Trespassing Big Sur
Posted on 24 May 2017
I love nothing more than spontaneously hopping on a plane to paradise but sometimes we forget there are great adventures to be had right under our nose. If you're living in California, Big Sur is in your back yard and is a treasure that must be explored. Big Sur is 85 miles of stunning, undeveloped mountains sharply diving into the sea.
One October, several friends and I decided that we would reserve a few camping sites at Limekiln Campground and see if Big Sur lived up to the hype. It took three SUVs to haul all our friends and camping gear. Most of us left Friday morning but my friend Chaz and I had to work a few hours in the morning and would have to catch up with the group when we finished.
The next day Chaz and I put on our favorite Mana Loa t-shirts and piled all our supplies into my Jeep and left in the late afternoon. The GPS said the drive would take four and a half hours. After three hours we reached the beginning of Big Sur. We were taken back by the sheer cliffs that plunged into the rough ocean, and by the windy, perilous road that was carved into the cliff.
I became tense and slowed my speed below the limit because I knew the slightest error could send me over the cliffs to a gruesome death. At the same time I was struck with awe and the danger made me feel alive and forced me to be completely present in the moment.
Most of Big Sur is not habitable and gas stations and cell phone towers are scarce. 30 minutes into Big Sur we lost cell phone service rendering my GPS useless. We knew the name of the campground but it was getting dark and the roads branching off from the highway were poorly marked.
We were two and a half hours into Big Sur and the sun began to set. As we turned another corner we saw the iconic arc shaped Bixby Bridge. It united Northern and Southern California over a canyon deeper than the length of two football fields. But unfortunately, as magnificently beautiful as the bridge and its landscape was, this meant we were way past our mark and had to turn around.
After we crossed the bridge and took some photos I turned the car around and headed back down the coast south. We noticed a perfect point break but unfortunately it was behind a barbed wire fence and a “No Trespassing” sign. Some adventures just aren't meant to be.
The next gas station appeared an hour later and we thought it would be prudent to ask for directions. The cashier said Limekiln was just ten miles further.
The sun had completely set so we watched the odometer carefully. Once we hit ten miles we slowed to 20mph and carefully scoured the landscape for our sign. This time we saw it. We had arrived. Four hours late but in good shape otherwise.
We had a very full day ahead of us so we woke up early around 6:30am to get a start on the day. Our campground had transformed under the light of day. Our tent sat under towering redwoods and overlooked a fresh mountain stream that flowed through a canyon which opened up into a picturesque cove.
We packed up my Jeep with our surfboards and went to check out a few different breaks. Big Sur gets unobstructed swell from the West and fall is peak season. We checked out three sites but decided on Sand Dollar State beach. Sand Dollar was a beach break and today it had perfect 8ft A-frames. Even better, there were only three other surfers out in the line up, unheard of back in Los Angeles.
Parking is right off the highway and atop crescent shaped cliffs to form a wide cove. There are a few rock formations in the water on the left hand, almost as if the ocean got sloppy and missed a few spots when eroding the coast. We go down a steep staircase and I can feel my heart start to pump. I am a little intimidated by the size of the waves.
When I get to the bottom I start to stretch, but it’s difficult in my 4/3 wetstuit. Booties are also a necessity in Big Sur, partially so your feet don’t freeze and partially because the rocky ocean floor. I strap my leash on, run into the ocean, and start the long paddle to the break.
The break at Sand Dollar is fairly far out so expect to do a few duck dives and feel the burn in your shoulders by the time you get out to the break. Once I’m out, I take five minutes to catch my breath and play with a few kelp bulbs that are the size of my fist.
Then it’s off to the races. We are hit by wave after wave of head high swells peeling both left and right for 50 yards before they close out. They look as if they are perfectly sculpted out of glass, seemingly by the hand of God himself.
Two hours later and we’re all spent and take our last rides to the shore. We exchange high fives and spend few minutes sitting on the beach soaking up our surroundings. Then it’s back up the steep stairs to our vehicles.
We get back to our campsite and all decide to take a quick nap before lunch. For lunch we make grill cheeses and have a little more coffee. Then it’s off for a hike into the maize of redwoods that cover the Big Sur Mountains.
We chose to stay at Limekiln for two reasons: it’s close proximity to the prime breaks and it’s world class hiking trails. When I saw pictures online of the beautiful waterfall, my favorite feature, just a three-mile trek from our campsite, I knew Limekiln was where we had to stay.
We mosey up the path that weaves through mossy rocks and thick redwoods and up the face of the mountain. The path is well groomed and easy to navigate other than a few creek crossings. Getting to the waterfall is only a mild workout so after soaking in its beauty and snapping a few photos we trek a few miles higher into the bluffs.
Once we are satisfied with our workout, we make our way back downward. My heavy breath and racing heart force me into the moment. Outside the rustling of my comrades and I, there are only the sounds of the chirping birds and the whistling wind. We were completely submerged in nature and I felt a wave of serenity wash over me.
We take some time to catch our breath when we reach the bottom. Anther plus of the Limekiln campsite is there are showers and we all take turns freshening up. Then we gather around a picnic table and begin preparing burgers and hot dogs for dinner.
We eat our dinner in fold out chairs on the beach as we watch the sunset. There is a distinct pink hue to the sky so surreal I swear it must be a painting.
Once it’s dark we reconvene at the campsite and form a circle around the fire. We rehash the events of the day, play music, and then retire to our sleeping bags. I usually have difficulty falling asleep but the song of crickets and crashing waves quickly lull me to sleep.
The next day was a blur. We were so exhausted that we had to snooze our alarms until 8:30, giving us ten hours of sleep. We quickly got in our cars and drove to the nearest surf break. It was a little windier today, creating choppier waves, but we were the only ones in the water and we still had a great session.
When we got back to the campsite, we packed up our tents and other gear. This is always my least favorite part of the trip partially because it symbolizes the fun is over and partially because it is quite tedious. Fortunately we get the job done quickly and have time for one last short hike.
I’m feeling a little frantic at the end of the hike am actually relieved to drive home. Chaz and I get the last of our gear in the trunk of my Jeep and then jump in. We put on some mellow music and begin the scenic drive down Highway 1. An hour in and once again I feel calm.
We’re halfway home and I’m waiting to feel the dread of another workweek but it doesn’t come. I had lived life to the fullest this weekend and I felt completely satisfied. I was centered and I knew whatever this next week threw at me I would handle it.
I had tapped into the Mana Loa within me. I had found the Great Power.
-Matthew Engel, Founder