Developing a healthy gut

When I woke Wednesday morning, I discovered to my delight that the rain and wind and cold were not only still with me, but had even had the courtesy to intensify overnight.  As I traipsed through the motel lobby on my way to the car, the television weather forecaster warned excitedly of tempestuous conditions for the day, including 65 mile per hour winds, spectacular surf and respectable wind chill. A perfect day to drive along the northern Pacific coast in my estimation!

However, before heading out on my day's adventures, I decided to take advantage of Newport's relative size to ferret out a gourmet breakfast.  I ended up at a place called La Maison that was a bit of a challenge to find, but not long after I'd parked the car and dashed through the drenching rain, I found myself happily ensconced at a cozy table next to the window with a steaming mug of rich dark coffee in my hand. The tattoo of raindrops hammering on the glass at my elbow rang out as I looked over the menu...oh what would I choose?!  In the end, I went with a classic - eggs Benedict - a dish I truly love when it's complicated formula is worked correctly.  This version featured slabs of fancy-schmancy ham and was built on top of a house baked English muffin.  I could tell the muffin was going to play a major role in the success of the dish after eyeing the mouthwatering pastries piled up on the glass shelves of the bakery case.

While anticipating my feast, I quietly sipped my wickedly good coffee and observed a steady stream of locals as they appeared at the door, besmirching the foul weather and then chatting amiably with the megafriendly owners, Cliff and Kate Brown.  It was clear from watching that everyone loved the gregarious couple that ran the place and they'd cemented a good many friendships with their customers.  One couple brought their toddler son with them, and in no time, Cliff had soon scooped the child up in his arms and stood sweetly dandling the boy stoveside, patiently sharing the secrets of making delicious soup while stirring a huge steaming pot.  As I sat idly by, immensely enjoying the scene in my movie where I have breakfast in Newport, my waitress arrived with an amuse bouche (say: ah-mooz boosh - or free appetizer for the unfrench) that knocked my socks off: a small bowl of freshly sliced bananas topped with a generous slathering of thick cream, lightly sprinkled with brown sugar and topped with toasted hazelnuts.  Incredible.  And a delible symbol of what's so special about La Maison - how simple, how generous and yet how perfect and elegant.  The eggs Benedict were exactly that, such that I mourned that I didn't have another two stomachs so I could eat every morsel.  The carrot yellow color of yard eggs emerged as the perfectly poached eggs trickled rivulets of gold down the sides of the sumptuous dish.  The muffin was even better than I had hoped for - toasted to perfection, crunchy on the outside, moist and buttery in the interior.  Every detail was perfect and it just couldn't have been more delicious.  Triumph!

I chatted with Cliff for a bit before selecting a brownie for later indulgence and settling up my bill.  I made sure he knew how much he'd impressed this jaded old foodie, a foodie who's actually pretty good at judging what's culinarily extraordinary.  I hope to find myself back in Newport one day so I can visit again.

For the second glorious day in a row, I found that I had no particular plan other than heading south on Highway 101 and stopping when it seemed worthwhile.  The weather was brutal and I loved it.  Every time the road carried me back to the sea, I could see the churning surf smashing in great showers of spray along the shoreline.  The highway wove back and forth between the rim of seaside cliffs to interior avenues carved through coastal groves several miles inland.  I began to pay special attention to the amazing bridges I was crossing as I entered some of the larger port towns, but more on that later.  I soon happened upon a sign for a tourist attraction that's been around for over 75 years - the Sea Lion Caves - also purportedly the World's Largest Sea Cave!    Strangely, I felt ambivalent about stopping but it gave me a rare and valuable opportunity to listen to my gut instead of my mind.  My gut told me turn the hell around and go see what this Sea Cave was all about, and so I did.

After I parked, I literally had trouble opening the car door the wind was blowing so hard.  On my way inside,  raindrops practically stung as they struck my skin with the full force of the wind.  The girl at the reception desk explained to me that I'd be descending to an observation deck below the gift store, where I'd walk a cliffside pathway to an elevator that would take me down to the sea cave.  All perfectly safe, even in hurricane force winds, she assured me.  The very moment I stepped out of the lee of the gift store stairwell and onto the path that would take me to the elevator I was assaulted by the wind, my hair blowing into a wild blonde and pink corona that danced madly around my head.  The jagged coastline, alive with pounding surf, loomed impossibly far below as I hugged the wide flat expanse of white concrete sloping down to the elevator door.  Through the mist, I could see the ultrascenic Heceta Light House perched on a nearby point in the northern distance, flashing it's bright white warning of proximity every minute or so.

When I reached the shiny stainless steel elevator doors, I noticed that there were only two call buttons indicated, T and B.  I love the simplicity of that.  I rode to "B" where the doors opened to reveal a large darkened chamber lit with dim path lights and outfitted with numerous informative sign boards.  A huge opening in the room's southern wall revealed the cave and its sea lion denizens.  There were what must have been hundreds of them milling about in their own little wild kingdom.  I had no idea there would be so many and in such a dramatic setting!  I sat for a good long while and watched as the lithe animals rode the rough tide into the cave and then somehow hoisted those enormous tender skinned bodies onto sharp outcroppings of rock to rest awhile or do a little courting.  I was really curious to see how they'd accomplish climbing rocks given what I thought was the limitation of flippers, but they didn't seem to be the least bit daunted and appeared in fact to compete with one another in regards to how exclusive and unobtainable their particular rock happened to be. 

I left feeling like I'd been treated to my own personal episode of Wild Kingdom and rode the elevator back up to "T" to brave the gauntlet of weather on the way back to my car.  I was soon on my way again, glowing with the pleasure of discovering something quite by accident that brings so much enjoyment.  Thank you, gut, thank you for insisting.

My gut soon had another chance to assert itself - this time convincing me that I needed to make a second crossing of the absolutely fabulous Coos Bay Bridge.  I mentioned earlier that I'd been admiring the bridges I'd been crossing as I drove south, but this one was a real show stopper.  I could tell it was something special miles before I reached Coos Bay, spying its two dramatic bridge spans dominating the immense bay as I approached the city.  As I drew nearer, I saw that this bridge was painted the same beautiful shade of state highway bridge green as the others I'd crossed, and had giant art deco obelisks at each entrance, just as the others had had.  This particular bridge, however, had the most unusual and amazing design of any I'd seen - one that mimicked the alluring lines of a Moorish spire or other vaguely arabesque motif combined with the rat-a-tat precision of rows and rows of rivets.  I was absolutely entranced as I drove over/through it, moaning aloud at the striking beauty of the crossed beams, the impressive economy of design that relied on subtlety and suggestion.  I exited the other side in a bit of a daze, so enamored of the bridge was I.  It took me a few ticks and a bit of wrestling with my reasonable self before I decided to turn the car around and do the entire crossing again!  How can you not do something you enjoy that much more than once, especially knowing you might never get to do it again?    

This time I had my camera ready to snap some pictures as I slowly crossed over, but judging by the results, I wasn't quite talented enough to multitask that complexly.  However, you can get at least a taste of the exquisite design of the Coos Bay bridge by clicking on the above image to enlarge it, if you like.

 I meandered on down the coast, enjoying the scenery, scouting a break in the intermittent rain in an attractive setting so I could take my afternoon walk.  I really can't tell you the name of the beach where I finally pulled over, but I can tell you I was compelled to stop by a beautiful crescent shaped boulder that sat placidly on the beach despite its tumultuous setting.  I again donned every single layer of warm clothing I had in the car and set off toward the beach for a stroll.

There were only a few other intrepid souls walking the beach, a surprising number considering the weather.   The beach had been scrubbed clean by the turbulent surf yielding little of interest along the water line, so I made a large circle and headed back toward the crescent shaped rock.  The rain that had been threatening started to come down in light showers but it still wasn't enough to deter my walk - I loved the setting and the extremity of the weather and I wasn't about to head back to the car.  I meandered back and forth across the flotsam bed, eventually spying a huge spherical shape, completely at odds with the other natural shapes of the shoreline.  When I went over to investigate, I found an inscrutable sphere of plant matter and I knew not what else.  "Curious," I thought to myself "What on earth could that thing be?"   It was vaguely ominous, probably due to its complete mystery, so I abandoned it and continued on, scouring the field of seashell stubble, sticks and rocks to gain clues about what it might be.  As I approached my moon shaped touchstone, the rain began to come down in earnest - definitely no longer suitable for strolling.  I made a beeline for a slanted crevice I had noticed at the edge of the rock that would make for perfect reclining out of the storm's reach.  I had to inch into the space gradually, and timed my regressions to coincide with progressions of encroaching rain.  The space was wonderfully comfortable and I was easily able to adopt a reclining position and watch the rain hammer down on the beach with the roaring surf as a backdrop.  Unsurprisingly, I completely surrendered to being present in the moment - it was out of the question to miss any little detail of this amazing moment.  As I sat in my perfect happiness, watching the fury of the sudden storm from a dry and comfortable seat, tiny pellets of ice began to fall from the sky.  At first they were no bigger than a seed bead, but soon the size of the ice balls had grown to that of an English pea, white as snow.  I turned the knob of my perfect moment up to 11 and beamed a wide grin to the relentless waves.  Thank you cosmos!     

Because it is curiously often the way it happens in these magical moments, I found that my camera battery was completely dead, prohibiting me in what would have been vain attempts to preserve the glorious lacunae where I had enjoyed the storm.  Ah well, that place will forever be etched in my mind anyway.

On my way back up to the car, I walked along the beach, searching for the mysterious hair ball of the ocean I'd seen earlier.  That's what I had decided it was after some consideration - an ocean tumbled ball of seaweed with assorted items that had been caught in it's intricate webbing as it rolled along.  I could hear it calling my name - "COME to me, Shirrrreeeeeeee....!" it commanded.  So convincing was the game that I began to feel anxious when I couldn't find it and experienced relief when I finally spotted its conspicuous round shape on the stretch of sand in front of me.  I scooped it up, introduced myself and carried it back to the car with me.  It got its own little box to sit in, since I wasn't quite sure what might crawl out.

I drove a short ways further, crossing the border into California just a little before dusk.  I'd decided to overnight in Crescent City, and so drove the length of the town to see what my lodging options were.  Right on the outskirts of town, pretty much the last building before you found yourself back on the highway headed south sat an old-school motor court motel that looked to be in great condition.  I pulled over and went into the lobby and knew right away I'd hit a home run.  Out of the ball park.  It was the Curly Redwood Lodge - opened in 1957 and still in the pristine shape, filled with original furnishings!  I was in Mid Century Modern heaven.  The motel was built from a single Curly Redwood which was cut down (18'2" in diameter!) and milled at nearby logging facilities.  As a result, the motel is a sea of beautiful burled redwood planks, incorporating all sorts of charming architectural flourishes typical of the early 60s.  I carefully placed the hairball of the sea on the coffee table in my room, ate Pud Thai from a styrofoam container, and led Mark on a Skype-enabled tour of the motel.  It had been a day so filled with the things that make life worth living that I couldn't wait to tell him all about it.     

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