Thursday, November 19, 2015

Back to My Roots....Back to Monterey!

I love this place!  Love the coastline, of course, but also love the lifestyle and the weather.  I lived here as a child, saw my son get married here and, if I could afford it, I'd live here again.

In 2004 I came to Monterey to visit my son and his then-new girlfriend and to run the Big Sur Half Marathon with him. In some ways it seems like that was only yesterday, but against the accurate and real yardstick of time, it really was a long time ago.  The race was smaller back then, not as sophisticated as it is today and not with all of the "production" value that is part of today's race experience.

Ever since I did that race in 2004 I've wanted to come back and run it again.  So when race registration opened up last spring I signed up and then made my flight plans into San Jose, reserved a rental car, and booked my hotel room at the very nice Monterey Bay Lodge, the same hotel we stayed at when in town for my son's wedding 10 years ago.  Perfect location, within walking distance of everything: downtown, race packet pick-up, race start and finish lines and, most important, Starbucks.

Finisher medal from 2004 half long ago in so many ways that
aren't counted by mere years.
When I booked my trip to Monterey to run this year's Big Sur Half Marathon, I had the thought that perhaps my son and his family would like to come up from San Diego to join me, to enjoy once again the places they experienced together as a young couple, before kids came along. My son was unable to get away but my daughter-in-law Christina jumped at the chance to spend a "girls weekend" in Monterey.

Waiting for Christina to arrive at Monterey Regional Airport.
A very nice restaurant with outdoor deck seating overlooking runway
and Monterey Bay in the background.
I arrived in San Jose - the flight was actually 1/2 hour early - and got on the road in my rental car, heading south on the 101 toward Monterey Peninsula.  I arrived at the little Monterey regional airport early, but discovered that they had a really nice restaurant inside the terminal, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the runway and the bay, and a very nice menu.  It was a nice way to spend my time while waiting for Christina's plane to arrive.

We drove the few short miles to the hotel, checked in, and then immediately headed on foot to the race expo, held at the Monterey Conference Center.

I picked up my race bib and had a delightful conversation with the volunteer who was amazed that I'd come all the way from Texas; she was even more amazed to learn that I'd lived here before, as had Christina.  And then we headed into the expo area to claim my race shirt and swag bag and to shop the surprisingly large number of vendors.  

Even though I received a very nice long-sleeve race shirt as part of my race packet, I bought another nice long sleeve technical shirt in the official logo-wear booth.  I still have the cotton long sleeve shirt I received with my race packet back in 2004 but want to keep it clean and unfaded in case I want to include it in a race shirt quilt some day.  I also have the technical long sleeve shirt I purchased back in 2004 when I weighed 105 lb.  Today, it's too tight and I can no longer wear it.  Another reason why I wanted to buy a long sleeve shirt at this expo, one that I would wear and not care about potentially ruining it.

At the race expo....I didn't realize I was holding this flag backwards!  

Race bib pick-up room at Monterey Conference Center

We had reservations at Cafe Rustica in Carmel Valley for dinner that night.  I'd been to Carmel Valley before, riding through there on a motorcycle when I visited my son many years ago.  I remembered it being beautiful in daytime, with curvy roads and quaintness in the homes and businesses.  But it was already dark when we left the hotel and as we negotiated the curves and the traffic, Christina began to express regret at having chosen this place, feeling like it was further away than she remembered.  But it wasn't.....really.  Just seemed that way driving on difficult roads in the dark.

It was a charming little excellent choice, well away from the touristy restaurants in Carmel or Monterey.  We were immediately seated and our delightful young waiter descended on us almost immediately, taking good care of us throughout the meal.  Just as we were finishing and contemplating getting dessert, our waiter came rushing over to us all a-flutter and with dessert menus in hand.

"You need to order dessert!!" he gushed.  "You need to order dessert so that you'll still be here eating when Pierce Brosnan is seated.  He's outside with his party, waiting for this table that is right next to yours to be cleared." The waiter was absolutely quivering with excitement!

Oh, my!! Decision made!!  We each ordered our desserts and another glass of wine and then waited excitedly for the folks next to us to hurry up and leave, for their table to be cleared and cleaned, and for Pierce Brosnan and party to appear.

And then....there they were!  The tables were just inches apart, and I was no more than 10 feet away from him, both of us facing each other diagonally over the small space between our tables.  It was hard not to stare, hard to act normal in the presence of this major movie star.  But we remained calm, snuck tiny little peeks when he wasn't looking and proceeded with our desserts, in no real hurry to finish.

Christina with her creme brulee

Me with my apple caramel tart...all a ruse to delay
our departure so that we could ogle Pierce Brosnan.

Finally, we decided we could linger no longer, knowing there were others waiting for tables to open up.  So we paid the bill and stood to leave.  As I did so, my movements caught the actor's attention and he looked up at me and smiled.  I smiled back, dipping my head in a small nod of acknowledgement and he did the same.  The action spoke volumes without saying a word.  I could sense the relief in his face that he was being left alone to enjoy the company of his wife and friends and that no one was accosting him with idiotic tongue-tied blathering.  Pretty special having dinner in such close proximity to James Bond!!

The next morning we had breakfast at the very  nice restaurant next door to the hotel and then went for a drive through Monterey, Carmel, and then on to Carmel Mission.  I let Christina drive and she took me to some of her favorite coastline roads and overlooks along the way.

Carmel Misson

Carmel Mission

Very old Cedar tree in the courtyard at Carmel Mission

Altar at Carmel Mission

I wanted to return to the little restaurant in Pacific Grove, Red House Cafe, where I first met my future daughter-in-law.  She had just met my son and they'd not been dating for very long when I flew out to visit with my son while he was attending Naval Post-Grad school there in Monterey. So she pulled her phone out and called the restaurant to get our name on the seating list.  We were about 15 minutes away and timed it perfectly.  We were seated almost immediately after arriving.  It's a really cute restaurant in a beautiful old Victorian house.  The tiny little rooms of this old house make for an inviting and intimate dining experience.

I pretty much wanted to get back to the hotel so that I could rest my legs and feet, stay hydrated, and watch college football.   We took a scenic roundabout route back to the hotel, driving along the coast and Lovers Point before returning to the hotel.  But before heading to the room, we walked just a block to a cupcake shop I'd found on Google Maps.  A race is not a race if there are no cupcakes waiting at the finish.

They were as good as they look.
Christina went off for a walk along the trail that skirts the coastline while I chilled out in front of the TV for the rest of the afternoon.  We had a low-key dinner at the restaurant next to the hotel. and then retired early.  Tomorrow would be an early and long day.

The next morning, I got up, got ready, made a plan with Christina to meet me along the route, and then headed for the start line, which was very close to the hotel.  It was chilly and I wore a windbreaker, thinking I'd eventually shed it and tie it around my waist, but once I got out to the start line, I realized I really didn't need it and planned to just drop it at the hotel entrance as I ran by after the start, but there was Christina, standing out front and chatting with another spectator as the runners passed by.  Perfect!  I could do the hand-off and continue on my way.

We'd checked the race route map the night before and determined that she could park at mile 7 along the race course, run with me to the turnaround point, then run back to her start point and her car and then meet me at the finish.  It worked out perfectly!  I pulled my phone out at mile 6 to text her my location and saw that she'd texted me to let me know she was there at mile 7 waiting for me.

Heading out together from mile 7 to turnaround point at mile 8

At mile 7 where Christina was waiting for me.
It was fun having Christina join me on the route for a mile or two.  She hopped onto the course and we ran/walked together to the turnaround and then back to where she'd joined me....about 2 miles of the most spectacular portion of the route.  We hugged, she went back to the car, and I continued on.  See you at the finish line!

The miles seemed to pass by fairly quickly...why wouldn't they?!  The scenery the entire way was beyond gorgeous, as was the weather.  The race has really grown over the years, from about 2,500 participants back in 2004 when it was only in its second year, to over 8,000 today, and now with bands every 1/2 mile or so, plenty of on-course support and a really great post-race experience with ample fresh food, including pint containers of fresh raspberries (!), fresh pineapple juice, chocolate milk, and outside of the runners village a beer tent and a hot soup tent.

We'd made plans to meet near the beer tent on the Portola Plaza after the race, but as I crossed the finish line, Christina got a good photo of me and called out to me, asking me if I needed my jacket.  I continued through the finisher's chute, the photo stand, the food tent, then exited the finisher's area into Portola Plaza where I easily found her.

As planned, we headed straight past the beer tent and toward the nearby Starbuck's.  Coffee does it for me way more than does a beer after running a half marathon.  Cappuccino in hand, we walked back to the hotel.

Crossing the finish line

2015 finisher medal, designed by a local artist each year

2015 finisher medal next to my 2004 finisher medal

We both showered, snacked on cupcakes and then - too soon - it was time to take Christina to the little Monterey airport to fly back to San Diego.  By this time it was pouring down rain, so I drove up to the drop-off area, we hugged, and she hopped out and dashed into the terminal.  Suddenly the car seemed so empty.  I was going to miss her company. As I drove back to the hotel, I was thankful that the storm front that brought that rain held off until after the race was over.  There were leftovers in the min-fridge from last night's dinner, so I pulled them out and heated them up in the little microwave and then became a real slug for the rest of the day.

I'd planned to tour the Monterey Peninsula on Monday, perhaps driving 17 Mile Drive, maybe head down Highway 1 for a bit, or walk the charming streets of Carmel.  I walked downtown to the Starbucks, with the thought of then continuing on to the Aquarium, but it began spitting rain and I barely made it back to the hotel before the heavens opened up and it began to really pour.  My plans dashed, I decided to have a decadent breakfast at the hotel restaurant - dungeness crab meat piled on top of eggs Benedict - and linger over my cappuccino while I watched the rain outside.

I had a hotel room waiting for me near the San Jose Airport for Monday night, so with the really heavy rain and the need to check out of the hotel by noontime, I was at a loss for what else to do but just go ahead and drive up to San Jose.

It was a very well-located Marriott Fairfield Inn, just a mile from the airport, and with a gas station right next door where I could top off my rental car gas tank, a Starbucks where I could top off my own coffee "tank," and a Subway sandwich shop where I could buy something to put away for dinner later.  They let me check in early, I took care of my luggage and then did the Starbucks thing for a while, and then the "holding down the bed" thing for the rest of the day.  I was a little disappointed that the weather along the coast was not conducive to being a tourist but I was also tired from the race the previous day.  This was all probably a good thing.  I fly out the next morning for home.

Always hard to leave California, my native state.  It was a great little trip and doing that race again after so many years was just what I needed.

Coming up next: Another race revisited - Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa, OK.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous weekend. It must have made you really happy Christina could come and hang out for a while.

    How very cool that you should see Pierce Brosnan as well. I like that you did the head nod. So much classier than disturbing his night out. It must be hard at times being a celebrity when not everyone would have the decorum to let him be.

    Oh, and now I am craving cupcakes too.