Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The lure of the open road

I’ve done a million road trips, careening across the land to see what’s on the other side of the mountain. Regardless of the number, the hair on the back of my neck still stands on end just thinking of the back roads.

I’m on the move again. I’m heading to Big Sur, on the Central Coast, a most remarkable place.

I’ve been over this landscape many times and never tire of its magic. The road holds more than wonder for the traveler. There are memories with every mile but I’m intent on making new ones. However, I’m reminded of a sweet time when I was a young.

What’s wrong with enjoying our memories? We own our memories; they define us. We can’t relive a memory but we can make new memories as long as we seek the spirit of the new. The things we do surely outlast our mortality. People will recall our antics long after we are gone.

I first traveled through Big Sur during a brief respite between college graduation and the Marines. It was 1969. I made a pact with the devil never to be party to the theme of Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.” The hardest thing about the road not taken is that you never know where it might have led you.

On that trip I explored every nook and cranny that tickled my fancy, from San Simeon to the Carmel Highlands. Certainly today, at 66, it takes a lot more effort to have an adventure.

I remember fishing for dinner off the San Simeon pier. We didn’t catch anything; another hungry night was inevitable. I visited that pier the other day. This time I didn’t jump into the ocean for a bath; I just sat with my Kindle.

In ’69 I spent a few forlorn moments fixated on the Santa Lucia Ranch. I’d never seen a landscape so serene, different from the projects in the Bronx. I wanted it. When serving in Vietnam, I would often meditate about the ranch, seeking moments of peace. I saw Santa Lucia the other day, still lovely. I still want it.

On Pfeiffer Beach all those years ago I fell in love. Her name was Twyla and she was the lead singer of the Seven Stair Steps. We camped together and I listened as they rehearsed their gospel songs. Eventually they headed north in a Volkswagen van with a psychedelic paint job and we headed south in a ’55 flatbed truck. Two days ago I sat on Pfeiffer Beach writing my journals, listening to the waves. I thought I heard “Oh Happy Day!” It was probably only the wind. But maybe it wasn’t.

On this trip I visited the New Camaldoli Hermitage, nestled in the hills above Santa Lucia. The views are spectacular. There, the Camaldolese monks live in silence, experiencing the message of St. Francis: simplicity.

In ’69 during a torrential rain we found shelter at the hermitage. We lived with the monks for a week, working for our keep. The stone wall we built is still there, but now overgrown with red bougainvillea.

I stopped by the spot where in 1980 I was run off the road while bicycling down the coast. I used one of my nine lives that day.

It was time to leave. Packing up my old and new memories, I headed down the old coast road in my Jeep to see the sunrise.

At the bewitching hour of sunrise the pull of the highway is strongest. It’s a time when the open road beckons and when the distant side of the beyond becomes a lure that I cannot resist.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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