Big Sur

A heavenly drive along the Pacific Coast Highway

The final destination on our road-trip was further up the Californian coast in the serene region of Big Sur.

The Pacific Coast Highway was closed due to a major landslide in 2017 which buried part of the road, so the satnav suggested we stick to Highway 101 North for 100 miles which I wasn’t particularly excited about. After a brief visual inspection on Google maps, I suggested to Nishay we take a mountainous detour (without fully appreciating what this entailed) so we could re-join the Pacific Coast Highway south just beyond the road closure, rather than a dreary ride from the North.

The detour took us through Fort Hunter Liggett, a remote army fort where we were seemingly driving alone. I was beginning to get concerned that the roads ahead might be impassable or closed entirely. Thankfully I was wrong on both counts, but wasn’t anticipating that we’d start climbing through the Santa Lucia mountain range. Our pace was slow through the mountain roads which nestled through the clouds and thick forest.

Climbing up the mountains

Eventually we reached the summit and, in the distance, could see the Pacific Ocean in the distance thousands of feet below us, shimmering in the evening sun. It was one of the most mesmerising sights I’ve ever seen, and more than made up for the time we’d lost getting there.

The narrow, twisty roads along the descent

The beautiful sight of the ocean at last!

The descent was equally steep along perilously steep cliffs. As the temperatures rose, we pulled the roof down, switched the Mustang into sport mode and made the Pacific Coast Highway our racetrack. The freshly laid asphalt and empty, undulating roads made it a rollercoaster ride like no other. I was admittedly a bit jealous that Nishay had the wheel though, so stuck to DJ’ing duties on the stereo instead!

Revving up our Mustang as we join the Pacific Coast Highway

Nishay’s eyes lit up as we attacked corner after corner with plenty of speed, and for a change I wasn’t stopping him. Riding through perhaps the most surreal journey of my life, I couldn’t help smile ear to ear like him. We took a brief pause to watch sunset from a viewing point before continuing on.

Our path along Big Sur

Admiring the sunset above the ocean

Our accommodation for two nights was Glen Oaks Big Sur, a rustic motor lodge in the heart of the Big Sur region. The lodge cost us an arm and a leg but the wild surroundings softened the wound somewhat. We were greeted with a lit fireplace both inside our cosy room and outside, where fellow hotel guests were roasting s’mores in the crisp night air.

The remoteness of the lodge allowed us to escape the light pollution and gaze upwards towards the stars. Surprisingly I’ve had very few opportunities for stargazing in the past, and I was denied the opportunity in Death Valley due to the full moon. For an hour or so I admired the shooting stars accompanied with the sound of my wild surroundings.

Our rural location again meant that vegan food was troublesome to find. On both nights we had to traverse the highway in both directions to find a restaurant with any reasonable food offering, which eventually satisfied our stomachs but was nothing to write home about.

The next morning, we explored the surroundings around the lodge. The wild patch of woodland on site is home to towering redwood trees which reminded me of the enormous Giant Sequoias during in Yosemite. We sat beside a river at the bottom of the woodland patch before jumping back in the car to drive north to Monterrey.

The tall Redwood trees beside the lodge

At this point, the very best of the Pacific Coast Highway was already behind us. Though the views were still sublime, the speed restrictions and traffic did pick up somewhat as we ventured on. Regardless, I was still very trigger happy on the throttle as we navigated the windy roads.

Monterey city probably wasn’t worth a visit in hindsight. There’re some interesting things to do here, like visiting the city aquarium or whale watching off the coast, but we didn’t have the energy to explore here other than a walk around the marina and grab a bite to eat.

Just south of Monterey is a tranquil and posh town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s very much a city for the wealthy with luxurious mansions overlooking the ocean. Bizarrely, street lights and post boxes are forbidden here, as are high-heels (apparently because the town kept facing lawsuits from women tripping over tree roots due to the absence of sidewalks).

Nishay topped up on his sun tan at the beach while I mulled around town and bought some locally produced chilli and orange-infused olive oil to enjoy with the family back home.

Walking through Carmel-by-the-sea

Nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea is Point Lobos, a nature reserve with walking routes along the coast. We spent just over an hour traversing the trails to get up close to the vicious waves that crash into the cliffs. The magnitude of the waves was jaw-dropping – I can’t recall ever seeing such a display of strength unleashed from the ocean.

We both tried to pose for photos at Point lobos but were paranoid about being caught out by a freak wave.

I could have spent all evening admiring Mother Nature’s awesome display of power, but I had been pleading Nishay for the chance to drive the epic stretch of road that originally brought us to Big Sur, so we headed back there again before dusk. I had no issue frightening off a few tourists who seem to have different priorities on the road by fully immersing our car in their rear-view mirror. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve had so much fun in a car before!

Back in the Bay

We woke up early on our final day to drive back to the Bay Area and catch our flight. It took 2 hours to reach the familiar cityscape that briefly passed through at the start of trip. I was keen on seeing a couple of the final Silicon Valley sights, so we first stopped at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. The campus is fenced off so we only managed an obscured view of the famous spaceship-like building, but it looked extraordinary in its simplicity and elegance.

The only visitor accessible location is a special Apple Store across the road which stocks some special but rather overpriced merchandise, and a cool AR model showing the innards of the Apple Campus via an iPad. Another highlight here was parading around the underground car park like hooligans with the stereo on full blast (I have no idea what compelled us to do this!)

The Apple campus in Cupertino

Our last stop before returning to San Francisco airport was the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. Of all the headquarters we visited, this was probably the most disappointing as the buildings are rather dull and there wasn’t any sign of Mr Zuckerberg (though he was probably on his way back from Washington D.C after the Congress hearing). Nishay was pretty irritated that we were still visiting headquarters which seemed like regular office blocks, and in hindsight I agree with him.

Time had got the better of us, so we topped off the car’s fuel tank and bid it farewell as we returned it to the Avis garage. Our flight home was awaiting us.

An American Dream fulfilled

From a nature lover’s perspective, California has it all – mountains, deserts and everything in between. The locals were hospitable and approachable everywhere we went without exception.

Amongst the plethora of experiences, we embarked on, my favourite memory of them all was driving our Mustang. I felt more connected to the outdoors with the roof down rather than being cocooned inside a closed environment. Sure, the car played its fair share of melting the polar ice caps but it gave a beautiful roar as we floored the pedal. It just didn’t feel appropriate to venture on a road-trip in anything other than an iconic American car, and it was completely worth the added expense (full marks to Avis for the general hassle-free rental experience).

I’ve long thought about finding a job opportunity in Silicon Valley, and wanted to use this trip to test the waters. It took a while for me to appreciate and get to grips with the cultural differences, but after a couple of weeks I had settled into a groove. Yes, there are still day-to-day aspects that would take some getting used to (such as living without contactless payments and finding genuinely fresh and healthy food) but that’s just part and parcel of being in a foreign country.

For me, this mesmerising USA trip marked the end of a 2-year travelling spree. I’ve been fortunate to visit dozens of countries across four continents where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a whole range of amazing experiences. But now is the time to focus on other areas of life and pursue some hobbies, which I’ll be sure to share with you here!



About the Author

Write Your Comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>