Road trip: feeling small in the grandeur of Big Sur


Photo: Jaime Edwards

A cotton candy sunrise at Bixby Bridge along Highway 1

Throwing punches at pillows was the only way to shove any more items into the back of my friend Kami’s loaded Jeep Cherokee. The five of us packed into the car, filling every seat and floorboard with what felt like our whole lives. Mind you, this trip was meant to be two nights long. It was only after we perfectly placed each piece of our life-size Tetris game into the car that we were ready to hit the road.

It was 5:15 a.m. on a Friday morning, and the world was still pitch black, but we were wide-eyed and beaming. Leaving Kami’s parents’ house in Monterey at this time meant we would hit the bucket list destination, Bixby bridge, at exactly sunrise. I had dreamed of the cotton candy skies making a perfect backdrop for the cloud break I had seen in pictures. This bridge seemed magical in every sense of the word.

Every twist and turn of Highway 1 felt like a lifetime as we all impatiently waited to spot the bridge atop the carved cliffs lining the ocean. We sat like sardines for 30 minutes until we saw the sun beginning to light up the sky, creating strips of burnt orange, making the otherwise blue skies more purple than usual.

Just as the colors began to deepen, Kami yelled to us over our blaring music. “There it is!” We all bobbed back and forth in an attempt to spot the bridge through all of the chaos we piled into the car. We were squished, but in that moment we felt a sense of space, we felt free. The bridge was just as mesmerizing in person as in every magazine cover and news article.

Photo: Jaime Edwards
The road trip crew checking out coastal views outside of Salmon Creek Falls

The concrete sides were mounted right into the cliff on either side, and the arch beneath the bridge made for an intriguing frame of the ocean behind. We fidgeted with the car door handle, rushing out to watch the skies pass over this architectural miracle of a bridge. Nestled less than an hour outside of Monterey, a place I have lived close to my whole life, is a piece of heaven that people dream of seeing.

After snapping photos and breathing in the salty air, we again took to the winding road and crossed the bridge. The colors of the sky faded as the morning break came and went. Our excitement did not fade with those shades. Instead, we gleamed brighter waiting for our next stop.

Highway 1 is filled with sharp turns and potential for landslides on either side. The cliffs seemed taller as I thought of the road caving in on us and taking us directly into the Pacific. The beauty in every direction took those fears away as quickly as a wave crashing onto the shore and then setting back out into the open waters.

Yellow flowers lined the perimeter of the highway and Kami’s road trip playlist lightly serenaded the already mystical feelings we all felt. Three of us sat tightly in the back seats and looked at our map in an attempt to plan our next stop. We found multiple hikes that lined the highway between our current location and the town of Cambria.

Photo: Jaime Edwards
Savannah Hanslovan overlooking the turquoise waters outside of Cambria.

The scenery was endless. It was nearly impossible not to miss something. It was not long until we made it to Salmon Creek Falls where we decided we would hike. Taking each step carefully, the five of us made a single-file line through patches of poison oak all the way in to a shaded waterfall just a half-mile off the road. We climbed the slick rocks and stood on the top of a boulder amidst a pool of fresh water.

Looking up, we gazed at two waterfalls rushing parallel to each other, meeting in the middle of the steep rocks they poured off. They merged together to make a hefty stream that then slowed down on the flat ground near our perch. The air was humid and the dewiness felt refreshing. We sat there in awe of Mother Nature.

We were shocked to see only a few other people scattered around the falls taking in the views. I thought for a moment about the people sitting at their desk in a cubicle drinking their morning coffee to stay awake at work while we were awoken by a sunrise and waterfall. That thought quickly passed and I came back to the present. The gift I was given was right in front of me.

My friend Grace and I decided we needed to take a dip in these frigid waters. We began taking off our t-shirts and threw them messily onto the one dry rock we could find. She took the first steps into the clear waters, carefully walking amongst sharp rocks beneath her feet. With two swift movements, she made her way under the freezing waters without a peep on her way back up.

Photo: Savannah Hanslovan
Jaime Edwards exploring poppy fields at Salmon Creek Falls.

I, on the other hand screeched loudly as I took my sweet time convincing myself to take the dip. After a few minutes I held my nose tightly and scrunched my eyes as I let myself fall backwards into the water. It was perfect. That moment was everything. We both came out of that fresh pool that had just fallen from the waterfall with a new appreciation for the moment. For where we were. For who we were.

It was that moment, at Salmon Creek Falls, that we realized life is worth living. Life should be filled with places that put things into perspective. These places were bigger than us. The long stretch of highway was filled with unknowns. The arched bridge had history we’d never understand. The waterfall had power we could never beat. The ocean waters were infinite. These places and moments made us feel minuscule in the best way.

This was only halfway through our first day of the trip and it was enough to fill me for the whole weekend. I love to travel. I love to explore the coast. But most of all, I love places that make me feel small. Finding spots within the world that are larger than me are worth visiting.

We are tiny dots on this massive earth. Find places that make you feel that way. I recommend a big road trip that makes you feel small.

SNC senior Jaime Edwards is associate editor of the Eagle’s Eye.