We left at midnight. It was a secret mission. Not really, but this trip would have more than one surprise. After topping off with fuel, we were headed south on U.S. 101 from Coos Bay to San Francisco. Our objective was to drive the 500 miles straight through and arrive in downtown San Francisco shortly after daybreak.
It was early spring in 2001. I vividly remember looking out the right side of the car window sometime around 4 a.m. and seeing the long snow caps on a tall and wide volcano. The mountain glittered in the moonlight as it showed off its enormity. It was stunning.
I later learned that the traditional Karuk people of northwestern California call it Úytaahkoo or “White Mountain.” The oldest known settlement in the area dates back 7,000 years. At an elevation of 14,179 feet and a volume of 85 cubic miles, witnessing this beauty makes obvious why it has attracted the attention of poets, authors and presidents.
Parking downhill and toting bags uphill in San Francisco is a joy everyone should experience. The smells of big cities are unique and perplexing. San Francisco’s mix of street food and urine scent mixed with the Pacific Ocean breeze is a circus for the nostrils.
The occasional ding of the bells from the manual trolley cable cars going up and down the steep hills adds to the vibrancy of the place and serves as a reminder of its boomtown past.
Starting with the gold rush in 1848, the population reportedly increased from 1,000 to 25,000 within the next year and the rapid growth continued through the 1850s. Work in the gold mines and on the Transcontinental Railroad drew lots of people and pandemonium.
We journeyed over to Pier 33 for a ferry ride to Alcatraz Island. After hearing about the most famous prison escape stories, I wondered how hard it would be swim the 1.25 miles to shore and whether the waters really were full of sharks. I was most fascinated by the stories of the nearly two year occupation by a group of Native American activists beginning in November 1969 and seeing the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
The planned surprise was completed in style the next morning as we headed south to San Mateo. It was Sunday. My best friend growing up was there serving a Spanish-speaking mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We planned to surprise him by nonchalantly attending one of his church meetings. I’ve always tried to be true to my word and I had told him I would visit him. However, I recognize it is generally unwise to interrupt missionary work.
The next day we met my friend and his mission companion for lunch before starting our journey back to Oregon. As we exited the restaurant, we were approached by a couple of young men. They asked us if were interested in buying some goods. Various electronic goods is what they were selling.
I declined, while one of our other friends was being reeled in by his curiosity. We waited a few minutes until he started heading back across the parking lot toward us. He hurriedly unwrapped his purchase. I saw a new DVD player box, shrink-wrapped with no visible damage or concern. Just as he got to the trunk of our car, he finished opening the box. Inside the box was couple of large rocks and a lot of empty value and no DVD player. Our friend turned instantly from glee to anger as he chased after a speeding car getting away.
From time to time I think about this experience. I first laugh about the memory of our friend dropping 50 bucks on a box of rocks in a random parking lot from a couple of swindling strangers. Then I remember the experience is worth much more. The places we go and the people we are with will outlast the money spent on things. There is history to experience, lessons to glean, and time spent with friends to remember.
How we use our time is what forms us and informs those around us about our priorities. Each passing moment is like a pebble being thrown into our box of time. My box of rocks includes the feeling of awe when I saw Mount Shasta, the wonder of “The Rock” when I stood on Alcatraz Island, and a sly smile about some expensive rocks from a torn up box in Northern California.
Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.