As 2017 approached, I could already feel one of my New Year’s resolutions forming: get back to California. That sounds silly since I’ve lived in California since November of 2013 but it made sense in a spiritual and emotional way. One of the reasons I moved to California was for the nature, the landscape, the beautiful coastline and the Pacific Ocean. In 2014, I was on vacation. I would venture to a new beach or go on a new hike almost weekly and I really could feel the beauty of the state soaking into my soul. Then…I made some grown-up decisions. 

I decided to move out into an apartment on my own, so my rent pretty much doubled. I decided to leave a part-time job, purchase a new car, and drive for rideshare apps (Uber and Lyft) full time. I did not previously have a car payment, but now it was in the monthly budget. With these life changes, I started to realize how many more hours I needed to work to maintain my lifestyle. In 2015 and 2016, that spirit of adventure in Los Angeles/California started to wain. Life became about working and affording…

I realized it towards the end of last year, “I’m in a really bad cycle.” Each day I would wake up early (around 4AM), drive a few hours for rideshare, go back to my apartment, have lunch, probably nap, maybe go out for a run…maybe, then watch a few episodes of something on Netflix and then drag myself back out to the car to put in a few more hours of rideshare. I’d pick a time to call it a night and head back to Pasadena, just to start the cycle all over again. 

Don’t get me wrong, I travelled a lot in 2016 and had a blast, but locally, in Los Angeles I was actually starting to be a little depressed. I’ve seen my friends less, I’ve been landlocked in Pasadena and really started to miss “California.” Everything was right there, the gorgeous mountains, the hiking, the beaches, the sunshine, but I felt trapped and obligated to my car and my apartment.

As I said a moment ago, when 2017 approached, I knew that I needed to get California back into my life. I’ve imagined driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to the Bay area, (and that trip is coming soon) taking in the Pacific Ocean, the bluffs, the rocks, the winding roads…I’ve need to feel it again and reaffirm why I moved here. Thinking of breaking free and breathing again, I’ve started to employ a tactic that I've though of in the past; I started keeping a camera in the car.  

Early January of this year, 2017, Southern California has been in it's "winter" which is really nothing more than a rainy season. Lord knows we need it, with talk of drought year in and year out. Thankfully, just about every day at the start of the year it was raining. Selfishly, for me, it wasn't the best. I was anxious to get out to the coast ASAP and capture beautiful image like I had in years prior. Each morning I would begin my routine and pick up rideshare passengers. he morning runs were exhausting as the rain battered the freeways. It took a lot of energy and strength to drive safely. I would retire around lunchtime and the cycle seemed to be carrying over from 2016: take a break, take lunch, take a nap, go for a run, drive some more. 

Then...finally on the morning of Friday, January  6th, something different happened. I started out the rideshare day, pretty early, around 5AM, in Pasadena, and received a request for a pickup at a local hotel close by.  Two gentleman got in and I began the trip. A common question I receive from friends, family and ridshare passengers about driving for Uber and Lyft is, " you know where the person is going when you pick them up?" I always answer with the same silly joke, "No. We don't know until we start the trip. You never know where you're heading, so it's like a gameshow..." then I mock the voice of a gameshow announcer when he announces a prize to a guest, "Congratulations! You've just won a road trip to San Diego!" Low and behold this particular morning, I started the trip with these two gentleman and they were essentially heading to San Diego. 

Be careful what you think about, joke about and wish for in life, because God, the Universe, whatever you believe in, will bring it to you. "The Secret," aka manifestation, right?  I was a bit thrown off by the distance of the ride, but saw that I had plenty of gas, and figured I might as well take the fare. I needed to work anyway and needed the cash. I had a pleasant conversation with the two gentlemen. They both lived and worked in Vietnam but were originally from Sweden and London respectively. I forget the kind of work they did in Vietnam, but they had clients to meet in the States, down near San Diego so...

After about 20 minutes it hit me; when I saw that the rain was not as heavy on this day, I realized that this moment was a gift. . I knew that when the ride was over, I was going to go to the water. After the 90 minute ride (yes it was that far), I opened Google Maps to see how far south I was and where the nearest forest or beach could be found. It turned out to be Torrey Pines State Reserve. Again, pretty much San Deigo. I was excited. The sky was relatively clear. It did not look like rain, so I was willing to make the 25 minute trek to the shore. Along the way, I had a slight twinge of doubt. "Is the camera in the car?" I would pull over a few minutes later and open the trunk to see if it was there... Jump cut to me fist pumping and placing the camera next to me in the front passenger seat of the car. 

After a few more minutes of driving I would find myself at my first location for the morning...

torrey pines state reserve and beach

I had previously heard of Torrey Pines, because if it's family golf course, and well before I even reached the beach or State Reserve, I was elated. I was already taking deeper breaths just upon the sight of open land and ocean in the distance. I was, "in California again." I was so happy.

My route brought me to Carmel Valley Rd. and I found a spot to park and exited with my camera. A small intersection at N. Torrey Pines Road that faced the beach would be my starting point: 

[An unnecessary disclaimer I share before sets with a lot of landscape shots: I treat every image individually. After shooting, I will edit in Camera Raw and Photoshop and I don't try to streamline the shots to all look the same. Below you will see images taken at the same hour, but that have a different look and feel in terms of color and or light. That is intentional.]

Not only was the beach drawing my attention, but where I parked was near Los Penasquitos Lagoon and it held a few nice views with the morning light: 

A kind stranger unknowingly provided a terrific moment that highlighted the power of solitude: 

I eventually headed up a small road towards the entrance of the Reserve. Looking back towards N. Torrey Pines Rd.: 

Afterwards, it was time to hike around the reserve...

This one felt like a preview. I have it in my mind to head to South America this year (2017) and I got a lot of rainforest vibes from this moment:

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I'm not sure what they were up to, but a couple of miltary choppers appeard overhead:

I may have to print this one out some day. I love the simplicity of it. The contrast and slight motion blur of the bird in flight make its wing look like a brushstroke, as if this was a painting, not a photograph: 

Speaking of birds, along the way, I came across two fellow hikers whom informed me I just had to get an image of this beautiful winged creature that was perched just off of a main path. I’m not sure if it was a falcon, hawk or breed of eagle (as I take on more hiking, I welcome an increase in my ornithological skills), but it was pretty spectacular. I just seemed to be at rest and watching over its domain: 

I would eventually make my way back towards the car, taking in a few more images of the beach along the way:

I caught a glimpse of the train coming through on my back to the car. This image is a very intentional segue...

Once I got back to the car, I realized that this day was not going to get rained out, and that there was enough light in the sky. It was going to be a sunny day, and I would turn this small moment at Torrey Pines into the beginning of a miniature road trip up the coast. I stayed on or close to the Pacific Coast Highway, or Highway One. I kept Google Maps open on my phone as I drove north. I would zoom in an out looking for any beach or park along the water. The next location that showed promise was…

san clemente state beach and pier

This quaint Orange County town sits right next to the Pacific and did not disappoint. It again, was just the right medicine, the right dose of California that I needed. As the sun started to emerge, the beach and ocean looked spectacular. The first sight I came across was a set of train tracks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before: train tracks so close to the ocean. Another item on the “California” list, is to ride a train up or down the coast and enjoy the Pacific along the way. Standing on these tracks reminded me of that goal.

The coolest part is that these tracks are currently in play; an Amtrak train would come by about 15 minutes later:

Afterward, it was a nice stroll along the beach that could only be described as heavenly: 

It was only a few minutes further north to reach San Clemente proper and the entrance to the San Clemente Pier. Many locals were enjoying the sunny day and it was here that I unapologetically had the thought and gratitude that this is "winter" in California. I live here. It’s January and the sun is shining. Thankful to God for sure. 

There was so much to love here. The views: 

The surfers: 

The birds:

You really couldn’t ask for much more: 


dana point

After San Clemente and with the sun in full effect, why stop? Scrolling through the map, I saw that Dana Point, CA was not too far away. So yes, again, further north on Highway One or the PCH, I continued until I reached the small harbor town. After a little parking and walking, I found some nice vantage points: 

point vincente lighthouse

To conclude the day, I went to a location that I found through my old favorite, I scrolled through their Facebook page and their “photos of the day” and came across the Point Vincente Lighthouse in Rachos Palos Verdes. 

The 67 foot lighthouse, built in 1926 on the Palos Verdes Peninsula was a great place to end the afternoon trip. The Point Vincente Park and Point Vincente Interpretive Center are nearby and sport an amazing walk along the bluffs allowing you to take in more of the gorgeous California coastline: 

I’m slowly realizing one of the most enjoyable, simplest pleasures in life, something that instantly lifts my spirits, is watching water crash against rocks along the Pacific coast. Can’t get enough: 

This was such a wonderful day. I loved the impromptu nature of it, thanks to an Uber ride from Pasadena to San Diego. But I know that it came from somewhere greater than “impromptu.” I had thought so much towards the end of 2016 about how I needed to get back in touch with California and its landscape in 2017, and in the middle of consecutive raining days, here was this one day that was clear and I “just happened” to start the day down in San Diego. If you ask me, God heard my prayers and He set this morning up quite well. It was a great way to start the year and an affirmation of faith. Looking forward to even more coastline adventures this year. 

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