Friday, October 21, 2005

Fear and Loathing in Big Sur - Part I

Disclaimer: The following story depicts grown men behaving rather boisterously. I've changed the names of the participants in case their wives, girlfriends, mothers, or bosses stumble upon this blog.

Surf trips are funny things.

Usually if a trip is jam packed with great waves and long, perfect sessions, you'll hear it referred to as "epic".

If a trip has lots of surfing, but nothing quite resembling all-time conditions, they'll call it an "interesting" trip.

If the waves never even showed up to play, and all the travelers did nothing but drink, heckle, and cause trouble, they'll call the trip, "fun".

Our trip to Big Sur last weekend falls in that funny, fish-shaped spot where all three circles overlap.

It started out pretty weak, bordering on a bum trip (which, by the way, in 20 years of surf trips, I can't recall a single one which I would have labeled with the infamous "bum trip" tag).

This was Friday the 14th, and a major NW swell was scheduled to start rolling down the coast all day long. But from HB through Rincon, it was dead flat. Only when we got to Morrow Bay at around 9 AM (we left my house at 5 AM), did the bumps start marching in. Unfortunately, massive high tides were bogging everything down, resulting in big, mushy closeouts and surging shorebreak.

So, no paddling out on the way up. Strike one.

We got to Pacific Valley around noon - it was a slow crawl, with lots of food, gas, and piss breaks (part of it was that we were in two cars and couldn't seem to combine any of our needs into a single stop, and the other part is that my good friend, Howie, has a bladder the size of a pregnant woman).

BTW, in case anyone is confused, Big Sur is actually a rather small area. The stretch of coastline commonly referred to as "Big Sur" is actually 90 miles of towns, unincorporated areas, and state beaches stretching between Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south. Big Sur proper is simply the closest to Carmel and the most popular. Pacific Valley, 60 miles south of Carmel, is our favorite area. It's home to Sand Dollar Beach, Willow Creek - two fun, consistent, and very different surf spots - as well as Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek, a pair of excellent campgrounds. It's also far enough south that it only gets a fraction of Big Sur's daytime visitors.

Anyhow, by the time we roll into the parking lot at Sand Dollar Beach, we're socked in fog. Standing at the top of cliff, shivering in our shorts, t-shirts, and Rainbows, we can hear thunderous activity out in the water (it's the kind of swell you can FEEL), but basically we can't see 20 feet in front of us. So we backtrack to Willow Creek, which breaks right in front of the parking lot, and it's completely out of control - closing out, massive cleanup sets, and more whitewater than the Snake River. And with a 5 foot plus high tide, it had that scary X factor commonly described by surfers as, "Dude, there's a lot of water moving around out there."

Strike two. Time to pitch a tent.

We roll into the Kirk Creek Campground. Now we've got another problem. We're expecting 10-12 guys from all over California (SF, SD, Ventura, OC...the full Golden State gamut). But thanks to no reservation policies, the instructions were basically, "Go to Kirk Creek and look for the Colonel's car." The problem is that we're arriving a lot later than expected and there are only two sites left...and they're right next to the campground host (i.e. "Mom and Dad"). So not only isn't there enough room for 6+ cars and 12 guys, but we tend to get a bit rowdy in the evenings and rousting next to the camp hosts isn't exactly going to be a copacetic situtation no matter how much room there is.

So what do we do? We decide to pitch our tents over at Plaskett Creek which has bigger campsites, more campsites, and campground hosts who reside nowhere near ANY of the sites. Plus, it looked empty as we passed by earlier.

Unfortunately, everyone is supposed to go to Kirk Creek and we've got no mobile phone service. None. So we have no way of telling anyone of our change in plans.

Convinced that Kirk Creek is the wrong choice regardless of our incommuincado state, we scrawl a message on a piece of cardboard, stick it on the message board near the entrance (camoflaged nicely amongst 30 million other messages and big glossy pictures of otters and rattlesnakes), and drive BACK to Plaskett Creek, which by now is also almost full.

Beyond frustrated, we pick the last two remaining spots, which aren't even next to each other, and decide to stick with our decision. Just for safe measure, Howie and I also drive the 5 miles down to the miniscule town of Gorda to use the payphone in case anyone is still within cell range. Of course, the phone is an antiquated hunk of shit, and after Howie makes his 10 minute call to his wife and kids ("Timmy, give the phone back to Mommy...Timmy, give the phone back to Mommy...Timmy? I said, give the phone back to Mommy. Timmy? Hello? Hello?"), it only works long enough to get through to one voicemail. We leave instructions to call the rest of the crew, convinced he won't even pick the message up until he's already on the road back home.

So, time to kick back and crack a Tecate, right?

Nope, before we can even throw down so much as a tarp, I have a typically pessamistic thought:

"Hey guys, what do you think the odds are of the boys showing up at Kirk Creek, thinking they're the first ones to arrive, setting up their gear, then going to the front entrance to pay, seeing our sign, and then driving down here to convince us to pack OUR shit up and go back to Kirk Creek?"

(Creating scenarios like this in my head, it's a gift, really.)

"Um, I don't know."

"Well," I continue. "I'll just bet that's what's going to happen. So I don't think we should set our shit up. AND I think we need to drive back over there every hour or so and see if those guys show up and happen to miss our sign."

So now we can't surf and we can't even set our stuff up and settle in for a nice quiet afternoon of drinking beers and playing backgammon.


Frustrated, confused as to what to do, and bored out of our minds, we decide to grab a few beers out of the cooler and take Bigfoot's dog to the beach. Who knows, maybe we'll get a closer look at the waves and see something rideable.

The crappy day culminates when, halfway to the beach and in the middle of a big field, Bigfoot throws his scrappy little dog a frisbee, which sails over a barbed wire fence. The dog, very young and very excited, decides to try and jump through it.

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. We're all screaming, "No, Spur! NOOOOOO...!!!" And for a split second, as the dog was sailing through the air, halfway through the fence, I actually thought he was going to make it.

He didn't.

He actually stopped on a mid-air...caught by the barbed wire.

Spur yelped and twisted and we screamed and ran, but not before he ripped himself free and limped off into the bushes.

I can honestly say it was one of the worst things I've ever seen. I just stopped, mouth open, frozen, afraid to see the ripped flaps of flesh gushing blood from the sides of this poor puppy.

But believe it or not, that exact moment was when this bum trip began to turn itself around.

Bigfoot had slipped through the fence, fished Spur out of the bushes (the dog, as freaked out as he was, had actually continued his quest for the frisbee), and was running his hands and eyes over every square inch of the dog's body.

"I don't believe it," he yelled to us. "There's not a scratch on him. Not a scratch!"

We ran over to see for ourselves. Spur was on his back, rubbing his back in the dirt. We poked and prodded him, grabbing his legs and rubbing his tummy. Sure enough, he was right - not a scratch

Apparently this dog was made out of kevlar.

Relieved beyond belief (in the few moments between the mis-timed jump and the all body inspection, I'd had visions of either spending the weekend sitting in some vet emergency room in Monterey or watching this shredded dog limp his way around the campfire for two days, dabbing his dirt-packed wounds with paper towels and tequila), we spent the next few hours actually enjoying ourselves on the beach.

Still fogged in, we even talked to a guy who had just gotten out of the water.

"Yeah, I just paddled out to see what was out there. I got about a hundred yards out, did about 50 duckdives, and the whitewater just kept getting bigger. I never even saw the waves breaking on the outside. I finally got a splitting ice cream headache and just turned around."

Happy we hadn't made the same mistake, we just hung out, throwing the frisbee for the invincible dog, climbing on the rocks, drinking our beers, hucking cabbage-sized kelp bulbs at each other, and enjoying a nice foggy, freezing day at the beach in Central Cal.

After getting back to the camp, we decided to unpack. With rain expected that weekend and giant blown-out storm surf everywhere we looked, we figured the chances of anyone showing up - at Plaskett or Kirk Creek - were slim to none anyway. We might as well get a fire going, get into the booze, and enjoy some winter style camping.

By 4:30 we had a kick-ass fire, were properly geared out in jackets and beanies, had the Sprout soundtrack playing, and were getting into the warm Guinness and Bushmills we'd had the foresight to bring (Tecate and Hornitos just didn't seem right for the ocassion). And by 5:30 we were grilling up bratwurst and a marinated pork loin, which is gross name, but tastes epic.

Then, as the winds of fortune continued to shift in our direction, the rest of the crew began to arrive.

First Breauxman, Lynch and Sector 9 showed up from SD along with two more dogs - a big fucking rotweiller and a chubby black lab.

Then Clubfoot and Crosby showed up (from the East and South Bay, respectively) with yet another dog - a skinny golden retriever - followed by Metro and the Croc from SF.

By midnight, we're in full swing. The fire is blazing and the boys are swilling, smoking, slurring, and filling the air with the stench of so much bullshit, you'd think we were downwind from the Harris Ranch.

Big Sur was ON.