Crossing the Siskiyou Pass, there’s a spot about 4 miles north of the California border where you come around a sweeping turn and are suddenly faced with the majestic Mt. Shasta in all it’s snow capped glory. After many long hours of driving, and with many more to come, it’s this moment when I get that overwhelming feeling of having come home. Maybe it’s the summers spent with my family on and around the mountains and lakes of the Shasta/Trinity forest or those late teen years hiking with friends throughout Lassen Volcanic Park, but simply seeing this peak brings a great comfort to my soul.
Of course once you’ve passed through this beautiful paradise, you drop into the upper Central Valley of California and for the next hundred miles you can’t help but want to turn the car around and head back north. It doesn’t take long before the miles upon endless miles of alfalfa and olive trees begin to take their toll. Not to mention the unbearable heat and horrible roads. It was this desolate landscape that slapped me back to the reality of this unexpected trip home, my fathers impending hip surgery.
After 10 days of hospital visits, cleaning, moving furniture, cooking and generally getting Pop’s house ready for his return with a walker and various other accoutrement, and sure he was in the good hands of his girlfriend, I was ready to head home. I dreaded getting back on that same highway now that I wasn’t in a hurry and I wanted to relax and enjoy the trip knowing everything was under control. So, I did a little mapquest query and found that heading West across the SF Bay and North, along the Redwood Highway would only add about 3 hours to my drive. I hadn’t taken that route in over 15 years and the choice between driving straight flat roads in 90+ degree temps, with the air conditioner on full bore revisiting those Olive trees, versus winding mountain roads, windows-down-fresh-air and Redwoods…towering Redwoods…spectacular, towering Redwoods, was a no brainer.
By the time I hit Sonoma County the Grateful Dead were moving me merrily down the road and all the stress of the previous week started to fall away. Before I knew it I was through Garberville and turning off the highway to drive along the Avenue of the Giants. This stretch of road is magical and driving through the filtered sunlight under those grand Coast Redwoods it’s as if time stops. The centuries old trees appeal to my soul, calling me close. It’s impossible to not stop and touch their beautiful bark, feel their strength, lie beneath them. That rich, woody scent fills me with a peaceful energy clears my mind. This was a journey I hadn’t realized was necessary until this very moment.
Getting back into the car facing another 7 hours of driving suddenly seems welcome and I continue out to the coast, the trees falling away and then…returning, in between short views of the Pacific Ocean and the smell of salt air. With the marine layer now moving in, blotting out the sun, I roll up the window and smile at just how far I’ve driven and how many different climates I’ve experienced since departing the Central Valley with it’s brown hills, scrub oak and dry heat earlier that morning. However, the marine layer also reminds me of Portland and the fact that I’ll be living with those gray skies soon enough so it’s time to head back over the coast range and into warmer weather for the night.
I turned East just after Crescent City and continue on the Redwood Highway toward its terminus in Grants Pass but first there’s one last stand of the big trees in the Jedediah Smith State Park before I reach unknown territory. Well…unknown to me. I’ve never driven beyond the park and was thrilled to have chosen this point to cross back to the valley. The road runs alongside the Smith River and the canyon is beautiful. It wasn’t until this point that I really missed having Mark and the dog along. Not that I didn’t want them along to begin with but here were so many opportunities to swim the dog and enjoy this narrow canyon. I’m already plotting a way to drag them down there for a long weekend of camping.
The canyon finally opens up just after the Oregon border to yet another surprise: the Illinois Valley. This area is home to many budding vineyards and its gently rolling hills, rivers and quaint little towns remind me of Sonoma County before the population boom of the late 80’s.
Of course I did have to get home as our friend Bill Hawley was arriving in Portland that very night so I said farewell to my mini-vacation and hit the I-5 at Grants Pass. Once the sun set, I started to feel the weariness of such a long drive…and not feel anything in my left foot so I decided it was time to find a place to sleep. I purposely stopped in a small town with nothing to distract me, found some dinner and promptly went to bed so I could be up for the quick three hour drive to Portland early the next morning.
Although the purpose of the trip was not a pleasant one, I was able to make it enjoyable by taking the scenic route home. It was nice to visit places I haven’t seen in many years even if only out the car window. Spending time in the Redwoods and the trek through Shasta/Trinity brought back many fond memories and those are sometimes best experienced in solitude. Back home now it’s as though I was on a little magic ride through time and still I’m filled with peace.