Monday, August 29, 2011

Drive up the Coast, Part 1: Having faith

So there we were, driving up the coast.

We'd stayed overnight in Santa Barbara, which is barely like Southern California, and also just barely not. We were somewhere in between … After breakfast at Tupelo Junction, we headed North, determined to get to Carmel / Monterey. We weren't sure where we'd stay, but knew that we wanted to get at least that far on our first official day of driving...

Driving up the coast with Pooh Bear (circa 1988)

Not having a plan seemed a looming challenge for me. I'd driven up the coast in about 1988 and the challenges that I encountered then seem so far away: not having cel phones (ie, they didn't exist) and losing FM radio signal as I meandered along. I had a plan, a destination, and more importantly, a reservation. If I didn't show up, someone would take notice. And I had plenty of quarters - - there had to be plenty of pay phones along the way. I have memories of curvy roads along the coast and small towns that I stopped to say hello to.

In Harmony, CA (circa 1988. Note the perm and fanny pack!)
I stopping at Morro Bay, checked into my room and breathed a big sigh of relief. I remember that I stayed and settled in long enough to sketch the rock and had a nice dinner by myself.

During that trip, not only was I often outside of FM signal range, I remember very distinctly that my tape deck stopped working as well. It was unnerving, driving alone, without music, curving up a particularly steep hill. At that point, leaving Morro Bay, I was impatient to get closer to my destination already. Having the ocean off my left shoulder, down steep cliffs, was immediately less romantic.

So this time (2011), we drove through Pismo and Shell beaches, as perhaps everyone does when one drives up the coast. We stopped at Morro Bay and spotted otters, a sure sign that we were indeed well outside of Southern California. Although we'd both made the drive before, separately, neither of us realized that you could drive up to Morro Rock, so this time, together, we did. We took another look at the otters, wished there was less fog, then headed on.

Further up the coast, my notes say we stopped at San Simeon, surrounded by bright mustard blooms. J took photos as the fog cleared.




We'd tried to work through some of the small challenges that we could imagine during the trip to Kings Canyon –  got new camp beds, figured out a better way of making two cups of robust morning coffee, expanded beyond our very basic camping cooking repertoire. Slightly bigger challenges during that trip - -  keeping our site bear-safe and outsmarting mosquitos - - those will always remain challenges.

The challenges in 2011 seemed to revolve around having faith. What do we depend on: our intuition or the safety blanket of technology? I'd just gotten a smartphone. I wanted to be able to stay in touch without lugging around a laptop. I didn't expect this battle of wits –  J wanted to find his own way and I needed the security of knowing where I was, what direction I was going. The information was there and I wanted to be able to use it. Ultimately we found compromise: We found that using my smartphone we could check traffic, navigate us through the traffic jams in small and big towns, properly identify upcoming landmarks and geography without having to unfurl paper maps, and could find the nearest gas station as our tank ran precariously low.

But as the daylight grew more and more dim, no amount of descriptions and reviews could help us as we read signs that read “Campsite Full” as we passed by them, closer and closer to Carmel. It was the exceedingly low-tech guide, though, of alternate campsites printed on a handout that a ranger at a (full) campground gave us that steered us into Carmel Valley, where we found a campground with plenty of room. We were the only tent campers that night (lots of RVs though) and the host looked at us sympathetically as it started to rain as she took our information.

Night #1 helped us know that we could find our way and have faith that we could find our way home and be able to keep in touch both ways. And not strangle each other in the process.

In Carmel Valley, we also knew this: We had made our way, with a little bit of low-tech help and had a place to rest. We could set up camp in the rain and the tent stayed water-tight.

We slept deeply through passing showers.

All the photos in the '2011-07 Drive up the Coast' set, here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Magenta ribbons

We just finished up Summer term. With Senior Show, Graduation and interviews, that adds a few more layers of craziness to life, in a good way. The image above was (I think) a final project for an installation art class, sheets of colored paper inset into the huge black metal beams that make up the iconic structure of The Building. It stayed up well beyond its final presentation, through graduation, adding a really nice touch to my many treks across the bridge those last few days.

In adding that link, above, I noticed that the background image at the school website is much like my photo:

See the reflection? Ooooh.... nice ...

so it's safe to say that this student project made quite the impression.

Summer graduation is kind of like that: just a bit more lighthearted and festive. Even the building couldn't resist getting a little gussied up.

So. I'm slowly going through the photos from our trip, piecing together details, wishing I'd taken more coherent notes (ie. complete sentences or whole paragraphs, or even on consecutive pages in my travel notebook). It's slow going.

I did run across a great blog post that I wanted to pass along, though. I wish I had written it and taken those photos; do you ever run across writing like that? You wish you'd written it? Couldn't I have given up going on and on about our new camp beds and written something more thoughtful about the Sequoias, like this? I read this and went, "Doh!". Thankfully, that quickly gave way to, "Ooooo, look at those photos...". We were in the same place, having the same thoughts about these lovely, majestic giant trees. I'm grateful that one of us got out the words that really need to be said. Go and click on over, and enjoy a visit with the giant Sequoias.

You'll thank me. And you'll thank Alissa (thanks, Alissa!).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer of the Big Trees: Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Our first trip of the summer was to Kings Canyon / Sequoia National Park. We'd wanted to go to Cedar Grove, but the Kings river was running too high. With the record snow levels during the winter and the warm temps in mid-June, we could only imagine the river running higher during the days. Getting stranded on the other side of the bridge would be an adventure (!), to be sure, but not one that we were real keen on. So we turned back and camped at Grant Grove (flush toilets, running water, but no showers).

We did two hikes during our stay and saw a bunch of bears. Unlike the Yosemite bears, they weren't scrounging around for people food (we've had to scare them away from stealing our breakfast at Yosemite), and seemed pretty content to munch down on bear food in the meadows. All the same, I didn't feel like stopping longer to gawk and take photos of them. They were plenty close enough.

After our dinners, we'd head over the Grants Grove at sunset, to finish off our Heinekens or ice cream and photograph the big, big trees, the giant sequoias. It's hard to imagine how big the trees are, and just as tough to capture their size of the trees in photographs –  –  J and I took quite a few photos, trying to capture the golden rays of sunset bathing these majestic trees. None of mine do them justice. I suggest you go to see them in person!


Grant Grove

Knowing we'd be visiting the redwoods in a week afterwards, we decided then and there to dub this our Summer of the Big Trees (SOBT).

The camping trip was a great chance to test out some of our gear for future trips. Right before we left, J splurged on REI 3.5 self-inflating camp beds (air mattresses). The REI product description says: “With an ultra-cushy 3.5-inch thickness and soft-touch stretch fabric upper surface, the REI Camp Bed 3.5 provides plush comfort for base camping.” So the '3.5' stands for thickness! Brilliant! We tested lying on them at the local REI, and yes, the 3.5's were way more comfy than the 2.5's. And, no, we weren't even going to worry about trying the 1.75's. During the trip, they were fantastic. Five stars and two thumbs up from both of us. I'd remark, every night: "Oooo, so comfy! So … zzzzz".

As an extra bonus, squeezing the air out of them when you roll them up gives you a chance to get in some weird yoga-like moves / stretches, if you were worried about not being able to keep up with your practice. Sorry, no pictures of that, either.

Here's TheBigBear, making up dinner:


One of the Pudwill berries we brought along. Little comforts from home:


The view from our hike above Crescent Meadows (Sequoia National Park). Click on it to view it bigger at Flickr! :

Hike above Crescent Meadow

A sketch of the meadow at Grant Village:


What I did on my summer vacation

In June, when summer vacation started, I thought of hanging up a sign on TheFridgeDoor that said, "Gone Fishing" to let you know that it would be a summer with lots of time of us being away. Except that, well, we'd have gone camping, but you get the idea.

But the idea of telling people online, the whole Internets, that we wouldn't be home creeps me out, so I didn't.

So we went camping, saw a bunch of bears, then came back for a week. I don't think either of us was able to download our photos onto our computers to edit and post; we were doing mountains of laundry and re-packing for another trip!

A short week later, we went on our big trip (without a laptop) and camped for almost 2 weeks up and down the West Coast.

Imagine the pile of laundry from THAT trip! And all those photos! Yes, there were (are) lots of photos.

We had just about finished up the last of the camping laundry loads, and barely started to think about going through photos and paintings … then one of us got inspired and we: emptied out my storage unit (no small feat) and then reorganized the whole house (even bigger feat). The WHOLE house. I think we each took out ALL our stuff, edited it down, then re-stored everything. EVERY. Thing. Clothes, shoes, kitchen gadget, art, photo, sewing, quilting, camping, books, stuffed animals. Everything!

For almost 3–1/2 weeks.


J also cleaned all the windows (the outsides, too. You should note that we live in a two-story place), blinds, put in new fixtures in one of the bathrooms, built and installed a row of work cabinets in each of our offices, vacuumed out the dryer exhaust line, reorganized the garage (he does that every summer, though) … and a whole humongous list of other things. We delivered car loads of donations to the point that the guys at the local Goodwill recognize J. We shredded decades worth of old documents, processed and got rid of a ton of STUFF.

For almost 3–1/2 weeks. Straight.

We ate a lot of In-N-Out Burgers and had lots of chocolate shakes, too, for whatever that's worth.

So, J is heading back to school, and >poof< that was the summer. Wow, that went quick.

Everything is mostly in its place, and the dust has settled, so to speak … (we dusted, did I mention that? Yeah. So, I guess, technically, the new dust hasn't actually settled) … and we're finally (maybe) going back and reminiscing about the summer trips, along with a lot of other memories we unearthed during the whole housecleaning whirlwind.

There's a lot to share, coming up. But that's where I've been.