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When Trail Mix Gives Way to Wine and Cheese

An Editor's Note

October 15, 2006|Rick Wartzman

California offers no shortage of spectacular scenery, the sorts of vistas, as John Muir once put it, that are "stretched sublimely away in fresh wildness--a manuscript written by the hand of Nature alone."

This week's Travel Issue, though filled with manuscripts written by others, is openly enamored with what Nature has rendered. It is an inspiring body of work --a series of love letters to the land that has me thinking about hitting the road and taking in some of the state's rugged beauty.

Of course, ruggedness is all relative.

Grizzly Adams I am not, a verity confirmed some 18 years ago when I made one of my first extended trips up the California coast. Destination: Big Sur.

I'd just gotten engaged, and this was supposed to be a romantic excursion for me and Randye, my bride-to-be. Because we enjoy hiking but aren't big campers, we decided to rent a cabin under the redwoods.

After we unpacked, I tossed a couple of logs into the fireplace. (Cue the mood music.) Suddenly, the cabin filled with smoke. I'd forgotten, apparently, to open the flue. We killed the fire, cracked all the windows and headed to dinner.

By the time we returned, the noxious fumes had dissipated, and things were looking up. Briefly. As Randye went to shower, she discovered a coating of scum on the floor of the stall so slick, she could have attempted a triple axel.

The bed sheets--soiled and musty--weren't much more inviting. As we turned in, Randye was clad in so many layers of sweats that she looked like the lost-and-found bin at an elementary school. Any thoughts I'd had of an amorous evening were dashed.

For my part, I learned something about the woods that night: Geez, it's quiet out there. Jack Kerouac, in his book "Big Sur," describes the sense of doom that one can feel when looking down the steep seaside bluffs--"huge black rocks . . . dripping wet slime, a billion years of woe right there." For me, though, the real terror lay inland, amid all that silence. Every twig that snapped was, in my mind, a homicidal maniac nearing the cabin door. I dozed for an hour, tops.

The next morning, Randye scanned the guidebooks for another place to stay. We knew we couldn't afford it, but our eyes kept drifting to one entry: Ventana Inn & Spa, the high-end luxury resort. And so the calculus began: If we cut our trip in half and pocketed a few apples and crackers from the complimentary wine and cheese to have for dinner, maybe we could swing it.

Lorena Silva, who works the front desk at Ventana, says we're far from the only ones to have made such a blissful upgrade. "They come in smelling like campfire smoke," she says.

Or maybe that's fireplace smoke. Those flues can be rather pesky.

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