Saturday, July 24, 2021

On The Road Again

So. We made it to Monterey, and continued seeing deer, right up to arriving at our hotel, which always feels magical. A word (several, in fact) about hotels, and stays... I am so glad I could book places in advance, and be sure of having a place to stay. Sometimes I have just winged it, and been ok. But it felt like the whole world was traveling, and every place we stopped there were people in the lobbies hoping for a room, and when a room was available they were quoted prices much much higher than what we paid. Yikes! I was eager to get through San Francisco. Just navigate the maze of that city, get over the Bridge, and start escaping the last of the urban centers, until Portland. I used to have a huge crush on SF, and now it's more like a fond rememberance. It's crazy there, and without definite plans, a dedicated, secure parking space, and lots of time, I can't deal. We were in stop and go traffic, which is actually easier to manage than whizzing through at break-neck speed. So we just admired the houses, like fancy cupcakes all crammed together, and made it to the Golden Gate. We almost lived there, when Geoff was offered a position at ILM, and as exciting as that prospect was, I think we made the right choice... things I think about when we drive through Golden Gate Park, and passed the Presidio.

There must be things I am not thinking of. Things we saw or did, observed, laughed about, between San Francisco and Willits. Aha! Yes. As we zoomed through MarinTiburonSasaulitoCorteMadera, William saw Amy's Drive-Thru and we made an actual note about stopping there on the way home. FYI, a very good decision. (Amy's Drive-Thru is not a sponsor, but if they want to work with me, I will gladly sing their praises.)

Where were we?

Ok, here is another instance of me just being full of information that I can't help sharing. Back in 2018, when I rented a van from Portland, and came south with William, Alex, Max, and Maria, I was anticipating driving through Willits. Only it never came. No charming motels, old storefronts, no sign across the two lane highway, Gateway to The Redwoods. It was a big letdown. Later I figured out that they got bypassed, when road improvements were made to the 101. So, if you want to see Willits, and the Gateway to The Redwoods sign, then you have to exit the 101, slow down, and drive through the town. I think it's worthwhile, and it's only a brief deviation from the fast route. And because I was not going to miss it this time, I was rewarded with an unexpected treat, that actually became a trip highlight! I saw a fruit-stand right at the outskirts of town. We love fruit stands, and local produce, farmers. I pulled over, expecting to buy a bag of cherries, but! They had jicama, mangoes, pepinos, limón, Tajín! It was 98 degrees F in the shade, and almost like being in the middle of nowhere, and here was the most nostalgic temptation that I could never have imagined! He sliced everything up and squeezed fresh lime juice over each layer, and I have never had a more refreshing, delicious road-trip snack in my life! We loved our fruit cup! Are you going south or north on the 101, along the Redwood Highway? Stop at the south, or the north end of Willits, and you will see one of two humble fruit stands... ask for a mango cup, with jicama, and cucumber, get lime juice and some Tajín. It's so yummy.

The End.

Just kidding. But I do like to pause, and appreciate points in the trip, when I can honestly, say "It was worth it, just for this _____."
The Benbow Inn. We discovered this place the first time we drove to Oregon. It was November 2005, and we'd camped the night before. This place was serving breakfast, and everything was so pretty, warm, and inviting. It was a welcome stop on a long drive, with four young children. I remember Alex and Max playing chess, the fireplace, and William recalling details of the Benbow Inn from Treasure Island. The deep patio on the back overlooks the Eel River, and it comes just after you pass Richardson Grove State Park, and just as the whole drive is really feeling like a getaway. We got cold drinks, this time, and stretched our legs.
Nothing can come close to describing how I love these woods. I won't even try. I can say this much, it makes me cry, makes me vibrate, thinking of them, and I did not want to leave. All the rest of the trip we would revisit a conversation that began here, about coming back, with some friends, and staying for a few days, at least. We planned every bit. I did try to make reservations, for this trip, to camp here, which would have been a colossal pain. Every site was booked. The pain would have been totally worth it.
Another hotel. Another win! We made it to Eureka. And we left 100 degree weather for deep fog, and temperatures in the 50s! For all of my love of the woods, and the river, and the majesty of nature... I cannot deny that what awaited us at the next hotel was sheer delight. I had no idea we were in for such a low-key yet totally amusing and relaxing experience at this stop. We came prepared for the possibility that maybe we might swim, and I am so glad we dared ourselves to just go check it out. There were tiki torches brightening the sunset sky, Hawaiian slack key was playing, and families were unwinding at the pool, hot tub, and many tables. There was ping pong, and enough space for everyone to spread out and feel at ease. We didn't even mind the bracing walk back to our room, after the long swim. We ate apples, cheese, and crackers from home, for dinner, and slept soundly.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Castles, Zebras, & Nepenthes

We were staying on schedule, mostly. The traffic through Los Angeles, and up to Santa Barbara threw off the master plan, but one thing I am good at is amending the master plan. We kept our visits to San Luis Obispo, and Cambria, short and sweet, fulfilling the goblet quest, filling up the gas tank, grabbing veggie wraps at Trader Joes, and popping into Spellbound. Ahead: San Simeon, Limekiln, cold drinks at Nepenthes, then sweet dreams in Monterey. Of course it's the stuff that happens off of the agenda that makes a road trip an adventure.

We stopped to see elephant seals. We were in luck for views... of the coast, the seals, shore birds, even Hearst's Castle was visible. My photograph, testing the limits of the iPhone zoom, looks like a watercolor painting, which I love. The unexpected sight? The legendary zebras! These are the descendants of the original zebras in William Randolph Hearst's zoo at La Cuesta Encantada. I've never seen them before! Actually, we spent the entire stop squinting our eyes, zooming in with the phone, and debating... are they? Zebras? Donkeys? Finally, I decided their posture was too proud, too elegant for donkeys, and it made a better story to say, "We saw the famous Zebras at San Simeon!" Then we drove away, and half a mile up the road William declared with a knowing smile in his voice, "Oh, yeah. It's for certain. They are zebras!" I kept my eyes on the highway, but William and Maria described the clear as day zebras grazing in plain sight.

The road to Big Sur requires total focus, and for me, nerves of steel. I prefer taking it south to north, so at least I am not on the cliff side. It winds on and on, seemingly forever. My reward? A stop at Limekiln, where we could hike up the narrow canyon from the ocean, into redwood shaded spaces, beside a creek. There was some concern about the time, but I assured William and Maria, that even if all I could do was sit for ten minutes, beneath trees, and take slow, deep breaths of evergreen, moss, and listen to running water, it would all be worthwhile... the entire drive, the waiting, and planning, all of it, just for those moments in a favorite place. When at last I saw the turn-off, I could almost taste the relief and I was willing to finish the rest of the drive in the dusk light, because this was going to be so worthwhile. And then we learned from the park ranger at the kiosk... due to fires and storm run-off, with mudslides, the park trails are closed until later this summer.

I don't know what made me sadder... not getting to fulfill this wish, or knowing that yet another beloved place had been hit by fire. My personal desires pale in comparison with my wish that we were doing more to protect our planet, and the conflict of driving, polluting, so I could visit natural wonders and see my family, weighed on me. Ahead were more turns, curves, drop-offs, signs of rock slides, and evidence of our insistence on taming nature so we can have access to spaces. I don't come through here often, and when I do, I feel fortunate, maybe even greedy, and I allow that this might not always be possible. I feel thankful, and humble. And hungry. I thought drinks would be a nice treat at Nepenthes, but what with the let down about Limekiln, and hours of driving ahead, I decided we were due a splurge. When Maria asked about dinner plans, I suggested we might have dinner at Nepenthes, and she gasped about the prices. I explained, it's like paying some rent... with dinner we will have a breathtaking view, in a historic and sentimental place, and sometimes we must gift ourselves special treats, then I broke out in song... "Order what you will! There'll be no bill. It's complimentary!"
We rented the space for a long and leisurely time, enjoyed the laughter and joyful mood of a large party celebrating a 90th birthday. We browsed the shop, took in views from many angles, reminded ourselves that this was the very place that inspired the style and spirit of our deck and wall, and recalled other times we had the honor and pleasure of stopping here... going way back! Even further back!
The sun sets late in early July, and later the further north we drove. We were well fed, relaxed, and feeling comfortable, so the last hour or so, of driving to our hotel in Monterey was pleasant, and we stopped to take pictures of the deer. I pulled over every time someone was behind us, "Go around. I'm not in any hurry." We saw a lot of deer, and the Bixby Bridge, blackberry brambles, deep valleys, and steep cliffs. We rode into Monterey with happy memories, and new ideas. I love the new ideas that begin formualting on a road trip, when we already begin talking about next time.