I met my second hubby in Big Sur.

I had been working at Dancer, Fitzgerald and Sample in San Francisco as a junior art director. My very conservative boss, Sam, had a firm hold on the department. Despite the restraints, my co-workers and I spent our days rocking out to the Beatles, the Stones, Van Morrison, and other rock n roll eventual greats as we dreamed up ads for Skippy, Foremost Dairies and other big name brands.

As the most junior member, I got to be the go-fer. I ended up drawing everyone’s mockups, and doing the type-setting. By hand. One letter at a time. Breathing in the heady fumes from the One-Shot rubber cement we used by the gallon.

I kept hearing about this retreat kinda place in Big Sur on the coast south of San Francisco called Esalen, where a lot of young folks hung out.

I became increasingly uncomfortable in the corporate atmosphere. I started smoking a lot of weed, even selling it. I had the finest buds in town.

I started wearing bell bottom pants to work, shedding the good-girl skirts. I loved striped shirts; and even put tiny bells on my knee-high boots. You could hear me coming a mile away.

It’s a good thing I was so naive, so completely clueless about the world. I got into and out of scrapes that would raise the hairs on the back of my neck these days.

I spent a weekend exploring speed. I was curious, since a friend had reported a glowing experience. He gave me some of his, which I duly made disappear up my nose. Instant high. Higher than a kite? A kite would die in that stratosphere.

I felt like my brain would explode. I felt my body collapse gracelessly onto the living room floor. The carpet felt ten feet thick. I knew I had to take care to keep from drowning in it.

My body shook, jumped, trembled and quaked every few moments, internal seismic shifts that felt like my bones would detach from their moorings.

The very idea of food or water was revolting.

I saw geometric patterns everywhere. They captivated me so thoroughly I stopped breathing, only coming to when my friend’s hands pumped my chest.

I fell back into the patterns repeatedly, but not as deeply. I could breathe on my own. After 24 hours, I finally dropped into a deep sleep and was gone for another 24.

I told my ‘friend’ to get the hell out.

I never touched that shit again.

Time trudged on at the office. One spring day as I stood at the window, gazing down at the busy streets below, frustrated that everyone on the planet was Out There and I was stuck in here, I got a wild jolt — let’s go backpacking in Big Sur!

Why backpacking and not some other odd adventure, I don’t know, having never gone backpacking in my entire life. Which was patently obvious, in 20–20 hindsight, just thinking about what I “had to have” stuffed into my enormous pack.

Two changes of everything, spare boots, food, spare jacket, sleeping bag and tarp, water canteen, and — don’t laugh (says I, laughing) — a cast iron frying pan. One of the big thick 12″ ones.

I remembered seeing old postcards of prospectors out on the desert, their goods and chattels all piled together on the back of a mule, their skillet hanging down outside the carefully tied-down pile. I thought I was being so clever, hanging mine on the outside of my own pack.

I hoiked the 900-pounds up and onto my back, adjusted the straps, clomped down the stairs, closed the apartment building door, strode out onto Mason Street and stuck out my thumb.

What my romanticized mind didn’t think to take into account was that cast iron skillets are damn heavy. And I was the mule. With any movement I made, the thing clanged and clattered against the pack. It must have gained ten pounds each step I took.

Walking, walking, walking. Pack getting heavier. Thirsty. Sweaty. No takers. Honks and jeers. I walked all the way to the freeway, where at last a man was kind enough to pick me up.

We had a decent conversation all the way to Pacifica, just south of San Francisco. He was genuinely curious about what I was doing and why I was going to Big Sur.

This was 1966, the year of the V-for-victory fingers sign, no bras, hippydom starting to flow in the streets. Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Joe Crocker, Country Joe and the Fish, the Grateful Dead.

Scuttlebutt said the Dead were going to be in Big Sur. It was well-known they went there and handed out and took gobs of acid. I wanted to be part of that.

The man side-eyed me and just grunted, uh-huh, said ‘good luck,’ as he dropped me off.

On my next ride, we did a side-trip to Carmel, where he had to pick something up. As he did that, I visited some galleries.
They all, without exception, threw me out. Who wants a scraggly hippy with a two-ton backpack in their nice upscale gallery, right? Lord only knows what I’d steal and put in my pack! Yeah, that one filled so tight not one more thing could fit into it!

The human mind is a curious thing, isn’t it?

After the fourth gallery, I gave up. I was confused, because I was certainly not dirty or scraggly — yet. I had only started out that day, so despite being hot and sweaty, and my waist-length hair ruffled up, I was still fairly fresh. I didn’t know that even though the hippy movement had barely begun, backpackers and strays were becoming pretty common in Carmel, and the shops were already wary of these transient bums.

It was a relief to get back into Ride’s car and continue on. Until he stopped in a pullover in the middle of the vast artichoke fields outside of Salinas. Reaching over, gently caressing my thigh, he had That Look.

I’m not sure how I was smart enough to keep my pack between my legs instead of stowing it in the back, as he had suggested. I was glad I did, though, because I had my skillet detached and in hand before he could proceed one more inch. Eye to eye, not a word was exchanged.

He withdrew his hand, started the car up, and at last, a long, angry silence later, he dropped me off at Esalen, peeling rubber as he drove off.

I didn’t stay in Esalen itself. I had very little money, and no reservation. So I crossed the road and hiked up into the prickly wooded hills inland. I came upon a tiny stream and followed it up about a quarter mile to a clearing perfect for my needs. I built a fire ring, made some din, and carefully set out my tarp and sleeping bag. Exhausted after such an intense day, it didn’t take long to reach dream land.

The days flew by. I hung out with other hippies at Esalen, snuck into the baths, smoked a lot of weed, and dropped acid with the fans of the Dead. Who never got there.

I learned how to tell the second a man’s hands started to think of other than massage, how to make a good smokeless fire, how to sleep with my clothes inside my sleeping bag to keep them warm and dry, and how to hike without getting my feet wet — the curse of all hikers.

I learned how to wash my clothes with no soap and still get them clean — that little trickle of a stream was just right.

And one day, as I wandered across the grassy slopes down the hill from the main buildings, I came across my future husband-to-be, the father of my beautiful children.

He was sitting on a rock, gazing out to sea. The westering sun haloed his curly hair. He glowed like an angel. I stood staring at him for a long time before he turned to see whose eyes were boring holes in his back.

I didn’t know it yet, but that ocean would play a huge role in our lives. Hint: he was a surfer.

Oh, and handsome? Like an Irish leprechaun, easy smile, rosy cheeks and all. Tall, tawny curly hair, beefy but slim, a soft, melodic voice — I fell hard.

We clicked right away. Hours of fluid words later, we flew through the woods up to my camp, where we made sweet love under the trees. The heavens gleamed above the canopy as the stars peeped through.

He told me later, as we nestled together under the lightening dawn, that he had been sitting there letting a huge dose of psyllicibin transport him into bliss. He was about as spaced as you could get. I just thought his big eyes, shiny with light, were angel eyes.

The morning fog continued to drift in, cushioning us in its moist, silent world.

At last, I was out of food, he was out of time. We hitched up the coast to Santa Cruz, where he had friends — and his two children — waiting.

My life was never the same again.


© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
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