Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Manchester State Beach – Labor Day 2013

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I need to get this right. Luckily I saved the email from Ted. This is what it said, “I have an idea for entertainment but have been unable to locate the props I am looking for. Hopefully I can remedy that before we go.” Remember Ted, the fellow with the red handled axe? It was that word “props” that got our attention. This email was one of his teases. He was working on something. “Props,” what did he have in mind?

The Teds had left early and had secured a campsite for us at Manchester State Beach just north of Point Arena. Manchester is kind of an orphan child among the California State Parks along the north coast. It was on the chopping block for closure during our latest budget crisis. Its campground is exposed and its winds and fog are legendary. It usually does not fill up, even on the summer holidays. So, when the smoke from all our wildfires drove us out of the mountains to find refuge on the Pacific, Ted figured there just might be a spot at Manchester we could get – first come, first served – for the Labor Day weekend.

Ted had seen us driving in. There he was, in the road, light in hand, showing us the way, making sure we found our spot. It was around 9 pm Friday evening, pretty much past our bedtime. It had been a long drive. But, we knew it would be worth it - the smell of salt air, the pounding of surf, the cry of gulls, the Teds’ company, and “props.”

We were up early. The campground sits along expanses of pasture lands and ranches.

The Teds were off to visit Mendocino. The Lady & I wanted to spend the day walking the beach. We headed south. We soon left everyone else behind.

Our shoes and socks were off. This was a perfect bare feet in the sand and surf beach. One of the websites I looked at said that people who stayed at Manchester enjoyed walking to the Point Arena Lighthouse and there it was off on its point to the south. That's where the Lady wanted to go.

There was a group of Turkey Vultures on the beach ahead of us. A blue shark was the making of a great breakfast brunch for this hardy cleanup crew..

We consulted the topo map. The Garcia River is just north of Point Arena, between us and the lighthouse. What kind of obstacle would it be?

Sandpipers kept us company as we continued south.

The channel of the Garcia River was deep and up against a bluff on its south side. We moved up into the estuary to try and find a wide shallow section of river. It was an interesting area with braided channels and ponds and tangles of drift wood hidden in the dune grass. Gulls and shore birds watched as we waded sections and worked our way through the labyrinth. Still deep water blocked our way.

“Well, we have two choices,” I said to the Lady.
“And I know what they are,” she answered.
“Yup,” I continued. “We can work our way back out of here, return to the beach, and frolic along the surf as we return to camp.” 
The Lady continued, “Or we can take off all our clothes, swim the river, and then see if we can work our way up that bluff, and then maybe we can reach the lighthouse.”
“Want to get naked and wet?” I asked.
“You first,” she said with a smile.

We kept our clothes on and worked our way back down the estuary and to the beach, abandoning our quest for the lighthouse. We headed north. We found other people out on the beach about half way back. We decided to follow the trail to check out the access point they had used. The trail wandered through the dunes for about a half mile. It was interesting rolling terrain with the dunes covered with thick grass.

We found the parking area and hiked the narrow road out to Highway 1. Here we headed north and walked through the small town of Manchester. The blacksmith shop was closed. I enjoyed the fly fishing theme.

We completed our long circle, reached camp and found the Teds relaxing, returned from their foray through Mendocino. Ted announced he had acquired the necessary “props.”
“You’ll find out when the time is right,” was his only answer to our insistent questions.

Mrs. Ted relaxed with her book and Ted relaxed with an old friend.

Ted is a connoisseur of fine beer and wine. He knows his stuff. His palate is very discriminating. I, on the other hand, am a common sewer of fine coffee, a ruffian among the educated gentry. “Fruity overtones with a deep roasted flavor,” gets me by as a passable critique with the proper furrow of my brow.

“The Elder is hoppy, very hoppy with a bitter finish. It’s definitely an acquired taste,” Ted said as he held the bottle up and stared through the exquisite liquid remaining. He knows his stuff.  The Lady and I sat sipping our hot afternoon coffee. A hint of Manchester’s usual weather had moved in, clouds, fog, and wind. We listened with rapt attention as Ted educated us, we the lowly scallywags, and then surprising us he announced, “It’s time!” We dared not move. The props were being revealed!

What a great idea! Ted was taking us all back to our childhoods.

Ted assembled the Balsa Goose as I put together the Balsa Baron.

With a stiff wind off of the ocean, conditions were not the best for flight. Undaunted we launched our fleet. The Balsa Baron, bucking a serious headwind, looped upward and then back, and sailed off with the wind at its back. It barely survived its less than graceful landing. Ted’s Balsa Goose bucked skyward against the headwind and spiraled back to earth.

Mrs. Ted worked with her camera, photo documenting the occasion, and keeping her head down. The Lady took over control of the Baron. Ted continued with the Goose. The small planes fought hard repeatedly for just a moment of free guiding flight, to no avail. The Lady’s Baron plunged into thick foliage, decapitating the brave test pilot. “Maybe it’s more aerodynamic now!” the Lady said as the little Baron was again sent aloft. Ted had disappeared. He returned with an even bigger surprise. We were going to enter the realm of powered flight!

“You have to keep turning the prop until the rubber band is double knotted its whole length. I remember that much!” Ted explained.

“Soar with the vultures!” I cried as I launched the Winged Wonder. Ted launched the Spirit of Manchester and yelled, “Join the eagles!”

The Winged Wonder flew straight up, stalled momentary, and then leveled off and flew straight with the wind at its back. It almost looked like a real landing. “By god the box says, ‘Can fly for 50 feet’. I wish I had my tape measure. I bet that was more than fifty feet!” I was thrilled.

Ted’s Spirit of Manchester fought hard for altitude, turned, and found refuge in the nearby cypress.

Ted worked hard on its rescue.

For many happy minutes the sky was alive with flight. Afterward, we were exhausted. All that was left for us to do was to fill out the stacks of required NTSB accident reports. Ted said I had done pretty well with my planes. Ted was a bit hard on himself, I thought. I felt he had handled challenging conditions pretty well. What his planes lacked in actual flying time was more than made up for with spectacular crashes. The picnic table became our aircraft carrier with The Elder on the bridge.

After dinner we walked about the campground. It slowly filled. Sunday morning was a time for a leisurely breakfast. We all wanted just to hang out, walk the beach, get more sand between our toes.

We headed north toward Alder Creek.

The weather was incredible, warm and clear. Ted was happy, happy, happy.

We stopped for a break. Ted pulled out a bottle.

“Water?” I asked. “You drink water?”
“Yes I do. And this is good water with a hint of earthy overtones and just a kiss of chlorine aftertaste.”

The women moved further ahead of us. If need be, they could claim they were not with us.

We planted kelp on the beach. Ted worked on his beach combing dance moves. The women moved even further ahead.

We reached Alder Creek. Its access to the sea was blocked by a large spit of sand. The Teds investigated the area. The Lady and I got comfortable, our backs against a small driftwood log. We fell asleep. It was a great way to relax and let time pass. Gulls socialized.

The fog had rolled in as we lingered. We decided to head back toward camp.

Earlier in the day, as we were walking up the beach, Ted and I had tried to roll a massive water logged round of redwood down into the surf. We failed. As we were returning, two women had managed to move it several rolls toward the ocean. Mrs. Ted and the Lady joined them. “Girl power!” they all shouted.

It was a noble effort but the hunk of redwood remains in place, waiting for the tide.

We returned to the beach access point and were amazed at the number of people. The skies had again cleared.

The Teds wandered back to camp. The Lady and I sat and watched the surf and the people. The fog moved further off shore promising a wonderful clear evening and night. We returned to camp.

We relaxed, shared stories, dined. The connoisseur connoisseured.

The Lady and I walked down to the beach to watch the sunset.

Darkness settled in back at camp. I tried a couple long exposures of the distant Point Arena Lighthouse.

We said goodbye to our wonderful companions, the Teds, early the next morning. We had around a five hour drive home. We also had a few spots we wanted to investigate. First we headed north to the Navarro River and then turned back south on Highway 1. We did get closer to Point Arena Lighthouse.

And we enjoyed the rugged coastline.

It had been a really nice getaway.

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