Growing Up, Calming Down, Covering Ground

Going large, or at least larger than we had already been going, had certainly been on the table for our work-free September.  It seemed wasteful not to use the free month to take the kind of massive trip you always dream of taking but can never make work logistically.  But ultimately… that’s kinda what we’re already doing. 

It took us a while to realize this as we meandered through discussions of two weeks in Thailand or Bali or Tahiti or a slow drive through southern Germany and the Swiss Alps.  Those had been enticing possibilities, entertaining to imagine in the abstract, but a few iterations of doing even the most basic logistical calculations – Flights? Accommodations?  Rental cars? Oh, and where do we park Davista while we’re gone? – made us realize that interrupting our once-in-a-lifetime-trip to do a once-in-a-lifetime trip was redundant, and an expensive redundancy at that.

So I grew a beard instead.  Sort of, at least.  Had to do something with my time off.  I decided a little too late in the month to really give it a chance to fill in, and never quite got past the itchy stage.  Frankly I’m not sure how anyone gets past the itchy stage; it drove me freakin’ nuts.  But clearly they do – in 2018 every self-respecting hipster, about half of our pro athletes, and a significant chunk of the remainder of American males sport ZZ Top facial hair or something aspiring to be, so probably it’s just me.  I also discovered that mine is both grayer and more leprechaun-ish than I’d prefer.  So likely a good thing that I have the excuse that my profession doesn’t allow them to fall back on.

At any rate, we settled comfortably into the idea of just extending our summer and cruising the California coast once we realized that we were under no obligation to push the envelope on our wanderlust.  And the month wasn’t entirely work-free, either.  As it turned out, Tacco had a Navy commitment mid-month in Chicago, which would have been inconvenient to reach from Thailand.  As an actively drilling Navy Reservist, she is expected to fulfill the normal one weekend/month & two weeks/year commitment at a minimum, but her Unit allows for flexible drilling, which has allowed her to do most of her drilling from the road.  Most but not all; certain commitments require her to be physically present, and this Chicago stint was one of those commitments.

Consequently, after Leavenworth we traversed the Cascades once again, this time on highway 2 over Stevens Pass, which I believe to be the second prettiest Cascades crossing after highway 20 to the north, and headed south to Issaquah, about as near to SeaTac airport as we could camp.  It wasn’t the nicest campground, but RV parks in the middle of cities often aren’t, and at least we had a pear tree drooping with ripe fruit in our site.

Here was our route south. It’s long — tough to see any detail here.

We dropped Tacco off at the airport in the morning and headed south, on a beeline back to my parents’ house in Alamo, CA.  The drive was pretty, if nondescript.  Lots of trees.  We followed the Columbia River for a bit before hitting Portland, drove the length of Oregon’s Willamette Valley to Eugene, then entered the forest in earnest until we petered out in Grant’s Pass for the night, setting up camp beside the Rogue River.  I said lots of trees, but one thing that did stand out about southern Oregon is the extensive logging.  I’m certainly a fan of wood, particularly in a house, but sometimes it’s a little too easy to imagine it comes from Home Depot rather than a forest.  I don’t want to overstate this – Oregon is still gorgeous, and is in no danger of going the way of the Amazon rainforest, but it’s interesting to see the checkerboard pattern our appetite for lumber leaves on the landscape.

Off again in the morning, we crossed into California near Mt. Shasta, which never ceases to be impressive, as any 14,000’+ mountain that stands all by itself would be.  Descending into California’s Central Valley, we realized that our interesting scenery was now behind us, and ground out the rest of the drive to my parents’ driveway.

After a few days’ rest, some solid family visitation time punctuated with good food and wine, and a Tacco retrieval from the airport, we headed south again, this time to Big Sur, and the segment of California’s Highway 1 that we had previously missed due to last year’s landslide.  The road had recently re-opened, with a new path that took it around the new bulge in the shoreline, and we were excited to check out that stretch of coast.

Before that, though, check out how cute Woodsprite is doing her math schoolwork with her little Turkish towel drying her hair.

We were right to be excited, it turns out.  That drive is iconic for a reason, and should be seen by everyone on a sunny day at least once, as far as I’m concerned.  Absolutely breathtaking, with curve after curve revealing vistas that keep you gawking, face pressed to the window, for hours.  Or it would if you weren’t driving, which I found inconvenient.  It was actually difficult to concentrate, which is not an option while steering Davista + Toad around the hairpin corners. 

I mentioned long ago that we’ve given up on trying too hard to get the kids to appreciate scenery, as their attention spans combined with the allure of their various screens tend to make our attempts to get them to actually, you know, see our country an exercise in frustration.  So we point things out when we can, they look up and say “cool!” and that’s the end of it.  We’ve become ok with this.  But this drive was different.  Firebolt in particular was transfixed by the cliffs plunging into the sea and the huge waves below breaking on the offshore rocks.  This made me happy.

After a few stops for photos, we pulled up to a campground along the Big Sur River about a third of the way down that stretch of coast.  After setting up camp and doing some more river wading, a recurring theme during this stage of our trip, we drove down to Pfeiffer Beach to do a bit of exploring.  Again, stunning.

One of the features on this particular beach was the purple sand, which reminded me of what we saw on the shore of Lake Superior way back in our first month of our travels.

But it wasn’t just the sand, it was the cliffs, the caves, the waves, the wind, everything. 

The kids are doing incredibly well right now.  It’s difficult to ascertain what exactly brings on these moments, but as any parent can tell you, it is deeply, profoundly satisfying to see your kids exuberant.  It’s been simmering for the past day or two as they’ve relaxed into the reality of our continued travels, but for some reason in Big Sur and especially at this beach it seemed to boil over in all three of them at once.  We ran around on the sand and then just stopped to watch them when we couldn’t keep up.  Keeper climbed a huge sand slope that was pushed up against the cliff, then did it again, then invited me to come up with him and take some selfies, which of course I did.  Full smiles aren’t something we see much from him these days due to self-consciousness about his teeth, one of which simply isn’t there, causing several of the others to come in crookedly due to its absence.  He will definitely require significant orthodontia, and has requested it come as soon as possible.  And it will.  But here on the beach he was as un-self-conscious as could be – just happy.

It continued back at the campsite. After making little rafts out of sticks and racing them in the current, the kids found a rope swing hanging over the water and decided to make good use of it, despite the brisk temps. 

At one point Keeper turned to me and talked about how excited he was for everything that was in store for him/us over the next several months.  I think his actual words were “There’s so much to look forward to!”  He has not said that before. Again, almost impossible to overstate how satisfying it was to hear such a sentiment from my twelve-year-old eldest son, particularly with my persistent concerns about possible negative effects on the kids stemming from our doubling our travel time.  Perhaps he sensed that.

What I really think is happening, though, is that he’s growing up.  I looked at pictures of him at the beginning of our trip and had the predictable reaction.  He was a kid, and now he is not.  He’s taller than we are, has a deepening voice and facial hair, and, well… here we go!  I’m far from the first parent to ask for the brakes to be slammed on this whole process, in fact I think we all do it at some point.  But that doesn’t make the feeling any less acute.  I love who he’s becoming, and I love even more that I have the opportunity to spend this much time with him while it happens.  But can’t it slow down just a little?

Unfortunately we had budgeted only one day of our time in Big Sur, and set off to see the rest of the coast in the morning, on our way to Morro Bay.  I would have liked to stay.  While there have been portions of our trip with greater flexibility to tweak itineraries, this was not one of them, as we had a string of reservations at completely full campgrounds on the coast, culminating in our return to Coronado and its Navy beach cottages.  Even one extra night somewhere would break the entire chain and leave us looking for the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot.  So onward we pressed.

The views remained spectacular, but began to mellow out a bit the further south we traveled.  One thing I had forgotten about that stretch of road is how high above the water it climbs in places.  I didn’t check our elevation, but just from professional experience, having spent many, many hours at various relatively low altitudes above the ocean, I estimated that we were at least a thousand feet up at times. Impressive when you’re looking down mostly sheer cliffs into the ocean.

Near San Simeon we stopped to check out an elephant seal rookery, which, to save you from having to look that word up like I had to, is a place where they hang out in a big group and breed.  Elephant seals are interesting creatures, and surprisingly fun to watch.  The males, with their long, dangling snouts (hence the name I suppose), do a good bit of sparring, though most of them just hang out, make grunty noises, and use their flippers to toss sand over themselves.  Evidently it cools them off.  If it were me I think I’d opt for a dip in the chilly water instead, but what do I know…

I also spied what I could have sworn were a few zebras grazing alongside the road.  Wait, zebras??  Yes, that’s what I said, as did my family, who initially didn’t believe me, but this being 2018, in which wondering about things is obsolete, we went straight to Google and discovered that yes, William Randolph Hearst did indeed bring zebras, as well as other wild animals, to his San Simeon castle and ranch, where they still roam to this day.  So I saw zebras.

We pulled into Morro Bay late in the afternoon, and topped off the day with Firebolt taking a respectable spill off of her bike and skinning both knees as well as a bit of her palms.  Not how we wanted to end things, but she’s a trooper and joined us for a hike along the bay at sunset after a bit of initial TLC. 

That’s a lot of ground covered, both in the past few days and in this post.  Fortunately I think, our drives will get shorter and less frequent during this next phase, as we stay West and choose our excursions carefully.  We do have much to look forward to – another month and a half of summery lolling on the beach, time with my parents, skiing…. Keeper was absolutely correct.

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