In an area ravaged by wildfires just months prior to my visit, I witnessed serene landscapes and felt unblemished weather spanning the entirety of every day all week.
Coming from a land-locked state like Arkansas, I wasn't accustomed to the salt in the air. It was a scent that pleasantly invaded my nostrils as the coastal city of Santa Barbara became my temporary home. Being from the South, I was excited by the lack of humidity weighing down on my skin through layers of sweat.
This was the first vacation I had taken in a year, and the first time witnessing California through eyes of adolescence. My previous stint in California was almost fifteen years ago; a family vacation I experienced wide-eyed clinging from my father's shirttail. Now I was left to explore with my two best friends, caught somewhere between reckless abandon and the caution that comes with maneuvering unfamiliar terrain.
In the span of our eight days, we ventured to places I didn't expect to see in California, as well as other landscapes that exceeded all of my expectations.
Garrett and I flew in from Arkansas, meeting Alex at the airport. We stayed at Alex's house in a community of students who attended the University of California-Santa Barbara. It was a massive suburb completely run by college students. I had never seen anything like it before.
The house was within walking distance to the beach, where we made our first leisurely stop of the week. We lazed for hours in the sun on the hot sand listening to the waves crash against the shore. We didn't simply laze around the entire trip, though.
Early in the week we hiked to the top of a mountain, tracing the carefully carved winding roadway in the side. We reached a height we all found appropriate to be able to watch one of the stage races of the Tour of California bicycle race. Later in the week we returned to the mountain just to admire the view of coastal California.
Every night we stayed out late. Sometimes we played drinking games with the locals, others we found different ways to entertain ourselves. Almost all the restaurants were open through the dew-spitting hours of the morning, and as the natives grabbed their coats and jackets, we southerners relished in the cool ocean air.
As long as I was there, it seems that my entire trip is a collective blur with a few specific instances sticking out. Two are the bike race and the mountain hike, but they don't fully captivate the whimsical experience I had.
Wednesday night, not quite halfway through our vacation, somehow our quiet night at the house turned into finding a secret spot on the beach. Sometime after 1:00 a.m., we ventured down to the trail on the beach and found a drop-off to an area seemingly untouched by any current students. Our footprints were fresh on the sand, and in the spirit of spontaneity in the company of friends we ran fearlessly into the ocean guided only by the stars and the moonlight.
The next day, after much encouragement from Alex and Garrett, I tried my hand at skateboarding. It should be noted that in the little suburb of Isla Vista hardly anyone drives. Cars are double-parked for miles on every street. Everyone walks, bikes, or skates around to where they need to go. Alex and Garrett had been skating while I had been walking, which took a significantly longer amount of time. As uncoordinated as I thought I was, and as many excuses as I made for myself not to get on a board, I managed to actually be able to ride.
Friday, the day before our flight left, Alex's housemate Jake took Garrett and I out on his boat in the ocean. We drove down the famous Ventura Highway along the coast until we made it to where the boat was docked. Jake made Garrett and I first mates as we untethered the ropes and did other minuscule tasks to get us out into the ocean. We rode through rough waters, sitting high in the boat and enjoying the view and the splashes of salt water on our skin.
Those three main instances stick out because they are things I would not normally do without certain company or in certain settings. Sometimes it takes getting out of your comfort zone to be able to challenge what you thought your limits are. I never thought I would watch a bike race. I never thought I would learn to skate. I never thought I would sprint into the ocean in the early hours of the morning. I never saw myself on top of a yacht in the middle of the ocean. But I did all of it.
Vacations can be about the views and scenery, but what you do while on vacation is just as important.