I don’t get away from my shop walls very often, and most of the time that’s ok; I have a constant circulation of fascinating people, foods, stories, and projects floating through my doors on any given day, enough to keep a girl busy for a lifetime! But every now and then, I like to plan a solo working vacation (and by vacation I mean 36 hours outside of the Santa Barbara bubble), and this weekend was just such an event.
It began under the monsoon-like wind and rain at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Festival on Saturday, 100+ wineries and food vendors all huddled (puddled?) over their wares in sopping heaps, muddied boots and spattered slickers masking well-known friends and fellow vendors. Luckily the skies gave way to fluorescent sunshine and electric blue skies by mid-afternoon and the rest of the day passed in a whirlwind of muted reds and crisp whites as I manned the Isabella Gourmet Foods table, slinging samples of Vegan Cinnies, Sweet Lisi’s Vegan Doughnuts, and Pacific Pickleworks Brussizzel Sprouts and Unbeetables, next to the Cebada Vineyard table.
By 6pm, I had wound my way to Carrillo Highway (colloquially known as “the 1”) and started the craggy ascent up to the Monterey Peninsula, where the following morning I would run the 9-Miler portion of the Big Sur International Marathon. Having made Southern California my home for the last 10 years, I’m embarrassed to admit that this was my first road trip north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Meaning I had never heard the caucaphony the elephant seals that line the beach by the hundreds, never seen the flat, straight freeways give way to the meandering roads of Big Sur, the white caps hurtling themselves against the craggy rocks with reckless abandon, and never felt the rolling jolt in my stomach as I crossed Bixby Bridge, peering cautiously into the foggy abyss below.
After a day of such sensory overload, I feel into a short and deep sleep in my Airbnb abode in the Monterey neighborhood of Seaside, still waking before my alarm to make my way through the chilly mountain air down to the start line in Carmel. Maybe it was the change in air pressure, or the familiar smell of lush deciduous trees and sea air, reminiscent of my Cape Cod home and in such stark contrast to the foliage and scents of Santa Barbara, but I felt a deep sense of peace and absence of usual pre-race jitters. I spent the next hour clumsily trying to affix my race number to my shirt with safety pins, and quietly sipping on a mint green tea while I took in the crowd. Most runners had arrived with at least one fellow teammate in tow, yet it somehow felt right for me to be alone.
The race itself proved to be one of the best I’ve ever experienced – between the scenery of Point Lobos State Reserve, the perfect sunny mid-60s temperatures, and the uplifting serenade of no less than 6 bands along the way, I felt right at home in the rolling hills and coastal terrain, finishing a cool 90 minutes from my start time. Feeling bolstered by the crowds and the “Big Sur to Boston” Finishers Tent, celebrating those industrious individuals who had completed both marathons in the span of 6 days and 3,000 miles, I shoveled a few cookies and bananas into my belly and took off for a yoga class at Yoga Center of Carmel, tucked away in a tiny cottage on a side street in quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea, hoping I could trick my muscles into forgetting their 9-mile workout before they realized what had happened.
Practicing yoga between the white-washed and sun-splashed walls of the studio was such an enjoyable contrast to my usual dimly lit yoga classes at Divinitree in Santa Barbara and sparked a quick “this-is-your-life” flashback through all the yoga studios I had called home over the last 13 years. Feeling pretty accomplished for 11:30am on a Sunday, I took a ungodly long shower back at my Airbnb and took off again for Carmel Valley, where I was directed to Earthbound Farms, an organic farm and store boasting collections of herb, fruit, vegetable, and flower beds nestled on a small plot of land between the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. It was a kick to see some of my favorite Isabella vendors represented hundreds of miles away, and after way too many photos documenting the cozy store and a few wary looks from the store clerk, I took my curried cauliflower, carrot ginger soup, and chocolate peanut butter bite to the the adorable Herb Garden out back and spent a blissful hour or so taking in the scents of Lemon Verbena, Mint Leaves, and Chives while surrounded by pink roses and flying creatures flitting to and fro.
Armed with new product ideas for my shop, I meandered a few more miles down the road to Garland Ranch Regional Park, a stunning expanse of hiking trails of varying lengths that can be pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle for the more strenuous adventurer or the more casual wanderer. I took the middle ground and found myself once again enjoying a piece of natural solitude that seemed to define the entire peninsula. Even the novelty of running water, so starkly absent from the Santa Barbara trails, added their own quietude and I sat for many minutes pondering a bed of pond water covered with algae, looking more like a lush green carpet, and watched mesmerized as the sticks and stones I tossed sunk under the surface with barely a disruption in the mossy terrain.
That evening brought with it high winds and I braced myself against them as long as I could at Carmel Beach before trekking uphill to the narrow streets lined with a strange and wonderful amalgamation of chalet-style shops and charming B & Bs, arriving on the doorstep of La Bicicletta, a self-proclaimed French/Italian-style bistro with a simple farm-fresh menu. Though absolutely packed on a Sunday night, it managed to retain a degree of charm and quaintness and given the crowds, I found myself with a good deal of time to assess the clientele over the top of my book: Post-marathon runners still in their logo’d windbreakers, young day-trippers hoping to score a last-minute table sans reservation, and power couples doing double duty between business meeting and date night over their cheese and charcuterie platters. I settled into a glass of French Rose and a beet and burrata salad, growing hungrier by the minute as my vegetable pizza took nearly an hour to arrive. I made quick work of it when it did, tucking in like the hungry post-runner I was, and waddled only mildly uncomfortably full down the hill to the car by the beach.
The following morning, still riding the adrenaline high of the prior day’s activities, I kept the momentum going by renting a bike from Adventures by the Sea, tucked into a stone cavern on the beach at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove. From there, it was a wind-ridden ride down the coast passed Asilomar Beach where the fine, white sands spilling onto the blacktop reminded me of the Cape once again, and past the famed Pebble Beach of golf legend, where deer grazed in broad daylight on impossibly perfect greens. Once I turned and pedaled back up the coast, I made it to the Monterey Aquarium on Cannery Row and took in the jellyfish and the sea otters (my new favorite creatures!) alongside the swarms of schoolchildren (as much a spectacle as the exhibits, to be honest).
I finally found my energy fading from the past 24 hours of go-go-go, but couldn’t bring myself to take off on the long 5-hour drive back down the 1 without a cup (ok 2 cups) of clam chowder from Old Fisherman’s Wharf and a plethora of produce from the Pacific Grove Farmer’s Market in tow. I left town that day as I do after many of my trips – reflective, inspired, and deeply grateful for the beautiful moments that surround me at any given moment. I thought back to the morning after my race; looking out the unfamiliar bathroom window into the garden beyond was like momentarily living someone else’s life. But then there were my “birthday roses” from back home and I immediately became myself again, connecting to memories that were uniquely my own. Each of the 121 square panes of the glass window were like potential parallel lives I could have led, or be leading, at any given moment over the course of my 31 years. And maybe I am slowly living them, one by one, from moment-to-moment.