A Scouting Life: Pacific Coast Hellway

May 13, 2010 | Sam Hutchins

The last sunlight was creeping below the horizon, off to warm the distant Pacific islands. I was excited for a night in Carmel. It’s such a lovely little town, and I knew a few great restaurants there. A good meal and a warm bed would cap off what had been a tough day nicely.

“So, we go to L.A.?” Kar Wai asked.

“L.A. is pretty far away yet. I thought we’d crash in Carmel.”

“No. We go to L.A.”

Shit damn, this was going to be the longest day ever. Eyeballing the map showed that it was at least a five or six hour drive south to get there. Worse yet, we were on Highway 1. Beautiful as it is, it can be a hair-raising ride even in the best conditions. Driving it at night, in the rain, was a daunting idea. Mountains to one side and cliffs to the other, a sheer drop down to the sea. All blind curves and nary a streetlight to be seen. Yeah, this was going to be fun.

It was hard to see the map in the dark, but it looked like we had something like 75 miles on Highway 1 before a turnoff to the main highway. It was a dreadful ride. The wind whipped our truck hard enough to push it around on the road, and every moment carried the possibility of breaking through a guardrail and plunging into the ocean. I could feel the muscles in my shoulders knotting up with tension as I leaned forward and stared through the windshield. With the steady rain, even the high-beams were of limited usefulness.

We were looking for the turnoff at State Route 46, which would carry us over the mountains before connecting with Highway 101. The map showed that we could continue on Rte 1 and it would eventually intersect directly with 101, but I was eager to get off of 1 as soon as possible. Clearly we had another few hours before we hit the turnoff, but that didn’t stop one or the other of my companions from pointing out every single road running off to our left. Some were park entrances, others private driveways. There were gravel logging roads and dirt paths. What they clearly were not, however, were state highways. After the first few times the guys excitedly pointed out a dirt road and asked if it were our turnoff I just gave up and quit answering. At one point, Stephane started to insist that we should take a shot on one of the side roads anyway. His logic was that it would eventually hit the highway. I gave him a long, hard look in the rearview mirror.

“Do you really want to tell me how to navigate?”

That ended that. Eventually we hit the main highway. The cluster of gas stations surrounding the on-ramp were the first signs of humanity we had seen in hours. Interesting how circumstances can dictate a preference for the fluorescent glow of a service station over the unspoiled natural beauty of a place like Big Sur. That’s exactly where my head was at that particular moment, however. Lord, give me a paved and well-lit road. I stopped to gas up and grab some coffee to fuel the late-night run into L.A. It wasn’t until I stood up that I realized I had damn near sweat through my shirt.

“Rough drive, huh? You did a great job.”

I was startled by Darius’ voice behind me at the pumps. Almost invariably the guys stayed in the truck while I fueled and serviced her. Not sure if it’s a French thing or what, but the effect is to make you feel like the hired help.

“If you want, I can take us the rest of the way. I’m well rested and have made this drive before.”

If ever I wanted to hug another man it was then. What a lifesaver Darius was that night. I settled in to the back seat and completely spaced out. I couldn’t fall asleep as I was still much too amped-up from the arduous driving conditions earlier. Darius piloted us onto the highway and pointed us south. He got on the phone with his wife and spoke sweetly to her in French all the way to Santa Monica. Once again I curled up in the back seat like a little kid on the way to Disney World.

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