which had run alongside a stream in a little canyon, turned upwards and started climbing the flowery hillsides.

There were lizards all over the place, sunning themselves on rocks or along the path. A couple of them began doing push-ups in what I assume was an attempt to intimidate me. One particularly large lizard did this, prompting me to get down on my hands and knees so that I was eye level with him. The next time he did push-ups, I said "one-two! one-two! one-two!" He stopped and eyed me suspiciously, then started up again. So I called "one-two! one-two!" He stopped and stared again and I looked at him like "wut" and we stayed there eyeing each other for a bit. Then I explained to him that he should move off the path so I wouldn't smush him and gently shooed him away with the shadow of my hand.

At this point, surrounded by all of this overwhelming beauty, I felt overcome by a heavy wave of despair that left me gasping for air as I fought against tears and tried to breathe at the same time. I sat down in the middle of the trail (luckily it was totally deserted), among the sun and beautiful fields of wildflowers, among bees and butterflies hovering around me, and cried. I cried over my ex, over being alone and having nobody to share this amazing experience with, I cried just to shake the sadness that's been suffocating me since the break-up in February. I wished that it was a snake skin so I could rub it off and watch as it was wisked away in the breeze. I cried because I felt sorry for myself... in the middle of paradise, I actually felt sorry for myself. The wave of sadness passed, as such things tend to do, and I dusted myself off to face the rest of the hillside. I decided I didn't want to feel sorry for myself anymore and lost myself once again in the breathtaking beauty of this place.

What I'm looking for isn't a place that I can travel to, or a thing that I can do. It's a melding of hearts, and it's all I want to find.

The view from the summit was beautiful: rolling green hills and bright cheerful flowers leading down in soft v's to the flat blue of the ocean. I met up with a group of elderly hikers and became part of their number for a bit (I was trying to pass them but there were so many!). They joked that this mountain was the mountain of youth, and by the time I got to the bottom I'd be in kindergarten. I was happy to share a laugh with them, and admired their calm dedication to their hike. I hope I'm doing things like that when I'm 60, 70, 80....

California has so much poison oak, the poison oak plants have their own biome.

I hiked about 11 miles that afternoon and was proud of myself for making it. The hillside was so incredibly steep going up! At one point, the journey was more an emotional than physical one, with the greatest challenges lying inside of my own mind and heart. Since the breakup, I have felt like his message to me was that I wasn't "enough" for him: it was about what he perceived I am not, what I am lacking. I really internalized that, but this trip made me realize that I was doing so. And I realized that I was allowing myself to be defined by this negativity, allowing myself to be reduced and restrained by it.

Sometimes 99% of the challenge in solving a problem is defining it. Once you know what you're facing, then facing it is the easy part. As soon as I realized this is what was going on inside of me, that this negativity is what I had internalized, I was able to free myself from it. I felt absolutely triumphant to define myself not by what I'm lacking in another's eyes, but what I AM in an absolute sense. I overcame the sadness that brought me down and became completely present on those beautiful hillsides. This theme of throwing off others' perceptions of what I am not, and finding myself strong in what I am, continued throughout my trip. It felt really, really good.

I returned to my campsite, mulling these thoughts over in my head during the deliciously curvy drive down. The ocean waves and eucalyptus embraced me as I started a fire and made my dinner. My fire made me laugh a little - I used firewood that I brought from Colorado and kindling from my campsite in California. Two of the most flammable states in the country... if I couldn't start a fire using those components, I would write myself off as hopeless!

Since I knew I would be staying at this campsite, I allowed myself to fall in love with it.

I walked up to my car at one point during the sunset and ran into an Australian RV camper who I had chatted with earlier that evening. We talked a bit, and at one point she asked if I was sleeping in a tent and said she and her husband were worried about me. She seemed reassured when I said that I had a tent, and it warmed my heart to know that a kind stranger had actually spent a couple of moments thinking about me. It feels nice to be thought of.

Returning to my campsite, I took in the sight of the waves in the waning twilight glow. My fire crackled next to me, and over its quiet rustlings washed the song of ocean waves breaking over gray shadows of rocks and cliffs in the sea. The moon hung high above the sun, above the sunset wash and over the fog, in a quiet area of the sky that had already settled into night. The stars were amazing and Orion hung tall and proud, the dominant figure of the sky. I lay on my picnic table and sang "Satellite" to a passing satellite weaving slowly between the stars.

* * * *

Day 4: Wednesday, April 1 - Big Sur
I woke up to another morning of dampness, my clothes cold and clammy in the early morning air. Having dampness around me was an odd experience after living in Colorado for almost 2 years, because it's so dry there! I sat for a moment and just touched the thin layer of wet air that had settled onto my clothes, amazed by its presence.

Happy April Fool's Day! I decided to call my sister to tell her that I saw Val Kilmer (har de har) but luckily for her I didn't have cell phone service. I did, however, see a pirate at a gas station - I mean, this guy looked like the real deal. He had a big knife strapped across the chest of his white blouse, a heavy long leather coat that hung to mid-thigh, high leather boots, and a cane.

After the very physical and emotional day that I had the day before, I decided I wanted to be gentle with myself on this day and check out some more "touristy" stuff. I began my drive down the coast until I felt an urge to pull over into what was barely a turnoff area, marked only by a metal gate. I got out of my car, wondering why I felt the need to stop here, and noticed a path crossing the land west of Route 1. It looked like it headed to the ocean, and I hadn't yet visited a soft sandy beach here, so I figured why not? I packed my backpack and headed off.

I walked slowly through a field of bright yellow flowers and came to a massive tree:

Note the presence of my backpack to help give perspective! The underside of the branches was all cleared out, and it felt like a magical shady little place of peace. I thought this was great and couldn't get much better... until I arrived at the beach and saw the driftwood hut:

The hut felt like this massive benevolent presence on the beach, like a big friendly spirit watching over the place. It felt like part of the beach, not just an accessory but more like something made of the very bones of the beach itself. In front of the hut was a "garden" made of driftwood and cairns. I walked to the hut and sat inside of its powerful presence, watching massive plumes of sea spray climb the rocks in front of me as the waves crashed in towards the shore.

It's been a long, long time since I have felt so completely whole, peaceful, and grounded as I did when I was sitting in that hut. The feelings were a wonderful gift, for which I expressed gratitude by adding another cairn to the garden.

After a few hours, I continued down the road towards an elephant seal rookery. I couldn't believe how many seals there were, and how close I was to them!

They were amazing to see. They snorted, trumpeted, and made some interesting sounds that reminded me of Jabba the Hut. The ones who trumpeted were the ones in the water, calling to the others to play with them in the waves. They touched noses with each other, flopped on each other to lay in the sun, flipped sand on their backs and the backs of any seals downwind from them, and inched and rolled across the sand like giant caterpillars. Some adult males began biting at the little ones, and the little ones revolted by starting their own safe little baby colony. The most startling thing I saw them do was use their flippers like little hands to scratch their skin. Their flippers look like they have 5 long bones running through them, just like human hands, and they looked oddly like human hands as they scratched their bellies, under their flippers, and along their chins. Their antics cracked me up more than once, and I gave myself over to silly laughter. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart for sharing their playfulness, then traveled on.

The further south I traveled along the coast, the more flat the land became and the more civilization surrounded me. My next stop was Hearst Castle, which seemed so strangely civilized after just 2 nights of camping that it took me aback. The air on the castle grounds was permeated by the scent of orange blossoms and I filled my lungs with the beautiful smell as much as I could (I'm surprised I didn't hyperventilate...).

There were many pieces of sculpture from ancient civilizations, as well as by renaissance artists. There is a bronze by Donatello perched on top of this fountain in front of the guest house:

Some of the sculptures along the pediment of this temple facade are from ancient temples, including the figure of Neptune:

And here's the castle itself:

I had a fierce craving for pizza so stopped at a little restaurant near Big Sur. The pizza tasted exactly like pizza flavored Goldfish crackers and totally hit the spot.

The ocean along this area of the coast always seems to have a haze of fog over it, and I got the impression that I couldn't see very far out into it. Every evening, the sun would sink into the fog without much of a show of color: there were no clouds to reflect its light, and the fog just sort of absorbed the whole affair. The whole horizon line would turn a washed out and grayed shade of peach, and every sunset was beautiful in its quiet serenity.