A Summer Without Makeup OR This is Me Kicking Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder’s Ass

Dear Diary,

Dearest, you took these journeys with me in posts this summer 2015, but pictures are worth a thousand words. This is me pushing beyond the fear, the doubt, and the pain to conquer them all.

If I can do it, anybody can.

In order of appearance; Crystal Cove (So Cali), Icehouse Trail, Mt. Baldy (So. Cali), Toroweap Overlook, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona),  Pink Coral Sand Dunes (Utah), Slot Canyon (Utah), Pine Lake (Utah), Red Canyon (Utah), Side Canyon, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Point Sublime, North Rim of the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Gold Bluffs Beach, (Northern Cali), Fern Canyon (Northern Cali), Cedar Glen, Mt. San Antonio (So. Cali), Havasu Canyon/Havasu Falls/Mooney Falls, All on the Havasupai Indian Reservation (Arizona).

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Until next time dearest.

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Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

Pacific Coast Highway Day 8 – Cannon Beach to Seattle/ Trip Conspectus

Dear Diary,

To be more accurate this post should say; Pacific Coast Highway – Cannon Beach to Astoria, because it was there I decided to head inland and catch the 5 freeway to Seattle, which I easily made in 4 hours.

My reasons for hightailing it to Seattle?  After 7 days on Pacific Coast Highway I was tired and longed to be at my destination where I would spend more than one night, I had finally found the answers I was looking for and more, and finally the Astoria Bridge.

Have you ever seen that bridge in Astoria over the Columbia River? Yikes! Truthfully, that was the tie breaker. If I had just started out on this trek I would’ve said “hell yeah let’s do this”, but I was 7 days into some pretty challenging driving solo.

In short…it scared the crap out of me. If I wanted to drive on water I’d ask Jesus to take the wheel, but I don’t. ‘Nuff said.

Astoria Bridge

Now for the good part of this story…Seattle.

I pulled into town with the usual metropolis view of high-rises and traffic, traffic everywhere.  Any big city can be so intimidating, especially when you have absolutely no idea where you are. But when I finally landed…

Oh. My. Gosh.

Seattle is so much more than I imagined. It reminds me of this coast’s most southern city (San Diego) for how clean it is. Like a sparkling gem between the blue of the sky and the blue of the water (the weather was on it’s best behavior while I was there).

I was a shameless tourist from that point on. I spent time at Pike’s Place Market which has been continuously in operation since it opened in 1907.

PikesMarket

I spent all day here and in Pioneer Square. Just a few words that come to mind when I think of this place…

History, people, coffee, wine, cheese, fish, art, books, music, blue sky, white clouds…never mind, too many wonderful words come to mind and I’ll lose you.

I took a photo of this totem pole, and what is most prevalent is the unbelievably beautiful sky, I just couldn’t get enough of it.

Seattlesky

…and yet another of Pioneer Square…

Seattlesky2

Which sits on Elliot Bay…

Seattleport…and as a shameless tourist how could I leave out the Space Needle?

SpaceNeedle

It was an absolute pleasure to walk this part of town (the only part I got to see actually) where even the alleys were clean and lovely…is it a law to maintain them this way? LA might want to think about incorporating it if so…

Seattlealley

They say there is 697 things to do in Seattle and I’m a little mad at myself that I only did about 4 (I really really wanted to take the underground tour but ran out of time), so I have much work to do when I go back someday. That’s the only way I could bear to say good-bye to most of the places I landed on this trip…to promise myself I would be back (sorry Eureka and Gold Beach, you didn’t make the cut) and soon.

When I finally headed home I was changed. This trip had cleansed my soul and enabled so many truths to bubble up to my sphere of awareness over the 3,000 miles I traveled. The foremost of these is one truth that I have made my mantra.

Guard Your Hope…Not Your Heart.

I had been given the heart of so many and given mine as often on this trip. With the care of God and strangers (including the ghostly friend I made) I was lifted up to see above and beyond the physical, emotional, and soulful pain I had started this journey with.

I was healed in every sense of the word.

Our hearts are meant to be given with abandon to whomever would take or even steal it. Naturally along with all of the rewards of giving your heart, there will be those that break, betray, and reject it…but those are the exceptions, and the heart will recover (even when it seems it never will).

Love is the greatest gift of all, and although it sounds existential, I believe you really do get back what you put out there. So give it wantonly and without limitations or conditions.

But hold onto your hope. Guard it jealously and never let it be lost or stolen. Feed it with the good times to sustain it through the hard times when hope is all that is left. Hope and faith seem so fragile, but they are stronger than we know and are able to guide us through anything.

And I mean anything.

There would be much work to do after I got home to repair the damage done to our relationship…but both my husband and I had been changed by my solo trip and we would start that work as soon as I landed at my front door.

If I ever forget to not be afraid of an uncertain future, how strong I am with only God to guide me, or what it feels like to be very far away from my comfort zone…I shall again hop into my trusty steed and head out to horizons unknown.

As should you, if you don’t know the answer to…WOULD I BE ALRIGHT ALONE?

I now know the answer for me, but you need to find the answer for you.

Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible Mustang GT by myself Bucket List Item – check.

This is not the end of my journey dear diary, after returning home we purchased a Harley Davidson motorcycle (I know riiiiiiiight?) and the adventures started anew…

‘Til next time.

 

 

Pacific Coast Highway Day 7 – Yachats to Cannon Beach, Oregon

Dear Diary,

Seven is an extraordinary number, and it would hold true for this day as well.

I had another short 4 hour driving day so I had enjoyed a leisurely morning (except for that last bit where I was going to be left alone in the haunted house, that lit a fire under me).

Pacific Coast Highway and I had become quite comfortable together. It meandered inland and back to the coast often, and every time the sea would become visible it presented itself as a new and changed panorama. Because I felt compelled to stop so many times to take photos (and quite a few stops due to road/bridge repair), the drive actually took me 6 hours.

Can you blame me?

SoOregoncoast1

SoOregoncoast2

I was looking forward to passing through Tillamook, if only because just saying the name makes me so happy. Why? Because my favorite cheese bears the same name, and who doesn’t get happy when they think of cheese?

And thinking of cheese made me think of Mexican food, and despite having left Heceta Head with a full stomach, I suddenly knew I couldn’t go on without being fortified with it. I found a wonderful Mexican restaurant and sated my craving.

The turnoff to Cannon Beach is a little confusing, and I passed it twice before I got it right. When I finally found my hotel, I was tired of being in the car and was looking forward to checking into my room.

At this point I had not laid eyes on the actual beach yet, and the business of checking-in, finding a parking space (evidently this is a popular spot), and schlepping my luggage up to the 4th floor and into my room had kept me from it.

When I finally walked out onto my veranda and laid my weary eyes on this place, I found myself looking in awe at one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Top three anyway.

William Clark (of Lewis and Clark) said it best when he first saw what would become Cannon Beach in 1806, “…the grandest and most pleasing prospects which my eyes ever surveyed, in front of a boundless Ocean…”

The more modern National Geographic has named it in the top 100 most beautiful places in the world.

I kicked my shoes off, grabbed my camera, and hit the sand just outside of my room.

My sorry excuse for photos cannot begin to capture the splendor of Cannon Beach, but I must share them anyway.

Haystack Rock, and southern end of the beach. See those tiny specks just left of haystack rock? Those are people next to the 235 ft. Cannon Beach landmark.

CannonBeach3

And another I took from my room…

Haystack RockI still had plenty of daylight left, so I intended to walk the entirety of the 4 mile long beach. I walked in the soft sand to the wet hard packed sand nearer the breaking waves and headed south.

I made it to “The Needles” which is just south of Haystack Rock before I noticed that I was the only one without shoes on (because my feet were so cold I was actually losing feeling in them). What a TOURIST!

The Needles…

The Needles at Cannon Beach

As exquisite as this was, I was losing the fight with my will to keep going. My feet were numb, and my meager wind breaker was not living up to its name. I was dang cold.

And cold is my kryptonite.

I turned around and headed north back to the glorious view from my room.

Here is the north beach view as I stand in front (or is it the back) of my hotel.

Cannonbeach2This is when I caught sight of the lighthouse on the rock that sits far out in the ocean all by itself. Tillamook Lighthouse. Terrible Tilly.

A zoomed view…

Tillamooklighthouse1Here is another photo I took in the morning…

Tillamook LighthouseI am both fascinated and horrified at this lighthouse and it’s history. Fascinated because despite it’s extraordinarily harsh conditions for lighthouse keepers and expensive repairs, Tilly shone it’s light for 77 years.

tillamook2_js

Horrified because it is now privately owned and used as a columbarium, where for a couple of thousand clams you can rest (how restful can it be?) your ashes. Only problem is the owners lost their license due to poor record keeping (in other words not knowing who is where), ashes are being kept on boards and cinder blocks (not niches), the place is covered in guano and the roof leaks (if the US couldn’t afford the upkeep, how did they expect to?), and at least 2 urns were stolen by vandals. Ew.

I headed up to my room to warm up and watch the sunset.

I started the gas fire in the fireplace (no more real fires for me), and sat and stared at Cannon Beach’s glory so that every piece of it is etched in my memory.

And it is.

The sunset could not last long enough to suit me. Each picture I snapped mirrored a different image of the same vista, each one more glorious than the one before it until it was lost completely to the night…

Cannonbeachsunset1

Cannonbeachsunset2Cannonbeachsunset3Cannonbeachsunset4Cannonbeachsunset5Cannonbeachsunset6

Only the sound of the waves remained.

I thanked God for making this beautiful place.

I had experienced two nights of sleep lost to angst so the posh bathroom was a gift from heaven. I filled the sunken tub with hot water and bubble bath and promptly melted into it’s soothing depths.

I felt many of the twists in my too tight rubber band around my soul let go.

A preface for the epiphanies that followed in rapid succession as if they were always there and I had not noticed them before.

Maybe they were.

The secret to happiness is;  accepting things the way they are. So simple, why had it alluded me?

The root of unhappiness conversely is; wanting things differently than how they are. Like insisting the current of a river flow differently than it is. No matter how hard we swim against it, it will continue to flow the way it is supposed to.

Then the answer to the question I had so desperately sought…WOULD I BE ALRIGHT ALONE?

Yes. Yes because I am always alone, and never alone. We all are.

Always alone because it is only us who can walk our own path. Others move in and out of our lives, some stay a short time while others stay longer to walk beside us, but we can only breathe in our own breath, think our own thoughts, live our own life, and die our only death.

Never alone because we have God who takes every step with us, who loves us when we are unlovable, carries us when we fall, sustains us when we are weak, comforts us when we are hurt, and gives us hope when all else is gone.

Never alone because we have each other. A whole world of people who are human… together.

And the secret to being at peace with it all? Time.

Time away from phones, TV, the internet (ironic I know since I’m on it right now, but I wasn’t then), and the people who require so much of us; families, bosses, employees, customers, friends, etc. Time away from the sensory overload we know as routine, but is really a dangerous addiction.

Time for beauty, time for solitude, time for thought, time for God, time to breathe, time to mourn, time to find joy, time to forgive, time to be thankful, time for hope.

Our time is now. This is all we get, and to waste any of it being afraid, worrying, hating, angry, stressed, distracted, envious or any other thing that takes away rather than add to the quality of our lives is time we never get back.

Easier said than done, I know.

I think the saddest thing on Earth would be to take our last breath and realize we never lived the life we were meant to.

Don’t worry, there’s still time.

Until next post dear reader (I mean diary).

 

 

 

 

Pacific Coast Highway Day 5 – Trinidad CA to Gold Beach OR

Dear Diary,

Setting Gold Beach as a destination was an afterthought. I had held off deciding to go there until well into this trip. I don’t know why I had such a hard time committing.

I suspect it was because I really didn’t want to go there. For my sake anyway.

Let it be a lesson to all when we do something because we think someone else would like it, things are bound to go awry.

But it started out magical.

Waking up in Trinidad was as good as going to sleep there. I had breakfast in the dining room of the B&B with the lovely couple I had met the day before at Patrick’s Point.

Back into my Mustang, and I was off to parts unknown. Well not unknown, just unfamiliar. I was armed with my maps and sketchy AT&T wireless GPS app service.

If I was on the East Coast, I would have been through 7 or 8 states by now, and finally today I would be leaving my beloved California.

But not before paying homage to my favorite trees, the California Redwoods. I set off for the Newton P. Drury Scenic Parkway which was 30 miles north of Trinidad off of Highway 101, 10 miles of old growth forest. Heaven on Earth.

Just before I reached the Parkway, I saw a sign that said Elk Meadow, home of a large herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Why not? I had plenty of time.

About a quarter mile down the road I had turned onto, I came upon the vast meadow. Gorgeous, but no elk. I went on to the day use area and parked the pony to take a look around.

My car was the second car in the parking lot. There was a group of people mulling around (obviously with the other car) that eyed me suspiciously. Well now…wasn’t that a switch? I was only wearing my pink Monterey wind breaker, not the whole Hello Kitty ensemble. It had to be because I was traveling solo, that was a kind of triumph itself.

An inviting path lead to an old growth forest. It was calling my name.

I grabbed some water and headed out. The first thing I came to when the path led alongside the meadow was this sign.

Wild ElkI really would like to meet the person who needs to be told; Danger, do not approach wild elk on foot.

Maybe I don’t want to meet that person, ’cause even a dyed in the wool city girl knows better. Besides, I make it a habit not to approach animals bigger than me – wild or not.

I followed the path into the forest, where I happily followed it along until I was completely surrounded by ancient redwoods.

Anybody who has stood in a Redwood Forest can tell you it renders one reverently speechless. When able to speak again, it is only while fighting the urge to whisper.

I had no need to talk. I listened while they talked.

As the breeze high in the treetops rustled their leaves, it’s as though they were whispering their thousand year old secrets to each other in a language that we mere mortals are not able to understand.

I was an audience to Ents in Lord of the Rings, except better because these are real.

There are some trees in what’s left of the old growth forests that are thousands of years old. It boggles the mind to think that they were here before the birth of Christ.

The carpeted forest was silent under my footsteps. Only the sound of the trees could be heard. The noise in my mind and the rest of the world disappeared.

I continued down the path and was rewarded with trees larger and taller. A few photos might help illustrate their size…or not.

The trail is about 3 feet wide.

Redwood1

I felt like Alice In Redwoodland (after shrinking) next to the roots of this fallen monarch.

Redwood 2

The trail is still 3 feet wide winding around the tree base.

Redwood 3

I came upon a small waterfall and babbling creek that was as surreal as the centurions surrounding it. I had to stop and breathe in it’s enchantment. Really breathe.

Redwoods4

I couldn’t help but think about how cavalierly I had pulled off the road to see this place,  no inkling at how magical all of it would be. No elk? No problem.

As I stood there lost in the moment, I heard a long, deep, and nearby GROWL.

Well now, didn’t this day just get value added.

The brain in fight or flight mode is amazing.  In a millisecond I had already (belatedly) established some alarming facts.

  • I had no weapon.
  • I had no cell coverage.
  • I had no idea how far away from the trailhead I was.
  • I had seen no sign of any other human being for at least an hour, so nobody would hear me scream.
  • Nobody would miss me in at least a week.
  • I do not have survival skills outside of the ability to find parking in LA.
  • I do not own a whistle.
  • I have no idea what kind of animal would make that sound except it is not small.
  • If they are a carnivore (what else would growl), they can already smell my terror so pretending to be a bad ass would be moot.
  • I must run for my life.

I also remembered my Mom telling me to never, ever turn and run from something that is challenging you. Good job brain indexer, you pulled that out from deep in the annals of time. I backed up slowly for about four steps and abandoned all good advice.

I turned and ran like the wind.

Did I say like the wind? Within a minute I was gasping for breath, my knees and ankles were protesting so loudly I was sure it was audible. Let’s face it, if whatever had growled really wanted to eat me, I’d already have been a Scooby snack with pink icing.

I made haste (I wish I could say I ran) toward the trailhead and the protection of my pony. I was outta there.

I will go back someday, but not without an Eagle Scout or equivalent flanking me.

I made my way back to PCH (here known as Redwood Hwy 101) and got back on track. I crossed over the Klamath river, and finally back to the coast.

My pony and I stopped for a north coast photo op and to put up the convertible top. Not sure why, maybe because I still felt a little exposed after my near encounter with who knows what.

No Cali PCH

I headed into Crescent City which was just as quaint as I had always imagined it. I used to daydream about opening up a B&B there (a guilty pleasure of mine is dreaming of opening B&B’s in places I choose on the map, don’t judge).

That was until I learned of the tsunamis. It happens to be the tsunami capitol of the US and was nearly wiped out in 1964 as a result of the 9.2 Alaska quake.

Crescent City 1964Poor Crescent City is basically at the mercy of any quake occurring in the Pacific Ocean. The topography of the sea floor near Crescent City creates a “funnel” that proves problematic for this place. Since 1933, there have been 31 tsunamis occur.

I would have loved to stay and explore the city’s lighthouses and other points of interest, but the only thing I stopped to enjoy is Starbucks. As if my poor little ticker needed any more stimulation after the events of the morning, but it was necessary to restore my sense of civility.

25 more miles and I bade farewell to California and hello to Oregon.

Norcalicoast

Southern Oregon is stunning. I am not accustomed to seeing the magnificent sand dunes transitioning into rocky shore line and back. It’s untamed, and this stretch of highway plays peak-a-boo with the sea behind groves of trees. The beaches are littered with drift wood, grass, dunes, and trees. Simply Gorgeous.

And cold. I’m used to temperate weather year round, and admit I’m spoiled rotten in that regard.

I passed through Brookings and headed still northward 30 miles toward Gold Beach.

Brookings, OR

and another stunner…

Brookings 2

I had an issue getting gas in Gold Beach. I didn’t know that you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. The last time I saw a gas station employee pump gas in California I was barely old enough to see out of the window of the car in the back seat, so when I stopped and some little man came bounding out of the office and demanded my debit card, naturally I balked.

“Why do you need my debit card?” I asked, “I can pump my own gas.”

He replied with his hand still out, “Not here you won’t.”

By here I thought he meant this gas station. I groaned at the thought that I had picked a quirky place to fill up, but I had to go pee too bad to find another.

I handed my debit card over to a stranger…and for a moment I couldn’t let go even after I held it out and he took hold of it. I told you we in LA have trust issues.

I literally ran to the restrooms (this means I ran twice in one day…kind of a big deal for me), and as I dried my hands on my pants instead of the 50’s style cloth loop that went round and round over the sink (Ew), I was chuckling to myself about him not having my PIN so he couldn’t use my debit card. Silly rabbit.

When I came back to my steed, he handed me my card and told me to have a nice day. My tank was full and he charged my debit card without my PIN or signature? What episode of Twilight Zone was I in?

The lodge I booked was inland along the Rogue River. I didn’t necessarily have a burning desire to stay there, but my hubby has always been fascinated by the Rogue River mail boats of renown. I told him I would check it out.

Not the Rogue River mail boats was I checking out mind you, I have no desire to spend the day speeding up the river at 110 mph (not really, just seems like it) with my hair on fire. That is something we do regularly in Arizona on the Colorado River when Mr. Energizer Bunny is at the wheel of our boat.

I would check out the Rogue River on it’s shores from the room I had booked at the lodge. I had high expectations as this was the most expensive accommodation among the seven on the northbound part of this trip.

I checked in and was of course wowed by my room. I knew I would be, as I had seen photos of it online. Of course no photo is as good as the real thing. Tututon RoomAnd there it was, the object of my instantaneous obsession…the real fireplace with real wood for a real fire.

I suppose I should explain. I have only ever had a very rare occasion to have a fire (other than duraflame logs), and when we do my hubby insists upon doing the honors since I am fire-starting challenged.

Not this time kemosabe. The fireplace is mine, all mine wahahahahahaha.

It even had the firewood and kindling all set up ready to be lit. I just had to wait for nightfall.

The meal plan is quite pricey and a big deal at this place and most guests indulge since there is no place near to eat. Not me. Being in close proximity to strangers is exactly what I was trying to get away from. The gourmet meals and wine are served “family style” and just not my cup of tea. It seemed a little pretentious, and when I looked in while it was happening, I was right. But to each his/her own.

I enjoyed my PB&J with trail mix and water on my own veranda overlooking the river. It was beautiful, but not as placid as I had thought. There was a road just across the river (hidden by the trees) and I could hear logging trucks downshifting and Jake braking. The little dock in this photo is where the mail boats pick up guests for the adventure.

verandaview

The couple next to me had a small outside Jacuzzi and although I couldn’t see them, I could hear them just fine. They were enjoying a romantic rendezvous away from their respective spouses.

Awkward.

I took the opportunity to walk along the river which was lovely. I achingly missed my hubby for the first time in 5 days. He would love this place (except for the pretentious part). I got a little melancholy and went back to my room.

Rogueriverwalk

Since I had opted out of the meal plan, the office had given me a paper to fill out with what time I would like the complimentary coffee delivered to my room, which I was to fill out and hang on my doorknob where they would pick it up by 6 pm. Nobody ever picked it up.

I was starting to feel invisible.

I decided to take a nice hot bath. I had time to burn until sundown and was feeling a little sore from my “runs” earlier in the day. The drain plug wouldn’t work. Dang it all.

At least I had the fire to look forward to. I sat on the veranda and watched the sun set while it got colder and colder outside. Perfect. Finally.

I put flame to fire. I probably was licking my lips or something equally as compulsive while I sated the pyro in me.

The fire blazed into existence and my room started to warm up. I finally had phone reception and talked to my family sitting next to the warm fire overlooking the cold Rogue River outside. Queue the deer and bald eagle.

As the conversations on the phone wound down, so did my fire. I had exhausted the wood in the fireplace as well as what was provided in the little basket on the hearth. No matter, the receptionist said there was a wood pile on either side of the stair case.

I filled my arms and returned to my room and my fire where I stoked it back up and settled down in my comfy bed to check my bank activity, check in on social media, and my email.

I was appalled when I saw the $150.00 charge on my debit card for gas. I KNEW IT! My first day in Oregon and I get ripped off at the gas station? I was really mad. I couldn’t wait to call the bank in the morning. Argh.

After all of my online activity I stoked up the fire again and shut down the lights for a well earned nights sleep. The smell of the fire and the shadow of flames on the wall were delicious. I would have to stay in a room with real fire more often.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep when I awoke to the unmistakable ear splitting sound of the smoke alarm. It took me a second to get my bearings and jump out of bed to try and figure out what was wrong. There was definitely smoke in the room, so I threw open the floor to ceiling glass veranda doors and propped open the entrance door to get fresh air flowing.

The alarm was so loud I am sure I woke everyone in the entire lodge up. The damn thing just wouldn’t stop. I was so embarrassed I could’ve died right there. I certainly wasn’t invisible anymore, not in a good way.

After the alarm finally stopped chirping, I closed the entrance door to my room but was afraid to close the big glass doors to the veranda, so I left them open. I finally went to sleep with my teeth chattering hours later, not too long before dawn.

I still have no idea what I did wrong. When I told my husband about it, he laughed saying the flue probably needed cleaning or something. I still cringe at the memory.

I had a short driving day so I waited until all of the cars in the parking lot were gone to check out. I used that time to call the bank and raise heck about the troll that ripped me off. Customer service explained to me that the $150.00 was just to hold funds until the actual fee of $50.00 came through.

Oh geez, I’d wrongly accused that poor man. I still feel bad about it.

After I slithered down to check out (sans complimentary coffee), I felt compelled to confess to the receptionist while I waited for my receipt, “I was the one who made the fire alarm go off last night. I hope I didn’t disturb any of your other guests.”

She laughed and said, “Oh don’t worry about it, it happens all the time.”

God bless her.

Until next time dear diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Coast Highway Day 4 – Gualala to Trinidad, CA

Dear Diary,

I can describe Northern California in just one word – Spectacular.

But again, I am getting ahead of myself.

Maybe because I knew I would have the shortest drive day thus far ahead of me, or maybe feeling accomplished (having conquered a part of Highway 1 the day before that made the stretch between Carmel and Montereey look like driver’s ed), or maybe just being awoken by a gentle surf, I rose with such a feeling of tranquility.

I would say that on a map Gualala is unremarkable, but my soul had been fed by the Gualala River/Pacific Ocean estuary outside of my window, the redwoods at my back, and the incredible South African transplant I had met the afternoon before. Gualala is quite remarkable in that regard.

I also got to meet and speak with another transplanted (from my area – LA) very young couple who managed the motel where I stayed. They had moved here to make a go of the solitude of this place and hopefully start a family.

I encouraged them to tell me how they felt about their relatively new digs over the complimentary continental breakfast served in the motel office. This is another perk of traveling alone. There is nobody demanding your attention, so you have the luxury of directing it toward absorbing what the moment is offering.

Remember, my husband is the energizer bunny with the AAA personality type. He is always pushing me to hurry, hurry, hurry which leaves no time for anything but the task at hand.

The couple told me they loved Gualala, but the transition had been difficult. The nearest Walmart was 3 hours away (driving time one way) and while they had chosen this place because of it’s remote location, they found themselves longing for the option of stimulation (restaurants, theater, museums, sporting events, amusement parks, etc.) and conveniences (groceries, shopping malls, medical/dental care, etc.) that we who dwell in the city take for granted.

Still, they were not going back. The traffic, fight for parking, crime, cost of living, and the lines you must stand in for ANYTHING kept them on track to continue to adjust. What fantastic role models for braving new frontiers they were.

Yet another notch in my fascinating people belt.

With both my soul and stomach satiated, I packed the pony, put the top down, and hit the road again. I was blazing an unfamiliar trail from here on out. There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation of penetrating the perimeters of the familiar, liberating yourself from the chains of your own making that bind you to your quotidian.

I was ever so slightly becoming aware of something else. Just a dawn of awareness if you will.  The only way I can describe it is something twisted, turned, and pulled too tight. Like a rubber band when you twist it around and around while pulling it between your fingers to the point right before it breaks. The pinch points seem to be at each end, but in reality is every twist in-between.

I am not big on self-awareness, not because I have anything against it, I just never had time for such a self-indulgence. When self-awareness has crept in on its own in the past, it was usually as a result of a tragedy or horror. Not anything I wanted to spend any time analyzing that’s for sure.

What I was feeling was entirely new. A gentle awakening. A look inside that however fleeting, was generated by a calm desire to understand the obstacles lying between where I was, and where I wanted to be.

I also become aware that this journey was both physical and metaphysical. This is not something I had planned. Was it as a result of me taking this journey alone? Was it as a result of the time and distance I had put between the year’s events?

All I wanted to accomplish with this trip was to answer the question…WOULD I BE ALRIGHT ALONE. I still didn’t have an answer, nor did I have an answer for all of the rest of what was happening. It seemed like I was becoming more of a mess than I was straightening myself out.

The drive between Gualala to the point where I would turn back inland to join the 101 again was nothing less than stunning, and what I had envisioned when planning this journey. The sea became much more untamed than So Cali’s beaches, and I drove so close alongside it that I could feel the spray, taste the salt, and smell its incomparable fragrance.

Fort Bragg

Who needs Calgon? Take me away Pacific.

For the first time I was eager to go inland. I was looking forward to driving through forests of my favorite tree – the California Redwood.

Let me say I am not what you would consider a tree hugger, but when it comes to this tree I would do whatever it took to preserve it. The tallest and longest living tree in the world grows only in this place.

My love affair with these ancient living monoliths began when I first laid eyes on them as a little girl. My mother introduced me to them and her love for them was infectious. She in fact wants her ashes spread among them which is going to be a trick, since I’m sure that’s probably illegal.

I digress.

Since our first meeting, I have spent time with them but in inland places like Sequoia and King’s Canyon Nat’l Parks. Never enough time.

The old growth forests, like its mammalian equivalents the land elephant and ocean whales, were logged nearly into extinction. The giants were so threatened by tourists and loggers alike that the “Save the Redwoods League” was formed at the turn of the century and the preservation fight that continues today was born.

Since it takes a redwood tree 100 to 200 years to mature, every Californian (and for that matter everyone everywhere) should be concerned for their future safety.

Reacquainting myself with them by foot by way of the Newton B. Drury bypass was planned for tomorrow, for today I planned to enjoy them from my convertible by way of highway 271 (old highway 101) that parallels the new highway, but would allow me to drive through the forest on just two lanes.

It didn’t disappoint. I followed the Eel River through these magnificent trees for 31 miles.

Eel River

The sun dappled road and the perfume from these one-of-a-kind trees is like no other. It was so much warmer here that I was actually shedding layers as I drove. The sweet explosion to my senses was intoxicating. A one-dimensional photo leaves so much to be desired in capturing the experience.

giants1

I joined the 101 again to its 8 lane meander through this magnificent stretch of land as it bypasses the Lost Coast, and coincidentally the object of my Next Big Thing.

As I finally got closer to the coast again, the weather changed dramatically from sunny and warm to grey, wet, and cold. I approached Eureka with much anticipation, since I knew this place was lousy with old Victorian homes and a colorful history that only a town built by salty seamen and brawny loggers could render.

I kept putting back on layers with my pink t-shirt, pink sweatshirt, pink ball cap, and finally my new pink Monterey wind breaker with the hood pulled tightly over my ball cap as it started to sprinkle.

Hello Kitty does Pacific Coast Highway.

As I entered into Eureka I was met with a much different sight than I expected, which attributed to it being dramatically worse in my memory than it actually was.

Good people of Eureka, forgive me in advance of what I am about to say.

There was people wandering everywhere on the street in the middle of the weekday, and they seemed to be walking in a daze like zombies. I would later confirm this with a Eureka resident I met in Redding, Eureka has a serious drug problem.

There was quite a bit of police activity, and I became painfully aware that my purse and canon camera were laying on the passenger seat in my convertible for anyone to grab. I felt scared and vulnerable. I didn’t even feel safe enough to pull over and put the convertible top up.

The outskirts of town (despite being on the coast), were industrial and for lack of a better word…ugly. Why had San Francisco done such a good job with its shipping docks, and Eureka so poorly?

In a word…money. Eureka’s long financial descent started with the gold and lumber booms ending over the last century, then the economic hardships of the 70’s, 80’s, and most recently in 2009 had hit this city harder than it could recover from.

I would have thought coming from such a metropolis as the LA area would have better equipped me for this, but I was at a loss to ingest the desperation on Eureka’s streets. In LA prosperity and everything in between co-exist with poverty, but not in this place. There was no tolerance in any of it.

I was so glad I had not planned to bed down here. I couldn’t leave fast enough, and again I apologize to the Eurekans. I know I didn’t give you anything even resembling a chance.

On to my destination of Trinidad, CA. I was terrified at this point that Trinidad was going to be more of the same I had seen in Eureka. I felt very alone and…well, Hello Kittyish. I pulled off of the busy Highway 101 to Trinidad with much trepidation, all the while my mind was scurrying for a plan B.

I was “wowed” as soon as I left the interstate. The sun came out to meet me like a cheerful greeter through the dazzling mossy canopy.

Canopy

I had a heck of a hard time finding where I planned to bed down for the night as it was a Bed and Breakfast and not your standard hotel. While it was beautiful terrain, I was still skeptical about its hospitality.

I finally found my destination and discovered a note on the door “Back in 3 hours”. I knew I was a bit early for check-in, but seriously? Now what was I going to do if I didn’t feel safe here? My window on options was closing fast.

I drove down the street a piece to Patrick’s Point State Park. This photo is not very good (taken from over my windshield again) so you can imagine how green it really was in 3 glorious D.

Patricks Point State Park

Green is not a color I am accustomed to in So. Cali.

After paying the park fee, I struck out with my trusty map of the small park to find, you guessed it, the sea.

I parked and reluctantly left all of my worldly belongings in my trusty steed, and headed out on foot to one of many trails in the park.

And there it was. The mighty Pacific in all her glory.

PatrickPointweb

There was a couple on Outlook Rock (where I took this) that were taking turns snapping photos of each other. I offered to take a photo of them together, and I knew he was from LA by the reluctance with which he handed me his camera.

We have trust issues.

I took the photo and confirmed my suspicions…he was from LA. In fact, he was an oncologist and also on the board of directors for the UCLA cancer research center, where my niece (Susan’s daughter) was working to get her Masters Degree in cellular and molecular biology. When I asked if he knew her, he said he did. Small world eh?

He returned the favor by taking a photo of me with my camera, in all of my Hello Kitty Layers and Steroid Swelled glory.

Outlook & Me

I asked him where he was staying, as this was still a worry for me. He gave me the name of the exact Bed and Breakfast I had booked to stay the night and had found the “be back later” note on.

Thank you God.

It couldn’t be bad if this doctor was staying there. I asked him how he liked it, he stated that they liked it so much they cancelled their plans to spend time in Napa Valley so they could extend their stay.

Thank you again God.

Once again he put someone in my path that renewed my energy, filled me with happiness, and was such a genuine and unique people (both him and his wife) that my life is richer for knowing them.

We parted ways after chatting and I went on to explore the park with a much lighter heart. The sun was beginning its descent and I wanted to take in a little more. The photographic possibilities were endless.

The forest floor…

Forest Floor

The biggest slugs I have ever seen in my life were plentiful (I was careful not to step on one and make a mess of my shoes and their life). Ew.

Giant Slug

I headed back to the B&B and found the door open and my host inside. I had spoken to the owner on the phone when I made the reservation, and at that time she had prompted me to ask if any of the large rooms on the second floor were available for an upgrade.

I did so and she replied “No, we only have the smaller room downstairs available as all of our other guests are staying the week.”

I imagined staying in a coat closet with a toilet.

When I took my key and made my way to my room you can imagine how wrong I was when I opened the door and caught sight of my view.  My Room - Trinidad

Thank you God.

This was the small room? Really? I couldn’t even fit in this photo the office, changing/make-up room (yes a seperate room for that) and ridiculously spacious bathroom, but who cares with this view? And my own stove/heater thingy in my own sitting enclave. I was already sorry I was only staying one night.

I walked out onto the deck and gazed at Turtle Rock outside of my room. Turtle Rock was very loud with barking. What the heck?

I retrieved my hubby’s trusty binoculars (as it turns out the hotel provides them too), and I found the source of the noise…California Sea Lions. They were at the base of the gigantic rock and in the rough water surrounding it.

California Sea Lions Turtle Rock

I found out from the owners that the noise was primarily coming from the male bull of this harem and all of the young males who were attempting to gain access to the rock to rest, challenge, and mate.

The other smaller rocks around Turtle Rock had groups of the pinnipeds as well. I could just make out their shiny coats in the setting sun.

Small colony

I actually went out for a quick meal (opting out of my customary PB&J with trail mix combo) and came back to sit and sip a cup of herbal tea by the fake fire and the most glorious of views.

ViewfromBB

As I sat and watched the sun shine its last rays of the day, I quite unexpectedly felt one of the tight twists in my too tight rubber band give way. The Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder with Autonomic Involvement (ever after thought of as the Lupus Link in my mind) I had been in the fight for my life against for a year suddenly didn’t seem like such a heavy burden.

I was finally at peace with it. Suddenly, and with no conscience effort.

I was again mindful of the enigmatic awareness of what, I wasn’t sure. That peaceful self-awareness that had started my day had also ended it with an incredible gift.

The internal war I had waged against the dark passenger that had ravaged my body was over. I was at peace with the Lupus Link, and if it chose to take my life, then so be it. It has been in God’s hands ever since.

Sometimes the biggest battles are not won with will, but with grace.

Until next time dear diary, I leave you with my Trinidad sunset.

Sunset in Trinidad

Pacific Coast Highway Day 3 – Monterey to Gualala, CA

Dear Diary,

I planned on navigating San Francisico on a Sunday because I have been there often enough to know that traffic, like any other large city, can be a headache.

I didn’t want any headaches.

What I didn’t plan into this little scenario of mine was Mother’s Day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was reluctant to say good-bye to Monterey. It is a destination unto itself, and although I’ve been here twice before, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. The surface of the water I haven’t even begun to touch yet (Monterey Bay is so special).

I will be back Monterey.

I headed north on Highway 1 going inland once again.

Let me say this about Highway 1, what the rest of the world knows as Pacific Coast Highway. Every county through all three states has renamed highway 1 as if by putting a different name to it they can lay claim to it’s notoriety. But they can’t change the number!PCH SignI still had my convertible top down and although I feel like I might be close to the shore, I can’t see it. This is a pretty unremarkable stretch of highway that widens as it goes through the marsh lands and sand dunes.

This was one of the places I was tempted to take 101 as it would have cut off a considerable amount of travel time, but I stayed true to my plan. I wasn’t in a hurry, and my bucket list said Highway 1, not 101.

I am aware that I am only slightly more than halfway through California, yet if I were on the East Coast I would have already gone through 3 states.

45 miles north of Monterey I reach the other end of Monterey Bay where lies the city of Santa Cruz. I wished I had time to stop and play here. I have never been here before but feel like I have after hearing all about it from friends who attended UC Santa Cruz.

It’s beach, boardwalk, seashore amusement park, pier and other unique qualities make it another destination, but I have an unfamiliar and the longest drive day ahead of me so I wistfully move on. I had the feeling I would be sorry, but as it turned out…I wasn’t.

The tundra between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (another 50 miles north) is all the same; rolling hills, grasslands, marsh, farmsteads, and brush. At least I got to play peak-a-boo with the Pacific Ocean along the way.

The highway meets up with the sea again and it is glorious between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. The road isn’t challenging, instead it rather lazily follows the shoreline which affords me the luxury of staring at the water and clouds. It is Mother’s Day, and I see families at all of the local beaches picnicking.

This makes me homesick for the first time since I started my lone trek.

I stopped at a beach and had what had become my daily meal “on-the-go”, a PB&J with trail mix. The weather had turned from sunny to grey. I noticed my mood would change accordingly.

I don’t know what came first, the grey or the homesickness, but they did not compliment each other.

I pressed on to what I both adored and dreaded, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Here would be the last place that would be familiar to me. I have spent time in San Francisco on many occasions, and I love it. I didn’t necessarily leave my heart there, but very close.

Over the last 40 years of my life I have been to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Wax Museum, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park and Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street and various other absolutely fantastic points, and again there is so much more I have yet to see, but not today.

As I approach the city, what I dreaded the most happened…gridlock. The sky had grown foggy and misty, and I regretted leaving my top down (you KNOW I mean convertible), but I dared not get off of highway 1 lest I not be able to get back on. The traffic would move just enough so that I couldn’t put it up in traffic, but it wasn’t so bad. Much better than entering the city from the 5, and sitting in traffic there.

I finally reach the Golden Gate Bridge, and as fate would have it, I couldn’t see it. It was shrouded in fog, but I still took a photo from where my car top would be if it wasn’t down. Traffic was bad, so I didn’t take my eyes off of the road, so let me apologize in advance for the dicey photos.

This was what the bridge looked like as I reached what I assumed was the midway point.

Golden Gate 1 And another dicey photo taken from over my windshield…

Golden Gate 2

But this is what it looked like when I disembarked…crazy huh? Notice the traffic at the bottom of the photo. Yeesh.

Golden Gate 3

But the fun was not yet over. It took me another hour just to get to where the 1 and 101 parted ways again.

Then came the most challenging part of the highway that I would encounter. From where the 1 and 101 split to Stinson Beach was another 2 hours.

This is the only stretch where I felt road rage welling up. There was a sign before the hair raising turns started that clearly said “NO VEHICLES OVER 23 FEET ALLOWED”.

Pretty straightforward to me. I didn’t know why just yet…but I would take note, if I had a vehicle over 23 feet.

Evidently others do not take note, and let me add if they were in LA, they would have been set straight pretty quickly. Tour busses would get stuck on those hairpin turns and the road would have to clear in order for them to execute the turns. Not just one or two, but what seemed like at least 20 of them.

The lesson here? Patience Prudence, patience. I am not patient, which is why I’m a Mad Baby Boomer, not Patient Baby Boomer. ‘Nuff said.

After Stinson Beach (which looked like an adorable little beach town, but crowded (which is something I had already grown accustomed to NOT seeing in the last 2 days) so I pressed on through.

I was terrified more than a couple of times along this stretch of road, and quite frankly my nerves were frazzled by the time I reached level ground again.

I nearly got out and kissed it. Silly me, I had no idea what was in store for me later in the day.

Oddly, the next 50 miles to Bodega Bay was lonesome. I had very suddenly been abandoned by all of the traffic at Stinson Beach, and in addition to the grey conditions again (Stinson Beach had been awash in sunshine), I felt insecure.

Had I taken a wrong turn like Day 1?

I had no phone coverage to consult my GPS, no hubby to reassure me, and the road signs seemed very far apart. Tomales Bay was grey, desolate, and downright depressing (and seemingly never-ending). I didn’t even feel jealous of the occasional homestead along it’s marshy shores.

Back inland, and after Bodega Bay I got my wish to be back to the seashore, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging this stretch of highway 1 would be. It certainly didn’t look that bad on Google maps!

I was getting tired, I had been driving now for 6 hours, and I was completely off track as far as where I was with regard to my destination…Gualala.

Had I passed it?

Finally! I came upon something I could easily pinpoint on my paper map (like old school) by way of the Russian River. It was still a little grey, but there was no denying the distinction of this waterway. It meandered beneath me on the highway, but it wasn’t until I crested the mountain and caught site of the estuary that I was left breathless.

Russian River

I looked closer at what I initially thought were very tidy logs along the sand bar, but when I looked closer I realized they were more of my friends the elephant seals. Very smart of them. I’m not sure what the big birds are, city girl remember?

Russian River Elephant Seals

After stretching my legs and breathing in the incredible beauty of this place, I moved on with a much lighter heart. I was exhausted though, and I didn’t know it but the most challenging and treacherous part of this day’s road was still ahead of me.

The next 33 miles would take me another hour to navigate, and by the time I saw Ocean Cove General Store, I was nearing tears at the thought that I had passed Gualala and would have to go back through what I had just endured.

I parked my pony and went into the General Store to confer with someone…anyone…where I was with relation to Gualala.

As I entered the store in my near hysterical state, I could tell the four men inside were enjoying a Sunday rhythm that they must practice regularly. They stopped their easy conversation and looked at me. All four faces.

The one behind the counter said, “Can I help you little lady?”

I replied with a dry mouth and even though I tried to control it, my voice was too high and betrayed me., “Have I passed Gualala?”

They all turned around at that point to fully face me and the same gentleman replied, “No ma’am, it’s another 20 or so miles down the road.”

I replied “Oh thank you so much” with such relief, that one of the other gentleman asked, “Are you driving these parts alone?”

“Yes” I said. I added, “I’m traveling highway 1 to Seattle”.

They all walked toward me while the original gentleman (coming out from behind the counter} said, “Well God Almighty, do you know how long it’s been since we seen a lone woman purist along here?”

“No” I said, “I don’t know how long and I don’t know what a purist is…”

“A purist is someone who sticks to highway 1 to get here. It’s been a long time since we seen a lone female do it. You got guts girl!”

With that, they all took turns patting me on the back and high fiving me.

This did more for me than I can adequately express. I will be eternally grateful to those men. They gave to me a renewed sense of pride, strength, and determination. Never underestimate the power of encouragement and a kind word. Thanks boys.

Ocean Cove

I finally made it to Gualala, and this time I enjoyed the scenery. It reminded me of Colorado, if Colorado was on the ocean. In other words…just beautiful.

I checked into my small room (because that’s all they have in Gualala), but the view was breathtaking. In spite of the fact that I still had no phone reception and would spend the only Mother’s Day to date without speaking to my kids or hubby, I could breathe again.

I found peace here.

I cannot end this day without speaking of the most incredible woman (and her husband) I met on this little path outside my window.

Gualala

She was in her 80’s and was a transplant here in Gualala from her home in South Africa. I asked her if she missed her home, and if she was willing could she tell me about it?

She said, “Yes, I miss it every day of my life” and proceeded to paint the picture with both the good and the bad of the world she had to escape to survive so long ago.

What an incredible gift.

Her last words to me were, “Be careful on your travels my dear, you are rather special.”

Thank you God for sending these incredible people my way, and making both the landscape that I see, and the landscape of those who have indelibly touched my life…so special.

Until next time dear diary.

Pacific Coast Highway Day 2 – Pismo Beach to Monterey

Dear Diary,

For me, there is nothing more peaceful than being lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf. Being awakened by it is just as good, which made bidding farewell to Pismo Beach difficult. I would happily be a beach bum there.

Onward to the day’s destination…Monterey, another favorite of mine.

I didn’t plan a long driving day as PCH to Monterey would present some of the most challenging driving on this trip. I had been over this stretch of Highway 1 before, so I knew what I was in for.

I didn’t hurry. That is one of the perks of traveling alone, no coordinating with who takes a shower when, who is and isn’t hungry, who doesn’t want to get out of bed.

It was entirely liberating to sit on my own deck with a cup of Keurig coffee and let the rising sun kiss me hello and good-bye at the same time.

I packed the pony, put the convertible top down, and began my journey anew. This is the only selfie I have ever taken because the joy of an epic journey in a convertible Mustang must be recorded….right?

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The 1 and 101 converge in Pismo Beach and head inland to San Luis Obispo where Highway 1 splits off again toward Morro Bay. I love Morro Bay and have spent plenty of time there as a destination, so I don’t tarry. I would miss watching the sea otters though. I can’t get enough of them and they are plentiful here.

Highway 1 here is only for locals and pilgrims. There is a certain esprit de corps among travelers on this road, as we are all here for the same unique experience.

This place is special.

There is no way to adequately describe the splendor afforded by following alongside the Pacific Ocean in Cali. The sea provides an endless blue heaven while the sun plays all day on the water, the cliffs, the mist of pounding surf, the horizon, and occasionally behind lazy clouds.

big-sur

In spring, there is the added bouquet of flowers and blooming shrubbery. Surely God was in a particularly good mood when he created California.

Onward through Cambria and San Simeon.

San Simeon has been a destination in the past. Hearst castle is a place to be savored over more than a day, although the decadent display of wealth is troublesome, especially in the era it was built. It would be criminal to pass it up if I hadn’t already seen it though.

Hearst Castle

As a side note to anyone planning this trip, when they say that San Simeon is the last place to get gas, they mean it.

Onward to a new adventure…the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, 7 miles north of San Simeon. I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to see these magnificent mammals up close. They were thought to be extinct, hunted tirelessly for their blubber, but a small colony of 20 survived the carnage in Baja California. Protected by Mexico, then by California, this colony started in 1992 with the birth of its first pup, and is now thought to be 8000 strong, though not all are ever on the beach at the same time.

The males arrive in late November and fight for dominance in anticipation of the females arrival in the coming weeks. I wasn’t too sorry I missed the violence, these guys can weigh 4500 pounds. They spend the rest of the year at sea.

The females arrive in December and give birth  to the pups they conceived the year before, then are impregnated again before the males depart in February. Both males and females fast while they are on land, and lose 1/3 of their body weight during this time.

In May when I was there, the pups had grown fat and strong, and both juveniles and females had returned to molt which I don’t mind telling you is a smelly business. The females argue constantly, grunt and complain when moving or turning in the sun, and male pups “mock fight” in anticipation of adulthood. It’s quite the cacophony of sound.

Elephant Seal Rookery

This little guy was the epitome of life on the beach.

Baby Elephant Seal

I hated having to leave. I still have the “elephant seal live cam” as a favorite on my laptop so I can check in from time to time.

With the increased health of Pinniped colonies all along the California Coast, the downside is the return of their chief predator, the Great White Shark. They say attacks on humans have not increased, but in light of what I had seen the day before at Surf Beach, I might argue the point.

I noticed only juveniles were in the water, and they were in the rocky shallows. Smart. Aviary Photo_130585125991232806 (800x533)The road gets challenging after San Simeon. I was mentally prepared for it, but not for the cyclists I encountered on every turn. I’m a little mad about the fact that they would ride 2 to 4 abreast on a road that is hardly wide enough for two lanes with no guard rails. Evidently they were competing or practicing or something in the “Tour of California” and oblivious to automobiles trying to navigate the treacherous turns, so consequently I didn’t get to ogle the vistas as much as I would have liked to.

tour of california

I had already planned to stop at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Although I had seen it before, this piece of highway 1 is both visually stunning as well as historically fascinating.

The McWay Waterfall (or more accurately “Tidefall”, named for its first resident Christopher McWay in 1870) is probably the most visited and photographed image on Highway 1 in the Big Sur area. The 80 ft tidefall used to poor straight into the ocean (one of only a handful in the world), but a massive fire in 1983 and subsequent landslide forced enough debris into the cove to create a beach. The water now only falls into the ocean during high tide. This is not my photo, the fog was rolling in when I took mine.

mcway-falls-julia-pfeiffer-burns-state-park-7325-1680x1050

McWay Falls preslide. No beach.

preslide cove

This cove in December and January plays host to migrating whales that come very close to shore here. I intend to sit and watch them someday (maybe only in my dreams).

Most tourists fail to notice the ruins of a house directly behind where they stand to take their waterfall photo at the overlook.

Waterfall HouseThe stairs, terrace, and non-native palm trees are all that is left of the “Waterfall House” built by Lathrop and Helen Brown in the 1940’s (who bought Christopher McWay’s Ranch). The house and rail car to the house (tracks can still be seen by the ruins) was powered by the Pelton Wheel which can also be seen on this trail.

Helen Brown and Julia Pfeiffer Burns were unlikely but fast friends in this remote area of Big Sur. Helen was a New York socialite where Julia was a hard working second generation pioneer of the area. When Helen Brown deeded the area to the State of California, she stipulated that the Park be named after Julia, and the house become a museum by a specific date or be torn down. The State did not meet the deadline and the house was demolished.

Perhaps Helen knew that she would be remembered for her wealth, but Julia would be lost to obscurity if not for the Park named for her. If nothing else, this place stands as a tribute to an enduring friendship.

There is something magical about the Redwoods meeting the sea, which makes it very hard to leave this place.

Onward to one of the only points on Highway 1 that made me just a tad nervous. I can’t tell you why it did, but perhaps being suspended this high in the open air of the convertible over ground that I (as a resident) am suspect of moving at any given time, could have contributed.

1024px-Bixby_Creek_Bridge,_The_Big_Sur,_California

Since it was built in the 30’s, the Bixby Bridge has stood its ground, and lucky for me continued to do so as I crossed it.

I had already spent time in Carmel by the Sea. I am a little mad at the people who get to live here, but not Clint Eastwood.

The Carmel Mission built in 1771 is marvelous and having stood the test of time, should not be missed.

carmel-mission-basilica-founded-in-1770-carmel-by-the-sea-california-usa

I have been here before to enjoy Carmel’s beach, shopping and history, so I continue on Highway 1 inland (bypassing the peninsula and snooty golf courses) to Monterey.

Fishermans WharfI checked into my hotel and set out on foot to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had been here before when my youngest was small, so many fond memories flood my mind as I walked the wharf. It was crowded with tourists and I was missing my family, so after fortifying myself with clam chowder in a bread bowl while watching the harbor seals, I headed out for parts unknown. For a first timer, I would recommend renting one of the pedal carts and traveling down the coast to cannery row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I was not a first timer, so I headed down the back streets to Old Monterey. This is a brave move for skittish me.

This was where I had the most delicious moment of traveling alone thus far. I could shop and not have at least 3 other people (my kids and husband) telling me to hurry up or no we don’t have time.

I bought a delightfully bohemian skirt (that I have yet to wear, but I’m gonna) in one shop and a touristy fleece lined, pink, hooded wind breaker at a deep discount. I indulged in salt water taffy at a candy store, don’t tell the dentist.

Does it get any better?

I had a few hours until sunset so I languished here among the locals. I savored the Saturday rhythms of life here in the shadows of glorious architecture. Guitarists at an outdoor cafe, folks in line at a theater with their excited anticipation of what was ahead palpable, transients at every corner exuding a certain quiet desperation (but I didn’t feel threatened) mixed with the obviously wealthy patrons of restaurants and specialty stores.

 

I had to hurry back to my hotel to make it before the sun dissolved into the ink of night. I’m not so brave as to loiter after dark in an unfamiliar city. Even in a familiar city for that matter.

This is the only place on my Pacific Coast Highway trip that my accommodation was not seaside, but there was a pool and Jacuzzi just below my room that was calling my name. I suited up and headed down to soak my aching feet, and met one of the most interesting of the many fantastic women I would encounter during this adventure (even one that was specteral, see A Ghost in My Room if you can’t wait until day 6 of this trip).

This soon to be college graduate confirmed what I suspected about Monterey. It is a city made up of haves and have nots, with no room for the middle class.

She was melancholy because she was moving back home to Hollister California instead of Maui where she really wanted to start her life. Why wasn’t she pursuing her dream? Turns out, she just needed permission. As a 55 year old woman who had not pursued her dreams, I gave it to her. The 3 hour conversation we enjoyed altered the course of her life, and I can’t help but believe was meant to be.

I returned to my room, stoked up the fake fire in the real fireplace, and drifted into a tranquil sleep (despite the absence of surf).

Huzzah Monterey.

Until next time dear diary…day 3 takes us over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to Gualala California. The longest (and what would become the most challenging) drive of the 7 day trip.

Pacific Coast Highway Day 1, LA to Pismo Beach

Dear Diary,

Even mid-morning on a Friday, Pacific Coast Highway through LA can be daunting.

But this time was different. Wonderfully different.

I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere.

Normally, road rage will be the death of my soul someday. I am used to LA traffic sadly. We drive angry. Just because we don’t honk (that’s against the law in CA, unless you are trying to avoid an accident, lots of room for interpretation there) like NYC, don’t underestimate the propensity for angry responses in varying degrees of expression.

I traversed Malibu with my normal indifference. A not so subtle reminder of the very wealthy who have bought up Southern California’s beautiful beaches, making them nearly inaccessible to the other 99% of us poor slobs. I suppose it is only fitting, if I lived there I’d just sit and stare at the sun on the water mesmerized by the vista, and worry about how I was going to pay my property taxes.

Wait, I already do that sans the vista. Nevermind.

Where were my ancestors when they moved to Southern California and beach property was still affordable? Not at the beach. I’m still a little mad at them about that.

I digress.

Somehow in Oxnard, I got off of highway 1 and ended up at Port Hueneme. What the heck? I assumed that highway 1 would hug the coast, and like an idiot right out of the gate, I got lost. Damn my old school pony (Mustang). Well, not really. I still love it despite its retro gadget-less-ness.

I stop for gas and put down the convertible top. Bad move.

A homeless man decides he is going to jump in my car and “go with me” as he put it. Before I could even wipe off the look of horror/terror off of my face, the gas station owner came running out and berated him to be on his way.

Whew, that was a close one. Note to myself…DO NOT PUT DOWN CONVERTIBLE TOP WHEN ON A SIDE STREET OF OXNARD AND AN OBVIOUS TRAVELING SOLO FEMALE DRIVER. Check.

I acquiesced to using the GPS on my phone to get back on track. I don’t care for Oxnard. Just sayin’.

North inland to Ventura where the 1/101 again run alongside the beautiful Pacific Coast. I love Ventura, I have spent a few fabulous weekends there. The convertible  top came down again so I didn’t miss this tiny bit of shoreline running alongside the highway. While it is beautiful, I am aware of the fact that I am still on a 4 lane freeway.

On in to Santa Barbara where the 1/101 again veer inland. I love Santa Barbara. It’s like a clean, shiny, Spanish diamond with its white washed walls and tiled roof tops. Even the freeway is beautifully lined with mature Eucalyptus and oak trees. Just passing through this time, but I have spent time in Santa Barbara and only scratched the surface of what secrets this city holds in unparalleled beauty, history, sea life, and being the gateway to the Channel Islands.

I spent a weekend camping and sea cave kayaking on Santa Cruz Island which is one of my most spectacular bucket list accomplishments (especially since my kayak was taking on water which qualifies it for the “value added” bucket list).

I reluctantly leave Santa Barbara and about 10 miles (I’m not good with miles so don’t quote me) out of town we (my pony and me) meet up again with the sea. Highway 1/101 only teases me with a short view of its blue sparkling prize (the mighty Pacific) before we turn sharply back inland. After Gaviota State Park, highway 1 and 101 part ways, with the Pacific Coast Highway 1 continuing to Lompoc.

Despite the fact that it is inland, this is a gorgeous drive through native California flora and fauna. Once PCH splits off from the 101, you are truly now away from the populace that characterizes Southern California. Only those wishing to experience the Pacific Coast Highway are on this 2 lane road. There are no more big wheel trucks, no more manic commuters.

I notice that I can breathe in every sense of the word. I have been through here before, but not like this. Not with the convertible top down where I have a 360 degree view, where my eyes can follow the hawk that is following me.

The view is not the only sensory pleasure afforded by my convertible. The aroma of native California scrubs like Sage, Sage Brush, Lilac, Poppy, Chaparral (all preceded by California in their proper names) create a heady brew that as it excites the olfactory, invites the mind and soul to deeply breathe it in and relax. This is the unique perfume of my home, and I would not trade it for the world.

On to Lompoc where highway 1 turns sharply left and to the right becomes highway 246 North. I had planned on taking a couple of detours for personal site seeing opportunities in Lompoc. La Purisima Mission to the north, and Surf Beach to the south, but I’ll admit it, Oxnard and my near hijack incident had shaken my already fragile courage and I decided to pick just one. I chose Surf Beach. This trip was about the ocean, and while I love California’s old missions, I wanted to see the surfers at Surf Beach.

I turned left and instead of following highway 1 as it sharply turned right (still inland), I continued straight south on what had become 246 south. This road is so lonely and untraveled I began to have misgivings about my choice. Surrounded by farmland on both sides I grew more and more worried that I had taken the wrong road. The 9.5 miles south seemed like 100 miles when double guessing my route the entire way.

The brilliant blue sky started becoming greyer and greyer as I neared the ocean. As I paralleled the lazy Santa Ynez river, it’s green marshy inlets and brown backflows seemed increasingly cold, marshy, and forbidding as the skies became heavier with what is known as the “May Grey” conditions of California springtime coastal weather.

By the time I reached Surf Beach I had nearly turned back a few times. This uncertainty is unique to traveling alone, normally there is another warm body to confer with, and in my case – my fearless hubby would be up for whatever adventure this road would bring, even if it was the wrong one.

I parked the car in the train station/beach parking lot at the end of the road. Evidently this is a train stop for the Pacific Surfliner. I couldn’t possibly think of who would commute to and from here, unless it was a surfer.

I was the only one here.

I don’t know what I thought I expected to see. I suppose serious disciples of the sport (they would have to be since this is in the middle of friggin’ nowhere, at least by crowded So Cali standards where surfers fight to “drop in” a wave). Not a soul in sight.

As I headed down to the dismally grey beach, I think I discovered why it was so deserted. This sign was posted prominently at the gateway over the railroad tracks.

Fatal shark attacks really? Plural?

Then I saw it. A memorial to a fallen brother.

Surf 1

I googled the name after I got home and found the tribute to belong to Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., a 39 year old who was killed by a Great White Shark while surfing in October of 2012. His death was preceded almost exactly to the day in 2010 by Lucas Ransom 19, whose life was ended by another Great White Shark while surfing at this beach.

No wonder the beach was so grey.

Was it still in mourning over the death of two of its native sons?

Surf 3

It was windy and cold as I walked down the beach. The dunes and grass were beautiful, but I didn’t feel peaceful like I usually do when in the presence of crashing waves.  The waters seemed treacherous, with rip tides clearly visible in the surf. I felt very alone, cold, and forlorn. Whatever this beach is to its devoted surfers, it was lost to me on this day.

I left for Lompoc to resume my inland trek on PCH another 53 miles to Pismo Beach, which is one of my favorite beaches in California. After passing the Vandenberg Air Force Base, there are several quaint little towns along the highway, but an old Victorian Home in Oceano piqued my curiosity.

A gorgeous white monolith of a home literally locked in by mobile homes. What? I had to get closer, even if it meant driving through the private mobile home park.

Coffee Rice House

I couldn’t resist sneaking up a driveway to get a shot of the side. Beautiful…but sad from neglect and creepy looking.

Norco to Pismo 009

Once again, God bless google. Once I settled into my hotel in Pismo Beach for the night, I discovered this is the Coffee T. Rice house, built in 1885 by a wealthy businessman from Ohio in anticipation of the railroad coming through the area. Beset by the death of his son and soon after his wife, and in financial ruin from delays by the railroad, Mr. Rice moved out just 10 years later a broken man.

The place was then bought and used as a Sanatorium where many deaths are said to have occurred. Since that time the house has changed hands pretty frequently. There is said to be a large blood stain that despite heavy cleaning over the years, reappears in the same spot. It certainly looks like it would fit the bill for a haunted house.

On to Pismo Beach and the ocean again. Finally.

I arrived earlier than planned, and well before check-in time. Fine with me, I love this place. To me, Pismo Beach embodies all of the qualifications that I envision to qualify as a quintessential California beach. Miles and miles of fine sand, a well kept pier, a town center with surf shops and eclectic eateries, a cloudless sunny sky.

I abandoned my pony n the hotel parking lot and headed for a trek along the beach to the pier. It was a bit of distance, but the sea did it’s work. The sun shining brilliantly on the water, the slight surf just kissing my feet, and sound of waves barely breaking against the shore mixed with laughter from children playing in the distance, brought what I had hoped to find on this trip. Peace. Hope. A kinship with the rhythms of nature.

Pismo 2

But I did feel a slight bit of melancholy from being away from my family. We have such good memories from this place, and being alone was in sharp contrast to what I had ever known previously here. I could see my daughter as a little girl running ahead of me with her sand pail.

I was lost in these thoughts when a voice spoke to me.

It was God, interrupting the usual manic pace of my thoughts.

“You are never alone. I am here with you.”

Me: “You know what I mean Jesus, I feel alone.”

Jesus: “Do you remember when you were little the place you used to hide between the wall and mattress of your bed?”

Me: “I do now. I don’t like to remember those times Jesus.”

Jesus: “You don’t have to think about why you were there, just think about that I was there with you.”

Me: “I remember Jesus, and thank you for that. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would be here now…and my step father never found me when I was hidden there.”

I had to chuckle a little at that. To this day, I may be the only person on Earth that has to fight falling asleep during an MRI because I feel so comfortable and safe in such close quarters. Wouldn’t the doctors be horrified if they knew why? Still makes me laugh. My own secret. Well, mine and Jesus’s.

Jesus: “You see, nothing has changed. I am always here with you and no matter how fractured your heart may be, how scared you might be, or how lost you may feel, I am always the same.”

Me: “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I do feel alone, confused, and afraid of what the future may hold. But better now. Much better now.”

Evidently the single pair of footprints on the Pismo Beach sand were from him carrying me.

I continued my trek into town marveling at how clear I had heard his voice. He was right, revisiting that past did not hold its usual dread. I was left with the warm, safe, peaceful feeling I had fallen asleep to between the mattress and the wall 46 years ago.

I bought my dinner at a little Mexican restaurant just off the pier that I cannot recommend. I walked back in time to check-in to my glorious room. If this was any indication, the rest of my trip would be magical.

Pismo 1

My view was extraordinary. The gleaming sea, palm trees, and the rocky cliffs north of the beach. Such a contrast to Surf Beach.

I spotted whales feeding off the shore. It was surreal.

I met a lovely woman from Canada in the patio next to mine. We spoke for a while as we watched the whales and the sun disappear on the horizon.

I leave you today dear diary  with the glorious Pismo Beach sunset.

Pismo3

Day two is Pismo Beach to Monterey. I hope you stay with me.

 

Every Epic Journey Starts With One Step

Dear Diary,

A story starts with one word on a blank page.

A painting starts with one brush stroke on a blank canvas

A journey starts with just one step.

For most people.

For me, before I take that step a journey starts with lots and lots of planning.

I wish I could be so fearless as to just jump in my car and let fate take me wherever it will, but that is not and never will be who I am.  I would be worried the entire way about the who’s, what’s, when’s, and where’s.

I gotta have details.

So began the epic planning that preceded my epic journey. But that’s part of the fun.

I pretty much decided to cruise Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Seattle on a whim. It had been on my bucket list since before the bucket list had a name, but never bubbled up to the top before.

Everything in it’s time they say.

We had already done the Pacific Coast Highway from LA to Monterey when our daughter was little, but my hubby hated it (he’s not a coastal hairpin turns with traffic kind of guy) so it never really came up again.

But I didn’t have to worry about what everyone else thought about it, this was going to be a solo trip. My trip.

Kind of liberating.

I planned this trip so thoroughly  that I’m quite sure I logged an embarrassing amount of time on Trip Advisor and You Tube.

It was a brand new feeling to have as much time as I wanted, and a purse of hush money that was completely outside of our household and savings budget.

God bless retirement!

A road trip of this magnitude also has to be about the conveyance.

I had traded in the Mom car for a convertible Mustang GT after my youngest started high school. I was going to have to rely on my pony (the Mustang) to take me 1800 miles over one of the most challenging roadways in America, so of course I had it checked for worthiness. I was good to go.

My Pony

My Pony

I googled what I would need for emergency road gear and assembled it along with personal needs and creature comforts.

In short, it took three weeks to eliminate every possible unknown, besides what awaited me on the journey itself.

Still the question looming larger and larger through every step still was, WILL I BE ALRIGHT ON MY OWN?

And still I had no answer.

I was certainly fine planning it on my own. It was refreshing actually. Not have to plan and pack for anyone else but me. Not something I had experienced for 35 years.

If I’d ever known, I had long since forgotten what it was like to be a free spirit.

A free spirit armed with maps (my pony is old school, no GPS), an itinerary, reservation confirmations AND apps on my phone for weather and road conditions.

Maybe not so much a free spirit.

As my focus was narrowed to my Next Big Thing, I noticed a subtle shift in the tensions in my marriage. Our conversations became easier. Our time together more valued.

One day while I was marathon gardening (had to get it planted before the trip), my hubby took the pony and had a Blue Tooth enabled stereo installed as an early Mother’s Day gift!

Really nice of him, and really nice to have music. I created a Pacific Coast Highway playlist.

As I was packing the car, I noticed a little stowaway trying to make herself as small as possible. I felt guilty not taking little Lucy, but I would be focused on her and besides, some of the places I had booked didn’t take animals. I would miss her terribly but she would be in good hands at home.

The only thing left to do was leave, so on the first Saturday in May 2013 I started what was to be one of the most enriching, empowering, and visually stunning weeks of my life.

BUT, WOULD I BE ALRIGHT ALONE?

I needed to know.

Next time dear diary – LA to Pismo Beach