Ken Hegan pursues heat, play, and love in sunny California

By Ken Hegan for The National Post

In my twenties, I met a woman so beautiful, I rode a bus for 33 hours to Buenos Aires from Rio de Janeiro, in the hope I’d get to kiss her. Big mistake. When I got to her apartment, her live-in boyfriend answered the door. Surpriiiiise. I swore I’d never do that again.

Cut to last fall. I was planning a solo trip to California. I wanted a healing Eat, Pray, Love adventure, but with less praying and more nudity. I wanted Heat (hot tubbing in Big Sur) and Play (surfing in La Jolla) but had no idea what to do about Love.

Then a Toronto friend, who I’ll call Julie, invited me to her divorce celebration at Napa wineries. She was hosting a weeklong party — and she was extremely fun, smart and attractive. Would I like to meet her for a drink?

“Sure,” I said, “but only if we call it a date. Like fine wine, I’m all about clarity.”

“Hell yeah, Hegan, it’s a date,” she said.

Sweet! The ending of my Heat, Play, Love story was now a lock!

We agreed to meet in Napa in seven days. So I flew to San Francisco and drove to Big Sur at night on the twisty Pacific Coast Highway. Don’t do this, by the way. It’s breathtaking but the fog jumps at your windshield like ghosts. Extremely dangerous. Hell, the road doesn’t just hug the cliff; it hangs on for dear life.

Which is how I felt: barely hanging on. Sure, I had a date in a week. But when I thought about how my life went horribly awry, my spirit crashed and plunged straight down to darkness.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts found a new mentor in each country. So when I got to Big Sur, I booked an appointment with a shaman. We met in a yurt at the Post Ranch Inn. For some reason, I assumed he’d be a 90-year-old Native man in a loincloth. But turns out my shaman was a blond thirtysomething surfer from Monterey, Calif., who looked like Sammy Hagar.

His name was Jon Rasmussen and he’d learned shamanism from the Karo Indians of Peru. I poured my heart out to him about how bad I felt after my separation. Then he said something extremely touching:

“Ken, your body is full of dark, ugly muck,” he said. “I’ll help you release this muck because you know what? You are limitless. That will be your new word: limitless. Because it’s true. When you clear the muck, you can do anything.”

He had me lie down. Then he placed stones on my chakras, prayed to the four winds, and performed some sacred ritual that I was too tranced out to notice.

One hour later, he shook my hand goodbye, and I staggered off into the Big Sur mist. I felt elated and limitless … for about 30 seconds. Then my stomach lurched and I ran for my cabin. That shamanic ritual gave me explosive diarrhea. He wasn’t kidding about the muck.

That night, I wolfed down foie gras at the Post’s restaurant. Delicious! Then it was time for Heat. I flip-flopped to the cliffside infinity pool and slid into the hot, healing waters.

I gazed serenely into the fog. I thought about how wonderful it was to be limitless. Then I leaned over and spewed foie gras off the cliff. But not in a bad way. As my stomach emptied, so did my worries. Thank you, shaman.

Time for Play. I headed south to La Jolla, a vintage California surf town 20 minutes north of San Diego. My instructor, Lindsey from Surf Diva, showed me how to ride the board on the sand.

But despite the stellar instruction, when I hit the water, I couldn’t get up on my board.

“People surf the way they live their lives,” she said. “If you’re haphazard while surfing, you’re haphazard in life. You hang back too far on your board. Think of the back leg as your past, Ken. Lean forward. Commit to the wave. Then you’re living in the moment!”

Wise advice. On my final wave, I managed to ride my board for 10 seconds of absolute California bliss. I punched the air and shouted, “I. Am. Livinnnnnng!” Then a wave T-boned me and I was thrown from the vehicle. Lindsey high-fived me and said, “Remember: The best surfer is the one who’s having the most fun!”

Now all I had left was Love. But just before heading north to Napa, I received an email from Julie:

“Dear Hegan, I’ve cancelled my trip. I’ve decided to fertilize myself with anonymous sperm,” she explained, saying it was part of her divorce settlement and she had to act now before it expired.

Unbelievable. This was worse than the Buenos Aires debacle! And it was the first time, ever, that I’d been cockblocked by anonymous sperm.

What would I do for Love now? Worse, Napa’s tourism board had arranged a ton of romantic stuff for two, including chocolates, wine and a flight over the valley. I needed a date, but who? I didn’t want to troll bars. Should I find someone on Plenty of Fish? Craigslist? Adult Friend Finder? That felt sketchy, rushed and bleak … the very opposite of Love.

I fretted and fretted. Then it hit me: I would fly down the one woman whose love I can always count on … my mother.

When Dad was alive, we talked about doing a family wine tour — but we never did. Now was the perfect chance to make up for it. Mum was thrilled and hopped the next flight to San Francisco.

Over the three days, my mother and I laughed and lived as if we were limitless. We sipped sparkling wine at the Mumm winery on a sunny afternoon. We had a magical hot air balloon ride, floating over Napa wineries at dawn.

But my favourite moment was at a winery that looked just like a medieval Tuscan castle. The designer/owner, Dario Sattui, called it Castello di Amorosa, or Castle of Love. Brick by brick, it took him 13 years to build it.

Dario had been divorced but is now happy in his second marriage. He looked safe inside his castle, as if the turrets protected him from life’s pain. Mostly, he seemed proud that his life had turned out so well.

So I asked Dario for advice on how I, too, might find love among the ruins.

He smiled and said, “Ken, if you want to find love, do not stay inside. That’s waiting for the world to come to you. Get out of your house! See the world! And love will find its way to you.”

Travel supplied by California Travel and Tourism Commission

Visit Ken at or via Twitter @KenHegan