I’m not really one for writing how-to pieces, especially when it comes to advice on roaming such a complicated, yet awe-inspiring place as Big Sur. Everyone has their own budget, preferred routes, and different jumping-off points. To recommend something to one could mean entirely something else to another. So instead, I’m providing (and conceivably suggesting) how I trekked what is arguably one of North America’s greatest scenic destinations.
I come here a lot. Well, as often as I can anyway. Throughout my travels here I’ve realized that there are different ways to encounter the Central coast and different people who encounter it. It’s the same place that lured Kerouac, Miller, Steinbeck and Wells. But it’s not just the literary giants who’ve made their mark here. There’s the bare-bones outdoor enthusiast, the car-hermit, the hiker, the hippie, the surfer and the ones who are just happy to pass through.
All of them though are presumably drawn by the intense spectrum of blue waters ranging from periwinkle to turquoise and Kentucky to cyan. They marvel at the way the craggy cliff sides draw frothy heaps of water from the crashing swells. The wildlife, the big trees and the incredible power of Mother Nature all take us away from the frivolity of everyday life and transport us instead to a place where time escapes us. That’s essentially what Big Sur does to all that encounter it. My experience has been nothing less.
Unfortunately, this was a solo trip for me. I used to be anxious and captivated by solo travel. The nomadic appeal of just “going” used to fuel me in a selfish, yet invigorating way. But the moment I was able to see Sammy’s face the first time she climbed the Sierra range, witnessed a bear up close, played in a snowstorm or watched a whale breach the ocean along the Channel Islands, I saw these places in a different light. To see them in the form of another human reaction is to see these spaces as they were meant to be seen. Next time, I’ll revisit Big Sur when Sammy is not traveling for work, but instead traveling for purpose with me.
Santa Monica is roughly 280 miles south of Big Sur via highway 101 and eventually coveted highway 1. Gas is your biggest enemy here and quickly it became mine. If you are in the position to do so, I recommend getting a gas card and using it for the two to three fill ups needed. You’ll actually build your credit score by ten points just for opening it and if you use it sparingly, you can pay it off as soon as you return home. Whatever you do though, fill up before you get to Cambria. If you take the 46 from Paso Robles, fill up there regardless of how low your tank is. If you’re already on Hwy 1, you’ll still want to fill up before Cambria. Gas prices jump by at least $.50 there and several dollars more in Big Sur. There are several websites that show you the lowest gas prices in your area. Gasbuddy is a pretty reliable one.
To cut back on costs and take advantage of the weather this past weekend, I decided to use my car for lodging. Doing that, I only spent $22.00 for a campsite and had a front row seat to a sunrise and sunset rivaled by few places on earth. I have all the equipment that made my accommodation cheap and possible, but if you don’t, have no fear. Chances are you have a friend who has the necessary gear. Facebook all your friends with what you need and in no time, you too will have your sleeping bag, crash pad and other essential camping items. I happen to have a SUV and that saved me a bunch of time setting up a tent and tearing it down. It also kept me warmer at night, but by no means is it necessary to sleep in your car. A tent is perfect in Big Sur.
When it comes to food, don’t over or under do it. Salvage whatever you can from home and try to avoid buying packaged foods from gas stations. What you can grab from gas stations however, are the free condiments like non-perishable creamers, salt, pepper, napkins and utensils. These come in very handy and cost you nothing. Because of my fractured ankle and time frame, I wasn’t going to any hike-in campsites, so the weight of my food was a non-issue. Canned goods, fruit, oatmeal, instant coffee and wine were luckily lying around my house so I packed them. Again, I have a small portable stove so it was easy to quickly cook my meals. If you can’t round up a portable stove from one of your friends, most camp sites have designated fire pits where you can cook over an open flame.
Drink a lot of water. It not only hydrates you, but it also fills you up. It’s a long drive and if you aren’t drinking a lot of water, then you tend to snack on food you’ll most likely get on your way up. The bottom line is not to give in to the odd notion of overeating when you travel. The other items you’ll need, but often overlook are plastic bags (for garbage), paper towels (for cleaning pots and spills), and Ziploc bags (for reclaiming leftovers and open containers). Here’s a checklist of everything I brought up this weekend:
Small propane container
canvas cooler (to pack the food in)
Once everything is in order, the last thing left to do is enjoy it all. The whole point of this little rundown was to simplify the process for you so that you have more time to enjoy this unbelievable place. (Oh yeah, don’t forget to go to Pfeiffer Beach while you are there. Your kirk creek camp voucher gets you in for free). When you see the millions of stars above you or watch a whale and her calf breach the waters below you, you will understand what I mean.