(Side note: the above excerpt was written by AI. It is beautifully elegant and so not me)
34 days I go (as of writing this, not posting), I was preparing and packing (last minute, of course) for my trip to California to see my husband, who, at the time, had been away for 38 sleeps on a work trip.
I didn’t know what to expect. At the time, he was way more excited than I was. Don’t get me wrong. I was excited to see my husband, and love him, and kiss him, and be with my best friend, the other half of my soul. But I wasn’t overtly excited like him.
To keep my life running smoothly, whether he is home or not, I have become a stoic. Calm. Maybe too calm. I have embraced going with the flow. I mean, I better have. I tattooed the rune Laguz on my left index finger knuckle. But I HAD to embrace the flow or I wouldn’t have made it as far alone as I have.
Anyway, sure, other than being in my husband’s arm, I was excited for two things we had paid for ahead of time – visiting Alcatraz and riding a steam train through some redwoods. But, everything in between, I had zero expectations.
So, as I sat in the passenger seat, on our drive to Santa Cruz the afternoon I arrived, listening to my husband excitedly talking about all the things he has done and seen, and watching him come alive and animated, I sat there, and I listened.
I had zero expectations, mainly because I wanted zero regret, zero heartbreak, zero rush, zero pain. Because in 5 days, we would be flying home, only for him to fly back to San Jose in 5 days after that for 75 sleeps. Also, expectations tend to set me up for failure.
I was excited for my vacation. Quietly. Secretly. But I was also present. In the moment. I felt what I felt as I felt it. Because this trip, was only momentary. 3 days later, I would soon learn just how momentary life is.
I woke up at 2am after a 30 second nap to get to the airport by 3am to board my flight at 5am. Turns out, I arrived before the Southwest counter opened. So, I just stood there, being awkward, having no idea when it would open but crossed my fingers it would be soon.
Wouldn’t that be ironic? I arrive 2.5hrs early only to be plane blocked by the airline themself. Thankfully, they opened at 330am and I made it to the gate an hour early.
Although, getting to the airport that early also means that only a handful of places were open. So. I couldn’t get breakfast but I could get a brownie, an uncrustable, and a really expensive bottle of water that tasted awful from Jamba Juice. Yeah, I didn’t get a Jamba juice. They make them with milk and it was way too early to figure out which dairy free option I wanted.
Once on the plane, I purposefully sat on the left hand side so I could see the sun rise in the east. I took a gazillion photos, of course.
Before I knew it, we were landing and I was moments away from seeing my husband for the first time in 39 days.
While quietly excited, it was 7am and time for the girls to wake up and get moving. I couldn’t stop worrying. First morning without me (or daddy). Spoiler alert: I didn’t stop worrying about the girls one second the entire 5 days.
When I finally made it down to baggage claim, which wasn’t nearly as long of a walk as it is at PDX, I grabbed my luggage and looked for my husband. Turns out, I am glad I didn’t have my heart set on running in to his arms and kissing the crap outta him, because he did a drive by pick up. Ok, so, I was a little sad, but, again, going with the flow.
We made up for it once we got back to the hotel. After the tense awkwardness of being in eachothers orbit after nearly 6 weeks, of course. Something I was worried about before he even left home. It took a few hours to readjust to not being single, but by that afternoon, we were back in sync.
The husband got me settled, showed me all the things, and then had to get back to work. It was Friday after all. So, he left, I sat down to finish up some work, and then I looked at how messy his mini apartment was.
Yep. I cleaned it all up and organized. He may be able to live in a bachelor pad, but not I. I need some organization.
Thankfully, the husband was able to get off early and the fun was about to begin.
We had originally planned for him to be at work this entire day so we didn’t plan any sightseeing or touristy things.
When we booked the two main “events” of the weekend, we also planned to spend the entire day on Sunday in Santa Cruz. We had to choose between the Steam train ride and the Winchester mystery house.
There was no competition. Steam train ride through the redwoods was a no-brainer decision. Which meant, we wouldn’t be able to see the Winchester house, at all. (Semi) sad face.
So, when he told me he would be getting off early, we debated what we were going to do. Winchester House or the beach. I don’t know why, but I have never been excited about or interested in seeing the Winchester house.
I asked the husband if he would be mad at me if we went to the beach and skipped the mystery house all together. Of course, he said no. And off to the beach we went.
That first hour in the car with him was a little awkward. We chatted like old times but when I looked at him, something about him felt different. It took me a few days to figure out what that something was, but before long, we were walking the wharf, buying bracelets and stickers that he saw when he went a few weeks earlier, and laughing, smiling, loving, and just having a blast.
We spent a long time watching sea lions propel themselves out of the ocean 6ft to get on an old dock that is easily accessed at high tide. Not so much at low tide.
We had a beer at a beer garden, reminding ourselves that we were kidless and could do whatever we wanted to do. Like go play mini-golf, touch the ocean with our toes, and drink more beer. I swear he won. But, because he loves me, he wrote down less strokes than I actually took.
The bet was I would give him a massage first if he won, and vice versa if I won. Regardless, we both won. Wink wink.
Anywho, while we were buying those bracelets and stickers, I asked one of the humans that worked there, like I always do, what the locals see and do.
I wouldn’t say my husband gets embarrassed when I ask the locals about the low-down. I know he rolls his eyes. Look. Me too, buddy. I hate socializing.
However! It always, ALWAYS, pays off.
Because that is how we ended up in Sunny Cove, watching the sunset, and just cuddling on the rocks, as the sun set on an incredible day that ended on the highest of high notes. I had a perma-smile affixed that didn’t leave my soul until Sunday evening. But that’s a story for Day 3.
Just being in his presence, was all that I needed. And all that I missed. He never once grumbled when I stopped without warning to take some photos. We held hands and kissed and laughed.
We just existed.
The corn dog, garlic fries, and amazing beers were just the cherry on top of a perfect day that started, for me at least, at 2am and ended around midnight.
I didn’t regret our decision to go to Santa Cruz that day instead of the Winchester Mystery house. Not one bit.
Today was the day of our very first planned and prepaid for tourist destination: ALCATRAZ!
It was also the day where I made my husband walk laps around the hotel because I wasn’t going to go to bed at only 29,562ish steps.
We got up, did our thang, ate some free hotel breakfast, grabbed our road trip snacks and hit the freeway. And the next freeway. And the, you get it.
I think one drive home during this trip we must have drove on 12 highways and 6 roads that want to be highways so bad.
The only things on the required agenda today was to see Alcatraz, drive down Lombard st, go across the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a trolly, and visit Ghirardelli Square.
I am happy to report that we did all those (minus the trolly that you can hang off the side on). And then some.
We first made our way to Lombard St. We were there early enough that there were ZERO cars. And then, because I am me, I discovered the night before that it’s possible to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.
So….guess what we did? Yep. We walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. That was one of my favorite experiences.
The husband saw a couple dolphins, we almost watched a cargo ship get boarded by the coast guard, and I took ALOT of pictures. Just of the bridge. I even experimented with some angles which produced a couple of my all time faves.
We started at the H. Dana Bowers Rest Area & Vista Point – Northbound location, walked south to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point South, and then back. About 4.5 miles in total. Because at the Vista point, we did some walking around.
We noticed that it was fairly crowded at both ends, but by the time you make it to the half way point, only a handful of people were still walking. Probably because the tourist busses only have limited time.
So, yeah. Also, we made it to the northbound parking lot before they closed it down to passenger vehicles, only allowing tour busses.
The fact that we came early enough to not only go down Lombard alone, but also to get a great parking spot to walk the Golden Gate Bridge made me giddy on a stupid level.
At some point on our legendary walk, I told my husband we had to go down Lombard St again bc I accidentally hit pause somehow on the video recording, so we had to do it again. Thankfully, I love my husband because he doesn’t say no to my insanity.
As the Golden Gate Bridge was in our rear view, that’s exactly where we headed to. This time, there were a TON of people and cars. Like, a ton. But, hey! I didn’t hit pause this time.
By the time we made it to the bottom of the windy section, a car was pulling out of a spot right. At. The. Bottom. Of course I made the husband parallel park so I could play tourist.
At least I remained aware that we were still on an active street, where people lived and actively drove through. Unlike the gaggles of other tourists who loitered in the road, begrudgingly moving when a car honked at them.
Again, it was perfect timing. I would never had been able to take a photo from below the curvy road. But it was fate.
After that side trip, we headed to the parking lot that I had reserved a space for ahead of time (Spot Hero for the win, BTW). It made finding parking super duper uper simple. And I am all for simple.
So, Golden gate Bridge- done. Lombard st – done. By that time, it was like 11am. We didn’t have to be at Pier 33 for our Alcatraz tour until 3pm. So, we did what we do best, and wasted time.
We walked to the bay front, used one of the self-cleaning public bathrooms, stopped and ate a delish hot dog, and then hit up Fisherman’s Wharf.
Last time I was there, I was like, 10. So, I had no clue what to expect.
There were people everywhere. Every. Where. There were bars and shops and restaurants and a million tourists. So many that I have to give kudos to the engineers of that pier. How it hasn’t fallen into the bay under all that weight, I have no clue. Mainly because I am no engineer or architect.
Anywho, we went up to the second level, walked around, stopped at an Alcatraz store, purchased 4 “prisoner” beanies, and took another thousand pictures. We were on a tight budget, and a tight timeline, so we didn’t do any shopping or eating at the eateries.
But, we enjoyed walking hand in hand.
Next, we found the trolly stop. And oh boy, I have never been more confused by mass transit. I purchased our all day tickets the day before on an app, which helped. What didn’t help, was that there are no maps at the stops. For a tourist, you have no idea where they are headed unless you have a map.
Thankfully, me being miss chatty, I befriended an amazing human at the stop in front of Pier 39. She walked us/me through the trolly system and made it all make sense to a point where I was comfortable to get on it without her later.
I wish I could have brought her with us. I enjoyed her company so much, that we became insta-Instagram friends!
Anywho, during the weeks leading up to my trip, I was super excited about being able to ride the historic F Line AND a cable car. Mainly because I love being able to touch history and because I wanted to hang off the side of a cable car trolly.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time, so only the F Line for us. Next time though! I’m gonna spend most of the time riding the entire street car line AND visit the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
When we got to the stop that my lovely new friend told us would take us to Ghirardelli Square, I was sad to say goodbye, but also really excited for chocolate.
If we had more time, I would have scheduled a chocolate tour. But, because time was ticking, we ended up at the little restaurant and bought $30 worth of little Ghirardelli squares. Mmmmmmmmmmm. Mission accomplished.
At this point, it was about 130pm and we had already walked close to 18k steps. Well, I did. The husband was only at 16kish. We left Ghirardelli Square and walked across the street to Marina Green where I put my toes in the San Francisco Bay.
We then sat, ate a piece of nummy chocolate, watched people swimming, looked at the old tall ships across the harbor, and laughed at a seagull protecting a tennis ball.
And then we were off again. Next stop: car to drop off the coveted chocolate and miscellaneous stuff we had accumulated. Then! Off to the piece de resistance: ALCATRAZ!!!!!!
As we were sitting (well, I was sitting. I was at 20k steps), I realized that it wasn’t, in fact, the Lombard St video that I hit pause on. It was the one where we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lol. Whoops. My husband rolled his eyes, but I reminded him about our luck the second time when we got to park and get pictures from the bottom. So, win.
Right before we were able to board the ferry, it started spitting rain. By the time we were almost to the island, it was raining pretty good.
We watched other people start to panic about the rain, and we welcomed it. I didn’t bring my rain coat, but I am an Oregonian. Rain is in my DNA. I just soak it up. Ok. That’s not true. But if I let rain stop me, I’d never get to do anything.
As the ferry pulled up to the dock on the island, the scene was so much bigger than expected. Again, I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect the melancholy to set in so fast.
Standing on an island I have only viewed from afar, one with such a dark past, turned into a National Park, I felt so small. I felt meaningless in the grand scheme of things. This island was full of pain and torture and dread and anger. At least, it was while it held prisoners.
That energy still remained.
As we traversed The Rock, it was eye opening just walking on the same ground as some of the most infamous convicts. We may be 50 years removed, and the San Francisco skyline definitely doesn’t look the same as it did then, but we were smelling the same air, feeling the same bay breeze.
And then, we got to the New Industries Building that held an exhibit on the Native Americans that were either housed here, or came as part of a protest.
We only had 2 hours on the island. I could have stayed there all day reading, but alas, we did not have enough time to read all the things.
When we learned about the Native American population, my husband and I were both speechless. Ok, well, I was. I have seen many Alcatraz documentaries and not a single one ever touched on this population.
It wasn’t until Indigenous Peoples day when I deep dived into who these people were and why they were so pivotal in shaping legislation regarding Native Americans and tribal sovereignty.
So, yeah. That was Alcatraz. Dark and beautiful and harrowing and pivotal.
We intentionally went as late as possible so we could ride the last ferry back to the Pier and have a chance to see the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.
The perfect end to the perfect day.
On our way back to the hotel, we passed by a 7 car pileup. In Oregon, we don’t have very many multi-car accidents. But, after experiencing California drivers for just 24 hours, I’m surprised we didn’t see more.
I have only been to Texas once, when I was 10. I never paid attention to traffic. But holy moly. Its like the wild wild west on allllll roads. I need a Xanax just to be a passenger driving across town to get snacks.
That night, after finally hitting 30k steps, for the first time since my husband left to Cali, I had the deepest sleep. The steps helped. And so did snuggling with my snuggle buddy.
Today was exhausting. In a good way. But day 3 was, by far, my most favorite and my most haunted.
Today was the day we were going to FINALLY get to ride on a steam train and take a ride through the redwoods.
The only expectation was that I was going to be in the trees, surrounded by nature, AND on a steam train.
One of my happy places. Because I am endlessly curious about the stories trees could tell. And because I can go to any forest and recharge.
I was in awe the entire train ride. I took way too many photos. I smiled so hard, it was kind of creepy.
Anywho, that was the ONLY thing we had planned for sure. We didn’t have a set-in-stone, concrete plan for afterward.
So, we debated. More like I tried my hardest to convince my husband that my plan was best, while he laid down logic, and boom, reverse AND a wild draw four. Illegal and frustrating.
But, he was right.
You see, I kind of wanted to go to The Mystery Spot, but he was right – my quads, calves, and feet were bitching me out too.
And then I kind of wanted to drive up to Half Moon Bay because I wanted to take photos of surfers and see a completely different town. But he told me about the parking nightmare and told me all about how he had to walk a mile to and from the beach to get to the car.
He was right, my quads, calves, and feet said hell no to that logic thunderbolt as well.
After feeling a little disappointed about not seeing a new town, I let it go. No matter what, I was with my husband. We were having the TIME of our lives. We were smiling and laughing and I felt like we were kids again. Madly in love. No matter what, whatever we do, is what we are supposed to be doing.
Finally, we came up with a plan.
We were going to go to the wharf in Santa Cruz, see the Sea Lions because my husband knew how happy watching them made me. Then head over to the bar to get the name of the beer I drank two days earlier that I fell in love with, and also, finally, try that BBQ pulled pork burger that my husband sent me a photo of weeks earlier. A photo that I had been drooling over and a burger I had been dreaming about for weeks.
If we went to Half Moon Bay, we never would have gone and ate the most delicious burger I had EVER experienced. I don’t remember why we didn’t go Friday when we didn’t know we would ever be coming back. But it worked out. Really well actually.
It was perfect. The perfect addition to a perfect vacation.
And then we went back to the hotel. We were both done and ready to put our feet up, eat all the food, drink all the drinks, and watch some Sunday football. Well, my husband was excited about football. I was excited about looking at all the nearly 3,000 photographs I had taken in just a few short days.
My husband also needed to do laundry desperately, so we did that too.
And then, we finally got into the hot tub. The cherry on top. No. The cherry on top of the cherry. I was riding so high on happiness (and marjiuana, let’s be real), that the next text I got from my best friend, shattered everything, turning that happiness, into a living, breathing, nightmare.
The husband of a mutual friend of ours, suddenly, unexpectedly, traumatically, died. The high I was riding, came to an abrupt end.
A tragic reminder that you never know when the end will arrive. A heartbreaking reminder to live every moment as fully as you can. Make memories in the present. Love in the present. Live, EXSIST in the present.
I damn near dropped my phone in the hot tub. The magical mood we were basking in as the strongest jets I have ever experienced pummeled my tired muscles, evaporated.
My soul broke in half for our mutual friend. Not as much as my friend’s who sent me the text. But it made me look at my husband in a whole different light in that instant.
My husband is still alive. He will be coming home. We talk every single day. We flirt, we laugh, we love, every single day. I have always made sure I never end a day without letting my girls, my husband, know how much I love them, because you never know when your last moment on this earthly plane, will be.
As we got out of the hot tub, and walked our solemn way back to the room, I had never felt like I was in an actual nightmare more than that moment. The next morning, my heart plummeted all over again, realizing that our mutual friend’s life, has been forever changed.
And here I was, privately, secretly, silently peeved at my husband for needing to still be in Cali until at least Dec. 23rd.
Fuck. I was grieving for her the future they will never have, while complaining about the future I do have.
So, I did the only thing I could. And double-downed on being present, living fully. Honoring her husband’s life in the only way I knew how.
Day 4 & 5
Monday and Tuesday (Day 5) were pretty much the same. My husband had to go to work so I got to stay in the hotel room, alone, from 8am to 5pm.
It was boring. I took a couple of naps. I doodled. A lot. I edited photos. I mindlessly listened to the tv in the background. I listened to my music. I watched some Netflix movies. I edited and organized nearly 3,000 photos. I ate snacky snacks. I read. I obsessively played the only game on my phone – Domino Dreams.
And I replayed the tragic events of the day before. Over and over again. Wishing it wasn’t true. I wasn’t close to the man that passed, but it still affected me harder than I could ever have expected.
The one thing we didn’t do that we wanted to do but ventured through the woods instead of, was experiencing the Winchester House.
I tried not to, but I placed a lot of hope in getting to experience it somehow. Unfortunately, the husband had to work during their limited open hours. But, there was always a tiny little speck of hope that maybe, just maybe, he would be able to leave early enough that we could go to the last tour.
When it didn’t work out on Monday, I was more than heartbroken. I was upset. I was frustrated. You only live once, and what if this is our last moment and we didn’t get to experience the Winchester House? Needless to say, I wasn’t going with the flow. How could I when his flow came to an end?
We snuggled extra hard that night. I slept deeply again. And I woke up holding on a little looser to that need to see what all the hype was about. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Again.
Instead, we went out to a nice, expensive dinner because California taxes are catastrophic. And then, as a compromise to myself, we decided to at least drive by The Winchester House. At night. Way past closing.
What my husband did next helped me remember why I fell in love with him 18 years ago. I thought we were just going to give a drive-by wave and head back to the hotel.
My husband decided to turn into the parking lot, parked, and took my phone to help me get photos of the house because the bushes were too tall for my little t-rex arms.
He didn’t know how much I needed that. I didn’t know how much I needed that. Until we were there.
First of all, The Winchester House is a fascinating contrast to the modern, multi-level, concrete buildings and what looked to be like an active nightlife right across the street. An 1880’s home against a 21st-century 360* backdrop.
Secondly, walking around the dark property made me feel so alive. It was an adrenaline rush. I am a goody two shoes. I HATE breaking laws. Even if it’s to take some rad photos. But dammit, it felt like we were trespassing and doing some sketchy shit. I was giddy like a kid in a candy store. Or a hiker in the woods.
I was also waiting for an officer to pull into the empty parking lot and hopefully just give us a warning. But more importantly, I fell in love with my husband all over again in that moment. After a weekend that reminded us just how quick life can change, this little moment of insanity, was just what I needed.
Side note: I promise we were not actually trespassing. Didn’t make it past any sort of barrier. Just looking from the outside.
Headed home with my husband, but on separate flights. And prepared to say goodbye to him again in 5 sleeps.
My vacation in Cali was one of those life-altering, life-changing, life-milestones that I will forever remember. It was an experience I have cemented into the very essence of who I am. For better or worse, my trip to Cali was fate. There is no other way to describe it. It was meant to happen.
On that note, Adventure on with Curiosity,
Kelly “Beast” Steele