The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
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Big Sur, California

Big Sur coastline

Big Sur beach


With all its ancient power and wisdom, Big Sur called me. And then seduced me. A 90-mile coastline of rugged wilderness, the Santa Lucia mountains collide with the sea here in a display of awe-inspiring beauty. Cut by deep canyons and river valleys shaded by towering redwoods, this land is profound and powerful. Giant endangered condors soar overhead. Whales cruise the sea and mountain lions rule the ridgelines. Sea otters, elephant seals and sea lions frolic and laze around on remote beaches inaccessible to humans, yet visible to our eyes. If you just drive through on the Pacific Coast Highway, you'll be rewarded with views of the cliffs, headlands and beaches. But stay a little while and explore, and you discover tremendous cultural history, juicy local lore and hidden, secret trails. You may even catch a glimpse of the mysterious little dark people that are said to live in the wilderness.

I shut down my facebook accounts and never once turned the tv on. In my mind, there was no room for modern-day chatter in this home of ancient giants. I enjoyed the stillness. I listened to the earth breathing. I'm tapped in. I'm in tune and the frequency is crystal clear. I am overtaken with a sense of universal abundance, harmony and balance....and it's deliriously intoxicating. Anything is possible and options are limitless. It's a paradise of possibilities, and now there's a cocktail to celebrate it: Paradise of Possibilities.

Ventana Inn Big Sur


I had the great privilege and honor to spend a day with Catherine and Nick, a writer/photographer team from Marie Claire (French, original edition). They were doing a story about American women who have rejected a standard lifestyle and chosen to live life on the road. They found my website and through emails, we had arranged to meet in Big Sur. What a magical day! Catherine and Nick were kindred spirits and I think it's safe to say we inspired each other.

Look for the story in the August issue of Marie Claire (French edition)!

Pfeiffer Beach
Pfeiffer Beach - Los Padres National Forest

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

View from Nacimiento-Fergusson Road

Pacific Grove coast trail
Pacific Grove coast trail - Monterey

Point Lobos
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Monterey


Esalen is a place where people retreat to the Big Sur coast to participate in workshops on a broad array of topics geared toward things like personal consciousness, sustainable living and community-mindedness. But Esalen is also widely known for is its world-class baths anchored on a cliffside just above a beach. For most non-registered guests, these baths are open for two hours each day between 1 and 3 in the morning. Yes, that's right - just an hour after midnight. As a local, I had the privilege of visiting the baths at the more reasonable hours of 8-10 pm...and it's definately worth a visit. It's clothing optional, open air, and a tremendous experience under the stars, particularly when there are few people around. When it started to get crowded, I came to think of it as Big Sur's version of The Garden of Earthly Delights.

Partington beach
Partington Beach

Partington Cove
Partington Cove - one of the old dog-hole ports of Big Sur

Big Sur secret surf beach
Big Sur secret surf beach


In the spirit of a true pilgrimage, the road to Tassajara is a 14-mile narrow dirt road that is heavily rutted, hugs the crumbling, rocky mountainside and drops steeply on the other side. It's best to have a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle for this hour+ journey that takes you deep into the Ventana Wilderness, where Tassajara is nestled in a remote valley. It is a buddhist monastery and during the summer they invite day visitors to come and enjoy the modest grounds, the trails, their creekside hot springs, and their vegetarian lunch. It's worth the day trip and probably even better to stay a few nights.

Tassajara road



Doris Day deserves a great big Harley hug for making Cypress Inn the place of magic that it is today. Harley and I discovered this paradise for dogs and people through our friend Dick Whittington. On the weekends, he plays jazz piano in their lounge while all manner of dogs come here with their people to relax and socialize. It's a very nice, historic hotel and the people dress nicely to enjoy a fine dinner and cocktails. Every table in the restaurant's outdoor courtyard has a dog or two - every table inside too.

Upon arriving one Saturday evening, we were greeted by Jennings, a beautiful golden retriever who's birthday it happened to be. As way of introduction, his nice person asked if Harley might be interested in a peanut butter banana birthday cake, made especially for dogs, and available on the reception counter. We graciously accepted and, with cake in hand, sat down next to them in our usual spot near the entrance. The lounge has couches, chairs and coffee tables and the dogs outnumber the people. When the music stopped and the applause started, the little Bichon Frise on the middle couch barked in appreciation. Not missing a beat, Harley barked too. Then the labrador on the other side of the room chimed in and pretty soon most dogs were bark-applauding and the room was filled with proud, happy laughter.

Clearly, there's more here to entertain than the stellar jazz. It's seeing the petite young woman pushing a large stroller through the busy restaurant flanked by two giant golden retrievers. It's watching Harley desperately trying to be the official greeter to all dogs and people who enter from the back of the room, the only way in. It's watching a little mop of a dog snuggle into an older man's arms, perfectly nestled in the crook of his arm, even while he applauds. It's watching the supremely confident black newfoundland arrive and lumber through the foyer. It's watching certain dogs trying to be social when they know they shouldn't be and watching the methods their people employ to keep them respectfully behaved. A small off-leash wiry dog saw his opportunity, sauntered away from his person and weaved his way out of the room. Nobody seemed concerned, least of all his person, who didn't notice the infraction. Fifteen minutes later, the waiter came into the lounge holding up the small dog and asked in a loud voice "Did someone lose a dog?" The waiters here are used to this sort of thing. They are adept at maneuvering around the shorter clientele and especially at watching for martini glasses in the direct path of a wagging tail. And all the while, beautiful jazz melodies float from the grand piano in the corner.

Harley absolutely loves it here. He even loves the calamari.

Carmel River Beach Trail
Carmel River Beach Trail, Carmel

When I left Big Sur, I had to make a stop at a service center to repair the air conditioner. This time I went to Toscana RV in Los Banos, California. Joe at Toscano RV took his time to make sure everything was repaired and working properly, and I drove away feeling like California has a pretty decent service center in Los Banos.

The Littlest Bird Sings the Prettiest Song
At Toscano RV - Los Banos, California - this little guy could SING!

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge - fledgling hawk
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge - fledgling red-tailed hawk - Los Banos, California


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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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