Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur

Pico Blanco peeks out over the ridge

Pico Blanco peeks out over the ridge

Nuggling is a term introduced by a long-ago lover that has stayed in my vocabulary. I’m not sure whether it is part of the lesbian lexicon, but it should be. It refers to a kind of touch that we all need, sort of a cross between hugging and nuzzling. The image it evokes is of baby animals curled up against each other. I need nuggles, probably the most important thing a lover can deliver, way more important than sex, and way more frequent (or should be). And I’m not getting any these days. Menopause has limited my nuggling. There are nights and mornings when even the touch of a pinky finger can cause my love Holly to metaphorically burst into flames.

The campground in summer

The campground in summer

A February camping trip to Andrew Molera State Park in Big Sur helped me to catch up on my nuggles because it was either nuggle or freeze. It was the week of the annual February heat wave. The weather app forecast a high of 75 and low of 59 at Big Sur. I’ve been fantasizing about lying out on a starry night and watching the whole sky, not just the weak southern sky we see from our deck in light-polluted San Francisco. The moon was new, the weather warm. It seemed the perfect time for stargazing.

I had done just that with my friend Ruth a couple of years ago when on a backpack we decided to avoid the fires in the Sierra by choosing this walk-in campground with access to the beach and developed trails. It’s maybe half a mile from the parking lot to the camp and another half mile to the spectacular beach at the mouth of the Big Sur River. Ruth and I lounged in camp chairs and watched a resident bobcat successfully hunt the abundant ground squirrels that make their home under the campground.

From the camp you can see the white quartz mountain Pico Blanco and in its foreground a treeless scrub-covered hill that I tried to climb in 1977 to backpack into the Ventana Wilderness with my hiking buddy Jill. It was high summer in a severe drought year and we had dropped acid before hoisting our heavy backpacks. When we got off, about halfway up the mountain, we looked at each other and said, “Um, why are we doing this?” For amusement we backed up against the steep hillside and greeted other hikers as they trundled past us sweating and cursing. Then we walked back to commune with the oak forest. Did you ever notice how oak trees resemble gigantic vulvas? I never discovered the secrets of the Ventana Wilderness, but I know a lot about the coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia.

I love this park and I wanted to introduce Holly to one of my favorite places in California. I had told her that the walk in is about a quarter of a mile (ok, maybe it’s a little farther) and nixed bringing our giant tent with a screen room, Taj MoHo, because it’s so heavy. I fixed sandwiches while she packed the car, and we should have done it together because she packed the two-burner camp stove instead of the backpacking stove. We had to have our camp chairs, but we could have done a better job of packing using our big backpacks. So it was a slog to get all our stuff into camp.

Where the river runs to the sea

Where the river runs to the sea

After we got our camp set up, we needed a beer so we hiked out and drove the five miles down Highway 1 to the Big Sur Tap House where we know we can get the latest IPAs and the best fish taco special. There we met the chef at the restaurant next door, The Bakery. He told us he, his wife and one-year-old kid are moving to Bali. They’ve gotten priced out of Big Sur. There are few affordable places for workers to live in anymore. It’s a sad story, but familiar to us San Franciscans. Even isolated Big Sur is getting taken over by the rich.

Cool summer wave

Cool summer wave

Back at camp, we walked down to the Pacific along the Big Sur River, flowing way faster than I’d ever seen it. The short walk up to the ridge is obligatory. You get up above it all and can see a whole new view of the ocean and beaches beyond to the north. Winter offers a revelatory view of this place. The campground wears meadow green instead of its summer brown, the impressive sycamore trees and riparian willows are just starting to leaf out. Monarch butterflies flit in the eucalyptus grove where they overwinter. But I had forgotten the reason we usually don’t camp in the winter. Night lasts for-freaking-ever! The sun set at 5:43. By 6:30 it was dark, but clouds covered most of the sky. I stayed up for awhile watching the one clear spot in the southern sky dominated by Orion. The smiling crescent moon was just setting when I joined Holly in the tent at 8:30. We had put the rain fly on to protect us from abundant dew. At 10:30 when I emerged to pee, the clear sky displayed brilliant stars, but by then it was too cold and wet to sit out. We had neglected to bring winter jackets. The rest of the night was spent cursing our doublewide sleeping bag/air mattress, Big Agnes, which we thought was rated for 20 degrees (not!), and frantically pulling the sleeping bag’s hood over our heads. I got my nuggles, but at a high price. Even with so long a night, too little sleep was had by all. In the morning, the temperature in the tent was 46 degrees.


View of the Pacific from the ridge

Walking up the trail before dawn, I met a surfer hiking away from the ocean with his board. He said there was a big swell coming in the afternoon and just before a swell, the conditions at the beach can be perfect, although they didn’t meet his expectations that day. He decided to go to work instead. Andrew Molera is his favorite place to surf, he said. He called it the most beautiful beach in California.

Written by Molly Martin


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