Amber has us stop at a tiny, upscale town because she heard good things about their cemetery and wanted to check it out (read as: the yellow map suggested it). While a fan of graveyards in practice, I am not certain why this one is worthy of our stopping. However, I give Amber the benefit of the doubt. It is not far out of our way and gives us an opportunity to have lunch before completing the trek to Santa Clara.
The greatest excitement we encounter there is a grave entirely covered by tchotchkes and a can on Natty Ice on a pole.
Over lunch, I realize how seriously northern California is taking his drought when the waitress in the café, one that massively overcharges for simple food and still manages to be the cheapest option, mentions that they do not provide water unless we ask for it.
"I would like two glasses of water," I say immediately before adding for clarity, "Tap water of course."
She narrows her eyes at me. "You're sure?"
"That we want water? Yes. Very sure. We are parched."
"And I would like tea. Hot," adds Amber.
The waitress looks mildly affronted that we would dare to dip into their reserves for something as petty as our hydration.
Amber wants to drive the Lost Highway on our way back to San Francisco for the second leg of our honeymoon. Since she is the one driving for what should be six or seven hours, I am not going to try to overrule her, though it does seem this will prevent us from going through the corridor of redwoods again, thus passing by a primo mystery spot. I had thought the Lost Highway was a David Lynch film, so it is certain to surprise me by making sense without the assistance of four critical essays and a chart.
Much of her direction comes from the inaccurate, damned yellow map that the woman who runs the bed and breakfast gave her, one that glances over the difficulty of some paths and hyperinflates the importance of a Bigfoot museum that could fit in my apartment. Then again, this same woman gave Amber the suggestion of going to a restaurant that thought peaches and grapes belonged on pizzas, so we cannot be sure she is in her right mind. Nevertheless, this piece of paper is a constant thorn in my side, because Amber trusts it. When researching something online, I found a page that exposes to list 25 things never to do in Humboldt County. Once I clicked it open, I realize it says, "(Unless you want to be addicted)." It is the same map. I have only before encountered cults who try so hard to protect their reputations.
The Lost Highway is so called because, after it was fully designed, built, and paved, someone finally noticed that the roads are so thin and treacherous that city planners decided to make a highway elsewhere, somewhere less likely to wash away with an errant wave. The roads are not impossible to drive, but they are not easy.
Vistas that are among the most beautiful things I have ever seen greet us, which does put a bit of nausea into perspective.
There is a conditioned called Stendhal Syndrome, which afflict people with stunned muteness when confronted with too much beauty all at once. Stendhal must have taken this highway.
We pull off on the Lost Highway to take in the experience of it more fully. Few cars pass, so I am not too worried that Californians will plunder our car if we let it out of our sights.
I slide down the pebbles of the path, not really minding scraping my palm on the way down because it is a bit too stellar to bother with bloodshed.
The wind off the ocean is intense, blowing Amber's skirt around. We wander the shore, picking up little shells and pulling them in our pockets, though we have no use for them. We do this because it is what feels like it needs doing.
Amber stands in front of a brown and gray mass. "Is that driftwood?" she says in a voice that begs reassurance.
I look at it, slick and amorphous. A log had been tumbled about the ocean. Then the form shifts a little in the tide and it is a sea lion, its eyes gouged out by scavengers, ribs poking through the blubber. Then, it isn't anymore, it is back to being a bit of detritus that briefly had a curious shape. No. It is definitely a dead animal. Yet, though it is a formerly living being roughly my size and its decay should revolt me, I am only curious. It, like the seashells lining our pockets, is something that was and is no more. A life vacated. It helps that, owing to the water and the breeze, I cannot smell its decay. Instead, all I have is how the sun glints off its hide. Perhaps it is simply that the Lost Highway is so beautiful that my brain assumes everything around me must be.
In the distance, I see the little, brown heads of other sea lions in the distance, frolicking in the surf. I do not know if they have the capacity to mourn this one.
As we drive away, I see a horse penned overlooking the shore. "Do you think that horse cares it has this kind of view?"
"Can't eat it, can't drink it," says Amber, steering us back in the mountains so we can find a lighthouse.
Perhaps I could have forgiven this long digression from our path and our goal if this lighthouse had been something glorious. If, in fact, we could do more than look at an only slightly overgrown mini-golf hazard for three minutes before returning to our car in hopes of finding a way back to the main highway. This dinky little tourist trap required many hours of sacrifice, all on the word of a yellow map that assured us it was just around the corner. We bothered with hideously curved roads, dealing with my nausea and the food dessert again, all for this puny excuse for a lighthouse.
I don't recall having ever hated something so ridiculous. In the back of my mind, I can almost laugh at how the map duped us. At least a mystery spot or drive-through redwood would be upfront about bilking us, taking our money instead of hours of our time, hours of the only honeymoon I will ever get. I might be able to laugh had this occurred during any other trip or had we been able to get to our hotel when the sun was still out.
Once we get back to road that isn't the result of an urban planner dropping spaghetti on a model of a mountain, a police officer pulls Amber over. When I see the flashing lights, I check the odometer and see she is going faster than she likely ought to be. This may well be because I am mildly grumpy at the fact that the GPS assures us that we will be to our hotel around midnight, so she is hoping to transcend 88 miles per hour and cause us to travel back in time before we decided to see a lighthouse.
"He can't actually do anything," Amber assures me. "What, he writes a ticket? Psh, I just won't come back to California."
The officer comes up to the window with the typical swagger, asking if Amber knows how fast she was going. He quickly catches on that, not only are we on our honeymoon, but this is a rental car. When he sees her license and that she is from New York, he realizes that same thing Amber did. She will never pay this ticket. He tells her to slow down in the future and lets us on our way.
We soon drive passed an enormous field, covered in caravans and shirtless hippies. I would estimate that there are close to twenty thousand people swarming, getting ready for some funk music festival. Perhaps the cop was lenient purely because we did not stink of patchouli.
On our long drive to Santa Clara and a dozen miles from the festival, I start to smell smoke. On our right, we pass a helicopter bivouac that has claimed a desiccated field where nothing has grown in months. The hills behind it smoke copiously from a wild fire I neither see nor want to see.
It feels as though we wasted an entire day driving. To me, the whole point of a honeymoon should be to be together with as little stress as is possible, especially given the difficulties of pulling off a wedding without bloodshed. We spent twelve hours in a car today so we could look at a rock shop that was nothing special; walking around a misty wildlife reserve that apparently considered a herd of cows sufficient wildlife; and searching for a lighthouse that was all of thirty feet tall, which was closed, and which we saw for all of ten minutes.
Soon in Xenology: Honeymoon!