This is an ode to Highway 1. Not for its 659 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline beauty. Not for its trance-inducing twists and turns over cliffs or the boundless views of waves crescendoing over jagged rocks below.
No, this is an ode to the stretch of California coastline that brought me and two of my best friends, Luke Whelan and Andrew Lawson, together for six days in May. From San Francisco to San Diego, we toured this pristine, almost unfathomable fertile stretch of land, enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on 14 years of friendship.
Male friendship, to me, has never been close to what I’ve seen portrayed in films or on TV. Friendship goes far beyond the booze and sophomoric humor we often see in movies like “The Hangover.” Going to ball games and having a couple of beers with a friend is always fun, but true male friendship is about feeling secure, trusting each other, opening up and being present.
I met Luke in the fall of 2005 at Ingraham High and Andrew before that at Whitman Middle School, though we didn’t become friends until we re-connected in high-school band. I first bonded with them by commiserating over the Mariners or math class. But we soon graduated from that and began confiding in each other about crushes, family and our own insecurities.
Nostalgia overflowed the summer before college. Our days of seeing each other regularly were coming to an end, as each of us headed to different cities and adventures. But we also shared a feeling that our kinship was strong enough to last through that upcoming transition phase and many, many more to come.
We were right.
As the years have passed, we’ve grown apart in proximity, but not in affinity. We don’t talk much, aside from sharing an article or podcast now and then or talking trash ahead of the Apple Cup. It doesn’t seem to matter.
Andrew is now a pediatrics resident at Northwestern University. I always figured he’d become president but now I’m convinced he’s going to find a cure for cancer. He’s the kind of guy I’m lucky to even know, and jokes aside, he’s going to make a difference in this world.
Luke has bounced around from city to city, and now resides in Sante Fe, New Mexico, working as an editor at Outside Magazine. He’s done everything in journalism from covering tech, to politics, to covering reporters’ butts, fact checking 8,000-word features on deadline. He’s a forgetful goofball sometimes, but he’s also an earnest, kind and thoughtful friend. I love him like a brother.
As for me, I stayed in Seattle. Got a job at The Times and live with another high-school pal, Jonas, who couldn’t make the trip.
It had been almost a year since we’d seen each other. With an upcoming reprieve from work and no firm vacation plans, the three of us hatched our California road-trip plan. Equipped with a Google Doc, we began plugging in dates, Airbnbs, beaches to lounge on and breweries to quench us along the way. Thankfully my friends are more organized than I am, because they made sure this wasn’t just some halfhearted “Hey, we should do this sometime” plan as Seattleites are wont to do.
We settled on four places along the coast where we’d stay: Monterey, San Simeon (along Big Sur), Santa Barbara and San Diego.
We had loose plans in between those stops, but left room for spontaneity — in my opinion, the best way to travel. Plan, but don’t overplan. Our intentions were simple: Visit each place, take in the sights, enjoy a beach or two, find a hike, feast like kings and wash it down with some fine craft beer or wine. Then keep heading south.
After a fantastic stay and a hearty breakfast in sleepy Monterey, we embarked on our road trip along Big Sur. The “Big Little Lies” soundtrack blared through our rented Chevy, and our hands surfed the wind out the window. Yes, we were those tourists.
Our rental car wove through Big Sur’s beauty for hours. As the afternoon sun beamed down on Bixby Canyon Bridge nestled between the Northern California cliffs — our playlist now on Vampire Weekend’s “Father of the Bride” — I couldn’t help but capture a mental note of the moment so it wouldn’t slip away.
Perched in the back seat, I sat forward, grabbed my friends’ shoulders and gazed ahead at one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the world.
Our next destination was San Simeon, a foggy beach town tucked below towering hills. We also met up with Andrew’s sister, Anna, who lives in California.
We toured Hearst Castle, a goat and avocado farm — where we stocked up on cheese and several dozen ripe avocados that were too small to sell, but not too small to enjoy — and then encountered a site to behold: elephant seals! They take over whole beaches this time of year to molt, or shed their skin. Hundreds of these blubbery 5,000-pound mammals lying, flapping, grunting, farting, fighting and molting. To steal a line from Luke, there were so many subplots on that beach.
Santa Barbara offered us plenty of wine, a nice hike and a unique lodging experience. We were determined to cook, but lacked pots, pans, a table to eat on and chairs to sit on. A Target run, some perseverance and a little more wine gave us the meal we envisioned: A pasta with kale, sausage and cheese enjoyed on a yoga mat on the floor.
The next day, we said goodbye to Anna and carried on to San Diego, our final destination. We treated ourselves and stayed in a swanky hotel there, alternating among pool, beach and breweries. A perfect, relaxing end to our California getaway.
It’s been a decade since that summer before our first transition away from each other. Our graduating class didn’t organize a 10-year reunion, but we didn’t need it. We had our own on the California coast. Yes, that stretch of road gave us beaches and beautiful sites, but more importantly, it gave us hours together to reconnect.
Like the road itself, we’ve been through countless turns in life. We’ve been there for each other through loss, love, heartbreak and success. We’ll continue to be there for each other no matter what twists are to come. Highway 1 brought us back together, and for that I am thankful.
Oh, and we’re already planning our next trip.