This concludes our On the Road series for this trip. We left Oct. 15 with Marion, our 1979 Trillium Trailer, who is towed by our 2002 Ford Explorer named Bertie. We’ve lived large and had heartfelt conversation with people we love and people we newly met. We felt renewed by the land and sea.
It is Sunday, Dec. 12, celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pilgrims set out at midnight today to walk 8.5 miles from Santa Rosa to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Windsor to celebrate the miracle of Juan Diego’s visit with Jesus’ mother in 1531.
I’m wishing for a miracle as I accidentally deleted all my notes from the past two weeks and just spent an hour trying in vain to recover them.
Guadalupe is significant to us. When we traveled in New Mexico during the late spring of 1992, we learned of a parade carrying the Guadalupe shroud—the Virgin Mary’s image imprinted on Juan Diego’s cloak—in the small town of Rio Hondo, near Taos. One local church lady told us then to expect a miracle. We discovered after that trip I was pregnant with our son Raymo, who has become a fluent Spanish speaker, spent a year in Argentina, and is in partnership with Gino, who is from Ecuador. A miracle indeed!
Another cool thing: Ruth Dunlap, a friend of our long-time friend Christine Schreier, invited us way back on Nov. 2 to stay at her Sebastopol home Nov. 30 to Dec.14. We had never met and knew each other only from Facebook. Since we had no future camping reservations and planned to be in Sonoma County for a visit with Christine, and her daughter Francisca and family, we thought staying at a home would be great, as the weather was getting colder.
The house is comfortable, warm, and its lights and heating are under the management of Alexa, Jack and Ruth Dunlap’s AI assistant. We’ve grown accustomed to asking Alexa to play music, turn lights on and off, and when we say, “Alexa, goodnight,’ she turns off the house lights and the thermostat down.
They also have a Google assistant, which is activated by saying, “Hey Google.” Google has a man’s voice, which talks rapidly, as if it drinks espresso on its down time. It displays great photos of Ruth and Jack’s 2019 trip to South Africa, which we view while eating at their counter. During a Dec. 3 visit, our son’s partner Gino asked Google a question, Google said he did not know him, and asked Gino to scan his phone over the AI’s QR code. We said no thank you.
Three of our Marion trailers could fit into the comfortable remodeled kitchen with its center cooking island and pendant lights. We have enjoyed morning sunlight in the corner windows over the sink, as well as the window over the breakfast table. Today it is dark and it looks like an aquarium outside.
It is raining, the first we’ve had since the super soaker on Oct. 24, which flooded the Olema Campground, where we camped during Thanksgiving with a high school friend, Mark Secosh, and his wife, Brooke Dawson. We gave them a gift of fairy lights. Later, Brooke sent a photo of the lights framing their San Francisco window. Brooke wrote: “Thank you for the colorful holiday lights! They’re framing our front window to warm the hearts of passersby on a cold and windy December night.”
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Leaving Marin County behind, Sunday Nov. 28th, we stopped at Ruth and Jack’s to get to know the ways of the house we would care for while they traveled in Hawaii. We would water plants, keep the hummingbird feeders filled, and have a warm snug place with indoor plumbing for the next two weeks. And TV! We had not watched any since leaving Whidbey Oct. 15. An outstanding film we watched on Amazon Prime is The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch. An eccentric genius, Louis Wain observed the energy exchanged by humans, was an illustrator known for his depiction of humanized cats, and misunderstood by many, except his wife and publisher.
Before the luxury of staying at Jack and Ruth’s, we camped for two nights at site 14 at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Though we had no electrical power, we stayed warm with Marion’s propane furnace. We lit the nights with our Luci solar lanterns. We appreciated the clean bathrooms and showers. The hills were green, even the ones that burned in 2019 and 2020.
Few campers were here in this valley surrounded by rolling hills. As a result, we enjoyed the abundant wildlife. We had three dozen quail foraging outside our back window one morning. Sonoma Creek was flowing. We went walking and saw a family of turkeys, all seeming to get along, while a couple of males watched over them.
We camped beneath the long arms of bay trees and sweeping oaks. The vibe here is elegant and not overrun with people who feel entitled to treat things badly as they did at Olema Campground.
Sebastopol as the hub
We moved into our home for the next two weeks, at first feeling overwhelmed by the size of the place. Soon, though, we grew accustomed to a big fridge. Marion’s is a little marine fridge, which requires kneeling on the floor. and has no freezer. And the stove of six burners. Marion has three tiny cooking rings. There are oaks and bay trees, a big garden. One night we saw a gray fox chasing a jack rabbit. Another morning we visited with an orange cat with white socks.
Raymo and Gino visited Dec. 3, returning from their road trip to Irvine. Their doggy Rogelio loved the piles of leaves in the yard.
To celebrate their arrival, Bill bought a treat. Bill loves good bakeries. Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg is one of his favorites. We had visited there the day before, glad for this down-to-earth place and sorry to see much of Healdsburg becoming pretentiously expensive and pseudo hip. The boys arrived after a long drive from Orange County. We gave them delicious pulled pork sandwiches first, from Bar B Que Smokehouse Bistro in Sebastopol.
Later, Bill pulled out the treasured brown bakery bags with fruit galettes and cinnamon rolls.
The following Monday, we took Bertie in to Pauline’s Automotive, a woman-owned mechanic shop Ruth recommended. Bertie needed an oil change, and after traveling 5,000+ miles on this trip so far, and with more than 200,000 miles on her engine, we thought she could use an inspection that would ensure our safe delivery home later this month.
We dropped Bertie off on a foggy morning. Geo the colorful mechanic with tattooed arms and wrists drove us to the nearby Barlow Market District in Sebastopol, where we ate breakfast at the Sebastopol Community Market, a natural foods grocer. The Barlow is an industrial chic gathering spot with trendy craft beer, high end gift stores, and restaurants. When Bertie was finished, Geo came to pick us up and told us of his own business restoring classic cars. We were given a detailed account of Bertie’s well-being. Great place!
We walked across the street to Coffee & Moore, where we spent the next two hours chatting with Mary, a former Montana realtor, who moved to Sebastopol in 2012. She now runs a stall at the Guerneville Safeway market, selling new and up-cycled wares. We had noticed down and outers in Guerneville, a few days earlier when we visited Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. Mary raised our awareness by telling us she likes the stories and honesty of the people she meets. How so many were displaced, lost their jobs, and homes, as real estate here ascended exponentially. Inferno fires since 2017 have also rendered many homeless.
We also hiked trails at nearby Ragle Park and Laguna de Santa Rosa.
At Ragle Park we met plain air artist Mary Fassbinder. She told of visiting and painting scenes from all 63 of our National Parks in order to “preserve their beauty and feed the souls of future generations. I also want this project to continue to INSPIRE others to create goals and push through their own sets of boundaries.”
Our friend Francisca, a mother of two young children was ill and her mom Christine was watching the kids. We took Frannie’s six-year-old son Dakota out for a walk at Riverfront Regional Park in Windsor. He rode his bike. We were impressed by his down-to-earth and friendly ways. We enjoyed ice cream at Two Dog Night in Windsor. We admired the walking skills of his 10-month-old sister Isla when we brought him home later that afternoon.
We visited the town of Glen Ellen twice. It is the home of Jack London State Historic Park. It is well cared for with devoted volunteers who were hosting a holiday party on on of our visits. On this trip, we fell in love with Jack and his wife Charmian’s adventurous life and his conservation and farming ethics. Jack worked as a war correspondent and learned of Chinese farming practices, which involved terracing, and land conservation. He believed in taking care of the land, not wasting it as other farmers had done. It was worn out land he acquired in the early 1900’s and he lovingly restored the land’s integrity with innovative practices.
On a board at the park, Charmian is quoted as saying about Jack, “He was really far more interested in introducing better farming into Sonoma County and the country at large than he was in leaving masterpieces of literature. Jack had ideas on the profession of farming that will do the world more good than all the stories he could ever write.”
At one point, we experienced some wrinkles, old ghosts, that came up to haunt us and caused us to lose focus. We had a hard-hitting talk on our future and how we might be in better communion with one another. We ate at the nearby Yeti Restaurant, an Indian/Nepalese cuisine restaurant housed in the Jack London Village along Asbury Creek. The food, staff, and setting were therapeutic. We felt renewed by the experience.
Jenner and the Pomo Trail
Twice we visited the hamlet of Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. We felt at home in this lonely, wild place from the first time we visited 31 years ago and still consider it a touchstone nowadays when we are in Sonoma County. So taken by the place, we chose Jenner as our son Raymo’s middle name. One of the deadliest beaches in California due to its rogue sleeper waves, it is also home to Goat Rock State Beach, a spit, craggy ocean outcrops, and beaches where harbor seal, California sea lion, gulls and Brown Pelicans rest. On one of the foggy/sunny days we walked the beach and saw a pair of young gray whales swimming in the shore break, scooping the sand with their fins. A real gift.
Another day we visited nearby Shell Beach, which has one of the most scenic bathrooms I’ve ever seen. One one morning we arrived in time to see a crowd of middle schoolers on a field trip waiting by the restrooms. Two giggling girls were in front of me. The one girl went in and screamed. She had never been in an outhouse before.
Ruth recommended we hike the Pomo Canyon Trail, which has one access point across the Pacific Coast Highway through a gate. It is a steep and rewarding loop hike into rolling hills and pockets of redwood forest. It offers spectacular views after a hard hike.
While sitting on a hill overlooking the sea and the Mayacamas Mountain Range to the northeast, we saw an American Badger shooing off a hawk from its hole. Badgers dig rodents from their dens and have an uneasy relationship with some local ranchers. This trail protects the badger habitat by banning dogs from the trails. This area is rich with raptors—hawks and White-tailed Kites, which hover on the wind thermals to dive and catch their prey. Ravens and turkey vultures also soar the skies and fields looking for food.
This section of coast is also a place to watch the sun set into the ocean.
Occidental and Freestone
These two West Sonoma County communities have long beckoned us. Wild Flour Bread in Freestone is a popular favorite with lines of devotees waiting their turn to buy artisan bread and baked goods. I would love to join in with Bill and his love his artisan bakery; however I became severely gluten intolerant in 2020, and now vicariously enjoy Bill’s passion.
Occidental was introduced to us in 1990 by a gentle man we met at an abalone barbecue party in Duncans Mills. The Union Hotel makes most excellent pizzas and pastas. With my new GF condition, I sought out the Altamont General Store, which has healthy GF options and delicious food.
During our visit, a holiday fair was going on. We walked inside the Occidental Community Hall. My eyes teared up at the sweetness of the locals and their genuine artistry. Realizing what a gift we have in our similarly-vibed Whidbey community, I felt gratitude for what we have at the home we’ve lived in the past 21 years. We stopped to admire a mural painted outside the Occidental Center for the Arts.
As the fates would have it, three of the folks painted in the mural walked up, members of the Occidental Community Choir. They had performed poignantly across the street in the community building. So friendly and open they are, much like home. I told them I would write about them and now I am.
This ends the story of our two month road trip. Tuesday we leave for home. Snow and rain are on the forecast. We will drive along the coast, visiting giant lords and ladies in the redwoods. We will visit our daughter Gillian and her room mates in Corvallis, OR. We will stop by our friends and former neighbors, Bert and Beth Guenther, who moved from our Morning Glory Lane last July and now live near the Oregon Coast. We have missed them more than they know. We plan to arrive home by Dec. 19 and joined the same day by Raymo and Rogelio. I plan to zip into my thermal wetsuit and join the Rosy Hypothermias for cold-water swimming. Last I heard Goss Lake is 50°.
I leave you with these words, written on a story board at the House of Happy Walls, the museum and store at Jack London State Park:
LASTING LEGACIES TO LIVE A LIFE
What is it to be brave and daring today?
How do you live your own story?
What makes you feel like a flower in rapturous bloom?
Jack and Charmian lived their lives unafraid. Unapologetic. It wasn’t always easy, but it was usually fun. Definitely full.
What are you doing today?
What’s holding you back?
Live like a London.
This evening, Bill has lit a fire in a soapstone wood stove. It is one he’s longed to get at home. And he’s sat in the hot tub each night looking through the oak arms to the night sky above. A deck hot tub on Whidbey is on the menu, too. He said, “This is living the dream we imagined 30 years ago.”
Next week we’ll be home and continue cultivating our version of living the dream.