From the Lighthouse Suite

It's like a Stephen King novel. It's the Odyssey with fewer booty-hungry Greeks. I'm just trying to get back home, that's all.

I started off Tuesday afternoon with a full tank of gas, sunlight and ocean streaming across the horizon and a clear Rte. 1 leading north from Santa Cruz all the way up to Eureka. The highway is littered with gorgeous little coves and beaches looking out onto myriads of clashing rocks, breathtaking waves, precious little parking lots hedged in by rusting permanent barbecues, chained up picnic tables and precarious little goat-path trails, and then dunes that swell and dive as gracefully as frozen mirror-images of the waves lapping the cliffs. Pomponio and San Gregorio are my favorites.

But then I got snarled in San Francisco traffic, I missed the Rte. 1 turnoff from the Golden Gate Bridge and I ended up stranded in a logjam several hours long, from Novato all the way up to Santa Rosa. After three hours' crawling up the 101, I pulled over at a Motel 6 for the night. But I remained undaunted.

Wednesday I saddled up and rolled north again, finding my way across to the 1, weaving through redwoods and myrtlewoods. I bought coffee in Fort Bragg, ate pancakes, listened to NPR, rather enjoying myself. But shortly after the sun went down, my battery warning light started flashing. My headlights dimmed noticeably when I accelerated, and the battery gauge drained, too. But when I eased off the accelerator, or when I idled at full stop, gauges and lights returned to normal. Concerned, I called my Dad, discussed plausible causes (I thought it was the alternator, Dad thought the timing belt or corroded battery stems), then I pulled over at Rio Dell for the night.

I spent the night at Humboldt Gables Motel, which was where I spontaneously started muttering "RED RUM" to myself. I waited over an hour for a scrumptious and heavy little pizza. I spent some time staring sadly at my driver's belly. I was recommended to a parts store next door to a mechanic's shop, first thing in the morning.

Whereat I practically walked into an Andy Griffith episode. Of the seven or eight variously disheveled, heavyset or rail-thin John Deere trucker-capped gentlemen who unctuously opined on my scrappy little Ford Explorer's symptoms, I would guess only one of them actually worked at the parts shop. I nodded sagely, exchanged knowing gutteral utterances, laughed appreciatively at what I thought were jokes. Sometimes they laughed with me. Sometimes they didn't.

Mike the Mechanic ("you do theater, huh? I'm an investor in B-movies. Last month my wife and I both won stock car racing trophies, no kidding! God bless!") replaced my alternator in record time, and without swindling me, which was nice of him. I got back on the road, ever northwards bound. Satisfied that I was right and my father, in this case, wasn't, I took this for a good omen and continued north.

Throughout this saga, glowering snowy clouds gathered above the crashing, roiling water, and the trees shook and swayed over the thin ribbons of asphalt I clung to. By the time I'd purchased a new alternator, hail and snow showered in great driving drifts. Eureka and Crescent City were very wet. Harrowing switchbacks folded the road sharply into the wind. It was epic. In the late afternoon, I indulged a walk in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove of Redwoods in the Redwood State and National Parks. (Towering, silent, hollowed out by fire and bereft of heartwood but still sprouting living burls that themselves grow to tower high overhead...)

But after I crossed the Oregon line, the weather grew steadily worse. And worse. I drove with only a meager stream of fellow travelers: semis gingerly creeping through fog and sheets of hail, and lonely little sedans that similarly hoped to avoid the mess on I-5, but lost beyond knowing in the soaring bridges and the blinding rain. A bowl of chowder and some coffee in Bandon, and then I stopped in Yachats for the night, even though I'd hoped to make it to Portland already.

In Yachats, I'm staying at the Dublin Motel. Which has. A Lighthouse Suite. The only available room, an ersatz lighthouse with bunkbeds. It's tall and narrow, like what you imagine a lighthouse to be, and the falling hail rattles resoundingly. This is the best roadtrip ever.

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