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Hundred Highways Tour #96 – #100: CA-87, CA-85, US-101, CA-156 & CA-1 to a Cliff Overlooking the Pacific
What better place to end the tour for Vagabond Song than on the same road where the book ends: the Pacific Coast Highway on the very farthest edge of that myth we call America? And what better audience than the ocean herself?
We flew into San Jose, grabbed a rental car and headed south to Pacific Grove and our postage stamp hotel room with a view of Monterey Bay and a daily alarm clock of the loudest gulls I’ve met. This was our base of operations for day trips down the coast, hiking in the redwoods, wandering cliff-fringed beaches and making a pilgrimage to the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
An enchanted courtyard filled with art and trees, a room filled with great books, free tea and the best motto: “The Henry Miller Memorial Library, where nothing happens.” Miller is one of those writers I read too long ago and need to revisit. I vaguely recall Tropic of Cancer changing my conception of what a book could be, in the same way that Ulysses and 100 Years of Solitude did. Plus, Miller introduced me to the work of Anaïs Nin, whose writing blows me away.
Eventually, we found the right cliff along the right stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. I read the scene from Vagabond Song that happens during a hitchhiking trip down this very road. The plan was to give people a heads up that I was going to broadcast the reading to my Facebook page so they could tune in, but suddenly, we were at the right spot, didn’t know if we had a connection or not, but started recording and reading without notice. The result was shaky and marred (or enhanced) by the noise of passing cars, and the clip cuts off right before the final word of the excerpt. But it’s okay. The point was to read to the ocean, not create a lasting record of it. The point was to celebrate the completion of the Hundred Highways Tour on the same highway as the book’s final movement. The point was to toss out those words to the sea and let them fly away like the gulls and cormorants who were with us continuously on this final trip.
It’s been a fantastic voyage hitting these hundred highways, meeting great people and sharing my work with them. With you. Thanks for traveling with me. May your roads be winding, wild and filled with music. May you meet many vagabond angels, and may you be one to others.
See you on the next hundred.
Hundred Highways Tour #77 – #95: I-95, I-76, NJ-42, NJ-41, NJ-47, CR-658, CR-655, CR-634, CR-654, CR-555, CR-557, NJ-40, NJ-50, US-9, NJ-109, CR-606, CR-626, DE-162, DE-1 & DE-1 to Rehoboth Beach Public Library
We dropped into the Philly airport around sunset and went through a Kafkaesque car rental process–walking through a maze or corridors, missing buses, waiting in a long line only to find out it’s the wrong long line–until finally, blasting out into traffic and heading across the Walt Whitman bridge into New Jersey. It’s perfect that the 100 Highways Tour includes the Walt Whitman Bridge. Uncle Walt, who I quote near the end of Vagabond Song: “Bearded, sun-burnt, gray-neck’d, forbidding, I have arrived.”
It was a long, meandering drive through Jersey, mostly because, in an attempt to avoid toll roads, we became quickly, beautifully lost. We were heading mostly south and would eventually stumble onto a major highway that would zip us to our destination, so we just enjoyed the ride.
In my youth, this was always my goal in the northwoods of Michigan: the moment I realized I didn’t know where I was, everything became stunningly beautiful and fraught with possibility. Every moment was savored. I could enjoy the fantasy of simply not returning to the world of concrete and schedules. I could be a hermit, a Han Shan-esque wanderer, a feralite. Also, knowing that in the Midwest, getting lost would be a temporary state–when one could read the stars, knew how to secure shelter and water, make fire–made it not much more than a fun game. Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal, there’s a road every mile or so and water everywhere. Now that I live in Montana, where the weather can kill you in summer or winter, where you can wander for days without finding a road, where bears and lions are very real concerns, I notice that my attempts to become lost aren’t quite so intentional.
We had a decent dinner and a few drinks at a friendly roadhouse that appeared out of the gloom like a dream, then an hour or two later, fell into the flow of U.S. 9, down into Cape May where we checked into a motel then ran across the road, ignored the “Beach Closed” signs and stood at the crashing edge of the Atlantic, still surly and fierce from the recent hurricanes. It’s humbling to be in proximity to such power. It’s good to be humbled by the natural world. It’s energizing.
Much of our problems and threats to survival stem from a severe lack of this type of humility.
The next day, we hiked around some coastal wetlands, glassing birds and learning the names of unfamiliar plants, before jumping the ferry across Delaware Bay into Lewes, the first city in what became the first state. It was here I found a great little bookstore, Biblion, and its friendly owner, Jen. We talked books and the book trade for quite a while, and then I asked her if she had anything on James Joyce. She sold me a great copy of Coping with Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, which is a great addition to my Joyce collection, but it was the stuff that wasn’t for sale that was really exciting, including a photo of manuscript page with notations, the original discovered locally, from the “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses, and a large format duplicate of the photo of Joyce and Sylvia Beach hanging at her Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris.
It was a fantastic visit that made me wish that I had booked my reading here.
Overall, the trip was great, especially a bike ride/bird-watching excursion through Cape Henlopen State Park, visiting with my wife’s family, the delicious seafood, meeting up with a cousin and her daughter at a great little Mexican cantina near the beach, the songs of crickets and mockingbirds, the beer tasting at Dogfish Head Brewery, the few days wandering the streets of Philly–with its murals and history and great live jazz at Time–and spending long, energizing moments in the humbling beauty of that surly and fierce Mama Ocean.