We recently took a short jaunt to Baja to catch some surf. Since I didn’t have Internet anywhere (no Internet + no cell service = a good thing), these are posted after our return. Enjoy!
NOTE: Although I am still posting travel writing to A Year In Trim, I’m slowly moving over to my main website, http://www.katybryce.com (an attempt to be more “professional”, as if). You can also subscribe to travel blog posts there.
I hadn’t had my passport stamped for over a year and I was getting uncomfortably itchy. Kind of like wearing a wool sweater with nothing underneath. Stifling itchy. Same house. Same food. Same desk. Time to leave. A Baja surf trip was in order.
It is a frigid 13 degrees when we packed up to leave. Chris climbs up on the top of the camper dressed in thick layers of Carhartts (full on Oregon and shit), strapping the surfboards to the rack in the brutal cold. Everything is frozen and our hands become bright red as we lift water jugs, buckets and our extra propane tank into the rig. We feel that we can’t get out of here quick enough.
As we head south, the sun is out, but the air is still cold, hovering around 30 degrees by the time we reach Klamath Falls. We are slow out of the gate, so we push hard to make it a decent distance tonight so we can enjoy a half-day in San Diego before crossing the border.
We drive down Highway 395 in the dark, a shame since it is one of the more scenically sublime roads in California, hugging the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range. Our goal is to at least reach Bishop, then camp for the night under the shadow of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. The next morning, we wake up to this:
The remainder of Highway 395 skirts the Mojave Desert, passing the largest thermal solar array in California and miles and miles of desert, until we reach the high desert city of Adelanto, which means “progress or advance” in Spanish. Adelanto’s tagline, which is evident on the sign that sits a mile or two before any visible civilization, is “The City with Unlimited Possibilities”. Poor Adelanto never morphed into the thriving suburbia as hoped, but instead is a crossroads of fast food joints, California beige (and a few pink) tract homes, monster trucks and dust devils.
We reach San Diego mid-day, with blue, blue skies and a flat, flat Pacific Ocean. At a fortuitous meeting the week before, I ran into some friends that were heading to San Diego to camp that week, so we were able to jump in on their camp spot and enjoy a quick dip in the ocean before eating our first “Baja” style fish tacos complete with tasty Margs at a nearby Mexican restaurant.
We are anxious to leave the endless strip malls and classic California traffic for a little Mexico therapy. Andele!
Sometimes we don’t have to travel so far from home to get out of our comfort zone. Wave riding in Oregon is every bit as adventurous as Sri Lanka or Thailand and I was recently inspired to write a piece for The Inertia about being “full on Oregon and shit”. True story. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Read below or enjoy on The Inertia.
While traveling in Baja not too long ago, we met a San Diego surfer that was describing a remote spot somewhere in the wilds of Mexico. He ended his story by saying that the only other guys that were there were these hardcore body boarders that were, “totally full on Oregon and shit. You know, big beards, flannel shirts, Carhartts.”
I pictured some classic Pacific Northwest timber loggers pulling up in their rusty pickup trucks, carrying chainsaws under one arm, boards under the other. Being from Oregon, I was so flattered, I couldn’t even say anything. “Full on Oregon and shit” is a serious compliment and one not taken lightly.
Oregon is cold, dark, green, wild and epic. There are no private beaches, no full parking lots and no parking fees. Not a single beach has the proverbial list of all the things you can’t do – like drink beer from a buried keg, run your dog, smoke a cigarette (hand rolled, of course), play loud music, or sleep overnight on the sand. Oregon beaches are an extension our Pacific Northwest culture – we pride ourselves on undeveloped open space. We have 363 miles of public coastline and a handful of decent surf spots, from chilled out long board waves to thumping barrels. Points, beach breaks, jetties, river mouths, rock reefs, we’ve got it.
At most spots, there are rarely more than ten people in the water. With quiet nods or friendly banter in the line-up, we are cordial, mellow, and respectful of our fellow neoprene clad watermen. We have the friendliness of the Midwest, but I suspect we drink a lot more designer coffee and craft micro-brews.
Make no assumption that it is a complete cold water paradise. It’s not. It’s more like an endless quest to conquer the less than ideal surfing conditions. We rack the boards on the car in the garage; only because it’s snowing outside and we have to drive through a blizzard to get to the coast. We wait for weeks on end for the swell to drop enough to be surfable, and there is always a high probability of getting completely skunked. We once drove 225 miles in one day looking for surf.
Sunshine is a dubious prospect. Coastal rainfall averages at 70 inches a year, seven times the amount of rain in San Diego. On a “warm day”, the water is 56 degrees and we are very rarely without a hood and gloves, those dreaded gloves. The ocean is teeming with life; the kind most of us don’t want to see, like big whiteys. They are out there in the murky water. I just know it.
Riding waves in Oregon is an adventure and not for everyone. But for us bearded, flannel wearing, coffee drinking, chainsaw toting sadists, it is the space between heaven and earth. Hawaii can claim the Spirit of Aloha, California can have Rincon, Huntington Beach and Trestles, but only here can you be Full On Oregon and Shit.
It’s 31 degrees, there is snow on the ground, and I sit in my house in my hooded sweatshirt and fuzzy slippers, listening to my old dog snoring, reading my first published piece on the front page of The Inertia.
A few weeks ago, after submitting a sample, I got a notice that I was accepted as a contributor to this great website. By pure fate of all of our names starting with “K”, I happen to be on the same page and RIGHT ABOVE Keala Kennelly and Kelly Slater, among many other incredibly talented contributors. That’s right. While I will never surf monster Teahupoo like Keala or win 11 World Titles like Kelly, I like to think we are all amigos, if only in cyberspace.
By consequence of being so excited, I can barely write, so it’s best to check out it out by following the link:
Or read below:
One of my very dear friends told me that for much of her life, the image that would come up when she thought of her future was eight neatly stacked, square, white, modern dinner plates. These plates somehow represented her success in life after completing college, sucking it up as an intern, then working her butt off in corporate America. They were the pinnacles of achievement, those plates, but she couldn’t care less about those plates now.
My snapshot of the future, for as long as I can remember, is an outdoor shower, and I have no idea where this came from. I grew up in a pretty average family in inland Southern California. I was an only child, with two professional working parents, good grades, off to college at age 17. My outdoor shower is a pretty functional looking shower, in a tropical setting, with a tile floor, and a bamboo screen surrounded by thick foliage. If I look closely, I see a surfboard leaning up against the wall. It turns out the shower is a side note; my dream was to be a surfer.
So, five years ago at age 34, I embarked on what I now know is the hardest learning curve in the world – surfing. I’m athletic and stubborn, two good things to have in the water, but while I was full of gumption and spunk, I thought I failed a lot. I didn’t catch enough waves, I couldn’t get my feet in the right place, I went over the falls (still do), and mostly, I deferred. I thought that because many times I was “the worst surfer in the water”, that I didn’t deserve waves, so I pulled back. I let others take waves because I thought they were better than me. Until one day, an acquaintance of mine paddled up to me, got in my face and yelled at me for being stupid, saying “You deserve waves as much as anyone else out here!”
I cried that day.
So, what did I do? After much saving and planning that involved quitting our comfortably secure jobs, I went, with my very supportive surfing husband, on a year-long world surf adventure that included Mexico, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This here is what I learned.
I stopped trying so hard. One of the most interesting compliments someone gave me was that I am so passionate in everything I do. And more often than not, I am called the “100 Pounds of Fury” among other interesting (and perhaps not so nice) descriptive phrases. Surfing has taught me that maybe, instead of jumping into things head first with no helmet on and my hair on fire, I should take a more peaceful, flowing path. Take waves, and other things in life, as they come, but stop trying so hard, stop swimming upstream.
I also now know that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Being a female surfer at breaks that were dominated by dudes from all over the world was, so far, the hardest thing that I’ve done in my life. There were days where I felt like a small, defeated “chick” in the water. But I still paddled out and caught waves. I tried my best to hold my head high and be a surfer.
And most importantly, I can call myself a surfer.
Because, when are you really, truly allowed to call yourself a “surfer”? I’ve asked myself this question a few times. Is it when you stand up on your very first whitewater wave? Or when you can pull off floaters and aerials? Is it when you surf a certain number of days per week/month/year? It was a cold Christmas morning in Baja when I was almost surprised to discover that I had become surfer, when I paddled out into overhead waves, full of gratitude and grace in that cold morning. The path to becoming a surfer resides in your heart, it is endless, and filled with potential.
I may not have an outdoor shower, but I will always be a surfer. And you should be too.
Where to begin? Or end? Jet lag still haunts us. Chris had “minor” surgery on his hand two days ago. We are temporarily homeless and jobless. Our tanned skin is rapidly fading. But after 12 months of travel, we are home. Sure, we are frustrated with some things (like all the rules we have here), we miss surfing every day and we have complete sticker shock when purchasing anything (like a $12 salad). But, overall, we are feeling pretty good about our return. Caveats: We are still in the celebrity stage where our friends and family really want to hang out with us AND the weather is ridiculously pleasant right now. These two things are helping. We haven't had much time to reflect and think about our experiences, but we have figured out what we spent and put together a “best of” list.
What did it take for us to have a year off work and twelve months of surfing? $26,089
This figure includes: our daily expenses both in Mexico and in Asia, our travel health insurance, truck insurance for Mexico, the remainder of our mortgage that we had to cover that our renters were not paying, our flights within Asia, Dozer's expenses in Mexico (mostly kibble), things we bought on the road in Asia (new surfboard, new camera, clothes, etc), and medical expenses while traveling. Basically any money that left our hands from the day we left Oregon to the day we returned is included.
This figure DOES NOT include: our flights to and from Asia (we used Alaska Air miles to get us there and back), truck camper costs, new surfboards, other gear and clothing purchases, medical costs before the trip (vaccinations, prescriptions, etc.), and basically any costs that we incurred to prepare for the trip.
We found we could spend very little money in Mexico and the bulk of our expenses were diesel and food. Because we cooked most of our meals in the camper, daily food expenses were very cheap. Obviously since we were camping, accomodation cost very little, typically between $0 and $12 a night. Our daily expenses were roughly $36 day in Mexico, for a total of $6606 for six months. Wow! That is cheap, even for us dirtbags!
Planning for the Asia leg of the trip was harder and we didn't really know what we would spend. Daily costs such as meals and accomodation are very, very cheap in Asia, but add on extra purchases and tours and sightseeing, and the cost comes up a bit. We also purchased all of our flights within Asia, eight total, as we went, so those costs are included in the numbers. Our daily expenses in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia for five months cost us $85 day, for a total of $12,750 for five months. That includes everything!
We candidly share this information because we aren't independently wealthy and we had to work really hard to do this. We did our best to plan and budget. We spent money as thoughtfully as we could while still having a trip of a lifetime. We are still amazed that we pulled it off; we now know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it.
Hottest We've Ever Been In Our Entire Lives:
Top Five Medical Emergencies:
Best Wildlife Encounters
Best “Locals Only” Activities:
In a few days, we'll be back in the US, basking in the Pacific Northwest in our wool socks and puffy coats. As our Kiwi friend Tom said, “New Zealand is cold, quiet, green and epic”. We nodded in sync as our thoughts shifted to coming home to Oregon, which is also “cold, quiet, green and epic”. It's time to leave our quaint wood and cardboard shack on the beach, the mischievous resident puppy Rennie, the daily dahl, sambol and rotti meals and the warm waves.
Every day is an adventure, but here are a few highlights from the last two weeks:
We had one of our most amazing sessions one morning as we teamed up with our South African neighbor, now friend, Charl, and drove to a nearby point. For an hour, it was the three of us in the water, watching the sunrise, taking long, perfect shoulder to head high waves, and trying to pull into mini barrels. We caught so many waves that hour, that none of us were in the line up at the same time. Sure it's not Indo, it wasn't an epic swell by any means, blah, blah, blah. But it was magic and we still talk about it.
True to form, Chris is coming home broken, his right hand anyway. The story… We were surfing a nice morning session catching some mellow waves, just the two of us. Throughout the morning, the crowd was building, with many surfers with awful etiquette and poor skills. A bad combo, and we should have gotten out of the water like we usually do then. But no, with a week left we kept going. Chris was run over by another surfer and the end result was a broken metatarsal for Chris and a cracked and dented surfboard for the other guy. A trip to the local and very dodgy government hospital 45 minutes away confirmed in X-rays that it is a significant fracture. They “decided” not to cast it for some reason and we'll be coming home to help a Bend orthopedist send his kids to college. So we made it 11 months and 3 weeks, which is not too bad for a guy with a long history of breaking himself.
As we spend the next three days traveling home, we begin to reflect upon the last year. It's overwhelming and emotional. And mostly we are still shocked at times that we actually pulled it off! While we planned and worked hard and saved, there was always the fear that things would go completely sideways either before we could go or during our travels. Now we face the fears of the “after” – how to go back to living and working in the States, and NOT SURFING everyday. Of course we always have lots of ideas for future surf travel. Regardless, we are filled with gratitude for all that we have seen and done, people we have met, food we have eaten, animals we've encountered, and most importantly, waves we have surfed.
We did it!