While I’m not the most well-traveled person I know, I have lived in quite a few places and traveled to many others. For me, the Midwest is family, the Southwest is home, the South is home-away-from-home, Tornado Alley is long car rides, and the East is busy, busy life. The Northwest is mostly fantasy and, up to this year, California was a point of disinterest—I had never been and had no real desire to go.
What you are about to hear is strange, or so I hear: I had always thought I wouldn’t like California.
Yes, California. Not Ohio. Not South Dakota, or Kansas, or one of those middle states that (no offense) blend together even after one has experienced them. As my friend who is a native Californian said, “Calah, no one thinks that about California—what were you thinking?”
Over the past year, I had finally heard some alternative views of this state, which had sparked a small desire to visit—if for no other reason than because I had never been. So when I got a last-minute chance to go, I swallowed the over-priced airfare and even got a little excited.
Upon landing in the sunshine and wonderful lack of humidity, it didn’t take even a day for me to have to agree with my friend—I really don’t know what I was thinking when I thought I wouldn’t like California.
If, in my pre-visit mind, California was undesirable at worst and a source of indifference at best, Los Angeles topped the list of its worst destinations. Everything I had ever heard about the metropolis was along the lines of, “It takes thirty minutes to drive a mile.”
Of course, most cities can be decent depending on which part you stay in, and I had the opportunity to stay in a home in Santa Monica walking distance from the beach, five minutes’ drive from a beautiful outdoor pool and running trails, and well within cycling distance to the mountains. What more could this little triathlete ever want?
I suppose the beach is the main selling point for California, and perhaps that’s why I was never terribly impressed by it. I have never been a “beach person.” I have always loved to swim, but never got into the laying-out-and-getting-tired part. And don’t even get me started on the sand.
Once again—I don’t really know what I was thinking. Walking along the beach at dusk, puzzling over the behavior of the seagulls, straining my eyes to see the porpoise surface again—these are just a few of the small joys the beach offered me, and that’s before I even touched the water.
Once I dove in and did the brutal but exhilarating Tower 26 open water swim session on Wednesday morning, I decided I would swim all day if only my arms were stronger and my stomach less demanding.
“The people” were something I wasn’t sure about in my “I wouldn’t like Cali” state of mind. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. And, as with most of my vague Cali preconceptions, this one was also totally wrong; the people may have been what I liked most about my visit.
Gerry Rodrigues let me join his swim group for half a week and didn’t mock me (at least not out loud) when I wiped out on deck during “deck-ups.” His pro triathletes let me tag along on their ride, no questions asked, and refrained from kicking me in the face when I incessantly grabbed their feet in my desperate attempt at drafting during the open water swim. One of his age-group athletes let me stay at his house, free of charge, and eat all his fruit.
On Father’s Day, I was walking along a packed Ocean Avenue with my coach, and I said, “There really are a lot of people, it might be a few too many for me. But on the other hand, earlier this morning, I was riding my bike up a mountain, feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere, so I guess it balances out.”
As I people-watched that day, I was amazed (but not entirely surprised) by the feeling I got from the masses of people—a relaxed feeling so different from the intensely busy atmosphere I feel here in DC. I was shocked by how few people I saw walking along with their eyes glued to their phones; by how little people used their horns, even in heavy traffic; and by how I didn’t see any runners jogging in place while stopped at traffic lights.
I think it was this, more than the views of the beach and the joyful ease with which I scaled the Santa Monica Mountains that made me think, not only was I wrong about California, but California just may have stolen my heart.
Calah Schlabach (’09) is a Calvin graduate who—let’s just be honest—majored in cross country and track while minoring in English and writing. After a year or so of global wandering, she discovered the sport of triathlon. Calah is currently working as a professional triathlete.