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Reflecting back on the progression of the California road trip Dirk and I took, I realize now that there’s no way that I would have fully appreciated our experience of camping on Big Sur had it come at the beginning of the trip. I consider the first days as “vacational training” of sorts, preparing us both mentally and physically for the majestic mountaintop pinnacle we reached that Saturday evening. In a trip laden with superlatives and “moment of a lifetime” adventures, the memory of our night camping in the foothills of Big Sur is near the top of the list of my most cherished experiences.
And while we undoubtedly had an incredible amount of luck and serendipity with us throughout the entire trip, what makes the experience especially remarkable is the fact that none of it would have ever happened had we not suffered a blow of severe misfortune mere days before we left.
An Engine Breakdown leads to Astrophotography Heaven
Dirk is a phenomenal mechanic. Though it’s strictly a hobby for him, he could easily restore antique cars for a living. This mechanical savant spent countless hours over the past two years building a stunning replica of a 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster from scratch. The original intent for our trip was to drive the car from the Pittsburgh area (where we both live) out to the Reno area (where his company has a factory) so he could use it there during the winter months. We were going to drive the whole way to San Francisco, at which point I would fly home, and he would drive back to Reno and work for a few days before returning home.
The car was basically done. The route was mostly planned. The tickets for our return flights had been purchased. We were putting some finishing touches on the car: mostly aesthetic stuff, and taking care of some minor details ….. like changing the oil.
Milky Oil to the Milky Way
Except that, while I watched the oil draining out of the engine that fateful Monday night, I noticed a peculiar glistening in the light from my headlamp. The car had been experiencing unusual over-heating issues that had vexed Dirk for several weeks. He installed an extra oil cooler, I wrapped the exhaust in pipe tape, and he took several other steps to try to keep the engine temperature down … all to no avail. When I called Dirk over and showed him the glittery oil, the devastation on his face was painfully obvious. Several of the bearings in the engine he purchased had been over-tightened, and the engine was pretty much shot.
As we sat in his garage, drowning our sorrows in a flood of cheap beer, we discussed our options for what to do with the impending week of now-useless vacation time we had taken. We very nearly settled on taking a back-road/off-road Jeep trip through the wilds of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, hunting fishing and camping our way south (which, by the way, still sounds like a remarkable idea for a vacation!), when I said to him “Our return flights are already booked, which is money we both will lose if we don’t go out west. Are you sure this is what we should do?”
Camping on the Coast of California
The rest, as they say, is history. We opted not to waste the money, and had what was openly-expressed as one of the best trips either one of us had ever taken in our lives. Had we opted to go with the Jeep trip option, I’m quite sure we still would have had an excellent experience. But instead, we rolled the dice and ended up far better off. To paraphrase Harvey Dent/Two-Face, we made our own luck.
I’ll end the story portion of this blog with a quick moral before getting to the astro-photos… Especially when going on vacation – make your own luck. Know what you love to do, be aware of what you are interested in experiencing, and play to your strengths. With the right combination of flexibility, an open mind, proper preparation and just a bit of good luck, you may also find yourself experiencing a highly-cherished lifelong memory.
Stars over the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur
Camping under the Milky Way