Photo of the month

Ahhhh! This is the life. Ben's got his toes in the sand, the sun and the waves, a drink at the ready, and most important his Gameboy Advance. It's a balmy Wednesday afternoon by Monterey Bay and we've got the beach almost all to ourselves. Photo by Glenn.

May 2004

The Monterey Beach Hotel stands prominently along Monterey Bay on May 4, our first day in town. As you can see, the strand is pretty empty this time of day. That's why we're here! Photo by Glenn.

Roni enjoys the sea breeze while Ben keeps his eyes to the sand in search of beach treasures. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is framed by one of the weep holes in the hotel's wave wall. The tide is just starting to come in. Photo by Glenn.

Here is our campsite along the beach. Roni picked up three folding camp chairs especially for this trip. Nothing to do but relax. Photo by Glenn.

Ben lets the wind do the work as he plays with the buddle soap we brought with us. The wind lofted the bubbles four stories over the hotel's roof. Photo by Glenn.

Look, I found a dollar! A sand dollar, that is. And it was in one piece, too. Photo by Glenn.

Roni soaks up the sun along with a summer romance novel. Photo by Glenn.

Even Glenn has a smile on his face this Tuesday. This sure beats work. Photo by Roni.

Ben poses alongside the sand castle he and Dad constructed. The moat in the middle was inteded to be functional, as the waves were starting to encroach on our camp. Photo by Glenn.

One of the little shore birds that were in abundance along the bay. We chased this guy a long way to get this shot. Photo by Glenn.

A photo hardly does justice to the acres of purple flowers carpeting the shoreline in Pacific Grove, one of our first stops Wednesday on Day 2 of our adventure. Photo by Roni.

Ben shops for postcards in one of the gift shops on Fisherman's Wharf. Taking after his dad. Photo by Glenn.

Ben and Roni watch the sea lions play in the shallows near the marina. It's about time for our clam chowder lunch. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn offers some flight instruction to Ben as they play with a large foam glider on the beach near the hotel. The plane met an untimely demise in stiff winds the following day. Photo by Roni.

Self-portrait time. That's Ben playing in the surf in the background. Man, the large crowds at this place are just driving us nuts. <g> Photo by Glenn.

A typically gorgeous California sunset casts a gentle light over the fishing boats and pleasure craft returning from a day on Monterey Bay. Photo by Glenn.

The last rays of Wednesday's sunlight create a dramatic backdrop for this portrait of Roni and Ben taken on the hotel's third floor balcony. Photo by Glenn.

All this relaxation is enough to wear out anyone. Ben is out for the night after a full day. Photo by Glenn.

Thursday afternoon finds us at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the entrance to the Pfeiffer Falls trail. Ben and Mom check out the directional signs. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn enjoys the view from one of the foot bridges on our hike. Photo by Roni.

Some of the burned-out redwoods along the trail are large enough to swallow a kid whole. Ben discovers how much fun it is to explore the cave-like formations. Photo by Glenn.

Now it's Roni's turn for a bridge shot. We must have crossed five bridges on this half-mile hike. Photo by Glenn.

Our intrepid hiker takes a break on a rock in front of Pfeiffer Falls. Reaching the end of the trail is its own reward. Photo by Roni.

Just me and my shadow... Looking down from the third floor, it appears that Ben is helping nature wear down the sand while at the same time wearing down himself. Photo by Glenn.

Thursday turned cool and windy, which is evident from the sand drifts that stretched across our beach. The temperature dip didn't stop Ben from playing in the surf. Photo by Glenn.

Our final night in the hotel, so it was now or never for some night photography. This 8-second shot is looking southwest at the Monterey skyline. Photo by Glenn.

The black sea pounds away at our beach on Thursday night. We could hear the waves from our room on the other side of the hotel. Photo by Glenn.

Just thought this shot was cool. What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming was still gallantly streaming 24/7 outside the hotel, illuminated by a powerful footlight. Photo by Glenn.

This is Sly McFly's Refueling Station, where we ate lunch Friday on Cannery Row. Photo by Glenn.

The thrill of victory... Ben celebrates after hitting the 10,000-point hole in a game of skee ball. Photo by Glenn.

Back at home, brother Sean joined Glenn for his first taste of Saturday night dirt track racing at the Antioch Speedway. Photo by Glenn.

The dirt modifieds round turn 4 during early heat races May 8 at the speedway. Photo by Glenn.

Welcome to our cluttered garage. Roni (barely visible in the far middle of this shot) wonders where to begin as she surveys the mess in preparation for Oakley's semiannual cleanup day. We barely scratched the surface. Photo by Glenn.

Ben has a little trouble extinguishing the candles on his birthday cake May 2. Hey, he's hit the big one-oh, and that takes a lot of lung power. Photo by Glenn.

Is that a look of pure joy or what? Ben celebrates as he receives the Megaman Gameboy Advance game he really wanted for his birthday. Photo by Glenn.

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On the coast of somewhere beautiful

May 16, 2004

There's nothing like a vacation that falls right when you really need one. Such was the case with our recent adventure in Monterey, which gave us a break from the stresses of life in the 'burbs in the form of four days and three nights on the white sand beaches of Monterey Bay. Because things are pretty busy for the Gehlkes this month, we'll treat you to a condensed version of the travelogue compiled during our visit:

Tuesday, May 4 — We planned this trip a few months ago. In October of 2002, if you really want to be precise. Back then we had spent a couple of nights at The Beach Resort in Seaside, a Best Western hotel that is right on the beach at Monterey Bay. It turned out to be a great selection on Roni's part, and the stay was one of our unexpected travel treats. Needless to say, when we got the "preferred customer" postcard in the mail last fall offering off-season rates, we both agreed that a return visit was in order. So we booked a room for three nights, with no plans other than to spend some time on the beach and simply relax and enjoy ourselves.

Monterey turned out to be the perfect trip us. Because it is only about 130 miles from home there was no need to jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and drive for hours to reach our destination. In fact, our pace today was lazy more than leisurely.
Roni spent most of yesterday packing and house cleaning so we'd be generally prepared. We scraped together our clothes, cameras, music and computer equipment this morning and said goodbye to the cats shortly before noon. We made a more-or-less straight shot from Oakley to Monterey, all the while keeping entertained by listening to a disk of country music MP3s. At more than seven hours to play the entire disk once, we figured that ought to give us enough variety until we returned home.

By the time we found Highway 1 and ventured into Seaside it was close to 3 p.m. We were thankful we'd missed rush hour, but were surprised to see the hotel parking lot so crowded for midweek. Apparently we were not the only ones taking the place up on its special rates. They put us in Room 343, from which we have a view of scenic Highway 1 as opposed to the ocean. For an extra 50 bucks a night we could have overlooked the water, but we can basically just walk around the corner and down a hallway to get to the beach.

We made our first visit to the beach at 4 p.m. The weather here is simply gorgeous, with clear skies and temperatures hovering around the mid-60s. There was a light sea breeze, but not enough to make you run for sweaters. Ben wasted no time ditching his sandals and making right for the water's edge. We stayed well back from the waves, even though Ben made a point of kicking water at us every time we strayed too near to where he was daring the surf. We walked perhaps a quarter mile along the beach toward Monterey, passing a lot of other folks out for afternoon walks with their kids and dogs. The tide was coming in and ultimately found Ben enough times that he was pretty well soaked before we turned back toward the hotel.

Roni brought along three foldup canvas chairs, which we pulled out along with a frisbee and some sand toys. We spread a beach blanket and set up the chairs around it. We kicked back while Ben grabbed his pail and shovel and started building sandcastles and searching for sand crabs. He caught a fairly good-sized crab with his sand shovel and brought it back to show us. We're not sure how he managed to catch it, since they are plenty fast diggers and he didn't know what he was looking for. But he must have been in the right place at the right time.

After Ben had played on his own awhile, he and Dad worked on building a castle fortress around our beach blanket. The tide was coming in and sneaking up on our camp. It would only be a matter of time before a big wave drenched us. When the temperature had dropped enough to become uncomfortable, we went back up to the room, relaxed and happy, if also perhaps a bit wind-blown. Too tired to go out again, we ordered dinner from Pizza Hut.

Wednesday, May 5 — It is loud here tonight at the hotel, and not because of the waves splashing on the white sand beach. They were doing karaoke night at the hotel lounge, which happens to be one floor up and one building over from us. Sound travels pretty good in hotels anyway, but when you get a roomful of people cheering on tone-deaf performers it makes for some interesting entertainment for the rest of the guests. We were serenaded by crooners butchering such classics as "Dock of the Bay," "La Bamba," "Material Girl" and "Hey Jude" from about 8 to 11 p.m. No wonder they have to offer cut rates to get folks to stay here during the week!

Our day began leisurely enough. We awoke around 8:30 and ventured upstairs to the Cafe Beach for a continental breakfast. The cafe had a nice view of the bay, so we looked out while we waited for our meal and watched the seals (or were they otters?) playing in the surf. It was a cool morning with a light fog that burned off by the time we were done eating. We took a walk along the strand and let Ben work off some of his energy. He did his best to keep his clothes dry. There weren't many people out this morning, so the beach was in relatively pristine shape. Our sandcastle from yesterday was a lost memory.

After the walk, we hopped back in my car and did some sightseeing. We took Highway 1 into Monterey and cruised through downtown, trying to avoid Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row until later. We wound up in Pacific Grove where the town's famous purple carpet of miniature ice plants was in full bloom. What a sight all those hillsides are covered with purple flowers. We got out for some photos but didn't stay too long. Next it was on to the Point Pinos lighthouse, which naturally was closed. Not a great loss. The trip was made worthwhile when Roni spotted a deer grazing near the 10th green of the municipal golf course. We had never seen such a sight, so naturally we tried to grab photos. The deer and a gaggle of Canada geese seemed very comfortable around the duffers and their flying golf balls—more so than we were.

We headed on over to Fisherman's Wharf for lunch. All we wanted was clam chowder in a bread bowl. It used to be you could just walk up to any of several vendors, purchase the food and be on your way. Now most of the chowder houses want you to dine in, which really serves no purpose except to charge higher prices for "indoor dining." We spent close to $20 for two bread bowls and a cup of chowder without any drinks. Roni pointed out that the wharf is changing to more of a fancy fish restaurant layout with fewer souvenir shops. There are still a fair number of the latter, but it is different than a few years ago when we used to visit.

Back at the hotel, Glenn took a nap while Roni and Ben went down to the beach.
When Glenn came down to join us at 3:30, Ben was having quite a ball building sand structures and dodging the waves. He brought down a big Styrofoam glider that we picked up from Toys R Us this week and put it together down on the beach. The wind was stout enough that it nearly ripped the plane from his hands as he was preparing to launch it. Ben had trouble sending it off without crash landings, but Glenn was able to master its aerodynamics (somewhat) and lofted it for a few long flights off the shoreline. The wind caught it one time and took it over the hotel's wave wall, forcing Glenn to go upstairs and retrieve it.

We all caught quite a bit of sun today. The glare was more intense than yesterday, even as the weather was a few degrees cooler. Roni got the worst of it and had a beet-red face by the time she came up to the room for the evening. Glenn got a milder burn. Ben seems to have escaped burns, but that is probably more due to the sunscreen Roni put on him than anything else. His cheeks were rosy where the sunscreen didn't get on thick enough.

We decided we'd had enough eating out for today, so we ordered Pizza Hut delivery for the second night in a row. Coupons are a wonderful thing. We ordered a side salad with it, which was delivered to us in a plastic bag without plates or eating utensils. Guess they figure you've got it covered if you are ordering from a hotel. The delivery gal got us some plates from one of the hotel restaurants—probably the same one hosting the karaoke night.

There was a nice sunset tonight so we snapped several pictures.

Thursday, May 6 — The waves are pretty loud tonight, and even though our room faces away from the beach we can hear the surf pounding away. There were storm clouds lurking off the coast this afternoon and the temperature had dropped a few degrees with the wind picking up considerably. It is hard to believe that the past couple of days we had such gorgeous weather.

We had breakfast at the Cafe Beach again, then we bugged out of the hotel and drove down Highway 1 to Big Sur, which is something Glenn had been interested in doing to add some variety to the trip. There is only so long you can sit on the beach and watch the tide roll in, as pretty as it might be. We enjoyed the 26-mile scenic beach drive down Highway 1, reaching Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park around noon. From the general store we drove up to the Pfieffer Falls trailhead, which from the map looked to be a fairly simple hike through the woods. Ben was reluctant at first, but once we got him started he was blazing the trail through the redwoods for us. We had a pleasant walk about a half mile up a semi grade through heavy woods lined with a river and banks covered in clover. There were several other hikers on the path, so it was not so convenient to stop and linger at various points along the way. We made use of the benches and fallen trees where we found them, as none of us is conditioned well for hiking.

Ben enjoyed the burned-out chimney trees that are there in abundance. He overcame his initial fear of encountering mountain lions to stand inside the hollow stumps and, at one point, crawl through a blackened log from one end to the other. Glenn recalled doing much the same kind of stuff years ago. It was great just getting out and exploring nature with Ben. The trail ended at the base of Pfieffer Falls, which wasn't all that majestic as far as falls go, but the point was we'd made it there. Roni got plenty of photos, and Ben was all ready to take the next fork in the trail when we had to disappoint him because it was time to head back. It was enough of a hike for one day.

Ben could hardly wait for when we arrived back at the hotel so he could get down to the beach one last time. Ben was having a ball with the Styrofoam plane this afternoon, but unfortunately the wind was too strong and the plane got whipped around one too many times, eventually snapping at the point where the wings are held in place. It was like watching a passenger jet crash on the tarmac, all the wings and fuselage going their separate ways. Roni went back up to the room for a bit while Ben and Glenn continued to play in the surf, but it was too darned cold to sit comfortably for long. At one point Ben got caught by a wave and was thoroughly soaked and shivering, so we took that as our cue to return to the room.

After we got him showered off we decided it was time for dinner. Not just any dinner, but fish. It was something that Roni had been looking forward to for the entire vacation. We drove in to Monterey and back to Fisherman's Wharf, where Roni had already decided she wanted to eat at the Fisherman's Grotto. Roni ordered a calamari eggplant parmesan dish, Ben got a half-order of shrip Louie, and Glenn ordered filet of sole. They served us bread as appetizers, which Ben scarfed down. It was very good. But while we were waiting for our dinners Roni accidently upset her glass of ice water and spilled it all over the table. The waiter came to help us mop up, and in the process he spilled Glenn's glass. So now our table was thoroughly drenched. It was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit! But no real harm done.

Friday, May 7 — We checked out of the hotel around 11 a.m. after making a couple last sweeps of the room for things that got left under the bed. This place was busy the whole time of our stay, with maids and janitors coming and going, a guy power-washing the walkways and a painter stripping the stucco over the check-in lane outside the hotel lobby. You sort of feel spoiled after three days of having people wait on you.

We decided to forgo the continental breakfast for a third day in favor of breakfast somewhere along Cannery Row. But by the time we got there and settled on a parking spot it was already 11:30 and almost time for lunch. We strolled past the boutiques for a bit before heading into Sly McFly's restaurant, which presented itself as family-style dining yet seemed more like a sports bar. Glenn had a turkey sandwich, while Roni ordered a calamari sandwich and Ben ordered a hamburger. Notice we didn't say he actually ate the hamburger, which he decided was burned (it was charbroiled) and not edible. Glenn tasted it and said it was fine, although Ben said it tasted just like Dad's barbecue burgers. Ouch.

After lunch we went to a large arcade on the Row that was filled with video games and Ben couldn't wait to go to 'em. We bought $5 worth of credits and he spent most of it on skee ball. That kid could be a baseball pitcher the way he was firing those balls up the alley. We cashed in his winnings at the prize counter and then checked out of our metered parking spot, having stayed a tad longer than two hours. We visited a couple of used book stores for Roni before stopping starting the long drive for home around 2:30. After three days of beach fun and with our sunburns, none of us was too disappointed to hit the road for home. Ben had wanted to leave even before Cannery Row, saying he was desperate to see his cat Eevee.

Traffic on Highway 1 and Highway 17 was a bear. This being Friday afternoon, not only did we get the commuters but also the weekenders. The grind over the Sunol Grade on Interstate 680 was enough to convince us that we never ever want to have to take a job in Silicon Valley that forces us to make that commute. Eventually we made it past the bottlenecks and into Livermore on I-580. We stopped for dinner at Applebee's restaurant and tried to kill some time before getting back on the road in the commute mess. We even had dessert that the three of us shared. We are so sick of restaurant food after the past four days that we don't want to look at it again for a while.

It was a good trip overall. Not the restful experience that we really hoped for, but certainly a change of scenery that was worth the price and that we would do again.

* * *

While vacation occupied most of our time (and money!) this month, there were some other activities. On May 2, we welcomed Ben's arrival to double-digithood. The highlight of his 10th birthday was when he received the "Megaman Network Transmission" GameCube game and "Megaman Battle Network 3 White" for his Gameboy Advance. (Yes, Megaman is Ben's latest video craze.) We took him out for a salad bar dinner at the new Sizzler in Antioch.

On returning from Monterey, we spent Saturday and Sunday morning cleaning up the garage in preparation for Oakley's semiannual garbage pickup day. Unfortunately, with all the restrictions the garbage company places on what can be tossed, the garage is still pretty cluttered. We are considering hiring a hauling service to take away a decade's worth of old electronics and appliances that have outgrown their space.

Glenn's brother, Sean, came to visit May 8 and the two of them went to check out the action at the Antioch Speedway.

Finally, both of us have been writing in earnest lately. Roni has picked up additional correspondence assignments thanks to vacation schedules at the newspapers she writes for. Glenn has been burning the midnight oil revising the manuscript of the NaNoWriMo novel he wrote in November 2002, saying he recently found a new burst of inspiration. Now that our PG&E bills have dropped by half since the arrival of the new refrigerator, spending a little extra on the "midnight oil" shouldn't set us back too much.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Wednesday, June 16, 2004 at 01:14 hrs.

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