Walking Topper: The Trail to Paris

Molly May enjoys walking almost as much as Topper. On any given day, the 25-year-old Cal Poly graduate can be found hiking along the trails that blanket Cerro San Luis, the mountain directly overlooking Highway 101 and the city of San Luis Obispo.

Molly has walked the mountain regularly for the past eight years, the winding trails a nearby refuge from the academic pressure of college and her current management position with Hind Inc., an international sportswear manufacturer.

It was while walking on the mountain that Molly decided to follow a different career path. Despite receiving a substantial raise and another in a series of quick promotions at Hind, Molly surprised her colleagues on June 15 when she abruptly announced her resignation.

A better offer from a competing firm? Hardly. Molly is leaving because she has decided to move.

To Paris.

More in the spirit of Hemingway than Trump, Molly is about to turn her back on a promising career to explore a city, create a different life, halfway around the world from family and friends.

Molly agreed to show Topper and me the trails along Cerro San Luis and talk about her dreams–dreams of wanderlust and adventure that many of us have had at one point or another.

Topper seemed excited as we crossed over the barbed wire fence at the end of South Tassajara Street, the starting point for one of the main trails. I let him off the leash and Topper raced up the hill with the determination of Sir Edmund Hillary.

Molly seemed more reflective as she started looking around. “I do a lot of thinking here. It’s a quiet time for me,” Molly said. “Everything is so simple once you climb over the fence. The grass. The trees. The cows. Everything else seems so insignificant next to the simplicity here.”

Molly often hikes the popular trails with a group of friends, mostly fellow Cal Poly graduates who have settled into jobs around San Luis Obispo. The hours the group spent on the mountain provided plenty of time for conversation and introspection. Molly remembers both the small talk and the more serious philosophical discussion about hopes and dreams.

“We always ended up talking about our dreams,” Molly says. “Things we wanted to do. Places we want to visit. We talked about all the exciting things we were going to do.”

For Molly, that meant travel, but she had little time after joining Hind straight out of Cal Poly. Four promotions and four years later, that travel bug was eating at her. Despite her early success, Molly wasn’t happy. We sat down on a rock formation off the trail and she talked about the difficulty of being a young executive in a college town.

“Something was missing in my life,” Molly says. “You’re still young, but you look around and see students with a pretty carefree lifestyle. You wonder if you’re really happy. I have a good job, security, a car, but I’m not as happy as when I was a starving student. Things have become too scheduled for me.”

Topper was busy wandering, having left Molly and me to say hello to hikers and their dogs coming up the trail. This dog is a natural–he could have easily been a greeter at an Atlantic City casino.

Gazing around our pastoral setting, Molly confessed that Paris would be far different, but that is exactly what she’s hoping for when she makes her first trip to the City of Lights in August.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. It’s always seemed exotic to me. You hear about it in the news–fashion, music, literature, new thoughts. I’m not trying to be overly romantic about the city, but I think it will be an exciting place to live.”

One of Molly’s current roommates, Kim Brown, will join her in Paris for a few months when the two enroll in French language classes at Alliance Francaise. Molly plans a much longer stay; her plane ticket is one-way. A growing savings account will allow Molly some time traveling the continent. She knows eventually she will have to find a job in a city not known for employing foreigners.

“It’s scary to think of no job, no paycheck coming in,” Molly admits. “But you have to have confidence in yourself and your ability. I get excited every time I think about what I’m doing.”

There are no mountains in Paris. No hiking trails to climb. Molly knows that she’ll miss the “SLO Life” and her group of friends. I press her about leaving. Was this some impulsive decision that she might quickly regret once she woke up in France?

Her response is a quick shake of the head and an unmistakable smile of confidence as Topper finally comes over our way.

“Everything here is a fond memory for me,” Molly says. “But just because you love a place doesn’t mean you can’t try something new. I know I can always come back.”

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (June 1990)

Editor’s Note: Molly ended up spending an entire year in Paris, studying the language and working as a waitress. A few years later, she moved to Finland and lived there for a year. She continues to make regular trips (pre-COVID) to Europe and currently teaches ESL at Monterey Peninsula Community College. She still continues to dream.

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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