McMinnville to Elk Grove, Nieces and Sisters

I knew nothing about McMinnville, except that Linfield College was there, and that was where my niece was going. She was majoring in wine—literally the school has a major in wine—I assume that means wine production, marketing, economics and whatever else a person can do with wine (drinking?) and I had a vague recollection of a Hardin friend who married into a wine family in McMinnville back in the 70s. I didn’t realize it was in the heart of the Willamette Valley, prime Pinot Noir growing land. A Minnesota friend, who is an oenophile (look it up) had said that he was planning on moving to the Willamette Valley—I didn’t quite realize he was basically saying he was moving to the Napa Valley of Oregon. I am sure I am offending someone by comparing the two valleys, but you know what I mean, right?

I took I-5 south from Seattle and can say from experience that the interstates are not the most scenic routes, but they tend to be the fastest. I took Highway 99W out of Portland which cuts southwest towards McMinnville. It was dark and I was tired. I sent a text to the Hardin friend Steve Mikami who’s been in the area for fifty years. His family is Maresh Red Barn Winery. But I didn’t know that exactly as I was driving into McMinnville, nor did I realize I drove right by their winery on my way into McMinnville.

My niece Cassidy and her significant other Zach met me at a Pizza Capo downtown McMinnville. The downtown is the cutest, quaintest main street other than my hometown Hopkins Mainstreet. We had a lovely dinner of designer pizza with a white zinfandel. The three of us sat at the front of the restaurant with the street lights twinkling in through the windows. Two young people in love, good food, good wine, good conversation. It was magical.

Last year I vowed I would never spend another night in a Motel 6, even though they are the cheapest room in town. But I broke my vow, and now I re-vow that I will never spend another night in a Motel 6. It’s not that I need a fancy place to stay—trust me, I have stayed in some strange places—but they have been reliably not clean, and in need of remodeling. And it isn’t the sheets and towels that are dirty–those have been reliably clean. It’s been the carpet, the linoleum, the showers. It didn’t kill me…

But after eight hours at the Motel 6, I hit the road again, this time pointed to Elk Grove. I chatted with Steve over the phone, and decided my push to get to California precluded a side trip to his winery—and I am sure that I will regret that decision for a long time. I had driven right by their turnoff the night before, but it was dark and I didn’t know what I was looking for. This morning it would have meant backtracking 30 miles so I opted out.

In retrospect, I could have gone to the winery. I was following Google Maps and went down this country road (actually all the roads were country getting back to I-5) that ended up at a ferry crossing!! I would have taken the ferry, but the winter rains had been torrential, and the ferry crossing was flooded. As I drove up to the ferry crossing, and saw the flooded road, I had to laugh out loud—It wasn’t the first nor will it be the last Google wild goose chase I found myself on. So I had to backtrack anyway, though probably not as far.

I hate to sound jaded, but as spectacular as Mt. Rainier was, I hardly remember it because Mt. Shasta was even more spectacular! They are both volcanic mountains, perfectly cone shaped, and snowcapped. The way the interstate runs shows off Shasta better, so from a driver’s perspective, it is easier to admire it from behind a windshield.

Mt. Shasta at 70 MPH

I thought I would get a glimpse of Redding or Chico, but alas, the interstate bypasses the hearts of those communities. Sacramento shows off pretty well, and if you look left really fast you will see the state capitol. I arrived at my sister Carol’s at nightfall, and was plenty pooped from driving over nine hours two days in a row.

The next day I had a mission to visit two towns along the Sacramento Delta, Locke and Walnut Grove. These two communities are old river towns that also had large Chinese and Japanese communities back in the 20s, 30s, 40s. Locke has a very well preserved (albeit falling down) China Town. If you haven’t seen it and you are close, it’s worth the drive. I wanted to see them to get a feel for those communities for the next book I am working on. And while the area is preserved well, it has its share of tourist traps, and we had our ice cream break in Locke.

Ice Cream stop in Locke. Carol and me.

Carol is the oldest in my family of eight siblings, and I am the youngest. There are eleven years separating us, but we are in many ways the closest. I spent my holidays and many weekends at Carol’s home in the Bay Area when I was going to school at Stanford. She was my anchor that kept me from floating off. She was family when I needed family. Her daughter Karolyn is only nine years my junior, and Karolyn’s husband is my age. They both ski. There are lots of bonds between us.

Carol is also widowed, so she and I have that in common now. She and Dave moved from the Bay Area to Sacramento/Elk Grove around 2009. Dave died a couple years later on Valentine’s Day. My plan was to spend a couple days with her, spend a couple weeks at Lake Tahoe, and then spend Valentine’s Day with her.

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