“Crap, it’s hot!”
The midmorning autumn sun was lasing into the windows of the Fun Car as we loaded it one last time. It gave me an instant headache. Wasn’t it raining just yesterday? Didn’t we spend all of Oregon trying to choose between windbreaker slicker, Danish raincoat, and umbrella?
Over the Green Pass into Chaparral
We had come over the Siskiyou Pass the previous night, south from Ashland in a setting sun that kept trying to peek through a cloud bank. The Pass is the highest point on I-5 at 4310 feet, and my ears popped coming down as KK, the better driver, carefully navigated among cautious truckers manually downshifting and deathwish sports cars.
I was treated to a stunning view of rolling brown hills of the Cascade-Siskiyou Forest to the east and Klamath to the west, polka-dotted with pumpkin-colored tamaracks. Just after the California border, the trees dropped away into what looks like desert, although this is chaparral, high desert. Central California is full of rolling hills with drought-reistant thickets like manazanitas. It just looks brown compared with the green we’ve left, but this is its own kind of tough and hardy place, as much as the climate and people we’ve left in the north.
Mount Shasta was more obliging, however, than the mountains in Oregon and Washington. Rainier and Hood were completely obscured on our scenic drive, and my Washington-based brother had helpfully sent me a photo of what Rainier would have looked like on a good day after my grumbling blog. Thanks, so much. Meanwhile, just a few miles past the California Agricultural Inspection station, we came over a rise and here was California’s final stunning contribution to the volcanic Cascade range that started with Mount Baker up at the Canadian border.
Shasta is, technically, an active volcano, last known to have erupted in 1786. Estimates are that it erupts every 6-800 years, so we may not be due for a while, although I am aware geological averages don’t actually work that way. The mountain complex is four separate volcanic cones, plus Cinder Cone and Black Butte nearby. What was starkly visible, because the setting sun threw shadows behind it, was Shastina in front, a small second promontory only a couple thousand feet below the main peak. If Shastina were a separate mountain, it would rank as the 4th highest peak across the range, but instead it forever protrudes like a hump off Shasta’s back. (Or, to me, like Voldemort emerging from Professor Quirrell).
The fjords of Lake Shasta were dim as we drove the long bridge across the waters, still low from years of drought. Stopping in Redding, we schlepped in the luggage one last time and crawled into our hotel room after dark, one last night. Too tired for anything more than cheese and crackers… well, we might have been full from that one last splurge at Zoey’s Ice Cream back at Ashland, but who can say?
Turtle Bay Wow!
In Redding, after loading the car in the following day’s growing heat, we drove over to Turtle Bay, a recently built 300-acre complex that has expanded in two decades to include an arboretum, museum, complex of walking paths, and the magnificent Sundial Bridge.
The bridge, like all civic projects, has its own storied history. The locals in the 1990s wanted a nice little covered $3 million bridge, just to walk across the Sacramento River. They hired Santiago Calatrava, who designed a dramatic cantilever cable-stayed artwork similar to the one he’d completed in Seville, Spain. Costs climbed to $23 million and private funding had to step in.
What they got transformed the landscape, attracted tourists (like me), and paved the way for creation of an entire complex that now links to a Convention Center. Redding in that 30-year period has grown nearly 40%, and the area now generates millions in commerce and tourism. I suspect the covered-bridge favorers grumble all the more that they can’t get a decently-priced cup of coffee anymore and continue to move north to Yreka.
We had been smart enough to notice that the forecast would be clear and sunny, so the sweat pants and woolen socks went back in the suitcase to be replaced by short sleeves and lightweight capris. Even properly dressed, though, the 88 degree heat was unexpected. The plan was for a nice one or two mile walk before one last fling of a meal. I did have a trail map, but this was once of those times where my map, GPS phone, and trail markers all suggested different paths. I kept getting confused and eventually gave up on an ordered loop. We ambled aimlessly for an hour, trying to stay in shade, eventually giving up as sweat started to trickle down our backs to head for the gift shop and off to lunch. (Which might have been an excellent veggie pizza at Mini-Max’s on Dana Drive, but it’s hard to really know).
If we’d gotten up a little earlier or allowed more time… but that would have us crawling through the Bay Area suburbs smackdab during rush hour if we dawdled. No dawdling. Next time we will give ourselves a half day to explore the extensive Botanical Gardens at Turtle Bay. Redding used to be just a couple of diners and Chevron stations. Who knew?
The Seesaw of Wanderlust and Homecoming
It seems funny to be so familiar with a 200-mile stretch of road that I know all the Rest Stops, the gas stations, the way the merge works through Fairfield, the bump in the highway on the corner before the Carquinez Strait. There’s a spot where highways 680 and 80 combine where my mom died in a car accident; I am always aware when we pass it. I also remember driving across the original Benicia Bridge with my uncle in 1976 as he pointed out the rusting navy fleet, now only a few remaining hulks. Another time, I was stuck on the newly built bridge in traffic trying to get to one of the airports. Since it’s about 80 miles at that point from any airport, it was quite a thing.
If you hit traffic when you are traveling, you blame it on other tourists or people who shouldn’t be there. You feel unlucky; you have made a cosmic error. When you hit traffic that you are familiar with, you know are getting close to home. Been through this before, the far lane works the best, take the frontage, or just be patient. Nothing says Home in the Bay Area like lots of tail lights.
Actually, even though it was already 4:30 by the time we had stopped for one last McD’s soda, traffic through the 680 corridor wasn’t too bad. We left the GPS on the whole time, all the way up the Eden Grade and off the freeway, even though we know the route, because it is satisfying to hear the voice say, “in 200 yards, you will reach Home.”
21 days. 3063 miles. Three plays and one concert. Two whales and too many otters to count. Three bicycle rentals; three stops for ice cream (?cosmic balance?). Two ferry rides, and two gourmet French toasts. Two museums, both in Victoria. The entire season three of Justified. Audiobooks of The Girl of His Dreams, Moriarty, and half of Kill the Queen. Three nights with family, including two movies and two games of pickleball (?cosmic balance?). Around 800 photos. Twelve car stickers.How I spent my shoulder vacation
Sometimes I think I’m just a housecat at heart. When I’m home, I want to go out. When I’m out, soon enough, I want the comforts of home again.
I seesaw back and forth between wanting to go and wanting to be home. Three weeks is usually the perfect amount of time. I like seeing something different every day, but then I really start looking forward to having light come in the room in the morning, to waking up without blackout curtains. To sticking my nose in the refrigerator or pantry just to see what we’ve got. (After three weeks of Woohoo!, the answer is fruit and nonfat yogurt, but I still look.) To spreading my stuff out on my desk or the kitchen table and not putting it away for a while.
It reminds me of the song, “Homeward Bound.” Not the Simon & Garfunkel one, but the one that my daughter’s senior high school choir sang, and I can share a snippet below. Although that particular version always makes me tear up because it was children-turned-adults about to go off to college. Still, I find myself humming it today.
Then the wind will set me racing“Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen
As my journey nears its end
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again–
Bind me not to the pasture
Chain me not to the plow
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow
On the other hand, maybe this is the perfect time to plan for the trip in the spring. New Zealand? Quebec? Prague?
Where do we get to go next?