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Road trip: California dreaming through European eyes


Emily Quiles/Town Crier
Emily Quiles’ road trip included a stop at San Diego’s Pacific Beach.

Born and mostly raised in California, it is easy to take the beautiful sunsets, beaches and weather for granted. Yet during my monthlong road trip with my boyfriend Amir Mohamed, who recently visited from London, I found a new appreciation for where I grew up.

Our journey – a combination of California staycation and same-state, different state-of-mind exploration – covered 570 miles. Cruising along California interstates in my baby-blue truck, we made seven overnight stops and saw more gas stations than landmarks.

We moved every four to six days, covering Oakland, San Francisco, then back to Los Altos to meet the parents, before heading southeast to camp at Springville in Tulare County. We then traveled to Los Angeles, San Diego and Ensenada, Mexico. By our third destination, we were singing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” with our best country-western accents. The song quickly became the cue for, “Time to pack and get out of here.”

Our Airbnb host in Oakland, who fermented beer and collected quirky sculptures that adorned just about every corner, greeted us with his crooked smile. To my surprise, Oakland has a prevalent Frisbee culture. We wound up watching Frisbee hobbyists throw their disks over ponds and hills. I never realized the passion that goes into flicking your wrist and gauging wind patterns to achieve the ideal throw. It motivated us to stop at a corner store to buy our own flying disk.

In San Francisco we stayed at Ubuntu, a collective living space of 30, where we ended up collaborating in a several-hour heated discussion around the fire pit about vaccinations. We also found time to be tourists, visiting Pier 39 and driving down Lombard Street.

Heading south

Then we were “On the Road Again.” After a brief respite in Los Altos, we set our sights on Springville. The 244-mile straight, blacktopped two-lane drive to get there consists of barren farmland and depressing slaughterhouses. To pass the time, we encouraged truck drivers to honk and ate oranges that strayed away from the farms that lined the freeway.

Being the month of April, it was super-bloom season. We were able to escape the Instagram-invaded fields of flowers and found our own wild super bloom. Flowers sprinkled colors of orange, yellow and blue on the green hills, which are usually golden throughout the year.

Many miles later, we arrived at Springville, a desolate town northeast of Bakersfield with a population of 934. Once we passed the town center, our phones were rendered useless. Having no cell service seemed appropriate for our remote camping experience.

We stayed at a campsite we found on Hipcamp, which is sort of an Airbnb for campers. Our host, Chico, is a nature enthusiast, Buddhist and owner of two dogs that never left our side. With no Wi-Fi, civilization or distractions, we felt as if we were fulfilling our alter egos as off-the-radar nomads. Happy in our green tent, we fell asleep to the sound of the river just to the right of us and to the sight of the stars as they twinkled back at us.

Our higher selves felt enlightened, yet once we arrived in Mexico (via Los Angeles and San Diego), we felt relieved. Tacos, beer and Wi-Fi – oh my.

Ensenada is known for its beaches, nightlife and tourism. To escape the tourist trap, you have to leave the city center and find restaurants that look more like food stands. Outside of town, we went to an arcade and won a plastic seahorse for memories, then lounged at Mezcaleria La Penca and sipped mezcal, a drink stronger than tequila.

After five days in Mexico, we crossed the border back to San Diego. We encountered millennial hippies performing sunset yoga at Mission Beach. “Join us now, join us later,” the sign on a surfboard read. After a half-hearted attempt to convince Amir to stretch our legs and join them, which he rejected, we went for sushi but didn’t realize the place we chose was vegan. San Diego has refined its image since I grew up there, now offering acai bowls, celery juice and fishless fish.

We later found that same group of sunset-yoga enthusiasts, now curled around a bonfire and listening to techno music. We joined them this time, for a dance and s’mores.

I reflect on this experience as a broken-hearted lover, as Amir has since flown back to London and we are continuing long-distance. But the chance to create so many memories in a place I thought I already knew so well – and see it through someone else’s California dreaming eyes – was unforgettable.

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