I do this thing, this thing where I get restless if I go too long without some type of adventure, whether it be a weekend getaway or a day trip to a new place or, if I’m lucky, a vacation to somewhere interesting and beautiful. Since returning from Jamaica in September, with time and finances rather tied up with wedding planning, the opportunities to get away, although not quite nonexistent, had been few and far between. As the end of the year approached I could feel myself getting antsy. The feeling built until the last weekend of the year when I had an extra long weekend thanks to the New Year.
I woke up Saturday morning not having any plans, but really, really, really wanting to have plans. So, like a normal person, I suggested that we go camping. In a tent. The obvious choice for a weekend in December. One spot I had been wanting to explore since moving to Oregon was Cape Perpetua along the coast. Shockingly, we had no difficulty making last minute campgroup reservations at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Less than 2 hours after I initially suggested camping and Brandon agreed (after spending a few minutes reconsidering my sanity), we were packed up and ready to go.
Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse.
After lunch, we enjoyed the scenic route to the coast and then arrived and settled into our campsite. I’m fairly certain that we were the only people in the entire park crazy enough to tent camp in the middle of winter, but we ensured we got a site with electricity in order to make a few, ummm, adjustments to our typical camping arrangement.
After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the best kinds of things – walking along the beach holding hands, watching Sydney play tag with the waves, finding whole sand dollars (not easy to do), and enjoying the beauty that is the Oregon coast.
After a long walk on the beach and taking approximately 1 million pictures, give or take, we had worked up an appetite. We decided to return to Homegrown Public House, a spot we had especially liked during a previous trip to Florence.
It was just as great as we remembered. The literary themed seasonal cocktails were a fun touch. With options such as A Walk in the Woods, My Precious, Lizzie Bennet, and A Song of Ice & Fire it was hard to decide.
The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.
Bellies full, we soaked in the warmth of the restaurant before heading back to camp for what we correctly anticipated would be a chilly night.
Although the space heater and many blankets kept us reasonably warm, there is only so much you can do to make camping in a tent, an activity that is not particularly comfortable under ideal conditions, cozy in the middle of winter. Needless to say, we got an early start the next morning, desperately needing another campfire, lots of hot coffee, and the chance to move and stretch our aching backs.
Despite a mediocre night of sleep, we were excited to begin our day at Cape Perpetua. This was another spot on my Oregon bucket list, Thor’s Well and the tide pools both being among the spots I wanted to see.
With no real plan in mind, we walked the trails, explored the tide pools, and marveled at the incredible ways water and rock and wind and time have shaped the coast.
And just when we thought the views couldn’t get any more amazing, we headed to the top. From the highest point on the coast, we could see miles down the coast and out to sea. There is an immensity that overwhelms in places such as this one, an immensity that washes over and through and leaves a feeling that is simultaneously humbling and expansive.
To finish up our quick weekend away, we enjoyed a late lunch at 1285 Restobar, a favorite because of the pistachio drink, the ingredients of which we have repeatedly tried to determine. Well, it must have been our lucky day because with minimal prompting our waitress revealed the unexpected secret ingredients. I won’t reveal them (mostly because if I did you probably would not try it), but I’ll make you one of these cocktails anytime!
We savored our lunch and began the drive home, reviewing the year, both the wonderful and difficult parts. It had been a year full of amazing things, but also a year that presented some challenges. As we reflected on this year, our thoughts turned to the next year with anticipation. The next year, the one where we would get married and start our life together. As we looked backward and looked forward, I felt grateful for the man beside me with whom I made so many of the wonderful memories of the past year and with whom I would soon be starting the next chapter. Whether we spend the weekend having adventures, recovering from a crazy week, or simply moving through the mundane tasks of life, I am thankful that he is the one by my side. Later that night, exhausted, we sat around the fire pit in the backyard and toasted the new year with friends, welcoming and wondering what 2018 will bring.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. Apparently this includes Jamaican vacations. It was Saturday morning, the day that would be the last of a series of sunshine and fun-filled days that had been spent relaxing in paradise. The week had been everything and more than everything and I, for one, was not ready for it to end. As our final day began, we decided to return to the beach one last time. We had no real plan in mind, but asked Nelson to again take us to Seven Mile Beach. We found a spot for a quick breakfast while we pondered our options. Afterward, we stopped by a nearby watersports shop and asked about trips to Booby Cay.
Located within view of the beach, Booby Cay is a small island off the coast of Negril. We were able to arrange a day trip to the island and then waited on ocean front loungers for our glass bottom boat to arrive. I imagine that in busier times, the boat is closer to full and it could be more difficult to just walk up and book a tour, but on this particular day, we had the boat all to ourselves.
Even after days in Jamaica, the clear blue water was still a stunning sight.
Although Booby Cay was our ultimate destination, Brandon could not resist another opportunity to snorkel on the reef. We had as much time as we wanted to snorkel and explore, with freedom to branch out while still having a guide to show us around.
But snorkeling was only the beginning. After one last chance to take in the colorful sight of the reef, we hopped back on the boat (I mean that literally), and headed toward the island.
We dropped an anchor near the island and jumped into the warm, shallow water to walk to shore. Salty and barefoot, we walked through the sand toward the scent of smoke and garlic.
You see, this small, uninhabited island is also known as the place to get lobster. We made our selections out of a faded orange drink dispenser and waited with anticipation while our lobster was grilled.
As we waited, we wandered down the beach, buying a couple of overpriced Red Stripes from a lady selling them out of a cooler.
And then, the lobster was ready. Grilled over charcoal, topped with a garlic butter sauce, and served alongside grilled toast, this was the best lobster I have ever had.
I am not exaggerating when I say that we had lobster pretty much every day while in Jamaica (tough life, I know). And it is also no exaggeration to say this was the absolute best. It was perfectly grilled, the sweetness of the lobster wonderfully balanced by the richness of the garlic and butter. I used the grilled toast to soak up every last drop of the sauce. Food doesn’t get better than this. I was glad we had each had our own lobster, rather than sharing one as we initially discussed. I wanted every last bite. And more.
After a lovely day, we reluctantly made our way back to the boat and back to Negril.
The day may have been simple, but it was the perfect way to end our week. But just because Booby Cay was the last place we went while in Jamaica, doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Jamaica. After all, I have yet to really talk about all of the delicious food we ate. Which was, almost, the best part of the vacation.
If you’ve been paying attention at all, you will know that our trip to Jamaica was amazing. It was a week full of adventure and love in a spectacularly beautiful place. Amid all of this though, one day manages to stand out. Of course, it could have been because it was the first day I was in Jamaica with my fiancé (I promise to share more), but I think our visit to Zimbali Retreats would have been incredible under any circumstances.
A labor of love where life is lived in harmony with nature, Zimbali is a one of a kind place. We were not quite sure what to expect, but had heard that we should go there if we could. So we did. We booked the lunch culinary tour, so our driver picked us up from the Rockhouse around 9 am. After picking up one other couple, we made our way toward the retreat. I may have gotten a little carried away with letting everyone know that Brandon was my fiancé and that he had proposed only the evening before. Maybe. At a certain point, the road became rather bumpy. Honestly, being from Oregon and having a fiancé who likes “exploring” it was nothing worse than we have experienced on a logging road here and there, but it certainly felt like we were heading into the Jamaican wilderness. At times, sugarcane towered over the car, our driver noting that it would grow much taller before it would be harvested later in the year.
And then we arrived at Zimbali.
We were greeted at the gates and led through a lush paradise to a deck overlooking some of the gardens. As we waited, we were given fresh juice (starfruit and guava, maybe, I don’t really remember but whatever it was, it was delicious) to enjoy as we marveled at the tranquility surrounding us. Zimbali is a retreat from the world among the mountains. With lodging, gardens, and all organic meals, it is a place to escape and relax. If we ever make it back to Jamaica, we want to spend more time here. This time, though, we contented ourselves with the farm tour and freshly prepared lunch.
After a few more minutes of relaxation, we began our tour of the organic farm. There was so much to see. We hardly noticed the heat of the day as we were led throughout the farm, marveling at the variety of the produce being grown.
After the farm tour was the highlight of the day, lunch. We made our way back to the kitchen where we would enjoy lunch created with fresh ingredients straight from the farm. Everything served was either sourced directly from Zimbali or from a nearby farm. Or the ocean. Yay seafood. We had made our selections for the main course prior to beginning the farm tour.
We had a choice of wine with our meal as we watched the first course being prepared.
The first course was a refreshing and tart salad with those giant avocados and a citrusy dressing.
The second course was an Indian inspired samosa. Only my impeccable, raised in the South manners kept me from licking that sauce off the plate. And asking for seconds.
And then came the main course. I had chosen jerk shrimp, which was served alongside a green plantain fritter. The shrimp was flavorful and perfectly spicy. My only regret was not being there long enough to try some of the other dishes that were offered.
And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We were served rum cake with a banana and honey sauce. It was so good not even the bananas could bring me down.
Our day at Zimbali was incredible. Despite the rain that began to pour as we left, I wished we could have stayed longer. I already want to go back and spend a few days further exploring the mountain, relaxing in a hammock on a patio amid the lush gardens, eating more delicious food, and taking the Rasta culture and food tour offered at the retreat. If you are planning a trip to Negril, I highly recommend that you make Zimbali a part of it, preferably for more than a meal. I know we will be staying a few nights next time we are in Jamaica.
We ended our first day as an engaged couple back at the Rockhouse, relaxing by the pool (well, Brandon snorkeled) and counting our blessings. As we watched another dazzling sunset, we reflected on what had been a day of happiness – the joy of being engaged combined with a truly lovely day at Zimbali wrapped up in the felt gratitude of being in one of the most beautiful places.
When we began packing for this trip to Jamaica, pretty much the first thing Brandon thought of bringing was snorkeling gear. For real, the guy could have forgotten everything except his passport, a swimsuit, and his snorkeling gear and been perfectly happy. He spent much of the week exploring the ocean around Rockhouse, but eventually he wanted to make it out to the coral reef, which was far enough out to only be reached by boat.
Each morning “Famous Vincent” pulls his boat up to one of Rockhouse’s red ladders to take guests of the resort out to the reef.
We arranged our trip with Vincent with the front desk the day prior and I believe we were able to add the payment for this to our account (rather than bringing cash with us to pay), although I may be misremembering this. That’s how we found ourselves sitting next to the stunningly blue Jamaican ocean waiting for our ride. Well, I was sitting, Brandon was already snorkeling.
One other couple joined us this particular morning. I was glad there were no more witnesses than that to watch me awkwardly getting in and out of the boat. Grace is my middle name. Literally. It is. I just don’t happen to exhibit gracefulness as I move about this world. But at least my awkwardness is entertaining. For Brandon, at least.
Before heading out to the reef, we pulled into a cave that used to be a bar. It was cool.
We made our way along the coast, getting a glimpse of a now deserted property and it’s once sought after stage where legends like Bob Marley performed, back when Negril was a sleepy fishing village.
The boat ride was lovely, but we really couldn’t wait for the highlight of the trip – snorkeling on the reef.
You will just have to imagine how amazing it was because we did not have an underwater camera for this trip. It was incredible! For an hour that seemed to pass in minutes, Vincent led us around the reef through the crystal clear water, pointing out some of the more unique and interesting features. It was vibrant and abundant and breathtaking. We were surrounded by fish and coral of all shapes and sizes. Brandon was disappointed that we could not explore “on our own,” but we had a wonderful morning, nonetheless, another sunshiny day in beautiful Jamaica.
After a day relaxing on the beach, we were looking for a bit more excitement as our vacation continued. Neither one of us is so great at doing nothing for more than a day. Plus, I knew if Brandon got bored, he would start annoying me. In that super fun, 5-year-old, pestering kind of way. We needed to add some adventure to our lives. For both our sakes.
We decided to explore the south part of the island, so we hired Fabian as our driver for the day. There was more to see than we could possibly fit in a single day and it was a bit of a drive to get there, so we settled on YS Falls and Pelican Bar as our stops for the day. We also wanted to stop by the Appleton Rum Estate, but we learned it was closed for renovations.
Although, as with Appleton, there were instances when things were not open because it was the off-season, we actually loved being in Jamaica when things were a little slower. We could decide to do something a day or two before, or even last minute, and be able to make arrangements. During the high season, we would have had to do much more pre-booking to ensure that we would be able to do all of our desired tours and activities. That’s not really our style. Our preference is to research (okay, for me to research) all of the things we might like to do, perhaps prebook one or two especially important activities, and then take a relaxed, day-by-day approach once we are on vacation. Jamaica in the off-season was ideal for this. Having a private driver for the day also added to our go with the flow approach – we could choose exactly where we wanted to go and stay there for as long as we wanted. Although there were more affordable day tours to the spots we visited, our day would have been much more structured and, at times, rushed. As it was, we could take our time and create a day that was perfect for us.
One thing that cannot be denied, Jamaica is gorgeous. Like constantly-being-in-awe-can’t-believe-your-eyes gorgeous. Even sitting in the car for a couple of hours is a pleasant experience. That being said, we were pretty excited to get to YS Falls.
Honestly, we did not really know what to expect. We had sort of randomly picked this spot from our list of things to do that we had put together before the trip, but had not looked much beyond that into the specifics. We knew there was a waterfall. And we knew that we would probably get wet.
What we learned is that this property is a farm that has been owned by the same family for several generations. In 1992, the property, and its seven-tiered waterfall, was opened to the public. Although there is still some farm activity related to cattle, the farm no longer produces sugar cane and timber. When we arrived, we paid $19 a person to access the falls and the other attractions. From the main building, we took a short and scenic ride in the tractor-pulled, open-air cart to the site of the falls.
Once at the falls, we had a moment to look around before the guided portion of the tour began.
And then the part we were really not expecting: at the falls, small groups (in our case, our “group” was just the two of us) were led up the falls by a guide who also took photos throughout the climb. I don’t know why I had not considered this given that walking up waterfalls while someone periodically takes pictures of you, specifically at Dunn’s River Falls, is one of Jamaica’s most well-known and popular attractions. Thankfully, I had thought to wear clothes that could easily be slipped on and off over my swimsuit and to bring towels (my favorite beach towels, still holding up after lots of use). I was also glad to be wearing shoes that could get wet, as well (thank you, Chacos). It made climbing up the waterfall a bit more comfortable than it would have been in bare feet.
The walk started off nice and easy, literally just getting our feet wet with the gently cascading falls creating the perfect photo backdrop. Soon, however, we were getting into the first pool. After we posed for pictures at each stop, we had time to enjoy the pleasantly cold water before moving on.
To be honest, the water was shockingly cold at first, but wonderful after we acclimated and as the day got warmer. Although Brandon would have loved to explore on his own, the nice thing about having a guide (other than the pictures, obviously), was that the guide knew where to swim, where to jump, and any areas to avoid.
There were also two rope swings. Brandon, of course, did the “big” swing. I, on the other hand, was pretty darn proud that I did any swing at all.
Due to safety issues, they do not allow people to go the very top of the falls, but we had as much time as we wanted at the final pool. We could have climbed up the falls again, as well.
After tipping our guide, we took some time to explore the rest of the property. And to discuss whether we wanted to do the zipline. This was one reason YS Falls had been on my radar. Brandon enjoys ziplining, but it was something I had never done before. This seemed like the perfect place to do something fun and adventurous together. However, when it came down to it, the anxiety started to creep up. But you only live once, so we paid our $70 and got ready to go. Although the ziplining is on the YS Falls property, it is operated by a separate company and is an additional fee. Also know that the credit card system may or may not be working. Or at least you may be told that it is not working. Point is, bring cash just in case.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was A-N-X-I-O-U-S. Like heart racing, palms sweating, jittery, slightly lightheaded, anxious. And I think the guys working the zipline could tell. They did their best to help me calm down before the first line, but ultimately the only thing that made a difference was taking that first step out into open air.
It was equal parts fun and terrifying! But the second one was a little less scary. And I think I actually managed to stop clinging to the harness line at some point.
But just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, there was this:
The long line all the way down the falls. It was invigorating to fly over the falls, but there were also complicated directions for steering given the length of this line. My mind went something like this: “This is fun, look at the beaut…oh goodness, left! left!…okay, feet are forward…look at that water…weeee!!…oh my, right! no left! okay, I’m good…I can do this…this is amazing!…and here’s the end…feet first, feet first, feet first…I made it!! That was incredible!!!”
The rest was a breeze and I even managed to look (almost) relaxed by the end, if a little shaky.
Would I do it again? Absolutely!!
Even so, I needed to calm my autonomic nervous a bit, so we spent the rest of our time at YS Falls leisurely checking out the lush gardens and floating in the natural spring pool.
When we finally pulled ourselves away from the water, we were ready for our next stop, Pelican Bar.
This isn’t just any tropical bar. To get there, you have to take a boat about a mile out to a sand bar, where Pelican Bar is located.
We negotiated a price for the charter. And by negotiate, the boat owner said a price and I said yes. There are some things I am really not good at. Don’t be like me and (probably) significantly overpay for a short boat ride to a hut seemingly made of driftwood and discarded Red Stripe bottles.
If there is a cooler way to arrive at a bar, I really do not know what it is.
Traveler’s tip: when you are dropped off at a bar in the middle of the ocean, try to remember where the boat you were on was from. That way when it is time to leave, you know who to ask the people at the bar to call, instead of pointing and rambling about yellow buildings and blue roofs and places that possibly start with a B, or a D…
We ordered some Red Stripe and a lobster plate to share (because when you’re in Jamaica you can eat lobster all day every day and it is glorious) before finding a spot to settle in.
The bar was colorful and quirky and oh-so-laid-back, the perfect place to waste away a sunny afternoon doing nothing. And everything.
Slightly sunburned and perfectly content, we made our way back to Negril and the Rockhouse.
I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating relaxing by the pool with relaxing by the ocean.
Brandon spent the rest of the afternoon jumping off of cliffs into the ocean and snorkeling.
And that, my friends, pretty much sums us up.
Remembering Jamaica has been so fun and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. As I write this, I am sitting on my couch cuddled up in blankets while drinking hot apple cider because it is cold and cloudy outside. I am thankful for memories of warm, tropical days filled with sunshine and adventure and love. And perhaps a touch of adrenaline.
Seven Mile Beach is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and is one of the “must do” spots if you find yourself in Negril. At least that’s what I read. What I also read was that should one find oneself on Seven Mile Beach, one should be prepared to be approached by people selling jewelry, shells, and, well, other things… Knowing that this was a spot we definitely wanted to visit and because we were desperately in need of beach time after our long days of travel, we set off for the beach on our first full day in Jamaica.
But first, we had to get there. Seven Mile Beach is a few miles from Rockhouse, so we were able to get a taxi there for about $10 (including tip; make sure to bring cash). Rick’s Taxi usually has drivers waiting at the Rockhouse front desk that can take you wherever you want to go. That is how we met Nelson, who, in addition to Fabian, was the other taxi driver we got to know during our vacation.
As the name implies, Seven Mile Beach is several miles long (although according to some sources, not actually 7 miles). We asked to be taken to the beach and then got a blank stare as Nelson waited for us to tell him where on the beach. After some back and forth, we settled on Margaritaville. I know, I know. That is probably just about as touristy as you can get. But many of the other beach clubs were closed for renovation or because it was the (s)low season and it was an easy spot at which to be dropped off. Depending on where on the beach you want to go, there are beach clubs and restaurants and even one beach park toward the quieter end. There are also many, many resorts at which beach access above the tidal line is for guests only. And yet somehow we ended up at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.
On a quiet Monday morning, it was not a bad place to start. In the “don’t knock it before you try it” category, we actually enjoyed sitting in lounge chairs and having someone bring us overpriced daiquiris and pina coladas for a bit. We alternated staring out at the gorgeous ocean with getting into the perfectly warm ocean to play in the waves, which were actually a bit unusual and due to the hurricane elsewhere in the Caribbean.
It was beautiful and lovely and quiet. As I sat there sipping a mango daiquiri and enjoying the view, I felt so much gratitude for the moment, for the opportunity to take a vacation, and for time with Brandon.
We actually ended up back at Margaritaville later in the week after we spent a morning doing another activity that left from the beach. It was a Saturday afternoon and a completely different atmosphere – there was a DJ playing dance music and, even during the low season, a beach full of people having a good time. There were also some rather attractive young men dancing and dancing well, although I don’t think Brandon was too impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed, he kept taking my attention away from the dancers, who I thought were quite talented. 😉
One of the the other benefits of settling in this spot was that there were employees at the edge of the property that kept hustlers away, which was a nice respite. And there was a nice guy that did a pretty darn cool magic show, too.
Speaking of hustlers. Yes, it is true. When on Seven Mile Beach, you will constantly be approached be people selling something. The funniest interaction I had:
Me: (walking along the beach hand in hand with my love, feeling the ocean breeze in my hair)
Hustler: Respect, man, respect. Want some ganja? It’s good stuff, man, good stuff.
Me: No thank you, we don’t want any.
Hustler: Okay, okay. I’ve got the good stuff; I’ve got some cocaine…
Me, In My Head: Ummmm, what on earth makes you think that if I don’t want marijuana I’m going to be all about some cocaine?
Yeah, I’ve never been offered so many drugs in my life. Side note, although marijuana is widely and openly used and sold, it is not legal in Jamaica.
The frequent approaches from individuals trying to sell stuff, marijuana or other products, was interesting. And consistent. Just about any time we were not on the property of a restaurant or resort, someone would come up to us. Everyone was friendly and no one got aggressive when we said no, but they could be persistent. And it did have a tendency to make us a little paranoid anytime anyone wanted to have a conversation.
Although it was a little uncomfortable at times, I realize that these were people just trying to make a living. And like I said, I never felt unsafe. Nonetheless, knowing that there was a spot we could go (aka Margaritaville) where we would be left alone for a bit was nice. If you go (and really you should), just be prepared for this to happen and it will be fine. Also, there was a guy selling shells for $1, which would make a great and cheap souvenir if your boyfriend didn’t insist that it would be a more fun and authentic souvenir to only bring back the shells you found yourself. Not that I know anyone like that…
I loved our day at Seven Mile Beach. We had a great day doing nothing. We relaxed, we played in the ocean, we walked up and down the beach, we found shells, and we kept pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to be on a sunny beach in Jamaica.
And when we got hungry, we found a little spot on the beach for jerk chicken and Red Stripe.
It was one of those days, one of those perfect days in a beautiful place with my favorite person. Although there would be more adventure later in the week, a day spent in utter relaxation at the beach was the ideal way to begin an amazing week in paradise. Seven Mile Beach did not disappoint.
Of course I want to be writing about Jamaica. Jamaica was amazing and beautiful and everything I hoped it would be and more. But today, I am writing about another kind of beach in another kind of place. And I’m writing about the thing that made both places wonderful – time with my love.
So here was the scene: Imagine a hot summer day, the kind of sweltering summer day that is thankfully rare in Oregon. To walk outside was to be hit by a wave of heat that made you want to turn around and run straight back into the air conditioning. Except it’s too hot to run, so you just slowly walk and then find a spot to sit where you don’t have to move. Add to the almost unbearable heat the smokiness. For weeks over the summer, wildfires throughout the region settled a tangible haze of smoke into the valley that frequently made breathing uncomfortable. On this particular day, I was also finishing up my work week and feeling hot and tired and stressed.
And then Brandon texts. “Hey babe. I’m at your place packing the camping gear into the car. Let’s go to the coast.”
Music to my ears.
I rushed home from work, eager to head out on our adventure. With no specific plan in mind, we loaded Sydney into the car and headed toward smoke free, cooler weather. An hour and a half later, we were breathing easy and enjoying the novelty of not sweating every time we did something intense, you know, like sitting quietly and breathing. On the drive, we chatted about where we might settle for the night. After some debate, we decided to try to find a spot at our “secret beach.” Although there were no official campsites, camping was allowed on the side of the dunes opposite the beach. After another terrifying drive down the terrible road leading to the beach, we parked and made a few trips to carry our camping gear the short walk to the spot we decided to camp. If we had a vehicle that could drive on the sand, we could have pulled right up to the campsite.
From there, the weekend became everything. And nothing. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love weekends like this with Brandon. Days spent relaxing that end with nothing to do except sit and watch the sunset, days where I don’t have to share him with anyone or talk to anyone else (I know, I know, I’m kind of unsociable sometimes). Days where I can recharge and reset from the stress of day-to-day life.
We walked to the beach and watched the sunset before settling in for the night.
We literally spent the entire next day walking along the beach. See what I mean by everything. And nothing. It was absolute perfection.
We did not see another person the entire day.
At one point, we set out our beach towels, ate a picnic lunch, and then took naps. We know how to have a good time.
Sometimes you just need to get away – from the heat, from the smoke, from the stress and routine of everyday life. I needed to recharge and reconnect. I am thankful for days when we can load up the car and randomly head to the coast to get away from it all.
And up next on the blog, the gorgeous and amazing Jamaica (spoiler alert: aka the trip where I came home with a ring)!
When I last left off, I had shared our caving and camping adventures in California. But that’s not all! There was so much more to see. As I mentioned before, this area of northern California has some of the most fascinating and unique geology that I have seen.
One morning, we set out to find the Glass Mountain of Brandon’s childhood. When we did find it, I do not think it quite lived up to his memories, but I found it astounding nonetheless. Despite it being July, we ran into some snow on the road that my little Civic could not surmount. Not one to let a little snow deter us, we pulled the car out of the way and set out on foot.
Like much of the landscape in the area, Glass Mountain developed as the result of a lava flow. It gets its name because much of the rock that formed it is made of shiny obsidian. It is impossible to capture the scale of the place. Once on top of the black mountain, the rock stretches almost endlessly in every direction. After taking in the vastness of it all, attention turns to the details – how each rock has its own form and pattern.
Although the snow would belie this fact, it got hot and we were both thankful we had arrived in the morning. We finished up our hike on and around the obsidian mountain and spent the remainder of the day relaxing (see previous post and the picture of Brandon floating in the lake – that pretty much sums it up).
Our final morning, we packed up the car, but we were not nearly done with our trip. We spent the morning learning the history of Captain Jack and the Modoc Indian War. This was a timely reminder of the ugly history of this country we sometimes try to gloss over or ignore. It may be easier to look the other way, but confronting this history and remembering this history is important. This is a history where people, because of the color of their skin and their beliefs, were forced off their land, the place that was their home, because people with a different color skin and different set of beliefs were powerful enough to do so. This is a history that should not, must not be forgotten.
The war began in November 1872 when a handful of Modoc Indians decided to move back to their home. This set off a series of conflicts between the Indians and white settlers. Eventually, a group of Indians led by Captain Jack retreated to the lava beds where they were joined by others. There were 50 – 60 warriors and their families who made a stand here. Later named Captain Jack’s Stronghold, this area of lava bed was home for this group of people for months of fighting against a vastly larger US Army. The war ended in June of the following year with the defeat of the Modoc Indians. Captain Jack and other leaders were hanged and most remaining Modoc who were at the stronghold were relocated to Oklahoma – a place so very far from their home. As we walked these places where such a tragedy had occurred, I could only hope that we have learned to do better, to be better as a country and as human beings.
At both Gillam’s Camp (where the US army camped) and Captain Jack’s Stronghold, there were brochures that provided the history of the war through a self-guided walking tour. I made Brandon stop at every number and we took turns reading the information. And he still wants to marry me. He hasn’t been to too many museums with me, though. Yet. I might hold off on that until it’s too late for him to back out.
Our final stop before going home was Petroglyph Point. Separate from but also a part of the National Monument, this rock formation used to be an island. The nearby Tule Lake used to cover this entire area. All along this formation were petroglyphs, some of which were carved as much as 6,000 years ago.
This was completely worth a stop.
This weekend had it all! We camped, we hiked, we learned, and we saw some things that were just plain cool. If you are a person living in southern Oregon or northern California, this is an easy weekend trip that I highly recommend.
I thought we were going camping. After all, the weekend had all the typical trappings of a camping trip. And then there was this moment, this moment when I was standing on the edge of a volcanic crater, breathless, fascinated, and suddenly aware that this was so much more than a camping trip. Sure, we were sleeping in a tent and cooking our meals over a campfire, but we were also, really, taking a vacation. We were in a new (to me) place, we were learning about geology and history, we were going caving. This was no mere camping weekend.
The decision to come to this particular location had been prompted by Brandon. This area of California had been the site of one of his favorite childhood trips. He had spoken about this place for literally as long as I’ve known him. So when I learned I would have a 5-day weekend because of the 4th of July, we decided that we would spend the weekend in the Modoc National Forest and Lava Beds National Monument. Of course, revisiting Brandon’s childhood memories had not always lived up to his abundant praise (cough, porcupines, cough); I honestly was not expecting much. But I love him, he wanted to go back, so we did. Spoiler alert: it was amazing.
We reserved a lakeside campsite in the Medicine Lake Campground, which had just opened up for the year. As the park ranger with whom we chatted said, “It is a little more lake front than usual.” The lake was feet higher than normal, but even so, our campsite was wonderful.
Whether we were drinking coffee by the campfire, floating in the lake, playing cards, watching the sunset cuddled up in the hammock, or simply relaxing, we enjoyed every second. Conveniences like running water and vault toilets made the campground seem practically luxurious after our recent backpacking trip.
But you know us. We could not be content with just hanging out at a campsite all weekend. This is where the “vacation” part kicked in. We spent our first full day in California at Lava Beds National Monument. I really had no idea what to expect, other than that there would be some caves. Lava Beds is accessible from Modoc National Forest along a gravel road and was about 16 miles from the campground.
Our first stop was Mammoth Crater. The crater was formed 36,000 years ago and is the volcano responsible for the lava flows that created most of the caves in the park. This is also where I realized this was so much more than a camping trip.
Our next stop was the visitor’s center. Because we did not come in the main entrance, we needed to pay the entrance fee and get cleared to enter the caves (I’ve talked about white nose syndrome and bats before, which I think says a lot about my life with Brandon).
After a this quick and scenic stop, we began exploring the caves. Not all of them, of course. There are over 700 caves in the park and over 2 dozen of them have developed entrances. That was definitely more than we could see in a day! While at the visitor’s center, we picked up a brochure with information about the developed caves. This included information on the caves’ locations, difficulty, and any special features. We started with the caves near the visitor’s center before driving Cave Loop Road, where many of the most popular caves are located. We finished our day of caving with a quick stop at Skull Cave, one of the few remaining ice caves at Lava Beds, and a hike to two caves that displayed Native American pictographs.
When I say “developed cave,” this is probably what comes to mind – a marked entrance, a way to get into the cave without using a rope, a clear path, and some type of lighting. Sure, that applied… to exactly one cave in the park. Near the visitor’s center, Mushpot is a great place to start because of all of the above. The lighting also provides the opportunity for educational information to be displayed throughout the cave.
Then there was the rest of the day, when paths and lighting were nowhere to be found. Sure, there were ladders to get into the caves when needed, but from there, we were on our own with the exception of the occasional path. And that’s what made it fun. We wandered and explored and discovered, each cave unique ensuring there was always something new to see within the light of our headlamps.
After a picnic lunch, we set out for the greatest adventure of the day – The Catacombs. Brandon could not wait to explore this, one of the largest caves in the park. The description about the cave says (and I quote) “A cave map is highly recommended for any group planning to explore the entire cave, as multiple levels and numerous side passages can be confusing. This cave is not recommended for inexperienced cavers.” Ummmm…. Cave map? No, of course not. Sense of direction? I am the girl who can get lost while listening to the GPS telling me exactly where to go. Cave experience? Hardly, unless you count the few caves I had been in near Bend. How could this possibly go wrong?
We (obviously) made it out alive, but we had very different experiences in this cave. I was stressed out and constantly worried about finding our way out. Brandon was having a great time and had no concern about taking whatever path caught his fancy.
I pretty much just followed him around, letting him choose where to go, reminding myself that we would (more than likely) be okay. Until we got here:
After crawling through on his belly, the space too small for his bag, he came back to reassure me that the cave “opened up on the other side.” Nope, not doing it. Despite his efforts at persuasion, this was as far as we went.
The rest of the day was rather less stressful as we fit as much of Lava Beds as we could into the day.
We had such a great day! I loved that we could start and end the day among the pine trees next to a lake and spend the time in between in the desert seeing unique geological features. Truly, it’s a fascinating place. We were just getting started. Up next, geology, history, and art. I told you this was a vacation!
You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?
But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.
It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.
And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.
Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.
I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.
Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.
Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.
We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.
That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.
Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.
Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.
This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.
The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.
After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.
It was not even 8 am.
And then there was this:
I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.
But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.
And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.
When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.
I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.
And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.
Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.
We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!
The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.
Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.
Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:
Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.
But I made it.
Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.
And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.
What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.
What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.
What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.
As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.