Day 23, Pfeiffer Big Sur to Esalen, 15 miles
Rain in the night! California, thirsty thirsty California, how we need rain here. I wake to the rain falling softly on my tent, turn over and sleep some more. I don’t have to get up early today, with just 15 miles to my destination.
Esalen. Retreat center and hot springs on the Big Sur coast. Center of psychedelic exploration in the 60s. Now a much tamer and more expensive experience. For me, my sixth writers retreat sponsored by the Sun Magazine. I’m eager for this year’s event, knowing I’m better prepared than ever to stay present and be involved.
I pack my tent wet, bid my camping cohorts farewell and head out. A steep hill just past the campground is a challenging way to start my day. I climb steady and deliberately. I’m headed to the Big Sur Bakery, visions of coffee and almond croissant pulling me forward, upward. Thighs are straining at the long hill. Each pedal stroke, I think, coffee and croissant, coffee and croissant!
Now, one must understand that this is a world class almond croissant, and free refillable coffee. The prices have grown over the last few years I’ve been visiting the bakery, as have the size of the croissant. I think for a moment, it would be great if Alice were here, then we could split one. On second thought, nah, this one’s all mine.
I spend the morning there, drinking coffee, emailing Emily back at the shop, sorting out the laundry invoices and billing. I’m glad she’s there to take care of the mundane, so I can have this marvelous experience. I call Esalen and they tell me I can enter the grounds any time after 2pm. Perfect.
I leave Big Sur, the town, and climb the rest of the hill. At the crest, I feel cool ocean breeze, and there, the vista, blue waters and the headlands to the south. More pictures, then a thrilling descent. I’m ecstatic today. Sun, skies now clear, warm breezes. A perfect California day. I pass Nepenthe, a spot I must try next time. I’m already thinking of next time. I’ll be back. Then the Henry Miller Library, heard that place causes trouble with neighbors. Too many events, loud music. Miller would approve.
The last miles to Esalen become legend, in my mind, in my experience. I’m flying over hills, around curves, into coves, past pine and sage and eucalyptus and cypress. Briny scents waft upwards from impossible beaches far below. Sea lions bark, and when the cars have passed, there is a quiet, uncanny for my experience of the ocean. Here at Big Sur, the waters seem passive. Perhaps the ocean is shallow?
One more climb, then a winding breakneck descent through a series of curves which has me whooping for joy, past Julia Pfeiffer Burns park, then one bridge, two bridges, at last the Hot Springs Creek bridge. Creative name. Satisfaction and happiness, my sixth workshop, fifth arriving via bicycle. I roll down the too steep driveway, check in, and immediately head to the baths.
The Esalen springs are channeled into a modern and elegant concrete bathhouse. Individual tubs, larger soaking pools, showers all above the soft sounds of the Big Sur surf, just 30 yards below. The hot waters are heavenly. I alternate between hot and cold, taking in the sun. Relaxation washes over me like the waters. Over 900 miles from home, over three weeks on the road, to arrive in this place, in this body.
Time passes slowly at Esalen. Gradually its time to head up the hill, to dinner, to meet old friends and make new. I see Angela, and then Sy, Frances, Sparrow. We talk and catch up, been a couple years. I feel warmth, glowing. A fire within. In the past I’d felt anxious, unable to breach the boundary of the large group. Today is different. Today I am different.
I walk over to the evening session, in the large pavilion at the north end of the campus. Over one hundred people take turns introducing each other, reading a 30 word contributors note. Wonderful to hear the many stories, voices, experiences. I’m humming, my heart beating with the rhythms of my breath, with the rhythms of my bicycle, with the ease and comfort of sharing together.
I’m tired, not going to the springs again tonight. Maybe in the wee hours, before sunrise. But for now, blogging, then bed. A good day. A fabulous day. Esalen beckons, and I respond.