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  • 7/29/2019 Kayak Diaries



    Observations, Environmental History, and Radness

    from a 400-Mile Paddle down California


    Ian Montgomery

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  • 7/29/2019 Kayak Diaries



    The Kayak Diaries

    Chapter 1 - Monterey 4

    Chapter 2 - Big Sur 17

    Chapter 3 - Pismo Guadalupe 33

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    --- CHAPTER ONE ---


    of the


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    Day 1

    Lane and I sit back in our kayaks and stroke forward, making sure to rotate our

    chests, maintaining the illusion of competence. Michael watches from the sand.

    The next day we notice my mistake. The front page ofThe Salinas Californian

    carries a photo of Lane and me kayaking off Lovers Point. Something jumps out

    immediately; my paddle is clearly upside down. I am about to set off kayaking down 400

    miles of California coast, and I dont even know how to hold my paddle.

    Armed with dim wits, a research grant and a few years of environmental science

    coursework, Lane, Michael and I are set to embark on a storytelling project by kayak.

    Our goal is perform interviews exploring how Californians interact with the coastline.

    On the day of our departure we stroke through clumps of kelp, leaving friends,

    TV crews and reporters on the beach. Michael remains ashore, eyeing the spectacle

    through polarized sunglasses. Today Michael takes his turn of driving the support car, my

    moms 1999 Suburban. Michael will keep tabs on us via VHF radio.

    Goosebumps form on Michaels dark legs. A brown sweatshirt, hood pulled up, is

    his only real defense from the morning chill. He stands with the same upright nobility he

    surfs with, like a Polynesian king, or a constipated meerkat. Michael was born and raised

    on Kwajelein Atoll, a U.S. Air Force base in the Marshall Islands. Without making eye

    contact, he answers questions from lingering onlookers. Michaels dark brown eyes fix

    on Lane and me, stroking into the thick cloudbank offshore. He doesnt mean to be rude

    to these onlookers, but he is deeply concerned.A couple of idiots, he thinks to himself,

    and Im one of them.

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    Lane strokes to my side, holding his paddle right side up. He wears blue fingerless

    gloves and neoprene socks, or booties. Lane was raised in the small rural town of

    Lawton, Michigan. He worked summers at the local hardware store, where one of his

    chief duties was to weigh gophers for the annual largest-rodent competition. If he feels

    out of his element in the ocean that morning, he masks it well. He looks determined,

    poised and slicing through the grey water in the orange kayak he has christened

    Hammerhead Eagle Thrust. Only when Lane attempted to register our SPOT GPS

    tracking device in that ridiculous name had Michael stepped in.

    Dude, if the Coast Guard receives a distress signal from Hammerhead Eagle

    Thrust, theyre not going to take us seriously, Michael insisted.

    Lane acquiesced with a smirk. We registered the GPS trackers as

    CoastalMission1 and CoastalMission2. Lane still calls his kayak Hammerhead Eagle

    Thrust.I wear neither gloves nor booties, giving the dying traces of poison oak the salt

    and chill treatment. More often than not, I have poison oak. Im not a very careful person

    and love hiking along the California coast. I was born on the front end of four children

    and grew up in a large pink house in Los Angeles. My right shoulder carries a pink mark

    from where Lane slapped me earlier. I probably deserved it. It started when an older lady

    walked by the news crew hullabaloo that morning.

    All you scientists, all you do is study, study, study. Why dont you ever do

    anything? Dont we know enough already? Its time to do something. She looked ready

    to hit me.

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    Actually, maam, Im afraid were not scientists. I put on my best smile. You

    see, were sea otter hunters, prospectors really, looking to go into the marine mammal

    jerky business.

    The woman walked away, pretending not to hear me.Lane slapped me before I

    could continue; luckily the reporters didnt catch the exchange.

    Leaving the shelter of Lovers Cove, waves pitch us erratically about the

    Monterey Harbor. The wind grows from the north, and the swell bounces between three

    and five feet. Our rain shells flutter like plastic supermarket bags. Whitecaps splash into

    our boats, drenching our legs with an icy sting. Why does it have to be stormy on the first

    damn day? I think back to the words of Steve Palumbi, director of Hopkins Marine


    Well if you guys do end up dying, thatll probably happen somewhere between

    Monterey and Big Sur, Palumbi had warned us.

    Lane and I grow queasy with the bobbing crest of each passing wave. When hes

    not acting as director of Hopkins Marine Station, one of the big three marine laboratories

    in the United States, Steve Palumbi plays in a rock band called Sustainable Sole. I would

    describe their music as mix of Weird Al Yankovich and a punk Rachel Carson. He is also

    a world expert on whale migration. After telling us he thought wed probably die,

    Palumbi added we should give the trip a go anyway; he even gave us some books.

    The folks at Hopkins Marine Station, nestled into Pacific Grove, the southern

    suburb of Monterey, have always been eccentric. From Hopkins founding in 1892, the

    scientists were regarded skeptically as folks acting with unhampered morals. As

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    sophomores, Lane and I enrolled in a three-week marine biology seminar at Hopkins

    Marine Station. We passed our days meditating, drinking wine and exploring the Big Sur

    coastline. The experience changed our lives, but unfortunately by its conclusion I

    couldnt tell you jack-shit about a tide pool.

    But good science needs a little eccentricity, a relentlessly questioning eye, a

    healthy disregard for the dogmas of the past. From its outset more than 100 years back,

    Hopkins has served as a bastion of groundbreaking marine research. Conservative Pacific

    Grove took a live-and-let-live stance towards Hopkins, a kind of humble respect we are

    just learning to give to the sea.

    The thick kelp beds tug at our feather-light paddles, threatening to consume our

    vital tools. Sea otters squirm with delight, rolling themselves forward in mysterious

    propulsion. Despite their childish nature, they seem wise, like sneaky children spying on

    their parents. The otters seem to be in a perpetual state of play, even while eating. Using

    tools, otters crack and feast on shellfish, consuming up to 30 percent of their body weight

    in food every day. With their small heads and child-like hands, the otters play to a faint

    paternal instinct in Lane and me, two twenty-year-old boys. We stop to oogle, watching

    our furry aquatic cousins writhe in delight. Another wave breaks into our laps, washing

    us back to reality.The otter colony we pass through is a relatively recent development, or recovery

    for that matter. One hundred years earlier the same thriving kelp beds we paddle over

    were nothing more than balding tendrils struggling in a dying bay. Sea otters were

    thought to have gone extinct. That is, except for by a few Big Sur ranchers who guarded

    the final otter colony like a family secret.

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    Unfortunately for the otters, their pelts made great fur. Richard Henry Dana, the

    famous scribe of pre-U.S. California, and namesake of Dana Point, was an otter pelt

    trader. By 1811, more than 9,000 otters were making their way to China each year. The

    tragedy of the commons played out, and by the 1830s Captain John Rogers Cooper

    doubted the annual otter take would reach 600. By the time California became a state in

    1850, the commercial otter trade had ceased altogether. Californians had turned their

    attention to gold. But out of sight, another revolution was taking place. Abalone and sea

    urchins, once the staple of sea otters voracious appetites, boomed in the vacuum of

    natural predators. These herbivores grazed Montereys once bulbous kelp forests down to

    nearly nothing. Within a few decades, the decline of one species, the sea otter, had led to

    the disappearance of the entire kelp forest ecosystem.

    After the otter trade, more booms and busts followed. Populations of whales,

    abalone, and eventually the sardines processed at Cannery Row were all decimated. By

    the 1920s, the water of Monterey Bay was a goopy dead zone of fish guts and grime.

    More than 100,000 pounds of fish parts were expelled into the bay each day. Tourism

    was nearly abandoned on account of the smell. Stanford students studying at Hopkins

    Marine Station would not dare swim in the soupy broth.

    Hey man this weather seems a little sketchy, hisses Lane through my

    waterproof VHF radio. What do you think?

    Yeah, youre right, but lets give it another thirty minutes; could just be morning

    sickness. Lane makes a good point, but we cant go in early on the first day. That would

    be embarrassing.

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    We paddle north around Asilomar, where offshore sits the sunken coffin of Julia

    Platt. In 1935, Mayor Julia Platt opted to be buried at sea. She wanted to make a point,

    calling attention to Montereys dying bay. Having the city councilmen act as pallbearers,

    balancing her coffin aboard the funeral boat, Platt gave the government officials no

    choice but to pay attention to the grey state of the bay. The stench of fish guts must have

    been unbearable as the makeshift funeral procession motored across the Bay.

    A fierce woman with a doctorate in zoology, Mayor Platt was a force of nature.

    She cared deeply about her beloved Pacific Grove coastline, and would go to great

    lengths to protect it.

    In 1931, a local hotel built a gate illegally blocking a beach access trail near

    Platts home in Pacific Grove. Officials took no measures to remedy the situation, so Platt

    borrowed an ax, walked down to the hotel, smashed the gate, and erected a sign: Opened

    by Julia B. Platt. I act in the matter because the council and police department of Pacific

    Grove are men and possibly somewhat timid. The fence stayed down. Three months later

    Julia was elected mayor of Pacific Grove. She was 74 years old.

    Platts legacy lays not in her destruction but in her creation. She established

    Californias first marine reserve off Hopkins. Amid the grim dead zone of Cannery Row,

    Julia built a sanctuary where tiny larvae may swim or be carried by currents to all points

    along the shore.

    Julia, a more learned scholar than most Hopkins professors, had strong scientific

    intuitions. Californias modern Marine Protected Areas now operate under remarkably

    similar principles to Julias own, creating safe homes from which organisms can disperse,

    enriching areas down-current.

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    Platts work, although resented at the time, would eventually pay off. Throughout

    the 1940s and 50s otters grew in numbers, re-establishing a natural order by consuming

    urchins and abalone. Where the otters repopulated, kelp forests returned with vigor. In the

    1960s, otters rounded the point to Hopkins Marine Station. There in Platts reserve, the

    otters found the promised land, a feast of food so rich that within a year a colony of 75

    otters lived comfortably off Hopkins. Otters have now made their way north to Ao

    Nuevo and as far south at Point Conception. Kelp rebounded as the sea otters consumed

    urchins and abalone, the chainsaws of the kelp forest. As thriving kelp beds replaced the

    grey broth of grime, tourism revived in Monterey. Sea otter knit socks now sell for

    $11.99 outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I own a pair. Julia Platts home has been

    converted into a bed and breakfast, its front windows opening up to a much different

    Monterey Bay, a much better Monterey Bay.

    Hey isnt that Pebble Beach? asks Lane.

    I dont know, so many freaking golf courses here, I reply.

    We paddle in front of Carmels famous Pebble Beach golf course. The wind

    eases, the swell calms, and the sun shines through. Black and white banners from the U.S.

    Open the weekend prior still stand, waving gently. The ocean feels more pleasant now,

    like she finally had her morning coffee.

    We stop at a cove we have seen countless photos of, but never dreamed we would

    visit, Ghost Tree. This place would look a world away come winter. Forty- to sixty-foot

    mountains of water, waves from North Pacific storms, would crash perilously close to the

    rocky entrapment inside. A few men surf Ghost Tree, many chemically strung out so as

    not to feel the fear we evolved in the face of 60-foot monsters. But today is a world away

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    from that circus, as mild swells rock us back and forth. Lane and I climb from our seats,

    sitting back against the black storage containers of the Cobra kayaks, splitting a carrot

    cake Clif Bar.

    Man, you know what, I needed this. I couldnt do anything else this summer, I

    let out.

    What do you mean? inquires Lane.

    Dude, I feel like all our friends are starting to take jobs they dont necessarily

    want or feel excited about. But not us man. We built something. I think this is the start of

    something good.

    Ive always dreamed of coming to California and doing something like this. I

    mead Id be just as happy working in D.C., working for the government or for some

    bank. Get a nice slim-fitting suit, a skinny black tie, but this man, this is something


    We drift closer to the cliffs, and I start to tune Lane out. I figure Im not being

    rude, Ive heard most of this before. Lane fades and I hear the ocean take over.Dont be

    fooled kids, the ocean warns through the wet cracks of the dark cliffs. You know Ive sunk

    plenty of ships around here, even taken out a few surfers not too unlike yourselves. Its

    not that I wanted to or anything. They were just being dumb.

    So dont mind this hat Im wearing, these golf courses and luxury hotels. Theyll

    be gone as quickly as they came. But look close. Look at the mussels, how they glue

    themselves to my chest. Thats the toughness you need to survive in the long run.

    Toughness and a little humility. Theres no hubris to a mussel, and it dont go out of its

    way to change things neither. Just sits and take what comes, not minding the brutal life,

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    maybe even delighting in it. Now today Ill let you two pass in your bright orange kayaks,

    but if you want to survive Big Sur, remember the mussel. The colonies of rugged mussels

    shimmer in the afternoon sun. I gaze off, wondering why the Pacific Ocean has a Texan


    Its just crazy man, you know what I mean? Lane knew I wasnt listening to

    him. He could see it in my distant eyes.

    Uhyeah man. Hey lets keep paddling. This place is spooky, I suggest.

    Yeah theres an energy here. Definitely an energy, reckons Lane.

    A few miles down, on the steep sandy mountain of Carmel beach, we surf our

    kayaks in to Michael standing on shore. Hugs go all around. Lane and I bend down to lift

    up the kayaks. The boats are noticeably heavier, as they have taken on quite a bit of

    water. This may be a problem.

    From now on no news crews guys, says Michael.

    Yeah that was funny, replies Lane.

    We load up the car, grunting to lift the kayaks above the Suburbans high roof. As

    a reward, we dip back into the sea for a quick bodysurf.

    Before heading into Big Sur the next day, we decide to stock up on food. We pull

    the Suburban, kayaks on top, into the local Carmel Safeway. Inside we feel strange to be

    in such a familiar place. As if we had travelled to space and found a supermarket chain

    there, complete with a Starbucks and free wifi.

    Lane and I catch a boy staring at us. He has long blonde hair and the telling mid-

    neck tan line of a devoted surfer. He couldnt have been more than a year or two younger

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    than us. Lane smiles and the boy ducks away, only to reappear later, a little flushed in the

    face, a few aisles down. Finally, a third time, near the Hormel Chili, the boy gets the

    nerve to approach us.

    Hey youre the kayakers right? Youre the dudesonthe morning news?

    The boy struggles to push out every word, as if he were covered in bugs and

    delivering lines in a play. Lane and I both know people with Aspergers syndrome, a mild

    form of autism, and we shift to warmer dispositions.

    Yeah man, thats us. Hows it going? replies Lane.

    That sounds like arad trip.

    As soon as the words are said, the boy skirts around the next aisle. Lane and I

    dont need to say anything to each other. It had taken the kid more courage than we can

    imagine to speak to us. We feel flattered.

    Hey, the boy reappears. So when you get down to Point Sur, be careful of the

    ranchers. Theyre real assholes, there are good waves north of the point, but if they catch

    you, youre fucked. Theyre real assholes.

    Thanks man, replies Lane with surprise.

    Yeah no worries, it sounds like a really rad trip. The kid walks away smiling.

    I dont know if the kid had Aspergers syndrome or not. But I do know that he

    suffered from an intense shyness, the kind of shyness that makes interactions with

    strangers both excruciatingly painful and remarkably thrilling at once, a sort of social


    I was a painfully shy child myself. I avoided every public speaking role possible.

    This shyness lasted through high school and college, and still lingers in skipped hugs and

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    avoided eyes. But when I found the ocean and surfing, I began to come out of my shell

    more. I would roam to unknown beaches and talk to strangers about waves and tides. I

    took a class on interviewing my sophomore year and was hooked. I never had a felt more

    of a rush than when interviewing someone. It was strange, as if I had a license to use all

    the curiosity and wonder that had hidden for so long behind my shy exterior. That feeling

    was why I wanted to kayak down the coast. I wanted to interview my home state, to hear

    it, to feel it, to touch it, to learn its secrets. When the shy Safeway boy both ran from and

    towards us in the frozen foods isle, I saw a lot of myself doing the same push and pull

    towards the state of California. I knew it would be hard to put myself out there and speak

    with complete strangers. But now was the time to do it.

    As we pack our gear for the night, we meet a couple vacationing from Tennessee.

    The two arrive on an odd-looking tour bus making its way around California. I wonder

    how the top-heavy behemoth will fare along the turbulent Big Sur roads. The wife opens

    her purse and pulls out two plastic water bottles full of sand.

    The dark sand is frum San Francisco, and this white sand here is frum Carmel,

    were waiting to get more sand frum down in Santa Monica. Our tour heads there


    She holds two ribbed water bottles, simultaneously caging and framing the grainy

    treasure inside.

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    --- CHAPTER TWO ---




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    Day 2

    Michael and I squat over the kayaks as if ceremoniously pooping in public. With

    knees trembling in cold seawater, we wait for a pause in the gentle surf. Lane observes

    from the foggy and otherwise empty beach. Today is Lanes day to drive the support car.

    We are in Carmel, California.

    The two-foot waves lull into stillness. Michael and I rock ourselves down into the

    kayaks seats. We dig the paddles into the stiff water, mining for propulsion. The kayaks

    gather momentum and rush seaward, cresting a small set of waves. Michael and I make it

    out, dry and a bit chilly. Waves and wind carry on their peaceful whisper. Although we

    shout and smile, we know this will be our last easy launch for quite a long time.

    There is a problem, an unspoken problem. We are in over our heads. Between the

    three of us we have a very little kayak experience. We are headed into Big Sur, a place

    where novice kayakers are warned never to paddle, a place where the steep dark cliffs,

    dense fog, raging currents and sharks keep out all but the most mentally imbalanced. But

    for now we take an odd comfort in our lack of preparation; its as if we are too

    unprepared to die, too stupid for anything to go wrong. We watch a lot of movies.

    Point Lobos, a dark hand with wet knuckles of granite, rises out from water to the

    south. Point Lobos, wolf point in Spanish, is the first of the big three California land

    masses we will paddle, places where raging currents converge and winds can wake and

    roar with only a moments warning, places where ships have sunk and will continue to

    sink for as long as there are ships.

    We must paddle a mile to sea in order to safely pass. We stroke west, giving Point

    Lobos its proper berth. The grey water looks smooth but I feel an erratic turbulence

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    below, like giant logs rolling under a fluid carpet. Underneath gapes the Monterey

    Submarine Canyon, black cliffs veering into the cold deep. But we are blind to all of that,

    and instead of vertigo we feel nothing, maybe a bit chilly.

    Sea lions and seals, the carolers of the central coast, bark through the rush of the

    wind. We look inland and see the dark rocks of Point Lobos teeming with these marine

    mammals. Two hundred years ago a Chinese fishing village sat above the cliffs to our

    left. They have since been abandoned for more agreeable land.

    As Michael and I approach Point Lobos, the swells rise. Waves do not come in

    timed succession, but instead bounce off the point, bending into fleeting pyramids and

    trenches. My heart takes the staccato beat of the waves. My torso trembles with

    adrenaline. I paddle with a hint of mania.

    The 18-foot kayak bounces and flips. Im immersed in the grey cold ocean with

    my red windbreaker clinging to tense arms.

    Ahhhhh balls, I cry out.

    Shouldve worn your full-body wetsuit, chimes Michael from inside a full-body


    I swim to the kayak, placing my paddle between the metal foot braces. I climb

    back in like a wet puppy.

    Michael carries on, dead cool, paddling evenly, eyes fixed to the south. Michael is

    a gnarly dude in his own quiet way. He swam competitively for the Marshall Islands out

    of high school. Phelps and the Americans crushed him in the world championships, but

    he didnt mind. Before that, at sixteen, Michael was first person to circumnavigate his

    home island, Kwajelein Atoll, an Air Force base halfway between Hawaii and the

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    Philippines. He made the rugged four-day crossing in a lake-boat, a sailboat meant for fat

    rednecks on ponds, not open-ocean crossings.

    So what was it like sailing around Kwajelein? I ask. Were you ever scared?

    Well you know we had some pretty hairy times, my brother and I, especially

    when we were out of radio contact. Oh man that was rugged. Or when we woke up to

    coral heads scratching the hull of our sailboat. I thought we were toast.

    You ever been out in a kayak in anything like this? I ask.

    In a kayak? Um I dont know, Michael replies, his tone more curious than


    One does not round a point as one may summit a mountain. Simply the point

    waits at your front, passes by your side, and minutes later you look left and realize you

    are out in deep water, the point behind you. There is no conquering moment as with

    climbing a mountain. Just fear and a slightly lower degree of fear.

    Once Michael and I pass Point Lobos, there is no celebration. To our left rises a

    grey-brown mountain. We cannot see the top, only clouds a few hundred feet above us.

    The slit of Highway One breaks the cascade of mysterious geology. We are not safe. This

    is the beginning. Point Lobos was just the gate, Big Surs shit-splattered castle walls.

    To our south stretch relentless cliffs with no beaches in sight. In the eight more

    miles to Garrapata Beach, our destination for the day, there is only one possible safe

    landing. We know; we looked. Our kayaks are not watertight. Crashing waves fill the

    boats inner compartments with water. We estimate we have six hours of kayaking before

    the boats become too heavy to paddle. This would not be a problem in most places, as we

    would just find a beach and bail out the kayaks before re-launching. However in Big Sur,

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    a stretch of rocky coast with few beaches, often ten or even fifteen miles apart, this fact is

    scary. Once we do come ashore, most of the beaches belong to unfriendly ranchers.

    Earlier we were warned about local landowners notorious for being tough on trespassers.

    Be careful,some of the beaches you land on are still in private hands, and people can be

    realprotective. We are careful to take quick breaks, only when necessary.

    The wind picks up two miles out from Garrapata. Whitecaps crest and break,

    spilling icy ocean across our legs. I paddle quickly, sporadically, almost entirely out of

    adrenaline. Michael remains collected. According to our GPS Garrapata is close, but still

    we cannot see the beach, instead only cliffs and ocean.

    Michael, Ian, this is Lane; do you copy? The black VHF radios dangling from

    our life vests come alive.

    Yeah Lane, this is Mike, we copy. Whats up?

    Ooo-ooh boy, its heavy. Lanes voice loses any formality. The waves are

    breaking about six to eight feet on sets, super powerful, lots of scattered boulders too.

    Lane promises to wait at the north end of the beach where the sets are the least

    demented. I feel tired; there is no more adrenaline left for this.

    Michael leads and I trail about 75 feet behind. Garrapata Beach comes into view,

    like a thin white book compressed under the mountains of Big Sur. We feel as though we

    are sneaking up on a sea monster.

    Sitting 800 yards offshore, Michael and I wait for an excruciating ten minutes,

    judging our escape through the surf. Each wave cracks like splintering wood. We spot

    Lane on the beach, the only person aboard this long, sandy anomaly. Without warning

    Michael darts for shore. I look behind to a relatively flat sea. Michael gains surprising

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    speed, probably twelve knots, about fifteen miles per hour. As he enters the surf zone

    marked by white froth, I see a dark lump coalesce on the horizon. Although nothing

    spectacular for the day, the wave is still enough to snap Michaels kayak in half. My boat

    bobs over the wave as the ocean pitches forward to Michael in the basin below. I judge

    the wave to be four feet from behind, making it eight feet from the front.

    Power is more important than height. An eight-foot wave at Garrapata carries the

    force of a fifteen-foot wave at Carmel. While most waves tumble forward like a tower of

    cards, Garrapata compresses into a loud gaping tube, and then folds up and compresses

    on itself once more, an action akin to kneading dough. The pressure sends a ribbon of

    spray out the back of the wave, a firework that shoots through the liquid water and jets

    ten feet into the air. Michael keeps his boat pointed forward and reverses his motion,

    back paddling to mount the charging beast.

    At this point Michael is out of view, but still I can tell you exactly what happens,

    as the same would happen to Michael, Lane, and myself all too many times over the

    coming months. Much less violently, of course, but the physics do not change. Almost as

    soon as the wave hits Michael he feels a terrible, wonderful lift. His rudder is useless,

    having no traction in the confused whitewater. Michael spins and surfs inwards out of

    control, side to the wave. Suddenly, and with painfully predictability, Michaels front end

    catches against the water and Michael flips forwards, plunging into the sea. He writhes in

    the cold black, pulled shoreward like a tin can behind the car of a newlywed couple.

    Michael may or may not manage to hold onto his paddle. It doesnt really matter. The

    kayak continues to ride the wave into shore, where Lane waits like a six-inch-tall

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    shortstop. Michael swims in with limp conviction, loaded down with waterproof

    electronics, stiff with cold.

    I resign to the sad truth. There is no point in trying to time a safe exit through the

    waves. No matter what I do, I am going to get munched. I look out to sea, and with no

    offensively large set waves on the horizon, I dig my paddle into the water, gathering

    momentum towards shore. I pass from grey-blue ocean to the white foam of the surf

    zone. I feel like a lost tourist running across the 405 Freeway.

    Then the shore is upon me, and I roll off my seat, grunting my kayak up the

    beach. Holy shit, I made it.

    On the beach, Michael recounts his story with usual reserve. All steps were


    I thought I could ride the wave in sideways but my front edge met some

    incoming backwash, so I bailed and held on to my paddle. It was tough with all our gear,

    but I just let the surf drag me in and prayed to God I didnt hit any underwater rocks.

    Lane turns to me and asks, Shit man how was your landing? I was so busy

    grabbing Michaels yak I didnt even see.

    Made it clean, I reply.


    Yeah, I guess the ocean just didnt see me.

    We walk through bristly oxtongue and poison oak back to the support car on the


    Day 3

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    The next morning we pull up to Garrapata once more. Today is my day to drive.

    Lane and Michael will kayak. We run down the path to the beach, slipping over stones

    and driftwood. We are stopped as the ocean comes into view.

    The waves have grown to ten feet, bigger than yesterday and breaking with the

    same ferocity. Paddling in with the waves was one thing, but paddling out against those

    waves, that would be impossible. And dumb. The ocean does not want to play.

    Something is wrong. We are supposed to paddle out to sea, and make it twelve

    miles to Andrew Molera State Park. I have a document on my computer that says so, the

    dates laid out neatly in an Excel spreadsheet. The same is true all the way to La Jolla on

    August 15th. We made an appointment with the ocean for afternoon tea, but now she

    wants to go to a metal concert. This isnt Stanford, and its foolish to schedule our days.

    We look out to sea. Buildings of whitewater tumble forth.

    There is no way in hell Im paddling into that, says Lane more to Michael than

    to me.

    Michael runs his hands through his black hair.

    So I guess were not kayaking today? I probe.

    Nope, Michael finally agrees.

    Our world brakes to a standstill. We had been in constant motion for months,

    frantically planning, going to school, accumulating gear, practicing. None of us had slept

    more than five hours a night in weeks. And although we crave rest, the stillness of that

    morning feels wrong. Undeserved. The blood rushes from our flushed faces. Suddenly

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    the ocean doesnt seem so hectic. The crashing waves seem a little more distant. Less

    immediate. Peaceful even.

    What do we do now? I ask.

    Hmmmwe could eat some trail mix, chuckles Lane.

    We had arrived in Big Sur.

    The ritual that morning in Garrapata, of expectation and disappointment, would

    continue for a week. As out frustration grew, so did our respect for Big Surs moody


    We pull out a map and look down the coast. From where we stand there is hardly

    a town for 90 miles. Large tracts public land read like a whos who of early Central Coast

    pioneers. The Pfeiffers, the Partingtons, the Moleras; all 19th century ranching families,

    now immortalized as state parks. Most early settlers donated their land rather than giving

    it up to development. We look above us, the sharp clean cliffs seems entirely naked of

    civilization.How did this happen? we wonder.How does this treasure in the middle of

    California have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants? Why was Big Sur never fully developed?

    Day 9

    When I first see Susie I think shes a man. It is a frigid day at Pfeiffer Beach. The

    fog is light and although July has arrived, the ocean has decided to play winter. Michael

    and I are surfing, Lane is Lane-ing about the beach: chatting with tourists, smiling,

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    exploring, marking his territory with occasional bouts of meditation. Small ranch homes

    dot the one-lane road back to Highway One. Men on horseback scowl as we drive by.

    Cowboys posing as cowboys, says the cynic in me.

    The waves are small but punchy. A nice left-hander breaks off the southern of the

    two offshore rocks, jiggling with backwash as it peels. Its pretty gnarly set up and I am

    having a tough time making the waves. When I see another surfer paddling out, I just

    assume its a man; a man with long hair and an oddly slender figure. I know this is bad,

    but even in 2010 I dont think girls will be out on a day like this. Not until I hear her

    whistle, and whip around, do I finally see Susies face and thick brown hair spiraling over

    a well worn wetsuit.

    Susie sees me staring off into space, oblivious of the incoming set, and decides to

    issue a warning.

    Holy crap shes a woman. She smiles and nods out to sea. I see a five-foot wave

    about to detonate twenty feet to my outside. I duckdive underwater thinking,And shes

    pretty too. What the hell is a pretty lady doing out on a stormy day like today.

    We both surface in the bubbly soup, only to duck down again, retreating into

    darkness as the second wave of the set passes.

    After the set lets go its energy, I turn back to Susie to be shocked once more. Not

    only was this third surfer a girl, and pretty, but she was old too, or at least wasnt young.

    She had to have been in her 40s, the only hints of decades are a few wrinkles around the

    eyes of an otherwise taut face.

    Thanks for the warning.

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    Ha, yeah I was thinking about letting it just take you. Wouldve been funny, but I

    felt bad.

    Michael turns and I see him undergo the same reaction.A girla pretty girl... an

    older pretty girl?

    We chat lightly in between waves. Susie knows where Michaels family lives in

    Hawaii. She perks up when we tell her about the kayaks.

    Id like to see those things, she says.

    Susie keeps us surfing longer than we would have. Changing in the parking lot

    Michael and I tell Lane about what we saw.

    Dude, I think she was an old mermaid.

    Wow those are the kayaks, huh. We turned, nope two legs, not a mermaid.

    They must cut through the water. How long are those things? Susie asks.

    Umm eighteen feet.

    We chat about the coming south swell while Susie loads up her Ford Ranger, the

    dusty blue pick-up truck next to our Suburban.

    So where do you think the surf will be good?I test, not expecting a real answer.

    Big Sur locals are notoriously tight-lipped.

    Ha. Yeah there is a wave here thatll take a good south swell.Thats about all I

    can tell ya.

    Along our route from Monterey to San Diego, each region fostered its own wave-

    riding culture with a unique tongue. In Newport Beach, the best barrels were praised as

    fat. In Santa Barbara the nicest lines of swell were clean. In Big Sur, the highest praise

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    was the indefinite article a. Theres a wave here, spoken from the tight lips of a Big Sur

    local, means the world.

    As we drive back up to Highway One, Michael realizes, There we were, testing

    our limits in some pretty punchy surf, and she was just warming up for the real big waves


    Maybe this whole cowboy thing isnt such a pose, I think to myself.We pass

    another hand painted sign: Please do not touch my firewood.

    When a place humbles you with its power, you develop an allegiance to it. Big

    Sur, with its cliffs, Redwood forests and rugged beaches, inspires a sense of awe. Thus a

    mutualism, a two-way respect, develops between people and the land. As Los Angeles

    and San Francisco grew to the south and north, so did Big Surs appeal as a final stretch

    of truly rugged coast. Once the highway ran through Big Sur in 1929, the stakes in the

    fight for wilderness rose. The beach we surfed with Susie was donated to the National

    Forest Service by the Pfeiffers, one of Big Surs original ranching families. In 1930, a

    Los Angeles subdivider offered John Pfeiffer $210,000 for his land. The deal was

    rejected, and both Pfeiffer Beach and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park live on as two of Big

    Surs untouched treasures. A few miles down the beach we camped at Andrew Molera

    State Park, land that the Molera Family donated to California in 1965. The National

    Forest Service and the State Parks have protected more than 200,000 acres of Big Surs

    land. But in order to be effective, conservation must occur beyond the boundaries of the

    parks and reserves.

    In the 1970s a man named Zad Leavy came north from Los Angeles. Zad was a

    conservationist, awestruck by Big Sur. Not wanting to see the development of Southern

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    California take hold in Big Surs cliffs, he established the Big Sur Land Trust, an NGO

    picking up where the State Parks and National Forest Service left off. While the

    government accepts gifts or even pays a small fee for land, the Big Sur Land Trust

    organizes private landowners to lay down rigid protection over their own properties.

    Landowners keep the rights to their deeds, but promise to protect the land from further

    development. With these promises, called conservation easements, the watersheds and

    ecological connectivity of Big Sur are maintained beyond property lines. These

    conservation easements carry over even if the property is sold to another owner. So far

    the Big Sur Land Trust has preserved more than 30,000 acres. More important than

    acreage is the vast network of community support for land conservation. There is a sense

    among Big Sur residents that they belong to something much greater than themselves.

    Something worth protecting.

    Day 11

    They spot us before we spot them. I massage paella into shape while Lane and

    Michael trade riffs on the stringed instruments. Three American boys wearing funny

    sailor hats, perfect. Out of the fog, three blonde Scandinavian girls wearing oversize

    backpacks appear.

    Apparently the campground at Andrew Molera State Park is full and the ladies

    need a place to spend the night. We spring into action like lusty bandits. I keep looking at

    one girl in particular, white-blonde hair pulled back over tan skin and impossibly bright

    blue eyes. A long time has past without the company of girls younger than 28. I get some

    water boiling for tea. Michael and Lane pull up extra chairs.

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    As the sun sets we sit around a fire sipping tea. Anna from Denmark. Aihna from

    Denmark. Kathrina from Sweeden. All blonde. Ian from L.A. Lane: I live in the Bay

    Area. Michael from, well umm, Hawaii and also the Marshall Islands. But we all go to

    school in Palo Alto. Hands are shaken, names are mispronounced. Michael pulls out his

    guitar and starts into Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley.

    Theres one in every group of girls. Usually the quietest. The eyes you remember

    but might not remember you. This group is no exception. Aihna is the one; all eyes are on

    her, petite, with an easy but shy smile. Anna, the tomboy, is the easiest to talk to.

    Kathrina is the leader, the selector of activities and proper company. Kathrina had

    approached us first. But Aihna, Aihna had the eyes.

    Mid-song, a whisper between Anna and Aihna brushes into a peck, followed by

    deep tongue kissing. Even the squirrels do a double take. Sitting between Michael and

    Lane, Anna and my darling Aihna make out without shame or apology.

    My eyes widen at Lane; he meets my gaze. From the way they sit, we know we

    are completely shut out from their world.

    All three are lesbians, studying at Berkeley for the semester.

    Day 12

    The next morning we wake up and walk the girls down to their car. They had used

    us for a campsite and free dinner, but at least they were nice about it. They dont want

    help loading up their red Toyota, so we quietly say goodbye, and head back to camp.

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    Over our last bags of black tea we talk. It is July 7th. We have been in Big Sur for

    ten days, and have kayaked just one of those. Glimpses of Garrapatas impossible

    shorebreak and Scandinavian displays of affection pass through our heads.

    Lane breaks the silence.

    It could be another month before we leave Big Sur. I gotta finish this trip by

    September, get back and see my mom before school starts in the fall.

    We could just pack our bags and head to the county line. Start fresh in San Luis

    Obispo, I suggest.

    We all know this is probably the best option.

    Of course they went to Berkeley.

    We leave Big Sur after 10 days, after kayaking only fifteen of our planned ninety

    miles. Just as some stretches of coast are not meant to be developed, some stretches of

    coast are not meant to be kayaked. Instead they are there to remind us of just how small

    we really are.

    We drive south on Highway One, blasting Tom Petty in the July sun. We are

    almost out of Big Sur, and behind us almost one hundred miles of perfect empty coast

    luxuriate in the sun. This stretch would have been day six of kayaking, the last through

    Big Sur. The highway veers left following the flow of barren rock, and Michael turns

    down the music. To our right we look down several hundred feet of cliff to where an

    ocean should be, peering out the car windows like airplane passengers. Instead of blue

    ocean we see the tops of thick white clouds, masking a coast we will never fully know.

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    Day 18

    As a kid I would confuse the words tourism and terrorism. Not until my seventh

    grade social studies class burst into laughter at the mention of tourist attacks in

    Afghanistan did I finally learn the difference. Standing on the sand at Pismo Beach,

    dunes buggies, cars, trucks and RVs roar past Lane, Michael and me. There are no roads,

    only sand for miles in each direction. We are in the heart of the Pismo Dunes Vehicular

    Recreation Area, one of the last places in California where cars are allowed on the beach.

    It sucks. Gasoline fumes waft over dead dunes, the vegetation ravaged by ATV tires.

    Even Lane, our resident redneck, doesnt approve. Apparently these Pismo motorheads

    arent even real rednecks. According to Lane, 90 percent of these idiots need to repack

    their mufflers. Although Im not quite sure what exactly that means, I agree vigorously.

    Nothing quite unites people like a tourist attack.

    But in the darkness there is light. Pismo Beach has the best clam chowder in

    California. The Dancing Clam, a chowder joint on Pismos main drag, is the place to be.

    Beautiful blonde girls serve chowder in toasted buttery bread bowls.

    We walk into the Dancing Clam for the second time that day.

    Back again? an aproned brunette asks.

    We sweat chowder, hun, mumbles Lane under his breath.

    What was that?

    Oh, I just said you guys make its the best chowder. Lane enunciates with his

    best all-American smile.

    Once fed, we walk outside to neon lights advertising tattoos, piercings and

    medicinal marijuana dispensaries. Hotels and motels stretch up the hills behind us. The

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    town pulses with tourists fleeing the inland summer heat. Lynyrd Skynyrd pumps from

    the local bar. Just a week earlier, we had enjoyed the pristine solace of Big Sur, but now

    it seems as though Las Vegas or Fresno has descended on the sea.

    We have another hour until the tide will be low enough to drive back to our

    campsite on the sand. I opt to nap in the car. Lane and Michael give Pismo a chance.

    They walk out to the pier, guitars and harmonicas in hand. A few hooded men approach,

    mistaking the two for pot dealers. Sorry mate, no ganja, says Lane with that same all-

    American smile.

    The dejected consumers opt to stay for the music, freestyle rapping to the

    harmonica and guitar sounds of Michael and Lane. Another group approaches and a

    pseudo-religious rap battle ensues. Claims thatJesus loves you cushion disses between

    the rappers. Michael and Lane play on, smiling, shaking their heads.

    After midnight another man approaches, down on his luck, looking for company.

    He gets to talking with Lane and Michael, asking if they know the song A Pirate Looks

    at 40 by Jimmy Buffet. This song is Michaels life anthem.

    Yes, as a matter of fact, we do, replies Michael.

    Laugh at Jimmy Buffet all you like, but A Pirate Looks at 40 is as close a thing

    there is to a white mans blues song. I have three versions on my iPod: studio, Jimmy

    Buffet Live in Honolulu, and a Jack Johnson cover.

    Mother mother ocean. I have heard your call

    The song closes with the lineIm an over 40 victim of fate, arriving too late. That

    nightMichael changes the lyrics to over 20 victim of fate.

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    The man insists we sleep in his garage. He has fallen on some hard times,

    confessing that he just wants to send his kids to college so he could get back sailing

    again, get back on the ocean. Michael and Lane politely decline his garage offer. We too

    have to get back on the ocean.

    Day 19

    We wake early the next morning. The sky shows the dark blue anticipation of

    sunrise. Lane and I walk past slumbering motor vehicles into the wet sand. Michael

    readies the support car. We paddle out though the chilly lines of open ocean swell.

    Although the Pismo surf is not particularly large, just three to four feet, the low tide

    makes it such that the waves are breaking quite far out. Lane and I each run against 15 or

    20 waves before clearing the surf. As we start south to Guadalupe the kayaks are

    noticeably heavier, bogged down with water from waves breaking across our boats.

    Todays paddle is short, only eight miles, to ensure enough time for an interview

    with the Dunes Center in Guadalupe, a non-profit dedicated to community education. I

    want to know just what damage the vehicles are having on the dunes, so I paddle south

    with the determination of a Hardy Boy.

    Lets take a break, Lane suggests.

    As the morning fog begins to clear, the tangerine sun illuminates a dark blue sea.

    To our left the dunes roll onward in fantastic uniformity. Once the fog burns off on such

    an exposed stretch of coast, we only have a brief window before the wind begins to rage.

    Lane and I resume paddling.

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    As the morning sun casts shadows across the dunes wavy faces, I can see just

    why photographers Ansel Adams and Edward Weston would frequent this place. There is

    still solitude and beauty in the dunes, and plenty for everyone.

    Lane reaches back to pull down his rudder. The chord snaps and the rudder comes

    loose. One of the black plastic washers, donuts sandwiching the rudder and its encasing,

    plummets into the sea. I dive in the ocean, half for show. There was no way I was going

    to find that piece of plastic. Lane does his best to secure whats left of his rudder.

    Hey Michael, we got a bit of a problem, says Lane into the radio.

    Whats up guys? Michael voice hisses back.

    My rudder line snapped, and we lost one of the washers.

    I panic. There are no kayak stores in the area, and even if there were, I dont think

    we could get the spare parts for a rudder.

    We land through some rugged shore break. I lose my kayak and have to swim to

    shore. There is time for a brief surf before our interview in Guadalupe. The three of us

    ride a few wind-ravaged waves. Michael and I paddle out together singing My Girlby

    The Temptations, but after four or five duck dives the frigid irony becomes too much,

    and we fall silent, squirming with ice cream headaches.

    We drive a few miles east into the town of Guadalupe. From the car window

    linear rows of strawberries and lettuce meet our line of sight for a brief flash over and

    over. To the west mellow dunes luxuriates in the abundance of space. To the north the

    former Unocal oil refinery emerges from the sandy wasteland. Were it not for the coastal

    haze sponging forth from the ocean, the dunes would have a Saharan feel.

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    We veer left and cross a pair of train tracks into Guadalupe. For all I can tell, we

    have entered a small town in Mexico. Dusty brick buildings with hand painted signs in

    Spanish stretch down the main drag. The streets are empty but for one or two pedestrians.

    For the first time in hundreds of miles of coastal towns there are no tourists, motels or

    surf shops in sight. I brake the Suburban to a halt in front to the Dunes Center, a wooden

    bungalow style building to the north of town. As we stop the kayaks resonate on the roof

    like antsy guitar strings.

    Dan McElhenny, a bearded man in his mid-twenties, walks down the stairs and

    greets us. Our calloused hands meet his grip. We walk upstairs and begin the interview.

    I am so eager to ask about off-road vehicles and their effect on the Dunes that I

    almost run into a man carrying out a large framed photo. The Dunes Center has just

    hosted an exhibit of local wildlife photography in its front lobby.

    In speaking with McElhenny it becomes clear that the story of the dunes is much

    richer than a simple debate over vehicular recreation. The issue here is not damage from

    tourism. The real story of Guadalupe is one of environmental justice. It all starts with oil

    in the dunes. We sit back and listen.

    McElhenny stresses that Guadalupe is unlike any of the towns we have passed

    through. Guadalupe is an underserved community. Forty percent of the population does

    not have a high school education. Unemployment is high: 25 percent, according to the

    2000 census.

    Guadalupe was established along the rail line to bring produce to Los Angeles,

    170 miles to the south, and San Francisco, 250 miles to the north. In 1948, the first

    commercial oil well was placed in dunes. Oil near Guadalupe is tough to recover, as its

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    quite viscous, about the same consistency as peanut butter. Unocal used diluent, a toxic

    byproduct of refined oil, to dislodge the thick oil. Diluent was pumped underground as a

    thinner to raise crude oil to the surface. This practice should have raised a handful of red

    flags among regulatory agencies, especially when much of the diluent seeped out from

    pipes and was never recovered. But instead the practice was allowed to continue for 38

    years. In total, somewhere between 8.5 and 20 million gallons of diluent leaked into the

    dunes. For comparisons sake the Exxon Valdez released between 10 and 11 million

    gallons of oil.

    However, as Guadalupe isnt exactly a big tourist destination, plumes of diluent

    running into the sea were often ignored, taken as a necessary byproduct of oil extraction.

    In 1988, 65 dead sea lions were spotted covered in shiny coating of petroleum, their skin

    bright red from irritation. Few in town were surprised. Although Cal Poly SLO

    researchers have noted sharp declines in plant life in contaminated areas, the exact effects

    of diluent on the dunes remains to be determined. Some contest that the Guadalupe event

    should not be called spill, as the practices were intentional. Instead they claim the event

    should be called an oil leak.

    Little attention was given to Guadalupe. Between 1990 and 1996, 509 stories in

    major newspapers covered the Exxon Valdez spill. The Guadalupe spill only garnered

    nine articles. The diluent was accepted as a fact of life. Eventually state took action,

    forcing Unocal to undergo a long a costly cleanup, carting much of the sand away to local

    landfills, a practice of questionable environmental merit.

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    Its hard to believe that such a large spill occurred near one of the poorest towns

    along the California Coast by sheer accident. Is this surprising? No. Is it a problem? Yes.

    And McElhenny believes this is a problem he can do something about.

    At the Dunes Center today, McElhenny seeks to engage the local population with

    the dunes. He believes that recreation and education have the power to link kids with

    nature. Once the link is established, kids will grow up to protect the land they love. I

    know that philosophy worked for Lane, Michael and myself. Surfing linked us to the sea

    at a young age.

    But the Dunes Centers work is far from easy. Finding funding is tough, and

    community engagement is a constant struggle. Progress is steady but slow, and

    McElhenny measures his success in each student from Guadalupe that the Dunes Center

    helps send to college.

    We walk back outside into the bright sunlight. In most coastal towns, we look like

    an average group of 20-year-olds, but in Guadalupe we dont blend in. We walk south

    down the sidewalk, towards the beautiful old brick buildings, fossils from a built-over

    past. We pull up at the first taqueria, salivating from the days kayak. Boarded-up doors

    and a white eviction notice crush our tortilla-wrapped dreams. A few doors down the

    same occurs at Taco Loco, and again at a third taqueria next door.In total we pass eight

    restaurants, all of which are closed. On a Tuesday at 1:30 PM, the only businesses open

    in the town of Guadalupe are the thrift store, the grocery store and the hardware store.

    It can be said that Guadalupe has avoided the ugly development that comes with

    tourism. Perhaps Guadalupe remained old and undeveloped due to Highway 101s choice

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    to veer far from town. Or perhaps it was the dunes themselves, separating Guadalupe

    from the beach, that prevented tourism from ever taking off.

    The three of us sit on the sidewalk outside the towns grocery store eating Cool

    Ranch Doritos and drinking Mandarin Jaritos out of glass bottles. Although we sit on the

    edge of Highway One, few cars pass by; most are diverted to the 101 a few miles inland.

    I had romanticized Guadalupe when I first drove through the place. I cant help it.

    Im white and from a place where small town charm is something you only see in

    movies. But without the money from tourism and the voice of a highly educated English

    speaking population, Guadalupe is left vulnerable. Although I lament the day Guadalupe

    turns into another Pismo Beach, Fresno by the Sea, I cannot help but wonder if maybe

    tourism isnt such a bad thing. If Guadalupe had a few hotels on the beach, there is no

    way an oil spill would have been allowed to last for 38 years. The neon motels of Pismo

    may not be so bad after all.

    Two Latina girls pushing strollers walk by, smiling politely from behind dark, wet

    eyes. They couldnt have been more than a year older than us. Our eyes follow the girls

    down the road. Eventually they are eclipsed by the white sunlight. In their place we see

    our Suburban, orange kayaks suspended on the roof.

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    Michael Character Sketch

    Michael Taylor distrusts Macintosh products. The man is suspect of anything that

    comes easy. To Michael there is a spiritual solace in a hard days work. He likes to cook

    his own meals and take care of his own space, a fierce independence he picked up from

    his father. For a mechanical engineer, he is somewhat of a Luddite. Sometimes I vibe

    with Michael, as I know Lane does as well. Other times Michaels inner workings are a

    musty mystery, a place I do not dare venture alone.

    Paddling 14 miles through Morro Bay, Michael and I sing to keep pace with the

    long hours. Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen and Do-wa-diddy by Manfredd

    Man and his Spectacular Earth Band are immediate favorites. I love these exuberant

    battle cries.

    Michael has recently broken up with his girlfriend of four years, and is uncertain

    of his newfound freedom. Lane is more privy to his private griefs. I keep off the matter,

    but I can still tell there is some sorrow underneath the celebration.

    I ask Michael if he knows the song Brandy.

    You know the one about the sailor who loves this girl but cant bring himself to

    leave his life at sea.

    Nope never heard it.

    The hills of Montana de Oro have a powerful kindness to them, like the gentler

    younger sister of Big Sur. Lane and I play Brandy for Michael that afternoon, driving

    around the looping lonesome roads of Montana de Oro State Park. The Suburban glides

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    onward through miles of chaparral and secret coves. Pastel flowers, invasive and native

    alike, freckle the hillside. The state parks tend to protect the irregularities, areas whose

    contrast from the norm warrants marvel. Montana de Oro, although certainly rich in

    biodiversity, does not strike one with any particular freaky quality. Instead there is a

    sense that this is what Central California at its most pristine once was. Ironically, as much

    of the coast has been developed, Montana de Oro now most likely carries the same sort of

    freaky mystery originally ascribed to places like Big Sur and Yosemite, just for being


    Michael is stoic at the songs termination. Contemplative, but by no means down.

    We drove on looking for a place to rest, kayaks bouncing to a jumbled cadence.

    Occasionally Lane and I would hear errant chords of Brandy humming down

    from across sand dunes or coastal parking lots.

    A month later, in San Diego, I opened my computer and scrolled errantly through

    my iTunes library. Brandy had been played 738 times on my iPod, more than doubling

    any other song.

    Michael man! When did you play Brandy 738 times?

    Umm, well the days you guys were paddling Id just throw the thing on repeat

    and try to learn the lyrics.

    This was the same man who read Twilight in a few hours, just to see what the fuss

    was about. And proceeded to read the next two books later that week, just to see what the

    fuss was about.

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    Lane Character Sketch

    I have trouble distilling Lane to an anecdote or two. Certainly he is remarkably

    kind and funny, but many people have these traits, and Lane is not like many people. I

    believe what makes Lane special is his exuberant optimism. He never carries bitter or

    disdainful thoughts. His eyes light up with every greeting he ever gives.

    I know this optimism to be exuberant, as I have seen Lane take some serious

    beatings: lost loved ones, botched relationships, neglectful friends. Lane has the ability to

    close rough days with a beer and a smile, ready to face the new challenges of the future.

    His positive spirit is both delicate and remarkably strong.

    Lane loved the nights we would eat canned Hormel chili. It reminded him of

    home. He worked in a canning factory in Lawton, Michigan, packing Welchs grapes,

    working minimum wage with men three or four times his age. With his smile, Lane can

    bring out the humanity in everyone he meets. With Lane I have sung songs with homeless

    elderly men and played soccer with young kids.

    Lane is a man of many surprises, one being that Lane is an only child. When

    friends of Lane discover this fact, they are shocked and dismayed, for Lane is so naturally

    selfless. He cleans up after others, goes out of his way to lend a hand. Sophomore year in

    college, Lane lived in a fraternity notorious for drunken debauchery. Lane rarely made it

    to sleep before 3 AM because we was right there with everyone, one foot in the madness,

    one foot outside the madness making sure everybody made it through the night alright.

    He is the consummate protector.

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    A man much wiser than myself once called Lane the most sensitive mountain man

    he ever met. A friend of that wise man added on, You know when shit gets real, 90

    percent of people freeze, but a good few act, you know, do something to help. Lane is

    one of the good few.

    Lane has a capacity for listening unrivalled by kids his age. I say kids because

    along the California coast most kids dont grow up until their mid-to-late 20s. Lane,

    however, is a man by any societys metric. He is the type of listener who allows others to

    discover more about themselves. Lane wont advise explicitly; instead he asks questions,

    opening gates that allow others into new realms of self-discovery. I believe he learned

    this trait from his father. This ability comes from a deep and serene self-knowledge. Lane

    feels no need to prove himself, so when faced with awkward, challenging or difficult

    moments, Lane feels content to point focus on the other person.

    Within a few week of meeting Lane, a roommate turned to me and said, You

    know, I am starting to get the sense that Lane is the man. He was right.

  • 7/29/2019 Kayak Diaries




    Mum, Dad, Lane, Michael

    The Bill Lane Center for the American West

    The Stanford Earth Systems Program

    The Stanford Storytelling Project

    Almond Surfboards

    Jon Christensen, Pam Matson, Meg Caldwell, Steve Palumbi, John Kunz, Deana Fabbro-

    Johnston, Julie Kennedy, Molly Antopol, Tom Hayden, Sue McConnell, Andrew