return to the redwoods – part 2   14 comments

Posted at 4:01 pm in birds,california,memory,trees

It’s a fact. Traveling alone can be quite stressful. When driving in unfamiliar territory, you struggle to read maps and navigate through traffic. In the past, Don did much of the driving while I read maps and charted our course. Luckily, I’m a good navigator. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be sitting here in Arizona writing about my travels of the past few months.

There are other stresses as well. What if I get lost? What if the van breaks down? What if I get sick — who will take care of Sabrina? What if I lose my car keys, wallet, money, or passport? Luckily, none of those things happened, although I did, in fact, lose one of my car keys (we’ll get to that story sometime soon). When there are two of you on the road together, none of these things seems quite so problematic. You’re both carrying keys, wallets, and money. You never feel truly “lost” — instead, you’re just taking the scenic route and can laugh about the “very long detour” at a later date. If you get sick, there’s someone to look after everything until you’re feeling better. Also, there are two of you to discuss and decide on a route, or one to take over as the “relief driver” when the other begins to feel fatigued. Together, you can figure out how late you should travel before getting a campsite or looking for a motel. Alone, such considerations become more critical. All of the above niggling fears were never far from my mind as I made my way from Oregon to Arizona. Add the constant stress to that which I’d experienced over the past year, and sometimes it was hard to avoid feeling too overwhelmed to push on, but at this point in the journey, I didn’t have a choice. To cope with these feelings, I pretended that each morning was the beginning of a fresh, new adventure, while days that ended badly due to difficulties or mistakes were regarded as “interesting experiments” that didn’t turn out quite as planned. Most times, that form of mental trickery seemed to work — more or less.

On my second day in California, I found myself struggling to make some decisions. I’d been hoping for decent weather so that I could spend a few hours along two rivers which Don and I had visited in 2006. However, a large and very unfriendly weather system moved in during the night after my arrival at the Smith River. Sabrina and I awoke to the sound of a steady rain beating down on the van roof. I soon made an executive decision to move on and look elsewhere for the coming evening’s campsite. Regrettably, that entailed abandoning my plan to linger along those rivers that meant so much to me. However, I decided to at least drive to the coast to revisit a few of our favourite spots around Crescent City. It was stormy and cold at the look-off for the Battery Point lighthouse (see above – click on all photos for larger view). Sabrina and I found ourselves alone gazing down at the swelling seas breaking on the rocks far below.

I drove over to the breakwater pier, hoping to see Brown Pelicans — I’d harbored a wish to see flocks of them as Don and I had so enjoyed watching them fly overhead at so many points along the California coast in 2006. At first, it seemed that there were none around. Sabrina and I stood searching the sky while getting well and truly soaked by the frigid rain. At last, I called it quits and walked back to the van. As I stood by the van’s sliding door, drying Sabrina with a towel, I caught sight of a long line of Pelicans struggling southwards into the wind. They were having a difficult time making headway, but on they went. I shot a couple of photos, shut the van doors, and drove southward, in the wake of the wind-battered Pelicans.

As I’ve written elsewhere, many points of this journey intersect with those of my past travels in the west – some with Don, and others with a close friend. My “trip map” resides in my thoughts — a palimpsest of routes interwoven through time and space. One of the intersections is the redwoods of Prairie Creek – and more specifically, the Corkscrew Tree. In my personal mythology, it figures like some form of energy vortex, binding several pathways into one. With a light rain falling, Sabrina and I made our way to the tree where I put my hands onto its thick, twisting bark, roughly where I remembered Don having placed his hands just two years before. Perhaps, subconsciously, I hoped to connect to that time, and in some ways that was true. It felt as though very little time had passed — much like when you run into an old friend and ten years feels more like ten minutes. However, in the end, it was just Sabrina and I standing in the rain, with her looking soggy, bewildered and even a little sad.

We returned to the van. I took a photo of Sabrina walking ahead of me. Oddly, the camera seemed to capture just how that scene looked through my eyes as my tears mixed with the now rapidly falling rain.

I now had to make a decision about which route to take and where to stay for the night. I had briefly considered turning inland at Arcata to take Hwy 299 through the Trinity Alps Wilderness region, but the sight of an upside down pick-up truck that had spun out during a few minutes of freezing sleet about an hour back along the road made me reconsider. That turned out to be a wiser choice than I had imagined as the 299 route takes longer than I had calculated (more on this in “part 3”). Instead, I chose to continue southwards, wondering if the weather would improve by the time I got to Patrick’s Point (it didn’t). The only plan I could come up with was to either look for a motel around Eureka, or find a campsite at an inland park. I quickly discounted the motel idea as I was feeling the need to be in the redwoods — as alone in the forest as is possible at a campground. I decided on trying to make it down to Burlington Grove in the Humboldt Redwoods, so drove on through the rain, hoping that I might leave it behind as I moved inland. Taking a rest from driving, I stopped at the rock shop along the highway near Rio Dell, and ended up buying a slice of green rock that the owner of the shop said was Mariposite, from Mariposa, California. That got us talking about places and travels. When he heard I was from Canada, he said he’d never been “up there” and that I’d come an awfully long way from home. He was quite right, in more ways that one.

It was still raining when I got to Burlington Grove, but lightly enough that I was able to cook us a hot meal over the little propane stove. I chose a campsite in the shelter of a burned out redwood stump – the same one in which I camped in 2007 while traveling with a friend. Thankfully, the campgrounds were almost empty as it was inclement and so late in the season. It felt peaceful and safe. With raindrops pattering onto the van roof, Sabrina and I soon fell asleep and restored a little of the precious energy we’d been expending all too quickly for the past few weeks.

Written by bev on January 6th, 2009