Had you asked me a year ago that I’d be waking up on the shore of the Pacific, traveling the country, living my dream… I’d probably have laughed in your face. Had you said that I was going to be practicing the sport that I loved while doing so, I’d have laughed harder.
Waking up in LA was a trip. The City of Angels. La La Land. The Big Orange. Much like I mentioned in the first few posts I made, the vastness of some of these cities can be claustrophobic. So much to do, so little time.
After training at the Gracie Academy, I decided to spend a few days hanging around the city and exploring. First stop? Venice Beach. My mind raced with the thought of what I could do; swim, explore the sights, meet people, etc. After driving up and down the boardwalk for a few hours, I finally found a parking spot. I left my car, made my way to the beach, and gazed off into the distance. The boardwalk bustled with street performers, tourists, merchants of all types, etc. I met a guy who sold carved out “Hobo” coins; I saw a troupe of acrobatic street performers who coaxed $20, $50, and even $100 bills into huge garbage bags; I even visited a store that sold scrap metal sculptures, including a life-sized “Predator” build.
Venice Beach. Santa Monica. Los Angeles. All areas in which reality seems to suspend itself. It was almost inspirational seeing people who truly followed their dreams. It’s as if no matter how old you are, you can become whoever you’ve always wanted to be. Considering I was doing the same (i.e., dropping everything to travel the country and train), I felt like I’d already assimilated into the community.
Before leaving LA, I had one last thing to do: train on the beach. I’ve spent hours on YouTube watching videos of Kron, the Ribero brothers, Rickson, and all of the old school Gracies training on the shores of the Pacific and on the beaches of Rio. I’ve envied that. As luck/fate would have it? I rolled into LA on the weekend of an event that I’d been interested ever since I first scrolled past their Instagram in the summer of 2015: Jiu Jitsu in the Park.
JJITP as a concept is nothing new; it’s literally taking some mats, hauling them into an outdoor area like a park, and getting down to business. That said, Jiu Jitsu in the Park as a business has taken it to a whole new level. They have built an event so well run, so interesting, and JAM PACKED full of jiu jitsu, it’s almost unfathomable.
After a night spent sleeping on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, I made my way to the event. When I first pulled into the parking lot of Malibu Bluffs Park, about 30 minutes north of LA, I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the location. The mats themselves, situated under a canopy of off-white tents, lied no more than 100 yards from the cool, deep indigo waters of the ocean. I approached the registration tent, paid the five dollar mat fee, and filled out my waivers. For five dollars, this open mat format was incredible. I was one the first person on the mats that day, along with another gent, Jeff, from a 10th Planet school not far from Malibu. I was donning my black globetrotters gi (GREAT choice for the blazing Malibu sun, by the way), and he wore the fancy rash guard, shorts, and spats typical of 10th Planet. We rolled, and he swiftly snagged a leg lock. Game on.
That was the first of many rolls I had during my two hours training. I trained with guys from all over Southern California: Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu in San Diego, AOJ, City BJJ in San Francisco, and even a purple belt that trained out of his garage in a small town halfway between San Diego and LA. As always, we weren’t strangers. We all spoke a language of BJJ. I will say that I was likely the only person from New York at the event! Everyone who heard I was traveling the country, training jiu jitsu, living out of my car, etc., all thought I was living the dream! It was amazing.
The day was split up by a few superfights; some kids, some adults, some women, some men. I watched the kid super fight… and was just shocked. I always say stuff like, “If only I’d have started training when I was that young…” And these children reinforced that. Watching the future of BJJ invert, throwing triangles, impolite transitions… it made me feel old. I loved it.
Now… let’s talk about acai for a second. I’ll admit, I’ve always been apprehensive about a lot of the more “fad” things in BJJ: 10th Planet, Foam Rollers, Vegan vs. Keto, etc. With that, Acai is something that’s always been one of those “Whatever. How good can it be?” Kinda things. Well, like everything I’m hesitant about, I gave it a shot considering they had an all organic Acai stand at the park with the event. Well, here are the results…
After leaving Jiu Jitsu in the Park, I stopped at a small seafood shack a few minutes up the road from the park along Coastal Highway 1: Malibu Seafood. I had arranged to meet with a friend of my dad’s for lunch while I was in the area, and I’m glad I did! Meeting someone my father grew up with for the first time was awesome; hearing stories about the old man is always fun. He was supportive of this trip from the start, and knowing I always had a support system back home kept me going on the hard days.
Following a quick lunch at Malibu Seafood, I started north. My destination? Well, the place that inspired this trip in the first place: Yosemite National Park. You see, in addition to my BJJ, I cross train with rock climbing when I have the time to do so. After watching the documentary “Valley Uprising” in the summer of 2016 (it’s on Netflix: watch it. Watch it now.), I made the decision to road trip across the country.
I drove north on the PCH from Malibu. For a few hours, I hugged the coast; I watched sea cliffs grow larger, curves in the road become more abundant, and speed limits slow. The scenery was unbelievable. In a moment so typical of a globetrotters trip, I decided to alter my itinerary a slightly; instead of taking the fastest route possible from San Fransisco (my next journey after Yosemite) to Oregon, I decided I’d ride the PCH from south to north. Best decision I could’ve made, but more on that in a later post. I drove north from Malibu into the evening. I blasted the Beach Boys’ “Surfing’ the USA” as I drove, and I felt true joy.
As night fell, the road became quiet, and an eerie sense of loneliness fell over me. Traveling alone on the coast in the dead of night… it was creepy, to say the least. As I ascended another hill, coming around a bend, I was stopped at a roadblock: a landslide had shut the road down. Unsure of where I should go, as my cell service had ceased, I stopped at a small motel to ask the best way back to the highway.
“Back 30 miles.”
Damn. It took me another hour to get back to the highway, and another two to get to the rest area I stopped at about two hours outside of Yosemite. As the coast disappeared, farmland did the opposite. I drove along valleys surrounded by farms and cornfields. I woke the next morning, made the two hour drive to Merced, and prepared for four days in the park!
I wish I could put into words how excited I was as I drove through the park entrance. 45 minutes more and I’d be centered in Yosemite Valley: the birthplace of American rock climbing as a whole. I zigzagged along the winding roads of YNP, through huge oak trees and even a controlled forest fire. Then…
Tunnel View. I drove 4,000 miles from New York, down to North Carolina, up to Tennessee, sat through a tornado, drove across deserts in Texas, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona, then up the California coast, JUST to see this view. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear.
For four days, I explored Yosemite. I could do an entire post just about my time there, but I’ll give the footnotes. I sat at the foot of Sentinel Rock, one of the biggest faces in YNP, with a beer in my hand and a bowl of ramen in the other. I sat at the base of 2,500 foot granite walls, watching the sunset bear down on the valley. On my second day there, I spent the day climbing with Peter, a guy whose number I’d gotten from a board at Camp 4. Anyone whose climbed in the Valley knows the importance of Camp 4. We bouldered, and ran up some multi pitch climbs near Lower Yosemite Falls. On my third day, I spent the day solo hiking the Yosemite Falls trail: 7.2 miles round trip, 3,000ft. vertical gain. I sat on the edge of Yosemite Creek, downing a cold tub of Campbell’s Chunky Beef Sirloin soup as the raging waters flowed towards the 2,500 foot drop to the valley floor. I slept in my Jeep on the road by El Cap meadow. On my last day? I touched the bottom of El Cap for the first time. It was June 15th, 2017. Mark my words: by September 21st, 2025, I’ll climb that beast of a rock.
I talked about rock climbing and it’s parallels to BJJ in my Joshua Tree post, so I’ll spare the philosophy, but I will say this: BJJ has gifted me with life lessons that I don’t think I would’ve gotten anywhere else. I’m a completely different person now compared to when I started training four years ago. One of these life lessons is this:
Although pressure can be uncomfortable at times, you can always find a way out. Set your goals, figure out how to reach them, and then do it.
From Yosemite, I drove west to San Fransisco before going north to Oregon. But that’s a story for another day. Until next time! Oss!