Days Like These
By: Barbara Burkhart

My friends knew I was mellow and could keep my mouth shut, so I got to tag along. In general, surfers don’t let many people know about their secret surf spots, so it was definitely a special opportunity. For them, I imagine it’s about getting to surf a fairly isolated place, with no crowds. For me, it was about the adventure: the fact that it was dangerous and we could get caught. The fact that we couldn’t brag about it later only enhanced the excitement, making the trek itself the thing.

My first journey was in junior high, with my best friend. Tagging along with her older brother and one of his friends, we squished into the extra-cab of his little pickup truck. It wasn’t far—just at the edge of our hometown, down a lane where rich fancy people live in outrageously gorgeous beach houses. 

We parked on the side of the road in the dirt under tall eucalyptus trees. Their thick trunks stood tall and strong, long swaying branches with soft leaves that fluttered in the salty breeze. Peaceful and damp, they shaded the road on one side, and railroad tracks on the other. It was quiet.

We all jumped out of the truck, and the guys grabbed their boards out of the back. They crossed the lane towards the houses quickly, the boards tucked under their arms. We followed behind and jumped a chain link fence after them. We were then in a concrete flood control channel located between two properties. Our senses were on high alert, our eyes darting rapidly back and forth, making sure no one was around. We wanted to scream and laugh at the excitement of it, but instead we quietly shared knowing glances. Our nerves were electric, but somehow, we maintained our cool.

Still running behind the guys, we scrambled up the side of the flood control channel until it became rocky, as they urgently motioned silent instructions at us, their arms reaching down to pull us up to its ledge. Once safely up, we ran single-file along the left edge of the channel, steadily and quietly, our bodies crouched down low. We ran like this the full length of the property until we reached the beach. And that’s all I remember. I don’t remember the beach or what we did, or getting back. Just the journey there.

***

The second spot was in high school and I went with my boyfriend and his cousin. This time it was a bit further north, about an hour or so from home. It was also more challenging and dangerous to get there. 

In the beginning, the scenario was similar to the first, except we were in an old Jeep Cherokee dubbed The Rig. We parked on the side of a dirt road next to a remote cattle pasture. We jumped out and the guys grabbed their boards out of the back. The cows were pretty far away, so we figured it was safe. We hung out nonchalantly for a few minutes, making sure there were no other people around before we jumped the fence into the pasture. 

We ran straight to the other side, not wanting to be seen by ranchers or noticed by cows. The edge of the pasture was close to the bluffs, where we jumped another fence. From there, we walked down a little dirt trail, until we came to a point where we had to climb down a hanging rope at the edge of the cliffs. I really wasn’t expecting to have to do this, but it was too late to turn around, so I just went for it, ignoring my fear. I recall going second, so I could see how it was done, and still have someone behind me to give instructions. Repelling backwards, feet planted on vertical dirt, hands clasped tightly around the rope, I slowly inched my way down.  One tentative step at a time, hand over hand, I worked my way down the rope, down the face of that cliff, wondering what I’d gotten myself into and where on earth I would find the strength to climb back up. It was definitely a predicament, but I decided to forget about it once I reached the bottom.

The beach was long and desolate and the surf was unreal. While the guys surfed, I walked and collected shells. It was beautiful down there. In either direction, an untouched stretch of beach as far as the eye could see. Above me, a wall of cliffs and green rolling hills. Below me, nothing but big blue ocean and the islands out towards the horizon. I felt as if I had made a trip back in time; as if through completing that most treacherous of journeys, I had slipped into the past to simpler days when people lived in tune with the land. I remember breathing the clean, crisp air and enjoying the immense solitude, the smell and sound of crashing waves, and loving that there was nothing else. A moment in time, it lives forever in my mind.

On the way back, shit got real. I had to get back up that rope. I remember my boyfriend yelling at me that I had to climb back up it—I had no choice. I remember his cousin diplomatically seconding that. And I knew they were right, but the cliff was a vertical dirt skyscraper, and I a mere human. I had no faith in my scrawny arms to pull up my entire body, and I was completely intimidated by the duality of Mother Nature, her ability to be beautiful beyond words while totally kicking my ass. Who knows where the strength ultimately came from, possibly it was a divine intervention, or maybe sheer will, and most likely a combination, but I was determined to survive this damned escapade.

Once back up the cliff, we walked back to the pasture we’d have to cross again. However, this time the cows were right there, and amongst them, a bull. I was completely exhausted and we were only halfway back to The Rig. After some discussion about our best course of action, we agreed on a strategy. We would jump the fence and run diagonally away from the cows, while zig-zagging a little to confuse them. And we had to run hard. Really hard. Again, I questioned the ability of my little body to accomplish the task at hand, but what else could I to do? I had to pull this off.

The cows stood watching us until the bull started walking quickly in our direction; then they obediently followed. His walk turned into a trot and we put it into high gear, booking it as fast as we could, screaming things like “Faaack!” and “Holyyy Shiiit!” Needless to say, we lived. We managed to reach the fence and jump it safely. 

Snorting profusely and aggravated by our presence, the bull advanced to the fence line.  He approached us for a final stare down, but with the fence between us, our fear turned to arrogance and we laughed at him. Then we jumped into The Rig and, like nothing, drove home.

Full of adventure and youth, I was fully alive for these exclusive journeys--heart pounding, lungs pumping at capacity, legs carrying me across forbidden terrain to secret destinations. I was free and happy. Days like these will always remain with me. They are my best memories. Fleeting and intangible as they are, I hold them close as I string them together and call them my life. 

 

Barbara Burkhart is a mother and aspiring architect living in Santa Barbara, CA.