and so a notorious year ends. It hasn’t been all bad for me personally, and if anything, I’m grateful to have turned around what could have been a bad year, more or less starting with an injury, into something more adventurous and ultimately optimistic.
It’s been particularly nice to end the year back here in “The California Homeland” of Marin County for the third consecutive year. It’s a good example of how time changes – five years ago I wouldn’t have said this winter visit would become a tradition – and maybe it sets a goal for 2017 of the past becoming the present again.
Around this time of year in 2008 was the only time (to date) that I set foot inside Hearst Castle, although I spent a good chunk of that year living near the estate and have driven past it many times since then. As with a few of my recent Throwback posts, this one originally appeared over on Blogspot.
I’m off on another adventure today, currently writing this from the spacious and comfortable Toronto Pearson Airport in Canada. Final destination is London, England, where I carved out many memories and theatrical adventures in my early 20’s, but haven’t been there in person for just over seven years. So it will be an exciting reunion with a vibrant city.
For this on the road adventure, I’m pledging to write more on the blog, maybe/hopefully once a day, since there are several sure to be memorable theatre performances on my itinerary, and it might be interesting to reflect publicly on similarities and differences in the city since my earlier time living and working there.
But for now, I just have the energetic purgatory of airport life to report on. I keep feeling like Canada offers a fresher, looser take on the airport routine than what those of us in the USA have come to dread in recent years. Instead of uber-serious gate agents, people actually smile at you. The food offerings are freshly made for a modest price and not sterile wrapped in zealous amounts of packaging. And even some of the planes, as I saw this morning in the photo above, are more colorful and intimate than their American cousins.
It was especially refreshing to depart from cozy and friendly Windsor airport, which stands in stark yet refreshing contrast to the mammoth DTW. In Windsor there are only three gates and one small check-in area, giving the impression that one has traveled back in time to the golden era of air travel or come into a vacation resort. Or chosen an efficient spot to depart on a new adventure.
It’s gratifying to sometimes get the sensation (purely psychological I am sure) that time is moving more slowly than usual. Just one month ago today, I felt that feeling while visiting Laguna Beach, California, for the first time in my life.
The sky opened up as my friends and I set a course down Highway 1, also known as the PCH. The traffic was modest and it seemed like most people in the area were still on their Christmas breaks. As we came over a hill, the expanse of Laguna stretched itself out in front of us, and it was exactly the layout that I had imagined and seen from film and photos. The native Southern Californian of our group decided that we’d take a look at the boardwalk, which was unsurprisingly packed with tourists and visitors. So we did, and we were lucky to find a spot… but the surroundings did not feel rushed or overcrowded. The Pacific extended out in front of us beginning with a beach several hundred feet below. It seemed to go on forever and there were many people on the beach just gently walking from point to point and enjoying the fresh air. I flashed on the contrast of the colder weather in Michigan, Massachusetts or some other location on that day and felt especially grateful to be there at Laguna.
We got back in the car and made our way through the crowded and surprisingly developed (to my first time eyes) downtown area. My friend wanted to take us to a particular favorite spot just south of town, and so we were able to make our way there, abutting a resort and what appeared to be a series of vacation condos. I didn’t have or want any particular sense of time and other commitments. In fact it seemed that time had deliberately slowed down for our outing, even though two people in the group had an evening commitment back closer to Los Angeles.
We gathered our picnic supplies and made our way down to the special spot. It did not disappoint. I felt so comfortable in the warm weather and casual setting that I decided to take a quick swim in the Pacific, admittedly partially to say that I had did it and done so at such a late point in the year. It was refreshing and had a strong tidal undercurrent, so I was careful to not get too far out. I suppose that time continued to pass as we sat there on the beach talking and spectating – the area became increasingly crowded after we arrived, with several memorable photo shoots seemingly lining up one by one to take advantage of the light and setting – but I stayed focused on the immediate moment.
At some point, as the sun began to go down, it became clear that it was time for us to pack up as well. I didn’t feel a sadness of leaving the moment, just a very strong appreciation to have been fully present in a way that seemed unique to that particular setting, taking in the majesty of the surroundings and the enjoyment of others’ company.
Remember the era of writing long emails to a select group of family and friends, when we weren’t all quite as instantly connected? I did just that in January 2004 on a Hampshire College outdoors trip to New Zealand, which focused on sea kayaking and hiking. Below is a selection from the second group email I sent on January 23, 2004.
…we boarded a van for a new journey across the mountains to Nelson, an artistic northern center of the South Island and gateway to the adventurous activities of several national parks in the area. We stopped in the downtown city area of Nelson (near the sea) for a few hours and I was impressed by the incredibly cosmopolitan and independent spirit of the downtown. Street performers and art exhibitions were everywhere I could look and everyone walking along the main street seemed very happy to be there. The historical British influence was certainly more direct there, with “Trafalgar St” being Main Street and several bands sounding just like British pop. A few hours later we continued the journey in the van up a nozzle of the coast to the Abel Tasman National Park, likely one of NZ’s most popular national parks and especially crowded in the summer months. The next five days were to be spent in the park “tramping” (hiking) from north to south, opposite the traditional tourist track.
I knew that we were in for something different and exciting as soon as the journey began the next morning. We boarded a water taxi (small boat) that was towed by a tractor down to the ocean shore, and then became self sufficient to drive us completely up the golden coast of the park. We passed high bluffs, rich surf, and several seal colonies en route to the top of the tourist track. The entire coast of the Tasman is a rich fine golden brown, unlike any other type of sand I had ever seen before. It was immensely refreshing to swim in after a hot day and beneficial just to look at when the route got sweaty. We began the tramping that day with a northerly loop around the park’s less-travelled northern quadrant. The track, or road, that we followed stayed quite close to the coast through several beaches and low sea forests. Eventually we reached a place called Seperation Point, which is one of the most northerly points of the South Island and had a quiet calmness to it as we gazed out from the rocks at the open, endless horizon to the north. The next day was a steeper incline up and down a large “hill” heading back to the coast but ultimately was no less rewarding. As we climbed the track, we could only see on the right side doughy bog-like marshland and water, and on the left was semi-Alpine green forest that snaked around back to the shore. Nonetheless it was very welcoming to get back to the water after hiking in the heat of the day. We stayed that night at a very family-oriented camp ground where at least 15 children biked through after dinner, asking us to help them with equipment for the hot scavenger hunt of the evening (which meant requesting books in a foriegn language, foriegn passports (!), and objects that could be used to make goods.) On the third day of tramping, we began to merge into the more commonly and frequently traversed coastal track. It was a LOT of hiking, at least 11 miles. The high point of that day was a coastal crossing that had to be done at least 1 1/2 hours before high tide otherwise it would flood. We ended up crossing in water anyway, which felt like a clamming trip in the bogs of the shore (and indeed we ended up stepping on several hundred clam shells.) It was a great delight to finally reach the campsite that day, even if it was raining. The next day brought another, shorter, estuary crossing and lots more of coastal beach scenery that also managed to mix in with the forest. I was intrigued by the dimensions and dynamics of a bridge that could only hold five people one way at a time and was swinging at least 50 feet above a river; the trail itself quickly plunged back down to semi-coastal level. That night, it was again a delight to be able to sleep right on the beach and be rocked to sleep by the energetic waves. The final day of tramping felt like coming full circle. The trail continued back down to where we had been before, and this time it was finally at a level gradient along the water. We saw endless blue and much boat traffic navigating the seas to the left of us. Eventually five short pedestrian bridges signalled the end of the line. Many of us had blisters from the tramping experience but I highly doubt that anyone was in bad spirits cause of the energy and faith of doing things together as a team.
The taxi returned to drive us 250 miles through snakey mountains and dramatic oceansides down the west coast of New Zealand. We saw more farmlands, wineries and even a whitewater rafting river before the road came alongside the ocean again. This time we were bordering the Tasman Sea, but the waves had all the energy of good Pacific hits. We stopped briefly at a tourist attraction called the Pancake Rocks, where large amounts of rocks have been so windswept and weather beaten, they have gradually become part of the sea, and eroded down into pancake shapes. Meanwhile the land surrounding them has started to sprout blowholes where water sneaks in to a small crevasse at high tide and then erupts back up as if part of a geyser. We continued down the coastal road to Greymouth, the West Coast’s hub city, for a two day stay. The locals call the west coast area New Zealand’s “wild west” and it was somewhat painfully obivous to see why. Greymouth was somewhat creepy and well past its prime, perhaps like an abandoned mine town might be in the Western United States. It only had a small town center that closed up shop every night at 5pm and no one seemed to go out of doors after then, even though the town is positioned at the mouth of a gusty river that guarantees great coastal views. The next day we found something to write home about in the town by participating in a “caveing” experience through an adventure company. We put on wetsuits once again and were bussed up to the hills to a deep subterranean cave. A guide led us through an experience of rafting by glowworm light, swimming in COLD water and hiking along different rocks. It was fun to see, but not unique, and I felt like the group was a little cast aside when two following tour groups came into the cave to do the exact same activities.
We left Greymouth via train on the spectacular TransScenic railway that is the most efficent connection between the East and West coasts of the central part of the South Island. It was a special thrill to sit back and feel the steam machine climb up the mountains to Arthur’s Pass, a small township and national park nestled right in the middle of the Southern Alps. The peaks and some of the villiages look almost identical to Switzerland, so the resemblance from place to place was very overt, and resonant. We spent one night in Arthur’s Pass, which is exactly like a charming Swiss villiage, only nestled here in the middle of the South Island instead. A small array of services and crafts line the main street, nestled in a ridge between high peaks with names like Avalanche Peak and Rollaston Pass. Disappearances of hikers are sadly not that uncommon there. The town itself had a pleasant character, with many natural amenities including a 50 foot (or so) tall waterfall that I saw on a short hiking experience today. We continued the journey on the train this afternoon, finishing the route back to Christchurch along mountain peaks, farmlands, and flat plains bordered by icey rivers before hitting the metropolitan area of the city for one more time. And indeed it is down to the last hurrah, as our journey home begins tomorrow (the 24th) at 1:30pm, but due to the “magic” of the International Dateline, will only conclude early morning of the 25th. It will certainly be a jarring temparature change, and probably the longest day ever (48 hours) for several of us. Then will get to have less than 24 hours back at home before returning to Hampshire, so hope the transition isn’t too abrupt…