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Backpacker selfie

Backpacker selfie

I was nearly done with my hike when I realized I had no photos of myself in that beautiful wilderness. I had passed a couple of people, and any of them would have been happy to snap a photo, but by the time I remembered to document my presence there, it was only me. So I took a selfie.

At the place where the little road to the trailhead comes out at Highway 299 is a little ghost town of Helena, California. People still live there and are served by the U.S. Postal Service. The place was settled in 1851 to serve the miners in the mountains. Today there are several large, abandoned, and vandalized buildings left near the road.

Once a large and beautiful home

Once a large and beautiful home

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

My mother would have loved the pine cone wallpaper.

The old post office building

The old post office building

Staircase inside the home

Staircase inside the home

On my way west along 299, the temperature dropped from 102 to 72 by the time I reached Highway 101 along the coast. I arrived at Tara’s dad’s house with some sunshine and afternoon left in the day. Feeling pleased to have found Humboldt County in sunshine (a truly rare event), I was happy that Tara felt like walking to the beach. We hit the Hammond Trail and passed the gorgeous country fields near McKinleyville in the flat lands around the mouth of the Mad River.

Once I heard it, I have enjoyed telling the story of the naming of the Mad River. In 1850 the Dr. Josiah Gregg Expedition was exploring, mapping, and documenting the area. Gregg, a naturalist, was also interested in cataloging flora and fauna. Their most important work was arguably the mapping of Humboldt Bay, large enough to accommodate ships that could serve miners and trappers of the region. Falling on hard times, the group had a dispute about the best way to return to San Francisco. Gregg could not bring himself to give up on the scientific work and insisted that they must follow the coast home, and continue to work. The larger group of dissenters argued that they would starve to death unless they made their way inland again. Dr. Gregg had a tremendous temper tantrum at the mouth of a river, as his companions left him and a few others on the shore. The Mad River was named in honor of that event. Dr. Gregg eventually realized he needed to move inland as well, and his group began heading toward what is now called Clear Lake. Sadly, he was starving to death at that point, and in his weakness fell off his horse and died.

After enjoying the beach in the waning sun, Tara and I headed back. The next morning we left early in order to make preparations for the following day’s celebrations: My kid turned 17 and was going to have a big birthday bash at the house. I can hardly believe my baby girl is 17 years old. Babyhood a distant memory, Tara is now strong and kind, thoughtful and helpful, smart and oh, so funny. I feel honored that I get to share in her life.

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

Fields and farmland near McKinleyville, California

I'll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

I’ll bet one does not find many snails on the fence posts of Kansas.

Walking bridge over the Mad River, along the Hammond Trail

Walking bridge over the Mad River is part of the Hammond Trail

An abandoned barn along our route

An abandoned barn along our route

My Tara dancing on the beach

My Tara dancing on the beach

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

Purple flowers and grasses as lovely as any arranged basket.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

A hunter waits patiently in the field.

This heron is doing more aggressive hunting, as she stalks gracefully across the grass.

This Great Blue Heron is hunting more aggressively than the cat.


The view is worth the long drive it takes to get here

We managed to get on the road sooner than I had planned, and that is entirely out of character for me! Ms Perpetually Late, I am. But into the grey, rainy morning we went. Poor Miss T is very sick and spent most of the entire day trying to sleep while I drove. Poor kid. I hope she feels better soon and can enjoy her Spring Break week with her dad.

I-5 through Oregon was coming to life as Spring made her way into the valleys. Thousands of daffodils grow wild alongside the highway and in the medians, and trees are bursting into white and pink blossoms before the terrain slopes up into grassy mountains capped with evergreens. Sheep were everywhere, enjoying grass becoming lush for the season.

The famous North Coast swell. Ah, just seeing it makes me yearn for a surfboard.

I had hoped to use my camera somewhere along the route, but it was so cold and POURING down rain most of the day that I didn’t use it much. From Cave Junction, OR to Gasquet, CA, there was snow on the ground and more falling from the sky. Wet sloppy stuff, so the roads were ok, but pretty much the opposite of vacation weather. I wanted to take photos of the redwoods, but the rain was coming down in sheets. I finally pulled over south of Crescent City, when the clouds broke and gave us a view of the Pacific ocean.

A cow elk and her young one eye me suspiciously

I miss the sea. I lived here for only seven years, but now I have a loss in my heart whenever I am separated from the sea. The Roosevelt Elk were out munching spring sprouts in the rain, so I was able to test my new zoom lens. I love the zoom. It looks like I could reach out and pet these huge beasts, though of course, I could not.

I found Tara’s dad’s house without any trouble at all, and dropped her poor little sick self off. I called Miss Ophelia and made plans to meet her after work. I vacuumed my car in the meantime. Since I’m going to be practically living in the car this week, I couldn’t handle the mess anymore. Hung out with Ophelia and her daughter, got to see their new house, went and had a beer on the Arcata Plaza. It was good to attempt to catch up with such a longtime friend. We’ve gone way way too long without talking and there was too much ground to cover in one night, but we reconnected and that’s the main thing.

Weird. I only ever went out to those bars when I was totally hammered, or aiming to be. Brought on some very fuzzy flashbacks. Heh.

When she had to go off for a dinner engagement, I headed south to Fortuna to visit my other girlfriend who was out at a party. I have known M only a few months longer than Ophelia, and both of them for 14 years. She left the house unlocked for me and I gratefully made myself at home. It is a pleasure to visit her in the same house that I have visited for so many years. To burrow under the covers on the same bed in the same familiar room. Brush my teeth in the bathroom I know so well. I feel like I belong here. It is truly a gift from her that she has created this sanctuary for me.

At 1:30am, M arrived home and pounced on me! She literally climbed onto the bed and gave me a hug and said, “Get up! I am going to bake you some Gorgonzola cheese wedges and serve them with crackers!”

I sleepily mumbled, “Right now?”

“Yes, you must be hungry! Have you had wine tonight?” she asked as she extricated herself from the hug. “We will have wine with the cheese.”

So… my silly friend and I caught up on life from 1:30 to 3:30am before we returned to our lovely rooms in her astonishingly lovely and comfortable home.

Misty wet Northern California scene

Misty wet Northern California scene

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Christmas tree, decked in all its finery

Friday night: open presents

Saturday morning: open stockings

Saturday late morning: start driving to California

Saturday evening: drop my pretty girl off at her dad’s house to spend the holidays with him in Eureka.

I was exhausted by that time, but I still managed to find an adventure!

Christmas is a stressful time for me, because I do so much to get ready. This time we crammed our “Christmas” into a Friday night after work and a Saturday morning before an 8-hour drive. I was tired, cranky, and frazzled by the time my girlie was reunited with her other family, I wanted 1) quiet 2) dark 3) absolutely no people.

So rather than call up one of my girlfriends (sorry ladies!), I drove out to Clam Beach and found a spot for my tent. (On the way out of town I stopped and gazed in wonder at a favourite piece of Humboldt Architecture: the Carson Mansion. ) The first available parking spot at Clam Beach was also an official camping spot. It was full of cars and RVs with a couple of generators running and lots of street lamps lighting the place up, and fluorescent lights blaring from the windows of the whitewashed bathrooms in the center.

Eureka's Carson Mansion, magically alight

Eureka’s Carson Mansion, magically alight

Camping on the beach with generators and fluorescent lights? Uh, no, I don’t think so.

Instead I found a place to pull off the road where the sign said clearly “DAY USE ONLY” and I hauled my gear over a couple of sand dunes (the kind where the beach grasses and blackberries and cool beach plants have completely taken over), and hid my camp in a little gully. I was totally surrounded by dunes, buried about 4 feet deep in brush. It was soft and almost completely dark (except for the beam from the airport slowly slashing through the fog over McKinleyville). I could hear the ocean roaring and an occasional vehicle on Highway 101. I’m such a lawbreaker!

Part of HWY101 slid into the sea. Lights regulated the use of the remaining lane.

At exactly 5:50am, a few raindrops on the rain flap woke me up, so I started packing up. As I did so, I was startled by dazzling flashes of light…and a little later, the rumble of a thunderstorm. When I used to work for NOAA there on Woodley Island, I learned that thunderstorms are somewhat rare on the North Coast. Partially because they are rare, but partially because meteorologists can’t help themselves, the storm thrilled me and was an excellent start to my Sunday morning.

Rainy dawn. There’s a ship! See the light?

Just as I was slinging my backpack over my shoulders to head back to the car, the downpour began! I laughed. Mother Nature is so awesome. What excellent timing! I stayed almost perfectly dry by getting into my car at 6:15am. The rain POURED until about 10am. By that time, I was in Crescent City having a salmon omelet.

The red speck is a pickup truck

So when the sun finally came up, I moseyed off the path a little. Explored the Smith River, tooled through the Redwoods, watched the fog slowly lift off the ground into the sky, and then evaporate.

By the time I hit Grants Pass, it was a sunny blue-sky day. Funny.

The solitude did me so much good. Man I get sick of people. Yes, I’m an introvert, and you are all wonderful. You really are. I still need to get away from you. I am truly myself when I am in nature, and can hear the air whistling over a crane’s feathers as she soars over me, and hear the spray of water droplets fall off a trout’s back as he snaps a bite off the surface of a still pool in the river. My soul craves the smell of moss and decaying leaves; the sight of a frog leaping through a clearing; the sound of raindrops that had been clinging to each and every tip of the fern-like sprays of redwood branches and then letting go to create a whispering ceremony of percussion on the branches below.



My batteries are recharged.

Jedediah Smith State Park

One of the Highway 101 bridges

Smith River two minutes before sunrise

One of my many guises

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