Like all excuses, mine are more credible to me than anyone else. Our finite allocation of time has been consumed by classwork, the usual demands of full-time jobs, visitors from out of town, tending to the house and yard, emergency response training, dinners and events that keep friendships alive, and a purposeful exploration of local places previously ignored because “we’d get there someday.”
That was January, February and March. Three short months brimming with experiences, mostly good, some not so good.
Apart from spring break next week, the coming months will be just as full. We have one weekend day that remains unplanned. That won’t last long. There’s a shipment of Prager port to pick up.
Though the days are full, there’s a slowness – even if just a few minutes at time – encouraged by the bluebird skies of the last week. Brought to life by the accompanying warmth of the sun, our California native landscaping is putting on a show unforeseen.
Native landscaping in California requires acceptance that the bounty of spring gives way to dormancy during the summer. While manzanita, a huge island mallow, salvia and yarrow remain green all year, the vibrant green leaves of blue-eyed grass turn brown and whither. California poppies die off after scattering the seeds that will become their progeny.
But for now, the yard is playground of color visited by lizards, birds, bees and butterflies.
And now that the windows are open at night, spring is real and summer looming fast.
I’ve already put almost 300 miles behind me by the time the morning sun’s risen above Mt. Shasta. The gas tank’s just a bit less than half full, one of the four bottles of water is empty and the bag of jerky on the seat next to me beckons. It’s almost time for a stop.
This trip is rooted in the idea of brothers getting together at least once a year. It’s also about driving. Back when we were both underage, short impromptu road trips were about freedom, a small bit of excitement and creating memories. My ’71 Beetle was our magic carpet for many.
Longer trips came later. Our parents had moved to the Seattle area while I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and, for a time, my brother lived in Southern California. The reason for our first 788-mile run to Washington has faded now but the thrill of the drive is alive and well. It took us 14½ hours. Stops were few. We ate in the car. While one was refueling the car the other would use the bathroom, then we’d switch places. There’s a lot more to that story, but that’s for another time.
Attempting this latest trip from Benicia, Calif., to Issaquah, Wash., would be an uneasy balance of reality and perception. And a promise to my wife that I’d exercise good judgement, stopping if there was even a remote possibility should it be necessary. The reality is that I’m not a spring chicken (or rooster?) anymore, but the idea I could do it myself – encouraged by the memory of that “banzai run” (my brother’s words) year ago – was enticing.
The plan was to visit the parents for a bit, then meet up with my brother for fishing, shooting, hiking and swimming; all activities of summer well suited for the last week of July. I would have no co-pilot, no flight attendant. Preparation was vital. The cooler would be loaded with two bottles of water, frozen the night before, aluminum bottle also filled with water, and two small pastrami sandwiches. (The old trick of lightly buttering the bread before slathering on condiments would prevent any sogginess.) Another aluminum water bottle sat in the cup holder. Everything would be within easy reach.
I woke up five minutes before the 4:30 a.m. alarm. It’s odd how that works – the body wakes up ready to go when the day doesn’t involve going to the office. I left the driveway a few minutes after the hoped-for 5 a.m. departure.
There was no competition for the fast lane. I don’t feel like I’ve made enough progress until familiar roadways are miles behind. The I-80/I-505 interchange is for me a demarcation between familiarity and mere acquaintance. Here begins long, lonely, two-lane stretches of highway that pass thirsty orchards and fields; towns that owe their existence to I-5 travelers; truck stops filled with Freightliners, Kenworths and Peterbilts (and these days Volvos); and rest areas roughly 40 miles apart. Endless power lines and aqueducts fade in and out of view.
Though “The Five” parallels the Pacific coastline, it is well inland and generally manages to skirt much of the best scenery in California, Oregon and Washington. But it’s fast; choosing I-5 is all about expediency. Much of the way, the posted speed limit is 70 mph. My first stop was 258 miles later in Weed, in the shadow of Mt. Shasta and deep in the State of Jefferson. After topping off the tank and visiting the bathroom and no lingering, the climb into the Siskyou Mountains began.
The 246-mile stretch of I-5 from Weed to Eugene, through Ashland and Grants Pass, offers a welcome change: green mountains. The downside is Oregon’s low opinion of citizens’ driving skills. Speed limits drop, generally to 65 mph but often lower for brief stretches. From Eugene to Portland it’s flat, but there’s just enough variety of terrain, vegetation and crops to make it not boring, and the rest stops are more updated, or at least cleaner. Unique to this part of I-5 is the smattering of Adult Shops (that’s the name of this chain of stores) strung along the highway, which contrasts with a fair number of religious billboards that pop up south of Salem.
Oregon goes by in a blink. It takes me about the same amount of time to drive through Oregon as it did to drive from home to the northern border of California. About midway through Oregon, one sandwich is gone, the jerky bag has been opened, and I’m down to one bottle of water. I’ve listened to nine podcasts. My pace is steady. The only stops are to fill up in Salem and at rest areas as needed.
You’d think crossing the Washington border would bring a feeling of relief, but it’s a reminder that I still have about three hours to go. It’s green but monotonous, with a patchwork of farmland giving way to retail centers and too many RV dealerships. While the “Uncle Sam billboard” near Chehalis celebrates free speech, over the years I’ve found the messages to range from mildly amusing to patently offensive. The billboard also marks the long slog through never-ending construction zones and constant traffic in Olympia, and to Tacoma.
Trusting that Google knew best, I slipped off I-5 to take State Route 900, a more interesting but generally slow alternative that cuts between Cougar Mountain and Squak Mountain on its way to Issaquah. By now, a road trip playlist has replaced podcasts. It’s clear I’m moving deeper into the Evergreen state. There’s little dead space, the open areas between buildings are filled with trees and overgrown bushes and vines. I wonder if underneath it all one might find broken down trucks, discarded 55-gallon drums and other castoff debris.
Soon I’m back in familiar territory. Decades ago I lived in Issaquah for about seven months and have visited often enough to know the route. It’s not so much about landmarks – things have changed a lot in and around town – but the curve of the road and that oddly angled intersection. I debate whether to top of the gas tank and decide it can wait; any stop would delay my arrival. Finally in town, I slow for traffic. Nearly where I need to be and Washington drivers’ tendency to abide by all speed limits becomes an annoyance.
A renewed energy arises within me as I take that last right turn. I park and open the door. Glancing at the clock, I brim with smugness. My driving time was just over 13½ hours.
Sure, it’s an irrational pride to have accomplished something that means so little. But for once, I felt that I was in control of my destiny, however illusionary that might be.
It was in the shade of a concrete canyon that we reminisced over breakfast about those last few days in San Diego. It was a visit without an itinerary but nonetheless full. Balboa Park. A working lunch and dinner. Coronado Island.
The trip last week was free of monetary worries; part of a package to celebrate my having worked 30 years with the company. Whether it was a perk or disruption, the rest of my co-workers would join us for a day at the office and the celebration that evening.
Karen and I were on the road early that Wednesday, weaving through the normal early-morning traffic. Highways 680, 24, 980 and 880 got us to Oakland International Airport in good time. My past airport experiences had been marked by apprehension and anxiety. For me, arriving 15 minutes early equates to being on time; on time is late. Airports bring too many unpredictable variables into play. I didn’t like it and constantly imagined missing a parking lot shuttle or flight.
We arrived at the airport more than two hours before our flight, allowing time for a leisurely breakfast. It made me feel like a real traveler. I was relaxed, in fact.
And my wife had a plan. Her mother was a stewardess back when that job title wasn’t outdated, but the knowledge she imparted still applies today. My wife would take a window seat, and I’d take the aisle seat. As long as the flight wasn’t completely full, this might, deviously, deter anyone from taking the seat between us. It worked. No more than 70% of the seats were occupied, allowing us to enjoy some elbow room.
The flight was comfortable. The first landing attempt waved off, the second attempt turbulent but successful. The weather was clear and San Diego almost seemed to sparkle.
I was originally under the impression that my boss, the company owner, would be our chauffer. But I was handed the keys. He’d be our navigator. Along the way we were regaled with tales of his family’s history in San Diego. The first relative arrived in the late 1800s. During his youth, he wasn’t allowed south of Broadway. Our hotel, Hotel Palomar San Diego, was just north of the old Woolworths, where he never had a sandwich.
San Diego is one of the more puzzling cities I’ve visited. Its waterfront is wide open, as most are. But a few blocks in, it’s a mashup of old and new, with older buildings’ blank walls facing a street for two or three blocks. Often, only a single door or parking garage entrance hints that there is something behind the featureless edifice. While development of the city’s Gaslamp Quarter does seem offer a mix of people living, working, shopping and dining, most areas don’t.
This isn’t helped by the many, multi-lane one-way streets. I read somewhere that one-way streets encourage greater car speeds and discourage pedestrian and bike traffic. This seemed to be the case in the one-thousand block of Fifth Avenue, our home base for three days.
If our stay is any indication, San Diego has some of the best weather anywhere in the country. After our quick tour and dropping the boss off at the office (farther up Fifth Avenue), we ended up in Balboa Park. We took a quick tour of an anemic display of California native plants, the headed toward the Spreckels Organ, lucky enough to quickly find a parking stall.
More people than you’d expect for a Wednesday walked up and down the sidewalks. Balboa Park’s landscaping isn’t easily described. From any single location one might see five or more different species of trees. Lawns lush by California standards give way to xeriscaping, planted with succulents from around the world. There was a remote familiarity to it. This is what I grew up with in the San Gabriel Valley.
Karen had suggested The Prado for lunch. (I silently mulled over feelings that any restaurant with a name that starts with “The” could quickly empty my wallet.) Located in the House of Hospitality, it’s at the center of Balboa Park and was built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. The building echoes the Spanish Colonial Revival style apparent throughout the park, though there is an argument that, being an architectural stylistic movement that arose in the United States during the early 20th century, it’s wrong to connect it with Panama.
We were seated immediately and our server was almost doting. Splitting the entrée, as we often do, limits the choices bit – it’s well known that Karen doesn’t eat cheese (I do) – but we agreed upon steak tacos.
Often it’s the entirety of a meal that makes it better than good and that was the case with this meal. The rice and beans were better than most, the steak cooked well but still tender, and the tortillas were more flavorful than their thinness would suggest.
It was a delicious start to a trip that would end up offering much good food, fantastic weather and a lesson in slowing down.
Fly fishing changes one’s brain. According to research, 20 or more specific brain centers of the unconscious brain may be called into action at a single time during an average person’s day.
Separate centers deal with the basics – metabolism (heart, lungs, circulatory system), sensory input (touch, temperature, pressure, pain) – as well as perception, memory, learning, thought and language. The brainstem gets into the act by correlating past memories and events with the present situation to suggest a possible plan of action. Each center analyzes incoming information to make changes to address external influences.
It’s all designed to reach a desired outcome. If that desired outcome is achieved, something called the “hypothalamic satiety center” will receive signals of satisfaction. Unfortunately, in today’s busy world, that satisfaction can be very short in duration.
This same research suggests that when fly fishing, less than 10 brain centers may be active. When one first takes up fly fishing, high expectations could bring a few more brain centers into action. However, over time, the combination of that anticipation as well as affirming memories of previous fly fishing successes, in theory, increases the duration of signals sent to the satiety center in the hypothalamus.
This could be why a few weeks ago my wife told me that I need (her emphasis) to go fishing. Maybe my brain centers have been too active.
There’s plenty of commentary about fly fishing as therapy. This gentle sport is integral to the well-known Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing and Casting for Recovery programs. It’s used in other, lesser-known therapy programs for drug addiction and depression.
Surely it’s a good form of self-therapy.
Water is a key part of this therapy. The sound of moving water is soothing. The sound as it tumbles over rocks, through vegetation or over a fall. Moving water lends freshness to the air, making it cool and moist. Animals lured to the water add to the chorus. Birdsong echoes off the water, the beat of insect wings hums in the background, frogs croak. If one’s lucky, a breeze will rustle the leaves and grasses.
This restful backdrop becomes part of the alertness, concentration and stealth required of fly fishing; a meditative state that directly increases the likelihood of hooking a fish. On the stream, waiting is necessary.
Fly fishing was mindfulness before it had a name.