I had been travelling for two and a half months. The last large body of water I had encountered had been the mighty Mississippi as it winds its way through New Orleans. From there I had embarked on a train ride through Texas, stopping for a week at San Antonio. The searing dry heat of the middle of this great Southern state was overwhelming, so naturally I decided to press on and partake in a road trip across the Southwest desert states of the USA. My temporary travelling companion, Daniel, owned a van and we flitted between state and national parks sampling the arid sacred spaces of the Native American people; places they had long worshipped for, amazingly, their sources of water and thus power. We drove during the day, listening to music and discussing most things, and at night we made fires with unbelievable ease and sat around admiring the stars. We felt like kings; unstoppable and all-knowing and soon the sky and earth seemed to merge into one, each complimenting the other with its vastness. We drove through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, before I arranged to jump ship and ride with another pilgrim on a journey to Seattle. A couple of days later, I was on the road yet again, this time heading South, down the Pacific coast.
I come from the East coast of Scotland, near the beach town of Dunbar. All my life I have tasted the salt in the air, heard screaming gulls overhead and watched ships pass, carrying their cargo to places now well known. The contrast between this and the middle of North America, where I was at times over a thousand miles from the nearest ocean, is startling. The very ground you walk on feels different. The air feels different. Some of the people we encountered on this adventure had never seen the sea! This is unheard of in the UK. The coastline of Britain gives those native to the Isles a sense of grounding and reliability. Comparing this to the enormousness of the USA, I felt truly lost and very, very small.
One can imagine then, my delight when my third travelling companion, a very precise German man called Gunnar, informed me how close we were to the Pacific Ocean. This is an ocean that, as a Scot, I had never seen. We pulled up in a tiny sleepy coastal town in Oregon at around midnight, looking for a place to rest up. Gunnar excitedly turned the engine off and told me to roll down the window. I heard a roar, and immediately exited the vehicle. Sea!
That familiar, refreshing noise! I was beside myself. The sound of the Pacific gently crashing into the sand, both familiar and alien. I inhaled deeply and felt the salt and moisture in my throat. Years, it seemed, had lead up to this moment. Many songs have been written about this coast. Thousands of images, and an entire culture at our fingertips, retinas and ears. The whole world has watched and longed for whatever it is that the West Coast has. The lifestyle seemed so appealing, and here I was, at the top of the slide, ready to jump into what I was sure would be a sensory delight.
And it was. I’ll certainly never forget it.