The Literary Pilgrimage

Most people, when they take off on holiday, look for warm beaches with clear waters for swimming, or cool forests for picnics and hiking, or foreign cities with unique sights. Alternatively, they crave raucous amusement parks or luxury cruises or extreme sports. Not us. When my two youngest sons (ages seventeen and twenty-three) and I ventured forth for a break from our usual routines, we sought out sites significant for literature and writing. After all, we’re all writers. We also, of course, planned to have a lot of fun along the way.

Adventure on a shoestring, that’s what it was. We set out in my son’s two-door stick shift, an ancient Honda. Originally we had planned to spend at least a couple of nights sleeping in the car, but in the end, we sprang for inexpensive motel rooms. The car, though a great trooper, steady and reliable, was just a bit too small to accommodate all of us. Not to mention that the cacophony of snoring at such close range would have driven us all insane. The rest of the nights, while during the days we explored the San Francisco Bay area, we spent happily on the floor of the dorm room of another of my sons who is enrolled for a summer session at Stanford.

We set out one gloomy overcast morning from Seattle and headed straight down Interstate 5 as far as Grants Pass in southern Oregon. There we stopped over at the northernmost incursion of our favorite burger chain, In-and-Out Burgers, for a meal before veering southwest towards the northern California coast. Arriving in Crescent City late at night, we crashed out at a motel. The next morning we followed Highway 101 along the coast and then inland, marveling as we slowly drove along the shadowed Avenue of the Giants, with towering redwoods overhead, and marveling more as we climbed to a lookout point at which we could view the entrance to San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

All of this so far is mundane tourism, you might say, and you’d be right. So far there was no hint of a connection with literary tendencies, except that we were all scribbling notes on current and future projects as we drove. All that was about to change.

We took a drive down Highway 1 along the edge of Big Sur: one of the most spectacularly beautiful coastlines in the world. Our ultimate destination was the Henry Miller Memorial Library. It’s actually more of a glorified bookstore, but it’s set in a pocket of pristine forest, and the walls are adorned with historic photos, posters, and paintings. There’s a great selection of books to choose from: not only most of Miller’s published works, but also books from writers he read and admired. Miller spent years living and writing in Big Sur. Unfortunately, as the facility curator explained to me, the house where he lived, which is about seven miles from the bookstore, being currently occupied, is unavailable for touring. I would have liked to have seen it.

On the following day, we went to the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas. Although it has a bookstore, the Steinbeck site is more in the nature of a proper museum, and it is very well planned and laid out. The various rooms have exhibits based upon Steinbeck’s books, and the climax at the end of the meandering self-tour is the camper dubbed Rocinante that Steinbeck took on his journey around America that he commemorated in the memoir Travels With Charley. Being on a road trip ourselves, we could appreciate the comfortable-looking vehicular home the writer had chosen for himself.

Once we bid farewell to my son at Stanford, we headed north to the Jack London Memorial State Park. It’s set in beautiful rolling hills adjoining the town of Glen Ellen in the wine country near Sonoma. London had called it his Beauty Ranch, and you can still see the cottage in which he and his wife Charmain lived, the House of Happy Walls that Charmain built after London’s death, and the impressive ruins of Wolf House, a massive mansion London had constructed on the property that burned down shortly before he and his wife were to move in.

After Glen Ellen, it was time for my sons and I to head back home, but we decided to return by way of Crescent City and then take Highway 101 north along the Oregon Coast. This not only allowed us to glimpse the breathtaking coastal scenery, but also to briefly stop at Lincoln City, the erstwhile home of writers Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, whose blog posts in their series The Freelancer’s Survival Guide and Think Like a Publisher helped me get started in self-publishing. Dean and Kristine have moved to another part of the country, but a shop that Dean started, Pop Culture Collectibles, is still in Lincoln City, and I was able to have a great chat with the new owner of the shop while my boys browsed for cool souvenirs.

So there you have it: a succinct summary of our literary odyssey. The trip was fun, invigorating, unusual, and intellectually stimulating. It is certain that insights gleaned from it will appear in some of my future work, and possibly that of my sons as well.

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