Saturday, March 10, 2012

Perhaps The Most Interesting Birthday I Ever Had

Last year for my birthday, LC and I decided to spend a long weekend in northwest California, along the Pacific coast.  We wanted to see the redwoods north and south of Eureka, as well as check out the historic town itself.

After I finished work Thursday morning, we picked up our rental Chevy HHR and headed north through Susanville, then turned west on Highway 36 past Lake Almanor.  At the higher elevations, it snowed, but we carefully made our way over toward Red Bluff, where we stopped for lunch.  Then for the next several hours, we wound across the rest of 36 toward Eureka.  I've never driven on a road with so many hairpin turns, sharp dropoffs, and changes in elevation all rolled into one.  Oh, and rain and fog that made me feel like I was back in the British Isles (although I was way too young to drive then!).  Worn out from the trip, we checked into the Best Western Plus Bayshore Inn, had dinner at the nearby Marie Callender's, and headed to bed.

Before we fell asleep, we noticed on the Weather Channel a report of a powerful earthquake having struck off the northeast coast of Japan. 

About 5 AM Friday (my birthday), we heard something in the room, but couldn't figure out what it was.  At 6 AM, we heard it again, and finally discovered it was the telephone.  It was the Bayshore Inn's front desk, telling us the hotel was closed and we were under mandatory evacuation because we were in a tsunami zone.  Some things you just don't mess with.  We threw on some clothes, gathered a few of our possessions, and climbed in the HHR.  Now . . . to where?

We decided to head south on Highway 101 to the town of Fortuna, which had a ridge between it and the sea.  We figured if the tsunami made it over that, we might as well just report to the closest house of worship.  Pepper's Restaurant sufficed quite nicely for breakfast, and the tsunami was the dominant topic of conversation; we weren't the only Eureka "refugees."  It turned out the warning was quite valid, as the surge caused more than 25 million dollars in damage to the Crescent City harbor to the north.  One person was killed, and we would not get to see the redwoods north of Crescent City, as 101 was closed there.  Eureka's harbor was relatively unscathed, but a small wave did roll up the nearby Mad River.  (Note: All this, of course, paled in comparison to the thousands of Japanese who perished in the devastating tsunami.)

Rather than just wait around for the hotel to reopen, we decided to start playing tourist.  We ventured further south along 101 and drove through Humboldt Redwoods State Park along the Avenue of the Giants.  We spent a lot of time looking up, ooh-ing and ahh-ing.  I'll spare you our umpteen dozen tree pics.  That afternoon, we came back north and found the hotel had reopened, and everything was OK.

We had a nice pizza lunch at Don's Donuts, Pizza, and Deli in Arcata, the college town just north of Eureka.  From the square in the middle of town and those in it, Arcata looked like it could give Berkeley a run for its money in the liberalism department.

As the sun began to set, we headed north along the coastline through the fishing community of Trinidad.   Whether it was the normal tide or remnants of the tsunami, most of the fishing boats at mooring were listing violently from side to side.

We stood on a cliff overlooking the beach, and it's a good thing we didn't try to go down there as some tidal surges out of nowhere swept over the sand.  A plaque on the historic lighthouse reminded us many fishermen never made it back from the sea.

With the tsunami warnings expired on Saturday, we decided to head south again and drive along the Lost Coast.   After passing through the Victorian town of Ferndale, the small road turned sharply downhill through farmland toward the rugged coastline.  We braved intermittent rain to admire the waves from a closer viewpoint than the previous day.

Instead of turning back through Ferndale, we decided to press on south.  We were hoping to find someplace good for lunch, but there wasn't much of anything.  Sections of the road were poorly maintained, and on one downhill stretch, we heard and felt a WHAM! on the HHR's front tire.  Sure enough, we had hit a pothole.  I then realized we were entering the same section of Humboldt Redwoods State Park that we'd been in just 24 hours ago, and that the tire was losing air.  We limped to a clearing near Highway 101 and changed the tire, putting the "donut" in its place.  Then we went back north on 101 at only 50 MPH, getting glares from those unfortunate to be behind us in the right lane.

I recalled seeing a Les Schwab store (a West Coast tire chain, for those of you east of the Rockies) in Fortuna, but I wasn't sure how late it was open.  We arrived just past 5 PM . . . when it closed.  But one of the technicians saw us and said he'd take a look at the tire.  He quickly determined the rim had been bent from the pothole, but the tire wasn't punctured.  So he bent the rim back into place, inflated the tire, put it back on . . . and didn't charge us anything.  "And that's our Les Schwab story."  I wrote a most appreciative  letter to the store manager the following week.  So we didn't get to go to Mass before the DST time change that night, and were quite hungry, but also grateful to have our rental in one piece.

That night we had a nice birthday dinner (one day late) at Cafe Waterfront in historic downtown Eureka.  On the nearby pier, someone was riding one of those 10-foot-tall, multi-frame bicycles.

We lost an hour of sleep, but still managed to get to 8 AM Mass.  Unfortunately, the priest showed up about 10 minutes late as he'd forgotten to reset his clock.  We had to be the only people in there under age 70.

LC drove home as we took the not-nearly-as-winding Highway 299 east to Redding, then we went north of Lassen Volcanic National Park on Highway 44 to Susanville, then down 395 back home.  We told the rental company what had happened with the tire, but they didn't have a problem with it, especially since it was fixed.

We would like to go back and see more of the area north of Eureka that we didn't get to see this time.  But this short trip was an unforgettable one for us.