We Left Tahoe on Christmas Day. Took Elena tothe Reno airport so she could fly home to Seattle, and then found another one of those cheap rooms in the Casino. So, from the window of Harrahs, we watched more snow fall on Christmas Day eve. Went to see Les Miserables. And felt a little lonely.
It took us nearly 5 hours to get over Donner Pass the next day. Between the holiday traffic and the snow, it was just a very long haul. It was absolutely wonderful to break out into the green of the foothills. And then to arrive at the inviting home of my Aunt and Uncle in Cool just after dark felt like something of a miracle.
And it was a wonderful visit. We set off, back on the road the next day, well fed and rested. All we knew for sure was that we were headed south. Made our way to I-5 and drove through the dark until we made the decision to take the turn off to Paso Robles (hah, I made that sound so easy). Arrived late, slept in our van on a darkened side street.
More than a little road weary, after nearly two months traveling, we only knew we had to get back to the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t expect the startling beauty of Highway 46, from Paso Robles to Cambria—old oaks, vineyards and sycamores in undulating hills. After weeks in the desert and then in snow, fifty shades of vibrant green took our breath away.
We looked the coastline up and down. Took a remarkable walk on the leash-free beach near Morro Bay where dogs in sizes XS to XL were flying free as kites, scampering with great canine abandon from surf to sand. We noticed not one dropping, as all the owners seem well schooled in doggie-doodoo-picking-up-etiquette, used the bags provided, and disposed in the simple trash bags tied to the fence.
But after our explorations, we came back to Cambria. We could tell it was the right place at the right time for us. How do you find a great town, anyway? I started by googling “great towns of southern California”. As travelers, we know for sure that we don’t want to spend time in bad towns. And we also know great towns are rare. So when we found a sweet hostel in an appealing setting, we knew we were blessed. The hostel was the Bridge Street Inn. We were thrilled to find it.
The hostel life, if anyone wants to know, is one of the most sublime experiences I have ever known. Cooking together, eating together, talking with travelers, forming a short-lived but rich community—it far outshines any sterile hotel room. The hostel in Cambria, Bridge Street Inn, is managed by Brandon, with an easy hand and an eye for spontaneous creativity. A modern day beat poet, Brandon played songs for us on his guitar and read his own stories, while we thoroughly enjoyed his distinctive humorous style; pure irony with a satirical twist that made me laugh out loud more than once. I was fascinated by the way Brandon encouraged co-creation and collaboration with his visitors; from conversation to projects to bonfires and potlucks.
People told us to go see the elephant seals. Not knowing what to expect, we went. “World-class” is a travel term that often falls short but I would put the viewing of the elephant seals in that category without hesitation. Never mind that it is just steps away from Highway 101 and that you view their lives elbow to elbow with a whole lot of other people. In fact, those facts make it seem more amazing to me. There is some kind of one-way mirror between the human community and the elephant seal community. We watch them but they seem remarkably oblivious to us. They are 25 feet away on the sand; you are on the boardwalk. They are fighting, nursing, dying, birthing, swimming and resting. You are watching this with a combination of awe, inspiration and heartbreak for those that lose or die. Many questions arise, and as soon as you say them out loud, one of the other extraordinary features of this experience appear… docents. People who love the Wild, and can articulate it over and over to endless questions (and often stupid—I know, I asked them myself!)—are special. The elephant seal world is so raw and untamed that it nearly defies description. They are the fundamental nature of the sea personified.
The next day, I woke up drenched by elephant seal dreams. We decided to check out Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, following Brandon’s suggestion. Walking right from the hostel, we entered this beautiful community treasure and thoroughly enjoyed its riparian and woodland communities, the rich birding and the fabulous views. The story is one that makes my heart delight and echoes a San Juan County triumph: Turtleback mountain. When a community decides to make something last into perpetuity, it is the best of human teamwork and vision. I quote here the inspirational Fiscalini story, for it needs no amendments
“The Fiscalini family owned the property for nearly a century, raising first dairy stock and then beef cattle. The family sold the Town Ranch out of tax necessity in 1979 and it went through a series of development plans by ambitious owners. These plans were blocked by Friends of the RanchLand until they realized that the only way to save the land was to buy it, bringing in the American Land Conservancy (ALC) in 1999.”
Bottom-line, a series of partners appeared and pledged funds to save the Ranch but these funds needed to be matched by local efforts.
“Cambrians, through numerous fundraisers, donations and an eleventh hour donation by Midstate Bank of their creek side property, accomplished the impossible. With hard work and determination the purchase was finalized in November of 2000. The Ranch now belongs to all of us, forever.The Ranch is open for public enjoyment every day.”
We ended 2012 with a stop at the Stolo Family Winery. Together with our new friend, Alison, another Bridge Street Inn hosteller, we toasted to our intentions for 2013 in between tastes of delicious and high quality wine. I have never been able to figure out why people think that getting smashed on New Years is the way to celebrate. I love this holiday. I love wrapping up the old year, out loud and in writing, reflecting on it and marveling on all that happened. As for resolutions, I don’t subscribe. If I get past February, it’s a wonder. But I do like goals, and I do think there is much truth in the saying “as soon as you can think it, ink it.” We can direct our lives in more ways than we think possible, especially when we say it out loud and then write it down.
This stop was what we needed. We had to give up the notion of warm, but replaced it with sunny and “pretty warm” (60’s). The sun is bright and you can actually feel its heat. Now, in San Luis Obispo, we are taking our time in central California. It wasn’t ever really on our radar but for now, it is providing us with much that we have been looking for: beauty, nice towns, long sandy beaches, splendid hikes and rustic hot springs.