Back in June, Alin, myself and the kids hit the road for 16 days on Highway 1 all the way up to Seattle. We didn’t really save up money to do it, and we had no business driving a car that far with 220,000 miles on it. But we’ve aways wanted to do a road trip up the coast with our kids. And we didn’t know how long we would be staying and living on this side of the country, so we knew it was kind of “now or never”, really.
Photos are supposed to speak for themselves, right? But I waited 6 months to blog this because I wanted to share the many different moments I experienced on this trip. Some of these stories go hand in hand with the images in this post. And others have nothing else but the words written below, and the vivid snapshots that play in my own mind. The latter represent some of the more important moments, as I did not want the camera to create a barrier between what was happening and the feelings I experienced by seeing it with my own eyes.
On the road we went. First stop, San Francisco. We left iPads & video games at home, telling the kids in the words of Batdad: “When I was your age, I had to just stare out the window”. And they did. They laughed, told stories, read books, colored, invented games. They slept, ran around, listened to music, and stood still. What made my heart smile most was when they noticed things. Like the clouds and the various shapes they morphed into. That may seem insignificant to some nowadays, but I am grateful for the time I had outside when I was a kid. When I used to lay on my back on the grass in front of my house and watch the clouds change shape above me. With all of the distractions we have today, I am determined to give my kids as much of an 80’s and 90’s childhood as I possibly can.
I volunteered to drive through the night. We had planned on being in San Francisco by the following evening. Around 4:00am I could hear the deep, shallow breathing of all who slept while I drove through the dark, winding roads and hills of Southern California. Suddenly, a loud “snap!” was heard and then a series of banging metal-like sounds. I pushed on the brakes, my heart pounding, and slowly pulled over to the right into a runaway ramp area (the only one for miles, and it happened to be exactly where we broke down). Alin and I got out, lifted the hood, and using our iPhone lights he tried to figure out the problem. We knew it was serious. And it was then that I realized the very real possibility that we would have to go back home after this. I mean, what were we thinking trying to drive a car with as much mileage as ours up the entire West Coast?
We called AAA, only for them to tell us that our membership had expired days ago. Of course it did. So we renewed our membership over the phone and requested a tow truck, only for them to tell us that the tow benefits wouldn’t kick in for another 24 hours or so. Of course not. We called Alin’s sister Eva & her husband Cristian who lived in Brea, about an hour away from where we were to see if they had any ideas. They had AAA as well, and said we could use their card for the tow. Well we called AAA again with their membership number this time, and scheduled the tow truck, which they said would be a while before it’d get there. Meanwhile, Eva & Cristian headed towards us, since one of them needed to be there physically with the card when the tow truck driver arrived. Throughout all of this, we had limited to no cell service. We were between mountains and our phones hung up constantly while in the middle of trying to figure things out with AAA and leading Eva and Cristian to where we were. I remember crying from utter frustration and wanted to give up.
The sky changed from black, to midnight blue, to violet, to pink, and became a deep fiery red as the sun rose between the mountain horizons. We laid out our giant picnic blanket on the gravel beside the highway and had the kids sit on it while we waited. Eventually our sister & brother-in-law arrived, and we couldn’t have been more relieved. Eva took the kids and myself to her place in Brea, while Cristian waited behind with Alin for the tow truck to get there. I was exhausted. I hadn’t slept a wink the night before, and that was the only thing I could think of doing when I arrived at their home. We slept while Alin figured out the situation with the car. In the end, it was a minor fix of around $200. We could’ve taken what happened as a “sign” to turn around and go back home, but instead, we decided to venture on.
2015 was the year I conquered many fears. In February, I rode my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, despite my fear of bridges, heights, and oceans. In addition to those and many others, I also had a fear of driving on Highway 1. I would always look at photos of cars driving alongside these cliffs, with a big “NOPE” escaping my lips every time. As we got closer and closer to that wretched road, I felt my heart creep up into my throat. And then the unthinkable happened. I asked Alin if I could drive the whole way up it. “Are you sure?” he asked. I said “Yes.” I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to change my mind. I just wanted to set my mind to do it- and just do it. I mean, thousands of cars drive this route every day and rarely anything bad ever happens. What was I so afraid of? So I gripped the wheel, white-knuckling it half the time, and drove. With the windows down, I was frequently distracted by the various deep blue shades of the ocean to my left, and the red, brown, and green tones of the landscape to my right. We stopped and pulled over often, taking in as many views as we could. As the sun lowered in the sky, each lookout became more beautiful than the next.
We eventually came upon a hidden road that led us down to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur. It was cold out. And the wind was blasting sand painfully against our skin. The kids didn’t care though. Without much hesitation, they took off their clothes (swimsuits underneath) and ran into the shallow parts of the ocean. They played in the sand, and contributed their own pieces to the Cairns rock collections. Lastly they raced Alin up and down the steep sand dunes, and after a few victorious (and not-so-victorious) cries, we made our way back to the car, determined to arrive in Monterey before sunset. Once we got there, we did the 17 mile drive, and witnessed some of the most beautiful, epic scenery and light we’d ever seen up until that point.
We continued on, and eventually made it to Tracy, CA (just outside of San Francisco) where a family friend of ours allowed us to stay the night in their beautiful home. The following morning we headed into town and rented bicycles for each of the six of us. When I did that bike ride in February, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and I knew that someday I wanted to do it again with my husband and kids. And we did. We rode the 10+ miles from San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge, though narrow winding roads, and up and down steep hills into the town of Sausalito. We took in the sites, and stopped to take photos along the way. My heart often skipped as I watched Oliver ride aimlessly, often in a zig-zag design in front of me down the steep hills into that quaint town, praying he wouldn’t fall and kill himself. I mean, there weren’t any sidewalks or bike paths! I was terrified for them, but I knew if we made it out okay on the other side, this would be an experience they’d never, ever forget.
We took the ferry back into San Francisco and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening wandering about town. We bought spray paintings from street artists, observed the Sea Lions at Pier 39, & partook in some seasoned crab, garlic fries, and lobster rolls that were mediocre at best (it was better the last time I was there), while sea gulls flew overhead making it nearly impossible for us to eat in peace. Lastly, we experienced yet another memorable & dramatic sunset as it disappeared behind the San Francisco Belt Railroad.
It came time to say goodbye to San Francisco, and were on our way to the next destination- the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. On the way there we stopped at Emerald City Laundry Company, washed a few loads, and reorganized the car, while the kids passed the time away playing Dutch Blitz at one of the folding tables. Once everything felt clean and in order again, we continued towards the Redwoods and eventually arrived, with plenty of light left to set up camp. You have to understand something. I had never, ever camped before this. Like EVER, in my life. I. WAS. TERRIFIED. In my mind I imagined bear attacks, freezing to death, bug infestations, getting lost forever, bears, slipping and falling down a waterfall cliff, forest fires, bears, snakes, tsunamis (whatever, it could happen)…and bears.
Did I mention bears?
Alin told me my fear was irrational. That bears rarely showed up at campsites. I was like “yeah whatever dude, take me to the nearest sporting goods store”. I called the shop ahead of time to make sure they carried bear pepper spray. They told me they had only one can left in stock, and lo and behold, the reasoning was because there were frequent sightings of bears around those parts. I honestly hate it when I’m right. No I don’t. I love it. I love it when I’m right.
We pitched our tent in the midst of these old growth redwoods which, fun fact, are the largest expanse of ancient redwoods left on the planet. There are no photos I’d seen nor words I’d ever read that had even come close to preparing me for the beauty and magnificence that surrounded us in that forest. I came upon a quote the other day that read “I love places that make you realize how tiny you and your problems are.” In the midst of the redwoods, my problems and I were invisible.
Once we were all set up, we walked over to the Eel River, and let the kids swim and splash around for a while. The sun began to set, and the air cooled so we headed back to camp. On the way there, I noticed the dust being kicked up in the air from the kids’ feet running ahead. Rays of light pushed through and between trees, creating a scene like I’ve only ever seen in paintings. Add to that the soundtrack of my kids together singing a song about tacos, and I found myself having one of those surreal moments. You know. The ones where you HAVE to stop, look around, and just really BE exactly where you are. I took a snapshot with my heart and continued on.
We arrived back at our tent, and the boys, using skills they learned in boy scouts, got the fire ready. Genevieve and I walked over to an old couple nearby with a Golden Retriever. Funny thing about Genevieve is if there’s ever a dog or cat anywhere in sight, she has to go pet it or she might perish. As she gently rubbed her hands up and down the dog’s coat, she asked its name, age, breed, and if it was a boy or girl. The old couple smiled at Genevieve, pleased at how curious she was to know more about their old dog. “Would you like to take her for a walk?” they asked her. Genevieve took the leash and we walked on through the forest with these trusting strangers’ dog. She held the loop in one hand, and the end of the leash in the other with the dog close to her side. I looked at her noticing that thing she does when she’s pretending it’s no big deal, trying not to smile. That’s when I know she’s at her happiest. Her chest was slightly puffed forward, as if she believed to be the dog whisperer. I loved her so much in that moment.
After our walk, we hung up our swimsuits to dry on a makeshift clothesline. The skies grew dark as it turned into night. Alin and I laid on our backs on the picnic table. We looked up and listened to the roaring sounds of the treetops as they swayed. It was just magical. The kids wanted to play flashlight tag with the neighbors and at first I thought it would be too dangerous, but then remembered my childhood days when we ran amuck about town playing cops and robbers well into the night. I told them they could and they disappeared into the wilderness with their new friends. For the next hour or so, I’d hear the occasional scream of delight, laughter, and the flickering of flashlights floating around in the black space around me. All I wanted then, was for them to remember tonight.
We camped at the Burlington campsite for a total of two nights and eventually said goodbye as we journeyed on to Portland. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway 101 was unreal. Giant rock formations in the ocean caused waves to crash around them dramatically. And as someone who genuinely dislikes sunshine, I thoroughly appreciated the gloom and fog and the contrast it created in the landscape surrounding us. We stopped for a few moments to eat our homemade sandwiches on the beach and eventually had to get off that scenic byway and drive inland towards Portland. We were graciously hosted by Alin’s uncle and aunt, who made sure we were more than taken care of. They cooked up feasts made for royalty (I am not exaggerating), and we were so grateful and undeserving of their hospitality.
We then explored downtown Portland for a bit, wandering aimlessly, and I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed by all of it. Maybe we came on an “off” day. Or maybe we didn’t explore the areas we should have. Either way, I can’t say I was too impressed. We finished off the afternoon meeting up with two of my “photografriends”, Katie & Joey who had just moved to Portland the week before from their native home in Wisconsin. I loved spending time with these two, eating ice cream, people-watching, and having the kids take turns playing Red Hands with Joey.
On the way to our final destination of Seattle, we went to see Multnomah Falls, which was around 30 minutes outside of Portland. It was the first real waterfall I’d ever seen in my life. Nearby, we found a river where the kids spent the next hour or so splashing around in it. They played fetch with a strangers’ Pomeranian, and together created a makeshift fish trap in the water. I love seeing what these four come up with every time they think they’re “bored”.
When we arrived in Seattle we were welcomed by my good friend Jeramie, wife Bethany and daughter Evey. Jeramie is an insanely talented photographer, and humble at that. He’s real, honest, selfless, kind, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. When everyone laid down to sleep at night, Jeramie and I would watch stupid-funny Youtube videos (laughing til I cried) and shared wedding photography stories with each other. He also got Alin and I hooked on the Chef’s Table documentary series, which the kids and I are currently obsessed with. Seriously, watch them if you haven’t yet. Then we have Jeramie’s beautiful wife Bethany, She and I both have an affinity for James McAvoy (iloveyousomuchjames), and through many deep conversations and stories from our lives growing up, I grew to really love her heart. We are so similar, she and I.
I still can’t believe this family took us in for 8 whole nights. They will never truly understand how much that meant to us. I took some photos of this trio around a little town called Edmonds, as my very small way of thanking them for their kindness. One of my very favorite memories with the Shoda’s was when we played a spontaneous game of tag in the park near their home. For a few moments there were no parents and children. Both young and old took equal part in the youthful shenanigans.
At some point I also met up with my friend Jason for some photography “geeking”, good food, and laughing at tipsy strangers who walking into poles by our dinner table. Good times for sure. And while Alin and I and the kids walked around downtown Seattle, my good friend James treated us to some DELICIOUS Molly Moon ice cream (thank you James!!!) and later on met his beautiful wife Katherine and their kids, Moses & Dot, at a nearby park. Also joining us was another one of my good friends Benj & his stylin’ wife Maddie, who we randomly ran into on the street. Apparently we were in their neighborhood. Love it when things like that happen.
Another thing we got to do was visit Lidia (a friend I grew up with in Chicago), her husband Jak, and their beautiful kids, Micah & Zoe near Tacoma. Jak showed us around his woodshop at The Guild, which is a beautiful multi-story warehouse workspace for creatives. The kids played ping-pong, and the girls twirled to the sounds of old school jazz playing from a classic turntable. Alin and Jak, both woodworkers, worked on a project together in the shop while Lidia and I hung back at the house. We reminisced in lawn chairs that were deliberately faced towards the neighbor. We wanted to quietly judge him while he landscaped his yard to the tunes of carnival music. While our kids played in the sprinklers, we continued our judgey stares at the neighbor’s kid who repeatedly circled the yard on a quad, clown music blaring still blaring from their speakers. At one point our ears perked at some kind of buzzing sound. After some time being confused, we looked up, and saw a drone hovering over our heads nearby. It hovered a while. Staring. Judging. I guess it was payback. Or maybe it was just Amazon making their usual delivery.
Later on, we all went over to Point Defiance Park and laid out a blanket while the kids ran around. I snapped a few photos of Lidia, and Jak and the kids to remember them as they were in this moment. Right before sunset, a deer walked directly past us, only a few feet away. Like a typical out-of-towner/city girl, I freaked out in amazement at this site. It seemed like no one else was reacting at the same level and I was all “Are you guys not seeing this?! A deer! That deer just walked right next to us OHMYGOD!!!” Anyway, we followed that deer around until we were bored of it (or it was bored of us), and decided to spend the last few moments of sunlight taking a walk by the water. There’s this thing about sunsets and me. They’re one of the few things in life that make me stop to appreciate the moment I’m in, and think about how beautiful this life truly is.
Another one of my favorite memories on this trip was spending time with Alin & the kids, Benj, Jason, Jeramie, Bethany & Evey at Rattlesnake Lake about 35 miles outside of Seattle. The kids swam for hours, while the adults partook in an intense rock-skipping contest (Jason won). We talked about how cool it would be to see an eagle, and moments before we all took off for the evening, we saw one. It flew back and forth over the lake chasing a hawk. We looked on and “ooh’d” and “aahh’d”, and “OH’d!” anytime it seemed like the hawk would be caught for good. Then we cheered when it would get away. You’d think we were watching a boxing match. I’m sure we looked crazy to everyone else who looked on. Good times, good times.
On one of the warmer days in Seattle, we decided to go to Richmond Beach with the kids. That day I remember it being way too sunny (but then again, any sunshine is too much sunshine for me). The water was COLD. Apparently not many people swim in the sound here because of the frigid temperatures. But did that stop my kids from getting in the water? Nope. If there’s a body of water near us, there is a 100% chance of swimming for these fools. The boys took a break from swimming and began adding branches to an already existing makeshift teepee on the beach. Genevieve stood and watched them, wearing her knee-high white socks, Allsaints combat boots, and a one-piece orange & white retro bathing suit with her cheeks slightly hanging out. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a scene straight out of Moonrise Kingdom. The boys eventually got bored with the teepee and instead decided they would push large logs into the water and use them as boats. Their under-bellied laughs from being pushed about by the waves could be heard all up and down the beach. Their giggles made me smile until my face hurt from smiling so much. Or maybe it hurt from squinting so much. Because, sunshine.
July 4th marked our last day in Seattle and we knew we wanted to watch the fireworks somewhere. I didn’t want to deal with crowds and parking so Bethany suggested we go to the little town of Edmonds to watch them. We arrived at what looked like an outdoor high school football stadium. The fireworks would be launched from the middle of the field so no matter where you sat, it was going to be a really good view. We found a spot on the edge and laid our blanket down. There were thousands of people there, yet being there had a very “small town” feel. Music played from a small stage nearby, and Genevieve joined the crowd in learning the Cupid Shuffle, kicking up dust from the drought-ridden ground. I’d never been to Coachella, but I imagined this was the rated G version of it. More dust circulated in the air as kids were running around playing tag, football, and LARPING with lightsabers.
The sky turned blood-orange, then purple, then midnight blue. The stadium lights shut off, leaving everyone in almost pitch blackness. There were a few moments of silence and then the sky lit up in the most spectacular display of fireworks that I had ever personally seen in my life. Like an artist, the lights & fire painted the sky in colors and shapes like I’d never seen before. And like an orchestra, the explosions that followed were like music to my ears. I watched the kids’ faces, their mouths partly opened in awe. Their eyes barely blinked for fear of missing out on even one display. I was at my happiest in those moments.
The following morning came and said goodbye to Seattle, heading back home to Phoenix. We stopped in Vegas to have lunch with our sister Otilia and brother-in-law Johnny, who were visiting there at the time. We then pulled over to show the kids the Hoover Dam, but their level of excitement was almost forced at this point. We were all exhausted. The more south we went, the hotter it got, and the more beige it got too. Just outside of Phoenix, we spotted a beautiful thunder cloud hovering over the city and that marked the end of our trip.
It’s a trip I will never forget, and it was worth all of the obstacles we had to get through to make it happen.
Part Two of this three-part blog series will be a collection of iPhone photos I took on this trip. And Part Three will be video footage. Come back soon and see those too.