Reluctantly waking, staring at the ceiling, trying to find the momentum or reason to get myself out of bed rather than drifting off for another hour, inspiration finally hits. I stumble out of bed and walk a less than perfect straight line to the kitchen. I prepare my habitual coffee fix, pull my ginger hair back into a ponytail, dress in my SoCal best, slip my running shoes on and dart out the door.
As I drive up to my parents' house, the fluffy white head is peering out the window. In less than a second, she's spotted me and is running for the door. Always ecstatic to see me and knowing exactly what we're going to do, my partner is bouncing up and down on her imaginary pogo stick, unable to hide her excitement. I grab her leash and utter the code phrase "let's go," and we're off to our spot.
The windows are down, our hair is dancing in the wind, and a sense of freedom begins to take over as we arrive at our destination. If you're a local, you know where to park for free, but if not, the fee is $10 and completely worth the experience. Since I'm a local, the only payment I will pay will appear in the form of envy as I park among the homeowners who have the privilege of witnessing this sight on an everyday basis.
It's early, so we found a spot immediately. Chloe begins to whine and cry, incapable of patience and self-control. As I take the key out of the ignition, I begin my ritual of securing my car key, fastening my iPod sports band to my arm, inserting my earphones and exiting the car with Chloe in tow. I breathe deeply, taking in the ocean air, and prepare for the miles of serenity, beauty and community.
The boardwalk at Bolsa Chica State Beach is big enough to accommodate all walks of life. In fact, one of the ingredients necessary to create the perfect experience of traveling down this scenic route is the various characters who grace us with their presence. You can always count on the older couple still holding hands, the skateboarders practicing tricks on the cement benches, the RV families with their BBQ ready to grill and the 40- to 50-something-year-old surfers looking for waves.
The characters are a perk of this excursion, but if I had to choose, I would have to say my favorite part of the journey is when I reach the bridge. On the bridge, the wind is sweet and salty, and on a clear day, you can see the beautiful outline of Catalina. If you're lucky, the dolphins will gather up their friends and put on a show for you. It happens more times than you think. It is a fabulous combination of peace and exhilaration.
You've now left old man's beach and are about to hit "Canine-ville." On that stretch of the boardwalk, you are bound to see every type of dog possible, because the dog beach is right below the bluffs. As you look to the right, you can watch the dogs chase each other into the ocean, and occasionally, you witness a dog desperately barking for its owner as he catches a few waves. But don't worry, he's not alone — his girlfriend is keeping an eye on his best friend.
As you get closer to the Huntington Beach Pier, the action intensifies. If it's Friday, you've just stumbled into the outside market. At the market, you can get anything from fresh fruit to a henna tattoo. If it's Saturday, it's possible you may catch a surfing contest, or maybe just drool over the tanned, athletic volleyball players who seem to keep playing until the sun sets (not that I ever do that, of course). If this isn't interesting, take a peaceful stroll down the pier and indulge in one of Ruby's amazing shakes and play the game of "What's in the Fisherman's Bucket?" I usually justify the shake as a treat for the long walk I've endured, and counter the treat by looking in the gross-out buckets (a punishment for the shake).
After experiencing all this, I gather my strength to head to my car. I'm exhausted, but it was completely worth it. As I make my way back, the same thought crosses my mind: I am a lucky girl. I live in a place that others take the time to plan, save and eventually are able to vacation. I wonder if Chloe feels the same.