And so, after a day in Napa, it was time for our final drive in our lovely Chet the Rental Car – a push down the Pacific Coast Highway to LAX. Having misremembered the date of our flight from LAX to Dulles (I thought it was a day later, on the same day as our flight to Iceland), I’d stupidly left us with very little time for this last section of the journey. We contemplated giving up our drive down the PCH and sticking to the faster 101 (at one point, interstates may even have been mentioned). However, we decided it was doable, and that it would be a shame to leave the US without having done one of the most famous American drives of them all.
It was worth it. Hurried we may have been, but the driving was fun and the scenery beautiful, although we could see and smell the smoke of raging wildfires not too distant, as well as the ‘thank you firefighters’ signs that grateful residents had festooned on their houses.
We hit Big Sur in the early afternoon, although it was less one single destination than a series of winding cliffs (Van was keen for me to drive this part, not being a fan of the perilous drops on the side of the car). We didn’t stop to take that many photos, both due to time and to the fact that we were accosted by a ferocious wind every time we opened the car door!
At the South of Big Sur we did have time for one stop – to see the elephant seals that have taken up residence at Piedras Blancas. In August there are apparently the fewest seals on the beach, so I can’t imagine what it’s like at peak season! Here’s what we saw:
As the day ended and night fell, we finally reached ritzy Santa Monica, end point of the famed Route 66, but also of our longer, circuitous journey of over 7,000 miles through seventeen states – from Virginia to California. We’d driven from the lush green of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the expansive vistas of Utah, from the Gulf of Mexico to the wilderness of Montana, from the sultry swamps of Louisiana to the windy beaches of the Pacific Northwest. And now, sadly, our adventure was at an end.
I pulled the car into the motel, my final drive in our lovely Chet, and sighed in relief that I, at least, had caused him no damage (it was Van’s job to return him at the airport in the morning). He’d been a fantastic car, causing us no problems whatsoever, and we calculated that the cost of the rental was less than the depreciation we would have caused by adding 7,000 miles to his clock.
So, thank you USA for a wonderful month. You are a sprawling, complicated, beautiful nation. It’s been fascinating to explore your contrasts, from the gun shops and steak houses of the red states to the green-living of beautiful Portland. We were by no means blind to the problems and divides that we saw, from the continuing struggle for racial equality to the gaping cultural and political gulf between the coasts and the interior. And yet, as ever, wherever I went, red state or blue, I was struck by the friendliness of the Americans I met, who made us feel very welcome, and of the sheer variety and beauty of the landscapes that unfolded as we drove. I’ll be back, America, to explore more.