We awoke early on the second day of our journey. It was funny how much had changed in that twenty four hours. Dave no longer had a girlfriend and neither of us had a job, but we now had a destination. Kathy and Roy were going to Seattle and now we were too. Before we could get started there was breakfast to be eaten, which looked a lot like the dinner that we had enjoyed the night before minus the beer, a dog to be fed and walked, sleeping bags to be rolled up and stowed under backpacks in Kathy and Roy’s case, and a little general personal clean-up to be performed. Having somewhere to go now gave us a push, and in a small amount of time all of this was accomplished.
The fog was thick over Pismo Beach when we emerged from the motel, and it seemed to deaden almost all sound in a cool, wet blanket of silence; all sound except a low crackle and hiss that seemed to be coming from somewhere close to the exit from the parking lot. I paid no attention to it and we climbed back into the spots in the truck that we had occupied on the previous day. Kathy and Roy were huddled together with their jackets closed up to their necks. I had a blanket which I had been using as a seat cover on the bench seat in the truck and I gave it to them. It wasn’t much but anything would help to protect them from the cold, wet, swirling air in the back of the pickup.
As we neared the exit of the parking lot the source of that sound became apparent to us. Smoke was billowing out of the roof of the second unit from the end and flames could be seen licking up into the gray air from behind the pitch of the roof. There were no cars parked in front of that unit so I stopped the truck, got out and walked back to the motel office. The door was locked at that early hour so I pushed the button that was fixed to the wall next to the door and faintly heard a bell go off somewhere in the interior. I didn’t wait long before Old Smiley opened the door, still in his pajamas but with an old, brown terrycloth robe over it all. He wasn’t any more friendly this morning than he had been the evening before
“What do you want?” he grumbled. “I just want to tell you that your motel is on fire” I said. The old boy looked at me for a moment, wondering if I was playing a joke on him or giving him the real deal. Caution got the better of him. “Where is it?” he asked. I stepped back and pointed to the place where the flames were now visible from where I was standing. “There,” I said, pointing to the flames. “You can see them from here if you come out where I am.” The man was buying into it at this point and walked out in his socks across the damp asphalt and looked towards where I was pointing. “Oh, shit!” he exclaimed, as he ran back into the office with the bottom half of his robe fluttering behind him. I presume that he went to telephone the fire department but I felt no inclination to stay around and watch what would happen next. I had done my good deed for the day and the road awaited. In a moment we were all rolling north up Highway 1 toward Big Sur and, eventually, Seattle.
We drove on for a while, I can’t really remember now how long, but the fog had burned off and a bright sun was blessing our journey as the miles flowed behind us. The town of Morro Bay fell behind us, as did in their turns Cayucos, Harmony, Cambria, and San Simeon. Kathy and Roy had shucked off the blanket I had lent them and we were wondering where to stop for lunch. That question was answered when the temperature gauge on my dashboard began to climb. There was no place good to stop but occasional wide spots in the road did open up, and it was into one of these that I steered my steaming truck and brought it to a stop. There was nowhere that we could see where a tow truck might be called but we were not deterred by that absence. In the bed of my truck, tied down and locked, was my Suzuki motorcycle, and Roy helped Dave and I to guide it down two two by eight planks which we had stored in the bed of the truck just in case. Kathy and Roy elected at that point to push on with the next driver who would stop and pick them up while I fired up the Suzuki and prepared to return to Cambria, which appeared to be the closest town big enough to even hold out the hope of having parts for a model of truck which had not been built for the last seven years (Studebaker went out of business in 1963) or a mechanic qualified to work on it.
The trip back to Cambria was beautiful and seemed too short, gliding along the curvy road between green mountainside and rugged coast. I was able to forget that I had a friend with his dog stranded in my dead truck behind me and just enjoyed the ride. All good things must end however and soon I found myself in Cambria. I located a pay telephone and secured the services of a tow truck operator and he recommended a garage where he thought that repairs might be made on my “Studi”. The operator found me and I led him back to where the truck and Dave and Foxy sat waiting for me alongside the road. The operator had my truck on the hook in practically no time and it only seemed fair to let Dave ride the bike back into Cambria this time. We placed Foxy in the cab of the truck with the windows rolled partly down and I climbed into the cab of the tow truck to accompany the driver back to town. It turned out that this was a very bad move.
When I was young I suffered terribly from car sickness. I have written about this elsewhere. It was so bad that when we would leave early in the morning to go camping or merely spending the day with friends in the mountains or in the desert, my father and some of his friends would place bets on how far I would get before Dad would have to stop the car so that I could throw up. It was anybody’s guess whether I could go a few miles or sometimes almost to our destination, but nobody ever would bet that I would make it. I rarely disappointed. I hadn’t suffered from that disadvantage in many years but on this day, winding along that tortured ribbon of road that is Highway 1 along the California coast, I became as carsick as I have ever been in my life. When we pulled into the garage in Cambria I was nearly incapacitated. I held my act together though while the mechanic disappeared under the hood and began to poke and prod at things under there, grunting something under his breath every now and then.
Finally the mechanic straightened up and announced the good news: It was only a water pump and some belts that needed to be replaced. Then he gave us the bad news. The water pump was in San Luis Obispo, over thirty winding miles behind us, and the parts truck wouldn’t deliver the part for another two or three hours. I suddenly felt even more sick to my stomach and stretched out on the seat of the truck. I told him to do the repair – what else could I do? Dave went off with Foxy to find some lunch while I just lay on the bench seat thinking how I would have to get better in order to die.
The wait seemed to be an infinity. It was after noon when the parts truck arrived and all of his deliveries were checked in, and then another long wait while the mechanic buttoned up the job he was working on when I pulled in, which was probably the car of a local customer, before he came over to begin puttering around on my rig. “It’s only a water pump” the mechanic had told me. So why did it take so long to fix it, I wondered. I was beginning to worry about getting my truck up and running before closing time when finally his head appeared from under the hood and he lowered that hood into place. “That should do it” he said, wiping his greasy hands on a well-used towel. “At last” I thought. I paid the agreed-upon price and we fired the Studi up, then eased back onto the road, ready to put some miles behind us before night set in. I had chafed all day between feeling like death warmed over and wanting to continue our journey. I also hoped to see Kathy and Roy if they had not yet secured a ride, although I knew that they probably had done just that very thing. I drove even though I was still a little green around the gills and soon approached the edge of Cambria.
Right at the sign which announced our leaving that town there stood two more hitchhikers, Paul and Jerry. I didn’t even ask what Dave thought; i didn’t have to. Of course we would pick them up. We rolled to a stop and the two travelers came running up to us. “Oh, man. Thank you. Thank you for stopping. You guys are life savers,” they were saying, with more of the same words tumbling out of their mouths like the waters of a stream rolling and splashing down a rapids. “Whoa, what’s up with this?” Dave asked. “It’s cool. Just hop in. What’s the big deal?” Jerry proceeded to explain. “We’ve been standing next to this damned sign for two days and nobody would even look at us. Now there’s two big rednecks across the street who just told us that they were going to get liquored up and then come over here and kick our asses.” Dave and I looked across the road and there was indeed a rank looking little “Dew Drop Inn” with a preponderance of pickup trucks with gun racks in the rear windows parked in front. Dave and I looked at each other for a moment and then said in unison “Well get the hell in the truck and let’s get the f**k out of here before they come back and bring their friends with them.”
Paul and Jerry did as they were told and with a spray of gravel from spinning wheels we were soon hurtling up Highway 1, away from the Dew Drop and Cambria, California. We only got a mile or two down the road however before we saw that the heat indicator was once again rising. Dave pulled over to the side of the road and we got out to see if anything stood out that we could do. None of us wanted to go back to Cambria. I raised the hood and quickly noticed that a belt was askew and was not adequately turning the pump. I fixed that little problem and we were soon ready to go again. This brief break did however give us a chance to talk with our new companions who confessed that they thought “Oh, great. Now these guys are going to kick our asses” when we first pulled over. We all had a laugh at that one and finally I remembered to ask where they were headed. “Seattle” they replied. Dave and I figured that this was all of the signs that we needed. We climbed back into the truck and resumed our trip north.
Bit Sur is a stunningly beautiful stretch of the Central California coastline and I would have loved to see it in its entirety in the midday sun. We could see steep, forested hills falling directly to the crashing ocean, with only the scar of the roadbed breaking up the pristine landscape. Graceful arched bridges spanned steep valleys with mountain streams gurgling down in the bottoms, racing to a rocky reunion with the ocean from which that water had originally sprung or spreading out over short, sandy stretches of beach. I was still pretty queasy but managed to enjoy the scenery as long as it lasted.
I don’t remember what time we stopped for the night, but it was well after sundown, and only gray traces of the day’s light remained in the last quarter of the western sky. We were approaching the northern end of Big Sur and the landscape was losing some of its verticality. Around a curve we saw a flat area on the west side of the road with several cars parked there and no people to be seen. We decided to investigate this, slowed down and pulled up to a stop next to the last car in line. We exited the car and walked along the edge of the parking area until, in the fading light, we saw a path leading to a clearing of sorts several yards into the woods. There, a large group of young people were encamped, more than could be accounted for by the number of cars up by the road.
Clearly this was an impromptu camp set up by travelers and vagabonds just like ourselves. There was an area near the edge of the camp where four more people could roll out their sleeping bags, and I staked that area while the others returned to get our supplies and locked everything else up in the cab. We rolled out our bags when Dave and Paul and Jerry returned and set up our own camp. There was light from scattered lanterns and a few small fires, and there was a good deal of visiting and sharing of food and marijuana among that young and footloose crowd. Foxy quickly found some other dogs to play with and we met and chatted with the owners of those dogs and traded stories, food, and destinations with them. This was less than one year after Woodstock and there was still a free spirit which existed among the co-travelers; a sort of brotherhood of the road.
Exhausted from the day, the nausea which I had wrestled with for hours, and the emotional release from the threat of a severe beating on Paul and Jerry’s part, we crawled into our bags. We spoke in low tones for a few moments about plans for the next day, but within a very short time were sound asleep on that soft forested ground. I knew very little about the highway north of San Francisco, and therefore knew that the discovery portion of my journey would begin on the morrow.