Bixby Canyon

2002 December

Big Sur Kerouac Walk

A few days before the 25th Emily and I went down to Big Sur and went on the famous Kerouac walk. My dad and I discovered it a few years back when we parked at the north end of the Bixby Bridge and climbed down the cliff to the beach. Then we walked along the river and up the canyon to the cabin where the author stayed and wrote about in “Big Sur”. From the cabin a dirt road takes you back up to the top of the bridge. Before the bridge was built, the dirt road was the only way to get across the canyon.

After we discovered the route we did it a few more times, including with my mom, but in reverse since it is much easier to climb up the cliff than down. It was a beautiful, sunny day as Emily and I descended down the dirt road. The kind of wonderful December day in California when you can wear shorts and a tee shirt. After passing the cabin we started along the trail and found it inundated with water. Undaunted, we removed our shoes and continued, feet freezing in the icy water. Eventually we reached the beach, complete with tender feet and Emily having been stung by a nettle. We relaxed on the beach for a while and then began our ascent of the cliff. Had the trail not been covered with water we would have gone back that way but Emily opted for the more direct route.

In the two previous times that I climbed out of the canyon with my parents they went one way and I went another way. I chose a route on exposed rock that allowed me to climb quickly and out of the brush while my parents went closer to the bridge piers in a more vegetated area. Emily and I chose the latter route. I chose the latter route because Casey said that his parents went that way and I figured it would be easier. Quickly it became obvious that our route was not the one my parents had found but we were at the point of no return. Actually, we were far beyond the point of no return. I was scrambling the entire time, trying to find hand holds and toe holds and grabbing onto scrub, which I would regret later.

Although we didn’t have any close calls, at one point, near the bridge pier we had to climb on a 6-inch wide ledge with a vertical drop of maybe 100 feet. It was the only point where I could not be in position to help in case Emily fell. Her knees were trembling visibly as she shuffled around and I am not sure how I contained my apprehension. I wasn't trembling, I was shaking violently. Slipping would most likely have resulted in death. I knew that! We made it to the top without further incident and then had lunch at Nepenthe, with an outdoor table looking south along the rugged coast. It would seem the worst was behind us but this trip would remain with us, literally, in the form of poison oak.

Emily got the worst case the doctors had seen and it wasn’t until late January of 2003 that her skin finally returned to normal. So you know that scrub that I was hanging onto? Well, it turns out that most of it was poison oak. I can identify the leaves. Everyone that lives around the Bay Area should be able to. But I can't identify a bare branch, and that was what most of it was. I was scratched along my forearms and on my knees and the scratches were infected with poison oak. After we went home, I took a shower, but the oils didn't come off totally and I inadvertently wiped it down the front of my torso. I literally had poison oak all down my front, from my chest to the tops of my thighs. It was so severe that the doctor said he hadn't EVER seen a case so bad, and he was in Scott's Valley! For weeks, my forearms and entire torso was a mass of itch and ooze. It was so itchy and I couldn't scratch it, so I would get into the car and drive and slap at myself and scream bloody murder. I'm sure anyone driving by thought I was totally deranged. I thought that I would scar and never have smooth skin again, but little by little, it went away and the only scars I have left are on my arms, where the scratches were. But that's OK, because they just blend in from my burn scars from work.

A young Tim Bowden at the top and north end of Bixby Canyon. The pier in the story is behind him.

This photo must have been taken from a boat. If you climb up the cliff on the left you end up were my Dad is in the first picture. If you head up the canyon you will be in the realm of Kerouac's Big Sur.