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IT'S ONE OF THOSE hot inland days. One of those hot days when the coast disappears into a wool-blanket funk. Cool and gray. Dismal I say. I can't stand it. It depresses me. I call a local friend. I ask if she is ready to run away.
"Ready? I'm more than ready."
"Great. I will pick you up in fifteen minutes."
I grab my swimsuit and sandals, throw the dog in the bus, and hit the road. Shortly, I swing into her driveway and she asks what she will need. I say, some sandals--"the rocks might be hot"--anything else we can pick up at the Westport Store. She grabs her sandals and a small backpack she has already packed.
Boom. We are outta here.
UP THE COAST through the fog. Albion, Mendocino, Caspar the ghost hiding in the fog, then Fort Bragg. "Want some fast food?" She surprises me.
We swing into McDonalds and get some "fun" to go. Next, Cleone, then Westport. Stop at the Market for some bag ice and a six pack of beer.
On up the coast: past the coastal-edge campgrounds and the damp-blanket-wrapped campers sitting around their smoky fires. Finally we swing inland where the highway builders got tired of trying to follow the coast. Now up into the hills. Up towards blue sky. Up into the trees.
Higher and higher. Warmer and warmer. Suddenly, around a curve, the sun is out. Hot and strong like it should be on the first day of August. This is more like it. My mood immediately picks up. Loaded logging trucks coming down; Velcro wrapped bicyclists grinding up. Life is good. Up and over and down, down into Leggett. Stop, then merge onto highway 101, heading north. Only ten more miles to my secret swimming hole.
A hammering torrent of motorhomes; loaded semi-trucks; Jetta's with out-of-state plates, mountain bikes hanging off the back. Vacation is in full swing. America on the move. We charge along, fitting in just like one of the pack when suddenly, Poof!--we slip off the freeway, ease off and slow down, leaving the crowd behind. I know something they don't.
ANOTHER HALF MILE at twenty miles per hour and Zip!--a final turn. This time into a barely visible break in the brush. Hee hee. That should thin 'em out!
First gear now. Down, down a gravel, single-lane rut. Large wash-outs to look out for. I have to figure out the "lie" just like a golfer approaching the 18th with his putter. Finally we are safely down and out onto the gravel bar. The bar is really loose, and some hair-raising effort is required to get through it and on down alongside the Eel River. Only another quarter mile and I pull off into a weed-covered rut I know that ultimately leads to a perfect camping spot beside a small stream--a stream that merrily sings its way down and into the Eel river. We park, shed our warm coastal clothes and get into hot-weather, swim-suit mode.
We walk down along the stream to the Eel and drop our towels under a shady spot by the river bank. Perfect.
We ease into the water for a swim. The temperature is perfect. No sharp intake of breath, just heavenly comfort and crystal-clear water. Off in the distance traffic hammers over the freeway bridge.
I dive down and inspect a rock. Throw the ball for the dog. Sit in the shallows and let the fish nibble on my legs. My friend floats down around the bend and then does a slow crawl back. Swallows dip, buzzards soar, water bugs scoot back and forth. There is a lot to pay attention to, or ignore.
Two and a half hours later the sun begins to settle behind some trees and the swimming hole shades up. Time to call it a day and head for the barn.
I experience a bit of "pucker" driving out through the loose gravel and up the access road; but finally we are back onto the highway, up to speed amongst the thundering freeway herd, and then soon--way too soon--over the coastal hills and back down into the cool fog of summer. Thanks. I needed that.
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