We named our daughter Casey. Soon after she was born, I realized people would ask the baby’s name as a way to find out its gender without asking directly. With an un-gendered (or omni-gendered) name like Casey, that ploy was frustrated. I remember one woman replying in a noncommital way, “That’s an interesting name.”
Yes, “interesting.” It is a word that can be used without attaching value to the comment – not good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, nice or awful, just “Interesting.”
Well, our trip was “interesting.” We needed to get away. We cancelled two social engagements we had looked forward to, managed to move a medical appointment up a week so I could do it before we left, threw what we thought we’d need into the car, and drove south. We went south because we were hoping to get away from the cold and wet, and in Portland in the winter, south is the only alternative if we don’t want to fly. We had no plan other than to go south.
Saturday we set off, driving to Eugene in steady, pouring rain. The next morning, we checked the road reports and weather and decided not to risk the roads over the pass at the California border. So we stayed in Eugene during a day of continued hard, cold rain, too exhausted to do much more than eat and read and rest.
Monday was the same. We considered going out to the coast to avoid the snow on the Interstate. The waitress the night before had assured us that it never snowed on the road from Eugene to Florence, but when I looked at the road reports and highway cameras in the morning I found the road was closed at the summit and could see cars sitting – some sideways – in the snow waiting for it to open. We’d have to go north before heading west over the Coast Range. We stayed where we were for another day of steady hard, cold rain.
Tuesday morning we again checked the weather, road conditions, and highway cameras. We decided to go. It turned out to be a fairly pleasant day, with lots of fog in the morning but no precipitation and the only below-freezing temperatures around Ashland, over Siskiyou Pass, and again at Black Butte Summit near the town of Mount Shasta. We stopped for the night in Redding.
Wednesday was another day of constant hard, cold rain. All roads north, west and east were snow-covered. We stayed in Redding for another day of rest and waiting.
Thursday, the sun came out tentatively. The Interstate was closed to all traffic between just north of Redding to Ashland – a stretch of 130 miles – due to weather and crashes. We headed south. On the northbound lanes, trucks were parked on the shoulders and ramps, waiting for the road to open. Southbound traffic was light, with no interstate trucks. We went to Napa for the night.
Friday we wandered around the Napa area. We didn’t do any wine tours – those don’t appeal to us. We just explored the area, happy to be in sunshine.
Saturday morning we decided to go to Monterey. In an attempt to avoid the traffic of San Francisco and Oakland, we swept down east of the hills, through Walnut Creek and San Ramon, on highways very full of fast traffic, sometimes six lanes in each direction.
We had thought we might continue down the coast past Big Sur on Sunday, but checking the weather forecast in the morning we found that if we didn’t head home then we would be stuck in California for at least another week unless we were willing to drive up the coast. But driving over 500 miles on twisty two-lane roads in pouring rain didn’t appeal to us. We decided to head home. We spent some time in Monterey and Carmel, then headed over to Stockton.
And from there we drove north for two days with no appreciable precipitation, arriving home Tuesday, a few hours before the rain started again.
So what did we get from all this? We realized once again that we need to have a goal on these trips. Wandering doesn’t work well for us. Yes, it is the journey not the destination that is what we want, but we need a destination toward which to journey.
We learned once again that December is not a good time for a road trip unless we are willing to drive in the snow or stay in the desert and along the Gulf Coast.
We learned that we could not get away from climate change – that weather can be more severe than what we have been used to.
We learned that southern Oregon and northern California have signs promoting the Big Lie about the 2020 election.
We learned that it is not a good idea to leave anything on the backseat, even if is just extra coats. In Redding, we came out to the parking lot to find the police looking at the car next to ours. Its rear side window was smashed. We don’t know what had been left in its backseat, but after that we moved our extra coats to the trunk each night.
We learned once again that bad traffic in Portland is like a flea bite compared to the rabid dog attack of Bay Area traffic.
We learned that it can get down into the low 30s in the Napa Valley. And that those temperatures don’t deter hot air balloonists from going aloft. I also learned once again that my eyes and brain are able to focus on a distant object in a way that a normal camera lens doesn’t capture.
I also learned that there are more vineyards in the Napa Valley than I had suspected – some on the valley floor and some on the hillsides. And once out of the valley, not many at all.
In Sonoma I learned that eucalyptus trees can get thicker than I had thought possible.
We learned that in high-compliance areas there are always some who flout the masking rules and that in low-compliance areas probably more than half of the people do comply. We learned that a surprising number of people believe that wearing a mask on one’s chin is good enough, or that pulling it down whenever they speak works OK, too.
We learned that our suitcases are heavier than they were on previous trips, that we don’t get around as well, and that we can become exhausted instead of just tired.
We learned once again that there is more in this world than we had known. In Stockton the hotel was holding an event that was billed as a wedding. There were between 100 and 200 men and boys of middle-eastern background, all dressed in dark suits. Most of what I overheard was in unaccented English, but some spoke in a language that sounded to me like Arabic. There were no women in evidence. At one point, drumming began and a chant went up, then they all filed into the banquet hall. We continued to hear the chanting and drumming but could no longer see what was going on. We never did see any women or girls. How wonderful that they could celebrate in a way that was of their heritage rather than having to bend to ours.
And we learned once again that we do well together, in trying times and good, even in “interesting” times. And we learned once again what a blessing that is.