I’m on a 30+-day camping and hiking trip with my 8-year old son along the Pacific Coast. This means that for the first time since high school, I am officially not working. Harvard Business Review assures us resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. We’ll see.
July 11 — Saturday
What day is it? Day six of 36. We started the day a little groggy. K slept until just after seven. It was a late night for us. Seems the extended sunlight up North has our sleep and general daily patterns off. He read last night until almost 10 p.m., and I stayed up to secure a hotel for tonight. Also booked two nights in Astoria — which we might not need if we can cover Goonies in one day.
Grabbed a TOGO bag of breakfast goodies from the lobby of the hotel. Masks were in abundance, but people in line were antsy. I feel for the individual on staff who is supposed to put each breakfast item in the brown paper bag and make coffee and check out the guests.
K snagged Rice Krispies, a low-fat milk, hard-boiled egg, granola bar, and string cheese. I opted for a box of O.J. from the hotel, and some instant oatmeal from our never-ending stash of goodies in our truck.
COVID-19 Challenge: the hotel was out of spoons, which makes eating cereal and oatmeal tough. They did have hot water, along with a few napkins and a sign asking patrons to please use one when dispensing their own water for tea or coffee.
We packed up, got gas, and I splurged for a $5.99 car wash add-on at the fuel station. Between the logging roads at Big River Forest and pullouts around the Avenue of the Giants in the redwoods, there was a layer of dust and mud on top of the windows that made it hard to see through.
Our first stop was just up the road, north of Fortuna: Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The last time I was at the Refuge was in 2002 at a dedication of the visitor’s center honoring Richard J. Guadagno, who died on 9/11 as a passenger on United Flight 93. After celebrating his grandmother's 100th birthday with family in New Jersey, Rich boarded Flight 93 to return home. Guadagno's badge and credentials, identifying him as a federally trained law enforcement officer, were recovered at the Flight 93 crash site and returned to his parents and sister. When I worked with The Conservation Fund, one of my proudest moments was when the National Park Service, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Fund, and many others helped to protect land for the Flight 93 National Memorial and State Gamelands 93.
Rich was the refuge manager at Humboldt Bay NWR on September 11, 2001, and, in part because of his law enforcement training with USFWS, Rich is believed to have been one of the few brave individuals who attacked the terrorists during the flight and took back the cockpit.
There’s a beautiful, hand-carved, wooden bench next to a stone tribute to Rich outside of the center. I teared up reading it to K. I remember standing at this very spot with my dad, nearly 20 years ago, as he spoke with a large crowd honoring Rich. Here was a man who dedicated his life to conservation, nature, and wildlife, who had given up his life for people.
The visitor’s center was closed, but there were several volunteers walking the loop. An older man approached us with a white paint bucket, excited that he’d found a dead long-tailed weasel several miles away (near an animal shelter he said—the irony he completely missed). He wanted to show K, and apparently wanted to donate the dead weasel to the FWS staff. So they could stuff it? When he discovered the center was closed, he dumped the poor guy in the trash outside the rest room.
We hiked for about an hour along a gorgeous loop along the estuary for Salmon Creek. K almost immediately spotted a garter snake in the grass. He said he heard it slither. Such a good find.
We watched several mama ducks and ducklings, egrets, a male northern harrier, a kingfisher, and herons. We listened to the songbirds holler as we walked the trail along the coast. Cattails, prairie, and native grasses blend here with the tidal wetlands as they fall into the ocean. When we hopped back on the road, we gave a shout out to Pawpa as we passed Humboldt State University, and to my mom as we rode through McKinleyville, where she worked at a pharmacy to put our dad through school. We drove north through Trinidad, hoping to make it to Brookings for a late lunch.
Along the Redwood Highway, we saw a herd of Roosevelt elk, the largest of the four-surviving subspecies of elk in North America, hanging out in an open pasture and what was clearly someone’s yard. There must have been 40 or more elk, including at least 15 calves. They were just chomping away in the yard, eating bushes and plants, seemingly happy as could be.
After we spotted the elk, things started to unravel. Looking back on the day, I recognize I made several mistakes. Around 1 p.m. I should have picked a spot for lunch. Neither of us was hungry then, so I kept driving. This was a crucial error. When I finally did pull over in Brookings at a restaurant that looked like it might have a restroom and outdoor seating, the wait was too long. I (again) decided we should press on. We stopped at a nearby “park,” which was a water treatment plant parking lot, and rightfully rejected it.
At 2:45 p.m., I pulled off the road at a scenic vista with tide pools and parking so that I could wrangle out the stove top and pan fry two hot dogs for K. I sent him out with a wave to run along the beach while I prepped lunch. Asked him to set an alarm on his watch for 15 minutes, when he should return for the hotdog feast. He negotiated for 16 minutes instead. Fine. Go! Here’s the deal: this basic plan has worked well for us on our trip thus far.
Today was a major fail. For those who have not camped or beached throughout coastal Oregon, it is windy. Gusts are powerful enough to send sheets of sand into your eyes and sting your bare feet and legs. It has been at least 20 years since I’ve driven these roads, and six days of successful road tripping left me rusty and overconfident. I draped a beach towel across the hood of my SUV, and plopped the camp stove on top.
I set up the stove, and was digging through one of seventeen fricking marked bins I’d packed to find the lighter and a plate for K when the entire camp stove flew (FLEW!) off the hood of the SUV and landed several feet away, its pieces strewn across a five-foot radius. My first fear was that the pieces of flying metal camp stove might have struck the nearby $100K #VANLIFE custom Mercedes-Benz Sprinter belonging to a dog-loving couple next to our truck. It did not.
Outwardly undeterred (but inwardly screaming the F Bomb), I picked up the pieces of the stove, and forced them together with arm-jerking determination. I pulled the cooler from the back seat to create a prop wall for my now unwilling and unable to hold itself together grill. I was also distinctly aware 20 minutes had passed, not 16 minutes. I was not sure where K was. I didn’t see him frolicking in the sand. I stood on the cooler to get a better view, scanning for him, and decided the hotdogs would have to wait. I threw the just pan-fried dogs into the cooler, grabbed my backpack and headed to the beach.
There, I saw my son bounding through the dunes toward the car. By now, we are both far beyond any reasonable version of hungry. We’ve steamrolled into wiggle, whine, and some sort of hyperventilating type of breath that is banned from yoga because it makes you pass out.
K was trembling as he removed his socks and shoes. Or, more accurately, he was kicking his shoes through the parking lot toward our broken stove top. His feet, he said, were on fire and he couldn’t possibly wear his shoes one second longer. As he flopped into his seat in the car, the door was hit by another gust of wind, and his spirit seemed to collapse. His hotdog buns were too crumbly, he moaned. He started to cry.
This is where I identify hugely with the dad in The Christmas Story. It was 3:30 p.m. I have grill parts in the dunes. I haven’t eaten. The tortillas I pulled from the cooler whose package proclaims “refrigerate after opening” are waterlogged. As the sweet couple with even sweeter dogs board #VANLIFE, I jerked out an English muffin and slapped some cheese and turkey in the middle. For a moment, I was standing on the edge of concrete and dunes, my back to their cheeriness. My back to their beautiful dogs. My back to my whimpering son. My sunglasses stuck sideways atop my head—my hair knotted around one stubborn nose pad.
It occurred to me: I might tell K I’m going to blow like the Christmas Story dad right now. I’m going to lose it and scream the queen mother of dirty words into the universe. If I tell him, maybe he won’t be so freaked out by my outburst.
But I didn't. I’ve been participating in a coaching group for sustainability professionals, and we’ve discussed the space between an event’s occurrence and your reaction. There’s a moment where you can control your response if you can pause to recognize the opportunity. I’ve shared with our coaching group that I seem to have more control over the nuance of that gap, and my reaction to it, in professional settings than I do personally. At home, it seems there is no space at all. There’s an event and immediate irritated version me reacting to it. That’s it.
I’m proud to share that I put my coaching to work today. I gave the gap its due and took control.
I pulled out a package of a Oreos, divvied up the remaining stash, and made K pinky promise me we will never eat lunch past 1:30 p.m. again.
Bandon Inn in Oregon is lovely. Vibrant baskets of hanging flowers, clean, safe rooms, and guests get a wrapped stash of homemade cookies upon arrival. Old Town Bandon is quiet, with a cool art exhibit made from ocean trash. We splurged for our first “fancy” dinner of halibut and crab at Tony’s Crab Shack. Fresh seafood with socially distanced outdoor seating on the marina. Highlight of the night: real lettuce, fresh cucumber and Meatball, the cat.