TL; DR: Drive from Carmel-by-the-sea to Big Sur, and then a car breaks down in San Luis Obispo. All three cars get a tune up and we roll into Los Angeles at midnight.
Driving California's Highway 1 at night is very different than driving it during the day, and this is the third time I've done it. To be clear, this is the third time I've passenged along this highway at night (I take my role of being a number two very seriously). And each time I've agonized over all the wondrous sights I'm not seeing. Simultaneously, I've always found profound consolation in the deep enveloping darkness of the night. (Nights here aren't as forgiving and welcoming as the days are; the opacity of the evening sky doesn't allow for nearly as much exploration. Visibility is quite limited and there are very few street lamps along the highway. Those that do exist are sporadic and cast very little useful light.)
But I would be lying if I said that I wasn't grateful for the night's unrelenting cover because I needed the opportunity it gave me to decompress. Stretches of infinite eye-grabbing shoreline would have been distracting and I fear, would have been stimulation overload. If I'd had any more adrenaline-inducing experience forced into my person I may have spontaneously combusted.
If you've been following either our Twitter or Facebook presence you probably already know that we had an epic car break down, followed by an epic car save.
You may even want to know all the dirty details of what happened, and I promise that I'll get to that. But to fully appreciate what happened and how we got where we did, and why we all feel so bloody fortunate to have come out the other side in one piece, I must first go back to when we first felt today's earliest glimmers of Lady Luck's blessing.
When I woke up to my alarm buzzing this morning at 6:30am, looking forward to the still unwritten adventures of the day ahead, Michael was already awake and watching me with hopeful shining eyes.
"Want to go out to the jacuzzi [Yes, our private paradise in Carmel-by-the-sea came with an outdoor jacuzzi] and then do a Facebook Live tour of the RS before we hit the road?"
I glanced at my still buzzing phone. The time read 6:31am.
"Of course," I agreed, and then proceeded to slide out of bed and into my blue, red, and vertical white striped bathing suit.
Following our live broadcast, I found myself sitting at the long dining room table that could seat ten, across and kitty corner to Greg, our minivan camera man (find out more about Greg and Miles, our Italian Stallion Vanborghini drivers, here). We were both furiously editing our respective creations. Him, changing the horizon shot timing of an epic trailer (watch below) that showcased some devastatingly good shots from yesterday; and me, yesterday's blog post that I wrote while exhausted (I'd posted it and then gone to bed, but my last worried thoughts were that it was riddled with more than my usual run-on sentences and niggling errors that my mother was sure to notice).
As he and I figured out how best to share content with one another, over the network or via Bluetooth, we began to feel each other out. Perhaps more accurately, I began to pester him with questions. I felt a compulsion to learn more about the unassuming magician who I was sharing a table built for feasts, with. Somehow (it must be through magic) he managed to take mindblowing shots without so much as a squeak of discomfort (and from what little I'd seen, I could tell that his tasks involved loads of strain and discomfort). So rather than ask about how he managed to achieve his current Wizarding level because it was still early in the day and we'd only just begun to sip at our morning coffee, I asked why he agreed to come on this trip, and what he was missing by being here.
"I was just in Squamish," he explained, "but I'm from Kitchener. Mike just told me about this trip and asked if I'd be interested in coming and I said Sure, so that's why I came here from BC. My granddad always had an old classic 911, but he upgraded to a new one just a few years ago. I've always been into the classics. There's nothing like them!"
Another motor head in the group, I thought with satisfaction, attributing his authenticity to the magical, all-powerful sway of car culture. It wasn't until later in the day that I discovered that Greg also shares my husband's love for surfing, biking, making great movies, and doing just about anything that requires exceptional skill and coordination, and more often than not, ends in profound physical pain. In other words, a perfect parallel to our EndangeredExperiences ethos.
The hours following our departure from the glamorous cottage (it could have been an Art Deco heritage museum) were marked by breathtaking vistas of otherworldly beauty.
Twisting roads that traced the curving shoreline led us first up gentle, then steep mountains; and then back down again, threatening to lose us forever in the belly of valleys deep. It was a foggy morning, but that only served to make the views more surreal. As we followed HWY 1's long smooth curves it was like driving through a winding canopy of clouds. Sparkling dewdrops, trembling crystal reminders of the evening's chill and mystery, hung in the air and clung to our windscreen. We were transformed by our surroundings and became intrepid explorers discovering a mist-shrouded alien land, where shadow silhouettes of giant sea birds would suddenly emerge, only to melt back into obscurity and disappear into the secretive mist seconds later. The fog was so dense that sky became sea, and became sky once more. The mountains to the left of us jutted up from the ground and rose high above our rooftops, then disappeared into the clouds high above our heads. Ground hugging vegetation, thick and fibrous like a shag rug, marked the vertical surface. It lay like a quilt of moss green and buttercup yellow patchwork, punctuated by sun bleached stone and sandy earth. It was like seeing flashes of earth's flesh and bones beneath a moth-eaten carpet of hair.
All of it, captured on camera by Taylor and Greg, while Miles executed the perfect drive to facilitate the perfect shots.
Collectively giddy because of the sights we were seeing and footage we were getting, we stopped at a garden paradise, the Big Sur Bakery and Restaurant, at Mike's recommendation.
It wasn't yet noon but our appetites were whet and we were ready for what would prove to be a sensational lunch. But before our food arrived we had air time to fill, and I had something (or some things) on my mind. Taylor's a very busy man who takes exceptional photos for people who want to preserve their exceptional memories.
I wanted to know what Taylor was missing by being here with us on this trip, and whether this was vacation or work to him. So I asked him the same question I'd asked Greg hours earlier.
"Everyday is a vacation," he replied glibly. Quickly. And I wondered if he felt the same way I did, that he was one of the most fortunate people in the world because he got to do what he loved, but because of it never allowed himself a moment's rest. I filed the thought away to come back to as he continued to elaborate on what he was missing back at home.
"My lovely fiancé," he said, face aglow. "And Richard. I'm missing my dog Richard."
Brittany laughed, as she often does, and I was instantly captivated by her contagious and unique allure, a blend of free-spirited love and oddly circumspect positivity.
Capable of being entirely present, yet brimming with wisdom in a way that belies her youth (she's the youngest member of the group) in a way that I've never experienced before, Brittany launched into a perky explanation of how happy she was to be doing something like this with so many people.
"Devon and I were just talking this morning about how this whole thing is only possible because there's a group of us. There's no way we could be doing any of it, much less stay in places like what we just left, if it were just two of us!"
(She had a point, and a word of advice to anyone else thinking of taking a trip like this: Take turns leading the pack. Even though it can be nerve wracking to bear the responsibility of leadership, the moment you turn a corner and you discover that the road ahead is completely clear (and free of the toxic fumes that your friends' cars may be expelling), is unforgettable and unlike anything else.)
We were only on the road for two hours after that when Mike McCauley's car stopped working in the middle of the road. Thankfully he was leading the pack at the time. Even more fortunately than that, his car shit the bed next to a gas station. These two lucky strokes meant that 1. he wasn't left behind, and 2. car pushers were immediately ready to get him out of the way of unforgiving, unhappy, traffic.
None of us are mechanics but a few of us are engineers, including Michael and Devon. So immediately after parking Bones (nose pointing down a hill so that we could easily push-start her to get her moving again) and the Targa, we all gathered around the Turbo. The engineers of the group began to troubleshoot. Belatedly, too late to be of any help, I noticed that none of them looked at the Porsche manual that was purchased specifically for instances such as these (I've since learned that this was intentional and that ideally the manual never actually gets opened).
"We know it's either a problem with the spark, oxygen, or fuel," Michael explained to me and the other less mechanically inclined members of the group. "And it smells like fuel is getting there, and we know it's not an issue with oxygen, so it's probably the spark."
While some of our group continued to hum and haw over the car's cantankerous engine, Brittany discovered that the gas station we'd parked at sold twenty-seven flavours of slushie, and fresh off-the-shelf wieners and burgers. Brilliant! I thought when she told me. Worse case scenario we can camp out in the parking lot.
After thirty minutes of fiddling around without seeing any progress (no manner of cajoling would get the stubborn Turbo to start), Devon announced that he'd made an encouraging discovery. "Lucky for us, it turns out there's a mechanic shop specializing in Porsches, just about 2km from here."
It was turning out to be a lucky day indeed.
So Brittany and Devon in the Targa, and Michael and Taylor in Bones, left to find out what this mechanic's shop was all about; leaving me, Greg (who was experiencing technical issues all his own with his camera rig which had sputtered out and become unresponsive), Miles, and Mike, in the gas station parking lot. Mike continued to tinker on the Turbo while talking on the phone with Brian, wracking his brain to figure out the root problem, while I hung out in the Vanborghini with stoic Miles in the driver's seat.
"So," I said, breaking the ice. "What are you missing back at home by being here?" Nothing, not even spontaneous car failure and the prospect of camping in a gas station parking lot, could deter me from my single-minded pursuit to discover all that I could about this motley band of life-enthusiasts.
"A cat. My girlfriend and I have been cat sitting this past week and today the cat's going home, and now my girlfriend's at home on her own." My heart squeezed in immediate sympathy. I know what it's like to be home alone, waiting for my partner to return.
When the others returned they found Miles, Greg and I lounging in luxury inside the Vanborghini, and Mike still tinkering. With paradoxically long yet happier-than-a-pig-in-shit faces, they informed us that the Porsche mechanic shop Devon had discovered was yet another instance of insanely good fortune (my husband's comment of, "Fortune favours the bold," ran on repeat through my head, and I marvelled at the potential truth of it).
Guy, the shop's resident Porsche expert and, as it turns out, the best Porsche mechanic south of the border, was working today and already planned on having a late night (because he had to run technical inspections for an upcoming Porsche track day). Simply put, Guy is a hero. During the short time our team was at Guy's shop, Guy managed to diagnose Bones' problems and whip up a quick fix to the wiring issue we were having with her starter; he replaced the fuses on the Targa so that Devon and Brittany could open and close their windows again; and he gave us the knowledge and tools to do what he firmly believed would fix the Turbo.
We tried to follow his instructions but try as we might, we couldn't fix the Turbo. But the shop, if you recall, was only 2km away! So collectively we made the call that we didn't need need a tow truck for such a short trip, not when we had so many able-bodied capable people available that could push the car there. Uphill. During rush hour.
When we got a third of the way there we began to doubt our ability to push the car the rest of the way. So a few of us left in search of something that would help us tow it using the Vanborghini's impressive torquey engine. When Mike and the Good Samaritan who volunteered his help didn't find a rope in any of the nearby shops, Michael, Devon, and Miles climbed a tree that happened to have a rope in it, and we used that instead. Once the Turbo was secured to the van's subframe (and not its detachable bumper) we towed it the rest of the way to the shop.
The shop, SGS Independent Porsche, it turns out, is not only staffed by heroes, it's owned by heroes. Meeting Brent Smith, whose daily driver happens to be a slightly later generation version of Bones (much to my husband's everlasting delight), was the greatest stroke of luck of all.
Brent, a diehard Porsche guy and true believer in our mission, hung out with us for hours. Shy yet understandably proud of the castle he'd built for himself at the most important intersection in San Luis Obispo, he showed us his secret (and not-so-secret) cache: a 996 GT3 cup car, a '74 Carrera with a built out 2.8L motor in perfect condition, a Lotus Elise spec. racecar, Jacques Villanueve's backup formula Atlantic car, a gorgeous fashion grey classic Alpha Romeo, ra ace track Targa, a built up 993, a really hopped up 996 Turbo, and a couple of M3s); and then shared with us his own first Porsche road trip experience that took him all the way to Canada (although, like with us, his trip was rife with troubles all its own).
Brent authorized Guy to spend the time he needed to get the Turbo back to road-ready. By the time we pulled out of the shop's driveway all the car bays were shut and locked, and the sun had already crept below the horizon. SGS had fixed all three of our cars in record time, but we still didn't expect to roll into LA until after midnight.
Honestly, we couldn't have broken down in a better location.
By now you may appreciate why I welcomed the cover of the night at the end of the day we had. Michael didn't mind my silence because I think he too desired time to process the day's calamity. When I finally mustered the brain waves to ask my husband what he thought about all that had happened, he was silent. Eventually, he managed to find the words.
"I think we're a group of people that come from different backgrounds, people who for the most part, don't give a shit about cars. But we're all capable and in it together, so we attacked the problem like how a team would. We came together to find a solution. No one was phased or deterred. We just found a way to get all our vehicles to where they needed to be, partly by pushing, partly by pulling -Devon even sacrificed a leg- and all we figured it out.
"It was fortunate the shop was open and that they were nice guys, and that they believed in us enough to help and sacrifice their evening -hopefully it pays off for them- but like I said to the guys when we topped up, I wish every day was like this. We solved an interesting problem that gave me a huge sense of accomplishment in a short period of time. What's better than that?"
We fell silent. I searched, but found that I couldn't come up with an answer for him. I don't think any of us could know. But one thing is for sure: only tomorrow, Day Three of Eight, can tell.