Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Like a Lotus - Camping in the Mud

Yoda & Kee Kee's Footprints in the Sand
It seems fitting that the first three days of our road trip consisted of near constant rain and muddy paws.  The weather reflected the storm in my heart and the tears on my cheeks.  I suppose it is hard to understand how numbing LA can be to one's spirit without having lived and breathed its essence on a daily basis.  It's an intoxicating city with spectacular weather and a ridiculous ease of access to the ocean and mountains.  However, it is also a city that thrives on youth, physical beauty, fame and wealth.  It's a hungry city and it takes a strong person with a solid moral upbringing to survive without her self esteem being eaten alive.  I spent over 13 years as a senior executive with one of Hollywood's top motion picture production companies.  Movie stars constantly walked past my office door, I was completely at home on film sets, and I can't even count the number of red carpet events I attended or films and soundtrack albums that listed my name in the credits.  Yet slowly, as the years went on, I realized how empty, shallow and completely meaningless these things are.  LA will chew on your soul, swallow it whole, and then spit it out again if you let it.  And I just about let it.   I think that is why I have crashed so deeply and so hard.  I just about lost my grip on the things that truly matter in life.  I miss me, but I don't even know me anymore.  One thing that has always mattered to me, and that has consistently rejuvenated me, is nature.  My most spiritual experiences in life have all happened when I've been in nature.  I think this is why I have been hit with such a deep need to take to the road.

Sunday morning, after filling our bellies at the Pismo Beach 64th Annual Clam Festival, Yoda and I continued our drive (IN THE RAIN!) up the California Central Coast.  Even in the rain, this part of the country has a magical beauty of which I will never tire.  The truly surreal rock formations are jaw dropping, and I swear the water gets more blue and clear the farther north you drive.

Elephant Seal Colony at Piedras Blancas

We stopped on  Highway 1 just north of San Simeon to see the Elephant Seals.  It's early in the season, but still, there were a solid thousand of these giant sea mammals beached on the sand looking perfectly content napping in clusters in the chilly downpour (in a few months there will be up to 15,000 elephant seals on the beach).  My visit with the elephant seals was planned this time around, unlike my first encounter with these captivating creatures. In 1996, during my first California road trip, my boyfriend and I pulled over to walk on the beach after a visit to the Hearst Castle.  Imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon these magnificent mammals.  We walked amongst them and even posed for pictures next to them (little did we know they actually have quite the dangerous bite if provoked).  The elephant seals first commenced their now annual journey to this beach in 1991 to molt, breed and birth.  It was a special experience to privately happen upon them when we did.  The beach is now protected with a fence, and the public views them on wooden walkways from a safe distance away. 

Our tent cabin in Big Sur

Kelp forest at Partington Cove
After a couple more hours of driving, we landed at the Fernwood campground in Big Sur.  Our home for the night was a tent cabin under the Coastal Redwoods right on the bank of the Big Sur River.  Other than two other tents and a couple RVs on the other side of the campground, we had the place to ourselves, due perhaps to a mix of the inclement weather and it being a Sunday night.  When we pulled up there were wild turkeys and deer grazing right in front of our tent.  Thankfully the rain stopped, and we still had a couple hours of daylight, so we visited a nearby cove with a kelp forest and a respectable population of sea otters before settling into the camp for the night.  Kelp forests are a fascinating and important underwater ecosystem.  Kelp is used in everything from toothpaste to ice-cream, and is being talked about as a possible source for renewable energy.  I picked up a piece that had washed up on the shore and it was as big as a fire hose and its texture was rubbery instead of slimy as one would expect.

The sun had set when we arrived back at the camp so I built a campfire and Yoda and I ate dinner by the light of my headlamp.

My roaring campfire

Dinner:  2 hardboiled eggs, avocado from
 roadside stand,  kettle corn from
Pismo Beach Clam Festival
I love camping.  I've even
 in the middle of the Amazon rainforest with my friend Angela - an experience that involved bathing in the stream, boiling our drinking water (it still tasted like fish), making our own rope by peeling the bark off a tree, and bats screeching and dropping fruit on our tent all night long.  Fernwood is hardly hardcore camping.  Although there was no electricity and I had to bring my own sleeping bag (thank you Dawn for lending it to me!), the campground has bathrooms with electric lights, there is a convenience store up the hill, and I was in a tent cabin (meaning it has a wood floor and a door with a lock).  That said, as I sat in the dark by myself next to the dying embers of my campfire, I choked with emotion when I realized this was by far my most ambitious camping experience to date.  Why?  Because I did it by myself.  I wasn't scared in the dark.  I built my own campfire.  I snuggled up in my sleeping bag alone.  And I loved it.  I've been hoping this road trip will bring change to my life, and in that moment I realized the changes have already begun.

My friend John likened this rainy, weathered beginning of my journey to a lotus flower.  In Eastern philosophy a lotus is viewed as a symbol of rebirth and a spiritual reawakening to life.  The lotus grows in muddy, murky waters, emerging from the surface in pristine hues of white or pink.   It is a symbol for rising out of life's hardships.  Well, life certainly has been muddy lately.  Yet just as the rain has finally abated and the sun has begun to shine, I'm starting to see the first hints that my inner-lotus may finally begin to emerge from the muck of life.  I'm grateful for these first lessons of the road, and I'm looking forward to many more in the coming months.
Pfeiffer Beach

Yoda and Kee Kee on the beach


  1. Reminds me your old Girl Scout days when it inevitably rained/snowed over the weekend we were at the campsite - sleeping on the cold hard ground - in a flimsy tent - etc., etc.; maybe there was a greater reason for sticking with it in those days, huh? You seem well prepared and so independent! Am loving these posts and am always looking for the next one! Mom

  2. you mom, were simply, the BEST girlscout leader ever. thanks for instilling my love of camping!