9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…
Gold Beach, Oregon, to Champaign, Illinois, in nine days. The original plan had been for six days, but the original plan did not involve obstacles. Reality did. We were in a race against the weather and an appointment scheduled for the 29th. Our chosen route was to head south and then across to Reno, where we’d pick up I-80 to zip through Nevada, Wyoming, and Nebraska. We chose this route because the weather looked to be amiable for that drive when we headed out and there were fewer steep inclines and declines to deal with than I-70 across Colorado. Even the wind was supposed to cooperate, which was a big deal for me driving a 30 ft long 12 ft high beast (I say this affectionately). I do not have a fondness for driving I-80 across Nebraska in the winter, as my one memory of doing so involved an accident on black ice. In college, friends of mine and I were heading to Colorado to go skiing. My roommate and her boyfriend and I were in my car. There were five guys in a Suburban. Alyssa was sleeping in the front seat. Mike was driving and I was in the back seat. Somehow, Mike and I both managed to look in the rearview mirror in time to see the suburban skid sideways, then fish-tail a couple of times, before flipping over and landing in a concrete-lined ditch. No one was hurt, but the Suburban was totaled, and we spent the night in the hospital while the guys were checked over, just in case. We ended up renting a station wagon, as it was the largest thing left, and somehow fitting ski gear and eight people in my VW Fox and said station wagon. We made it, but since then, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of driving I-80 across Nebraska at any time of year, but definitely mostly in the winter.
But it seemed the weather was going to cooperate. And it did appear to be a better course than the mountains in Colorado or the extra-long drive to head south to I-40. I swallowed the lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach upon acknowledging that this did appear to be the best way to go. Mother Nature had other plans from the start, though…
We opted to leave a day earlier than originally planned. Unfortunately, this meant a drive down the coast through torrential downpours and over winding and bumpy roads. Our “short” drive took a loooooong time. As I said in my previous post, we did wake up to glorious sunshine and a spectacular and scenic drive the next day. It was also a long drive due to the slow procession through the mountains, but it was beautiful. We had to wait for clearing weather and roads in the Sierra Nevadas. Also a stunning drive, with the sunshine and snow-capped mountains. After spending the night in a town east of Reno, we had a choice to make. I was awake for hours in the middle of the night looking at weather conditions and forecasts for our chosen route. It’s winter. The weather can change rapidly. To my horror, I was finding that I-80 was closed to light-weight, high-profile vehicles (that would be me) in parts of Wyoming due to severe blow-over risk from high winds. They were also reporting icy roads, including areas of black ice, and blowing snow. Nebraska showed sections of ice or snow-covered roads as well. It was supposedto get better in that the winds were supposed to die down, but it seemed clear that it would be too risky to count on that. I looked up I-70 conditions in Colorado. Ice covered, nearly the entire way across the mountains. Again, conditions were supposed to improve, and many towns were predicting above freezing temps during the day, but at the highest altitudes? Well, that might not be the case. Colorado has this great thing where there are cameras placed all along their roads and you can see current road conditions at these various locations. What I saw through the lens of many of these cameras made my stomach lurch. I could not imagine conditions clearing up enough in a day to make the road comfortable for driving Knight over.
We wouldn’t hit the mountains for two days, but it seemed clear that we had to make a call that morning, sitting outside of Reno. We decided to head south to Vegas and then to Kingman, Arizona, where we’d catch the I-40 to Oklahoma City, and then the 44 to St. Louis. This should have been a comfort. Elevations wouldn’t be as high. Temps during the day would be warmer for the cats in the back of the rig. But I-40 is a trucker route and the roads can be in not-so-great condition. I still relaxed a bit. It was better than the alternatives. We headed south. About 50 miles from our intended stop, I got a high pressure reading on one of the back tires. It jumped up instantly from 90 psi to 96 psi. We pulled over, but I couldn’t see what the problem was. It was an inside tire, so it was difficult to see, but all seemed okay, even though the tread was worn, and it was obvious new tires would be in order before we left Illinois to head out again. We let the tires cool and started off again. The pressure started climbing again. We ended up stopping at a small, middle-of-nowhere town. I changed all the batteries in the sensors for the Tire Pressure Monitoring System, thinking perhaps this was the issue. It wasn’t.
We headed out the next morning. All the tires read in normal ranges. I kept an eye on the trouble tire from the day before. The pressure increased to levels above the others but did not hit that critical level from the day before. However, 30 miles outside of Vegas, the rig started vibrating. Or it seemed something on the rig was vibrating. Quite loudly. Pulled over on the, thankfully, wide shoulder. Couldn’t figure out what it was. Double-checked the tire pressure with the manual gauge. Everything read close to what the sensors read. So, we took off again. The vibrating was still there. I was only going about 30 mph because I was still trying to figure out what was going on. And then there was the loud, explosive boom. The sound like a gunshot. I knew immediately what had happened, so I pulled quickly over to the side of the road. Gail said later that pieces of tire actually flew over the top of her car. We were 27 miles from Vegas. Traffic was fairly light, and the shoulder was fairly wide, but it was still nerve racking to hang out there while waiting for help to come, which it did, 1.5 hours later. Another 1.5 hours and I had two new tires on the driver’s side back axel. While those tires were being changed, we decided not to risk another such incident and go ahead and get the remaining tires changed. We made arrangements to go to the shop for the same business who was at the time changing the tires on the side of the road.
When we arrived at the shop, it was busy. We had been told they could get us in and out quickly, but that apparently was not going to be the case. We waited. The cats did marvelously well with all of the noise and commotion going on in the very busy lot where tires were being changed on trucks and semis were pulling in and out getting weighed or stopping at the shop for various reasons unknown to me. I think the cats did better than I did! I tried to be patient. I really did. But when it was supposed to be my turn, as in every other truck that had been there had had their tires changed, I was at the end of my patience. No one had been in the bay when we arrived, so I knew there was no one waiting for other services besides the tire services when I arrived. I had been waiting ages, so I went into the shop and asked one of the techs how much longer it would be. I was informed that he had been left on his own to do everything, but that I was next. He was obviously agitated (and understandably so!). However, as he was rolling up the tires for the rig, another guy stopped him. I overheard the conversation. He was telling the kid that he needed to do the oil change before he changed the tires on my rig.
No. Way. I intervened. I had been waiting for well over an hour. He tried to tell me that the guy waiting for his oil change had been waiting longer. The only thing is, this wasn’t the truth. No one had been in the bay when we arrived. I told him this. The tech agreed, so he brought me to the supervisor, who had been the one to change my tires on the side of the road. The supervisor also knew no one had been in the bay, so he sent the tech on his way to change my tires. The tech was still agitated, but appreciative of my intervention, as it seemed that he was having a challenging end of his day. He told me he was staying overtime to make sure my tires got changed. So, I didn’t complain when he stopped for a couple of minutes to take a few drags off a cigarette before continuing with the work of changing my tires. As time rolled on, it became obvious we were going to be staying in the Vegas area. Fortunately, we found an open spot in Henderson. Vegas RV parks at this time of year can, apparently, be packed to the gills. We felt lucky to find a spot. After 8 hours of dealing with the tire issues, we were able to make our way to the campground and then to grab some food for dinner.
The next day found us in Gallup, New Mexico, where the overnight low was 15 degrees. Brrrr. We managed to stay plenty warm enough overnight and prepared to hit the road at 7 a.m. the next morning. Except...
Except that one of the tires read 55 psi, while the others were at 68-71 psi. It was the last tire the tech put on, and I happened to witness him having difficulty getting the air valve extension onto the valve. I was immediately suspicious of this, as I’d seen him retrieve a tool from the shop to help him get it on. This was a Saturday. The truck stop we went to had truck tire service. They legally could not work on RVs but were nice enough to check the tire and said that the leak was definitely coming from the valve area. He could hear it. Seriously?
Seriously? We tried the shop they suggested. It was supposed to be open. It wasn’t. No one was answering the phone, and no one was anywhere to be found on the grounds. We went back to the campground and called roadside assistance. They found an open shop for us but said that they wouldn’t cover anything other than taking the extension off and filling the tire because the extension was an aftermarket piece. But they did find an open shop who could help us. I was not at all happy. This shop did get us in right away. Sure enough, a seam on the extension was broken, most likely because the tech had overtightened it with that tool he’d retrieved. Steam was coming out of my ears at this point. And then I was shown the kindness of a man who ran a shop and knew of my plight. When he rang up my ticket, he charged me $12 for a new extension. That’s it. He charged me nothing for the hour it took his tech to do the work. When he told me the cost, I had the hardest time not weeping from the sheer kindness of this act. Just when I was at the end of my rope. I wanted to hug him. But I knew if I did, I’d lose it. I could barely thank him enough without a quaking in my voice and tears escaping from the corners of my eyes.
We were off again at 9:20. Two and a half hours later than planned, but it still we could make it by Monday. Which would be just in time. If we drove far enough over the next two days, we could have a shorter driving day on Monday. We could arrive in Champaign early enough to beat the high winds and dropping temperatures due to hit early afternoon. Sunday’s drive was long, but uneventful, until it was time to stop. Pulling off on the exit, and coming to a stop, produced a very loud groan of protest from one of my brakes. Was this ever going to end? The brakes gave no indications of trouble prior to this point, but we hadtraveled a LOT of miles with a fair number of steep-ish descents. It shouldn’t have been surprising. After much discussion and conversations with family members who know more about this sort of thing than me, we decided to push for home. We had five more break pads still functioning just fine. Funny thing was, once we got started again, the brakes quit making any sort of noise. Maybe they’d just been dirty from the windy, dusty desert conditions. I don’t know. I’ll find out in the spring when we check them all.
We left Springfield, Missouri, for our final stretch home. It looked like we’d make it just ahead of the high winds. It felt like smooth sailing. I-44 was in better condition and had fewer truckers than I-40 (which had been treacherous at times due to BOTH scary bad road conditions and scary fast and numerous semis). The traffic around St. Louis was light enough. We decided to head up to Springfield, Illinois, and then east to Champaign, just in case the winds arrived a little early. This way, they’d be at my tail, mostly, rather than directly broadsiding me. Or so I thought. Just 12 miles outside of Springfield, I slammed into a brick wall that was the wind. After breaking through this brick wall, the wind hit hard from the side. It had arrived early. Very early. Turning east onto I-72 didn’t help much, except for short stints. It was a terrifying drive, much like the one through the grasslands in South Dakota, except four times as long. As I drove, I did battle, and feared that with any given gust, I’d lose the battle and topple over or blow off the side of the road. I was sooooo close to my destination. So. Close. Yet it felt we’d never get there. It was a tough place to be. The winds would only get worse through the remainder of the day, and the temperatures would plummet. So we kept on. And finally arrived. Frazzled. Fraught. And Fried. But safe.
Knight has more complaints. And I hope he survives this deep freeze without any more injuries. But we are all safe. Over the course of the 9 days, 2700 (ish) miles, and almost daily obstacles, I wondered at my course. Was this what I should be doing? Why did the universe seem to have it out for me? Was it bad karma? Should I not be going to Champaign? I was looking at the drive with an entirely negative perspective. I saw everything that went wrong. I saw the obstacles and the delays, the setbacks and challenges. In my rant against the universe, I got caught up in seeing the obstacles that life always throws in our paths as some sort of evidence that the universe had it in for me, rather than realizing that we actually overcame all these obstacles. We all got home safe. Each time something went wrong, we got through it. Each time something went wrong, we had a safe place to stop, or we were just outside of Vegas where help arrived quickly (I’ve heard horror stories of people waiting for hours upon hours for help or help never arriving or being stuck on the side of the road with no cell service to even call for help) , or we actually found a place to stay in a city that has few options for RVers this time of year, or a kind man only charged me for a part an not labor because he knew of my misfortune, or I managed to get to my folks’ house without the rig tipping over or blowing off the road…the list goes on. When I shifted my perspective, I realized that in each situation things could have been oh so much worse. Life will always happen. Obstacles appear on every course. We can choose to see the obstacles as evidence of how unfair life is, or we can choose to see the lessons those obstacles have to offer and our tenacity at getting past them. It’s that tenacity that brings us forward to new opportunities, opening the door to possibility, opening our eyes to choices and dreams and a life truly lived. 9 days, 1 blizzard, 1 blowout and 6 new tires, a protesting brake, and 2700(ish) miles later…I feel fortunate, and I feel oh so grateful. We are here, we are safe. Knight is intact and I have the opportunity to tend to his needs and get him ready to roll again in April. The road is already calling me again, but until I can heed that call, I will use this time to catch up with family and friends, get Knight ready, finish the book I am writing, and enjoy the moments I am given between now and then.
Images of Knight in the Redwoods taken by Gail.
I’ve said goodbye to Gold Beach and the Oregon coast. For now. The rain finally got to me. It wasn’t simply the rain; it was all that came with it. The constant vigilance against mold. The dark inside the trees. The torrential downpours and wind and hail that made it impossible to do anything other than hunker down. It is beautiful, to be sure, but it is also relentless. You know who is boss in these parts in the winter, and it isn’t you. The first month in Gold Beach was a joy. The rain wasn’t too much and there was ample opportunity for exploration. That all but disappeared the second month. Everyone was stir-crazy, including the cats. They were getting bored with the same view. Even the deer wandering through our camp no longer caused them to perk up and get excited. The cats, it seems, are also drawn to the movement this life affords. When we stop for too long, the space inside the rig shrinks. So, I said goodbye to Gold Beach on Sunday and drove through a pouring rain down to Fortuna, CA.
I was ready to go. But it was hard to leave. I didn’t imagine it would be as hard as it was. I made a final trip to the local Ace Hardware, where I’d been enough times that they knew me, and felt my first tug at leaving when saying goodbye to these jovial and kind folks. On the drive down the 101, I spoke my goodbyes aloud to those now-familiar and loved landmarks: Kissing Rock, Cape Sebastian, and Harris Beach. Yes, I got misty eyed, and promised I’d return. Next, we dove deep into the Redwoods, along winding, wet, white-knuckle-driving-in-a-30-ft-RV roads. More rain pounded the roof as we stopped for the night, but, in the morning, it was sunshine. Glorious sunshine. I entered new territory on the 101 the next day. A drive I hadn’t done before, and it was stunning. The giant Redwoods dwarfed Knight, but sunlight still filtered through. The Redwoods gave way to a drier climate as we turned east, going through three or four different ecosystems before landing in Yuba City for the night.
Along the way, we hit a lake. An enormous lake. The road hugged its shore for ages. It brought to mind an Italian lake: Lake Maggiori, located near the border of Switzerland. The lake, the views across the lake, the trees and hills—they all transported me across the ocean. I didn’t care that I couldn’t drive any faster than 35-40 mph. I didn’t want to leave that lake too quickly. When we finally did part ways, the road wound through a deep hill landscape with green grasses and decreasing numbers of trees. It looked like spring. It felt like spring. And all the while, the sun smiled upon us.
Movement. It is like breaking free. To be moving again makes my heart sing. To be moving again under a big, blue sky? My heart is singing in three-part harmony. The cats are loving it too. Not the driving, of course. Though, even with that, they slipped right back into the routine after the first day. I marvel at Bubba. He’s got a social anxiety disorder. Not kidding. And he’s not one to like change much at all. But, for some reason, he is the most chill guy on travel days. He dives under the covers on the bed in the back and makes himself comfortable. When we stop, I find him sprawled out under the covers, sawing logs. As long as the road isn’t too bumpy, he’s good to go. And Gatsby has gotten a new lease on life. Every new stop is yet another adventure. He bounds from his place on the bed to look out every window and then beg me to take him outside. He is joyful. Nola is almost as excited as Gatsby, and Arlo just wants to know that he’s still with his peeps, and then all is right in his world.
Today took us over the Sierra Nevadas and into a town 35 miles east of Reno. There had been a blizzard in the mountains on Sunday, hence the stop in Yuba City; I-80 was impassible without chains. By yesterday afternoon, all was clear on the roads. Oh, the winter wonderland of the Sierra Nevadas after a heavy snow. It was stunning. Fresh white against blue sky, with a few high thin clouds to accent the scenery. We drove over Donner peak. With the fresh-fallen, deep powder blanketing the peaks and valleys, adorning the trees in a heavy dressing, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how the tragedy befell the group of pioneers stranded in the mountains in the winter of 1846. In looking up details about the Donner party, I discovered they began their journey westwards on April 16th(my birthday is the 15th) from Springfield, Illinois (I am headed to my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, about 90 miles from Springfield) to make their way to the west coast after the head of the party read a book called The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. Seems I am essentially reversing their intended journey! Especially as I plan to stick around in Illinois until just after my birthday. I didn’t read all of this until I was safely encamped at my current location. It makes me even more grateful to have safely made my journey over that pass today, and glad I didn’t attempt it just two days prior.
Just 1,879 miles to go. I am heading back to Champaign for the next couple of months. Knight needs a bit of work done and stopping at my folks’ is the perfect spot to do it. It’s winter. Here and in Champaign. The drive home will be a race against the weather. So far, the forecast seems to mostly be in our favor. We had one delay because of the blizzard in the Sierra Nevadas, which worked out well because it is also delaying us from a very high wind day in Wyoming. But the next few days will be long drives (at least, for me, drives more than 6 hours in this rig constitute very long drives) through less scenic landscapes than the previous three days. Much of it will be flat. Normally not my favorite, but with the desire to make haste in the eastward sprint, I’ll be glad not to chug up too many more mountain passes, nor crawl down on the other side, weary of using my brakes any more than absolutely necessary. So, it’s goodbye to the west for now. A sad farewell, though I know I will return to these parts later this year. There is so much to see out here. I’ve barely scratched the surface. When I roll out in April, I’ll make my way somewhere. Gold Beach isn’t going anywhere. She’ll be waiting for me upon my return. Maybe next fall. Maybe some other time. But to the West I will return.
All but the first image taken by Gail.
It’s been a while since my last post. December was quite a month to cap off the year 2018. You know how there is that saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun”? Well, sometimes it does. But it doesn’t always. Life out on the road has shown me this more than almost any other time in my life, except perhaps for the time I lived in Germany. That period of life was closest to what I experience now, except that now I am older, I’ve racked up some graduate degrees, tried my hand at a few “careers,” and gained the sort of personal wisdom only time and experience can deliver. I’ve discovered that a meaningful life is one that is not dictated by university degrees or income or status, but rather by how you live each moment (including the tough ones, because they always arise), your perspectives on life and the world you live in, and your kindnesses.
December was a month during which experience, emotion, and the weather ricocheted from one extreme to another. Rolling into January has shown much of the same tendency in all three areas. I have stayed in this one spot for a month and a half now. One of the things I have discovered is that movement is part of this life for me. I like the movement. Not every day, but at least once a month. I can tell this because after a month, I started looking to where next might be, even though at this time it is better to stay put. I also know that, for me, I have a difficult time staying in the types of RV parks that are most prevalent: the tightly packed parking lots. I prefer more privacy and scenery. I prefer peaceful surroundings. These can be found in a lot of state parks and a very few private parks, which are fewer in number during the winter months. Even the private parks deemed “resorts” and costing a fortune tend to be neighbor stacked on neighbor places. This works great for many, but for me the allure of the road life is a combination of scenery and outdoor space. However, private parks are the only places you’ll find monthly rates at a substantial discount from nightly or weekly rates. Boondocking is something I want to do, but at this point I am not set up completely to be able to be self-sustaining in a location without electricity. So, for now I stay put.
As I have been here for a month and a half, I have started to realize a few things. First, I have discovered that time takes on a different shape out here. Before I left, I spent the first few months working two full-time jobs (one of them teaching as an adjunct professor, completely online) in order to prepare for being out here on the road. Those days were long. They seemed to never end. But the weeks flew by, as I realized all I was doing was working. And the months crept along, as the time for my departure seemed ever far away. How does all that work? Different chunks of time seem to pass at different speeds. But vacations always seem to fly. Or those weekends when you have nothing to do but enjoy your time. In those instances, the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” certainly seems to apply. Once out here on the road, all of that changed.
Time can still fly when I am having fun. There aren’t always enough hours in a day to hike as far as I want to hike when I am on a beautiful trail. It feels like I have been out here forever, though. It’s only been six months, but it feels like at least twice that long. Granted, not all days are fun. Some days are just hard work. Some days you are met with frustrations and worries. I have had a whole lot of days devoted simply to the work of writing, and other days have been spent attending to living needs. It isn’t often convenient to shop for food or pet supplies, especially when you are a plant-based vegan and you feed your cats a specialty food. Those errands can soak up an entire day, easy. Here, at least, the drive to the towns where I can find what I need is beautiful. It’s relaxing. It’s a journey in and of itself. I do not tire of the coastal drive. One thing is constant in this life, though, even when I have a bad day: I am not bound by the same time as I was when I was working and living in the “normal” world. Yes, I do have to hope to make a living out here, but when I hit a writing wall, I can go for a hike in a forest or go visit the ocean and let nature rejuvenate and revive my mind and soul. As on vacation, I lose track of the day of the week and the date of the month. If it weren’t for my watch and phone, I would really be hard pressed to keep track!
I like it like this. I like the slow weaving of time stitching together a patchwork of experiences. I like the understanding that even when I have a hard day, that patch of the quilt will be finished in its time, and a new patch will be started. I live in a rainy environment now. I am having to deal with some issues that have come up from this. I have devoted two entire days this week and given up my bed to sleep on the futon (which is, thankfully, reallycomfortable) to mold from condensation. Those days saw tears and frustration aplenty. Those days saw worry over not being able to complete my writing project any time soon. Those days saw anxiety over the idea that I could lose the battle with nature out here or the one battle with time that I have. Those days saw me wondering if I needed to give up and go back to the old way of living. But I would persevere and get through it. And the next day, I would wake up feeling like maybe I had won that skirmish, and if I could win a single skirmish, I might stand a chance in winning the next. I don’t want to “beat” Mother Nature, per se, I just want to be able to live harmoniously with her, but I do want to be able to live. In my little house on wheels. In the beautiful places of North America. I have learned from these experiences more about how to set up my living space so that I canlive harmoniously with Mother Nature in this wild and wet and beautiful land.
This life continues to stretch me. My quilt of experiences is growing, as is my stick-to-it-ness. I realize every day is a new beginning. Each gift of a day brings with it an opportunity to grow and to learn and to choose how you want to live that day. The quilt of experiences that time is stitching for me out here lends itself always to making each piece a color or design of my own making, even when the events of life aren’t always of my own choosing, what I do with them is, the way I color them is. It also is teaching me to be patient with myself. I am an imperfect being, as are we all. There is no real sense in regretting any of our reactions, as that means we are dwelling in a negative space and spending our energies reliving those events, rather than acknowledging them and then focusing on what you have learned and how you can handle it differently the next time. And then move on. We can all lose time and create quilts with very little color or pattern if we dwell on what has been or constantly look to what is to come, even if it is just looking forward to a weekend or a vacation. Life is lived in the moment. We can all let time stitch together a beautifully colorful quilt. It is one of the gifts that time can give us, we just have to accept it. When you live in the moment, time doesn’t always fly, even when you are having the most fun of your life, and, yes, even when you are facing the toughest of days, but that is the beauty of living.
And because my furry family has been so integral to all of my experiences here, from the joy I get in seeing them when I come home from a hike or a long day of errands--and vice versa, I think--to the comfort I receive from them on the toughest days, I am including pics of them on this post :)
Epic. This is what we were told by Ranger Rick at the Redwoods National and State Forests Visitor Center. You would think that he was talking about the trees we were getting ready to go see this past Saturday, and it is true, those are epic, indeed. But, no, it wasn’t the trees. He was talking waves. Giant waves. As we were chatting about the majesties of this northwestern coastal region, he mentioned that we might want to check out the waves on Monday because they were going to be “epic,” 30 ft monstrosities (at least for this coastal area). By this time, we were accustomed to the consistent hazardous seas warnings put out by the NWS. We have seen some epic-ish waves, thought 30 ft was higher than what we had witnessed so far.
Our friend arrived, and we said goodbye to Ranger Rick. As we headed into the epic forests, we set aside what we’d heard about the waves. Until yesterday. Gail had read more about this forecast. They were predicting 25-40 ft waves along the northwest coast, with some waves reaching 50 ft. The highest waves were to be in Eureka, California, nearly 200 miles from Gold Beach, but the entire coast from Coos Bay to San Fran was to get a taste. What timing. Our friend hadn’t been to this part of the coast before, so seeing this drama was a not-to-be-missed treat. Especially when hearing that the NWS was saying that going onto the water meant “imminent death.” Now those aren’t words you hear coming from these normally stoic and reserved agency folks at the National Weather Service. Of course we had to go check them out.
Looking at the waves in the Gold Beach area, it was obvious they were even more turbulent than they’d been thus far, but though big, they did not seem epic. Impressive, yes, but not yet epic. We determined to just see where they drive south took us, how far we would go would be determined by our moods and daylight. We would find out that this was an epic day, altogether. A grand, wonderful, joyful day, punctuated by even more epic moments, with a terrifying exclamation point at the end of a sentence in a paragraph that describes the entire day.
We drove south from where our friend was staying and pulled off at an overlook where there was a crashing display of white foam and sea spray. A moving van was pulled off there already, and its driver out taking photos. The three of us looked on at the ocean in that wonder that is ever-present out here and snapped our own pics. As we were heading back to the car to drive on, I noticed that the man had stepped over the guardrails and was looking over the edge at the appearing and disappearing rim of sand (and it wasn’t even close to high tide), holding onto his hat as the wind whipped around. He looked up and saw us, and I called out “Don’t let the wind blow you away!”
With a huge grin on his face, he called back that this was his first time seeing this. We walked towards him as he clarified that this was actually his first time ever seeing the Pacific Ocean. The look on his face. It was priceless. He was so full of glee and joy it was impossible to keep it at all contained, and he danced around in exuberance at what he was witnessing. I told him he came at exactly the right time, that he would be able to see some incredible sights if he kept driving along the coast. I asked him where he was from…
“I’m all the way from Illinois!” he said.
In unison, the three of us said, “So are we!!”
He literally started jumping around at hearing this. We found out he was from Chicago, and when we told him we were from Champaign, he laughed and told us that he is now living a mere 45 minutes away from Champaign, in Bloomington. He shook our hands and proceeded to tell someone he was talking to in his headset that he just met three ladies from Champaign, Illinois. Seeing his uncontained joy, his excitement, as he giggled and jumped and gestured, and feeling the camaraderie of sharing this moment with someone who was not only experiencing the Pacific Ocean for the first time on this epic day, but who was also from Illinois…well, it made me giddy with joy of my own. I got tears in my eyes from the beauty of that moment, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes now, as I write this. Watching a 38-year-old man with the completely unguarded jubilation of a kid just made my day. And we’d only just started.
We continued south, stopping along the way at overlooks that were suddenly more populated than I’d seen them thus far, and it was a Monday. Seems we weren’t the only ones drawn to the promise of one of Mother Nature’s displays of power. We found, as we drove, that the best shows tended to be in areas where there was nowhere to pull off. The waves were meant to be highest on northwest and west facing coastlines. The northwest facing coastlines fulfilled their promises, even more so than the west facing ones. So we hopped our way down from one overlook to the next, talking and ogling and moving onwards. We found ourselves suddenly just 40 miles from Eureka. How could we not go the rest of the way?
It was a good decision. We pulled off the 101 at Eureka, driving over the Arcata Channel and into Samoa. Finding a turnout beside the dunes that wasn’t full, we pulled over and climbed the short trail over the dunes to take our front-row positions at the show. Not only were the waves high, 40-50 ft, but they were coming in with such rapidity and so close together. Deep blue giants rolling in from a distance, some cresting almost out of view. They got bigger as we stood there watching, and came closer in. A dog wandered by, wearing a shirt, but seemingly unattached to any person. I tried getting it to come to me, but it was completely in its own world. Gail was watching it from closer to the water. She had her back to the waves, standing in a location where the waves had yet to reach. Until then. She turned just in time to see one coming for her, but not in time to run far enough away to not get soaked up to almost her knees. Good thing we had opted notto bring extra shoes and socks along, as has been the habit when hiking along the beach…she spent the rest of the time in wet socks and shoes. The dog disappeared down the beach.
I am not sure how long we were there. At some point, I looked at my watch and realized it was after 3 pm. The sun sets at around 4:40 pm. Time to make our way back, so we would not be driving the entire 200 miles in the dark. It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but we managed. Heading north, we drove by a herd of elk grazing in a meadow. We came upon a giant bull elk grazing on the side of the road. Yes, we stopped to watch, and to let our friend, who was on the right side of the car, shoot some pics, as the bull looked on, unconcerned with our presence. We headed into the Redwoods on a scenic stretch of road and promptly saw a second bull elk grazing along the side of the road, even bigger than the first. Yes, we stopped to watch again, and for Gail and me to take pics this time, since it was on our side of the road. Funny how that worked out.
Still in California, and still, thankfully, in daylight, re-entered the 101 and continued north, reveling in the scenery and the experiences we’d had. We approached a pullout to our left, with a cliff wall to our right. I had just glanced out at the ocean and turned my eyes back to the road. Just. In. Time. I gasped as I caught sight of two figures running down the road, and running right towards me, in my lane, and not veering at all. Thankfully, the traffic on the other side of the road had stopped in time, but now I had to slam on my breaks, on wet roads. The two dogs still did not move out of my way. I had no idea how I was going to stop in time, and I had nowhere to swerve, with traffic stopped in the oncoming lane and a cliff face on the other side of me. Somehow, though, I did manage to stop in time. The dogs walked around to the passenger side of the car. At first, we thought they were strays or escapees and tried to get them in the car, but did not even get the door open before they were dashing back to the parking area. Turned out they were escapees and their owners were trying to catch them. We lended a hand to the owners to get the pups into the safety of their vehicle.
Shaken, but so happy it all turned out well, we finished the drive back to Gold Beach as the winds picked up and the rain started falling in earnest. Gale force winds of up to 80 miles per hour and soaking rains were on tap for the overnight hour. Mother Nature continuing to remind us of her beauty and her power. It was truly an epic day. Punctuated by moments that make a person appreciate meeting a man full of joy at his first sight of the Pacific, seeing towering and turbulent waves, watching bull elks graze, driving through the Redwoods, and experiencing the whole of it with two of your closest friends.
I returned to one of the many spots I’d wanted to explore between Gold Beach and Coos Bay the day after I drove up to Coos Bay. Another sunny day on the coast. Not at all what I expected from December in coastal Oregon from what I read of the annual weather here. But I’m not complaining. So far, it’s been a nice combination of moody storms, of the gale-force wind and rain variety, and sunny skies. When I awoke to another sunny day, I knew I had to get out some, even knowing I have a goal to finish a writing project I’m currently working on by the end of this month. A sunny day on the coast in December is hard to ignore. I wrote for a few hours, and then headed back up the 101 to the place that most appealed to me from the road on the drive the day before. It is a seastack further offshore, but it is still connected by a strip of land. It has not yet been completely separated from the coast by the powerful forces of the ocean. There are plenty of places here where you can fulfill your urges to stand atop a seastack during low tide, but for some reason, this one, with its strip of connecting land, called to me to explore.
As I pulled off into the parking area, one other car pulled in at the same time. Other than that, just one other vehicle was present. A man stepped out of the car he arrived in at the same time I did. He looked around a bit and then commented to me about how beautiful it was. This began a lovely several minutes of conversation. I found out a bit of his story, and he mine. He was driving the coast road from Seattle south to southern Cali until he had to turn west. Turns out, he lives in Austin. He found it very amusing that I had lived in Austin for ten years and, after hearing that bit of information, held out his hand to shake mine and properly introduce himself. He was a delight. We parted ways, he giving the slight bow of respect of his native culture, and I a wave and nod in return. These types of exchanges out on the road are common. They are brief moments that, when stitched together, create the fabric of experiences that remind me of our common humanity, of the fact that everyone has a story, everyone has something to give, if we take the time to listen. It is one of the beautiful gifts of sharing the journey of life on this third rock from the sun. I can’t say I always appreciated that as much as I should have but living out here the way I am is fine-tuning my appreciation for more than just the beauty of the places I visit.
Bruce headed off to continue his journey down the coast, and I headed off to continue mine down to the rugged piece of land below. One thing you find out quickly in places of spectacular beauty is how little justice photos do. It is impossible to convey the grandeur of what you see in front of you on a two-dimensional image with edges that box in views that go on forever. Oh, I try, all the time, as the more than 8000 images currently in my library can attest (these are not just from this trip, but I do admit that number of photos is completely insane, and I am slowly going through them to weed out the unnecessary ones). And I tried here, as well. But the scale of the rising tuft of land I climbed or the force of the water rushing through the opening in the rock or the play of the water against the pitted, craggy surface of the seastack I sat upon looking down into the ocean below are impossible to capture well, if at all.
I walked down the coast trail until it split in two, with a detour down to the seastack and the two coves created by the piece of land leading out to it. On my continued decent, I couldn’t resist a climb up a soft tuft of land that jutted out over the beach below. I love that feeling you get at the top of something, looking down and out over a forever landscape. You feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time. It’s that line between two opposing forces: gravity and flight. A feeling of what it must feel like to be soaring over a land on your own wings yet realizing at the same time that you do not have wings at all and are bound to the earth by the force of gravity.
I stayed atop that tuft until the rocks and water pulled me down and closer. This little strip of land screamed for scramble and exploration, and the more a person climbs and scrambles, the more you realize of its hidden gems. It’s been explored a lot. You can tell by the well-worn paths created by the same curiosities among visitors to see what lies here, or over there, or up there. A perfect ledge upon which to walk to read a perch that thrusts you out over the ocean is one that not many can resist. I certainly couldn’t. I took satisfaction in knowing that while so many others obviously enjoyed exactly the same things I was currently enjoying, I was alone in my reveries and explorations at that moment. I could then at least pretend to be that first explorer discovering the wonder and power of ocean against rock. I perched, I scrambled. And I discovered something I did not at all know existed as I perched on one of the overlooks.
I saw a place where the water moved past the rock, and flowed under it in a powerful rush, before sweeping back out. A cave of sorts, it seemed. I watched from up high, and then had to inspect up close. The tide was out. Good thing. As I got closer, I noticed three other people looking at something on the other of the “cave.” I let them finish their explorations while I went to look more closely at the place I’d seen. This put me right at the level of the water rushing in, standing on top of some smaller rocks, very much attuned to the force around me. It was amazing, and I also realized what the three others were looking at. The “cave” went all the way through, and they were watching the show from the other side. I went around the rock and met the three, and their little rock-climbing pup, as they were leaving. We chatted a bit before trading places. The view was even more powerful from the other side. I watched from above for a while, before climbing below into a rocky bowl, level again with the water. I was even more aware of how powerful this water was as it came close enough to get me wet and at the same time completely attuned to the fact that I was in a bowl of rocks over my head where, during high tide, the water would surely be above my head. It was a bit scary and a bit exhilarating. The same contrasts I feel at being perched up high.
That is so true of this life we lead. It’s full of contrasts. Often we experience these contrasts simultaneously, and they can leave us feeling perplexed and confused. But I also think it’s the beauty of life. These contrasts keep us on our toes. They play off of one another and remind us of the complexities of a world we like to see in black and white. Our world is so much more than that. It’s a puzzle that never gets solved. A gift that you can unwrap forever. A secret that will be told for the rest of your life. We have much to learn about this world we live in. The opposing forces of water and rock, gravity and weightlessness, that exist here on this coast have something to teach us about the connections and human experiences that shape a life and make us who we are always becoming.
This week the sky broke open. Not with rain, but with drops of light, and then rays, and then a sky full of sunshine. The sun peeked around the canopy of trees enveloping the rig, erased the steam and busted apart the molecules of H2O clinging to the inside of windows and also daring to convene on some of the walls. I have tried to be diligent in writing this week, hunkering down inside, and stealing moments outside with Gatsby, to chase the openings in the trees and soak in the sun’s golden light. But, yesterday, I also broke open. I ditched the writing in search of movement. Yesterday, it did not rain here, but the skies were covered. I’d already decided I needed to break away from the writing to enjoy the weather, so I chased the sunlight up the coast to the north.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the rain. I always have. When I lived in Austin and San Marcos, I used go crazy because of the lack of rain. Too much sun. All the time. Too much sameness. I grew up in four seasons, of which summer was my least favorite. And then I moved to a place that felt like summer nine months of the year. And it never rained. Austin is a great city, and I know some absolutely wonderful people there, but I lived there during an extended, crushing drought. I wished for the hurricanes to impact us, not in a damaging, dramatic way, but just to bring us rain, and, instead, the fringes of clouds would pass overhead, teasing in their presence, and not leaving a drop behind as they made their way overland choosing other places to dump the wet stuff.
Now, I’m staying in one of the wettest regions of the country, during the rainy season. It’s gloriously lush here and green, rich in life and steeped in water, from the air to the sea. I feel at home here in so many ways. This is exactly where I should be for the moment. I am inspired here. And the people…I just cannot say enough about what it does to the heart to go to town and be surrounded in kindness. There is something for me here, both in the ways that I am turning inwards to write a something that wants to be written, and in the ways that I am turning outwards to exchange goodness with those around me. Sure, I am still visited by doubt and dour moods. I still face those very real vulnerabilities we each deal with in our own ways. Facing them is part of this journey, as is moving forward in spite of them. Slaying those dragons each time they rise up to throw their fiery fury my direction. And sometimes the way to do that is to get a change of perspective. Step away from your current moment and chase the sunshine up the coast.
So, yesterday, I took off in the car, not knowing exactly how far I’d go. I had it in mind to stop at enticing places along the way. I had a general thought that maybe I’d go as far as Coos Bay, because they had a food co-op there and a place called Natural Grocers. But I wasn’t married to that destination. When I got in the car, I just drove. At each amazing spot along the coast that called to me, I told myself I’d stop on my way back, because it wasn’t sunny yet, and it felt good to drive, to see the scenery glide by. I just kept heading up the 101 until I found myself in Coos Bay, where the sun was shining. I puttered around the two stores there, finding most of what I needed at the Natural Grocers, and then just wandering through the co-op because it felt like my co-op back home. Champaign home. Familiar and comfortable. Looking at my map in the parking lot of the co-op when I was finished inside, I opted to take the route heading to the coast from Coos Bay to see the sun on the water. I pointed the car west and made for a string of three state parks along the coast and directly west of Coos Bay.
I’d been here before. I camped at the Sunset Beach State Park Campgrounds, which is a lovely place to stay, and I’d explored the tide pools in Cape Arago State Park. Yesterday, I drove to Cape Arago and stopped at an overlook. Stepping out of the car, I was greeted by the throaty barks of sea lions and the thunderous roars of waves crashing against rock. Seals and sea lions mingled, lounged, fed, and played on the rocks and in the waters below. My timing couldn’t have been better, since this is a stopover for them heading south to warmer waters for the winter. It was a gift. A joy. A kindness offered up by Mother Nature. I walked a trail through the forest, marching to the sounds of the sea lions’ drums. I met an elderly couple who had lived there for 32 years before moving away and were just passing through on a trip back down memory lane. She grew up in the area and he grew up in Arkansas. They shared with me what it was like to live nearby, hearing these very sounds from their home every fall and every spring. They shared with me their love of this place, and she told me how homesick she still was, though they’d been gone for several years now. They shared with me their stories, a piece of their hearts, and, in doing so, gave me yet another gift for the day.
We parted, and I headed down to where a trail from the Cape led to tide pools. As I descended, I realized that though I’d been to the tide pools in this state park, where I was did not look familiar. It didn’t seem right, and I'd find out later that the pools I'd previously visited were on the other side of the cape. I explored anyways, watching as the sun started to sink lower in the sky, casting long reflections of its light across the water and silhouetting rocks and seals and sea birds I did not know the name of. I watched a heron watching me and watching for food. I hopped across wet sand and rocks, avoiding pools of water with the remnants of anemones, shriveled up and lifeless, empty crab and oyster shells, and decaying sea kelp. All the while, the sea lions barked from rocks not far from my explorations. They only stopped when I wandered the beach closer to where their rocky safe place was located. Then they silenced the serenades. I was still far enough away that my phone would not capture them too well, especially with the sun’s light sending the face of the rocks into darkness. So, instead, I captured the moment with my mind’s lens.
As I was preparing to leave the seals and sea lions to make their music again, the air was pierced with music of a different sort, though still a call of the wild. A high-pitched, yet melodic, chirping sound erupted. I turned in the direction of the sound and looked up in time to see the grace of dark wings and a white tail spread out behind the white head of a bald eagle, gliding in to make a landing at a nest, where a female awaited her supper. The male settled in next to the female, both of their heads barely discernable above the fronds of tree needles. If you zoom in on the photo below, you can just make out their heads in the upper left segment of the tree.
I had just received my third gift for the day. Three gifts in a few short hours. It was time to head back home, chasing the last of the day’s light, sealing my gifts in my soul to call up again when worries and vulnerabilities seek to take over. It is then that I can recall that I have been given these golden moments in the sun. Not just the three gifts from yesterday, but…this…my life, and all that I have to be grateful for every single day. Every day has its golden moments if you look for them. And the more you look for them, the more you will find them.
I woke up today feeling the peace of this place. Feeling a peace in what I’m doing here. And a desire to go back out to the coast to explore one of the places I’d seen yesterday but didn’t have time to stop for on the way home because it was getting dark. And today, was a cloudless sky day, it screamed for exploring…but I’ll save that for the next post.
We are nearing the end of our second week in Gold Beach. We are here until at least the 19thof December, though we may extend our stay another month or two. The longest we’ve spent anywhere since we started this journey five months ago was three weeks in Questa, NM. We have always been ready to move after a week or less in most places we have been. I would think I would want to be in a place longer. There are so many beautiful places I’ve been, and in each one, I would have thought I could stay and explore for long periods of time, but in each, I was ready to go in usually about four days. But now that winter is settling in, it was time to get somewhere and stay a bit, to slow down with the season. And, of course, we chose a rainy spot for this first month, at least.
I like it though. I love the colors and the insulation of the trees. The sound of the rain on the roof and the sight of droplets sliding their way down the windows is hypnotic. It is a good time for turning ever more inward in contemplation and peaceful reverie. The campground we are in is a small one, nestled in the forest with a cast of fulltime characters. There are only six other campers here at the moment, and one tent (whose occupant is apparently living there full time with his dog). Everyone is friendly but keeps largely to themselves. Gail and I are not the youngest here…which, given our ages, might not be hard to believe. But at this time of year, you expect more retirees than not.
Next door to us, however, is a trailer that lives in that particular spot. There are three young people and a dog living in this trailer, which is backed up to a permanent deck and sits with a flat tire and a tarp draped over the deck to keep it dry. These kids keep to themselves like everyone else, but I hear them when they talk, sometimes. Not that they are loud. Not by a long shot. But they are close enough to overhear, especially when they are outside. They sound familiar, though I have no reason to think so. The way they speak, though, somehow brings about a comfort of familiarity. We’ve never exchanged words, except a brief conversation with the female half of the couple. Their interactions with the dog bring a smile to my face every time. I only glimpse the surface of this oddly familiar group, and I wonder at their story. I can’t help but wonder their story, more so than anyone else here. Both because of their proximity to us as our only close neighbors and because of their ages. What brings them here to the woods to live in a trailer? What fills their days? The guy who is not the other half of the couple never really seems to go anywhere. He pads out of the door a few times a day, mostly to take the pup outside, and then disappears back inside for a few hours. I am sure they wonder the same about us. Our habits look much the same, except that I take Gatsby out in my arms a few times a day when it isn’t raining. I keep wanting to say hello, break the ice, and discover their story, but so far there hasn’t been an opening. I’ll wait for it.
In town, it’s a different story. No opening needed. I cannot honestly think of a friendlier place I’ve ever been to. Going to the grocery store, or Ace Hardware, or even to the gas station, in Gold Beach is a hug that pulls you in and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. People greet you in openness and warmth. There is none of the superficial I must do this to get paid greetings. It’s more like people actually enjoy their lives, enjoy the people they intersect with each day, and really want to say hello and strike up a conversation. I’m a stranger to these people, but I never feel that way. Like the way I’m let in on the joke between the checker and the customer in front of me at the grocery store. It seems the way of it here for people to be genuinely happy and welcoming. Ifeel genuinely happy here. It is hard not to be with these surroundings. Even with the rain—and yesterday there was a rare thunderstorm—and the stormy seas, I can’t help but bask in the power and the beauty of nature. And when the skies clear, even for a short time, it is pure magic.
I am in this place for a bit. Perhaps even the winter. I am not ready to leave yet. I don’t think I will want to leave in two weeks, or six. It’s winter in a lot of the places I want to travel next, so, for now, I am content to bide my time here. I do not mind spending days in the RV with the cats and working on a writing project (more on that at a later date). I feel a thrill each time I wander towards the coast to take a break or to run errands. I wonder what that means for my writing here, in this space. Thus far, my musings have mostly been on hikes in the places I’ve been, or special occasions in special places. I’m here for a time, so where will that take my writing here? I can’t say I know now. It’ll be its own journey, I think. An adventure of a different sort. And not in just my writing, here, but also in life. I have the time here to become, for a bit, a part of this something beautiful here. A friend to this place and the people in it. Part of the heartbeat that makes it something special, and unexpected. It’ll be a new way of moving forward, even though I am now standing still.
I have only been in Gold Beach for six days. Twice now, I’ve been to Otter Point. The first time was the day after I arrived here, and then I went a second time yesterday. In between those two times, the coast of southern Oregon and northern California were subjected to battering gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Thanksgiving Day was wild. Mother Nature was showing her strength. The foothills and trees between the coast and this campground weren’t enough to hold back the winds as they unleashed their powers against the old wise ones standing strong outside the camper. Fortunately, the trees held their ground, only losing some limbs in the battle. The winds died down Thursday afternoon, but the rain stayed through most of the day, and the hazardous seas warning did not lift until late Friday afternoon.
When I checked into the campground, the very helpful owner here began filling me in on nearby sights to see. He is the one who told me about Otter Point. He also indicated that it is a good spot for whale watching, as there is a resident pod of whales in the area. Otter Point is up the 101 just a stretch to the north of Gold Beach. Oregon has a significant amount of land on the coast designated as a state park or state recreation area. And it stands to good reason. The coastal ecosystems are gorgeous. Everything from cliffs and sea stacks to sand dunes and tidal pools. There is a coastal trail system, which passes by Otter Point. If you head south from Otter Point on this trail system, it winds you through Old Growth spruce forest and down to the beach in a half a mile. I just discovered where the trail picks up heading north from the parking lot. Its entry point is not obvious, as the growth is quite dense, but I look forward to exploring up the trail on another day.
The first time I went out on Otter Point, it was windy. The kind of windy that makes you stand back from the cliff’s edge just a bit more than you would otherwise. The point is created from mostly sandstone. There are tenacious plants that cling to life, hugging the ground closely as protection from the wind, and feast on the moisture from the sea. The further out you get on the point, where the exposure is greatest, however, the plants give way to barren sand, breaking down on top of the cliff. Walking out on this end of the point in high winds leads to a beating. Sharp pricks of sand blast your skin and sting your eyes. But still you don’t want to leave. Still you stay, looking through sand-crusted, wind-induced tears trying to soak in the views.
I came here because I love Oregon. And I was ready for a change of scenery. I definitely got it. The November rainfall average for November is 9.2 inches. For December it is 11.6 inches. I think we got all of November’s rainfall in the first few days I was here. At least it felt like it. Yesterday, I went back to Otter Point, viewed the cove to the north, and then hiked on down to the coast on the Oregon Coast Trail and along the beach for a while. The tide was moving out, but high tide had hit only 45 minutes before I reached the beach. The contrasts between my first time at the point and this one were pretty stark. The winds were calm, but the seas were rowdy. Mists rose from the trees in the distance, the sun peaked from behind his hiding place. Walking the trail down to the beach brought me through a brief encounter with giant, old, spruce whose canopy blocked the light from above, darkening the forest, and transporting me to another time. I half expected to see a knight atop a horse galloping through the trees. Or maybe Big Foot lumbering.
The walk along the beach revealed evidence of the storm the previous two days. The once-living littered the sand. It was obvious most of what lie there now was newly deposited. Plants and sea creatures alike. It was a massacre. I saw a huge crab next to piece of driftwood. It looked like it was looking at me. I snapped some photos, but then thought I’d rescue it. Because that’s what I do. Except that this one was beyond rescuing. There was actually nobody home, as I discovered when I poked at the shell to see if it would move and it immediately flipped upside down because it was only the top shell with nothing inside. I saw bits of coral. And monstrous gelatinous blobs of jelly that I first mistook for a shiny rock or a miniature UFO. Might have been able to save those. Wasn’t about to try. Besides the numerous half clam shells and oyster shells, mostly what I saw littering the beach was the corpses of humongous tubular plants, roots still attached, and sometimes jumbled up together in large masses. These were everywhere. What I did not see, surprisingly, was any human litter washed ashore. No nets, no plastic, no random shoe or tin can or fishing line or Styrofoam.
When I got back to nearer the place where the trail meets the beach, I noticed how much less debris was on the beach. I took off my shoes and socks and let my toes and feet sink in the sand and skim across the waves as they chased up the beach to where I walked. I reached the cliff face at the base of Otter Point and stood on some low rocks and watched the white caps rise and rumble, stirring up the surface of the ocean, and filling in the space around the rock I was standing on. I felt in motion with the sea, standing above it, but at the same time moving within the depths, rolling with the water, and crashing upon the rocks. It’s a powerful feeling letting yourself go, moving with the forces of nature. Sure, my feet were firmly on the ground. But my mind was free to fly.
I am a lucky soul. I have chosen a life that suits me and, no matter what would happen next, I’ve had the most amazing four months so far. I am right where I should be, doing the thing that makes me feel most alive. A vagabond in her element, living in the elements with everything she needs. My drive here from Medford, through the smoke of the California fires, gave me pause to think about just how fortunate I am. I chose to get rid of almost all of my belongings. I chose to ditch brick and mortar. I chose to leave my job. I chose to leave behind the security of the known. I am a lucky soul.
I wanted to get to Gold Beach in time to settle in a bit before Thanksgiving. Once it was decided that this is where we would come for the next month or two, I was chomping at the bit to get here. Suddenly, I was looking forward to Thanksgiving. I love this time of year. Not for the frenzied consumerism that grips our country (and world), but for the less tangible, and far more important, reasons. I am not big on the shopping madness that happens starting in October (it seems to get earlier every year!). I find it ironic that we celebrate a holiday in which we honor the aid of the Native Americans who helped us survive in this new world before we obliterated them. But I do find value in what this holiday has come to symbolize now, for the idea that we all need to pause and give thanks for what we do have in our lives, for the things we take for granted, for the big things and the small things. But I am a firm believer that we should be doing this every day. Not just on the fourth Thursday in November. I do love this time of year, though. I love it for the reflectiveness brought on by shorter days, longer nights, and colder weather. I love this time of year because of the time spent slowing down, the time spent with family and friends, and the time spent in a natural world that is also slowing down, nestling in, and insulating itself from the wildness Mother Nature can bring in the northern hemisphere this time of year, the time spent turning inwards.
I do enjoy some of the traditions of the holidays. Comfort foods and red wine will be on order for my day. I now eat a vegan diet, but I still eat foods that remind me of my family’s traditional fare. I cannot be with my family this year, but when I bite into my dressing, I will be drawn into their presence, pulled into memories and nostalgia of family gatherings where first my grandparents, then my mom, and then each of us kids concocted the family’s dressing in the kitchen. No measurements provided for this family recipe. Just ingredients and years of tasting passed on from one generation to the next. The creator would create, and the rest of us would taste test, and then discuss. More sage? More poultry seasoning? Too thick? Do we need more turkey juice? There was no need to ask for volunteers, as we all hovered close to be sure we were included in this time-honored tradition. I don’t know when it was exactly, but I recall making the passage from taster to creator. It became my time to help out in the kitchen. And then my brothers took their turns at the helm as well. In this way, our family’s recipe lives on. It is a living thing. It only breathes because we give it life through our time and the love of what it means to our family. I will not be in the presence of my family this year. I will miss that dearly. But as I work in my tiny little kitchen to create a dressing using a recipe that results in a delight reminiscent of my family’s dressing, I will be drawn into the warm, glowing, energy of this tradition, into the love symbolized in this one dish.
A few years ago, another tradition began. This time of year, I love watching holiday movies. I have my favorites, and on Thanksgiving Day, that favorite for the past several years has become Dan in Real Life. I introduced this endearing, funny, lovely little film to my family, and we’ve watched it a few times now as a family on Thanksgiving. We will watch it here, after dinner, on a laptop (we got rid of the TV in our RV). And I will hope that my family also watch it, that this is another thing we will share, even with almost 1,900 miles separating me from the family gathering in Champaign (though there are some other family members missing from that gathering).
While I will miss my family on this Thanksgiving, I am so grateful to be spending this holiday in the wet, emerald, coastal forests of southern Oregon. And while I do miss my family, I cannot honestly say I would rather be anywhere else than where I am right now. I spent the day before Thanksgiving listening to the rain falling outside, with cats curled up next to me, as Gail made her mom’s pumpkin pie (veganized), and I wrote blog entries and planned for the cooking for tomorrow. And I could not think of a better leadup to this holiday. I am thinking about how much I have to be grateful for. I am thankful for the life I lead. I am thankful to have everything I need right now. I am thankful to have had the chance to see so much beauty in so short a time. To have experienced the kindness of fellow travelers. To have entered the smoky places and come out on the other side. To have a home that takes me safely from one place to the next. To have known the love of furry family throughout the years and now. To have the gifts of health, mobility, and a free spirit. I am thankful for the many incredibly thoughtful, engaging, and lovely friends I’ve had the honor to know over the years. I am thankful to be traveling with my best friend. I am forever thankful for my family, for all the love, crazy, fun, tradition, laughter, and togetherness of the bonds that will always tie us together.
And I am grateful, so grateful, to those of you who are taking the time to read my words, today and any other day you do. It means so much that you stop by, once, or time and again.
I hope all of you have the most beautiful day, even if you do not celebrate the American Thanksgiving.
Our original plan for the winter was to head to the coast of Oregon, but somewhere along the way, we had decided to go south to a spot near, sort of, Kingman, AZ. It is cheap to stay there. That was our main reason for choosing it. We also thought we’d be less distracted and more able to focus on some projects we were each wanting to do because, while the desert areas of New Mexico and Utah are magical places full of distractions for a hiker and with feasts for the eyes of a daydreamer, the deserts around the SW region of Arizona were not as much to the tastes of either one of us. Sure there would be some beautiful places nearby. We had read about them. But not near enough to make it easy to get to on a daily basis. But, shortly after we arrived in Zion, Gail had been looking at a map. On that map, the close(ish) proximity of the Oregon border became apparent. That started some musings in our minds, and some calculations as to the amount of time it would take to get to the coast of Oregon. Research on potential places to stay. Discussions of pros and cons of desert versus coastal Oregon in the winter. And a relatively quick conclusion that we were ready for a change of scenery and the coast of Oregon was back on the table for our winter sojourn. A phone call confirmed we would have a beautiful, non-parking lot, place to stay in Gold Beach, which then sealed the deal. We were going to Gold Beach, on the southern coast, west of the Coastal Range, north of the Redwoods, and central to sea stacks and the Wild and Scenic Rogue River.
But first, we were making our way to Vegas to see my brother and sister-in-law. I had been hoping to see them, hoping that the timing would work out that we could intersect. Shay and Heather live in Champaign. They were coming to Vegas to celebrate Heather’s grandmother’s birthday. We wouldn’t have much time with them, but that didn’t matter. If we could coordinate it, it would be worth it. We also had to pass through Vegas on our way to Oregon, as that was the best route to go. Our first stop south from Zion was Valley of Fire State Park. Oh. My. No reservations for the campground there. They don’t take them. And again we got lucky. We arrived in time to get the very last RV spot, with water and electric. It was also, in my estimation, the best spot in the entire campground. Snuggled up kind of close to a stack of fire red rocks that screamed for clambering, overlooking a wide, scrubby plane that led to desert mountains in the distance, and a large spot with neighbors not too close. It was perfect. The only challenge in this park is absolutely no connectivity. Which is only a challenge if you need it. Otherwise, it’s great to get away from the need to connect, even when you don’t needto connect. I made the most of my time there, relaxing a lot and even spent an entire day reading. With the scenery right out our door, there was no need to rush around trying to see things. It was good to unwind from the daily on-the-go time at Zion. I did some scrambling up those rocks beside our site. Explored the backside of the outcropping, saw the Beehives, and meditated on a flat piece of rock overlooking the campground. Gail and I hiked the biggies in the park, with our favorite by far being the Fire Wave. We managed to hike this early in the morning, which meant we shared the spot with only one lone woman, and gave it over to a group of four just as we were leaving to make our way back to the car. The Fire Wave felt like a nice substitute to hiking the well-known Wave in Coyote Butte in northern AZ. While that would be a dream hike, getting a permit is a matter of extremely good timing and a whole lotta luck. All year long. There is no off-season for that hike. And you need a 4WD vehicle to access the trail head. That would not be in the cards for us this year.
After spending the Veterans Day weekend in Valley of Fire, we headed down to Vegas, where we stayed for three nights in a parking lot under the flight path of military planes coming out of Nellis AFB heading out to and returning from Area 51 and surrounding military test areas. It was loud. And close. But we had great connectivity and were able to get some much-needed shopping done to prepare for the trip to Oregon. And then we got to spend time with Shay and Heather. It’s always a bit of a surreal feeling to meet up with familiar people in unfamiliar (or at least unfamiliar in terms of your relationship to those people) places. We haven’t been on the road long, but in seeing my brother and sister-in-law for the first time after saying good-bye in Champaign four months ago, it felt like ages. We had a great, if too short, time catching up over a delicious meal and even better margaritas. Those two were troopers, given that they had been up since the wee morning hours in order to catch their flight to Vegas. I’m not sure how they were standing, or sitting, still by the time we met up, but I’m so glad they were able manage it. Once we were finished with our shopping and our visit, we were more than ready to head out. So were the cats. Not the most comfortable place, nor the most scenic, for the fur family!
We made a push for Medford. Normally, we stay two nights in any given place so that the cats and I have time to recover before riding and driving in the rig again. We were too much in a hurry to do that this time and made the trip from Vegas to Medford in three driving days. Fortunately, the roads were (mostly) good. We stayed two nights outside of Medford so that we could hit the Co-op there and Trader Joe’s to get prepped for Thanksgiving in our new temporary home. On our way there, we had largely avoided the smoke pollution from the fires raging in California, but that changed once we hit Medford. It wasn’t terrible, but the stagnant air alert was a reminder that the fires were close by. It was great to be in Oregon, even if we were not yet at our first landing spot. It felt close. Medford is a nice little town, but it was hard to settle into the idea of being there because Gold Beach was in our sights, and I was anxious to get there and get settled in for a bit.
The drive to Gold Beach was beautiful. When you could see it. The first portion followed the Rogue River, and then veered from there to head south into Cali and then to the coast. Once we hit Grants Pass, visibility was limited. The fire danger there was low, but it looked like the fire was upon us with all the smoke in the air. It was dense. It was creepy. And it was a reminder of what the folks living through the nightmare must feel like as the fires consume sage brush, trees, homes, and life. It was a sobering drive, even while the beauty that was revealing itself between the whispers and blankets of smoke made me also a bit giddy. It’s hard to describe what was like to simultaneously hold the conflicting feelings of sadness and eagerness, but as I broke free from the smoke and into the Redwoods and then turned north onto the 101, excitement rose to the surface, edged with a background of sadness for what is happening in California. The result was that I was even more grateful for the fortune I have in being here, of living this life I live right now. Our home for the next month or two. Rain, rainforests, wild rivers, wilder winds, rugged sea shores, sea stacks, and tenacious foliage speak to me, whisper to my heart that this is where I should be right now. And Oregon’s state motto?
“She flies with her own wings.”