After passing across a mist enshrouded Golden State Bridge, the plan was to head into the Redwood Forests of California’s Northern coast and then find someplace to stop for the night. As I was passing through the last of the scenic routes along Route 101, with the setting sun dappling the great trees, an almost full disc of silver caught my eye. Thoughts of dissipated like the mists. There is just something about a long drive at night. Yes, you miss a lot of things, but it can be like driving into magic.
Into the undiscovered country, I wrote on Facebook. The Pacific Northwest, or PNW as it is called. I’d never been here. I had flown into San Francisco and walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, but I had never driven in. Philadelphia sis at about 39 degrees latitude. San Francisco about 37. What was beyond it and what kind of roads awaited me.
California, like Colorado, had had doubles doses of a very bad year. It was a very dry year and all of the forest lands are sitting there like dry kindling. In CO, some nitwits took illegal tracer rounds to a firing range. It would eventually shut down the main east west corridor as well as choking businesses struggling to reopen. In California, it was Mother Nature. The people of San Francisco saw something unlike anything they had ever seen: a massive lighting storm. I believe there was well over 1,000 recorded strikes. And California began to burn.
I had smelled it and saw it the entire time I was in southern California. There was a haze to the air. The fires were mostly around of San Francisco. As I drove through wine country, the haze was still there. As I passed through and around each set of mountains, I kept hoping that this would the last of it and I could get away from it.
It was a shame really. It’s beautiful country. With all of the signs to “wine tasting caves,” it should be renamed The Drunk Coast in line with the ivory coast and the gold coast.
I am not sure when it happened, but i finally got beyond the smoke and the haze. Now it was time to go and see some trees. I had always heard of the Redwoods–who hasn’t? But to experience them is unlike anything I could imagine. The entire highway is named Redwood Highway and they dominate the landscape. Huge trunks that a few people couldn’t grab hand to hand around sit along side of the highway. At various points as you drive north, you see “scenic alternatives” and they are the places to really experience the forests.
With multiple paths and pull off points, you are completely alone. You step out of your car into solace, a quiet that goes deeper than the roots of the massive trees. There is a uniqueness to the experience unlike anything I’ve ever done. There is no hush here like the Covid inspired hush in so many states. This hush has been here for centuries.
There are really some great spots along the PCH where the redwoods go down to the water. You are following the coast almost the entire way. It opens up into coves and beaches here and there. My goal was Eureka, but the real treasure to me was Crescent. I think (?) it’s the northernmost town in California along the PCH. But that was a far as I got as I turned east.
With the silvery moon huge on the horizon, I started what I thought would be northeast. It wasn’t. The twisting roads weren’t done with me yet. The moon was in front of me, to my right, and to my left as I twisted my way into Oregon. I think it was behind me a few times? Speaking of which, I hope you appreciate the GoPro pictures. Many are taken at risk to life and limb and driving over a cliff. I think I have the system down pat now but I’d love a button on my steering wheel.
As the sunlight disappeared though, and the silvery light of the moon in the deep forests, it becomes sort of magical for me. There was a little bit of regret as I passed the cutoff roads to Crater Lake and other things, and a little bit of fear as I saw a huge something or another chowing down on the plants along the side of the road, but the drive becomes the entirety of the evening.
It’s always good to have a rabbit. The rabbit is the vehicle out in front of the pack. Not only will they be pulled over first, but they also guide you through the twists and turns. And they’ll see the elk before you do. I was the lone rabbit, though, on many of the drives as people pulled off to their homes and I sped towards Bend. Sara McLaughlin kept me company for a while. There is a column in that alone–you spend all your life waiting for a second chance. Then silence for long stretches. Then Robin Ford to take me home. Or the Hilton in this case, finally hitting a long, straight highway where I allowed a new rabbit to take the lead.