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Tag: coast

A farewell to the Pacific

On our last west coast afternoon, Ace and I were wearily headed back to the motel after spending the day touring Monterey when the beach beckoned.

Knowing our route was going to take us inland, that there’d be no more Pacific Ocean views in our travels, I decided we should soak in all we could before we left. Ace didn’t object.

Marina State Beach was nearby, so I pulled in, only to see a sign that said dogs weren’t allowed. Hang gliders have dibs, it seems. So I headed north, probably less than a mile, and saw two trails leading to the beach. With more than an hour until the sunset, I grabbed a dog-hair covered blanket from the car and we hiked up a sandy path to the highest dune I could find, overlooking the ocean.

Winds had blown its surface smooth, so there was not a track anywhere to be seen, except those we left behind us.

I curled up under the blanket, and the sun came out from behind the clouds, providing some warmth, but not quite enough considering the cold winds that were blowing. I also noticed, even with my eyes closed, that something kept blocking the sun out — not for long periods, like clouds do, but in quick flashes. I opened my eyes to see what it was — a hang glider.

So we can’t hang out on your beach, but you can buzz our’s? How fair is that? I shot him repeatedly, and some of the pictures came out okay.

Then I re-situated myself, head on my camera bag. Ace curled up next to me, then nosed his way under the blanket. I rearranged it so it would cover us both.

I thought a pre-sunset nap was in order, but Ace, after a few cozy minutes, felt otherwise. He decided it was playtime, so he started squirming around under the blanket, then sat up and looked me straight in the eye. I stared back, knowing that he was in perfectly still alert mode and that the slightest movement I made he would interpret as playing.

So I got up, and he ran circles around me. Then he repeatedly charged at me, veering at the last possible second, looping around and coming back again. It’s our version of bullfighting — violence, blood, bull and cape free, though he does sometimes playfully snap at me when he passes by.

After 30 minutes of that, the sun began a quick descent. Ace lay still on the dune — which our playing had turned into a pockmarked mess — and watched with me.

Part of me, a very small part, felt as if I should smooth the dune out before I left, like I should have one of those little sand trap rakes golfers use and return it to its original condition.

The larger part of me said, naaaah, they were joyous divots, and merely temporary ones. Overnight winds would blow the dune smooth again — just as sure as the sun sets over the Pacific.

Steinbeck Country: Monterey or bust

“The beaches are clean where once they festered with fish guts and flies. The canneries which once put up a sickening stench are gone, their places filled with restaurants, antique shops and the like. They fish for tourists now, not pilchards, and that species they are not likely to wipe out.”

John Steinbeck’s return to a much-changed Monterey in 1960 was more bitter than sweet — he found it much improved cosmetically, and economically, but its old fishing character and its saltiness were gone.

It wasn’t home anymore.

The town’s transition from a sardine-based economy to a tourist-based one was well underway by then, and while that would ensure that Monterey would continue to thrive, seeing how much had been erased — fish guts and all — returned Steinbeck, a native of the area, to the kind of funk he seemed to teeter on the edge of, periodically, in “Travels with Charley.” 

“My return caused only confusion and uneasiness,” he wrote. “… Tom Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.”

If he were to return again today to this spic and span city by the sea, he’d likely be even more displeased. Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf are now full-fledged tourist attractions that, while giving nods to the past, no longer have much connection with it.

And, quite possibly, he’d be downright irate over how his name and likeness have become an integral part of the area’s business and tourism marketing.

He probably wouldn’t think much of the way his name has been seized by business operations large and small: Steinbeck Garden Inn, Steinbeck Jewelers, Steinbeck Mortgage, Steinbeck Travel, Steinbeck Credit Union, Steinbeck Country Bail Bonds.

Steinbeck shunned publicity. In fact, he once moved out of the area to avoid it. Maybe he’d be OK with his bust being on display, in Steinbeck Plaza, but to see his face flapping in the breeze on banners above the streets in Cannery Row? I’m guessing he wouldn’t care for that.

The Steinbeck bust is right in the middle of things, and tourists regularly stop and have their photos taken with it. It faces away from the bay, toward the traffic, which probably wouldn’t have been his preference, either. He stares, somewhat solemnly, into the distance. Not even Ace could get him to break into a smile.

Monterey, and the surrounding area makes much of its Steinbeck connection — Steinbeck Country, they call it — from the flatlands of Salinas to the hilly bayfront of Pacific Grove.

It was in the family cottage there, purchased by his father as a family retreat, that Steinbeck wrote several novels and got started on “Of Mice and Men.”

Steinbeck stayed in the cottage with his wife Elaine, as he headed south through California and then back east on the trip that would become “Travels with Charley,”

He visited old haunts, at least those still standing, and old friends, at least those who were still around. Between the people who had died or moved away and the makeover the city had received, Steinbeck felt out of place.

“The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me.”

Monterey was a new place. And Carmel, he wrote, ”begun by starveling writers and unwanted painters, is now a community of the well-to-do and the retired. If Carmel’s founders should return, they could not afford to live there…They would be instantly picked up as suspicious character and deported over the city line.”

Ace and I visited Cannery Row, then drove by Steinbeck’s former cottage in Pacific Grove to snap a quick photo. We found a nice spot, cliffside, near Lover’s Point, to rest our weary paws.

We walked Fisherman’s Wharf, which once served as the major port on the Pacific and whose fishermen once set off daily on quests for huge whales, and later tiny sardines — until overfishing brought the sardine industry, which thrived during the Depression, to a grinding halt in the 1950s. By 1960, as Steinbeck noted, tourists had become the city’s salvation.

In the 50 years since, the supply of them has not depleted. I’ve visited Monterey  several times, first  in 1987, and a couple more times in the early 1990′s, once for a story at Ford Ord, the once massive military base that was shut down in 1994. This visit, I was surprised to see mostly emptiness on the massive Army base by the sea, built in the 1940s to train soldiers for World War II. And surprised, too, that, given our times, it hadn’t been reopened.

Funny how sardines are limited, but we seem to have an endless supply of wars. Even over-warring doesn’t seem to bring an end to that industry.

Ace and I stayed at Motel 6 near what used to be Fort Ord, in a town called Marina, which I don’t even remember existing when I was last here. But we spent most of our time in Monterey, which, despite all the tourists trappings, despite never being my home, still never fails to touch my soul.

It’s not because of anything man has built; it’s not because John Steinbeck slept here. It’s the pockets of nature that still exist between the seafood restaurants and wax museums and souvenir shops and boutiques. It’s the topography, the way the peninsula stretches into the bay, and the wildlife that, despite all man’s tinkering, still call it home.

To me, that, more than anything else — moreso even than the famous writer — is what still gives salt-free Monterey  character:

The pelicans, the gulls, the seals and sea lions and all the other squirmy sea life you can see, not just in the confines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but in their natural habitat.

If I ever return — and I hope I do — that will be why.

Going, going, Oregon

Sick days and surreal days behind us, we’ve exited Oregon — but not before enjoying a few quiet and contemplative hours on its southernmost beach.

After hanging out with David Love and his pit bull, Kitty — during which time my dog waited in the car — I owed Ace some fun, so I stopped at a smokehouse outside Brookings to pick up something to eat, then looked for a scenic place to eat it.

Chrissey State Park fit the bill.

I toted my lunch — smoked salmon, a hunk of cheddar cheese and a bowl of clam chowder — to the beach and found a weathered and washed up tree trunk that was big enough to seat us both.

Smoked salmon is my new favorite thing. It may even be better than cigarettes.

I nibbled and sipped my soup, tossing hunks of cheese and pieces of salmon, including all the skin, to Ace. The ocean roared. A cool westerly wind made my food wrappers, and Ace’s ears, flutter. The sandy beach sprawled before us, empty except for pieces of wood washed grey. The sun, finally, was out.

Between the lulling surf, the warming sun and the full belly, I decided a few horizontal minutes might be nice — and the log was big enough to oblige. I stretched out atop it. Ace sat at the other end. And I fell asleep, just for 15 minutes or so. When I woke up, Ace was still sitting at the end of the log, staring out at the ocean.

Sometimes, I can’t tell whether Ace likes a place or not. If there are loud noises, big crowds, strange sights, he gets a little jumpy. But this one seemed to suit him just fine.

He seemed, almost, to be thinking — about what I have no idea, maybe when are we going to get home, how much longer do I have to spend in this car, what has become of my life. As we near the six-month mark on our road trip, I’m thinking more and more that, exciting as all these new sights and scents have been, he wants some familar surroundings, a routine.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if he’s enjoying himself as we cross America — does he give a whit, for instance, about the kind of scenic beauty that Oregon’s coast showed us? Does he care so much about where he is, or only who he is with, and when that person might come through with some dinner?

I don’t know. But there, on that beach, at that moment, he seemed perfectly content.

I was too, and could have easily fallen back asleep on my log bed. Instead we got up and walked a ways and played chase and danced at the edge of the surf, eluding the incoming waves. He darted around and took in mouthfuls of sand, as he does when he’s at the beach.

Then it was back to the car, and just a hop to the California state line.

We stopped in the first town, Crescent City, and spent the night in a room with the most badly stained carpet I’ve ever seen. Ace sniffs out every new room, but he spent even more time on this one — going from spot to spot for a good 15 minutes.

Then he jumped up on the bed with me.

Smart dog.

Kitty, the dog that keeps on pulling

David Love was bedridden — going through a particularly ugly spell in his bout with liver cancer — when he agreed to babysit a friend’s dog, a pit bull mix named Kitty.

The first thing Kitty did was jump up on his bed and lick his face.

That was a year ago, and Kitty, Love says, has been helping him ever since – lifting his spirits, detecting his seizures and pulling his wheelchair, all without any formal training.

I spotted Love and Kitty on my way through Brookings, Oregon — the last coastal town one who is southbound goes through before hitting California.

We passed him as she pulled his wheelchair across the Chetco River bridge, saw them again cruising down the sidewalk after we stopped for gas, and finally cornered him when Kitty came to a halt in front of a shopping center on the south side of town.

Love had gone there to pick up some medicine and check in on his buddy, a homeless man named Buddy.

He was happy to talk, especially about his dog.

“She’s my motor,” he said.

Though Kitty was initially just visiting, once her owner saw how taken the two were with each other, she suggested he keep her.

Love’s troubles — and he admits he has seen a few — began when he broke his leg while playing college football.

Complications set in — exacerbated, he says, by too many doctors and too much alcohol, and eventually Love lost the leg.

Things went downhill from there, but eventually Love took what he knew about being down, being drunk and being addicted and put it to good use, setting up missions to help those so inflicted.

He ran an outreach in Oklahoma, then moved back to Oregon and set up another. Not long after that, he was diagnosed with liver cancer, which kept him bedridden for long spells. The outreach lost its building, but he now runs it out of the motel room he lives in.

Among those he tries to check on daily is Buddy, a homeless man, also in a wheelchair, who sits at a corner with a sign that says, “Simple Work. Anything Helps. Hungary Broke.”

Buddy’s corner is about two and a half miles from where Love lives, but Kitty regularly pulls him the entire way.

“If I don’t hear from Buddy, I get panicky,” Love said, adding that he needed to visit a nearby drug store for medicine anyway.

Love also suffers from seizures, and he says Kitty seems to have developed the ability to warn him if one is coming.

“She seems to know I’m going to have a seizure before I do,” he said. She will put her head on his legs and look at him, and sometimes “she blocks me from going anywhere and won’t let me leave the house.” Love says he has woken up from seizures only to see the dog standing over him.

Kitty isn’t the first dog — or the first pit bull — I’ve heard of who, with no formal training, assumed the role of therapy and assistance dog. (You can read about another in “Dog, Inc.” my soon-to-be-released book advertised at the top of this page.)

Sometimes, dogs– even those not trained for such tasks – just seem to know what to do, how to help.

For Kitty, one of those tasks is pulling, and she goes at with gusto and determination, straining up hills, slowing down at street corners, coming to a dead halt when she sees someone she’s not sure she trusts.

Kitty is 2-1/2 years old, and has had two litters of pups since moving in with Love. In her spare time, such as when Love stops to talk to someone, she likes to roll on her back in the dirt.

During the times he has been bedridden, Love says, Kitty has been at his side, disproving all he’d ever heard about pit bulls.

“I’ve always been told they were bad dogs,” he said. “But it’s all in how you teach them. She’s a very gentle dog and she’s great with kids. She don’t puddle on the floor or anything.”

I walked with them to the drug store. Love handed me the leash and we agreed to meet back up down at the corner where Buddy was sitting.

But when I tried to get her to come with me, Kitty wouldn’t budge, taking a seat and staring at the store. Only after much encouragement did she agree to come, and even then, every five steps or so, she’d stop, sit and stare at the store.

Once we worked our way back to the corner, she took a seat, her eyes never leaving the storefront.

I’d say Love found quite a dog in Kitty, a pit bull that assumed the roles she saw her owner needed — serving not as a fighter, but as nurse, cheerleader, motor and friend.

The strangest day yet of our journey

It began in Coos Bay and ended in Gold Beach, and in between it was just plain weird, a day in which everything was slightly off, as if I was in some parallel universe — when actually it was just the coast of southern Oregon.

Like our previous days driving down Oregon’s coast, it was magically beautiful, but dotted in spots with a thick fog that obscured not just the view, but seemingly every human I ran into. Was it just me? You decide.

We left Coos Bay at noon, not sure how far we would drive. We passed through Bandon, a touristy town that seemed normal enough.

Later, seeing Cape Blanco State Park — and remembering that it is supposedly the last place to see the sun set in the 48 contiguous states — we decided to hang around for it, and seek lodgings in the next town, Port Orford.

Before we got there, we crossed a bridge over the Elk River. It was lined with cars — fishermen I assumed. But nobody was fishing. Instead all the people were leaning over the bridge railing, looking down. As it turns out, salmon were spawning, and maybe, when salmon spawn, humans — in some yet to be discovered cycle of nature — get a little strange, too.

I enjoyed a fine breakfast in Port Orford and talked to a man whose dog fell out of his truck.

Jake was his name — the dog, not the man — and he sat stoically in the rain in the bed of a Dodge pickup truck as his owner enjoyed chicken fried steak and eggs.

The dog’s owner was nice enough to recommend a dog friendly motel, so after breakfast I headed there, going up a road that promised, in big letters — really big letters — an ocean view. It wasn’t lying.

At the end of it, I turned right into the Hotel Castaway, I went into the office and attempted to confirm it was dog friendly. A vacuum cleaner was running in the back room, but eventually a man stepped out.

“What kind of dog?” he asked.

“A mutt,” I answered, fearing the breeds that make up Ace — Rottweiler, Akita, Chow and pitbull — might give him the wrong impression.

“A mix of what?” he asked.

“Different breeds,” I answered.

There was a long pause, and then he said, “Smoking?”

I told him a smoking room would be fine, but wasn’t a necessity.

“None of our rooms are smoking,” he said.

Finally, he quoted me a price — $79, which included a dog fee.

Charming as the place was, it was over my limit, so I headed to a second place that had been mentioned at breakfast. The sign on the door said closed, but the door was unlocked, so I stood in the office for five minutes. When no one showed up, I went to another motel, two buildings down. It was closed as well.

Back in the car I noticed another motel, the Port Orford Inn, which has a sign saying “pet friendly.” It also has signs saying “for sale” and “for rent.” It was a run-down looking place, with some of its windows boarded up.

The office was locked tight, so I approached two guys in the parking lot, who were loading their car up for a fishing trip.

“Do they rent rooms here?” I asked.

“Are you a fisherman?” one of them responded.

“No,” I said. “Is that a requirement?”

They explained that the motel was all but abandoned. There was a handyman who watched over it, but he wasn’t around. They stay there when they come to fish, apparently on a help-yourself, semi-squatting basis.

One of them walked me over to another room, where a man sat on the floor, recovering from a hangover, he explained. 

The man on the floor said I could stay with him in his room for $10.

“If you don’t mind kinking it, you could stay here. I could used the ten dollars for beer.”

Not knowing what “kinking it” was, I wasn’t sure whether I would mind it or not. My guess is he meant something similar to roughing it, but – not being sure, and not wanting to make a commitment to kinking it — I begged off, using Ace as an excuse. “Thanks, but you probably don’t want a dog in your room.”

He said that would be no problem, and sweetened the deal by saying the guys who were going out fishing would probably be coming back with some salmon we could eat. As I declined again, a few other people came out of rooms, and it seemed all of them had a strange look in their eyes — vacant and intense at the same time.

We departed and drove back up to Cape Blanco, passing some sheep with blue polka dots, to the very edge of the continent — to watch the sun not set.

After that, we kept heading south, passing through Humbug Mountain State Park, where the rain, fog and darkness, coupled with sheer cliffs, made driving tense.

Reaching Gold Beach, we opted for the Sand Dollar Inn, which proved to be both affordable and dog friendly and promised (but never delivered, at least not by 9 a.m.) a continental breakfast.

Before going into my room, I walked Ace up a road, where we encountered not one, but two black cats. They both crossed our path.

Back at my room, we encountered the man staying in the room next door. He wore shorts and a black t-shirt with a motorcycle on it. He liked standing inches away from the person he was talking to, and he liked to talk. His head was shaved and covered with nicks and his words — though I tried hard to make sense of them — made little. Interspersed with some understandable phrases were allusions to other things, and he frequently lapsed into a stream of consciousness babble.

“Is that dog blind? You need a shave. I shaved (points to head). I cut myself five times. Hells Angels. Volkswagen bus. Why does the dog look at you when I’m talking? He loves you, man. That’s why.

“Why’d they try to do it, man? Why’d they try to accuse me of rape? Lucky dog with a cloth around his throat. He loves you. Why’d they try and do it man? Forty-seven Harley. Volkswagen bus. Like Bonnie and Clyde. Why’d they try to do it man. I love you, brother. You’re old. I’m old. Why’d they try and do it, man?”

He looked to be in his 40′s and, except for when he took a sip from his can of beer, his monologue was continual, and showed no signs of letting up.

I apologized and told him I had some things I needed to do, but that I’d come out and smoke a cigarette with him later.

Instead, I fell asleep, assured that nothing I could dream would be any weirder than the day had already been.

Ace and the American sunset

Since Ace was the first dog in America to see the sun rise (above) — back on Oct. 3, when we were on the other side of the country – I thought it would be fitting for him to be the last dog to see it set as we make our way down the west coast.

On the road, I called my son on my cell phone and asked him to look it up on the Internet. Thirty minutes later, he called back with the answer, or at least one of them — Cape Blanco, Oregon.

That was back when I was still in the state of Washington, and I’d filed it away in the back of my mind (translation: I’d all but forgotten about it) until, while driving south down Highway 101 in Oregon, I saw a sign for Cape Blanco State Park.

Where have I heard of that before, I wondered. You know how you can set your computer to delete your Internet history when you log off? That’s kind of how my brain works sometimes.

Five more minutes down the road, it registered, and I decided to seek out a motel in Port Orford, and drive back up to the park around sunset time.

Suitable lodgings eluded us though (more on that bizarre episode tomorrow), so Ace and I killed some time sniffing around Port Orford before heading to the park, hoping the clouds and drizzle might clear up enough to see some sign of a sun setting.

We turned off 101 and followed the road, past the park and towards the Cape Blanco lighthouse until the road — and seemingly the continent — came to an end.

And as — we can only guess — the sun went down, here is what we saw:

I got only close enough to the edge to see that it dropped off pretty severely, but I could see nothing more than the vague outline of a huge rock in the ocean, or at least what I thought was the ocean.

As for Ace — our visit to Niagara Falls still in the front of my  mind – I kept him on a very short leash and right at my side, fearing he might venture into oblivion, or pull me into it. In the thick fog, it was a scary place — and maybe it is in the light of day too, like something you’d see in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Two people would get into an argument at the edge, and pretty soon you’d only see one.

Here’s what the cape looks like in the cloud- and fog-free light of day:

The top of the lighthouse is, some say, the last place to see the sun go down in the 48 contiguous states.

But not all agree with that — or even with the contention that Cape Blanco is the westernmost point in the contiguous 48. Some say Cape Alaya in Washington is westernmoster.

Apparently, the confusion is caused by land shifts and measurement anomalies and whether the measurements are taken at high tide or low tide.

One can tour the Cape Blanco lighthouse between April 1 and Oct. 31, and, for a fee, climb the three flights of stairs and one ladder to the tower.

This isolated lighthouse holds at least four Oregon records: it is the oldest continuously operating light, the most westerly, has the highest focal plane above the sea, and employed Oregon’s first female lighthouse keeper.

And it’s a great place to see sunsets.

Sometimes.

Easing our way down the coast of Oregon

We are moving very slowly down Oregon’s Coast.

Majestic as it is, it’s the only way to do so.

With its sheer cliffs and magnificent rocks, crashing surf, and multitude of breathtaking vistas, one would be a fool to rush through, even in the rain and fog, and we had plenty of both. Even then, it was dazzling, the sort of place that, back in the days of film, you would quickly run out of it.

After a night at a Motel 6 in Portland, we had headed west on Highway 6 to Cannon Beach, where Ace got his first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, and his first walk on its beaches.

While fully recovered from the diarrhea that plagued him for a few days, he seemed a bit wary as we walked over the sand, dodging the occasional wave that would creep up higher than the others. Maybe the loudly crashing waves had him on edge, or there were just to many pieces of driftwood and washed up sea vegetation to sniff.

I, while awed at the beauty, wasn’t in the mood to frolic, either.

We got back on the highway, passing through several more quaint towns, and stopping at scenic overlook after scenic overlook. I don’t think we overlooked a single overlook. We weren’t covering much ground, but that which we did was stunning, right up there with Maine’s coast, which, scenic beauty-wise, has been my favorite part of the trip so far.

By early afternoon, I started looking for an inexpensive and dog-friendly motel, and pulled into what appeared to be one in Rockaway.

From the road, the Sea Haven Motel didn’t look like much — with its modest little sign, six rooms, and a hostel next door. 

I was given Room 6, paid about $50 — they dropped the $7 dog fee for me —  and rushed inside.

Why the rush? Because I had something similar to what Ace had, if you get my drift — and if you were in Room 5, you might have.

For two days, other than a trip to the store, I  stayed inside, eating only chicken noodle soup and toast, and becoming so familiar with the bathroom that I could describe it for you in great detail.

But I won’t, except to say the Sea Haven was probably the nicest, coziest, amenity-laden motel I’ve stayed at on this trip — and the perfect place to be sick.

Rockaway offered the perfect weather to be sick, too — for it was either raining or misting for two days straight.

The room had a full kitchen, fully equipped, including a little basket of treats — cookies, crackers, teas and coffees, popcorn and more, none of which I ate, but some of which I stole when I left.

I slept, sipped soup, watched the log trucks roll by, viewed some television and soaked for hours in — thanks to a bathroom well stocked with amenities, too — an ultra-moisturizing foaming milk bath.

Ultra-moisturized, I slept some more in the big fluffy, satin-sheeted bed.

The next morning I felt almost good to go — as long as I didn’t go to far. We drove a few more hours, about half of that spent stopped at pullovers gawking at the sea and the rocks and  the perpetually crashing clash between the two.

Highway 101 in Oregon more than rivals Highway 101 in northern California, offering that same feeling that you’re but a tiny, tilting, insignificant blip in the great scheme of things.

At times, the view disappeared, and road, cliff, sea and fog all became one big blur, leading me to squint my eyes and slap myself awake, and making my belly roil a little more.

We only got as far as Coos Bay, where the rhythm of the roils told me to stop. We Motel Sixed again.

We plan to continue down the coast tomorrow, probably another two hours worth of driving, which — given “rest” stops, as they say, and given all there is to overlook — will take four.

One of these days we’ll make it to California, but I’m in no hurry.

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