The Great American Road Trip

Black Dodge Charger

BeBe has seen quite a bit of the country and has served us well on each trip near and far. I love her.

As some of you may have read or might recall, two years ago my husband and I moved across the country. Not only did we learn that, holy crap! We can survive 11 days in the car together; we also learned that we kind of liked it. We figured that if we could do 3,000 miles in 11 days with the cat and a whole bunch of our crap and honestly say we enjoyed ourselves, then we could enjoy 2,250 miles in 10 days by ourselves driving down the coast from Seattle, WA (hitting the coast at Aberdeen, WA) to Monterey, CA and as much of Big Sur as possible after the landslide (spoiler alert: not very much), then turning back north up the interior to see more of the Cascade Volcanic Arc.

Now, many will argue that setting the kind of pace required to cover that much ground in 10 days doesn’t allow a person to really see any place at all. I would argue that while you certainly don’t get to know a place, you can see so much more when the destination isn’t a location, but the journey itself.

 Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast

The trip started out a bit cold and rainy and my mood matched the weather. I missed my cat. I considered the implications of exploring the beauty of my country while simultaneously worrying for its future. Then I stared out the window, comforted by the fact that I didn’t have the first driving shift, and missed my cat some more.

But by the time we reached Cannon Beach, OR, a place I had to see because the movie The Goonies is still a favorite, the sun had come out. I slapped a genuine smile on my face, ready for adventure.

The Oregon coast is home to some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen, so my smile proved easy to maintain.

View the gallery of Southwestern Washington and the Oregon Coast


California Coast: Northern to Central

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, I had a very clear vision in my head of what California was—as depicted in Beach Boys songs and Hollywood movies. I thought I’d learned how narrow my view had been years ago while visiting southern California. Nope. The diversity of the northern California coastal landscape is difficult to deny. From the Redwoods (covered in the next section), to the rolling hills and blue skies of Sonoma County, to the boardwalk and sandy beaches of Santa Cruz, there was no lack of beautiful and different things to see.

View the gallery of the California Coast: Northern to Central


California Redwoods

It’s hard to stand under the majesty of giant trees, hundreds of years old, and not think about conservation. As some folks might have guessed, I’m a bit of a tree-hugger (evidence in the gallery), but I defy anyone to stand in the presence of those trees and not feel—something. It’s a peculiar feeling to stand next to something so imposing and think, we need to protect you.

Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s all spirit and majesty in the forest. The Avenue of the Giants features a good amount of kitschy roadside tourist attractions traps. My advice: get a guidebook and decide what you want to see before you start down the Avenue. There were a lot of stops we decided not to make because we were already all kitsch-ed out.

View the gallery of the California Redwoods


Bridges

Bridges are testaments to human ingenuity, beautiful marvels of modern engineering, and the best way to connect one side to the other (both literally and metaphorically). They can also be absolutely terrifying if, like me, you are scared of heights and can’t help but notice the hundreds of feet between the bridge and whatever rocky and/or watery hell awaits below. I admit to being intimidated by particularly high bridges, but then I think of the people who had to build them. I think of the people who spent the days of their lives, for however long they were needed, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, staring those rocky and watery versions of hell in the face. They had to build the bridges; we just had to cross them.

View the gallery of Bridges


Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

I’d posted some pictures of Monterey, CA to social media and a buddy of mine suggested that if we were still in the area and had the time, we should go up to the north end of the Monterey Bay and check out the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This friend knows that I’m a fan of the 80s movie The Lost Boys, which was filmed in Santa Cruz; many of the scenes on the boardwalk.

Due to the Big Sur landslide, we had the time—a whole extra day, in fact—so we headed to Santa Cruz. I’d like to point out that this is the second spot we hit specifically due to fuzzy feelings of nostalgia for a movie featuring Corey Feldman. Say what you want about the guy (we all kind of do) but he’s a treasure straight from my childhood. Mr. Feldman, I got nothin’ but love for ya.

View the gallery of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk


Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House

Northern California is home to some of the most beautiful (and most often photographed) Victorian homes in the country from The Carson Mansion and The Pink Lady in Eureka, CA to the painted ladies of San Francisco, but the crown jewel of the Victorian mansions for us was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.

A little background: My husband and I took this trip to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary. We were married in front of the Haunted House ride at Knoebel’s Amusement Resort in Pennsylvania, so it was only natural to add a real “haunted” house to our travel itinerary.

The short version of the story behind the Winchester Mystery House is that Sarah Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, built the home at the urging of a medium who told her that she was being haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, and if she moved out west, bought a house, and kept building on it, the spirits would leave her alone. The house is full of oddities said to be meant to confuse and/or appease the spirits, like stairways to nowhere, windows in the floor, and the number 13 represented throughout. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited inside the mansion.

By the end of the tour I was fascinated by the story of Sarah Winchester, a woman I would not call crazy, though history and folklore often do. Grief-stricken; yes. Desperate; sure. Determined; absolutely. I’m just not so sure about “crazy”.

View the gallery of Victorian Homes and the Winchester Mystery House


Volcanic Ground

Two things become apparent when standing on volcanic ground. One, the Earth is really, really old. Two, it is not yet done forming. High glacial peaks stand witness to the many thousands of years and eruptions it took to form them. Their very existence is cause to consider the power behind eruptions so explosive that they can completely transform millennia-old landscapes in minutes—and that some volcanoes are not dead, only sleeping, and could erupt at any time. (Even as I sit safely writing at my kitchen table, I know I am only doing so under Mount Rainier’s good graces. Thank you, Rainier, for not exploding and killing us all today. I appreciate it.)

Yet, a peaceful feeling came over me as I stood in a field and observed that I was surrounded by volcanoes. Humans and our issues mean nothing to a volcano, and that is a humbling realization. If it had been time for one of those mountains to wake up and scream, then it would have been time and there’d have been nothing I, or anyone else, could have done about it. There is a sense of peace in that knowledge, and maybe that’s why I love volcanoes so much.

I’m blessed to finally check Mount Shasta, Crater Lake, Three Sisters, and Mount Hood off of my volcanic views bucket list.

View the gallery of Volcanic Ground


Wildlife

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for critters. My inner monologue during any wild animal encounter is basically just a reminder on loop that wild animals are, in fact, wild and that trying to make friends with them might not be the best idea. It took a hefty bit of will to swim away from the little sea lion who clearly didn’t know that humans are supposed to stay at least 50 yards away from him. He wanted to play and so did I. However, I was happy that we encountered the bear from the safety of the car, and don’t even get me started on jellyfish swarms.

As you may have suspected, sharing these experiences brings me back to the condition of our environment. I remember looking at that little sea lion and thinking, if humans make this planet uninhabitable for ourselves, well, we had it coming. We knew better and we destroyed it anyway. But what did this little guy do? What does he have coming? I knew enough not to try and hug him, but I really wanted to.

View the gallery of Wildlife


Special Thanks

As mentioned earlier, the thing about doing a trip like this in such a short time is that you don’t really get to know a place—or any of its people, but still, there are some folks I have to thank. First, the staff at Paradise Pet Lodge, Woodinville, WA for understanding that my cat is my little boy, that I’m a little high strung when it comes to him, and that I needed more reassurance than he did. You should know, and it only occurred to me after the fact, that when he lies on his back the way you described, he’s asking for belly rubs—something my Salem only does with those he trusts. Thank you. Without you, this trip truly would not have been possible.

Thank you to that cool family we met in Crescent City, CA, for the preview of Crater Lake. Also, in Crescent City, thank you to the convenience store employee who gave us extra ice. You have no idea how much that helped that day.

To Gene, our tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House, your passion for the property and its history (and I suspect maybe even for Sarah Winchester herself), brought it all to life for me, too, and I cannot thank you enough. Few tour guides have brought me to tears; you are one.

Thanks to Robin at Harbick’s Country Inn, Rainbow, Oregon for treating us like we were the most important people in the world, for being genuinely excited to see us, and for sharing your knowledge of the area. I hope that surprise you were telling us about works out. Thanks, in general, to the people of Rainbow, Oregon for being awesome.

Thanks also, to those along the way not mentioned here, people who—even in the smallest ways—contributed to making this the best trip we’ve taken yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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The Death of Monte: A Glimpse Into the American Love Affair with the Automobile

My husband’s 1998 Chevy Monte Carlo, which we less-than-creatively called Monte, died in the noble pursuit of alcohol on Sunday evening.  We wanted wine with dinner, but missed the 5:00pm cutoff to buy in Connecticut on a Sunday, so we crossed the border to Rhode Island.

As short as the trip was, it was further than we should have dared go in Monte, and as we were heading north on I-95, we noticed a funny sound and smell.  This wasn’t new for Monte.  We had known for a long time that she wasn’t going to get through another inspection.  We suspected that if we took her to a garage to get one problem fixed, no mechanic in his (or her) right mind was going to allow us to take her back off the lot until thousands of dollars of other truly necessary work was done—way more work than the car was worth monetarily.  I had often said that I felt bad for even putting the key in the ignition any longer.  If she had been a human, she would have been allowed to retire ages ago.  But Joe, my husband, faithfully did tune-ups, changed brakes, and took care of any vehicular ailment he could.  He assured me that smells and sounds are common to old cars and was confident he could squeeze another 30,000 miles out of her.  But as the noise got louder and the smell got stronger, I saw his confidence wane.  (He later admitted to me that he knew that this was the proverbial “it” on the highway, but didn’t say anything in an effort not to worry me.)

We purchased our libations and came out to start the car.  She coughed a puff of smoke in protest, and wouldn’t start.  It was the one day neither of us brought our cell phones because it was supposed to be a short trip, so Joe disappeared into the pizza shop beside the package store to call AAA.

I knew this was going to be tough on Joe; he loved that car.  He had purchased her while he was in the Navy and he and Monte had done a couple of cross-country trips together.  But what I hadn’t expected, as I sat on a nearby boulder staring at Monte’s hood, was that my own eyes were growing misty.  I had underestimated how much I loved that car.  I got off the boulder, kissed Monte’s hood, and allowed my memories—and yes, even a couple of tears—to flow.

Monte is partially responsible for me falling in love with Joe to begin with.  Back when we had just started dating, I called Joe one night to see if he wanted to hang out.  He said that he would love to, but he had to finish some work on his car first.  In my boredom, I asked if he would mind if I hung out with him until he was finished. I could stand to learn a thing or two about car maintenance anyway. He told me that of course he didn’t mind, and he was out back.  He’d be the legs sticking out from under the black Monte Carlo.

As I came around the corner, I saw the legs.  I announced my arrival and Joe scooted out.  Sweat poured off of him leaving streaks in the grease on his skin as he wielded a wrench, or some such tool, and cursed in frustration.  It was like Cupid had shot me all over again!  Maybe it’s the Pennsylvania redneck in me, but damn if there isn’t something about a man working on his car that just makes me grin all over!  He had me at, “Can’t get this f*cking bolt loose!”

Joe and I satisfied one of my greatest fantasies in that car.  I won’t say what it was because, much like Monte’s final road days, it may have actually been illegal, but we were “dumb kids” of 29 and 30 so give us a break.

I got my second speeding ticket (but the first in over ten years) to Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” in that car.  But Monte didn’t die in a blaze of glory.  She died with a sad sputter, begging us not to try and start her again.  She didn’t die on the interstate.  She died in a parking lot, telling us that this was as far as she could go.  We were safe.  We were near phones.  What more could we have asked of her?

Monte made trips she shouldn’t have made.  She saved us when newer, shinier cars weren’t up for the job.  She was Miss Kitty with a shotgun and a deadly aim from the second story window, saving the hero during the Old West shoot out, with nothing but a smile, a nod, and a request for more oil—because the oil leaked.

Later, as I sat there sipping my wine with dinner, it felt wrong.  I should have been drinking whiskey.  Monte was a tough old broad and if she had been human, whiskey would have been her drink.  So, we took the little bottle of whiskey from the counter, poured two shots and had a drink to her.  What a car!

How much more proof do you need that we Americans love our cars?

We love freedom and a car is more than just a symbol of that freedom. If we’re willing to make the drive, the car will get us there in comfort, with air conditioning and seats that recline.  The United States of America is a huge country, and that’s why we have famous highways, and humble truck stops that become famous.  It’s part of why we love the freaking cheeseburger!  It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s handheld, and if a fast food restaurant can do it right, a roadside joint can do it better!  The car is a huge part of America the Beautiful in the modern age. And Monte was one of the best.

*Disclaimer: this is not an endorsement of Chevrolet.  Everyone knows I’m a Dodge girl!  But damn…I loved that Chevy!

Rest in Peace, Monte.