If you live in Big Sur, you pretty much have to enjoy driving. (You also have to have a reliable vehicle, and after 15 years here we have some hair-raising tales on that subject.) There are lots of different strategies for making the 80 mile round trip excursion to "town" i.e. Carmel / Monterey, for grocery shopping, doctor's visits, classes, and social events.
Some folks make once-a-week "town runs" and are content to curl up on their mountain-tops, working in their gardens and hiking up and down their ridges for the rest of the week. Others drive to town twice a week or more for work or personal reasons. We are the road warriors. Good music is required, or as our postal worker says, you can just "listen to the sound of the rubber on the road," which has its own hypnotic power.
I have noticed a migration of certain fortunate neighbors to second homes or studios outside of Big Sur. They create "love-nests" or art-work spaces or rent houses so their children attending Carmel schools don't have to get on that bright yellow bus at the crack of dawn each weekday. Some are bona-fide nomads, "peripatetic" as my friend Archie says, making their living in places far and wide, in California and across the country. They return to their sanctuaries in Big Sur to re-charge their batteries, to rest, to touch the earth again.
For my family, it seems to be about driving. Lots of it. Three years ago when both of our used vehicles died spectacular deaths (our pickup truck lost its steering and we plowed into an enormous poison oak hedge) we bellied up to the bar and bought much newer and safer cars.
Each bend in the road has a name, each spot its special beauties and hazards. There's "Old Faithful" where the big rocks explode down the cliff face after winter storms; there's the curve of pristine Little Sur, marked by a cross where a young man flew off the edge some time back, 200' down and into the river below. Suicide? Or just late to work? We'll never know. Cows sometimes cross the road at Lighthouse Flats, and cattle have actually become an "in-joke" as the excuse for alcohol-induced rollovers. "I swerved to avoid a cow," people say.
But that part is really not funny, since drinking and driving (a clear no-no given the nature of Highway One) is an unfortunate behavior that has hurt many local people. There's no late-night police presence, we know the roads, we're immortal. This past year has offered up some sobering examples of how this is definitely not the case. Today we see more "dry" weddings and parties, more car-pooling, more conscientious bar-tending. The community here is growing up in that regard.
But back to that long drive home. Once a week or more, late at night, with my car full of groceries and my body happily aching from a couple of hours of dance classes, I follow the winding road down the coast back to Partington Ridge. Carefully dimming my brights at each approaching car, listening to wild music (or not), singing to myself (or even talking to myself—I confess, long conversations of the things I'd wished I'd said, or want to say, kind of a psychic dumping process) I make the drive I sometimes feel I could do by heart.
If only our cars were horse-drawn buggies. We could relax the reins in our laps and let the confident horses take us home, to their beds of straw and cups of fresh oats, us to our hot toddies and futons overlooking the sea. The trip to Big Sur was done this way by the pioneer types many years ago (more or less) but you can bet that they weren't doing it twice a week, or in order to take a yoga class.
When there is no traffic but me upon the road, and the moonlight shines on the ocean to my right as I drive south, I become aware that I am the only person on the planet in this moment to be sliding down the edge of the continent, like an ant traversing a rolling glass globe, slipping down the surface of the Earth to my home. I wonder about what all the other souls on Earth are up to, and meditate on the enormous geographical solitude of my long drive home.
Jupiter reflected on the Pacific Ocean
(photo by Toby Rowland-Jones)