A whale of a time: Travels with Tom |

With my home town of Flagstaff ablaze, it is strange to be 800 miles away, amid green, wet forests north of San Francisco. In just a month or two, however, the lush pine needles and leaves here may be browner, the winds stronger and the fire hazards higher. From the road in my camper van, my heart goes out to the east-Flagstaff residents who lost their homes in the tunnel fire.

This past month, I’ve been privileged to go on a three-week road trip with my older brother Tom. We’ve mixed camping, visiting relatives and friends, making coffee and meals in my van, and hiking, hiking, hiking. Our long walks included public lands, parks and on beaches, as well as urban landscapes.

One day in San Francisco, my older son walked us up and down that city’s hills, into the wooded areas as well as the city streets. He wanted to share with us a half dozen views of the city. One particular day, my Apple Watch exercise app reported I’d done 1,100 percent of my daily goal. My calves talked to me that night, but my mind’s eye kept seeing the incredible views of the Golden Gate City. The next day I was down to a paltry 300 percent.

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The best thing about the trip is having such concentrated time with my brother — free to have slow conversations, compare notes on family experiences, and listen to a book or ball game together.

“Have you two ever hung out together over this much time?” one of our friends asked. The answer is no. I have not had this kind of travel time with any of my siblings one-on-one, and it has been years since I have traveled extensively with my children or a partner.

And while he and I have different personalities — he’s patient to my high energy, I’m organized to his frequently leaving things behind, he may be more compassionate than I — we get along well. I did bug him about gazing at his phone more than the scenery, and he got on my case for getting on his.

We got to visit with both my sons, which filled me up, of course, as well as another brother, a niece and her husband, and old friends.

One night we popped into a restaurant close to our campsite at Samuel Taylor Campground near Petaluma. Instead of cooking, we intended to grab a light supper outside, before returning to our campsite from our day of hiking. Instead, when we saw the Phoenix Suns game was on the TV, we plopped ourselves at the bar, and tucked into cioppino, beer, and basketball.

While much of Highway 1 is stunning, a scenic highlight was the Point Reyes National Seashore, on the coast. In the deep blue ocean, we saw spouting whales, elephant seals, California sea lions, and nearby a herd ofantlered elk, deer, voles, and dozens of birds from eagles to hawks to murres (think penguins). In cities and campgrounds we also saw so many dogs. I left mine behind in Flag, given that we planned to hike where canines were not allowed. Initially I felt a bit badly about Maxx staying home. That is, until my dog-sitter started texting me photos of her walks with him — at Buffalo Park, in Sedona, in the Kachina Wetlands, on the San Francisco Peaks, and even at the Grand Canyon. He does not wear an Apple Watch (yet), but I believe his daily rings would have been closing many times over. When I get home, he may have decided I am a slug.

Oh, and Tom and I saw a huge yellow banana slug — somehow cute and big at the same time.

Being in such varied, and seeing people living their different wildlife lives, is a way to feel connected, and in the moment. While the world is a mess in so many ways, it’s grounding to find gorgeous wild places not all that far from home.

Happy May Day/International Workers’ Day!

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