There wasn’t a lot between Visalia and Ventura. There was Bakersfield, of no significance at all, and a long stretch of highway that from the sky might have looked liked a mosaic of semi-trucks and bulky, concrete gray overpasses. There were few of the latter in the deserts and mountains of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, whence I came. Now I am noticing the reappearance of overpasses, and I think they mean to tell me I’m nearing civilization.
Southern California was not in my initial plan and I hadn’t intended to visit Ventura, but a yearning for the coast led me down SR-99. This most unscenic highway merges with I-5 before drivers can veer off onto SR-126 toward the ocean, which lies an hour or so out from the intersection of routes. A New Yorker or similar inhabitant might laugh at my complaint, but I find there is too much concrete here – at least in comparison to where I’ve been hanging around these past few weeks.
The impending ocean can feel near in a way that lakes do not. I’ve seen almost more lakes than I’ve cared to count lately; mountain lakes and manmade lakes and the always strange and briny Mono Lake. Rarely do these still and scentless bodies of water give you a heads up that they are there (particularly if you’re not a map watcher); you often must come within sight of their waters before you think, “Look at that, there’s a lake here.”
Unlike lakes, the ocean is for the devout, in that you do not have to see or hear it to know it’s there. The body senses its existence. The atmosphere changes; the wind blows a new way through the car window and the air weighs more heavily around your being. It smells like water—like wild, powerful ocean water—from miles away.
I will not mind the scent of the tide when I reach the coast. I’ve missed it.