Te Early Years
The Search for Naked Women
was 1962 or ’63± I was dressing in the school locker
room with other 13-year-old jocks when one of our buddies
came rushing in± He was nearly breathless but managed to blurt out,
“Women run around naked, every weekend, at Big Sur – I swear!”
At the beginning of the 1960s, this was very big news – especially to
boys our age±
A friend’s older brother had access to a car, and on a sunny Saturday
my friend, his brother and I each chipped in 50 cents for gas± Te
three of us made our way down Highway 1 from Carmel toward Big
Sur± All of us had been down the narrow, winding road many times,
but never with such anticipation±
We finally located the mythical spot – a beautiful, wide shelf that
ended at a sheer drop above the Pacific Ocean± We got out and hurried
down a dirt road, then a path, and ended up at a mountain stream±
Sure enough, we found naked women, openly sunbathing± Several
of them±
Of course we had no plan or clue what to do or say – none of us had
ever seen a naked woman, except in our dreams± We did have a good
look± Te women were
– maybe in their late 20s±
²wo of them got up and walked over to us±
One had a towel, but the other remained gloriously bare± We froze
like jackrabbits caught in headlights± Nobody moved±
Te naked girl looked directly into our eyes, from one kid to the
other, then back again± She demanded to know what
we were
doing trespassing on private property±
We kicked the ground in embarrassment and mumbled something
about being lost± She suggested we leave – so we turned and silently
started for the car, without looking back±
As we headed north back to town, the three of us exchanged
reflections on the attributes and peculiarities of the naked women
we had met at such close quarters±
By the time we made the city limits, our little excursion had evolved
into a tale of triumph equal to the best parts of Homer’s
I had no idea that my boyhood adventure was the first of what would
be many visits to the Esalen Institute±
[See page 374]
Looking south down the Pacific Coast toward Big Sur
Early ’60s: Not Exactly Mountain Men
Big Sur forest is a magical place, and we heard its call± Starting in the
summer of our 13th year, Larry and I were out to seek adventure± We
heard stories from older guys about crystal clear streams, wild animals and
meadows full of wildflowers± Tey told us about hiking to beautiful places
with names like Pine Valley and Barlow Flats, and we knew we had to go see
for ourselves± Te fact that we knew practically nothing about the wild, or
camping, did not dampen our enthusiasm±
We could enter the wilderness down at Big Sur, or by hiking in from the
south end of Carmel Valley± It was easy to hitchhike our way to either starting
point, and once we’d penetrated the woods we navigated with crude forest
maps and the occasional park service signs along the trails±
Few people hiked around the Ventana Wilderness 50 years ago± Larry and
I never bothered to obtain a camping permit – no one knew we were there,
and we rarely saw another soul± We fancied ourselves mountain men,
exploring an untamed territory±
Our parents were in the dark about the exact nature of our outings± We
always told them that we were going to hang out somewhere near the Big
Sur campground, just off Highway 1± Tey knew it was a safe family camping
area with picnic tables, restrooms and park rangers± Tey didn’t know that
our real plans involved hiking for miles into the forest±
Te trips generally lasted two or three days± Sometimes we accompanied
older boys we knew, so there would be four or five of us in a group± Te
hikes were physically demanding and sometimes dangerous,
especially along skinny trails on the steep cliffs± Te elevation
could change by 2,000 or 3,000 feet during the course of a hike,
and there were spectacular views out over the Pacific± We
discovered giant redwood trees, waterfalls and even hot springs±
During the time between our 14th and 15th birthdays, Larry and
I figured we could do anything± Armed with our sheath knives and
our trusty ±22 rifles, we felt invincible, but it didn’t start out that way±
Our first trip was truly a case of the blind leading the blind±
Before we set out, an older kid had warned us that we needed to pack light±
So we stuffed our packs with
items: a huge bag of beef jerky, a box of
Snickers bars, Juicy Fruit gum, sacks of roasted nuts, dried fruit and a roll of
toilet paper± We figured that we might need some fresh meat so we each
packed two cans of Spam± For drinks we took Kool-Aid powder and root-
beer-flavored Fizzies tablets to mix into stream water±
Highway One, Big Sur, California
We also brought along two tin cups, two plates and two forks, a small frying
pan, pancake mix, a tiny bottle of Log Cabin syrup, margarine, matches,
fishing line, hooks and a copy of
± Te magazine would provide
viewing material during periods of relaxation, as well as serve two more
practical purposes: We could tear out the ads to start our campfires, and in a
pinch use the pages of text if we ran out of toilet paper±
Larry and I bragged to each other that we were going to shoot at anything
that moved± In the woods that concept quickly dwindled to the vague idea of
killing a squirrel to make some sort of stew±
None of the killing-our-food-to-survive fantasies ever materialized± Once,
we both blasted a rattlesnake, and another time we shot a small bird, but we
didn’t have the stomach to kill anything else, except when we managed to
catch a few trout±
When Larry and I hiked with other boys, we were more apt to be yelling and
swearing like tough guys, as there was strength in numbers± Sometimes
when the mood struck we would all break into song, which must have scared
away any creature within a quarter-mile± At some point in the journey, we’d
start giving each other stupid names that were both insulting and
affectionate± Larry had the regal name of “Sir Fartsalot±” I was simply called
“Pumpkin Head,” for the size of my noggin±
Along the trail, we inevitably passed through spots where we were suddenly
eaten alive by bugs± On one trip, we all suffered bouts of diarrhea± We banged
ourselves up and took some nasty falls± But whatever happened, nothing was
finer than being exhausted with your buddies at the end of a hike on a hot
day – that moment when you finally arrived at the campsite, took off your
boots and clothes, and plunged into a cold stream, naked and screaming±
Of course the very best thing about camping was looking up at the stars as
we heard the night sounds of the stream and the distant calls of nocturnal
animals± We would sleep in our clothes, but we still shivered in our sleeping
bags as we talked about sports, girls and what we were going to do when we
grew up±
We packed out our trash, except for the toilet paper we buried in the forest
floor± All remaining food in our packs was devoured the morning of the trek
back to civilization, so we were starved when we finally arrived in Carmel±
We always headed straight for Jim’s Rinky Dink, the best burger joint in town±
Some angel must have been keeping an eye on us – or maybe we just had a
lot of dumb luck± Whatever it was that kept us safe, we always le² the Big Sur
forest happy and proud±
It was the best of times