Big Feels in Big Sur

Oct 22, 2018

I wanted to go to Big Sur because my lover had never been there, despite having grown up in California. How often do I get to introduce someone to new magic in their own backyard?

And yes, I’ll admit it: I used this as an excuse to pay a long-overdue visit my First Big California Love: the Central Coast. When I close my eyes and think of my time spent there, I feel the tinge of coolness on the sea air; I feel the tiny-pebbled sand running through my fingers as I scoop it up and let it fall, again and again. I hear the ocean crash; a surprising, powerful boom. There is a gentle sensory overload in this place that is unlike any other. I wanted to explain that to him, by showing.

I had to remind myself to slow my roll as we got closer to Big Sur – I wanted to be there right now. But, there are things like eating and checking out views that needed to happen along the way, too, so I just chilled. On the outside.

Needless to say, we eventually got there.

Our cabin at Ripplewood Resort sat overlooking the river and, even more exciting than this charming fact, had a bathroom. I’d been calling around to several properties with cabins so I’d lost track of what, if any, amenities I’d actually signed up for. Some had no bedding, heat or electricity, let alone a private bathroom (and actual kitchen!). I’m happy to say that our adorable, cozy little cabin had all of the above – which is great, because my guy gets chilly and while I don’t mind being his own personal heater, it’s always nice to have backup.

We soon headed out to brave the cold Pacific air for the sake of saying we had a cocktail on the deck at Nepenthe. Literally everyone we spoke to about going to Big Sur told us to go to Nepenthe, and we didn’t want to disappoint said literally everyone. I’d never been there before because I didn’t have bags of money laying around in my past life and while we didn’t eat there, I will say that the view is beautiful.

After dinner at Big Sur Bakery, Paulie scrambled for sticks back at our cabin and built a sweet, albeit short lived, fire under the stars, with the low little river babbling below. Now that I think about it, grabbing random sticks from the hillside to make a fire is probably not allowed and I’m thinking I shouldn’t have mentioned it…? Ah, well; he’s a rebel.

I’d only planned one night in Big Sur, which was a rookie mistake. However, I figured we could get some hiking and staring-in-awe done the following day before heading to Carmel for our second and final night in the area. This was a really quick trip; did I already mention that?

We headed toward a breakfast recommendation in the morning, completely missed it, and drove about 20 miles out of our way, taking turns saying “well…maybe it’s just around that next curve up there,” until we finally got to a tiny community called Lucia (named after its first postmasater – how sweet is that?!). We found one human there, which was all we needed to hear what complete idiots we were at having gone so far out of our way – my word, not hers – and so we turned around, amazingly still in decent humor, and eventually found our destination: Deetjen’s. I’d called about staying here, too, but they’d been full, and so getting there just after check-out and literally 4 minutes before the restaurant closed turned out to be perfect timing to peek into the little cabins for a potential future stay. 

But look at how small that sign is…right?!

Deetjen’s was the perfect combination of charming, funky and rustic, and our waitress was hilarious and kind, not making us feel bad for coming in as they were closing, even a little bit. I always tip 20% but I left her a bit extra, because if waiting tables isn’t a hard enough job, pretending you’re overjoyed to keep the smile on when you thought it was time to go home is an act of downright grace.

High on my list of things to do was to hit up the Henry Miller Library, and so I’d prepped Paulie beforehand by blowing the dust off of my old copy of Tropic of Cancer and handing it to him before we left. Just that morning I’d come in from drinking my tea and reading by the river to find him reclined on our cabin bed, chuckling to himself, pausing to jot down notes, or to just look up and smile. Once given the audience of his girlfriend, he began reading passages to me and stating, “oh my god, this used to be me!”

So, long story short: my plan totally worked and he was just as game to go to the library as I was.

It’s a small building in a gorgeous, serene little grove of redwoods where one can grab a cup of coffee or tea, lounge for hours, perhaps nap…. The building itself is more bookstore than library since the last time I was there, which was torture for me given the fact that I am halfway through the 10th month of my resolution to not buy any new books in 2018. I’m so close! I made it through by buying a book ‘for Paulie’, which doesn’t count against my goal. We’d overheard the library’s director, Magnus, commenting on the book as it was being purchased by another customer. He said it was perhaps his favorite book in the entire place, and shared that when his mother read it to him as a child, it gave him the sense that there was so much more to the world and to life than he’d ever imagined before. How could I not buy a copy, after hearing that beautiful testimony?

The one thing we didn’t do in Big Sur was go on a hike. I’d factored this in and had researched the different exertion-versus-view payoff of several options…basically, this was the biggest gift I could give to my man. If you don’t already know, I’m not exactly all about the hikes. But I was determined to not only hike, but to have a good attitude and enjoy myself dammit! Alas, in the end our 20-mile detour cut into our timing. And I didn’t even do that on purpose, so…in case you need a reminder: miracles are real.

Just when I thought I was off the hook for exercise, we were driving alongside the spectacular Pacific ocean, minding our own business, when Paul pointed out the window – as I turned my head a FREAKING WHALE JUMPED OUT OF THE WATER! A WHALE! Out of the water! I screeched over the side of the road and we abandoned our car like the apocalypse was coming – purse inside, keys in the cupholder…I’m surprised we remembered to close the dang doors.

We ran across the street, leaped over the guardrail and scrabbled down the hill until we found a trail (hindsight: like a couple of jerks), then ran along the path, trying to get to an open viewpoint. At one point Paulie slowed to turn around, probably assuming I was far behind, and when I jokingly yelled “save yourself! I’ll catch up!” he said “we have to run down! We can walk on the way back up!” AS IF I WASN’T RUNNING! Psh, I had been sporadically and somewhat lazily working out at an actual gym for the past 6 weeks and I was prepared as hell for this moment. Well, compared to any other time in my life, I guess.

Look at him just chillin’ there like running is no big deal

Anyway, we didn’t see any more jumping whales; just some far-off sprays of water. And I walked back up that hill like a CHAMP.

What else do you want to know? We then drove to Carmel Valley, tasted some wine, ate some lunch. Then to Carmel-by-the-Sea where we checked into The Normandy Inn with just enough time for Paulie to take a disco nap and me to feel restless.

The Normandy Inn – charmiiiiiing

It’s so funny how much time we (read: I) put into trying to find the best room for any given trip, and then when we get there I just want to be out of it. The Normandy gave us an upgrade and I lay staring up at the cathedral ceiling and painted-white beams, wondering how long it was until sunset.

The only time I’d ever spent in Carmel when I lived in the area was my time as a barista at a little alleyway coffee shop, then called Caffe Cardinale. I opened with the owner, so had to be there super early, but I would sometimes wake with enough time to drive the few extra blocks to the beach before my shift. I would walk down toward the water and sink myself onto the sand, digging my hands into it and listening to the waves in the dark as the sun thought about rising. It wouldn’t come up until after I started my shift, though, so I never stayed too long. I gave myself enough time and space to breathe in a full day’s worth of damp, salty air, then went to work.

This was the feeling I was antsy for as Paulie prepared to doze. I grabbed the weird but good bottle of wine we’d bought in Big Sur the night before, the inn’s small water glasses, and my jacket. I told Paulie I’d meet him at the beach, and I joined what felt like all of Carmel in the pilgrimage down to the ocean’s edge at sundown.

It was a beautiful walk; it was a beautiful evening. Purple and hot-pink bougainvillea spilled out of yards and over fences; tasteful stone garden art and mossy fountains burbled their approval.

I found a place to sit where no one could obstruct our view and I waited: for Paulie, for the sun to dip into the sea, for enough damp, salty air to fill me up until I could make it back again.

And, on this evening and the trip as a whole, I got everything I’d hoped for.




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