California Coast Redux

I was driving around the West Coast aimlessly in February of 2011. It was chillier than I hoped it would be, but I bundled up. I’d been thinking about California’s Highway 1 longingly ever since I drove down it in 2007 and I’d been hoping to replay the visuals I’d stored with such care in my quick-draw, long-term memory. I didn’t get far along Highway 1 before I was asked to turn back – the roads were flooding from the pooling of the incessant rain. When I was driving around the coastal roads of Oregon and California in 2007, I was driving south toward the launching city for my summer tour and sleeping in my van. In retrospect, I think I was trying to recreate that experience in 2011.

%Gallery-187004%I hadn’t booked any hotel rooms and wasn’t planning on it. I told my husband we could just sleep in the Chevy HHR we’d rented. So I bought some $15 throws at a Walgreens in San Francisco and we drove without destination. When we got too tired of our wandering, we pulled over and put the seats down in the back. Sleeping was difficult. It was much colder in February than it had been in June of 2007. I had a mattress on a lofted bed in the van back then. I had sheets, comforters, and pillows. And yet here I was, four years older with none of those things. My husband and I shivered through the night a few times before deciding that we should find alternative accommodations for my birthday, which was one day away.

We booked two nights at a place called Vichy Springs Resort that boasted naturally carbonated warm springs. Vichy springs is located in Ukiah, California, which now seems like a sleepy dream of a town. The naturally carbonated and warm springs are relatively rare. Vichy Springs is purportedly one of only two locations that offers both in North America. The place is 157 years old and calls 700 acres of land home. The springs were used by the Native American Pomo tribes for thousands of years. Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant all once spent time in the Vichy waters.

We drove the winding roads from the Pacific inland toward Ukiah, stopping every so often to photograph the mountains in the distance. It was night by the time we arrived and far too cold to even consider being outdoors with a swimsuit on, no matter how warm the springs. I was a year older by morning and sitting in warm spring water for the first time in my life. I volleyed between the pool and the baths, where the carbonated water from the faucets came straight from underground. My husband gifted me a massage and I dozed off in peace as the knots from sleeping on folded car seats for days were kneaded away. We left refreshed and early the next morning for Sacramento, from where we would return the car and find our flight back to Austin. As I was looking out of the window of the plane as it ascended over the lush hills of California, I wondered why I would have expected an old plot to unfold before old scenery when in fact, the scene had changed and so had I.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward and Ben Britz]