When an agave plant blooms, it is basically telling the world it is ready to die. After weathering alternating cycles of drought and rain for 10 to 25 years (or 80 like this one in Michigan), no one knows what prompts it to grow a massive flowering asparagus spear out of its heart. It just wakes up one day, grows a trunk in rapid fashion, hosts one final pollinator’s orgy and then dies leaving hundreds of progeny behind. There’s no stopping the process once it begins. It’s final. And spectacular.
Personally, I have never felt so close to death than I have in the past two years. Not in the suicidal, morose, hypochondriac, it’s “the-end-of-the-world-way.” Rather the opposite. Instead, I feel like I need to inject as much life as possible in the next 45 years to make up for the years spent in a coma of work and familial responsibility. This agave plant I saw on The Lost Coast is my memento mori, reminding me that dying (or rather living) can culminate into a magnificent and beautiful end. It’s something to strive for. At least I think so.
As you can imagine, I had a lot of time to think on the road. This trip started with a tree. The Joshua Tree. I wanted to see them up close and so I drove 2600 miles roundtrip to where they grow in the high desert of Southern California. I wish I could say that I stood next to those trees and saw the meaning of life and sparks of creative genius flew into my heart. But I didn’t. And that’s okay.
Instead, I felt an incredible sense of gratitude. Seeing yourself, really seeing yourself, and then taking action to meet your own needs and desires is empowering. I am grateful that I did it. But what I realized during this trip is grand gestures of self-love – like driving across the country to see a Joshua Tree – is huge, but unrealistic for the normal everyday kind of self-love. The kind that sustains us. I don’t have to do things like that to love my life.
This is my ordinary life.
This is my extraordinary life.
And it’s all the same.
And I love it.
I am thinking of you, whoever and whereever you are.
PS. Here are some notes from my travels:
Days One & Two: Seattle to Palm Springs
On the way down, the novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was my constant companion. Thank God for ‘books on tape’ – er, audiobooks. Listening kept my brain engaged during the long stretches in the San Joaquin Valley. As for whether I liked the novel? I highly doubt I would have finished the book if I read it, but it was enjoyable enough and it kept me awake.
Day Three: Palm Springs to Joshua Tree
At the core of this road trip was to the deep longing to see the Joshua Tree National Park. I’m still thinking about this place. There aren’t really words to describe it. Just go there and you’ll see.
Days Four, Five & Six: Los Angeles
Throughout the trip, we stuck to two meals a day. Otherwise, I think I would have gained another 5 pounds on top of what I gained throughout this trip. One the first night I drove into town, I had dinner with my friend Bo, who lives in Pasadena. We ate at True Food Kitchens – a restaurant that Mama Oprah invested in. I thought it was really good. Not in the way that eating a basket of xiao long bao is good, but in a way where you feel satisfied with eating something deliciously healthy. I really wish we had one of these in Seattle. I’d probably eat lunch here on the daily and pat myself on the back for eating clean.
My friends Kevin and Dahae were my travel companions on this trip. For brunches, we ate at the Village Bakery in Atwater Village and SquareOne in Los Feliz. Both were solid. The latter is right across the street from the main Scientology Center, and hoo boy, that place has weird energy emanating from it. WHY ARE ALL THE CURTAINS CLOSED IN 80 DEGREE WEATHER?!?!
For dinners, we ate Parks BBQ, Merix Tex Mex Cafe (where a local friend works), Taqueria Los Anaya, and of course In-n-Out (Animal Style all the way). Parks BBQ was legit. There’s a reason why this dilapidated strip mall in K-Town has valet parking and a 1-hour wait.
Oh yeah, we also made a pit stops at Kaldi Coffee, The Juice, and Cristina Tosi’s MilkBar on Melrose, where we ran into Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) getting a milkshake. Of course. We also spent an evening drinking on the patio of the Surly Goat in WeHo. I haven’t had that much fun in a while.
Honestly, there are so many other food options but LA is large and we only had so much time. It seriously takes 90 minutes to go 9 miles sometimes and we would have benefited from a little more planning. Maybe next time Spoon by H!
Aside from eating and hanging out with friends, we did a few touristy things. It’s probably the first time I’ve done touristy things in LA (aside from Disney) so it was a real treat to get to know the City. We did Griffith Park, LACMA, and The Getty Museum. Hands down, The Getty was the best and it blew me away. I seriously wanted to cry because everywhere I looked was a vision of beauty. My heart wanted to burst open because I was so happy. I can’t wait to go back.
If you choose one touristy thing to do in LA, go to the Getty. There’s no excuse. It’s free.
Days Seven & Eight: Napa Valley
We left LA and headed to Napa, but made a very quick pit stop at Philz Coffee in Walnut Creek. If you haven’t had their mint mojito iced coffee, do it now. It’s so good. Get it sweet and creamy and splurge on the 20 oz. You’re gonna regret you didn’t.
In Napa, we did the tasting rooms at The Village and had dinner at Ristorante Allegria. I’d probably pass on the wineries at The Village next time, but Ristorante Allegria was pretty classic American Italian cuisine. The service was great and whatever they put in that olive oil/balsamic vinegar bread dip is so addicting.
In between wine tastings/tours at The Hess Collection, Artesa, Chateau Montelena, and the cash cow Disneyland that is Castello di Amorosa, we rounded out day two in Napa with breakfast at the Napa General Store and dinner at Gotts Roadside in St. Helena – both were delightful.
Note to self: Buy stock in the Impossible Burger as soon as they go public.
Day Nine: Santa Rosa to the Lost Coast
By day eight, we were starting to feel the weight of our eating and drinking, so we decided to go all-in and eat pizza and drink beer for lunch. We popped into the Russian River Brewery on the way towards Crescent City and I bought a case of Pliny the Elder (arguably the best IPA in America) to take home. Dinner was at the Salt Fish House in Arcata. I thought the Mushroom Risotto with Watercress Salad and Chive Oil was outstanding. I want that for dinner right now.
The whole point of the second part of this trip was to drive through the Avenue of the Giants, which we did. It was striking. But on a whim, we decided to take The Lost Coast scenic drive and THAT was unbelievable. It takes you from the dark loamy redwoods to high alpine forests and then crescendos into a sea of golden grasslands that roll right into the sea. It’s the only coastline in California where there are major no roads or development. If you go, please go, then bring plenty of water, drive slow (the roads are perilous) and enjoy the ride. It’s a 4 hour-ish detour but so worth it.
We ended up staying in Crescent City in a nightmare of a motel. But as a first, we got to listen to the sea lions bark into the night.
Day Ten: Crescent City to Seattle
The intention on the last day was to book it back to Seattle as fast as possible. But that didn’t really happen. We had a snack and coffee in the 5th Street Market in Eugene. And then made another pitstop in Portland where we ate at James Beard award-winning chef Andy Ricker’s restaurant, Pok Pok, in SE Division. And maybe, just maybe, we ate some CBD donuts at Blue Star donuts on the way out of town too.
PS. I’m on a cleanse now. Where is there a True Food Kitchen when you need one?