This second part of a serialization is true – mostly. Embellishments have been used to emphasize the facts. Descriptive elements have been used in lieu of names to protect everyone’s right to privacy.
Part 2: The Roads North
In the previous installment we left our intrepid travelers at the luggage carousel in the San Francisco airport. Snowball and myself guiding Snowball’s family on a six day trip to see the California redwoods. Next stop – pick up the rental van
As we trudge through the trams and elevated walkways on our journey to the rental counter I notice that Snowball’s uncle is getting more and more agitated. I knew he didn’t like big cities. Thats just one of the reasons they choose to live on the Mississippi. He’s never happier than when he’s fishing on the river. And he is a little rough around the edges to begin with. But while we are waiting in line at the car rental he looks like a lion pacing in a too-small cage.
At this point Snowball pulls me aside. “Just so you know”, she says, “the last time my uncle was in San Francisco he had a bad time. And remember he’s a Vietnam vet. So all this is making him a little tense right now.” Now my eyes are like saucers. Am I dealing with some kind of time bomb here?
The van arrives before I hear any loud ticking. It’s a Dodge Caravan supposedly built for seven. In theory, plenty of room. We stuff our stuff in the back and pile in with Snowball at the wheel and me riding shotgun.
The thing about riding shotgun is you are obligated to the status of navigator. With today’s map software on phones and tablets it should be easy. Now, I can find my way through a forest using the sun, moon and stars for direction but when I get in an unfamiliar city, whether the map is paper or digital, I am lost. I’m not able to keep us on highway 101 long enough to find a huge, orange, landmark of a bridge. Eventually, the coed’s voice cries out from way in the back, “No, take a left up here.” She has her phone out, pulled up the map app and corrected our course to the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing the Golden Gate was on my bucket list too so I already owe her a debt.
We head north on 101 until we stop for an uneventful lunch at a Siri-suggested bar and grill. Afterward, with a full tummy, I take the wheel and a short time later, Snowball shows me the map and says “What about cutting over on highway 116 and taking the Pacific Coast Highway?” Now at this point it still sounds like a good idea. Snowball and I had talked about this the week before and not made any definite decision. So I hang a left and head west to the sea with a big, ignorant smile on my face.
The smile continues as we pass what seems like hundreds of wineries and antique shops dotting the main streets of inviting little towns. These were exactly the kind of places where Snowball and I loved to spend hours when we younger. We all comment about the huge patches of surprise lilies everywhere as we drive by.
As time and miles pass, we reach the P.C.H. and my smile started to fade. Although we are getting great views of the ocean, the road is getting narrower and twistier as the hills are getting steeper. At this point I was learning the limitations of putting six adults and their luggage in a van that brags of it’s econo-mode. Great for soccer moms on highways – not so much for tourists on twisty hills. My very soul is crying out for the manual five-speed Chevy go-machine sitting quiet and alone in my driveway at home.
After just less than an hour of slamming on the accelerator to peddle up the hills in the over-loaded van and slamming on the brakes to survive the curves in that same top-heavy van I hear stressed voices from the back. Snowball’s mom is in the farthest back seat and has become car sick! It seems my driving has put her over the top.
Uncle was an EMT and coed works in a retirement home so I figure we couldn’t be in better hands. I felt my estimation reaffirmed when uncle comes up with a medication for motion sickness and hands a pill back to coed which she administers to mom.
It’s at this point uncle asks, “She’s not on any heart medication is she?” Snowball answers yes to which uncle then says to coed, “Oh, you better only give her half a tablet.”
Coed comes back, “Uh…, she already took the whole thing.”
I steal a glance away from the road long enough to look over and see Snowball’s face turn a color appropriate for her nickname.
A few minutes pass and mom seems to be resting easier. In fact she’s completely and very deeply asleep. Snowball calls to the back and asks for someone to please take her pulse. Uncle’s fingers are numb with age so its up to the coed. She responds, “I can’t find it!” I again quickly look at Snowball. She has turned a whiter shade of pale. “Oh, I found it!” coed says, relieving us all, “but I don’t have a stopwatch so I don’t know how fast it is.”
Snowball gets that ‘Oh Jeez’ look and tone that she usually reserves for my screw ups. “Is it slow and steady or fast and thready?”
“Steady and strong.” comes the reply.
A shared sigh of relief is interrupted by continuing twists in the road. Snowball and her uncle begin the conversation deciding whether we continue to our original destination or just search for the next available – and clean looking – place to spend the night. I’m not tired and quite frankly I’m having a ball driving the amusement park ride that is the Pacific Coast Highway so I say keep going. Apparently I’m the only one having a good time.
Suddenly Snowball points and shouts, “Turn left right here!” I quickly interpret the somewhat confusing instructions and by now being used to hairpin turns, pull deftly into the parking lot of a quaint, rustic looking inn.
As it turned out, the Albion River Inn near Mendocino on the Pacific Coast Highway was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. If you are a couple looking for a romantic place to get away, this is it. If you are six weary travelers in need of decompression after only their first day on the road, it works for that too.
Next time, Walking to a light house.
One more thing…
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