At 7:15 a.m. I am introduced to my sturdy rental steed—a Nissan Versa. Cherry red—should be handy for cops to spot, itching to give out speeding tickets. My enabler, the counter girl (she is a girl with such a giggle) gives me the 45-second tour of the inner workings of the car. Whoosh, out of the parking lot I go.
I’m starting a road trip down to the Bay Area of California from Bellingham, Washington and back. Google says I’m in for a 1600+ mile trip. I “need” to see two old friends before I just don’t do solo road trips anymore.
Before I head really south I have a meeting with my client. I write grants for their 1.5 million dollar most-worthy preservation project of an 1892 Victorian-rare for Quilcene on the Olympic Peninsula. Rare these days, for most anywhere.
And, then lunch with my daughter. At my hosts that evening, several servings of red wine into sharing funny stories, I knock over my glass, soaking a good portion of my dark blue jeans that I will be wearing for the next two days.
By the middle of Day One, as the temps creep up into the high 80’s, the aroma of red wine emanates from my crotch. I quit at Grants Pass even though my frisky Nissan likes to go 75 and has more pep than I do.
Day two—cutting across Oregon, I leave I-5 for the coast. Within a few miles south of Crescent City (no tsunami today, thanks) a herd of elk lounges in the meadow. Cars are barely off the road, passengers out gaping, and cameras clicking. There must be 75 lady elk and a few lesser dudes in the background. The foreground is dominated by a male elk with a rack as big as my car. I slow down to look and my head feels heavy in solidarity with what it must be like for him to turn and gaze at the babes!
And, then within another few miles I come upon a funky, leftover 60’s town of five or so day-glow painted buildings drenched in colors only the very stoned can appreciate. At the end of the town is a bar—open, by the way—called The G Spot! And then a few more miles down 101, the Trump signs begin.
My time in Novato, California with my friend Justine is sweet in so many ways. Lazy mornings in jammies drinking coffee with toast, memories, histories, current events, and general astonishment that we are THIS OLD! I look at her and am struck by the deepest understanding that neither one of us will be here forever. I see the table and the chairs empty.
It is too damn hot to do much—days in the 90’s when even modest walks leave us limp as rags. One day at the beach is all it takes to recover and then mercifully, the weather breaks.
Next stop, up the dreaded I-80 (10 lanes of driving into hell—I think of Dante) and on to Chico, California where the temperature hasn’t broken. My oldest friend, Joan, from the early 1970’s and I hike an other-worldly lava trail carved by a river until we too are limp and pink faced from the heat. We are possibly the sisters, in spirit, we always wanted and never had. More memories, catching up, laughter, and a connection back to one of the most important people in my life-past or present. She’s become an incredible photographer and charming geek.
The next morning it’s cool and autumn-gold on our walk. I feel a seasonal sadness, maybe from how long it might be before I see her again, and can barely make myself drive away.
Back in my tiny world of the Nissan, I slip in disk 8 of Tana French’s Irish detective novel In the Woods. The narrator is great company, respectful of my need to be untethered from my daily life and duties in a way only endless highway miles provide.
My last night on the road is at the Best Western Plus in Salem, Oregon. The plus escapes me, but in the Denny’s where I get a discount as a guest of the motel, a codger of uncertain intent ambles over to my table where I am reading the paper.
“Me and my friends can’t stand to see a woman eating alone and wonder if you would like to join us.” I look over and there are three more cute codgers grinning at me.
“That’s very nice of you to offer, but I’m too tired to chat.” I must look pathetic. “Thank you, though, for the invite.” He gives me a sympathetic pat on my drooping shoulder and returns sans babe—me!
Life suddenly becomes . . . amusing? Surprising? Simply kind.
The last leg of my trip involves not being mowed down by edgy, balls-to-the-wall city drivers starting outside of Portland (in the pouring rain, early dark departure) until I start to see the signs for Bellingham.
The familiar roll of the highway, the forested mountains, Lake Samish have all slipped into my passenger seats for the last sixteen miles. I am tired, grateful for a safe trip, missing my two friends, and full of that indescribable feeling when you are almost home!