TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2ND 2016.
We woke up as early as we could for our last leg of the journey- both of us ITCHING with excitement. The day ended up turning into a scenic extravaganza of wildly beautiful country. It included many different sections, starting with the last stretch of desert scenery as we left the valley opposite of Los Angeles, going by the edges of Los Padres National Forest, seeing our first great stretch of green trees again. Soon the roads became mountainous again and the hills started to raise as we entered wine country. It resembled something from an Italian village mixed with Japanese, Spanish and American influences. The vineyards were miles and miles long with orchards set up by hand by swarms of people roaming under the hot sun.
The grass became psychedelic green, saturating more and more as we kept going north. The towns were quaint and small- no huge stores or franchises it seemed, nothing but local coffee shops, deli's, and fresh fruit stands. Seriously though I can’t overstate how much beauty is here, the lush flora only blooms more wild and exotic as you travel north and towards the Pacific Coast. The people become more spread out, there isn’t an urban sprawl with buildings that block the sky like in the East, rather the architecture is Spanish and Italian-inspired and woven into the natural scenery instead of the plow-it-all-down method the East Coast adores.
The people and cultures also change from the more old-fashioned, suited-city look that New York employs. Rather it becomes a juxtaposition of Silicon Valley hipsters, Portland Oregon-inspired refugees who promote L.L.Bean, forever-chill surfer/stoners, the ragtag Deadhead, a huge Central American population, a huge Asian population, the occasional businessman and a dash of crazy thugs (though that is found everywhere, regardless). It’s a schmorgesborg of coastal styles that intertwine in a beautiful way.
As you leave the wine country you start to get to this area that I didn’t know existed and is hard to describe in a way that accurately makes you feel like you were there. The area is just north of Bakersfield in what is a essentially a giant valley between the Diablo Range and Coast Ranges of Southern and Central California, right before you get into the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is EXTREMELY lush and fertile, the green makes the green back home look grey. It’s amazingly refreshing and the air smells permanently like a flowering Spring where you can’t help but feel at peace. This area is called the Skyline Boulevard and can be described as what Ireland would look like in a fairy tale in the most tranquil dream. The hills fly high into the skies on what was a pearlescent blue day, with cattle roaming happily and freely in meadows that never, ever end. It HONESTLY doesn’t seem real, it’s as if California has been hidden away from the rest of the world and only a few (million) have figured out that utopia is actually here. You know the old background that everyone had on Windows XP? The Meadows that seriously look photoshopped but are in fact a picture? Yeah that’s EXACTLY what this looked like. It was incredible.
After about an hour of driving that slowly fades into a mix of California forests, more vineyards, farmland and mountainous passes. The views are akin to something out of Jurassic Park as you began to get out of this large low land into Salinas, descending upon the Monterey Bay region.
We stopped in Salinas briefly for some In-N-Out, as being Easterns we’ve heard nothing but raves, but had yet to try it. And yup, it’s everything it says it is! Extremely rich flavor, fast, and nothing tasted artificial (or was, everything is fresh, never frozen), it somehow walks the line between tasting like your dad’s BBQ and McDonalds, it’s amazing to say the least haha. Every Californian must know this by now of course though, so this was simply just our first hand experience.
We continued on into the bay going through Prunedale and Watsonville. At this point both of us were jumping out of our seats in excitement and overall joy at not only being in our new home, but also in how truly beautiful it was up close. It just honestly doesn’t look real, the colors are just thriving, the plants are all foreign, exotic, jagged and flowing, the sun is peaking in the sky, the birds are swarming- all the life is gyrating around. It looks like the Caribbean meets Hawaii meets Maine in the summer plus the planet from Avatar and downtown Portland, Oregon rolled into one with a vibe that is undeniable. It’s like a Star Wars planet swirled into a travel magazine cover, populated with skateboarders.
The haven of Santa Cruz is nestled into the northern tip of Monterey Bay and after crossing through Aptos and Capitola you enter the heart of it. The downtown is a sprawling garden-filled cityscape complete with a boardwalk, pier, beaches, adobe-style modern stucco houses, palm trees, redwoods, and willow trees. The day was sunny and as perfect as can be and we enjoyed the sunset arriving into our new hometown with a beachside walk (and getting to touch the Pacific Ocean for the first time!), some super nachos from a local taqueria and the last hotel on our journey.
This whole 10-day journey from Lamoine, Maine to Santa Cruz, California was crazy, just to say the least. It really opened my mind to how long and expansive the US is and how much there is to see, yet so quickly we’re here and then it’s over. There's just SO much to explore, and I haven't even kind of touched it- it's ungraspable to see it all. With that thought, I just can't understand why people stay in the same town they were born in and never really leave. The world is seriously our oyster, and it isn't as bad as you think- We all have that paranoia in us, but it truly is unfounded. We have to wake up and go out. Adventure is our purpose. We can't let it run past us. With all the bad moments on the trip, especially Baton Rouge and northern Arizona, it was absolutely a life-changing experience. I’m now in a place full of young, energetic, lively, intelligent, beautiful people- I don’t understand the draw to staying back home when the world is so big and places such as Santa Cruz exist. Although I’m now calling this place home, I don’t know if it will be forever and I know for certain I will want to continue traveling as I’ve caught a bug I doubt I can shake.