From Friday, June 18th, to Tuesday, June 22nd, I took a trip to visit my parents up in Bend, Oregon. It's been a few years since I saw them last, and my mom has been telling me recently that my dad hasn't been doing too well. This all piggybacked off my grandpa passing away recently, so a part of me expected the worst was right around the corner; the trip was too important to set aside, and I'm glad that I have such an understanding boss and work at a place that is in the midst of its slow season.
Driving up there seemed like the best (albeit slowest) option. My dad was experiencing symptoms which made driving difficult, and with my mom having surrendered her license it was likely I'd be doing a lot of driving for them. I wanted to have my own car. I also wanted to see various family members along the way who had invited me to stay with them. So I booked an Airbnb for when I arrived in Bend, and made ready to leave that Friday morning.
As a warning up front, this entire blog post may not be very interesting, but at least it will be long!
Jump to a Specific Day
Friday, June 18th
By the end of the first day I wanted to make it to my cousin Jennifer's house near Quincy, California. I think the drive was around 600 miles away, but wanted to visit my uncle Ray along the way, so I chose to head up to the Bay Area first and then snake my way East to get to Quincy. Unfortunately Ray was out of town when I visited, so Eastward I went up through California. I hadn't realized that FastTrak had been implemented all along the 680/780 interchange, so I'll get a nice bill in the future.
Driving up to that part of northern California is really nice. The drive out of Santa Barbara is nice and mellow, and the Central Valley is a relaxing and stunning portion of freeway; I really love seeing the hillside which emerges to the west of the 101, with the farmland in between. It is beautiful. Once things get to the Bay Area, things become more industrial again, and then north of that is lots of sprawling, almost virgin landscapes. I am a real sucker for beautiful drives, and regularly comment, out loud, to myself, whenever finding a gorgeous piece of roadway.
Getting up to Quincy is where housing starts to feel more remote and spread out. There is more forest than buildings, and there are hundreds of little nooks and crannies when driving through this area. Once I got to Plumas County (where Bend is located) I was hit with feelings of the goldrush that helped create this state. Hwy 70, in particular, has a babbling stream between two ridgelines. If there were ample places to stop, I half expected to see people fishing, or sifting for gold even today.
By the time I made it up to Jennifer's place it was around 8 or 9 pm. The scenery had given way to lots of beautiful redwood trees, and lots of ranch space. This area may be my favorite spot of California. Jennifer and Tyrus have a beautiful home, and they let me crash in the 2-storey space they usually use as an Airbnb. I hadn't realized it at the time, but I was drinking more caffeine than usual this trip, and as such I really didn't sleep well the whole time. At Jennifer's house I woke up from being too hot in the upstairs area around 2am, and then I moved to the couch section, where I slept somewhat fitfully but felt rested in the morning.
Saturday, June 19th
I woke up around 7 and had a bit of breakfast with Jennifer before she ran to work. I got to chat with her husband Tyrus a bit before hitting the road, which was a real treat. It was great to get to know him a bit better.
Since I was finally driving in the Quincy area by daylight, it was really striking just how beautiful this area is. The land just sprawls out here, and has a real sense of remoteness that I find so appealing.
Along the way I stopped at the Almanor Scenic Overlook, near the Lake Almanor Recreation Trail. There was a small group of three guys who looked ready to fish, and descended from view shortly after I showed up. I was able to capture these cool shots, which must be pointing toward Mount Lassen.
By mid morning, I stopped by Blue Ox Coffee for a little pick-me-up. Turns out the guy I ordered from used to live in San Luis Obispo, and we got to chatting a little bit about how Covid has been in southern California.
As the day went on the roads became straighter and more isolated. The terrain was soon cut primarily by straight road, with the occasional gentle curve through large swaths of unclaimed land.
Eventually I made it to Bend, dropped some stuff off at my Airbnb, and was able to visit my parents for roughly an hour before heading back to the room and turning in for the night.
Both my parents certainly looked older. It's been at least 3 years since I've seen them both. My dad was parked on the couch, and whether its his loss of hearing, or something else, he was generally glued to the tv during this visit. I wish there was a meaningful conversation we could have had, but neither of us probably knew what to say.
My mom made some dinner for us, though I wasn't particularly hungry, and spent the time nibbling and watching my dad. I felt really close to him in that moment, but also felt sad that it had been so long since my last visit, among other things.
After roughly an hour I was getting tired, and left for the night. I was looking forward to seeing my parents more tomorrow, but didn't have much of a plan beyond that. There were some things to take care of, most important was nailing down a notary to get a more formal power of attorney. But that would have to wait until tomorrow.
Sunday, June 20th
As expected, I didn't sleep too well last night. My Airbnb host, Jessica, was out that morning, but I had a nice chat with her a bit the night before. She has a very sweet dog, Merrill, who greeted me as I set out for the morning.
Since my parents sleep in, I spent most of the day running errands and getting organized. My first stop was to Backporch Coffee Roasters, which felt very much like Dune Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara. I was able to catch up on some stuff on my laptop, and generally relax while having some tasty espresso.
By early afternoon I thought I'd try to find a sandwich shop that I had been to years before, when visiting my parents on my first trip (I think) up there. I remember getting this incredible pulled pork sandwich, and sitting at the little park by the stream which runs through Bend, and just taking in this new and beautiful setting.
I'm pretty sure I did find the same sandwich place from years before, and did have an incredible pulled pork sandwich. But there was one thing that I hadn't anticipated during the summer months: Tourists. Turns out that Bend has a tourist season just as Santa Barbara does, and my old idyllic spot by the town river was overrun and surrounded by people and parked cars alike. I had to ditch enjoying Bend while eating, and returned to where I was staying to have lunch and take a nap.
After a couple hours of tossing and turning, it was time to get up and head out to see the folks. I went to some grocery stores to get ingredients for dinner (pizza) and went over to spend time with them. I also gave them a digital photo album, so I can send them photos from my phone. I thought they'd like that. Today was also the first time I got to see just how difficult it is for my dad to walk now, so I also got them a walker and some additional supplies.
After that I went back to where I was staying to get ready for bed. Tomorrow would be a quick supply run followed by a lot of driving back toward home.
Monday, June 21st
I woke up around 7 again, and slowly got ready for the day. My dad seemed pretty sad to learn that I was leaving today, and I definitely felt it. It feels like the wrong move, leaving them and heading back home. It made me sad.
There wasn't much to speak of in the morning. I had most of my things gathered up by slightly after 9 am, ran a couple errands (including more coffee), and then finally left the Airbnb at around 10:30. Always on these long drives I had been leaving later than intended, but it's hard to leave much earlier than 10 without waking up early. Too early, in my opinion.
The plan after this trip was to visit my mom's sister, Diane. I hadn't seen her in ages, but she always managed to put a smile on my face, and helped me see things differently. Even when she would give me the same advice as my mom, sometimes hearing it from someone else made new ideas stick.
Our last talk was when I had made a quick stop to visit my parents while they were staying with my other aunt, Carol, in Utah. Without going into too much detail, things were strained, and I needed to visit. Unfortunately, things the trip ended up worse instead of better, and I had to drive home feeling deeply like a bad son for leaving them in their condition while I had to return to work.
I called Diane late at night during that drive. We had been texting on and off during that time, and she felt like the only one I could talk to in that moment. I cried on the phone about all sorts of things, and even without any context Diane was able to listen to what was troubling me, comfort me, and helped me carry on. Thinking back now, it's like she was in the car with me in the dead of night driving across Utah.
That whole trip turned into a dramatic affair; there was the memory of driving through a storm at night, crying alongside the rain outside my car until lightning lit up the sky. So many parts of that trip felt like something out of a movie. It was dramatic and terrible, and it's crazy now to imagine my car traveling through the hostile darkness, interrupted by a burst of light.
By late afternoon on this drive I made a short stop at a pharmacy to stock up on water and to make a few calls. While on the road my only stops were for gas, water, coffee, or the bathroom. Filling the tank and emptying the tank, so to speak. I don't think I even stopped for food too much, thanks to the snacks in the car. I called my girlfriend Diya, to update her, my uncle Ray, to touch base and make plans for a visit tomorrow, and another call to work to discuss possibly needing to take an undetermined amount of time off if my parents ever need to move, since they can't be expected to move on their own anymore. I also had called my parents earlier in the morning, to say a final farewell and to chat a bit, since I wasn't able to make a final stop at their house in the morning.
Eventually I made it to Quincy, and traversed new rolling roads to find Jeff and Diane's house. The final road sticks out in my mind as particularly beautiful, and the ranch land neighboring Jeff and Diane's house felt familiar. It must have been the one I spotted on my drive up to Bend just a few days before. I was really excited to see what the house would be like (Jeff told me later that I had been to the house once before as a kid), and to talk to people again.
I finally made it to their home, and parked in the back drive. Jennifer came out and fetched me, and I brought some things inside and got settled. Diane looks the same as I remember, but with her beautiful silver hair cut short now, and Jeff also looks the same, if a little more relaxed since retiring. I really wish I had taken more pictures here, both because I wanted a photo of me with Diane to send to my parents, but also because I arrived right at the golden hour, and their home seemed right out of a fairytale after such a long drive. A little slice of paradise.
Jeff made burgers for all of us, and there were all sorts of toppings, chips, sides, drinks. It was the perfect dinner to reconnect with family. Jennifer and Tyrus were there as well, and it was great to see them again. As the evening unfolded, Jeff and Jennifer asked a bit about my folks, and started sharing all sorts stories about my mom, and especially about my dad; when they were married, and what it was like to get to know him. Obviously they were aware of my trip, and were sharing parts of my parents I had never heard. It was incredibly comforting. It was no surprise to learn that my dad took up Jeff's offer to play a game of chess during his wedding day to my mom. It was also no surprise to learn he had rehearsed the entire game to Jeff a week or two later. He always loved puzzles, and was cerebral in a way I can't adequately describe to friends.
The whole evening was so much fun. Diane is as funny as ever, and I felt safe and among family who were also friends. I felt really taken care of that night (but wished I could have talked to Tyrus a bit more!).
Tuesday, June 22nd
That morning I woke up to find that a mosquito had chosen my bottom lip to make its victim in the middle of the night. I've never been so swollen from a mosquito bite. My bottom lip looked like it just lost a boxing match!
I don't think these pictures can adequately describe how weird my lip looked in person, and how strangely tight it felt.
Jeff made me some breakfast and a cup of strong coffee, and I packed up my stuff and hit the road. It was Jeff or Jennifer who had warned about the trucks that would be on the road that day, but I didn't encounter any troubles during my drive down.
This part of the drive was a bit of a blur, but I remember my first stop at a gas station and coffee shop, near Ellis Lake Park in Marysville, near Yuba City. I got a latte (I think this was the peak of caffeine consumption during the trip) and a bagel with cream cheese while waiting for the gas to finish. Not surprisingly, eating a bagel and applying cream cheese is a bit impractical when driving, so like my pulled pork sandwich I pulled over instead of enjoying the scenery and munched away.
The road whisked me away, slowly but surely, down to the Bay Area and eventually to Ray and Sue's house. Ray had a dental appointment and Sue was still working, so I grabbed a couple things that Ray had left for me and headed on towards home. I made a quick stop at the local In-n-Out to get my first real meal of the day around 3:45 in the afternoon.
As the next few hours proceeded, the slog slowly started settling in. By now I was ready to be done, relaxing at home, but there were still hundreds of miles to go. 101 is beautiful, and the way it winds its way through the farmland which makes up the central valley makes for an easy drive. There are visual delights through every window.
Still, it was at the four-hours-from-home mark that the longing to be done with the drive really settled in. I had been talking to Diya each day, usually more than once, and was ready to be relaxing with her at home instead of worrying about how late I'll be on the road.
At 9:38 I finally rolled into the driveway and parked. It had been a long trip. I don't even remember what Diya and I had talked about when I arrived. It was just great to be home.
Some Final Thoughts
All in all I had driven around 1,600 miles across five days, four of which were dedicated solely to driving. My first and last days had both been 12 hours on the road, made longer by stopping in Redwood City. The other two days were more manageable, with about 6 hours of driving on Saturday and Monday.
The middle day, Sunday, which didn't have any driving, was really the only day I could relax, and I savored the time I could rest at Backporch with the (failed) intention of getting some planning done.
It was also really good to see my parents. Mom and Dad have aged, but seem to be hanging in there. As I am writing this part somewhat later, the hope is that we can make some changes to better their situation. I hope those plans come to fruition.
Through it all, Diya was my constant rock when I struggled, and someone to talk to at all hours of the day. Thank you Diya for being there through all things.
Until next time.