Spring Break, Part 1: The Backwoods of Silicon Valley

Spring on the way.
Spring on the way.
Men fishing
Childhood friends, catching up even if they don’t catch fish.
Redwood forest
Lost in thought among the giants.
Waves crashing on beach
Classic beach shot; late afternoon sun after clouds and rain.

Redwoods were my first tree love. Partly because they’re, well, gorgeous and partly because I first experienced them while I was in the process of falling in love.

Looking back now at the photos from that first trip together up Highway One along the California coast, the weird lighting and odd angles in evidence there don’t match up with my memories of the trip. We drove from Kansas through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona to California, then back along the Lonely Highway in Nevada. In my mind, everything is outlined either with the sharp clarity of high desert light, all rock, canyon, and blue sky, or suffused with a golden glow, filtered through coastal fog and redwood limbs.

This most recent trip wasn’t at all like that first one. We made the four-hour drive to drop the dogs off with the in-laws, then drove through Seattle traffic to catch our flight to SFO. We spent time on CalTrain and Bart and borrowed a friend’s truck, scrambling to fit in visits to everyone we could and hit the must-do highlights, then flew back for round two of our travels, a trip out to the Washington coast with the dogs.

Indeed, change was the defining motif of the trip. We heard it everywhere we went, the familiar lamentation that the Bay Area just isn’t what it used to be. Nearly every conversation opened with that topic, and the concerns are thoughtful and real. Housing prices are astronomical. Teachers–and other non-tech types–have trouble making ends meet, posing problems down the road for things like educational access. For my husband and his childhood friends, there’s a personal sense of loss,  the feeling that ordinary people can no longer afford to live in a place they have loved deeply. There’s also a general sense that these changes don’t bode well for society as a whole, that the economic stratification breeds social isolation and political dysfunction. That a culture of exploration and innovation has given way to excessive individualism and conspicuous consumption.

And yet, we managed to find wild spaces. We left Menlo along Sand Hill Road, with its venture capitalists and Stanford’s SLAC, and drove across the coastal mountains. It was a short trip, but it was miles away from the world of Teslas and start-ups and stock options. We re-visited Sam McDonald County Park, hiked in to Portola Redwoods State Park (making notes for a return backpacking trip), took in views of ocean and bay from Windy Hill, and snuck in a fishing trip with Anthony.

One of the things that never fails to amaze me about the Bay Area is the ready proximity to relative solitude in nature. We found a back route into Sam McDonald–by accident, as per usual–and spent the morning hiking in near solitude, meeting only one other couple on the trail. The next day, we parked outside of Portola Redwoods State Park and walked in. (The park was open although the road in is closed, and we’re guessing that the big washout just below the junction with the main road in is to blame.) We met quite a few groups on our way back out, but we had the trail–a popular, easy hike to really big trees–all to ourselves for the whole time we were on it.

On the face of it, that kind of escape should be much easier to come by in a state like Washington. But here, geography and climate are such that most hikers end up crowded onto a few popular trails. If you’re skilled and determined, the backcountry offers more in the way of solitude. But for us, most of the year, the choices are to fight crowds on the most popular trails or head out to logging roads.

Change happens. Our current lives have a different rhythm, rich with the projects and people we’ve chosen to focus on. And yet, the texture of our lives remains remarkably similar: time with friends, love of nature, time together.

Food and such:

Our lodging was, as has been the case, low-key. We stayed for the last time in Anthony’s apartment, across the street from his grandfather, and ate his mother’s wonderful Italian food.

But we did check out the house-made pastrami at the Refuge in Menlo and had a burger and beer at the Dutch Goose. In Half Moon Bay, we had our customary fish tacos at the the Flying Fish.

I even made a gushing stop at the Rancho Gordo stall at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, where I reveled in the joy of visiting my favorite beans in person.



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