July 2007


PCH…the Pacific Coast Highway.  I’ve driven the Via Appia, explored Germany’s Rhine River gorge, and crossed the Arizona and New Mexico deserts.  They’re all stunningly beautiful, each in its own way.  Pacific Coast Highway, though, offers one of the most beautiful drives on Earth.

If you can bear to look down.

I’d done the PCH drive from San Diego northward, not all at once but in bits and pieces.  My cousins grew up along the coast, so I’d done the L. A. – Santa Barbara drive so often I could name the state beaches in order.  My family re-created my parents’ honeymoon one year, driving PCH between Santa Barbara and Carmel-by-the-Sea…gorgeous.  So, when my fiancé proposed we head north on PCH for our honeymoon, I agreed.

Little did I know.  North of San Francisco, California Route 1 becomes an alien life form surrounded by fabulous views.  It’s hard to imagine the up-and-down, roller-coaster feel of PCH when you look at a road map.  California hills slope right down to the ocean, and they take PCH with them.  The road twists and turns, crossing gulleys on impossibly high bridges. 

And then there are the log trucks.

Southern California natives don’t think much about industries in the northern part of the state.  Anything beyond Silicon Valley falls into the general categories of San Francisco, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe.  When they think about trees, they imagine Marin County redwoods.

Sorry, folks, but there’s a bit more to it than that.  Logging and paper milling are still important industries in northern California.  And to get the logs from the forests to the mills, you need log trucks.  Lots and lots of them.  They’re terrifyingly large and incredibly slow.  The giant logs they carry look as though they’ll slide off the truck at any moment and bounce right through your windshield.

I’m sure I don’t need to add that I spent most of this drive – which stretched out over several days – clutching the door handle, chicken handle, and my new husband, in sheer terror.

We did see some wonderful places, such as Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Fort Ross, and the Russian River valley.  It was a great road trip.  I don’t know if I could ever do it again.

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Most people I know see driving as a dull chore.  They slog through traffic to work, pick up groceries, retrieve children from daycare, and collapse on the sofa, frozen into a driver’s seat position.

I don’t view driving this way at all.  I suppose it’s because I was born in southern California, where driving is both contact sport and art form.  Perhaps it’s due to the fact that both of my grandfathers loved road trips.  My dad’s father drove from the midwest to California with his buddies, breaking down approximately every half hour, and never forgot the trip or destination.  Many years later, he moved his family to California (hence my native status!).

At any rate, I have loved driving by myself for, well, decades.  As a teenager, my favorite drive was from my hometown to Santa Monica, Calif., the closest beach.  Part of this drive takes you up Pacific Coast Highway, which snakes along the California coastline.  Windows down, radio blasting, sunshine pouring in…total bliss.  Most times, I’d drive up to a rocky spot near Will Rogers State Beach, plop down with my book for an hour, and head home.  I spent more time driving than tanning.

That old ’70’s group, America, captured my feelings about PCH in the song “Ventura Highway.”  Even though the song is about another California road, it’s full of the wind-in-hair, free feeling I experienced long ago on California Route 1.

There’s more to say about PCH, the iconic California highway.  Stay tuned.

…Overwhelmed! of Overwhelmed With Joy!  Check out her blog; it’s packed with gorgeous photos of Ireland, one of my favorite places.  Please add her adoption quest to your prayer list, if you have one.

Thanks to everyone who participated.  You have helped me learn so much about blogging and moderating comments.  It’s been great fun!

For the second time in a week, I spent a chunk of time at our local military base’s automotive repair shop.  This time, I got new tires for our van.  Yee-ha!  I don’t feel like I’m driving the Clampett-mobile any more!  No bumpy ride, no nervous stomach.  I’m a new woman.

My husband is a gifted mechanic; he has been badgering me for a while now to get all the tire problems fixed.  (He’d do it, but he’s currently Serving Our Country, which turns out to be way more time-consuming than you might imagine.)  I know from experience that proper tire maintenance and regular replacement are key to keeping your car in good working order.  You get better gas mileage.  You travel more safely, especially in bad weather.  You don’t worry about sudden thunderstorms (see “travel more safely” in the previous sentence).

The hard part is finding decent tires at decent prices, especially if you’re like us and drive older vehicles.  Do you need 70,000-mile tires for a van with over 100,000 miles on it?  (Probably not.)  Do you need cool-looking tires if you only drive to Wal-Mart and the school parking lot?  (You decide.)

What you do need is safe, functional tires.

How to tell?  Grab a penny.  Head out to your car.  Stick the penny into the grooves in the tread in a few places, holding it so Abraham Lincoln’s face is upside-down (head-first into the groove).  If you can see the top of Abe’s head, it’s probably time for new tires. 

Your car will thank you.

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 First, I apologize to the people who linked to my first post (accidentally deleted by yours truly).  I have your comment info and will include you in my drawing.

Now, on to the good stuff.  I’m participating in the Dog Days of Summer Bloggy Giveaway.  I’m offering a nearly-new copy of Susan K. Perry’s book Playing Smart, which includes all kinds of learning activities, games and other ideas for keeping kids entertained.  The book focuses on ages 4-14.  The cover has some minor wear, but the inside pages are practically pristine.  It’s a fun book.

To enter, just add a comment to this post before 6:00 P. M. Friday, July 25, E. D. T.  I’ll draw a name from the commenters and send the winner the book.  Don’t forget to include your e-mail or link so I can find you!

 To see the full list of giveaways, head over to Rocks In My Dryer.

Hat tip: Melissa

This morning I reserved a rental car for my next weekend road trip.  Next, I’ll need to make a list of items to pack for myself and my kids.

Of course, everyone has favorite items to take on a trip.  Here are my Five Road Trip Essentials:

Diet Coke

If I forget my 12-pack of Diet Coke, the trip won’t be much fun.  I confess to a Diet Coke addiction.  This drink has no nutritional value whatsoever.  In fact, I just read that drinking diet sodas can lead to heart problems, strokes and other health disasters.  Too bad; I’m packing it anyway.

100-Calorie Packs

This clever invention, small packages of crackers or cookies that contain exactly 100 calories’ worth of food, is my kid snack food of choice when I’m on the road.  I know how much junk my kids are eating, and they know I’m not going to stop at a Kwik-E Mart and buy them jelly doughnuts.

Irish Music

It’s impossible to be depressed when those crazed Gaelic Storm guys are pounding the drums and belting out my favorite Irish tunes.  The tedious trip down I-64 goes much faster when I’m listening to Dramtreeo, Scruffy Murphy or Great Big Sea.

Emergency Kit

I’m married to an Eagle Scout, so we take emergency prep pretty seriously.  In winter months we drive with a candle, blankets and matches in the car.  We always carry water, an emergency triangle and spare headlight lamps.  So far, we’ve been fortunate; we’ve only needed to use the blankets to cover sleepy children, not freezing ones.

Map

My car is littered with old Mapquest printouts.  I own an ADC map book of every county in the Baltimore area.  I’ve been a member of AAA since I learned to drive.  There’s good reason for this.  I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag.  I even plan extra driving time for getting lost and finding the correct road.

I think the best road trips are taken with like-minded, dear friends.  My husband, children and I had the good fortune to spend two years in Italy from 2002 – 2004.  One summer, friends arrived from Korea and spent a month at our place.  We rented a mountain house in the Abruzzo region, sight unseen, and set out in two tiny rental cars.

We made it to the town without trouble (OK, the VW Polo got stuck on a hill and the boys had to get out and walk), but couldn’t find the house.  The owner drove up from her home in Pescara, met us at the cemetery and guided us to an Italian paradise.  She’d left us a fridge full of peach nectar and wine, an enormous, round loaf of bread, and her dishwasher.  (My Italian kitchen had a tiny sink, and definitely didn’t have a dishwasher.)  We were thrilled.  That night, the cooks (the husbands!) went out and dropped 40 Euros on lamb spiedini – tiny chunks of lamb threaded onto skewers.  That’s a lot of lamb for four adults and three kids, two of whom didn’t like lamb.

The dads spread charcoal chunks (no briquets in Italy!) along the spiedini grill and went to town.  They made yogurt sauce and a salad of some kind.  We feasted on lamb and bread and sauce and local wine and had tons of food left over.  Two meals later, we still had food left over.  In fact, we ate the last of the giant bread loaf on our way home to Maranola four days later.

We spent four days lounging on the porch swing, exploring local towns, eating all those lamb cubes, walking in the mountains and making music.  One day, we took the cars and drove way up onto the mountainside above Civitaquana, “our” town.  We ended up on a goatherd’s path, complete with goats and herd.  It was a bit scary, for a while, as we worried about turning the cars around at the dead-end dirt path…but we survived.

Another day we drove up into the Campo Imperatore area in the mountains.  “Campo Imperatore” means “Imperial Fields,” and the mountain scenery is just stunning.  You find yourself in a high, Alpine valley surrounded by jagged peaks.  A narrow road snakes through the valley.  Your gaze strays away from the roadway to the Corno Grande, the area’s highest mountain.  Could you climb it?  Is there a chair lift?  (Yes, but we didn’t try either option.)  We walked through the valley, enjoying the cool mountain air.  We talked about retiring up there, away from stress and troubles.

I would bet any amount of money that if you asked my friends what their ideal vacation is, they’d say, “A mountain house in the Abruzzo region of Italy,” and I’d walk away with your hard-earned cash.

It was just that good.

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