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This must be the place: You want to find the truth in life, don’t pass music by

Bonny Doon Beach, California. (Garret K. Woodward photo) Bonny Doon Beach, California. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

Hello from Room 307 at the Hilton Garden Inn amid the coastal community of Monterey, California. It’s 11 a.m. and I have a flight to catch from San Francisco to Atlanta later tonight. But, for now? I figured I’d wander up the along the Pacific Coast Highway, ole Route 1, en route to SFO for that 10:50 p.m. takeoff. 

It’s Monday, and though most of the weekend guests, who attended the nearby music festival, are long gone, I’m hovering in my hotel room with a late checkout. Pack up my travel bag. Check last-minute emails. Chill out on the massive king size bed until I have to be crammed into the back of an airplane on a cross-country redeye flight. 

And yet, with several hours to kill between the hotel checkout and the airport check-in, I figured why not take the rental car up the PCH and drift along at my own pace. Nothing like cruising along the ocean with nowhere to be for hours. Sure, gas is about $6.50 a gallon out here. But, what’s the point of working day-in-and-day-out if you can’t spend some of that dime on a carefree drive in sunny California, am I right?

Drifting out of Monterey, the affluent town quickly transitions into vast farm fields as far as the eye can see. Numerous workers walking in rows, checking on produce and water lines. Massive tractors meandering on the horizon like large insects probing the earth in search of fertile dirt for next season’s crops. 

Out here, in the Salinas Valley, it’s known as “America’s Salad Bowl,” seeing as half of the nation’s lettuce and one-third of its spinach is grown here. With the blue-collar workers, it’s an odd dichotomy (though not surprising) to see mobile home parks within eyesight of million-dollar mansions and beachside bungalows. 

Sauntering up the PCH towards Santa Cruz, Route 1 slowly leaves the farm fields and slides back towards the Pacific Ocean. Just beyond Santa Cruz, the sprawling neighborhoods and four-lane traffic congestion morphs into a two-lane, somewhat quiet and desolate road as you make your way towards Davenport. 

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With the windows rolled down, the ocean air filled the vehicle with the scent of saltwater, the warm California sunshine kissing your skin. Later on, when I passed through Davenport, most of the beach town was empty with the hatches battened down for the year, only to reopen to the flood of tourists returning in the spring. 

Hands on the wheel, eyes aimed ahead, I kept thinking about my first time visiting California. It was around this time of year, back in 2007. Just having graduated college in Connecticut, the dream was to make my way West and seek my fortune. Initially, Portland, Oregon, was in the crosshairs. I flew out to the West Coast for a road trip from Seattle, Washington, to Northern California and back. 

And I remember crossing into Northern California from Oregon one morning. Pulling off U.S. 101 near Crescent City, California, I kept looking at the compass in the rearview mirror, continually looking for the “W” and following my instinct. This was before I had a smart phone and GPS. Eventually, I stumbled across a beach. Parked the rental car, took my shoes off, and walked down to the shoreline.

Although the sun was out, there was a cloud of fog along the shoreline. And, in that moment, I could hear the sounds of sea lions barking somewhere in the haze. Soon, the sun burned off the fog, exposing this large rock about a hundred yards or so out in the water, which was covered with dozens of sea lions. 

Watching the sea lions, I felt such a sensation of time and place, I stripped down to my boxers and jumped into the cold ocean waters, only to pop up like a cork and emerge from my baptism into the West Coast. That freedom of the unknown and the endless possibilities of the West coursed through my body. 

Skip ahead 15 years or so, and there I was, age 37, pulling over at Bonny Doon Beach. In the last of my clean clothes, I wasn’t really in beach mode sporting jeans and boots. It was early afternoon by this point, the sun radiating high above. Wandering down the rocky trail to the beach, I was alone in my pursuit of the shoreline. 

I could hear the waves crashing onto the beach below, a welcoming ocean breeze pushing up the trail and wrapping itself around me. Standing on the beach, I did a 360-degree scan of my current position. Jagged cliffs rising high above. Warm sand beneath me, footsteps temporarily marking my journey from the car to the shoreline. 

And, in that moment, I was 2,577 miles from my humble abode back in Waynesville. And yet, I didn’t feel any distance at all, seeing as time and place is just a figment of our imagination, for it’s all “one thing” anyhow — it’s all a dream we dream, don’tcha know?

Simply listening to the crashing waves, the sounds of the nearby birds in flight, and the lack of noise from other people or distractions, I thought of that first encounter with the Pacific Ocean when I was 22. I thought of the gratitude and surreal nature of being able to stand at the water’s edge once again a decade and a half later. And I thought of when and where the next rendezvous with this body of water might be — oh, the possibilities, eh?

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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