Sarfaraz Ali is an aspiring writer, photographer, filmmaker, musician and marketing professional. In addition to all this, he is also a parttime model and actor. He’s almost convinced his mother he’s kinda talented.
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“Travel far enough, you find yourself”
A good journey changes your perception of the world. A great journey changes you. My journey was across California Highway 1, which is known as an “All American Highway” for it’s natural beauty, historic value and architectural significance. Right up there with the legendary, but now defunct Route 66, Highway 1 (also known as the Pacific Coast Highway) is an intrinsic part of American culture and folklore. It’s said the PCH offers it’s most breathtaking views between Los Angeles and San Francisco, hugging the coast of California along the Pacific Ocean. This was the trip I was making.
My plan was to leave from Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning, driving across the highway during daytime only stopping occasionally to take some pictures on my way to San Francisco. Like I said, that was the plan. As the darkness dissipated, I could finally see the road I was driving on: Between lush green mountains and a few feet from the massive expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the Highway 1 had officially taken my breath away. And I was only an hour into the trip!
Soon enough, all plans of sticking to the intended route were dropped. Who would want to race through a place this gorgeous? My first stop was in San Luis Obispo, a small college town right by the coast. It was still too early in the morning for most shops to be open but luckily a certain attraction doesn’t have operating hours. It’s called Bubblegum Alley and I’ll let the photograph do the talking. Anything I say right now will not do justice to this place.
I grabbed breakfast and resumed my drive north. Wait. Actually, breakfast needs more than just a passing mention. I had (read devoured) a fresh salmon bagel from a small shop called House of Bagels and it was by far the most delicious salmon bagel I’ve had to date. Every bite was a burst of freshness and instantly melted in my mouth. The cream cheese and capers were a great counterpoint leaving a lovely aftertaste. Pro-tip: When driving across Highway 1, stick to seafood.
A few hours into the trip and I was taking every opportunity to intentionally stray from my planned path. This was the greatest benefit of travelling alone: I could explore the route with complete freedom, completely in control of where and how long I’d be lost. During these excursions, I found myself strolling through quiet towns, hiking across trails and even watching dozens of endangered Elephant Seals swim out of the water onto the shore. But my favorite spot had to be Elfin Forest.
While exploring the forest, I met a family from Ohio making the same trip as I, albeit driving south towards LA. As we exchanged pleasantries, I mentioned how hard it was to not stop every few miles to absorb the beauty. The couple laughed and as they turned to walk away, the wife looked at me and said, “You’re never going to get to San Francisco.” As they disappeared into the trees, leaving me completely alone with the serenity of Elfin forest, I half wished they were right. But San Francisco I had to reach. So I piled on the miles. Windows down, music up.
As the road went further north, the topography shifted. The road began winding up into the St Lucia mountain range – and sometimes through them. This to me was the most fascinating part of the drive: 500 miles and never a dull moment. Finally, I reached Big Sur, the part of the coastline where the mountains by the coast are at their highest and most breathtaking – and an indication I had entered Northern California.
The sun had begun its descent into the shimmering blue vastness as I reached the tourist favorite ‘Bixby Creek Bridge’. To me, this was the climax of my trip and a representation of the true meaning of the PCH: an architectural marvel that doesn’t compete with but enhances the natural beauty that envelops it. A delicate balance between modernity and respect for our surroundings; true coexistence in it’s most natural form.
It might sound hackneyed but as I looked at the sun set across the spectacular view before me, I felt one with the world.
A few hours later, at my destination in San Francisco, I was back in the modern world I had briefly escaped from. But the sights and sounds of the PCH remained. Even today, when I’m in a vacant or pensive mood, a moment flashes upon my inward eye and I’m transported to a moment of bliss, pleasure and tranquility. Till we meet again, Highway 1.