Coast Road Trip: Inland Slant

South of Eureka, Highway 101 again turns inland, curling through more redwoods, passing through a few small towns. The road curves and curls through the tall woods and slants south-southeast away from the ocean, the trees gradually grow smaller and more sparse, the land opens up into rolling hills, and you enter wine country. Travelers wanting to continue hugging the coast cut over from Leggett to Fort Bragg and continue down old Highway 1, through Mendocino, and can roll and stroll on down all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Travelers wanting more Pynchon can spend a few nights in Garberville. But we were on our way to Healdsburg, in Sonoma County, in the heart of wine country, though we’d only be about 20 miles from the ocean as the crow flies, about an hour from Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock filmed “The Birds,” and on the south side of the bay, Dillon Beach, where my brother John likes to go surfing.

Alas, we would not go surfing this trip, in spite of the fact my brother has enough surfboards in his garage to supply a squad of dolphins, and Kevin had brought along his wetsuit. Healdsburg was a happy happening hive: a wedding was being planned though a couple of weeks out yet and anticipation was high; more immediate, a birthday gathering weekend was bringing California family coming in from all directions; Healdsburg High was holding its annual graduation ceremony; there was a jazz fest blowing in the downtown square; and at John’s place there were guitars enough to equip a choir.

After the long drive down the coast, getting lost upon arrival in tiny Healdsburg trying to find John’s house, and the excitement of seeing folks we’d not in some time, we slept like sloths.

to be continued: this is part five in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Trinidad

Leaving Open Toe Beach, southbound, we climb again up into the redwoods, and come down near the water again at Orick. We’re on the Avenue of the Giants. That’s not a reference to the travelers or the locals. We slow down and check out Orick, where the highway becomes an alley passing through someone’s backyard. Shacks, old motels, a few cars and a few more pick up trucks parked this way and that, a snack place. A market, a school, an abandoned gas station on the way out of town.

“Uh-oh. Wasn’t there supposed to be some logger’s bar around here someplace? Everybody knew it was high times for the stiffs in the woods – though not for those in the mills, with the Japanese buying up unprocessed logs as fast as the forests could be clear-cut – but even so, the scene in here was peculiar. Dangerous men with coarsened attitudes, especially toward death, were perched around lightly on designer barstools, sipping kiwi mimosas.

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

Highway 101 turns west, continues to follow Redwood Creek out to the ocean, where it turns south and crosses a series of lagoons (Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon, Big Lagoon). Not quite a bridge, not quite a road, it crosses over or passes near the marshy inlets in the longest series of tsunami inundation zones we’ve yet travelled through. The zones are introduced with new entrance and exit signs: “You are now entering a tsunami inundation zone…You are now leaving….” Basically, if the road is dropping, you’re entering. You know when you’re on the bottom. When climbing, you’re leaving. What you might do if a tsunami should occur while you’re in a zone is left up to your imagination. Turn the car east and try to surf your way back up into the redwoods. We pull off for a rest and to check out Trinidad.

We were not looking for kiwi mimosas, but coffee. The entrance to Trinidad, just west of the 101 entrance and exit, is deceiving. A gas station, a market, a surf and bait shop, and straight ahead, Trinidad Bay Trailer Court. But stay right on Main, passing by the Court, until you come to Stagecoach Road. Left there and on your left, across from the elementary school and next to the volunteer fire station, you’ll find Beachcomber Cafe. We got some coffee from the counter and took it out to the courtyard where we stretched and sat in the warm morning sun. We could hear the kids out playing at recess in the schoolyard across the street. An onshore breeze and a few gulls suggested we were close to a beach, but we’d not seen the water yet.

After coffee we walked down the street to the cliff overlooking Trinidad Harbor, a natural harbor formed by Little Head, which projects a short distance into the bay and is protected by the much larger Trinidad Head. On the cliff, the breeze became a wind, but the water below was still and smooth. A cluster of small boats, mostly fishing, were anchored off shore. There was a pier, but the view was mostly blocked by Little Head, but access to the boats in the harbor appeared limited to small, ship like dinghy crossings. The water down in the cove below the cliffs was translucent turquoise blue-green. The tide was out, and there was no surf, given the position of the beach which faced southeast and was protected from ocean swells by the big head to the west. We watched a fishing boat coming in. We climbed a trail a short way down the cliff to view a small memorial to folks lost at sea over the years. A landmark proclaimed Trinidad to be the oldest town on the Northern California coast.

No idea who might live now in the designer view homes up on the cliff overlooking the harbor or around the hill open to views of the ocean to the west. Not much of a neighborhood vibe apparent, but you can’t tell about a place unless you walk and talk and live and let live in it for a time. Some of the houses looked new, but a few appeared to be hanging on from the days of small beach cottages with yards still filled with wildflowers, seagrasses, surrounded by white picket fences and studded with beachcombing finds. There didn’t appear to be much industry in the small town. A commercial tour fishing boat was unloading at the end of the pier, a worker wearing a slick apron slicing the catch into fillets. Humboldt State University maintains a Marine Laboratory a few blocks up from the old Trinidad Lighthouse. But we didn’t stop in Trinidad to look for a place to live or even stay the night.

On our way out, we stopped at “Salty’s,” the bait and surf shop we’d seen on the way into town. I asked the young man holding a baby behind the counter what life was like in Trinidad, who lived there, and what did they do. He mentioned the changing demographic economic environment of the general area, focussing on the disruption to an established system prior to the legalization of marijuana. A lot of people now have to wear several hats, he said. And of course there’s the college, he said, referring to nearby Humboldt State, about 20 minutes farther south, just off the coast highway, in Arcata.

Back on 101 headed south, I started thinking again of Thomas Pynchon’s “Vineland.”

“The jukebox once famous for hundreds of freeway exits up and down the coast for its gigantic country-and-western collection, including half a dozen covers of “So Lonesome I Could Cry,” was reformatted to light classical and New Age music that gently peeped at the edges of audibility, slowing, lulling this roomful of choppers and choker setters who now all looked like models in Father’s Day ads. One of the larger of these, being among the first to notice Zoyd, had chosen to deal with the situation. He wore sunglasses with stylish frames, a Turnbull & Asser shirt in some pastel plaid, three-figure-price-tag jeans by Mm. Gris, and apres-logging shoes of a subdued, but incontestably blue, suede.”

from “Vineland,” by Thomas Pynchon, 1990

to be continued: this is part four in a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.

Coast Road Trip: Up Through Some Redwoods and Down to Open Toe Beach

Maps can’t find Open Toe Beach. No sign points the way. Likewise, one doesn’t feel any different having crossed the border from Oregon into California. Nature’s borders are difficult to see, to define, to mark:

“The immense sea, the ocean sea, which runs infinitely beyond all sight, the huge omnipotent sea – there is a point where it ends, and an instant – the immense sea, the tiniest place and a split second.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

South from Crescent City, Highway 101 turns away from the ocean and climbs up into Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Parts of the road narrow through the giant trees and begin to switch back and forth like a steep trail through woods. The trees have grown so close on some curves that the trunks have been trimmed back with flat scraping saw cuts to allow for cars and the big trucks to pass. Traffic slows, or should slow, to no more than 20 miles per hour, and even that seems here and there too fast as the curves rise sharply and fall swerving like a ride in an amusement park. You are in a massive forest at the end of the continent, climbing above the ocean, now out of reach. The dappled light coming through the branches thins then goes dark and you need your headlights on to continue. You are an oily steely slug crawling along the floor bed of an emerald rust forest. Here the sea continues too, in the form of high and thick fogs that water the redwood trees from the top down.

But we fall quickly to an elevation of about 30 feet, where the road crosses a bridge on the approach to False Klamath and again touches the water at DeMartin Beach, which we renamed Open Toe Beach for the various abandoned sandals we came across as we parked and walked down to the water barefoot and open toed. Where were the people belonging to all these sandals? The tide was out, and we walked along the cove, the beach covered with small pieces of driftwood. The water was cold but not burning cold. The surf was not big but it was loud as the swells broke on the big scattered rocks out in the cove. It felt good to be back in the open and on the beach and out of the forest. There is a boundary between redwood forest and ocean beach that can be measured or felt in scent and smell. The forest is loamy, quiet, the scent pungent like a snorted mint, the floor softer than sand. The beach is breezy, salty, and your tinnitus becomes more than mere suggestion. It disappears as the surf does in the sand.

“…you see there, where the water arrives…runs up the beach, then stops…there, precisely that point, where it stops…it really lasts no more than an instant, look there, there, for example, there…you see that it lasts only an instant, then it disappears, but if one were to succeed in suspending that instant…when the water stops, precisely that point, that curve…this is what I am studying. Where the water stops.”

from “Ocean Sea” by Alessandro Baricco

to be continued: this is part three of a series covering our June 2019 coastal road trip.