The strange yet warm November air calmed my mind as I looked in the rear view mirror and watched Celeste in tow. The San Francisco roads had been rough on her and the old tire picked up a fresh nail. She also has no room for spares so Ankur and I had to visit the tire shop before eventually arriving at our weekend escape to Half Moon Bay. With some fresh rubber for the asphalt, Celeste was zooming along Highway 1 as night fell.
We arrived at the trailhead three hours behind schedule. With full packs and headlamps on, we slowly made the steep descent garnished with ropes to repel down the bluffs. The beach was damp and other groups had already claimed their spots near the bluffs. Ankur and I walked while scanning the beach and eventually found a clearing well above the high-tide line among the succulents.
After setting up camp and building our fire, we finally had a chance to relax. And as we usually do, we got right into making “big talk,” by discussing the next chapter in each of our lives, our privilege of living by the coast, and how life started in the ocean. The clock struck midnight and the beach became alive. Youngsters with headlamps were descending the cliffs, gathering around fires, dancing in the water, and shining lasers through the enveloping fog. We walked around then sat by our fire observing the party in wonder like sleepy old men.
With an extra hour of slumber arranged by daylight savings, I was looking forward to crawling into my sleeping bag. We each retreated into our tents and had no idea of the peril that was about to unfold…
I gasped for breathe as a swell of cold water flooded the tent and the ground beneath me was long gone. Springing up above the water, I quickly realized this was not a nightmare. My sense of orientation toppled in the darkness as I was rapidly receding into the Pacific. I didn’t seem to be stopping as my foot pushed down trying to find firm ground. Surges of cold water flooded in like adrenaline. I finally stopped moving and immediately started looking for a zipper string above and below the pool of water along the tent walls. The zipper was nowhere and the sound of crashing waves threatened my calm. I searched for an exit for what felt like an eternity.
I paused and wondered where Ankur was. He was sleeping in a smaller tent at slightly higher ground. My worry for him helped control my movement. Another frigid wave surged in while heaving me and the tent further in an unknown direction. I stopped again. I cursed the heavens through my teeth. “Come-on God, give me a F*cking break.”
I couldn’t find my knife. My hands blindly searched below the water. I snagged on a small string, finally. I swooped open the circular door and jumped out. I couldn’t believe it. I was about 90 feet away from the campsite where there was an illuminated green tent. Ankur was trying to get out. I grabbed my tent and ran with everything in it as fast possible away from the massive ocean.
I got to higher ground near Ankur and he came out of his tent. He had shifted a few feet into the succulents which helped anchor the tent from moving any further. Looking around, I noticed that the swell of water that ripped me away had come up several feet beyond the high tide-line.
Even though I was soaked through in the cold, my breathe became lighter. It felt nice to be standing there… far from the ocean with my brother. He had a dry set of clothes to spare. I changed and we both figured out a contingency plan at 3:30am. Most of our belongings were scattered on the beach and we slowly collected everything except for one sandal. We packed our bags, retraced our steps, and ascended the ropes of the bluffs at 5:30am.
Remembering that 12 hour window this past weekend makes me smile while shaking my head. It feels silly in retrospect. The reality was that we made it out without any major harm. Yet the severity and transience of existence felt quite real in that moment while trying to escape my tent.
It’s this awareness of death that has been on my mind lately. It may sound morbid, but it is the transience of life that makes the current moment more astounding. Because nothing lasts forever and any moment can be our last, we are the loveliest now. With the acceptance of change and ceasing of life, there is only room for truth and gratitude. Realizing how short we are here, the awareness of what is essential in our lives becomes lucid.
We were once again carving through the fog along Highway 92. I thought of my encounter with the imposing ocean as a brief clearing in the road approached us. Catching a glimpse of sunrise, I felt awakened. And it felt damn good to be alive.