I recently took a trip that led me down the length of California from Sonoma County to Orange County to the Mexican border. The obvious geographical difference between that side of America and East Tennessee is the ocean.
Also on the map are mountains. In some way, mountains are our shareholder. I’m not saying that our green valley of Johnson City and the sun-soaked surf of California’s edge share a common mountain range like the Appalachian or the Rockies. That’s not possible. But the mere sight of a mountain peak is enough for me.
In fact, the moment I begin to see mountains when driving down Interstate 75 from Louisville, Ky. (or THE 75 as Californians would call it), I feel instant relief, nostalgia even. So as I encountered the various types of hills or mountains about the Golden State, I felt at home despite the fact that I was more than 2,600 miles away.
I didn’t make my way up to Northern California, where I’ve heard many a tale about the glorious mountains that run along the coast up through Oregon. Instead, I started in Windsor, two hours West of Sacramento, a town that dipped into wine country.
Far off you could see the small silhouette of a mountain that stood in the distance. Up close, it was more dry, dusty and brown than I am used to. Compared to hiking in Cherokee National Forest, where you might be compelled to cross a river in high tide or wrestle with overhanging branches and get stuck in the mud of a thousand waterfalls, SoCal hiking is pretty painless. Trees aren’t as abundant and clearly rain isn’t as frequent. But there is beauty in a more open landscape.
The same went for Orange County, an area encompassing several cities outside of Los Angeles. Dry, desert-like, but with a smell of sea salt in the air. One notable aspect about the most Southern part of the West Coast — the area from San Diego to San Ysidro — is that while there are no mountains to gawk at, there is Tijuana, Mexico.
Just before you cross the U.S.-Mexican border, you can start to see the difference between the two countries. Roofs rise as houses are stacked on top of each other. Everything is crammed together, like there isn’t enough space for everyone. If you’re too distracted by the urbanscape to notice, the Mexican flag will give your new location away.
The forbidden (I didn’t have my passport) and foreign land intrigued me greatly. What was going on over there? What would happen if I crossed over? Would I feel different or the same?
The rising city of Tijuana also reminded me of a mountain of sorts — its size making a statement of its existence.
Essentially, the high mount of the city reminded me that whether I live on the East or West Coast, there will always be a mountain somewhere, just a few hours away — a big hill even — to remind me of my roots in Johnson City.
And let’s be honest: While the sky is beautiful, it is empty. And I’d much rather see a mountain or cityscape paired with the sky than a highway stretched in front of me.
Sydney Franklin will be a senior at Milligan College this fall.