Moss Beach Part 2: A Girlfriend Visits

In my world, there are friends and then there are girlfriends. Girlfriends are what make cookies taste better, the sun shine brighter, and bad days seem not so bad. I wouldn’t call it their job, but rather their effect. Like the moon’s gravitational pull on the ocean, I can’t resist an opportunity to see a girlfriend when one presents itself. Through an exchange of emails with my girlfriend Nan (who lives in Minnesota) about whatever it was we were talking about at the time, I learned she was going to be in San Fran for work just a day before my arrival into Moss Beach, which is a mere 20-minute drive away. So I added a day onto the beginning of my Thoughtful Travel Adventure and invited her to join me for a couple of days.

I love Nan for many reasons. She is one of the sweetest and most positive people I know. She’s also one of a very few people who can make me laugh so hard, I can’t breathe and have tears running down my face (my mom is another such person, believe it or not). She’s incredibly smart, she’s a great mom to her two boys, she’ll eat anything, and she likes outdoor adventures as much as I do. I knew when she joined me, I wasn’t going to have to change my plans at all; she would simply come along for the ride and love every minute of it.

Nan above Gray Whale Cove Beach

I picked up Nan late, late Thursday night, in a heavy fog that made driving 2 mph seem like a wild ride. Add to it a light mist, extreme dark (no road lights), and the curvy, one-lane road that makes up Hwy 1 and you’ve got for some serious white-knuckle driving. By the time we got back to the cottage, we both gulped down some wine and ended up chatting for hours. As usual. Our first night together, wherever we meet up, always seems to go that way…wine and talking, wine and talking.

Gray Whale Cove Beach

The next morning, under a heavy marine layer and gray skies, we jumped in the car and drove a few miles north to Gray Whale Cove. There, we walked the beach and then took a short, but wildflower rich, hike along the bluff. I think we were both stunned by the number of wildflowers not only in bloom but in diversity. So many different colors and around each bend was something new. Reds, blues, violets, oranges, greens, whites, browns, yellows…I’m not exaggerating when I say there was more than the mind could behold. The path was a little bit, shall we say overgrown, and we both came back damp (okay, more like sopping wet) and with pollen on us from head to toe, but it was worth it.

Gray Whale Cove Bluff Trail Wildflowers

After Gray Whale Cove, we headed south on Hwy 1 to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. There, we were greeted by the sun just in time for a little picnic lunch. Nan and I refuse to talk about the bathroom situation there. Don’t even ask us. All I have to say is that the state of California is bankrupt and apparently we are trying to save money by closing down bathrooms with indoor plumbing, putting out port-o-potties, and then only emptying those port-o-potties once-a-month. Please…stop talking about it! I’ll start gagging again.

Piegon Point Lighthouse

BESIDES that though, we had a lovely, lovely picnic lunch, soaked up the sun, and took in the peaceful views…waves hitting rocks, sea lions and dolphins swimming by, pelicans and gulls flying above us while cormorants floated on the water below, and a beautiful shoreline occupying our gaze.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Lunch With Nan

Back on the road heading toward home, Nan and I made a quick stop off at Bean Hollow Beach, a place that caught my eye on my drive up the day before…which is something to be said after you’ve been driving for seven hours and just want to get to your little cottage only 25 minutes away.

Nan looks out at the ocean from Bean Hollow Beach.

Bean Hollow turned out to be just as cool as I thought it was going to be…rocky shores (which makes for good tidepooling) and riddled with “tafoni,” better known as “honeycomb rock.” I liked Bean Hollow so much, I would return to it later in the week for another wonderful time (more on that later).

Bean Hollow Tafoni Face

The next morning, Nan and I bopped down to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve (FMR) and I introduced her to tidepooling.

Sea Anemone Eats Crab at FRM

I’m always amazed when someone tells me they’ve never been tidepooling before. Especially someone like Nan, who enjoys the outdoors so much. Having experienced a tidepool is like watching a sunset…I assume everyone has done it at least once in their lives. But apparently not. Of course, that didn’t stop Nan from jumping in and following my lead: carefully walking on algae-topped rocks toward a pool of water, squating down, peering in, and…discovering! She caught on real quick (I told you she was smart) and then became HOOKED. That’s what tidepooling will do to you. What seems benign suddenly turns into obsession. You can’t stop scanning for pools. You can’t stop yourself from wanting to look in every single one of them. You can’t simply ignore someone’s excited squeal—you have to go over and see what they found. You can’t help but want to learn to identify everything. You can’t help but want to show the world a great find. You can’t help cursing the tide as it comes in and cuts off your tidepooling time. You can’t help wanting to shoot the idiot who picks up a star fish and carries it away (a BIG no-no in the world of tidepooling…NEVER remove a single thing!! Not a single shell. Not even a rock. Never. Ever. Never.). You can’t help but fall in love with every bizarre, ugly-looking creature. You just can’t help it.

Nan Tidepooling at the FMR

Next thing I know, Nan’s off exploring her own set of tidepools when she hollers, “Hey, Barb! Come look at this!” I walk over and there, right before us, is what would turn out to be the BEST FIND of the trip: a sunflower star!!

Sunflower Star

I had never seen a sunflower star before. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed, so it was a delightful surprise and learning experience. I can still close my eyes and be right back there.

Sunflower Star Beautiful Color

And that is one of the benefits of tidepooling with a buddy: you can cover much more territory and you double your chances of finding something cool. And sometimes they see something that you don’t even though you’re looking in the same pool. People bring their own perspective to whatever it is they are doing and that impacts what you see, both literally and metaphorically. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed being with Nan so much on this trip. I liked watching her get totally absorbed in the ocean. It made me happy to hear her mention several times how much she loved the sound of the waves. I was thrilled to see her immediately—and intuitively—GET the fun of tidepooling. I loved it when she was in awe of the flora we were surrounded by. Sharing in those experiences with her in the first few days of my Thoughtful Travel Adventure, even though they are similar to the ones I have nearly every time I visit the central and northern coast of California, really set the tone for the rest of the trip. It was hard NOT TO be enthusiastic right along with her. From the very beginning, I was conditioned to see things anew, over and over again. What a wonderful gift that was.

Pinkish Bat Star at FMR

After tidepooling, Nan and I made our way back up to street level and walked the side streets high above the ocean until we got to the Moss Beach Land Preserve. There, we meandered along beautiful trails that took us through native chaparral and the bluffs right above the famous surfing beach, Mavericks. We saw colorful birds and more blooming wildflowers. I loved this Preserve and its trails so much, it would become my regular late-afternoon walk for the rest of the week.

After the walk, Nan and I had a quick lunch back at the cottage before we dashed off to the airport for her flight back home to Minnesota. Five minutes after dropping Nan off (and two circles around the airport later), Emmett jumped in my car. He had flown up for a quick, 30-hour visit!

Next up: Part 3 – A Husband Visits (which involves full-moon kayaking, more tidepooling, and an inland hike).