When I awoke Friday morning, the first thing that materialized in my consciousness was the window above my head. Big heavy raindrops were sounding a fierce steady drum beat on the glass as I lay under my cozy down comforter, leading me to marvel at the ability of glass to separate misery from comfort. My thoughts next wandered to Helmuth Deetjen who built this sturdy old building by hand in the 1930s as part of his farm. I tried to imagine how miserable it would have been for poor Helmuth to have to get up before it was even light and trudge around in the cold drenching rain so he could feed his animals and do his chores. It must have been monumentally unpleasant. It was so very much nicer to be tucked into a little cloud of warm puffiness instead. I have since read on Wikipedia that Helmuth himself made the panes of glass that were safeguarding my pampered head. He fashioned them in nearby King City and then brought them over the mountains by mule to his little paradise in Big Sur. That's a pretty amazing concept in this day and age.
Deetjen's Big Sur Inn is an oasis, a rarity, an anachronism and a treasure. The namesake Deetjens - Helmut (a Norwegian immigrant) and Helen (of the California Haights) - moved to the Big Sur area in the early 1930s, initially living in tents. They soon built a small house and large barn on Helen's forty acre property in Castro Canyon and began welcoming visitors who were traveling down Highway 1, which at that time was a crude dirt road. Over the years, they gained a reputation for their excellent hospitality and eventually added a restaurant known for it's delicious food and built a variety of charming cabins tucked into the crannies of the rugged canyon.
Deetjen's has maintained an extremely loyal following over the decades, and all it takes is one visit (this was my fourth or fifth) to understand why. The rooms are cozy, personal and eclectic; the carefully tended gardens are lush and full of beautiful surprises, The staff all seem delighted to be working there and eating in the restaurant is a true and genuine pleasure. During one of Bruce's previous stints at Esalen, he had grown to love breakfast at Deetjen's nearly as much as I, so when I made my reservation for this visit, I immediately proposed that we enjoy a breakfast at the Inn together before I departed.
The rain was not yet ready to subside, so Bruce and I dashed across the puddled driveway and ducked into the warm glow of the restaurant which was busy, jammed with locals, most of which were sitting near the roaring fire and reading the paper out loud and laughing as they drank their coffee. As we sat down, the waitress was just replacing the long white taper candle in the brass stag candlestick on our table. I don't know that I've ever breakfasted by candlelight before, but it was lovely - especially on this wonderfully blustery day. As usual, everything was scrumptious. Bruce ordered some french toast, while I opted for the eggs Benedict topped with locally cured salmon. And as if that wasn't decadent enough, I had them add crisp bacon to the stacks which turned out to be exquisitely delicious. I could have sat there all morning swilling coffee by candlelight, talking with Bruce and watching the rain pouring down. But alas, it was time to get on the road and head back to Texas.
After breakfast, we headed back to Esalen and along the way Bruce pulled over at a spot he knew I particularly liked - McWay Falls, a rare and exquisite tidefall that drops 80 feet to empty onto the beach of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It's a pretty spectacular spot - the roiling Pacific rushes into a cove and up onto the beach to meet a picturesque waterfall of fresh water flowing down from the mountains. That's the definition of a tidefall - a waterfall that falls directly into the ocean - and apparently they're quite rare. One way or another it's an amazing spot and I never tire of seeing it.
Bruce and I returned to Esalen and spent some time going over fabrication plans for a project I'm working on for Flipside. Bruce is so great at both explaining how to do something and bolstering my confidence in my own abilities in achieving it - I felt very relieved. After packing a lunch to eat on the road since my robust breakfast had left me quite full, I set off south down Highway 1 on 80 miles of winding road, the rain falling in a steady drizzle. There was so much moisture in the air that I could hardly see the ocean, but it was and always is an astoundingly beautiful drive.
I left the coastal road at Morro Bay and headed west in the direction of Bakersfield. I quite enjoyed the drive between Atascadero and McKittrick - a long stretch of winding roads through rolling hills, farmlands and gentle mountains with only a few fellow travelers passing me along the way. When I reached the other side of the mountains and began descending into the valley just as the light became golden, I encountered various signs of petroleum production. The Bakersfield area reminds me very much of Lubbock, only with more expensive gasoline. I decided to stop overnight in the curious town of Buttonwillow which is seemingly wedged into the spaces between a couple of exits on Interstate 5. I had had a long hard drive and was about at the end of my daily rope, so elected to stop when I saw a Motel 6 beaming in the glow of the freeway ahead. I had resigned myself to picking the least repulsive of the usual fast food establishments to grab some dinner before retiring and was overwhelmed with happiness when I pulled into the parking lot of the Motel and saw a colorfully lit Salvadoran restaurant right next door, the wonderful Tita's Pupuseria. I guess I'm going to have to take back all those jaded remarks about how you can't find good Mexican food (yes I realize I said Salvadoran) in California. I was just relieved there wasn't any horrible salsa, sour cream and sliced black olives on my meal. My pupusa de calabaza (squash) and yucca frita con chicharon was manna from heaven as far as I was concerned. I went to sleep with the sounds of big rigs roaring down I-5 lulling me gently to sleep. I had a lot of driving to do the next couple of days.