California Dreamin': reflections on Highway 1
For a place so wrapped up in the American Dream, California risked falling short in my reality. When I stepped out into the dry heat of LAX airport, California represented my own American dream. Exhausted by a summer of adventures and a tough period professionally I was looking for my own version of gold: the golden glow of a healthy mind, body and spirit. Let’s face it California has more than a few fitness stereotypes attached to it. Health gurus and goddesses, athletic surfers and Hollywood hunks to name a few. I mean, this was the state where Arnie was the governornator; physical physique is taken seriously.
I was in Cali to road trip from San Diego to San Francisco and despite being in a car (ok ok, ma-hoosive badda$$ truck) for the vast majority of the day, I couldn’t wait to get my toes into the golden sandy beaches or test my rapidly dissolving surf skills in the Pacific. I was looking to reignite my passion for healthy living with a combination of fresh, local produce, physical activities and outdoor living.
So what did I discover about keeping fit in California?
Lesson #1: road tripping requires a lot of time on the road
Ah, the romantic image of road tripping: sunglasses on, tunes up and that never ending triangle of road stretched out before you as you head towards the horizon. With some of the world's best coastal roads to explore, a ride up the 1 should definitely be on everyone’s to do list.
Road tripping is brilliant but it didn’t do my physical body much good. Cooped up in a cab I felt remote and detached from the wonder around me. The sights I’d seen on TV or googled in the countdown to my trip surrounded me but I was still viewing through a screen: the windscreen!
Nowhere was this feeling articulated more than 17 Mile Drive – a gorgeous stretch of road that winds from Carmel by Sea to Monterey Bay via contrasting rugged beaches and pristine golf courses. All I wanted to do was walk from cliff to bay to woodland (and maybe find a few lost golf balls) but this wasn’t really possible. Hopping in and out of the truck every 5 minutes I couldn’t help but gaze enviously at the cyclists whizzing by on the Pacific Coast Highway whilst trying not to think about my inflated carbon footprint.
The road is calling and I think my bike is looking to answer.
Lesson #2 You can go to America and not get fat
Back in the good old days (round about when I was 12) I visited Florida with my family. I was quite literally the kid in the candy shop and indulged in every sugary treat America had to offer. My parents were the same: they’d worked hard to fund the fortnight and good lord we were going to eat everything America had to offer. Needless to say I returned quite a bit heavier with greasy skin far beyond hormonal remit. I regret nothing and have infinitely improved my relationship with food since then, but I was apprehensive of how I was going to stay healthy on this trip.
The good news is it is possible to eat well in America if you are smart about your options. Everyday I was tempted by pancakes and pop tarts and corndogs. Ok I wasn’t really tempted by that last one at all but there were plenty of other food fiascos that all demanded entry to my body. With a little fore planning and will power however, access was denied.
So what did I eat? Being surrounded by natural beauty, feeling the sun press against my skin and the promise of surfing without a wetsuit helped me keep my choices sensible. California is home to most of America’s fresh produce keeping costs relatively low. This coupled with the ever favourable exchange rate, I was able to eat my fair share of fresh greens, creamy avos and lean meat. My favourite go-to became turkey wraps with dark leafy greens and speckles of jewelled cranberries. Although way larger than anything you’d find in Pret here, sandwiches and wraps are freshly made and can be bursting with veggies if you choose. I chose dear reader, I chose.
Lesson #3 Stereotypes are not accurate travel guides
Deep down, I was slightly apprehensive of my trip to California. What would a state of Hollywood heroes, Malibu marvels and Long Beach long legs make of a Brit whose proportions didn’t quite make perfection?
The answer? No one cared.
Straight away I realised that pop culture really isn’t an accurate guide for any travel destination, or at least it only forms a small part of it. California is no different. From the desert landscape of SoCal to the lush hills of San Francisco I found people of all shapes and sizes with their own agendas that go way beyond exhibiting on muscle beach. Of course I didn’t expect all Californians to be fitness pros, but I most certainly thought I'd see more.
The truth is I had very little interaction with many people at all. A combination of open roads, remote camping and the sheer amount of space in America meant that most of my time was spent in my own company or that of my travelling buddy. That suited us just fine this time but upon my return (of course I’m going back, this is Californ-i-a!) I’m promising to travel slow and social. Can you hear that? Sounds like the sound of the Pacific Coast Highway calling my bike again.
My own dream of California was a blur of pop culture and natural wonders. I had visions of streets lined with models, beaches lined with with skateboarding teens and seas filled with blonde surfers riding stereotypes as well as waves. I avoided locations where these sights were most likely to be seen and instead found a California that was scarce and remote. I found space to breathe and rest. The natural landscape is as idyllic as the postcards make out but it is the secret State Parks, unbranded cafes and wrong turns that made this trip special for me. I’m glad I road tripped the state but know that my next adventure will involve less gasoline, more waves and the time to really get to know those I meet. For now though I’m content in my choices and feeling nourished by the golden opportunities I discovered in the golden state.