As my body continues to rebel against time and gravity I appreciate life more than ever before. I’ve been reflecting upon memories, mostly the snap shot images, and some videos from my history.
Not that long ago, I was known for impulsively grabbing a day pack, and taking off. I didn’t think long about it then, I simply went. With the boys, friends or sometimes alone, we’d explore the land, lakes, rivers, the ocean, whatever we encountered. Subject and adverse to aches and pains now, I plan more these days.
Today those memories took me to three journeys long ago.
Farthest back was a drive from the east side of Scottsdale, Arizona to Crown King. Off the beaten path on some barely paved roads, much of the area was still remote in the early 1980’s, so it naturally appealed to me.
My favorite part of that trip was the return to Phoenix, cresting a hill on Highway 17 a stretch north of what is now the Carefree Highway. As the Valley of the Sun laid out before me, I stopped to take in the miles of nearly pristine dessert between that rise and the the remote edges of Phoenix. The springtime desert wove a tapestry beneath a glorious sunset of dazzling gold, silver and sapphires, struck with silhouettes of saguaros, chollas, organ pipes and the sloping hills.
On a rare occasion that my companion and I weren’t pressed for time, we began driving the mini truck from Arroyo Grande bound for Whittier. Instead of taking the interstate, we took Highway 101, and diverted to smaller coastal roads, stopping frequently to refresh and explore the towns.
At one point of the casual drive we stopped in Lompoc. There we noticed a man and woman sitting with large backpacks. We greeted them, struck up a conversation and learned they were from West Germany. That was before the Berlin wall collapsed. Somehow between their pigeon English and our gooney-bird German, we decided to intertwine our adventures together for a while.
From Lompoc they rode with us, taking turns riding in the bed of the truck. We’d removed the camper shell before departing and took the back window out so we could talk back and forth with our new friends. With our company the different route took on an even broader perspective, making the journey more exhilarating.
Though we’d been there often, we rediscovered Santa Barbara through their maiden visit. From Malibu we back tracked a little up to Highway 101 again. Though further inland, we wanted to relive the first spellbinding view of the Los Angeles basin with them, the couple in the cab so they could view the city head-on. Though the traffic was denser and noisier, we were spellbound.
We drove through the center of Los Angeles to the Bonaventure Hotel, specifically to ride the exterior glass elevators.
We’d intended to take a meal at one of the dining establishments at the Bonaventure. We ate at a taco stand on Olvera Street instead and couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Back in the truck, having shot several canisters of film (before digital photography) we were full of food, and wonder. So caught up in the adventure, we bypassed Whittier and drove on to Anaheim, marveling over the city lights.
The couple opted to stay in Buena Park and meet up with other fellow sojourners in the morning. We located a nice, affordable room for the night within walking distance from their connection the next day.
I don’t recall much of the conversation we shared over a bottle of wine, cheese and bread on their hotel balcony. I marveled with them over the magnitude of Los Angeles County. The lady said several times how big it is and how glad they were that we met.
Reluctant to part, even in the wee small hours of the morning, the little truck nearly drove itself back to Whittier. Having seen Los Angeles through their eyes, I became humbled. I felt ashamed for becoming indifferent to the beautiful, marvelous place we lived; from the coast to the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and the amazing metropolises of Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
In Arizona 2007, the same feelings I experienced exploring Los Angeles years before overwhelmed me again. I rode in awed silence with my sister from my Aunt’s house that was nestled into the foothills of the North Mountain Reserve at the end of 15th Avenue. Although it looked hugely different, vastly developed, it was still Phoenix to us.
We grew up there when Deer Valley Road seemed to mark the edge of the world and visits to my aunt felt like a trip to the wilds. Now the bustling city reaches beyond the hills with no break before heading up Highway 17 toward Black Canyon City. The long miles of landscape between Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa are now filled with towns spreading outward. Once again, filled with wonder I let go of exactly where I was, where I’d ever been before and watched through the eyes of my German friends long ago.
“Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.” Psalm 119:35 (NLT)