Surround yourself with a few dear friends, open your heart to new people and new places, be outside as much as possible, eat everything and try anything.
That’s been my motto during my many travels this summer. I have had the most incredible time with the most unlikely cast of characters. Every memory I’ve made these past several weeks includes people that have known each other for years, some who are new friends, and some who are (were) strangers. But every one of them has a giant heart, a good head, and a sense of adventure. Bless you, Carleton, for allowing me to meet all of these amazing people even though our friendships may not have formed during our four years in Northfield.
My west coast adventures started in California about a week after graduation. Cara and I drove up to San Francisco from Los Angeles to meet Chantal and Eliza, where we drank a lot of coffee, soaked up a lot of culture, ate a lot of food, and ran our feet ragged with urban hiking.
We arrived in San Fran right after the ruling on DOMA and Prop 8 and we stayed in The Castro, the first and largest gay neighborhood in the U.S. and we got there just in time for the pride parade. Needless to say, it was the perfect place and time to experience San Francisco.
My favorite part about the pride parade, besides seeing everyone dressed head-to-toe in rainbow garb, was the host of religious groups who joined the march for equality and human rights, proudly proclaiming that their faith accepts everyone and that the doors of their church were open for lovers of any creed, color, or sexual orientation to get married.
The rest of our five day trip consisted of many typical touristy things: Chinatown (where we found the cheapest and most delicious dim sum), the Warf (where we were disappointed to find only two sea lions, but still stayed on the docks for the sunlit waters and salty breezes), and lots of impromptu dance parties in the street. Maybe that isn’t typical for most tourists, but it is for us.
It was liberating to wake up every day without an agenda, just a general idea of what things we’d like to do. No worries or cares in the world other than whether we would have enough band-aids on hand for our blistered feet.
Cara and I took the quick way up to San Fran, but the four of us decided to take the scenic route home along the coast (even though the drive through the middle of California was quite beautiful itself). So we packed up early, dressed our sunburns, and got ready for the long and windy drive down Highway 1.
Bye, San Francisco.
The drive really is as pretty as it’s seen in the movies and an endeavor worth making for any roadtrip enthusiasts, beach lovers, or really just anyone who wants a taste of American landscape and an inspiring view.
Along the way we encountered a lot of wildlife, including elephant seals (simultaneously the most adorable and the ugliest creatures on the planet), zebras (descendants from a group of zebras released into the wild long ago), and a slew of farm animals. We had a friend who was working on an avocado farm (yup), so we detoured to play with the goats and eat some farm fresh avocados (except me, because I think I’m allergic).
We arrived back in LA after dark and I couldn’t recall a time I had been more excited to shower and crawl in bed. With Cara as our native guide, we explored Los Angeles for a few days and then went back to my mom’s apartment for the 4th of July and celebrated our nation’s independence with a rooftop picnic consisting of lots of fruit, whipped cream, and margaritas. Later we joined my parents at a family friend’s cookout. These folks lived on a hill overlooking the water and pretty much all of Los Angeles. It was a pretty neat vantage point to watch the fireworks.
The party had a very eclectic guest list and the three of us (Chantal, me, Eliza) found ourselves stuck in between two very strange worlds: the way-too-cool teenagers who wore itsy bitsy bathing suits and didn’t ever leave the hot tub (maybe their young skin is impervious to wrinkling) and the grown-ups (some of whom drank to much, some of whom did not drink at all, all of whom talked a lot about their health problems and the good ole days). In some respects we still identify with the youngsters (and by youngsters, I mean the people who are three to five years younger than me), but more and more I find that I am more closely resembling the people who are a few decades my senior. The three of us were perfectly content to cuddle together by the fire, eat more cake and deviled eggs than we should, laugh at our own weird jokes that really weren’t that funny, and curl up on the couch and watch a movie when we got home (not to mention falling asleep half way through). Maybe we are getting washed up in our old age of 22 years, maybe we were always just a little weird, or maybe we are coming into our own and are content to relax and laugh at life while surrounded with fewer, closer friends.
Our last days in California were spent on the beach, playing in the waves, getting strange sunburns (on top of the weird ones we already had), and embarrassing my teenage sister by dancing in the street and calling after beach boys in British accents. It was a fun-filled, sun-kissed, care-free time that I miss.
After California I went home to Texas for a quick stint in the South, but that animal needs it’s own post. It wasn’t long, however, until the west coast called me back again.
Growing up in Florida (and spending nearly every summer there visiting family after we moved to Texas), I thought I had grown old of the ocean. It’s the same every time, it’s crowded, it smells, the water isn’t that clean, and there isn’t much to do on the beach besides sit there, sweat, and get covered in sand. I also can’t stand palm trees and humidity. I enjoy the beach from time to time (as I mentioned just a few paragraphs ago), but not for more than a few days. So I have never considered living by water to be a necessity for me because I fancied myself more of a fresh-air, mountain person. A wide-open spaces person. Even a city person. Anything over a sticky, salty, sandy beach. And then I met Washington. A place with towering green trees, mountains on every horizon, and an ocean. The first day we spent roaming around Seattle did a good job persuading me that I need to end up living by the water.
The delicious seafood Daria, Henry, C.J. and I picked up Pike’s Place Market pushed me even closer to the edge.
And the ferry ride home left no doubt in my mind.
There just isn’t anything more breathtaking than sunlight on the water with mountains in the background and there are few feelings more liberating than standing at the front of a boat, lifting your arms in the air, closing your eyes, and letting the wind take you to a place with no gravity.
I covered a lot of ground in my short time in Washington. We explored Seattle, saw a bit of Tacoma, took a long (and breathtaking) drive through central Washington, and spent a lot of time in the Gig Harbor area. The landscape amazed me with it’s changes from lush, dense, and kind of chilly…
To hotter, flatter, and more arid (but no less beautiful).
I loved every minute of my time there, but my favorite memory was the day we took the boat out and explored a tiny island. It was a perfect day spent with old friends and new, full of adventure, chilly ocean water, and beautiful sights.
While exploring this tiny deserted island, I found a rock not too far off the shore that looked like a perfect perching spot. It was right in the path of the setting sun, large enough for me to sit comfortably, and high enough out of the water that I stayed dry, but could still feel the chilly ocean waves tickle my feet. I could have sat on that rock for hours and watched the sunlight dance on the water. Simultaneously aware and unaware of everything around me, I could feel how tight and dusty my skin was from the sun, dirt, and salt. I could feel my heavy eyes struggling to stay open and how rough my hands and feet were. Closing my eyes, I could feel, hear, and smell everything. And it was perfect.
For someone who doesn’t like feeling lonely, I truly enjoy solitude. I think the difference is that I enjoy peace, contentment, tranquility and a strong enough silence to hear myself think. To be alone is one of the most liberating feelings. No one to tell you what to do, where to be. No one to stop you from feeling or thinking, from truly living in and appreciating the moment.
But the difference between being alone and being lonely is that loneliness is what you feel when all you want to do is share something with someone and they either cannot be there to share it with you or do not want to be. Being alone, on the other hand, is often a choice and it is a choice I make often.
What is better than tranquil solitude, however, is when you can have those moments of clarity and peace and also have the luxury of immediately afterwards surrounding yourself with laughter and companionship. Which is what I did. I explored, reflected, basked in the warmth of the sun and of my own contentment, and then rejoined my friends to play in the sand.
On our way back, we spotted a dolphin (maybe a porpoise). Immediately we stopped, cut the motor, and stared at the sea around us in intense silence, waiting for another sighting. Before I knew it we were adrift in the sea surrounded by dolphins, perhaps 10 of them, rocking gently back and forth while the sun was setting, listening intently for the soft tuft of air they release when they breathe.
It was an incredible experience and I think everyone, had it not been for the fact that it was 8:30 and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet, would have been content to sit there for hours and watch these beautiful ocean creatures surface. That night we feasted on clams and crab and pie made from our own handpicked wild blackberries. This is a place that has nestled in my heart, reignited a passion for adventure in my soul, and I cannot wait to return, see the familiar sights I fell in love with, and continue to explore this incredible coast.
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. Why We Travel, Pico Iyer