When I think of going on a vacation, I envision sipping margaritas while lounging by a pool and reading something “lite”, something so breezy that silly spellings like lite are liberally sprinkled on each page and I take no offense.
Traveling on my own, I can do exactly that. There is no one else’s itinerary. I don't have to tactfully explain why lining up for thirty minutes for free cheese samples would not be "fun". I don’t even have to defend why I am holding a copy of a Candace Bushnell novel or the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly or, gasp, The National Enquirer (let’s assume someone else left it behind on the neighboring chaise lounge).
Of course, the last time I had a kind of lounge-by-the-pool-and-pretend-the-sunglasses-make-me-look-like-somebody-famous vacation was spring break, 1985, in Puerto Vallarta. I just don't do that anymore. Maybe it's because I know it would take much more than some fine eyewear to make anyone mistake me for a celebrity. More likely, it’s because the margaritas on my one and only Mexican vacation led to illness like I’ve never experienced. (Yes, my mother had warned, “Don’t drink the water.” I assumed freezing it was the same as boiling it. And how did I get an A in high school Chemistry?!) I lost ten pounds that week, but the sacrifice was too great.
My vacations tend to involve too much driving, not enough sleep and an overused VISA, this latest jaunt being no exception. I booked one night in Bellingham, Washington, two in Portland and one in Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast. Half my suitcase was filled with workout wear: in case I find a pool to swim laps (tanning and lounging lost its appeal after a string of skin cancer procedures), in case I rent a bike, in case I find a gym.
I did none of those things. But I needed some sort of exercise to serve as penance for my ice cream indulgences. Portland has five Ben & Jerry’s! And, for some inane reason, you can’t buy Häagen-Dazs’ Bananas Foster flavor in Canada. My Member of Parliament has yet to respond to my request for assistance in this matter. An aide mentioned something about a global financial crisis. Priorities, people!
So I did my least favorite form of exercise. I jogged. For a change, it wasn’t a miserable slog whereby I pass the time counting blue cars just because a song tells me to or contemplating what kind of tattoo I’d get (and where) if I ever drank THAT much (and, specifically because of that worry, I never will). Three different places, three unique experiences.
In Bellingham, I stayed at a small hotel in the historic Fairhaven district, well removed from hideous outlet malls and Olive Gardens. Three blocks away marked the beginning of the Interurban Trail, a fully shaded pathway for walkers, joggers and bikers. I ran until I came to a marker for Teddy Bear Cove which caused me to cross the scenic Chuckanut Drive and railway tracks to the water’s edge where I had the view to myself. On the return run, I proved that I still have not overcome my sense of direction challenges. Where did that road come from?! Is it possible that I didn’t pay attention to this wooden bridge? The bright side: I extended my run. I returned to the hotel feeling exhilarated and not having counted cars of any color.
After a groggy day of shopping in Portland (see previous post), I revived myself by walking ten blocks to the Willamette River and then jogging on both sides, crossing on a former railway bridge, continuing on a floating bridge, passing small homeless encampments under other bridges and finding narrow dirt pathways where tall grasses tickled my calves. Again, the return route proved surprising. When did they put the Portland Opera building there? Do they add dead ends after 8 p.m.? I’m sure I annoyed a few joggers as I passed them, took an unexpected detour and passed them again. I was just really happy to see them again!
The noise outside my hotel room in Lincoln City may have been just as loud as the bar frenzy across the street from my quarters at the Ace Hotel in Portland, but the constant crashing of ocean waves calmed me more than any poolside margarita. Normally I jog once or twice a week maximum when I can’t conjure up an excuse to stay in and watch THIS or THIS. But on this trip, I became one of those crazed runners—except without the bright red designer gear and the pedometer/timer gadget affixed to a shirt sleeve. I was compelled to put on my sneakers again, even as the blisters between and at the bottom of my toes begged me to give it a rest. (Blisters speak in teeny tiny voices that, while grating, can be easily tuned out.)
As other beachgoers strolled and crouched to admire starfish clinging to rocks or to grab another beer from the cooler, I ran along the shoreline. I took in the sea air, viewed the soaring gulls (wary that they may find the dude below in the neon green shirt and easy target) and watched the sun go down—not a technically perfect sunset due to the low clouds, but still pleasing. Fortunately, the route was rather simple, allowing for a straight return leg (other than one foray onto a sand bar). With the sun fading, the people cleared, a good thing since my stride became jerky as I looked down and realized that sand fleas were hopping all over the beach.
How many had I unceremoniously squashed?
How many could I spare?
I tried to gaze out at the ocean and block any thoughts of the little critters, but I couldn’t get them off my radar.
Today I’m home again. In a few moments, I’ll drive to the gym, embarrass myself through a weight routine and then wind down on the treadmill. If I count vehicles that pass outside, I’m thinking pickup trucks will keep me more engaged than blue cars. But if I allow myself to imagine, I’ll be back on vacation, not at a pool, but on a wooded trail, along an urban river expanse or on a beach where little critters dig tiny holes and seek refuge before my arrival.
A good vacation lingers.