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  • Maggie Wheeler

Going Home (#my2019pilgrimage Part One)


California State Route 128 winds northwest toward the northern coast of the state. Connecting Freeway 101 to the coastal California Highway 1, the route is around two hours of driving paradise. For my traveling companion and me, it was our first trip to California. Yet the 128 was, for both us, the road home.


Following much of the old Navarro Highway through the beautiful Anderson Valley, the route is miles of twisting and turning road hosting vistas as disparate as rolling hills of vineyards, dark tunnels through mystical and majestic redwoods, clustered small communities with local tastes for sampling, and breathtaking (figuratively and literally) moments hugging cliff sides on one side with drop-away ravines on the other.


Talk about being fully grounded in the present moment. There was no other option—not that you’d want to miss anything even if you could, white knuckles notwithstanding.


Then suddenly a curve, a twist, the Navarro River, and a climb onto the #1. Breakout and merge into the Pacific Coast expanse. Rebirth. And all before reaching our final stop.


They’ll never make a fairway ride to match it.


Fifteen minutes up the #1 was the pilgrimage destination. Mendocino. It would be everything and more than we expected. But as many have said over the years, it really is the journey and not the destination. Good flights to California, rental car waiting in Santa Rosa, and perfect weather all the way. Then the drive up the 128. And suddenly we know we are going home.


How do we do this? What is happening when this human experience hits? It’s well known, beautifully captured for example by John Denver in his 1972 epic hit “Rocky Mountain High”:


He was born in the summer of his 27th year,

Coming home to a place he’d never been before.


As human beings, we live as half animal and half divine. It would be easy to decide it is our divine nature that creates this phenomenon. But it is not that simple. Speaking for myself, I know that on Highway 128, it was all about the present moment, all about (sometimes) “OMG, keep the car on the road.” Nothing divine about that. But the unfolding natural and cultured beauty was almost sensory overload. And our senses, our animal systems, were telling us as the miles rolled by, that we were somehow actually going home.


This sense of emotional arrival in a strange place is completely familiar to all of us, a basic in our human lives at least once, but almost impossible to truly explain. I expected to have the big moment once in Mendocino, but California itself somehow welcomed us, embraced us and took us in. The drive up the 128 was the path to the open door. We drove with little agenda, zero expectations and open hearts. We both knew we would return from this trip different people, for different reasons. But we just let it flow with total trust in the experience.


And that might be the defining element in this.


We stopped on the #1 for a quick photo of Mendocino from the other side of the small bay, a view known well to all Murder She Wrote fans as Cabot Cove. Then around into Mendocino and up the hill to Hill House Inn.


The roadside sign says “Hill House of Mendocino” but the small sign near the front door still says “Hill House of Cabot Cove.”


We pulled in and parked. We had arrived.


Thousands of miles and two days of travel away from where we live, we were home.


***At the date of this blog posting, the Kincade Wildfire in Sonoma County is classified as 60% contained. Spreading across over 76,000 acres, the fire is the largest wildfire in California so far this season. It has claimed 266 buildings but no loss of life, burning north of Santa Rosa and crossing the 101 Freeway where we drove through just one month ago. Our hearts are with the people of Sonoma, with both love for the area and sympathy for the dangers and losses endured.

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