By Alice Friedemann
A long distance call – out of the blue – became an invitation I could not resist. . . and a treat I will remember fondly forever. We know there is something so special about old friends from our youth . . . and this couple had remained so dear to me over the years, even when half a country kept us apart. At my California home, the phone rang with news that they had made a giant leap to this special state. Their chosen town, California’s coastal town of Ft. Bragg, was considered a dream world to live in. And I was invited to join them “for days of touring and nights of talking until almost dawn”.
How could I not say “yes”? Three days turned out to not be enough. I ended up staying far more, wondering if I ever wanted to return home. Anyone considering a short getaway from San Francisco, I promise that this coastal area is truly enchanting.
The coastal route – Route 1 – going north is a series of delights. . . and with time to spare, that is the way to go. But as I had a destination in mind – Fort Bragg – and getting there was a priority, I took the far faster inland route.
But, heading north with the radio on, a man from NPR’s Science did a segment on something called “hummingbird moths”. I’d never heard of them before. . . and yet, when I stopped at Little River for dinner, my camera caught one in the garden outside. Certainly, a good omen — for what are the odds of that happening? Can you spot it?
After travelling around northern California for decades, I frankly thought I knew it all. But after a first memorable and, yes, emotional evening of bonding all over again, my friends were ready to do their own first touring . . . and it soon was obvious I had hardly touched the surface of places to go and things to see.
There is a new trail along the famous Lost Coast north of Ft. Bragg. This is a piece of coast so remote and steep it couldn’t be developed, forcing route 1 a long way inland. We found this scenic wilderness to be left to hardy backpackers who carefully time their hike with the tides to avoid being swept out to sea on narrow beaches – and below towering cliffs.
But there’s no chance we could be swept away on the Peter Douglas Trail which starts out far above the ocean below. After driving a few miles on a narrow dirt road that even passenger cars can do (mile marker 90.5 on highway 1, 13 miles north of Westport), we reached the trailhead. After a little over 2 miles of hiking we reached a grove of redwood trees with unusual candelabra shapes, caused from being continually blown by strong winds and salty air. Many of these redwoods were over 500 years old, never harvested because their bent limbs could not be made into lumber.
The charming little city of Fort Bragg, the new home of my friends, has built miles of beautiful trails, running along the coast. But the one that must not be missed is the trail to the world-class Mendocino botanic garden.
And hidden along the way there is a secret beach that they say only locals know about. We had the beach all to ourselves, surrounded by steep cliffs above — and a beautiful cove with sparkling blue water.
The day the three of us spent at the Reggae on the River concert, I soon felt like I was in my twenties again, dancing all day to amazing bands that played a much wider variety of reggae than I’d ever known about, with jazz, rock and roll, blues, or hip-hop mixed in. The town was packed !
The historic part of downtown Fort Bragg is full of older buildings that make you feel like you’ve gone back in time as you stroll the streets, popping into the shops that intrigue. The Art Galleries are many, drawing many visitors for that reason alone. I was especially amused by this work of art, where all the “food” you see are actually rocks.
Fort Bragg also has a “glass beach” where it’s fun to go on a treasure hunt finding pieces of ocean-sculpted glass. The entire beach , caught in the sunlight, looked like shimmering jewels.
Further down the coast, on a beach in the little town of Manchester, we were stunned by the natural design of the sculpted driftwood. I took two small pieces back with me, one that looked like a harbor seal, and another that looked like a bird. I must admit the pieces look stunning in the greenery of my garden.
Not too far from this beach there were acres of stunning flowers which I later found out were quinoa (a nutritious edible grain). At every turn on the coastal highway, I found myself stunned by the beauty.
Seeing my old friends again, talking up a storm into the midnight hours as we caught up on each other’s lives left me with a swirl of memories that continue to return. Unforgettable.
But the daytime hours, each and every day, seemed to open new windows into our worlds. The many pleasures, the hidden treasures, and – of course – the many hikes on mountainsides and down to the sea were enough to lift the spirits. We saw the world anew. And now we will look forward to many more times together.
The hugs when we parted told what no words could. This was a rare time to always be remembered.
After 25 years, Alice Friedemann managed to escape her day job as a systems engineer and architect. When she’s not traveling, throwing dinner parties, reading non-fiction, baking, volunteering to take 4th and 5th graders on hikes at Audubon Canyon Ranch, gardening, or walking, she’s in the back yard with her husband Jeffery listening to the birds and breezes, watching redwoods sway, and enjoying the cats, squirrels, scrub jays, skunks and other wildlife that roam our back yard. She’s been baking with whole grains for ten years, and spent the past three years making many batches of chips and crackers, which resulted in her cookbook “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers.”