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Breaking Traditions

Bridget Connelly

Traditions have always been an important part of my life. They provide structure, they create memories and they bring my favorite people together. From Christmas Eve dance parties at the Mullins’, to Easter down in Florida, to Sunday dinners with my family; these traditions have played a big part in my life and I feel so thankful to have them. Traditions I particularly love surround Fourth of July festivities. For as long as I can remember, we have been going up to Wisconsin to celebrate. When we were younger, this looked like dressing up in the 4th of July parade at Lily Lake wearing incredibly non-patriotic outfits, eating far too many snacks and running around like madmen all day with my cousins. As I got older traditions still took place in Wisconsin, but moved on to Lake Geneva. Spending the days out of the boats with my friends and brothers —  swimming, bronzing, and sipping on a few cold ones. The nights were spent dancing our hearts out at Gordy’s (Club G) and Chucks. 4th of July has always been a holiday woven with traditions I hold dear. I never dreamed I would change them.

When I made the move to California, I assumed I could come back for every holiday with that endless flow of money right? Definitely wrong. I didn’t quite take into account how expensive that would be or how I would have a job, or two at times, that would not allow me to do so. I was heartbroken. Missing Thanksgiving in Chicago? Missing the 4th of July? Missing Easter? How could I go on! But I forged ahead and realized I had to make the most out of my decision to live far away from the people and places I love the most. It was hard and lonely at times, but ultimately incredibly worth it. Being away during holidays embedded with family traditions has helped me to appreciate my family more then ever before. At the same time it has helped push me out of my comfort zone and create friendships as deep as family. I have gone on adventures and experienced life with people I never would have previously, had I not been away from my family on holidays. 

Going on my fourth summer living in California, I thought for sure I would make it home this year for the 4th of July. As the weeks got closer to this grand holiday, it became clear that it would not be happening. As I began to sulk in my sorrows in this thought, I knew there were many opportunities I could experience and friends I could share this day with in California. I would go on. When I received the email from my sweet friend Danielle titled  “Big Sur Camping— 4th of July,” I knew I had found that opportunity. 

As much as San Diego can feel like a vacation at times, it’s where I live and work, so an opportunity to get away somewhere is always thrilling! My boyfriend and I packed up the car and decided to make a road trip out of it. The 10 hour car ride can get long, but when you have a backdrop of the mountains and ocean on either side, plus good company, it’s really not so bad. It can be easy to get into a day to day routine that I sometimes forget how truly beautiful California is. The coastal ride up, stops along the way, good tunes, and deep full breaths of that salt water air was a much needed reminder. The drive in and of itself could have made the 4th of July weekend, but we still had ALL of Big Sur to explore, friends to be with, new friends to meet and America to celebrate. New traditions were upon us and we could not wait to make them.


Big Sur is a place of natural and untouched beauty. It’s a place that remains largely unchanged. An early explorer Juan Cabrillo said of Big Sur upon discovery, “There are mountains which seem to reach the heavens, and the sea beats on them.” That stands true today. The cold colorful ocean, rich in blue tones, still crashes powerfully into the cliff sides of these majestic mountains. They collide into one another — it’s a sight to be seen. The land is lush and green, filled with towering redwood trees and picturesque mountains settled a top of hidden beaches and hiking trails. Trails and beaches we made the most of in our time there.


We arrived to the campground late Thursday night and most everyone was tucked away for the night. The air temperature had dropped significantly and I was more then ready to curl into my “bed” for the night —although we still had the tent to set up. Now I am really useful in situations when I’m tired and need to contribute any sort of labor skill. Needless to say, I pouted and shivered while handyman Greg set up the tent (thank you!) — we were snoozing in no time. It seemed my eyes were closed no more then 5 minutes before I heard birds chirping, the sun peeking through the tent, and laughter coming from other tents. If you know me, I can have extreme FOMO (fear of missing out), this prompted me out of my tent in just a few minutes. I think I was still half sleeping when I peered out of my tent to find a surging river, mountains encircling us, and the sun light beaming through their peaks and valleys. It was time to start the day (earlier then I would've picked), but I was so ready to begin this 4th, with these people, in this place. 


We took in the quietness of the early morning, sipping our coffees and catching up with one another in the midst of the wilderness— morning peace at it's finest. Soon after we packed up our cars, got on our hiking gear and set out on our fist hike. A hike I will never forget. As my friend Jackie stated, “ OK no one told us we would be on a movie set!” The mountains, the river, eerie fog, that quickly burned off in the beating sun, the vibrant shades of flowers — our surroundings almost looked like they were fake! Now there were 8 of us the first day. 8 that love to chat, tell stories and take pictures, so getting distracted was something we could have all anticipated. Although we didn't realize how distracted we would get. A few hours deep into the hike, when we should have been finished, we found ourselves climbing out of a ravine without the slightest hint of wear the path had gone. Needless to say this 2 hour hike turned into one hell of a long one without snacks or enough water….things got rough! We had some casualties along the way, but some of us finally made it to the top and it was worth it.


Our hunger pains and our quench for thirst seemed to subside when we got to the top as we were so enamored with our surroundings. Even though our tired legs thought they were going to give way many times, we reached the top and the sight was spectacular. Below us we could see the ocean raging, clouds floating by and all around us were those grandiose mountains. We soaked in every minute of our tough accomplishment. We quickly came back to reality when we realized we still had to get down. All of us were in fight or flight mode — we charged all the way down in a quarter of the time it took to get up. Drinks and food were at the end of that path and we were ready to cheers to that. In no time we were having french fries, ice cold beverages and sitting seaside. Day drinks soon turned into a night time bonfire, complete with s’mores champagne and sparklers. A Happy Happy 4th indeed. 


On our last day together we had breakfast by campfire, went on a ferngully-esque nature walk complete with waterfalls, redwood trees and cliff hangouts, then headed to one final spot —Julia Pfeiffer State Beach. We put on our suits, packed up a picnic bag of essentials (hummus, chips and wine) then made our way down to the beach. Along the beach a ways down, Danielle brought us to a “secret” spot. The spot: tucked into the trees, logs and shells scattered about, white soft sand below us, and large rock formations out in the sea around us. It felt as if we were in the Goonies— and I loved it. We spent the remainder of the flawless day basking in the sunlight, reading, listening to music and toasting to beautiful Big Sur.


It always makes me proud to love the world somehow- hate's so easy compared.”  ― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur. While in Big Sur we were constantly reminded of the gifts of nature, beauty, and freedom we have all around us. Rarely having any service helped us to stay engaged with one another and aware of the pristine environment -- that is Big Sur. Our worries and life stresses simply stayed on hold for a few days.  We felt proud of our hikes, of our adventures, of this splendid world we live in, and proud to be an American. The tradition of Big Sur on the 4th was a new one for me and it won't be the last.