Snapshots of Big Sur

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The first glimpse of it is almost shocking. After miles of winding greenery and fruit stands, the highway begins twisting around hills and hugging the coast. At first, the water is subtle. It peeks between hills and trees and you roll down the window to see if you could smell the sea. The subtle hint of salt teases your nostrils, just as the small glimpses of water do. The car makes a final turn around a hill and suddenly it’s a blanket of brilliant blue to your right. From the passenger seat, you stick your right hand out the window and move it up and down through the wind, feeling the waves of the ocean riding with you.

Your first weekend getaway with him was in Big Sur. You made up a story about sleeping over at Abby’s and packed your backpack and rode off in his rickety Honda Civic. The awkward first weeks of dating had passed, and you were wondering where this relationship would take you. This first place was paradise.

In the Julia Pfeiffer State Park, there is a small trail that starts at the edge of the road and begins taking you down through a short tunnel and then onto the side of the cliff. The ocean is larger here than it was from your window, up on the road. You are suddenly reminded of how small you are, how the tiny creature that you are is standing on the edge of the continent, staring into a sea that eventually grows into others, together blanketing the earth. The trail leads you to a viewing platform. Down below, on the other side of the curved edge of the cliff is a small beach with the McWay Falls. The water comes down from crevices on the mountain and hits a pool in the sand, less than a mile away from the waves coming in and out.

He parked the Civic on the side of the road and you both slept in the back, drunk with supermarket whiskey. Every so often a car would pass by, shining through the windows and waking you up. Sometimes you would forget sleep and look up through the windows. He had chosen a spot under a mass of trees, but in between the branches you could see the stars, so plentiful in comparison with the city sky under which you grew up. You imagined how the ocean must look, mirroring those small, twinkling lights, the waves crashing against the cliffs and lapping at beaches now abandoned for the night.

You woke up in the early morning as the sun was still peeking in the horizon. The stars that had shown through the trees were gone, but you saw the premature rays of daylight sparkling in the dew. Your phone blinked with unread messages and missed calls from Mom. She had checked with Abby and found that you weren’t there. He drove to a gas station where you had service and you called, explaining where you were and who you were with. It was the first time she’s ever heard about any boy. There was a feeling of regret, of shame for lying and getting caught. But as much as you felt sorry for sneaking out and lying, you couldn’t help that feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction that your overdue teenage rebellion had brought you to an Eden, just hours away from home.

The next time you see Big Sur, it is after you two had moved in together. The rickety Civic has long since retired, and you drive in your shared white Honda Fit. Night time hasalready fallen by the time you set out from home, so the winding hills stood dark and glaring against the moonlit sky. The car twists and turns around the dark sentinels. Where small scenes of brilliant blue had shone in between turns and trees, you see glimpses darker than the sky. Finally, the familiar turn comes up. The car curves around the final hill and you are surrounded by black ocean. It is violent this night, sending wave upon wave against the cliff side. But every so often it subsides and the water is still for a few moments. And it is just as you imagined that first night: the stars twinkle in the still water, shining from above and below you. You open the window and stick out your hand, letting it ride in the chilly nighttime wind.

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Chess, Infinity, and the Abyss

Chess was the first love of my life and my first encounter with the daunting abyss of infinite choices, infinite cause and effect. An important strategy of the game is to analyze the possible outcomes before making one’s move. Carelessness with even the simplest piece could open an advantage for the opponent and alter the course of the game. But as most matches are timed, there must be a limit to the analyzing: the predicting and planning. Every move has a number of outcomes that branch into more outcomes, so the possibilities multiply exponentially and it becomes dangerous to ponder, to let time tick by as one tries to map out the infinite intricacies of possible futures.

I learned how to play in 3rd grade and almost instantly fell in love with the methodical chaos. For most of the day I was a normal 7 year old girl, trading Hello Kitty stickers with Tracy and Sabrina and giggling over Zac Efron. But by the time Chess Club began I was completely transformed. I was Napoleon, setting traps and feeling fiery satisfaction as my victims fell into them.

One late spring afternoon towards the end of 5th grade, my teammates and I were on a bus to the state championships. My school had been reigning as the #1 elementary school for years. We rode into the venue with our black team visors and sponsorship Clif Bar t-shirts, ready to continue the reign of the Cherrywood Charger as well as setting our own rankings on the state ladder. I crushed my first two matches, fueling the fire with Hot Cheetos and Gatorade.

My third match was different. A typical strategy, a no-brainer, is to gain control of the center of the board by moving the center pawns early in the game: this allows the stronger pieces, such as the knight, queen, or bishop to come out and take positions in or around the middle. Pawn to E4 is ingrained into every chess player’s mind. But my third opponent that day, a scrawny boy with silver wiry glasses and a furrowed brow, did not follow the silent rule. Instead, he opened the game with his peripheral pawns. They stood at A4 and H4, taunting me, daring me.

At first I dismissed his choices as that of someone with no skill.  I figured it would be an easy victory. But by the time he had developed his other pieces’ positions, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. I was losing, and with a tightness in my gut I began to scrutinize every single moment, considering at least five different ways he could go for every one move I made. I could no longer map out different strategies; there were far too many, and I was running out of time. Our tournament clocks kept track of how much time we each had: he was still at 4:32 when I realized mine read 0:30. And I froze, staring at the ticking second hand, too paralyzed to even lift my my own.

“Hey, are you gonna go?” He asked, nodding at my diminishing time. I was at 0:12.

At 0:07 I realized the match was over. I let it go to 0:00 and watched him raise his hand. The volunteer judge came and wrote Forfeit on my chart, Victory on his. We shook hands, exchanging a polite “Good game” and went our separate ways.

Thought had gotten the best of me in a game that was supposed to revolve around thoughtfulness and deliberation. I had gone too far in my mind and lost myself in the labyrinth of What Could Be’s and What Could Happen’s. The maze of outcomes that had previously been my joy and solace had betrayed me.

There is a line between thoughtfulness and rationality, and instinct and spontaneity. The missing strategy of chess that I never quite grasped during my competitive days was to plan one’s course of moves, but to also embrace the infinite void as just that. We could all sit there and plan out every outcome and every outcome of that outcome; it’ll make us feel secure in our decision making but it’ll also eat away at time. It’s taken me eleven years, but I finally understand the courage and insanity of that furrow-browed kid’s opening moves. He rejected rational strategy and instead embraced the infinite future that had paralyzed me, trusting instinctual skill over careful deliberation. He stared into the abyss square in the face and laughed as it stared back. 

We can all sit here and deliberate every single move and plan out every outcome, but our clocks are ticking. Some decisions need that extra contemplation and planning out, but sometimes you just have to trust yourself and go headfirst into the darkness.

The Places I’ve Slept

If there’s one thing to know about what kind of person I am, it’s that I love to sleep. From four-minute power naps to ten hour hibernation periods, I appreciate every moment of shut-eye that I can get. And I’m not really that picky. I could lounge and stretch around on a California king in a beautiful villa on the Tuscan country side, or I could curl up with my sleeping bag in the back of my car, parked in the back of Love’s Travel Stop on the side of I-5.

A little tip I learned early on as a traveler is to travel at night. Especially if you’re going on a long distance trip, those 6-10 hours will be a waste if you decide to travel during daytime. Also, tickets tend to be a little cheaper then. So you’re saving money and also utilizing precious travel time by combining sleep and covering distance!

During my year abroad in Florence, my friends and I often found ourselves at train stations and airports in the very late hours of night that stretched into early morning. The comfortable public place I’ve slept –surprise– was the marble floor of Bolgona Airport, in front of a closed Victoria’s Secret. Just remember to wear a good amount of layers (comfy top, sweater, jacket, poofy scarf) for padding and use your backpack as a pillow. Who needs a Hilton?

Now this is a little different when you’re driving, which I do a lot now that I’m back in the states and have a car. But still, my boyfriend and I definitely still prefer the black coat of PM hours to hit the big miles. Less traffic (a HUGE deal in the Bay Area, home of asshole Priuses) and honestly, it’s a lot more peaceful. That being said, I definitely recommend having a good stock of energy-rich snacks and drinks to fuel you for your big drive. We usually have some low-sugar Rockstars or Monsters and some fruit or chips to munch on while we power through the endless highway. But we are human. And once your human brain decides it needs rest, then it needs rest.

So you’re in some unknown town in the middle of butthole nowhere and the nearest rest stop is 145 miles away? Have no fear! These are some places that I’ve tested out and have worked for me:

  1. 24-Hr Gas Stations, especially those with designated truck stops. These are great because you know there will be a bathroom and maybe some coffee for the morning.
  2. K-Mart. At corporate level, the company allows RV and overnight parking in their lots. They might not be 24 hours so you won’t have a bathroom but it’s a sure place to sleep without being bothered.
  3. 24-Hr grocery stores. Now some of these places have signs up against overnight parking, but that’s usually because they share a lot with other stores and want to reserve the main parking lot for customers. Something you can do is drive around to the back and sides of the parking lot. I’ve seen RVs and 18-wheelers parked in the back of these kinds of lots, and no one has ever been bothered there.
  4. Quiet Neighborhoods. Now these are iffy, and my last resort for overnight parking. Just be smart about where you park, try to be as far away from main driveways as possible and make sure you leave early in the morning.

In addition, here are some things you keep stashed to make car camping easy and comfortable:

  1. A bed! A big reason as to why we chose our Honda Fit was the space; our backseats come all the way down, which makes about the same room as an SUV. We bought a folding twin mattress that fits perfectly and it is perhaps the greatest decision we have ever made in our lives. It’s great for car camping, but it’s also useful for napping between work and school.
  2. A portable fan. Even during the winter, the car tends to get stuffy so we have a small, battery operated fan to keep in the front. Something I’ll probably do in the future when this one has run its course is to invest in a fan with charging batteries.
  3. Sun shade and/or Tinted Windows. We have all of our windows tinted because it helps keep the inside cool and also feels safer when we sleep in public places. This can get pretty expensive, so something we did is buy the tints ourselves and just pay the installation fee at a tinting service. The sunshade is great for the same reasons.

When traveling overnight and car camping, just remember to stay safe and trust your instincts. You don’t have to bust out hella cash on roadside motels but just know your surroundings. We have had trips where we planned on car camping, and ended up booking rooms last minute because I felt weird about the street parking and/or we just wanted a big bed and a shower. Remember this is about saving cash and having fun!

Thanks for reading

Dina Klarisse

Folding mattress:

https://www.amazon.com/Folding-Mattress-Removable-Indoor-Outdoor/dp/B01MDQHQRU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1499912900&sr=8-1&keywords=Lucid%2Bfoldable%2Bmattress&th=1

Portable Fan:

https://www.amazon.com/O2COOL-10-inch-Portable-Fan-Adapter/dp/B00ATSHMIQ/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1499913104&sr=8-6&keywords=portable+fan+battery+operated