Dateline: August 3, 2013 – Orick, California
Road trips have formed the inspiration for countless adventure and “buddy” movies. Who could ever forget the classics – The Road to Rio … Easy Rider … Harold and Kumar … Harold and Maude.
It was late when I wrote this. It all made sense at the time.
Martini Arostegui and I are known to jump into the car at the slightest hint of a species within a day’s drive, and obviously, or not, the road trip I am about to recount must have been successful, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. Or would I? Well, partially. To be truthful, our first road trip of 2013 was a disaster, but luckily, this post is about the second one. In the interest of complete disclosure and getting this above 2000 words, there was also a third trip, which rivaled the first for utter futility. We were one for three, which might be good in baseball or venture capital but is not as good when you are 500 miles from clean underwear. Still, Martini knows the rules. There are no guarantees in fishing, or everyone would do it.
There isn’t much constructive to say about the first trip. We ventured ten hours from home into remote parts of the west that don’t have Burger King, and we did not so much as sniff the fish we were after. The highlight of the trip was my discovering that Martini could walk, for some distance, on his hands.
Now that’s a talent.
Oh, and we saw one of the greatest road signs EVER.
The second road trip happened in August. Over the past two years, Martini and I had put quite a hurting on the local surfperch species, racking up something like 18 records, which was lucky and a whole lot of fun. (Details HERE) But a couple of species had eluded us. One of these, the redtail surfperch, was a vacant world record and apparently abundant on the north coast, about six hours north of San Francisco.
We researched for hours, and through the kindness of some north coast fishermen, we found some promising spots near the tiny town of Orick. (Most notable was the advice from Casey Allen, who you can reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We headed out on a Friday afternoon, full of hope and caffeine. The drive up Highway 101 goes through coastal mountains and redwoods, places full of childhood and adult memories. It was here I saw my first redwood tree, on one of those amazing California summer exploration trips my sister and I used to take with my stepmonster’s parents. They were truly nice people, generous, kind, and mentally stable, which always makes me wonder if you-know-who was adopted.
Of course, once it got dark, my view was reduced to the path of my headlights and occasional glimpses – and smells – of Martini. We should have saved Taco Bell for the last night of the trip. The conversation on these trips leans heavily to fishing, and as the miles rolled by, we consulted on topics ranging from odd species like the silver redhorse, to our upcoming trip to the Bahamas in September, to exotic peacock bass in Suriname, to the Indian Ocean, where we both have a lot of fishing to do. We talked about my chances of an IGFA lifetime achievement award – he thought I would get to 100 records, but he warned me, from his own experience, that the last ten were the hardest. There are very few people in the world who can relate to my level of obsessiveness with fishing, but Martini is not only a kindred spirit, not only someone who can commiserate with me and offer moral support, but who can also teach me a thing or two. Especially about diet. I could have done without that second Burrito Supreme. Even though he’s 22, he is mature and focused well beyond his years – he’s like the older brother I never had.
It was very late when we got to McKinleyville, and even later when we discovered that there were no hotel rooms available there and had to retreat to Eureka, where we did finally find lodging, iffy at best, which required lasting through an awkward moment where the desk clerk and night manager got into a shouting match about whether the room was actually available.
Morning came quickly, and mornings here are cold and foggy. This is a beautiful but desolate place, and as we parked on the windswept beach and walked about a mile south, we wondered if it would all be worth it. As we reached our spot, we pulled out a container of Safeway shrimp. Conventional wisdom calls for digging sand crabs, but Martini has caught numerous records on Safeway shrimp, and I wasn’t worried.
The rods are set up and we are ready to go.
It is always disquieting to cast into the roaring surf. It never seems like anything could be living in there, let alone feeding, yet surfperch can be there in droves. And this time, our target was there. In less than five minutes, Martini pulled up a beautiful one pounder – a world record for him, adding to his remarkable total. There are only two fishermen in the world with more records than Martini, and one of those is his father. (Marty has over 400 and leads the pack by far.) So even with a huge world record count, every one was important for Martini as he tried to join his father at the very top of the scoreboard – imagine being one and two in the world at something with your father.
Martini gets on the scoreboard – one pound and a new world record.
Just as Martini released his catch, I added the species with a smaller fish. I was so thrilled that I didn’t notice my wet feet and the freezing wind.
Steve gets in to the act with species 1227.
Moments later, I landed a larger one that qualified as a record. (Note to the north coast surf fishermen – yes, there are many bigger ones out there. Turn them in!!)
A pound and a quarter of payback for a lot of driving. It was so worth it. 14 records to go. Three years ago, I would have a good idea of where the next 14 would come from, but at this stage, I have no idea.
The mission was accomplished, and we fist-bumped in quiet triumph. Normal, well-adjusted people would have enjoyed the rest of the morning catching large perch in the surf, but hey, it’s us. We raced for the car and drove south to Trinidad, fishing the scenic pier there for any of the coastal species that have eluded us, especially the rock greenling which hates me as much as spearfish hates me or possibly more.
The lighthouse at Trinidad harbor. Gorgeous, but no rock greenling.
After an hour or so, we realized this wasn’t going to work, so we did something stupid. Calculating that if we drove really fast for six hours and didn’t stop for lunch or bathroom breaks, we could barely make Putah Creek at Davis in time for a shot at a Sacramento sucker. We raced out of Trinidad, zoomed our way through the coastal mountains, and arrived at Putah just in time to see a bunch of suckers race by us and not take any of our baits. A philosopher might wonder who the suckers really were.
If my 2013 road trips with Martini had ended here, this would have been a better story, but unfortunately, they did not. Two weeks after the Orick adventure, I messed up on a level that only United Airlines can approach with consistency. Martini wanted to catch a golden trout. Fair enough, I figured. We could re-enact the Cottonwood Death March – (sordid details HERE) – but bring adequate shoes and provisions. So we made the seven-hour drive to Lone Pine, and then the hour-long, terrifying cliff drive to the hiking area.
The beauty of the Eastern Sierra, which we got to appreciate almost undisturbed by fish.
And then, for reasons I will never fully understand, I missed a detail and screwed up on an epic scale. Not realizing there are two trails with “Cottonwood” in the name, I took us up the wrong one, so we went up 5 miles and 2500 feet to Chicken Springs Lake – which contains no trout. That’s a ten mile round trip.
Chicken Springs Lake. Ironically, it has neither springs nor chickens. And definitely no trout.
Luckily, there was a small creek on the trail that held smaller goldens, and it was here Martini added the species and I avoided permanent idiot status.
The fish that saved my bacon.
The Fish Gods paid me back big time – I had gotten a root canal done a few days before this hike, and one of my sinuses got infected. This is a bad thing to discover at altitude. Trust me.
Humbled, I took in the scenery on the seven hour trip home, swearing off golden trout for life. Martini was more than gracious and never mentioned the screwup, but it’s only fair to report it, because I surely would have said something if he took us up the wrong trail. Besides, in less than a month, I would be fishing with him again – 3000 miles to the southeast. And I was praying he would read the map correctly, because if he messed up like I did, we could end up in Haiti.