So there I was, happy to be escaping The Way to San Jose. Settling into a respectful space between the legs of six or so other hitchhikers who had been lucky enough to scramble into the back of an empty utility van that had been daring enough to pull over for a long line of desperate hippies. Exchanging howdy-dos and where-are-ya-headings. We petted the dog someone was traveling with and listened to where the driver and his buddy were headed.
To my delight they were headed all the way to Los Angeles and, sure, they’d be glad to pull off at the Sunset Boulevard exit to drop me off. Music to the ears of any hitch hiker with a destination — a ride straight through.
But then came the two warnings.
First, they were in a hurry. And second, they had never seen Big Sur so were headed down Highway 1.
Now, folks, I —and most every other soul who has seen it — LOVE Big Sur. A dramatic coast drive, California Highway 1 hugs a steep hillside far above where the sea is pounding the Continent. Arch bridges span gulches and provide the few relatively straight or gently curved stretches as the narrow two-lane road winds its way around rocky spines spiraling up from the Pacific Ocean and forming a coastal range.
It is an enchanted drive, folks. Lit from the sun over the ocean, usually green and often sprinkled with seasonal flowers loving the constant sea breeze. Those 50 to 140 miles (depending on who is declaring what the “real” Big Sur is) are nothing less than a paradise of a drive.
A paradise, that is, if you plan on spending most of the day lingering through it. One internet reviewer suggested five hours for a “leisurely pace.”
Leisurely pacing is the only option you have in the middle of the summer season, when super-sized RVs and their sometimes timid drivers negotiate the eternal corners that do not accommodate such large vehicles. Just relax. The traffic lines can be long, there is never room to pass, and the few spots to pull over are usually ignored. Roll down the window, breath the beautiful air, and celebrate the view.
On that day’s fortunate ride on the floor of an empty utility van with other hitchhikers it was not during the summer and there was little traffic. Utility vans have no glass in the cargo area so there were no sights to see. Being cold out there was no costal air wafting through the closed front windows and being in a hurry there was no stopping beside the road to drink in the moment. We made it through in one-and-a-half hours. Tops.
An hour and a half of trying to be courteous to other passengers while desperately trying to find hand holds and foot braces to keep from being thrown around a careening metal box.
I have never been so glad to get to a relatively straight highway.
With daylight left to spare, the driver pulled off on Sunset Boulevard and dropped me off. I carried my pack west on Sunset past Vine Street and Highland Avenue and La Brea Avenue and Ralph’s grocery and the Episcopal church and pushed open the door beneath a sign proclaiming, Drossies Russian & Continental Restaurant Cafe. The hole-in-the-wall restaurant’s distinct aroma of sour cream and onions and borsht greeted me. It was the second home I had stumbled into some seven years earlier.
And that was the last step of my living on the road.