USA2

Ventura, California

With just two major stops along the coast today, I made quick work of the remaining rugged Big Sur coastline. I won’t linger on any flowery detail, since it’s already been covered quite inadequately, so we’ll just jump straight into the highlights.

My first stop was at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to see the McWay Waterfall — my travel guide says “if for some untenable reason you only have time to stop once along the Big Sur coast, [this park] should be the place.” So I was expecting glitter and fireworks. The tiny waterfall, which drops crisply in a single pane, one solid jump, is the only waterfall that plunges directly into the Pacific Ocean. Indeed it’s keenly placed in a circular turquoise-blue cove, but it was mostly disappointment. I spent a few minutes trying to admire it, but it’s hard when you’re restricted to 200-yards away, behind a fence with no interaction with the cove or the falls or the ocean or anything — it’s like trying to admire ordinary animals in a zoo.

The next stop was also slightly disappointing but for an entirely different reason. The Hearst Castle was dreamed, planned, replanned, built, and rebuilt by one of this century’s most powerful and influential Americans, William Randolph Hearst. I’m told it’s a place I “have to see to believe,” and I still haven’t seen it necessarily, but I’m amazed and awed by it already. The castle complex is designed to look like a little Mediterranean hill town with Hearst’s house, La Casa Grande, as the cathedral at its center.

When I arrived at straight-up noon, the next available tour wasn’t until 4:50, so I wouldn’t be able to get to see the actual castle today. But there was a showing of the National Geographic-produced film, forty-minutes long, which details the background of Hearst and his house-building, so I paid $8 for that instead. The film was excellent, professionally done, much like a motion picture studio production with costuming, story, and some jaw-dropping cinematography. And best yet, it was projected onto a huge 40-foot tall screen.

Hearst inherited most of his wealth from his father, George Hearst, who struck it rich by mining silver in California after moving from Missouri. When W.R. was just a kid, his mother and he took a year-and-a-half European tour, where it’s suggested in the movie that he got a lot of the initial ideas for his future castle. He didn’t start his castle until 1919, after the death of his mother, and when he was in his fifties. The work took 25 years while he redesigned it several times (the pool was built, torn out, and rebuilt three times). I was actually very satisfied with the film, with the views of the incredible “house” and it’s ornate decoration of fine art (144 rooms, including 36 bathrooms, two pools).

The whole experience left me in a strange mood, though — perhaps pure jealously, but maybe equally inspired. I wanted to build a business and a fortune and use that fortune to express pure creativity, pure art, something never devised before and something that could entertain the great and powerful for a time, and later, after my death, millions of ordinary tourists. Wow! Just the thought that a man, that W.R. Hearst, has actually existed and did all these things, all in a lifetime, ugh, wow, how!? Where do I sign up?

I kept my stay short — I knew nothing else could come from me staying any longer except that I could, maybe, unload nine bucks on a hot dog. So I rattled on down Hwy 1 which twisted sharply inland, away from the ocean to San Luis Obispo. I stopped there for a cheaper lunch and internet access (I had to pay at a cafe since all the California libraries don’t allow floppies or CDRs, for reasons I’ve yet to discover).

After I got back on the highway and down the road, closer to Santa Barbara, I started calling campgrounds — all the one’s I had number for — and as is tradition, I couldn’t find one with vacancy. I asked one man for tips and he gave me one bit of wisdom that turned out very useful: “you’re bound to have better luck the further you get from the ocean.” So I made a detour inland to Lake Casitas, an ordinary fishing lake stocked with rainbow trout, crappie, and bass — no swimming/wading allowed — later, with a crisp blue sunset, outlining the ragged, soft-peaked mountains of Los Padres National Forest. They had plenty of sites available and, unbeknownst to me, I happened to pick one next to a group of 11 teenage girls, some kind of christian slash girl scouts organization. They’ve been entirely well-behaved so far, but I know how loud girls can get. At least they don’t have bear flashlights.

It was purposely early when I stopped for the day, only six o’clock, because I needed to spend some time planning my day in Los Angeles. Don’t bother reading that again: I said day in Los Angeles. I’m going to try anyway. I’ve devised a cunning driving tour, where I can stop anytime I please to enjoy certain walks or sites or museums or whatever, but I’m going to try to get in and out in a day. California, strangely, has been much more stressful to me than any other place on my journey. Perhaps it’s because I’m so close to the end of my trip and I’m anxious for it all to be over, but I think there’s more to it. I’ve never been exceptionally excited about California, apart from the giant redwoods, and much less so about Los Angeles.

Besides, I only really had a few places in L.A. I wanted to see anyway, just the touristy Hollywood and Rich & Famous stuff. The list was short: Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, Sunset Strip, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and the La Brea Tar Pits. My route, which might turn out to be longer, more tedious, and traffic-clogged than I’m currently expecting (in which case I reserve the right to abort at any time) is a simple zigzag across L.A., connecting the following drives in their entirety: Mulholland Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Venice Boulevard, and La Brea Drive. These will hopefully get me to and through all the places I’m wanting to see, and leave plenty of time to get out of the city for the night.

I’m probably only 65 miles from L.A.(as the crow flies, anyway) and I can see some light reflected on the underside of the very few clouds remaining in the sky. It’s another perfectly crisp and beautiful night, but inland, here by this lake, the mosquitoes are out once again. I haven’t seen them the entire time along the coast, which makes sense, I think. Anyway, I’ll wrap it up since another impetus for me stopping so early was so I could get to bed early and get up equally early. I need to get a head start on that morning traffic.

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