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Backpacker selfie

Backpacker selfie

I was nearly done with my hike when I realized I had no photos of myself in that beautiful wilderness. I had passed a couple of people, and any of them would have been happy to snap a photo, but by the time I remembered to document my presence there, it was only me. So I took a selfie.

At the place where the little road to the trailhead comes out at Highway 299 is a little ghost town of Helena, California. People still live there and are served by the U.S. Postal Service. The place was settled in 1851 to serve the miners in the mountains. Today there are several large, abandoned, and vandalized buildings left near the road.

Once a large and beautiful home

Once a large and beautiful home

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

The old post office building

The old post office building

Staircase inside the home

Staircase inside the home

On my way west along 299, the temperature dropped from 102 to 72 by the time I reached Highway 101 along the coast. I arrived at Tara’s dad’s house with some sunshine and afternoon left in the day. Feeling pleased to have found Humboldt County in sunshine (a truly rare event), I was happy that Tara felt like walking to the beach. We hit the Hammond Trail and passed the gorgeous country fields near McKinleyville in the flat lands around the mouth of the Mad River.

Once I heard it, I have enjoyed telling the story of the naming of the Mad River. In 1850 the Dr. Josiah Gregg Expedition was exploring, mapping, and documenting the area. Gregg, a naturalist, was also interested in cataloging flora and fauna. Their most important work was arguably the mapping of Humboldt Bay, large enough to accommodate ships that could serve miners and trappers of the region. Falling on hard times, the group had a dispute about the best way to return to San Francisco. Gregg could not bring himself to give up on the scientific work and insisted that they must follow the coast home, and continue to work. The larger group of dissenters argued that they would starve to death unless they made their way inland again. Dr. Gregg had a tremendous temper tantrum at the mouth of a river, as his companions left him and a few others on the shore. The Mad River was named in honor of that event. Dr. Gregg eventually realized he needed to move inland as well, and his group began heading toward what is now called Clear Lake. Sadly, he was starving to death at that point, and in his weakness fell off his horse and died.

After enjoying the beach in the waning sun, Tara and I headed back. The next morning we left early in order to make preparations for the following day’s celebrations: My kid turned 17 and was going to have a big birthday bash at the house. I can hardly believe my baby girl is 17 years old. Babyhood a distant memory, Tara is now strong and kind, thoughtful and helpful, smart and oh, so funny. I feel honored that I get to share in her life.

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

I'll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

I’ll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

Walking bridge over the Mad River, along the Hammond Trail

Walking bridge over the Mad River is part of the Hammond Trail

An abandoned barn along our route

An abandoned barn along our route

My Tara dancing on the beach

My Tara dancing on the beach

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

This heron is doing more aggressive hunting, as she stalks gracefully across the grass.

This Great Blue Heron is hunting more aggressively than the cat.

 

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

When I broke camp I had only a few miles left to go, but also the most difficult part of the trail ahead of me. Since I’m out of shape compared to previous years, I intentionally chose an easy trail. However, the last 2 1/2 miles climb nearly 2000 feet to Grizzly Meadows.

Steep elevation climbs bring the views and the waterfalls that make it all worth the trouble. In no time I was marveling at Thompson Peak holding court at 9000 feet among the shorter, but just as spectacular, peaks nearby. Glaciers on the north face are each noted to be 2 miles across, but the map needs some updating because the snow fields are now tiny. I could only identify one glacier, so perhaps the second is gone forever.

Two fabulously gorgeous and athletic hikers refilled their water bottles at China Creek with me. I contemplated the unfairness of it all: gay men can be some of the most attractive humans on the planet, and they get to hook up with each other. D’oh! They were planning to summit Thompson Peak the next day, and planned to camp at the Meadows with me that night.

Falls on Grizzly Creek

Falls on Grizzly Creek. What do you see at the bottom? That’s right: swimming pool!

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

“Somewhere between the upper and lower meadow, one of the most incredible mountain vistas I’ve ever witnessed comes into view.” ~Art Bernstein, in Best Hikes of the Trinity Alps

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views. Grizzly Meadows in the foreground is surrounded by a shelf holding Grizzly Lake. Thompson Peak rises above it all. To see the falls, click this image for a larger version.

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

I found a place to set up camp beside a pool on Grizzly Creek at the base of the falls. My original intent had been to hit the scramble trail next, following cairns up the cliff. It would be another 1000 feet in one mile. At that point I was exhausted and simply didn’t have the heart for it. I had achieved 18 miles with no injuries, but I was wiped out. I imagined that a good night’s rest could give me the inspiration I needed, and spent the rest of the day playing in the meadow. I dropped my nalgene of wine into the creek to chill.

A doe lingered on the edges of my camp all afternoon. She was even skinnier than the other deer I had seen so far. I hope it means only that it’s early in the season, and not that she is starving.

After a good soaking in the pool beside my tent, in which I even unraveled my braids and let the water run through my hair, I felt good enough to climb over boulders and investigate the woodpeckers and snakes and other delights. In three days I had only one pestering blister, and I had to be grateful that I can still do this kind of thing, when many of my friends suffer with knee and shoulder and spine injuries that are forcing them to slow down in life.

In the evening I sat on a big rock in the center of the creek and let a refreshing breeze blow through my hair. I ate smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps and had a cup of wine. The chilled wine was so good I had a second cup. I had been planning to share the last of the smoked salmon with the gay men, who had camped at the lower meadows, but my hunger finally kicked in and I finished every last bit of the fish, down to licking my fingers.

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

This is the last mile of trail. Bernstein writes, "The trail's slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots." Ha, ha.

This is the 19th mile of trail. Bernstein writes, “The trail’s slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots.” Ha, ha.

I looked at the cliff in front of me and… felt dismay. I could not summon the spirit to climb. Though I would be able to leave the pack at the bottom, I still didn’t have the heart to go on. I suspected I wouldn’t feel any different in the morning. I was so tired. It was so hot. And I was alone. I yearned for the enthusiasm of a friend to bust out with a smile and say, “Come on, Crystal, let’s go! You can do it!” But the deer was only interested in my leftovers, and the couple were conserving their energy for the next day’s climb. It had been nice to relax for hours, and I went to sleep feeling good, despite my misgivings.

The next morning the only thing on my mind was going home. I watched the orange sunrise light up the peaks and then drip down the steep slopes. I put my leftover oatmeal on a rock for the doe. I wished the guys a good climb as I passed their camp (btw, gay men are still gorgeous, even when you catch them brushing their teeth in a creek). Before the sun even touched the meadow I was on my way out. I took more photos.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

It took me two days to get back to the trailhead. I was disappointed to have been so close to the lake and then let it slip away. But by then I had other things to be excited about, because once I got out of the mountains I would be heading to the coast to pick up my kid from her dad’s house. Instead of thinking of my missed opportunity, I thought about how great it would be to see Tara again.

Let me tell you, on day five this sight was aaaaalllmost as awesome as Grizzly Meadows:

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Yes, I’m a nature girl, and yes I love the modern world. I’m a woman of complexity, what can I say? The Jeep seemed the epitome of luxury, with cushioned seats, AC, and satellite radio. I admit the stereo was blaring The Prodigy as I wound my way back out of the Alps, grinning.

 

A butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

A comma butterfly examines my glasses while I splash in a creek.

My destination at the end of the trail was 18 miles from the trail head, so I spent most of my vacation hiking. Lucky for me, when I have a camera in my hand, there is never a dull moment. My journey began in my last post. Day two I woke beside the North Fork of the Trinity River, and continued my trek. I was deep in the forest at this point and had no panoramic views. Instead I got personal with the world beside the trail.

One thing I love about heading in to the higher elevations during the summer is that as one climbs, the season goes back in time. In other words, I walked into Spring in the mountains, when it was the middle of Summer in the valleys. The farther I walked, the more I was surrounded by wildflowers and insects very excited about the wildflowers.

I also found bushes loaded with berries – ripe near the beginning of the trail, but still green or not yet formed at the end of the trail. What a plethora of berries this time out. Gooseberries, thimbleberries, dewberries, and Oregon grape (didn’t eat those!) all tempting me along the trail.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

Fat and succulent gooseberries, looking so much like a pie-to-be.

With my experience in backpacking, I could safely estimate that my pack weighed close to 6.8 thousand pounds, so I was looking for excuses to stop walking. I found that wildflowers provide a legitimate reason to stop. I also incorporated some good stretching and balance exercises, when I’d crouch down for a better angle or place one toe on a rock, or lean down a slope, or climb up a slope…. because all of these activities are required for photography. 🙂 Every movement is more of a challenge when you’re loaded down with weight.

thimbleberry

thimbleberry

dewberries

dewberries

The heat continued, day after day, and all during the nights. It was too hot to eat, and thus prevented me from relieving the weight from my pack as I intended. Typically, all the hard work of a hike makes me ravenous, but not this time. I removed every factory-sealed airtight container of food and cached it along the trail under a pile of rocks {it was still there when I came back out, and I carried it all home with me!}.

butterfly

Arizona sister

moth

I couldn’t identify this one, can you?

Certainly I ate when I could, and I gobbled the berries. Gotta keep the energy up! I’ve mentioned my taste for good food on the trail, and that is part of the reason why I had so much weight. I refuse to bring freeze-dried packets of food products. I had oranges, broccoli, and onions, and an avacado. Peets coffee, hard boiled eggs, and homemade cookies for breakfasts. Curry, soup, pasta and rice for meals. And wine for my evenings.

Nine miles from the trailhead I came across the Jorstad Cabin. The place takes one back in time, to look at it. Click here for more photos and some information behind Willard Ormand Jorstad’s cabin. He built it by hand in the 1930s and apparently lived here till the 1980s mining for gold. He also constructed a huge stone oven on the property, that now has a large campfire pit in front of it and is obviously used often by hikers when campfires are legal in this wilderness.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

Cabin built by Willard Ormand Jorstad out of Douglas Fir.

I can't tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

I can’t tell you how deeply this image pulls at my heart. The canning jars and rusted pots out in a ramshackle shed because the house is too small, are a mirror of my childhood in north Idaho with my mom.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call this a 2-point. I learned in the East he is called a 4-point.

This handsome buck in velvet enjoys some grass at Pfeiffer Flat behind the cabin. In the West we call him a 2-point. In the East he is called a 4-point.

This area used to be filled with gold miners. Their work is clearly evident in piles of tailings and overburden as tall as me and 100 yards long, left behind from years of placer mining. The workers created a network of steep, narrow channels to divert creeks and thus do the work of separating the gold. These channels remain gashed into the mountain beside the trail. I assume the miners used sluice boxes, which are long trays with small ridges or mesh across the bottom. As the rushing water carries rocks and minerals through the box, the heaviest particles drop out – ideally the gold – and get caught in the riffles. As I hiked, I saw that rusted pipes and rare pieces of machinery still lay strewn about beneath the brambles.

That’s all I did that day: walked and thought and looked at stuff. Oh, and I played in the water a LOT! Carrying a 6.8 thousand-pound pack when it’s Hotter than Hades and dozens of creek crossings with delicious clear pools filled with Brook Trout has only one possible conclusion: swimming.

Many creeks and photographs later, I found a shady spot beside an unnamed creek that dropped into Grizzly Creek, and set up camp for my second night. Many hours earlier and first thing that morning, two young guys who were scouting deer in preparation for hunting season came by as I drank my morning coffee. I had not seen another human being the rest of the day.

goldenrod in the sun

goldenrod in the sun

tiger lily

tiger lily

 

 

 

 

 

 

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

A skink sunbathes on my overturned water shoes.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

The Canby ferry, M.J. Lee II, on the Willamette River.

Seems like I subconsciously invite adventure into my life. Sure I plan things to do, but so often mishaps along the way turn into side stories and discoveries I would have never anticipated. Such is life with Crystal.

For starters, I planned an ambitious foray into the Trinity Alps Wilderness to coincide with picking up Tara from her dad’s house in McKinleyville, California. The Alps are in northern California between Mt. Shasta and the ocean. I packed the Dragon Wagon 2 (My Saturn Dragon Wagon recently deceased as I mentioned in my last post) and got a late start Saturday (also mentioned in my last post). Heading south on I-5 and just outside of Portland I got stuck in traffic. A fire truck was making its way across the four lanes into the fast lane and as I slowed to allow it to pull in front of me the lights came on. Finally, people began moving out of the way like they’re supposed to do on the Interstate. If only I had rotating lights on the Jeep…

So I’m keeping my distance, but gosh traveling behind a fire truck with its lights on goes smoothly. About 10 more miles down the highway, traffic was getting really really jammed and only then did the light bulb go off over my head. Bumper to bumper in a four lane highway in the middle of a Saturday, fire truck with lights, “Oh! An accident!” Rather than be trapped on I-5 for who knows how long, I pulled off at the next exit and moved over to Highway 99 to parallel the Interstate for awhile and come back later.

Following signs to Hwy 99, I suddenly found myself on the second surprise ferry I’ve stumbled upon along the Willamette River! Finding these tiny vessels incorporated into the Oregon highway system is such a delight to me. I rode the Canby Ferry among families playing in the river on the very hot day, and though I knew I was losing precious travel time, the discovery was worth it.

Next I was tooling through the darling town of Aurora, thinking it looks like a New England village, with its oddly-shaped central square surrounded by ancient houses converted into antique shops. I made a mental note to come back and investigate the place for a future hometown. Funny how being reminded of New England tugged at my heartstrings. I never realize how deeply I’m attached to something till it’s gone.

I stopped for the night in Medford, and as I unpacked I noticed I had left my hiking boots at home! My memory is so unreliable sometimes! I was too far to turn back and without boots there would be no hike, so I decided to buy new boots. I pulled this same stunt last year, and it would be my third pair of hiking boots. {don’t mind that sound, it’s just me slapping my forehead with my palm.}  Medford had an REI that opened at 11am, but I was chomping at the bit by 7:30am, already breakfasted and pacing, worrying how I would salvage my trip since there were no more cities ahead, in this very rural part of the country. I couldn’t stand waiting and got back onto I-5, changing my route to go through Redding, CA. I crossed my fingers it was big enough to have an outdoor store.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

The volcano Mt. Shasta, rising in front of the sun at a rest area in Weed.

I had to stop in Weed because, of course, my friends were teasing me about heading eventually into Humboldt County, a land famous for marijuana production, and on the way passing through the town of Weed. I marveled at the show-stopping Mt. Shasta, then felt a pang of worry and regret as I saw that there is hardly any snow left on its slopes, so early in the season. People (and ecosystems) who live in high deserts depend so profoundly on deep winter snows to carry them through the summer.

In Redding at 11am, I took the highway exit for “Tourist Information,” and followed signs to a parking lot. I asked the first person I saw if there was an REI in town. Nope. Looking around myself, I realized I was in some sort of a celebration. There were families everywhere, a farmer’s market in the middle of the parking lot, laughter all around me. I followed the general flow of people down a path, through some trees, and viola! This striking, sparkling, white and blue glass walking bridge opened up before me. I was standing in a gorgeous plaza with a tall and stunning museum/Peets coffee shop/Tourist Info station. This center of art and architecture and public access was having a 10-year anniversary celebration, and people had thronged there to experience it. And not just any coffee: my favourite coffee! How lucky am I?

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

Sundial Bridge at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California.

There was a Big 5 Sporting Goods just a couple blocks away (so close! I lead a charmed life), and the tourist info guy swore they would have a selection of hiking boots. And they had some on sale for $19.99, which is crazy cheap but I thought if they really are cheap and wear out in a week, then that’s all I needed anyway. While I was there I asked if they had any water shoes, which they did of course, on sale for $9. And after 20 minutes I was heading due West on Hwy 299, into the mountains, and counting my blessings.

I turned off 299 and my excitement grew as my Jeep climbed higher into the mountains on a twisty one-lane dirt road to the trailhead. A couple of deer grazed near me as I loaded up my backpack, and with a thrill and heart pounding with happiness, I hit the trail.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I'll spill some food.

A deer watches me with curiosity, and perhaps a little hope that I’ll spill some food.

My pack was heavy, and the temperature was in the 90s, so my happiness was a bit dampened pretty early on. Barely a mile or two on the trail, and I came to a wide river crossing and got to use my new water shoes. Perfect! I waded across the North Fork of the Trinity River and my spirits soared. What a beautiful, beautiful country. How spoiled I am to live luxuriously enough to leave everything behind me (poor kitty, I hope you have enough food) and walk into the woods for days, just for fun.

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

From the middle of the North Fork of the Trinity

Five days on the trail is the longest I’ve ever spent backpacking, but as far as I’m concerned, there really isn’t such a thing as too long in the wilderness. There are things a girl can do to make the most of her trail time, however. Mainly, she can pack better than I did. I carried too much weight and it made me slow on the trail, and made me feel discouraged in the raging heat.

To overcome the challenges to my joy, I splashed in streams every chance I got. Despite drought conditions in California, this section of the Trinity Alps is loaded with water, cool and refreshing and invigorating.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

Naked spikes of trees from an old forest fire crest the peaks.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

A natural life cycle of a forest includes fires.

I climbed higher and had some nice views of the mountains, all showing evidence of a huge fire that burned through here years previous. Blackened tree trunks were so prolific along certain sections that I could still smell the charred remains.

The sun dropped in the sky, but it remained in the 80s and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, so I kept going for awhile. Every time I stopped for a rest I would pull out my trail map and do calculations for how long it would take me to get to my destination: Grizzly Meadows, 18 miles from the trailhead. The trail was in great shape, and the few trees fallen across the trail had luckily landed in ways that allowed me to easily climb around or over. I didn’t meet a soul on the trail, which was part of my plan for hiking during weekdays. I’m a person who tends to think intense thoughts and I often don’t have the patience for it. So I push the thoughts away by keeping activity and sound around me. In the woods there are not enough distractions to avoid my thoughts, and so I get to be healthy and engaged with life, and I have the time to process ideas.

Eventually fatigue won out and I pitched the tent, rubbed my sore shoulders, took a quick dip in the river, and turned in for the night.

My shadow in the setting sun.

My shadow in the setting sun.

Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe at Trees of Mystery in northern California

Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox, Babe at Trees of Mystery in northern California

Arno and I take the opportunity every other holiday to have grown-up time, since every other holiday the kids are gone. His boys were with their mother, and Miss Tara was scheduled to be with her dad, so we planned to have Christmas at a Bed & Breakfast on the Oregon coast. Since it was somewhat close to Tara’s dad on the North Coast of California, we decided to take her south and then sightsee up the coast to our B&B.

Sunset over highway 199 between Grants Pass and Crescent City

Sunset over highway 199 between Grants Pass and Crescent City

It’s a beautiful drive and we were treated with views of Christmas lights all the way. Mother Nature didn’t want to be outdone and gave us a gorgeous sunset to drive through.

Fishing boats lit up off the northern California coast, called "the North Coast" by locals.

Fishing boats lit up off the northern California coast, called “the North Coast” and “the Lost Coast” by locals.

I couldn’t resist a vista stop once we reached the coast at Crescent City, and I was able to get a shot of the busy sea, filled with fishermen.

We delivered Tara safely to her dad’s house and found a hotel. The next morning we visited with my lovely friend Margaret, who met us for breakfast in Arcata. Then we took Highway 101 north and began our coast vacation.

Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center

Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center

Roosevelt Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Roosevelt Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

elk pose

elk pose

Yes, the elk might be at somewhat of a disadvantage if hunting were allowed here beside highway 101

Yes, the elk might be at somewhat of a disadvantage if hunting were allowed here beside highway 101

At Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick, CA, we talked with a Ranger and learned about a back road through  Jedediah Smith State Park. We realized that by taking scenic routes, we could get up close and personal with the trees, but not spend too much time hiking through the woods and make ourselves late for check in at the B&B. Before we reached the redwoods, however, we were distracted by a group of Roosevelt Elk grazing near the highway.

My Arno, the climber

My Arno, the climber, clambers up Big Tree. Well-named, this Coast Redwood is 304 feet tall and 21 feet in diameter.

First we took the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, which is a portion of the old highway 101. We wandered a few trails and were aptly humbled by the immense redwood trees. The Coast Redwoods are narrower and a little taller than the Giant Sequoias found in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the California-Nevada border.

The trails allow visitors to experience this spectacular old-growth rainforest from the inside. Yes, rainforest! Some of these areas have an average of 100-150 inches of rain in a season. As you can see from the photos, even sunny days do not penetrate to the surface very well. Green growth carpets and drapes all things in the forest. We spotted mossy shelves hosting ferns and small huckleberry shrubs as much as twenty feet up the trunks of some of these trees. The trail is spongy from the layers below it. Step off the trail, and one sinks into the moss and lichens and fungus and – I must assume – millions of tiny insects. When a tree falls, or is burned by fire, the tree is not dead. Rather, it becomes the host of new trees. We saw many “smaller” trees growing from the enormous hulks of past giants. Smaller was in quotes, because the baby growth are often trees that would seem huge in my back yard, and only seem small because the others in the redwood forest are much larger.

The trail winds through old growth redwood rain forest

The trail winds through old growth redwood rain forest

Coast Redwoods soar up above the green forest floor

Coast Redwoods soar up above the green forest floor

We found our way next to Howland Hill Road. It is a narrow dirt road through the center of another section of old growth redwood forest. The trees growing snug up against the road bank dwarfed the Volvo wagon.

Itty bitty car in the trees along Howland Hill Road

Itty bitty car in the trees along Howland Hill Road

Arno inside the cut trunk of a tree beside the road.

Arno inside the cut trunk of a tree beside the road.

Once we left the forest it was time to stop dawdling. We were still in California, and our bed that evening was half way up the Oregon coast. So we focused on heading north, even though we took the time to stop at a few more beaches and breathe the sea air. Finally, the sky turned black, and it began to rain, and that was very helpful in keeping us inside the car, and traveling north. We checked in on time and were so tired we skipped dinner and went to bed.

Read about our adventures on Day two here.

This attractive gentleman stayed close, with the hopes that I would share my lunch with him.

This attractive gentleman stayed close, with the hopes that I would share my lunch with him.

Wind filled the air with mist and gave a dreamy quality to the seaside sunset

Wind filled the air with mist and gave a dreamy quality to the seaside sunset

did I mention that he likes to climb?

did I mention that he likes to climb?

Arno on top of a rock at a southern Oregon beach

Arno on top of a rock at a southern Oregon beach

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Arno and I playing in the Pacific

Somehow Arno’s boys and my girl are on the same visitation schedule with seeing their other respective parent. It’s lovely to have that convenience, since we can get all the kids together during the holidays we have them, and then they all leave at the same time too, so Arno and I get our grown up time together. This week, for example, the boys left PDX airport Sunday morning, we all piled into the car to head south to drop Tara off with her dad in Humboldt County, and the rest of the week would be ours. Blessed stress-free, kid-free week of camping in the desert.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Burst of daffodil yellow in the median strip.

Two years ago I took a solo Spring Break trip south and noticed the daffodils. They caught my eye again this year. It is really a delight to see them splashed in the freeway median and beside the road. I was reminded that there are few freeways that are as scenic as these parts of I-5 through Oregon. From around Salem through Roseburg, I am often impressed by the view. I can think of I-89 in Vermont that is a gorgeous freeway, but nothing else. Leave a note in comments if you have your own favourite beautiful stretch of freeway in the U.S.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

Our first glimpse of sea as we moved south of Crescent City.

For Tara and I, the thrill of Sunday’s drive was arriving first in the redwood groves and then at the coast. I lived in Humboldt for over 7 years and Miss T has been coming back to see her dad her whole life. So the redwoods and the northern Pacific are home to us. She ran barefoot down the beach and splashed in the waves, getting wet sand all over everything (as is proper at the beach). I put my fingers into the cold water and tasted the salt. The salt in my mouth makes me think of the days when I was surfing a couple days a week with my friend Chad, back when we were students at College of the Redwoods.

Me in the driver's seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

Me in the driver’s seat, goofing with Tara as we waited at a stop light.

We dropped Miss T with her dad and step-sister, and then hit the highway south again for Fortuna. My dear and long time friend Margaret had welcomed us to stay at her place for the night. Her partner was there too, and they served us a fabulous dinner. We drank entirely too much wine, but we all got to know each other, since we ladies had not met each other’s men. Finally, though, we were fast asleep.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Miss Tara splashes through the waves in a skirt.

Me and my Arno

Me and my Arno

We got a late start Monday morning because Margaret and I were still catching up. We hadn’t seen each other for two years. Once we did get on the road, I probably annoyed the hell out of Arno for the next few hours with my incessant stories triggered by memories of living there. I was reminded of a hundred excellent days, like the Avenue of the Gods 10K (through the redwoods; my first serious race), the world’s largest Reggae festival in Piercy, outdoor Shakespeare at Benbow (no longer an annual summer event), the organic sandwich shop in Garberville, Ren Faires in Willits (terrible review), and the remarkable wines I discovered, quite by accident, stopping in at wineries that caught my eye in my many wanderings through the northern California countryside.

Sadly, all the beauty of northern Cali must eventually come to an end, and we hit the end once highway 20 took us back onto I-5 in the central valley of California. Yuck and yuck. I feel sorry for people who have to live there. We ended the night in Santa Nella and got to try a bowl of Pea Soup Andersen’s split pea soup before sleep grabbed us again.

So, from 1:30am to 3:30am, I chatted with M in her kitchen, eating delicious home made cheese-and-nut morsels and some Chardonnay. She also pulled out marinated prawns and rosemary crackers.

Drunk friends are fun.

View of the King Range, Fortuna, and the Pacific Ocean from M's deck

She was up before me though, and I heard water boiling for coffee and the TV spewing out news, so I showered and joined her. She baked me an awesome spinach soufflé for breakfast and delicious pressed coffee. Finally I was on the road at 10am.

A trail through the redwoods

My eensy beensy car

The rain was relentless. I had intended to stop in the redwoods on this trip. I didn’t yesterday because the rain was coming down in sheets. But today looked to be more of the same. Finally I pulled over in Weott and walked through the rain to get a few snapshots of the trees. After that, snow fell instead of rain.

North of Ukiah the snow turned back to rain, and I turned onto Highway 20 past Mendocino Lake and cut over to I-5 for some hardcore driving. Because of M, I was groggy by mid-morning, but I still intended to kick out as much of California as possible.

Another reason the rain was stressing me out is because my poor Dragon-Wagon is 14 years old and the windshield wipers are temperamental. For no discernible reason, they choose to run when I turn them off, or stop when I want them to go faster. Since it rained all day long, it was occasionally stressful fighting with my wipers.

California is a mighty large state. The Central Valley is about as uninspiring as scenery can be. Wow. Stunningly flat and at times, ghastly-smelling of liquid cow-poo. My god, what is that smell? I drove and drove and drove through pouring pouring rain all damned day long. I finally gave it up in Coalinga.

Misty wet Northern California scene

Misty wet Northern California scene

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Friday night: open presents

Saturday morning: open stockings

Saturday late morning: start driving to California

Saturday evening: drop my pretty girl off at her dad’s house to spend the holidays with him in Eureka.

I was exhausted by that time, but I still managed to find an adventure!

Christmas is a stressful time for me, because I do so much to get ready. This time we crammed our “Christmas” into a Friday night after work and a Saturday morning before an 8-hour drive. I was tired, cranky, and frazzled by the time my girlie was reunited with her other family, I wanted 1) quiet 2) dark 3) absolutely no people.

So rather than call up one of my girlfriends (sorry ladies!), I drove out to Clam Beach and found a spot for my tent. (On the way out of town I stopped and gazed in wonder at a favourite piece of Humboldt Architecture: the Carson Mansion. ) The first available parking spot at Clam Beach was also an official camping spot. It was full of cars and RVs with a couple of generators running and lots of street lamps lighting the place up, and fluorescent lights blaring from the windows of the whitewashed bathrooms in the center.

Eureka's Carson Mansion, magically alight

Eureka’s Carson Mansion, magically alight

Camping on the beach with generators and fluorescent lights? Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Instead I found a place to pull off the road where the sign said clearly “DAY USE ONLY” and I hauled my gear over a couple of sand dunes (the kind where the beach grasses and blackberries and cool beach plants have completely taken over), and hid my camp in a little gully. I was totally surrounded by dunes, buried about 4 feet deep in brush. It was soft and almost completely dark (except for the beam from the airport slowly slashing through the fog over McKinleyville). I could hear the ocean roaring and an occasional vehicle on Highway 101. I’m such a lawbreaker!

Part of HWY101 slid into the sea. Lights regulated the use of the remaining lane.

At exactly 5:50am, a few raindrops on the rain flap woke me up, so I started packing up. As I did so, I was startled by dazzling flashes of light…and a little later, the rumble of a thunderstorm. When I used to work for NOAA there on Woodley Island, I learned that thunderstorms are somewhat rare on the North Coast. Partially because they are rare, but partially because meteorologists can’t help themselves, the storm thrilled me and was an excellent start to my Sunday morning.

Rainy dawn. There’s a ship! See the light?

Just as I was slinging my backpack over my shoulders to head back to the car, the downpour began! I laughed. Mother Nature is so awesome. What excellent timing! I stayed almost perfectly dry by getting into my car at 6:15am. The rain POURED until about 10am. By that time, I was in Crescent City having a salmon omelet.

The red speck is a pickup truck

So when the sun finally came up, I moseyed off the path a little. Explored the Smith River, tooled through the Redwoods, watched the fog slowly lift off the ground into the sky, and then evaporate.

By the time I hit Grants Pass, it was a sunny blue-sky day. Funny.

The solitude did me so much good. Man I get sick of people. Yes, I’m an introvert, and you are all wonderful. You really are. I still need to get away from you. I am truly myself when I am in nature, and can hear the air whistling over a crane’s feathers as she soars over me, and hear the spray of water droplets fall off a trout’s back as he snaps a bite off the surface of a still pool in the river. My soul craves the smell of moss and decaying leaves; the sight of a frog leaping through a clearing; the sound of raindrops that had been clinging to each and every tip of the fern-like sprays of redwood branches and then letting go to create a whispering ceremony of percussion on the branches below.

rain

fog

My batteries are recharged.

Jedediah Smith State Park

One of the Highway 101 bridges

Smith River two minutes before sunrise

Mural in Eureka

Man, what a great trip to Cali on several levels. I’ve speckled the writing with just a FEW of the amazing murals in Eureka. Many of them courtesy of beloved Humboldt artist Duane Flatmo.

A friend of mine named him Barney at one point, and it works for me, so I’ll call my daughter’s father Barney. Well, as I so dramatically pointed out earlier this year, Barney decided to move back to California. His original intent was to take our daughter with him. I fought it like a wildcat, and thousands of dollars and six months later, Barney is in California, and she is back in Portland with me.  We had decided to split the summer. He got the first half so that she could move down there with him, and into the girlfriend’s house. She got to set up her room and visit her old friends in Eureka and get a sense of where her dad would be. My half of the summer began Thursday, and I was there at 9:00 am to pick her up (yes, I was a bit eager).

girls in the sea - too much fun!

Because of such an early start from Portland, I rolled into Eureka Wednesday afternoon, and as I passed beneath the familiar stands of eucalyptus and breathed in the wet salty air coming across the bay and brushing through the leaves making the most delicious smell, I realized that I had happened upon a rare gorgeous day on the North Coast. My girl had been texting me about every 5 minutes since Crescent City, so instead of heading to Margaret’s, I went straight to her house. I asked Barney if it was ok to take the girls to the beach and everybody was game. The girlfriend has a daughter the same age as mine. We played on the warm sands at Samoa Beach and had a grand time. I took them to Pachanga for dinner, then dropped the girls off at Barney’s.

Mural in Eureka

I made my happy way on over to Lost Coast and some free WiFi and picked up a case of my fave beer: Downtown Brown, complete with wacky label art from aforementioned Duane Flatmo. Down the hill to Fortuna in time to take a shower before Margaret and John got home. I had a lovely visit with my old friends. Margaret is as amazing as ever. Effervescent even in times of some life challenges right now. She is beautiful and generous and always a kind friend and excellent hostess. While I was chatting with John, she got a phone call from a Mexican friend, and we listened to her giddiup her way through a phone call in someone else’s native language. She laughed when she hung up, “She barely speaks English and I barely speak Spanish, so we have funny conversations.”

Margaret and me on her deck. When there is no fog, there is a stunning view of Fortuna and the sea beyond.

When I met Margaret, she did not speak Spanish. The next morning there were lots of hugs and best wishes and Margaret was in her UPS uniform. She started a brand new UPS store in Fortuna less than a year ago, and it’s going gangbusters. She said it’s hard to manage the store and also teach four days a week at College of the Redwoods, which she also just started. What a woman.

what a smile

I picked up my girl from Barney’s and off we went. First order of business: get some new surf gear to fit my growing girl. I needed new gloves too, because my old ones were wearing thin. We headed up north to Trinidad beach despite the gloomy fog which I knew would hit – to make the locals pay for the gorgeous sunshine the day before.

my girlie and me

We stopped for a quick hello to Bob at the Tribal Offices at Cher-ae Heights, ate at the Trinidad Bay Eatery and made our way to Moonstone Beach. Trinidad had a little magic in store for us, and by the time we hit the beach we were blasted with sunshine and blue skies, while Eureka remained socked in. We played in the water about two hours. Near the end, a seal came out to play with us. We were the only two in the water with the seal. It was the first time I had seen a seal so close while surfing. At one point, she blasted through the water right between my daughter and me. I didn’t see it, but she did, which is better. How exciting. I had a heart-thumping thought in the back of my head that when the White Sharks up here accidentally bite people, they’re really after the seals, but I was wise enough to keep that in my own head, and let my girlie just experience the thrill.

Red dawn through smoky skies from forest fires in Canyonville, OR

It’s been so long since I surfed, I had lost touch with the sea. It took a long time before enough of that salty water pounded through my hair and tumbled across my body, that finally the worries washed away too. Seagulls swooped across the sky, the seal kept popping up – her black shiny nose covered in long whiskers – and the sun lit up white froth in the crashing waves. If I stare out west long enough, my world gets simpler. The only critical data coming in is the quality of the swell, and maybe how cold my toes are. Other than that, I feel blissful joy in that my whole world becomes the feeling of bobbing in the cold water, the blue-green stained glass of sun through the peak of a wave, the salt in my mouth, the scratchy neoprene of my glove when I brush hair out of my eyes, and sparkles everywhere. Sparkling jeweled water. Sparkling squeals of delight from my daughter, Sparkling cries of the gulls. Sparkling joy inside me.

A mural at Pierson's hardware on the south end of town

We hit 101 south again and spent a great visit with my dearest friend. I first met her online, and it was love at first type. Her online name was Ophelia Red, and now I’ve even got her in my address book under “O” for Ophelia, even though neither her first or last name begin with an o. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever felt so happy in her life. That is a great thing to hear from a friend. She was full of smiles and love and peace. Ophelia and I shared some wine while she made a gigantic batch of enchiladas in order to have food in the house in the coming week. Her daughter was mostly quiet but when she did open up, showed that she’s a lovely young lady inside as much as out.

Mural at the Courthouse Market downtown

Ophelia’s house is packed with art. She says what gives her joy is that her living room is mostly art given to her by friends. Yes, there is something of mine on her wall too: a cast of my face, so I can be with her always, and trimmed in dried plants because I’m an Earth-girl faery sprite. She talked about her work with Humboldt Pride and mostly her work in the Impropriety Society. One of her ongoing projects is The Yoni Endeavor, in which she works with women to build yoni sculptures as part of both a healing exercise, and also a way to love ALL parts of our beautiful female bodies. With dozens of ceramic yonis on the walls, in paint, in sculpture, and in metal, there is no way not to be in love with being female there.

female ostrich ignoring us

The last time I was at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, it was midday and hot, and I didn’t get to see many of the animals. I thought if we hit it in the morning we might have better luck. In any case, that thought led me to hit the road directly after leaving Ophelia’s. My girlie got into her jammies and off we went. I was doing some serious nodding by Grants Pass, so I found a road out of the way, and pulled over to zonk out for awhile. We got into Winston in time for breakfast, and I pulled into a little café that looked perfect because the parking lot was jammed and there were a bunch of white caps in there. It was exactly as expected: many old crusty dudes who all knew each other, and a friendly waitress named Dee who hugged everybody who walked in. While we sat there, new people would mosey on in the door, and people in beat up ballcaps would barely nod as the newcomer would drag out a chair and move in on their table. “Mornin’ Merl.” “Howdy Ted.” Man, I love that stuff. We got pancakes, hash browns, an omelet, some more eggs, bacon and a Belgian waffle. Ummmmm. The bathroom in the back was at the edge of the A-frame, so one wall sloped and did not allow me to stand erect. My daughter was impressed with all of it, “This restaurant is perfect!” she announced.

giraffes at play

We pulled in too early to Wildlife Safari, and my kid read from her new book while we waited. It’s to help answer questions so going into Middle School isn’t so scary. It’s sort of a weird concept to me: Middle School. There was no such thing when I was a kid in Idaho. We had Junior High, which was 7th and 8th grade. Sixth graders were elementary school.

Finally! We had access and were delighted all the way through. Wildlife Safari is sort of like a zoo, but there are no “cages” per se. It’s gigantic, and the animals roam the hills and forests. It’s divided into portions named after the continent the animals come from: Africa, Asia, the Americas. We saw so many great creatures, and my girl helped by taking most of the photos.

One of our first sights was of giraffes at horseplay. They stood right next to each other with feet splayed, and pushed their butts up against each other, trying to shove each other aside. Sort of like you might see siblings in the back seat of the car do. Then they would swing their long necks down hard and ram their heads against each other’s chests. We were so close we heard the thump! each time they did it. Very funny.

bears horsing around

There was a lot of horseplay going on in there. A baby Bison was butting his momma, thump thump thump, and she just dug in and leaned back at him, pretending not to notice, so she wouldn’t encourage the behavior. I could imagine her thoughts might be similar to many other mothers of boys. The brown bears were rollicking down by their pond. One had its paw around the other next to it, and they wrestled and bared their teeth at each other. It was priceless when the one got tired and rested his big bear head on top of the other’s head.

This is how close we were to the animals!

Lots of babies too. We saw a baby zebra, and lots of baby cattle- and deer-cousins (sorry, can’t name all those critters). Our favourites were the baby rheas who ran into the road after their mom. She is eight feet tall; they are more like eight inches tall.

Ahhh, such a rewarding stop. We piled into the car again. My girl laid her seat back and took a nap, and I stayed awake all the way home. I love it that when I come home, I come to Portland.

Placid beauties. White deer in a lavender field.

Rhea babies and their momma

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