in the wilds of ventura

Los Angeles takes up far too much of the lower quadrant of California.

It isn’t even technically L.A. that takes up the space, it’s just the people from L.A. that do. Everything from here down through La Jolla to the south, and up through Santa Barbara to the north, it’s all L.A. people, L.A. money.

That’s why it’s so hard to escape the city. I’m too used to the Northwest. I could disappear into wilderness in an hour. Serious wilderness, pocked by the occasional logging or fishing town, filled with second-growth timber. Or one of the islands in the Sound or the Straits, places not worth populating due to difficulty.

Here, you can drive for an hour or more, and still see houses crowded on the hills, bordering a state park. There’s no escape from the roads, from the people, no respite.

I miss the North Coast a lot of days, that part of California north of the Bay Area that’s a sort of no-man’s land. I drove through it my last real day on the road, my last morning before I came out of the wilderness in San Francisco nine months ago. There’s a part of the coast called the Lost Coast that I’m just in love with the idea of – that there’s a part of this overpriced state no-one has run roads through to. That there’s a scrap of coastline so non-populated that even cell phones don’t work.

But that’s ten hours north of Los Angeles.

So I contented myself with an hour drive north up the PCH, to Ventura, where I found a state park safe enough to camp at. Because I go on these trips alone, I have to find larger campgrounds, places where there’s rangers and people who know I’m there. It’s a shame I’m a girl on my own, because I go when I need the space, the time, to exist and meditate with only the beauty of the West Coast for company. I don’t like having to share that in campsites where there’s a hundred other people in the few acres around me.

Last night, I stopped at McGrath State Beach, just outside the town of Ventura. And I set up camp fairly quickly. I put up my tent, inflated my sleeping pad, unrolled my sleeping bag, fetched clean water, and was sitting down with a cup of hot tea and a book half an hour after I parked my car.

Of course, I keep all my camping gear organized, thanks to years of Girl Guide training. I have my sleeping bag, tent, and Insulite. I have a flashlight with extra batteries. I have my own one burner Coleman stove, with spare fuel cans, and a whole kitchen neatly tucked up in a Tupperware box. I’m actually quite proud of that kitchen box. It has dishes for four people, a set of cooking pans that nest inside each other, equipment for coffee making, dish soap, sponges and bleach. I use the container to wash dishes in when at camp, and then stack everything inside it for travelling. I am SO trained by Girl GUides of Canada.

I go on these sojourns for three reasons:

1. To get out of L.A. There are too many people here. Way too many. The streets are filled with cars ALL THE TIME. Every available space has a house on it. The air is filled with a sort of fine grit that falls on everything as a result: pollution and dust, the result of too many people on a piece of land that can’t support them on its own. It’s too much for the girl from the Island. Victoria’s a major Canadian city, sure, but it’s also less than one-twentieth the size of Los Angeles, and it’s surrounded by ocean, not by suburbs.

2. To get out of my own Los Angeles existence. Not just the city itself – and I’m not used to being anyplace with eight million people – but also because I need to get out of my own social web once in a while. I’m not used to being around people this much, either. Sometimes, I need to go someplace where I’m not Jillian, the Arriving Party Queen of West L.A., the Social Coordinator. I like not having to be switched on all the time. I like, sometimes, just sitting quietly without having to talk. I love, love, love my friends, but sometimes, I need a break from being who I am around them.

3. To practice being outside and reconaissance new places You only get so much time in life in each place you travel through. I’ve been through two states and one province, and regretted not exploring more while I was in each one. I’m determined to see as much of California and Arizona as I can while I’m here. Especially the Coast, which I am obviously in love with. And I like being independent, a self-contained unit, able to assemble a shelter and cooking source and drinking water upon arrival at a campground. I like using all those years of camp training.

And in this particular weekend case:

4. I’m homesick. I’m really, really homesick. I would give almost anything to be able to get to the Northwest for a few hours. I miss Seattle, I miss Victoria, I miss my home. I miss the islands and the water and how clean everything is. I get like this every so often, longing for the salt and trees between places, the way the whole Northwest feels like its been hacked out of the surrounding wilderness. The way downtown Vancouver reflects the forest on the North Shore. It’s my home, dammit, and I miss it. The Central Coast is the nearest place that approximates that sense of being on the edge of the Wild, on the edge of someplace so magical and beautiful it breaks my heart to remember – its my home.

So that’s why I go. And I take pride in being able to camp on my own – it isn’t much, at all, and it takes a minimum of skill to car camp like I do, but it’s more than most American city girls are capable of (say I, in all my BC snobbery).

And there are few things that bring me more joy, more peace, more completeness, than waking up just after sunrise and already being someplace just absolutely gorgeous. I woke up at San Simeon before all my friends did last October, and walked down to the ocean, and just wanted to sing for joy. I love seeing the ocean in that first light of morning. It’s then that I’ve always been able to sink into meditation, into peace, into happiness. Those are the moments that give me my faith; those are the moments when I could touch the face of G-d.

I woke up this morning at a state beach, and wandered down to the ocean to look at it, in the pale gold of a California morning (and one already warm and sunny by eight AM), and feel like my existence, at that moment, was beyond perfect. There is that one moment, cut from all five dimensions, that could be eternal. I totally expect whatever Heaven I believe in to be like that. In an eternal happiness, an afterlife of peace, I will expect my heart to sing the same way it does when I see a piece of the West Coast ocean in early morning sunlight.

My first thought this morning, looking at the Pacific, was I have seen this place in Tarot cards. I have seen this place in dreams. It looked a bit like a stretch of beach I stopped at in Oregon, all windswept dunes and the ocean stretching into forever. I’ve seen that in dreams since then.

I came back to my site, struck camp, flipped over my tent to dry, ate breakfast, and packed up.

But sometimes, it’s worth the time, the trouble, and the exquisitely beautiful drive, to wake up and have that kind of peace.

I really need a whole weekend out of the city soon. I hope Zippy is up for it.

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