Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.

canyon1

Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.

canyonview

My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.

pch1

I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.

oceanview

So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

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A Rainy Day in Whistler

Whistler, Canada natural beauty

In keeping with British Columbia’s rambunctious weather patterns, Day 4 was chilly and overcast. The sore throat I’d been wrestling since the night before the trip was beginning to get a leg up on me, so Mom proposed a trip to the health food store to get some supplements for my suffering immune system.

I countered that we walk – it was only 5 kilometers from where we were staying. A good stretch of the legs. Plus I was eager to explore some of the trails I’d seen branching off the main highway. Dad agreed to walk with me, and together we explored the backstage area of Whistler’s network of ski resorts and parks.

_Whistler-foggy-day

Gorgeous. Even when they’re hidden by fog, the mountains are stunning.

We passed wildflowers and rock gardens, a variety of trees. We watched paddle boarders on the lake, enjoyed the quiet, and talked about all kinds of things.

That’s what I love about long walks with my dad – neither one of us are big talkers, but when we’re gallavanting in the great outdoors, we let loose. Everything under the sun, we discuss it. I discovered this a couple of years ago when Dad talked me into training for a half marathon with him. When we did our training ‘runs’ together (more like jog for ten minutes, then walk until I was ready to try again), we swapped wisdom on topics ranging from travel plans to job searches. It does me good.

I don't know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

I don’t know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

Whistler Village Park is an enormous town center, the center of the shopping and dining in Whistler. Even in summer there were numerous patrons – maybe since there wasn’t any skiing to do. We located the health food store and got me some Olive Leaf extract to take with the Emergen-C I was drinking.

Since we were there, we wandered around a bit and watched people. Dirt bikers riding down the mountain, lifts taking people up the mountain. Lots of shoppers and diners wandering through the bricked streets. We found a coffee shop for a snack and fortified our walk back.

Just as it began to rain. It was a gentle rain, so we didn’t mind.

_Canada-Geese-Whistler

Canada Geese – in Canada! Whoa.

Even so, it was nice to get home and put on dry socks.

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Whistler, BC: Home of the 2010 Olympics

_NairnMountainViewscopy

If the following photos look familiar to you, it might be because Whistler was the home of the 2010 Olympic Games. What you probably don’t know is that it was June when the games were recorded.

Okay, not really, but seriously it could have been. Whistler is gorgeous and full of winter sport, but the temps stay pretty low even in summer.

We were feeling a little wiped out from all the getting around and frigidity of the Victoria Island portion of our journey, so for our first day in Whistler we decided to keep it chill. It was actually a sunny, pleasant day – pushing 60 degrees Farenheit, so we drove a little bit down 99 with the intention of finding something scenic and looking at it.

Scenic is not tough to find in Whistler – around every bend, over every hill there is something to see. The view above is fairly common… snow-capped mountains, evergreens flourishing beside trickling streams, rushing waterfalls. Wildflowers galore. And also bears.

Noted.

Noted.

This sign greeted us as we began the winding ascent to the official home of the winter games, on a quest for waterfall viewing. It was an exceptionally foggy morning (pretty early, as we were still somewhat jet-lagged 3 hours ahead of the rest of the west coast) and we didn’t THINK there were any unpleasant creatures about.

But still.

We locked the car doors and drove past one or two black bears foraging on the side of the road. They may have been intimidating in real life (ie: outside the car), but they appeared to be much more interested in posing for pictures than in taking a bite out of any hapless tourists or misdirected winter Olympics spectators. They were just doing their thing with no apparent concern for the cars driving past.

Normally there is an entry fee for the park, but it just so happened that a private event was going on that day, so the fee was waived. We drove past the ski jump and the official mascot for the 2010 games. We passed the Olympic rings. We kept driving until we found what we were looking for.

Official 2010 ski jump of death

Official 2010 ski jump of death

The official 2010 rings and stone man

The official 2010 rings and stone man

A waterfall!

It was ethereal and mysterious in the lingering fog and rising mist. The sound of rushing water was at once calming and invigorating.

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

There didn’t seem to be much of a road beyond this point, so we drove back up 99 and got lunch (Southside Lodge, excellent diner cuisine slash hostel). Feeling fortified and refreshed in our quest for pretty things, we headed north this time.

It took about 30 miles, but eventually a sign for Nairn Falls caught our eye. Parking was a cinch, and we found several signs that informed us that a quick trek through a mile or so of trail would bring us to the falls.

_WoodsCollage

The trail was pretty easy walking and we came across several families with young ones as well as older folks along the same path. I love wildflowers and paused to admire some of them as we went by. The idea that something so beautiful would take root and bloom whether any human being would ever be involved or not is one that I find haunting and inspiring.

I could philosophize further, but that’s not really what we’re doing here. I’ll just let you think about the daily miracles that go unseen by human eyes and take away your own deductions from it.

Nairn Falls: the main event. The falls are gorgeous, and now that the fog had cleared we enjoyed sunning ourselves on the wooden deck built across the rocks at the base of the falls.
_NairnFalls copy

More wildflowers grew in the cracks between the rocks, and the foaming water looked frigidly inviting. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and videos, struggling to master a perfect panning shot without the aid of a tripod or steadicam rig. As you can imagine, this was an absorbing endeavor. When I looked up to locate my parents, I found my mom doing the last thing I would have expected.

She was lying down. On the wooden deck. Feet propped on the railing, arms out to the side, eyes closed.

This woman was on vacation.

So I joined her, and in a matter of minutes Dad plopped down next to us. Just three Matzes lying in the sun, enjoying the waterfall mist and the waterfall noise and all the wonderfulness of being in Whistler, British Columbia. Should you visit Nairn Falls, you may very well be tempted to do the same. It was highly gratifying.

As you can imagine, after all this excitement we needed some ice cream.

Prompted by signs for a Pemberton just a bit farther north, we located and drove through the small town featuring a skate park, a library, and a coffee shop. There was ice cream too, so we lounged on the deck furniture and reminisced about our favorite parts of our road trip so far.

It’s been a beautiful, delightful, enjoyable day in Whistler. Let’s do it again tomorrow.

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

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Travelogue – The Road Trip Begins

In which the fun begins with surprise tolls and some crazy bridges.

Chesapeake Bay bridge

18 miles over water… do you hear angels?

My plane landed at BWI right on schedule, but due to some thunderstorms the airport had shuffled planes around to different gates. This left us sitting on the ground for nearly an hour, which I didn’t mind nearly as much as my fellow passengers. Probably because I kept falling asleep.

We stumbled off the plane around 1 am, and by then the Red Roof Inn shuttles were not picking up. At this time, I reflected that it would have been nice of them to point this out on their websiteBut I guess I looked helpless enough, because another shuttle driver took pity on me and offered to dropped me off on his way to delivering another passenger.

As we looped around the airport looking for her, I eagerly described my plans for the week. In kindness to my benefactor, I will refrain from posting his response, but basically he found the question of my sanity highly suspect.

The BWI Red Roof Inn is a recently updated accommodation, each room opening to the outdoors. I felt quite safe, even though I was rolling to my room around 2 am.

We bonded.

Monday came at me quicker than was probably healthy, but I was so eager to get going I didn’t care. The very friendly shuttle driver helped me get to the Avis counter, where I was outfitted with a Hyundai Elantra.

I quickly depopulated my suitcase of the 20 or so CDs I had packed, and aimed for the rising sun. The weather was perfect, the traffic nonexistent. What a great day for a road trip!

About 25 miles in to my journey, I came to a toll. Coming out of the toll plaza, I started going up. And up, and up and up. Without warning, I had come to the Chesapeake Bay, which meant I was now crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is a very high bridge with lots and lots of water underneath it.

I yelled.

It was super fun, scary, and awesome. Like a roller coaster, except I was the one driving it. I guess all the excitement was just too much for somebody, because on the way back down, traffic came to a halt behind a stopped vehicle. Eventually a police car stopped traffic in the other lane so we could all get by. I was supremely grateful that this occurred on the lower part of the bridge rather than its highest point.

Most of Maryland passed by uneventfully. Route 13 took me through lots of green and leafy surroundings, punctuated here and there with little bitty towns. It felt quite rural, though I was only an hour or so from the airport. I was making my way through a full audio recording of ‘Great Expectations’, and the Dickensian narrative suited my quiet drive.

My first stopping place was Chincoteague Island in Virginia, which meant I had to leave 13 and hang a left on 175 (which I missed until about 10 miles later, but what are U-turns for?). The drive to the island was the best part of that detour – a fresh, cool breeze off the marsh that lines the two-lane highway.

Come back in the spring!

I’m disappointed to say that Chincoteague did not make much of an impression on me apart from the lovely drive and the quaint little houses of Church Street. But this could be partly attributed to timing.

I had multiple failed attempts to find a place for lunch, since three of the four restaurants I tried were closed. The café is only open for breakfast. J&B’s only works Wednesday to Sunday (this was a Monday). Another place claimed it was ‘closed til spring’.

I only mention this because it means I lost a lot of time driving around looking for food, when I could rather have been exploring the charming little town where people ride bicycles from one end to the other and a lot of the houses look like this:

      

And I thought this was amusing:

…and quite possibly the only one.

I walked around a bit and browsed the shops, but I really didn’t catch Chincoteague at its finest. I have a feeling the number of folks riding bikes will multiply once school lets out. And if you crop your photos just right, the water looks quite inviting.

That’s 175 you see in the background

Then on to Virginia Beach! I’ve been here before, but not like this. Coming down 13 puts you right on the path to an unsettling toll ($12 if you please) and this gem:

One of the more impressive engineering feats on the East Coast is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, which opened in 1964 at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and was effectively doubled in 1997 by the addition of an extra set of driving lanes. Almost 18 miles long … the structure consists of one high-level bridge, two deep tunnels, four islands, and many miles of raised causeway.

Pretty! Oh, it was so cool.

As the sun was setting I made a quick stop at the beach before heading to Rita’s to meet my friends Tessa and Abigail, who obliged me with a quick catch-up and Rita’s famous Italian ice/frozen custard. The day ended around midnight at Abi’s house.

Virginia Beach

The bank of hotels and resorts against the glow of the setting sun.

Day 1 stats:
Miles covered: 327.5
Thrilling visions encountered: 2
Chapters ‘read’: 9

Next stop… OBX!