Halloween, 2016. The sun was well up when I awoke. I luxuriated for a while in my sleeping bag, then leapt up, aware than I had less than 20 hours to finish everything needed before leaving for the ATA Conference on the other side of the world.
My friends the Lamkins had been checking my mail, which was stacked on the kitchen table. After turning on the water, purging the gas lines in the stovetop, and opening the house, I cut open the boxes and envelopes. Everything that I had sent myself had arrived. No surprises, such as unpaid bills. Timoteo Lamkin had paid the city garbage fee that came back in July.
The linens were not moldy, so I made up the bed properly and hung the towels that I had packed away. I did not want to start doing too much, or buy groceries when I would be gone, but I did wipe out the refrigerator and turned it to its lowest setting. Then I rode to Gaeta to check my mail at the Fleet Post Office. I reintroduced myself to the Postal Clerk and told her that I was back. That night I took the Lamkins to dinner both as a thank you and to report on the trip. I turned in early.
Tuesday, 1 November Up at 0430, packed and out the door in time to catch the trains before the ones I had tickets for. Under the news rules (last August, while I was gone), one is not supposed to take an earlier or later train, but no one came to check tickets at that hour. Smooth connexions and good food on Swiss Air. Saw all three Divergent movies on the flight to San Francisco airport (SFO). The connexions for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) were easy to find. I checked into the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero without a hitch. The suitcase that I had sent from Bellingham, Washington, at the end of August was waiting for me. I went to bed early. Some days the plans come together.
For the next four and a half days, life was the usual frantic swirl of the Annual Conference of the American Translators Association (ATA). Between the three presentations that I gave and the various Division Meetings and training sessions, there wasn’t much time for anything else.
The ATA Conference is both exhilarating and very special to those of us who typically work alone, and see like-minded colleagues only once a year. To capture some of the flavour of the Conference, check out the video made during the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkWifknDNVY I hope you enjoy it.
The Conference wrapped up on Saturday night, except for a debriefing session early Sunday morning for Certification Exam Graders. I skipped the final dance party to meet Cheryl out front.
The next day after the Graders’ meeting, we checked out and went to SFO to rent a car, because I would be the last one leaving on the 16th, and I could return it there when I flew out. Fox Rentacar was swamped while all the other rental agents were sitting idle. Still, the car was no bargain, a Nissan Sentra with 45000 miles on the odometer for a 10-day rental. I should have turned it down, but after spending so much time in the Car Rental Center at SFO, I just wanted to get out of there.
Cheryl was in guide mode again, showing me the coast that she has enjoyed riding so much. We started down Highway 37, which connected with Highway 1. Even as the sun sank into the Pacific and the fog rolled in, the coast was spectacular. I almost missed the turn to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, where the Hostel International Pescadero sat on a cliff overlooking the crashing waves. It offered a hot tub right over the rocks. We happened to be the only ones reserving our time slot, so we had the place to ourselves. A unique feeling, sitting comfortably in warm water, while the lighthouse beam swung through the fog above and the Pacific Ocean crashed against the cliffs below.
On Monday, we stopped to walk through the Año Nuevo State Reserve, just south of Pescadero. Much of the rest of the day, we stayed on the road, except to stop at overlooks. Although I was driving, the scenery that I saw along the coast took my breath away. Often I wished that I had the handlebars of my Brodie in my hands instead of a steering wheel. We stopped for lunch at Kelly’s French Bakery in Santa Cruz. As the sun set, we drove around Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove, admiring the big homes on the water. We cut straight to Carmel, where my mother had managed an art gallery, while my sister Louise went to High School.
It was full dark when we arrived. Carmel does not invest in street lighting off the main Ocean Avenue, but the Green Lantern Inn had plenty of its own street lights. “Quaint” only touches on a description of the property, where each “room” is actually a small cottage. Holly House upstairs provided privacy and instant access to the street. We went for a walk along Ocean Avenue and its side streets. There were easily six times as many art galleries as I remembered, and many more boutiques. I had a hard time figuring out where the Ianetti Art Gallery had been.
The next day, I showed Cheryl the house where Mom had lived. We made the mandatory grocery run and fuel stop at the Carmel Crossroads Shopping Center, then headed south toward the Big Sur. The original Spanish explorers gave the area the name, the “Big Unknown Area South of Here.” Just thinking of that gave a sense of adventure to the drive toward it.
At Point Lobos State Park, we hiked along the beach and out to the point on the ocean side. Seals were sunning on the beach; there was room for everyone to enjoy the day. The view of Monterey Bay was familiar from the many photographs and paintings that it has inspired. None of them capture the beauty of the real thing with the sea and clouds in motion.
Cheryl was visibly disappointed that the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was closed with no explanation. I was in awe of the trees on either side of the road, and the views along the coast. In the center of the great wilderness forest that is the Big Sur, there a small strip that is not public land, where the post office, hotels, and restaurants cluster. We checked into the Big Sur River Inn, showered and changed for dinner. Nepenthe is a tourist attraction in itself, and dinner at sunset overlooking the beach would not be soon forgotten.
The next morning on our way south, we noticed that the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was open. Cheryl wanted me to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve, and I am glad that she did. They were lying so thick on the beach that they looked like piles of driftwood. We spent more than an hour there, walking the boardwalk and watching the seals in their various playful and not so playful activities.
In the afternoon, we returned to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. There, we learned that the larger park had been seriously damaged by the wildfires that swept through Big Sur earlier this year. It would take two years for the rangers to rebuild the facilities and reopen the park.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park had four trails into the wilderness on the mountain side of the highway. We took a hike along the Canyon Trail, which, aptly named, turned into a box canyon. We made our way back to another trail, which climbed to a small building at the top of the ridge. We clambered over deadfall and marvelled at the mighty trees reaching into the canopy. Deep in the forest, away from machines and industry, there is more oxygen, and I delighted in taking deep, slow breaths, trying to open air sacs closed shut by exhaust fumes. We were maybe halfway up to the ridge line when we had to turn around to get back by sunset.
That night, we slept at Deetjen’s Inn, a historic property with a story of its own. Helmuth Deetjen, a Norwegian immigrant, settled in Big Sur in the 1920’s, and married Helen Haight. On her land in Castro Canyon, he built a set of Norwegian-style cottages in the 1930’s. The couple devoted themselves to taking in travellers on the then new, but rugged Highway 1. The canyon is very secluded and easy to miss. Except for electric lights and showers, it has never been “upgraded.” No phone, no TV, no internet, no bars on your smartphone. Perfect for anything not electronic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deetjen’s_Big_Sur_Inn
On Thursday, we headed north. First, we returned to Point Lobos State Park, where we finished hiking the trails that we had not walked earlier. This included a very interesting exhibition of life on Point Lobos before it became a State Park. We came across a painter working on a canvas of Monterey Bay, seen from a steep inlet and looking over the waves exploding on rocks in the foreground.
We drove the Seventeen Mile Drive through Pebble Beach. Some drive the famous road for the scenery, some for the five golf courses, and others for the celebrities’ homes and the mansions of the exceedingly wealthy. Having paid for the privilege of using their thoroughfare, we drove it twice, catching both the coast and the inland forest. We had lunch on Sunset Drive in Pacific Grove just outside Pebble Beach. Then we visited the monarch butterfly shelter, which is a city park. Thousands of monarch butterflies stop there on migration, and many spend the winter in Pacific Grove. They looked like clumps of dead leaves hanging in the trees high above us, until they started to move. Fascinating.
A drive along Cannery Row and a grocery stop at the Del Monte shopping center lay on our way to Santa Cruz, where we stayed at the Hostel. I was very impressed by the Santa Cruz area: not as costly as other parts of the central coast, but with comfortable weather, and the clean air that I found so exciting on the West Coast.
As we made our way back to San Francisco, we stopped at the entrance to a tunnel on Highway 1. We walked the Devil’s Slide, a 2.2-km stretch of Highway 1 that had slid into the sea so many times, that the State finally drilled a tunnel through the promontory, and the County turned the deadly stretch into a pedestrian and bicycle area. Cheryl had ridden it shortly after it opened. Without the heavy cars and trucks, the linear park should last indefinitely.
The Golden Gate Bridge tolls only apply to southbound traffic, so we had no delays crossing to Marin County. The view of the bridge and the metropolis beyond was worth picking our way past the other cars and tour busses to the overlook in the Golden Gate Natural Recreation Area. I had forgotten that it was Veteran’s Day (or Armistice Day) weekend. After that, Cheryl showed me Muir Woods National Monument, in an isolated canyon on the coastal side of the ridge. It took us a half hour to find parking, but that was worth the trouble. The stands of redwoods and Douglas firs reach so high into the thick canopy, that the effect resembles a large indoor arena with trees in it.
Muir Woods is steeped in the history of the conservation movement in the United States, and named for the founder of the Sierra Club. When Franklin Roosevelt died in 1945, the delegates to the United Nations Charter Convention came here for his memorial service. The Cathedral Grove today awes those who walk through it. Park signs remind visitors to observe silence in the grove.
We made our way as the sun set to Geyserville, which I remembered from our drive back to Vancouver from Lake Tahoe in July. The Geyserville Inn was our first stop in the wine country.
For the next two days, we crisscrossed Sonoma County, armed with our Tickets to the Wine Country. We visited dozens of wineries. First, we drove to the end of the Dry Creek, where the Corps of Engineers has a reservoir deep in the mountains, Lake Sonoma. The next day, we visited the Russian River valley. We enjoyed the farmer’s market in Healdsburg. Some of the names were familiar, but most were not. In fact, a fair number of the wineries seem to limit their retail sales to direct visitors, focusing on the quality of what they offer, rather than the quantity. We particularly liked Preston Vineyards and Martinelli (not related to the sparkling cider people).
On Sunday, we spent the afternoon at a wine-tasting and food pairing event at Saint Francis Vineyards. The chef carefully crafted dishes for the seven courses, each designed to complement the wine being served. A memorable experience, worthy of the bucket list of anyone who likes good food and wine. After the dégustation, we drove back to Santa Rosa, to meet my dear friend Jim Richardson, until recently the Rector of my church in Charlottesville. We spent the evening sharing experiences and adventures of the last two years.
Monday after visiting Jim’s beautiful church, Incarnation on Mendocino and Cherry Avenues, we drove to the Chateau St. Jean winery just to visit the impressive house. A scenic wander took us along Route 128 and the mountains that border the wine country to the east. We arrived in the late afternoon at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn north of Sonoma itself. This proved to be a great value, a historic hotel with a hot spring and a Michelin two-star restaurant, Santé. We relaxed for hours that evening.
Tuesday, 15 November, our last full day together. We went to the post office in Sonoma to send home the Christmas wreath that Cheryl had purchased. We toured Sonoma Plaza and the Mission, where we learned a lot about the Mission Trail, which ended at Sonoma. I was surprised to read the true story of the Golden Bear Republic, and how it only lasted 24 hours. The action took place in Sonoma.
Cheryl has a penchant for finding interesting, historic properties, and the Berkeley Club, a mansion on the edge of the University of California – Berkeley, was yet another one. After unpacking, Cheryl went for a haircut, and I walked up to the University as the sun set. I should not have been surprised by the short days – it was mid-November, after all. But winter was creeping up on me slowly.
Walking the campus at Cal-Berkeley, I enjoyed an Asian drum band practicing, and dodged the unlit bicycles flying in all directions. I could not make it to the Chemistry Building, where my grandfather taught until his death in 1926, but I did see the famous bell tower decked out for the football season.
We had a special dinner planned for our last night, at Chez Panisse. Every time it came up, the very name evinced breathy intakes of air and exclamations of wonder. Now I knew why. I don’t even remember what we ate, only the feeling of well-being that suffused the evening.
On Wednesday, Cheryl’s flight to Vancouver took off at 0645; mine did not leave until 1925. Making our way with the early morning commuters in the dark, a wide range of emotions came over me. Cheryl and I had been together for four and a half months, for what could only be called a series of wonderful adventures. We were each going home. For her, that was Vancouver. For me, the very concept of “home” was whirling around, looking for a definition.
A quick kiss on the sidewalk, and we went our ways. I drove back to the hotel to check out and load my bag. I turned in the car at SFO, and settled in to wait for my flight. Soon, I was on my way across North America and the Atlantic for the last time this year. Connections went smoothly. After almost seven months on the road, I let myself into the flat in Formia at 2200 on Thursday, 17 November 2016.
Six weeks later, I am still in Formia. I have been to Rome twice, to visit an art exhibition by the amazing Rebecca Lester, and to meet with an author interested in having his books translated. A pair of trips to the US Naval Hospital in Gricignano di Aversa confirmed that I remain in good health, which is no small blessing at any age.
2016 has been momentous year on the global, national and local level, not only in the United States, but in every country that I visited. The year has taught me much: about camping, about bicycle touring, about relationship, and about myself. To kick off 2017, I will take some space to consider the lessons learned and the changes ahead. Meanwhile, to you and yours, I wish a safe celebration of New Year’s Eve, and may the coming year bring you health, happiness and prosperity, as well as
Smooth roads and tailwinds,