I had already been to California several times before I visited over the 2016/17 Christmas and New Year period, when the main purpose of my trip was to see my best friend RP, eat as many tacos as possible, and explore the state in a bit more detail than I had previously.
After Christmas in northern California, we planned a road trip from her current home in San Francisco south to Orange County, where we would travel along the coast visiting the likes of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur and more – but failed to do so quite miserably.
After leaving San Francisco we were caught in more traffic than anticipated, and then accidentally on purpose stopped to frolic in a field of wild flowers and play with our many, many cameras (our haul included both our SLRs, a GoPro, an Instax, and two phones). From there we made our way slowly along the coastline, stopping whenever we felt the urge for fish tacos and beach views.
I cannot remember precisely the point we realised RP’s phone had stopped working, but at some moment we lost use of the maps function. We had no contingency plan in place, and so had to rely solely on her knowledge of the roads – which would have been no problem had we only stayed on highways, but as we were exploring, the absence of this tool had quite an impact on our ability to drive aimlessly.
After spending some time trying to fix it, not to mention our unplanned detours, we were quite behind schedule and, as it was winter, realised we would not make it to Big Sur with enough light to make the most of it. Instead we cut across to the highway and made our way south to our hotel at Pismo Beach, the continued on our way to Orange County hoping to stop in on the way back.
But on the return drive to San Francisco we were once again plagued by our own inability to be efficient while on holiday. Both of us are expert travellers and proactive people, but we were rather lazy with our approach and our planned visit to Big Sur suffered because of it. So it was that we found the day too short once more, and therefore decided to return after New Year’s Eve.
With Big Sur our sole purpose we set out on January 1 with a hotel booked for the night that would mean a short drive in the morning to the hiking trail of choice – Buzzard’s Roost Trail. After acai bowls for breakfast we drove on to Big Sur, and the scenery was just as I’d hoped with rugged coastline and forests offset by the cloudy, foggy day.
It was a chilly 10 degrees but still perfect for hiking when we stepped out of the car and started on the trail. This hike took us up through the redwood forest past tumbling creeks, ascending a steep trail that was challenging enough yet suitable for all sorts of levels of fitness. The trail is five miles in its entirety, and took us around three hours – due mainly to the attention paid to our cameras, which my friend’s husband rightly pointed out made this something less of a hike with any impact on our heartrate.
When we reached the peak, we stood at eye level with the canopy of the part of the forest we had just passed through, which extended to denser forest in one direction and dropped away to reveal a wedge of blue ocean in the other. The path then took us toward the ocean, and the coastline slowly came into view until we found ourselves on a rather precarious ridge standing high above the highway with cars snaking along below and the waves crashing on the shore just beyond.
After satisfying our camera memory and using one precious sheet of Instant film, we continued on what soon became the descent and reached the end of the trail.
Across the road was a lookout we visited before departing, offering views of beautiful Pfeiffer Beach. Finally, I felt satisfied that I had ticked Big Sur off the list – third time lucky, and just two days before my departure.
Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC