Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Longest Day

Alex sitting cool, Summer Equinox, Fortuna, California. 7:19 p.m.

While I have managed to unpack the car and even finish washing, drying, folding and putting away the road trip laundry, I have not finished my travelogue... my snapshot-memory book of our travels to and from Oregon. The last days of our drive home got a bit dramatic, because of the California fires. Then we had a very short time with Geoff before he had to leave for Chicago. Events and passages, daily duties and life, have been swirling and bouncing, and I have not quite managed to catch-up. Catch-up?! Seriously, have I ever been "caught-up," organized, with it, on top of things, in control?

Max teaches Maria how to throw a shoe. June 20, 2008. 7:39 p.m.

About those fires... I should have calculated how far I would drive from Fortuna, the second day of our drive home. I should have decided on a reasonable stopping place and called ahead for a room.

We spent the night in Fortuna, and had a relaxing dinner and evening at Eel River Brewing Company, a place making my list of awesome road trip stops. And later that night William, Alex and I squealed and shuddered witnessing the sky cracking thunder storm and rain, seeing the lightning. It turns out this was the same storm that began all of the lightning strike fires California is suffering.

7:40 p.m.

The next day we were seeing CDF vehicles and personnel everywhere. Fire fighting crews from all over California and other western states were on the move, and it was disturbingly reminiscent of way too many fires and evacuations from our past.

Closure of highway 1 in Watsonville from one fire, rerouted me away from Bill and Alison's place, so I continued down the 101 through San Jose, and as we approached the east side of Watsonville we could see flames in the hills. Further south we began to consider stopping for the night, and we pulled over in King City, where we discovered every room was booked... just as it had been in Santa Cruz and Monterey. The parking lots were full of CDF crews and evacuated families.

7:42 p.m.

We called Geoff. We had already been driving about 10 hours and between the fire and the heat wave, I could tell we would need help booking a room. So, I kept driving south, while Geoff called every hotel/motel between Greenfield and Pismo Beach. By now we were witnessing the fires burning on the eastern slopes of the Big Sur coast, and Geoff was having no luck finding us a place to stop for the night. Everything was booked due to the fires, summer events and an inland heat wave.

The Eel River, Phillipsville, California. June 21, 2008. 10:19 a.m. For hundreds and hundreds of miles I would think to myself: "This is beautiful. This place, this sight, this moment, those flowers, the light, the water, the air. I should take a picture."

Maria needed facilities and I stopped in Phillipsville... a small, remote place in the middle of the Redwoods and we found a camp store. I helped Maria, and I gave the children a $20 bill and instructions: Buy something. A treat. Anything you want." Maria and I joined them in the store, where they were still pacing up and down the 3 or 4 aisles of the little provisions shop.

Max asked, "Anything? Even soda?
I was tickled with what was becoming a happy diversion, "Yes, anything."
Max again, because he has to be certain of all the rules: "Even ice cream?"
We had already done 2 full tours of the entire shop, carefully weighing the options. Maria was embracing a snack package of Oreos. 6 cookies awaited her rapt attention and grateful nibbles. William pulled a grape soda from the cooler. Alex was peering into the ice-cream freezer. My satisfaction and pleasure was in watching my children revel in the bliss of choices, freedom and the anticipation of a camp-store treat. Max and Alex chose Tollhouse ice-cream sandwiches, William savored his grape flavored soda and Maria's 6 cookies lasted a sweet hour or more.

Strawberry fields and road side stand. North of Hopland, California. The Redwood Highway. June 21, 2008. 1:06 p.m.

Our next stop, our lunch, came from this strawberry field...

1:08 p.m.
This would have been a good time to call ahead and book a room... maybe in San Jose or even San Francisco, so I would not have the crisis that awaited us later.

We pulled under a huge oak tree, rinsed the sun warmed berries and began our picnic. The berries were sweet. the day was hot. I gave the chicas more water.

I sort of get the saying "Money can't buy happiness, but I have never believed it. I understand it, but that's not the same as believing it. Money does not guarantee happiness, and having money does not prevent unhappiness. Money gives opportunity, security, options and freedom. It can save us from hunger and strife, from limitations and hardships. I think it helps to know life with money and without money, to deeply appreciate the difference. This is a topic that I appreciate merits more than a paragraph, but I am going to keep this simple: I am so grateful to have options and freedom, to be blessed with a reliable vehicle and gas money, to have cash on hand for a box of berries.

Cameras, cell phones, fabric for homemade dresses, chickens as pets, Oreo snack packs, tickets to see "Wall-E," clean water and time are wonderful luxuries. Strawberries, sweet and fresh, eaten in the shade of an ancient oak tree are happiness in fruit form.

Golden Gate Bridge trail-head parking lot. 4:12 p.m.

Hours before I knew how long the day would be, before finding booked motels, I stopped here. I gave the chicas more water, and called Ron and Delia. I tried to nap a bit, but couldn't.

Later that night, armed with the Internet and phones, Geoff finally did manage to find us a hotel room. I had to backtrack 10 miles, and by 11:30 p.m. we were in a safe, comfortable room, and pulling covers over ourselves. 13 hours of driving were over, and we were, finally, free to rest.

Did you read all the way through? Long day = long In years to come, I think it will be nice to recall this challenging, fun, beautiful, long day. Our adventures and trials, the way we see the world, makes our lives worthwhile and meaningful. And our friends and family do too, so thank you. Thank you for your emails and comments, for sharing our deep thoughts and other musings. While I have not managed to catch-up, I am sustained and motivated by your thoughtfulness and kindness.


Tami @ Lemon Tree Tales said...

Wow, you know I'm only a few miles off the 101 fwy near the San Jose area? I'm glad that you guys finally found a place to rest your weary heads for the night. Steve and I had a similar thing happen to us once in England. It was 1am before we finally found a hotel to stay in. The man at the front desk realized that we were drop-dead exhausted and didn't even bother to officially check us in that night. We took care of that in the morning when we turned in the keys. :-)

Today I noticed that we finally have a little bit of blue skies. So nice to see that rather than smoky white skies with a slight orange tint to the light. Ah well it's fire season in California - just a natural state. Hope everyone at Garage Mahal has a happy 4th! :-)

Em said...

What an adventure! I love reading about your trip and your family. I think you will look back fondly on these memories for many many years to come!

nikkipolani said...

Natalie, I had no idea of the long ordeal. But that photo of Ell River is stunning. And I'm glad you're back safe and sound. Happy Independence Day!

Jennifer said...

No wonder it felt, it feels, so good to be back home. Revel in that -- the laundry will wait.