The PTO Burn
The Trip: An Epic Christmas PTO Burn
A coastal trek from Camano Island to Haystack Rock by way of Rockaway Beach, Oregon to Monterrey, California and Pfeiffer Beach by way of Salinas to Phoenix, Arizona to Avila Beach, California to San Francisco to home.
Objective: Visit family and check off some travel bucketlist items.
Our route took us through a few sites that were on our list, but had lost out to time constraints or... well, time constraints. We were thrilled to have the ability to explore Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast, Big Sur /Monterrey on the California coast as well as visiting our family who all had the decency to live in cool places. With a two week timeline we had more than enough time to visit every place on our list for multiple days.
Transportation: Rented minivan
As much as we love our little Honda Cr-V it is, well, little and getting a tad tired. So, we decided to spring for a rental car... a mini-van in the dorkiest shade of white imaginable. Whatever. We had more space that what we knew what to do with and with 2 weeks in a vehicle it was the only sensible option. Like white New Balances at Disneyland. You look terrible, but you are comfortable.
Lodging: AirBnB rentals, Marriott hotels, and family with a guest room.
Time: 2 weeks. Start to finish.
Our journey started off nice and strong with leaving on time, only turning around and going back home once to fetch a forgotten power cord, and fast food on the outskirts of Seattle. The kids wasted no time to rush through all the mandatory scheduled reading/play/podcast time to get to the designated “tablet time”. Scott and I admittedly let them stare at those screens for too long simply because we would get into deep and fabulous conversations. Who knew that you would need to be crammed together in a minivan for two weeks in order to have a conversation without interruption? The apple chips I packed ultimately gave way to Cheetos and I never knitted the hat I planned and some how I still feel like the trip was a raging success.
It is impossible to say what makes or breaks a trip. I can make plenty of guesses as to what I think made this one so enjoyable. Our expectations were incredibly low, we had plenty of lead time to prepare in terms of food and entertainment (read: order iPod shuffles off ebay to prevent the kids from looking at screens when listening to music), and there wasn't a high pressure event that we were destined for. We were able to simply drive, talk, read and just enjoy being a family. Which I realize sounds incredibly corny, but there it is. After a crazy year like we had, it felt great to find a dog sitter and shirk all other responsibilities and enjoy seeing parts of the country we had put off for so long.
Coastal Oregon: Rockaway & Cannon Beach
Our first few nights were spent in the cute seaside community of Rockaway Beach, Oregon. We got a waterfront AirBnB for a very reasonable price. (Yay, off season) The only downside was that it rained almost the entire time we were there. Since we are from the Pacific Northwest we were mostly undeterred by this and just pulled up the hoods on our coats and kept exploring. This was our first real relax trip we’ve had since we had moved. The little things really do add up to one big giant thing when it comes to travel. It can be for better or worse. Much like the tiny toothpaste British Airways gives you on overnight flights, the remodeled bathroom and kids having their own beds adds up to a big deal when you are far from home. The location was awesome and we very much enjoyed investigating the local sea life that had washed ashore. When we weren’t battling the, as Dave Barry puts it, “nagging and persistent drizzle” we were chilling in the nearby hot tub. I can't tell you what the local eateries were like. We holed up in our condo and reheated leftovers brought from home. And yes, in case you are wondering, they do taste better whilst overlooking the Pacific ocean.
We ventured out to the town of Cannon Beach to check out the infamous Haystack Rock. I am happy to report that it did not disappoint. Parking is a tiny bit tricky as finding suitable parking and beach access is not nearly as ubiquitous as it is in Southern California. We found a free parking lot in the actual town of Cannon Beach and walked over to the site. Haystack Rock is impressive with the crashing surf, mossy outcrops, and perimeter that alternates shallow swells of water and squishy sand. We walked, took photos, Oliver found an abandoned sand toy, and battled some significant wind which only took some of the fun out of the experience.
Coastal California: Salinas, Monterrey, Pfieffer Beach (Big Sur)
After a stop in a non-descript hotel and town in Oregon we made our way to California's central coast. Spent the night at the best AirBnB of all time in Salinas, California. Seriously. Look at this place. The bathroom vanity? Be still my heart. You can find the listing HERE. The host is awesome and I had to resist giving her a hug when I asked if we needed to tidy anything for "checkout procedures" and she responded with "Nothing! You're on vacation. You shouldn't have to clean!" She's my kinda lady.
The following day we dusted off our sunglasses and made our way into Monterrey for the aquarium and a little romp around (Steinbeck's) Cannery Row. (And by "romp" I mean me frantically trying to take in all the sights while Scott and the kids ran ahead.)
It seems a little silly to talk about the Monterry Bay Aquarium as it generally is reknown for being world class, awesome, and insanely expensive. What do you say? "Go. It will be fun. Take the kids and your money." However, after a pleasant afternoon, I will say that it was worth the cost of admission. The exhibits are top notch, clean, animals look super happy and healthy and the staff obviously love their jobs. On the whole it was a great experience. But, it wasn't until we went and saw the Open Sea exhibit that my jaw hit the floor and I realized that this place is pretty special indeed. The aquarium is devoted to conservation and research. And that expensive entry fee? Well, it goes to fund more of that stuff as well as the operational expenses of the aquarium. So we can all feel good about that wad of cash we just blew on a chipper hipster with a card swipe. I will spare you all the blurry aquarium photos that I have and stop with these two.
We made our way through Carmel and then down the Big Sur National Forest to Pfeiffer Beach. Fuel options are limited once you leave Carmel, so I recommend filling up before you head down the coast. Another thing to note is the lack of cell service. Scott and I mistakenly thought that we'd have service considering the fact that it is, you know, California. Well, serves us right for believing that state stereotype. There is none. So be prepared for several hours of radio silence on Highway 1.
Pfeiffer Beach is a little tricky to get to, but totally worth it. You'll take the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road off of Highway 1. The unofficial online guides say it's right at the yellow "Narrow Road" sign. I didn't really believe this would be helpful, but it weirdly is... as it's one of the only side roads on the highway. No RV's or trucks with trailers are allowed on this anxiety inducing narrow winding road. Once you make it through the twists and turns and navigate the other idiotic driver's who don't understand "narrow twisty road etiquette" you'll come to an actual National Forest booth were you pay a ranger $10 (cash only) to enter the park. There is a short walk to the beach and all the while you wonder just how worth it the whole thing is. Until you come upon this scene.
My grandfather was not one to be impressed by California. He felt strongly that the whole thing was overrated by a bunch of self important locals. He lived most of his life with this mindset. In the later years of his life he drove along the central coast of California and the Clark Gable coiffed, Korean War vet, self made man with a Southern drawl finally conceded "They sure do have some beautiful country up there." In honor of his conversion, allow me to present a visual liturgy of Big Sur.
After the cell reception kicked back in and we got some fuel for the dork-mobile we made our way to Southern California. After a somewhat depressing night in Valencia, California we found ourselves greeted by the orangey painted sunsets of Arizona we had left a year ago. From there we spent several days with family stocking up on joy.
Central Coast of California:
The next stop was on to Avila Beach, California. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day running the kids at the beach and it was merry in bright in its own way. We walked to the pier and stopped at the Hula Hut for ice cream. Thanks to the holidays we mostly had the place to ourselves and loved every moment of it. Per the usual my children were undeterred by water temperatures and proceeded to drop trou and play in the surf.
The last official stop was in San Francisco. By this point we were shot. Exhausted. Fried. So we took it easy. We stayed at our hotel and only ventured out to Trader Joe's and Starbucks. We were certain that Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge would be fine without us. So in the post-holiday lull we hunkered down with popcorn and enjoyed not needing to be anywhere... at least until my sister got off work in which case we looked at Christmas lights and ate Lebanese food.
The trip met a rather poetic end when we dropped our van off at the rental car after hours drop. We had taken a similar trip last year, two weeks after we had just moved into our new house. The whole time we were so frantic and jittery and trying so hard to make Christmas magical for our kids. We rushed through visits with family, Disneyland, and came back home to towers of boxes and a disorganized mess as well as the flu. This time was such a contrast. We had time to think, to talk, to listen, to gain perspective about our life and come into a new year that wasn't going to be a series of reactions to circumstances.
Travel does that some times. Two weeks of low-stress togetherness isn't a guarantee. We got lucky this time. Sometimes all it takes is 14 days to break old habits and form new ones. To create bonds and to see everything in a new, better light.
I'm reminded of Donald Miller's account of his own road trip through the American Southwest: “Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.” (Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts)
This all happened to coincide with the New Year. At first it felt a little corny to feel so chipper and enthusiastic about the new year along with everyone else and yet it didn't. Sometimes a new year and a new perspective is just the double whammy that you need to smile at the future.