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California Road Tripping

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When someone says road trip, I can be packed and ready to leave in 5 minutes. This might say something about where I’ve been, more likely about where I hope to go. A full tank of gas, a good friend and a vague plan is my salvation.

We left early in the morning with fog still covering the sloping mountains of Topanga. The car hugged the side of the mountain as we winded down the curves towards the Pacific. With the sky slightly out of focus and as pale as the sea, we headed north on the Pacific Coast Highway.

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After a pit stop in Malibu for a fruit salad from John’s Garden, we headed up the coast, trading bites of pineapple, strawberries and honeydew with a plastic fork.  Tom Jones crooned as the sun began to come out of hiding and the surfers waited on their boards for the next big wave. We sped past the Malibu Bay Club and I had a fleeting thought about an old flame as we passed El Matador and El Pascador, Zuma and Surfrider before crossing the Ventura County line, past Fillmore and SantaPaula.

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The large rock at Point Magu signaled Santa Barbara County as Tom sang “it’s not unusual to be loved by anyone”. There is no feeling like the understood and accepted silence while driving with a friend through beautiful landscape. We stopped for a walk with our canine companion Bingo on Pismo beach and collected delicate sand dollars and sea glass.

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After a long winter in Memphis, the sun stung my face. We stepped carefully around the pale blue jellyfish that had washed up on the sand and sat for a while in the ocean breeze.  Somewhere near the wheat colored fields of Cambria we put on Cat Power’s The Greatest. “No wind or waterfall could stall me.” We passed signs for Solvang and Hearst Castle, things to save for next time.

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By lunchtime we made it to the quaint old town of Cayucos and ate salads with avocados under an umbrella in the warm air. We stopped in an antique store and bought rusty horseshoes to put over the door frames back home. Before leaving we got fresh bread for dinner and monkey bread with chocolate chips for breakfast.

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A doughy smell filled the car as we continued north with the Pacific by our side. Just before sunset we made it to Big Sur and stopped for cheese and wine at the Big Sur Market. With a coffee to go we started up the winding road to our destination on a cliff overlooking the ocean. We stretched our legs and let Bingo run free.  After turning on the gas to heat the water, we settled in to large Adirondack chairs with a glass of vino to watch the sunset and listen to the waves crashing below.

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At first there were only two bright stars in the enormous sky, but later they were joined by a full cast of sparklers. Gazing up into the dark night we both saw the shooting star, golden and wide, in the blink of a moment. “And then came the rush of the flood, stars at night turned deep to dust, melt me down.”

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We spent the following day at Pfeiffer Beach among rock sculptures in a grove of trees, gently napping while the sun burned my legs. In the morning, the fog moved like a slow white ghost over the mountains as we drove further North to Salinas.

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I boarded the Coast Starlight train for my journey back to Los Angeles, with a Mexican hot chocolate and a burrito for the trip. I said goodbye quickly and found my seat on the west side of the train car.

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Within moments we began building up speed with golden fields to the east and the sapphire blue Pacific out my window. I flipped through a book without being able to make my eyes stay on the words. It’s a long ride from Salinas to LA, but I needed the time to lean against the window and sip hot chocolate.

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As the sun was setting, we pulled into the station and I carried my bag onto the platform and into the cathedral of downtown’s Union Station.  Outside in the warm night air, the palm trees welcomed me home and my ride pulled up to the curb, blonde and barefoot. With Arlo Guthrie’s “Coming into Los Angeles” blaring on the stereo, I jumped into the passenger seat.

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Story by: Terri Phillips Pictures by: Terri Phillips and Veronique Lievre

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