First stop is Valley Grind in Old Town Santa Ynez for a lavender latte to set me up for a marathon nine-hour drive, music alternating between Jack Savoretti and the soundtrack from a movie called Begin Again, a good fit for the mission at hand.
In no time at all, I’m San Luis Obispo (a Madonna Inn pit stop), King City for gas and, many hours later, more gas in Winters before joining 505 and connecting to I-5.
Passing Shasta Lake, the great mystical mountain finally comes into view, peaking over lesser mountains, fleeting glimpses here and again.
At first, second, and third glance, Shasta is every bit as majestic as painted by the Harry Cassie Best, a traveling musician who discovered his talent as an artist by painting this mountain.
Soon, the ancient volcano looms, providing me the same kind of thrill I used to get when approaching Disneyland as a kid and seeing the Matterhorn.
I exit the interstate into Dunsmuir, a quaint town that exists in a gully, from which most of Mount Shasta is hidden.
I’d been minded to find overnight accommodation here and check out “the world’s best water” from a 5,000 year-old aquiver.
But Dunsmuir is sleepy and I’d read the best views of Shasta are seen from the drive north from Dunsmuir when the sun is about the set, and the sun is about to set, so it’s a no-brainer to continue on to Mount Shasta City, which isn’t much of one, more a village combining retirement community with new age mystics.
My iPad navigates me to the Mount Shasta Resort, which seems right, due to its astonishing view of the mountain and a name suggesting something reasonably elegant.
I’m sent down to a “chalet,” a quarter-mile away, but “chalet” is just a façade for a sparse motel room with basic plumbing. Miniature soaps in paper and cellophane-covered plastic cups conclude the amenities.
An absence of cars suggests I am to be the only being around this night, except maybe Bigfoot stomping around nearby.
It is now 6:55 and I return to the Clubhouse, where I’m told the bar and restaurant stops serving at eight o’clock.
“What about in town?” I ask.
“Pretty much the same.”
I grab a high top by the picture window and content myself with martini, up, twist, leave the shaker. The only thing I’d eaten all day was a banana and a handful of dry granola before departing, so the combination of extra-large pour and nothing in my stomach is lethal—though after nine hours on the road I am extremely grateful.
Meantime, the sun not so much sets as disappears behind hills to the west.
I order “Thai BBQ salmon” on a bed of spinach, and it’s a crying shame the poor fish had to give up its life for so dismal a dish. I’d wondered why the few others around me were eating bacon cheeseburgers, and now I knew.
By nine o’clock I am only customer remaining, finishing a glass of Rosenblum cab.
The bartender, who has kindly stayed to see me through, wears black eyeliner and eye shadow and, when I ask about the magic mountain, revels in its lore; waxing enthusiastic about an ancient civilization called the Lemurians that reside under the mountain in the golden city of Telos.
And isn’t this why I drove 600 miles in one day to get here?
Lemurians or no, there is something awfully spiritual about Mount Shasta once you are within its magnetic pull.
Around three a.m., the devil’s hour, I awaken with a headache and a thirst: Advil, a glass of Shasta water, from the tap, fresh and cold.
It takes a while, but I eventually fall into the sweetest sleep of the night, and with it a very vivid dream:
I am staying in this very room, but instead of a rustic setting, outside my door is a lively, vibrant street akin to San Francisco’s North Beach. As I gingerly step out, joyous people engulf me, asking what I’m looking for, offering to take me to Mount Shasta’s central boulevard, which, they say, is even more vibrant and artsier than the street we are on. I am awed by the joyfulness exuded by these smiley, very happy people. They call their main street Honore, and seem in a hurry—so gleeful they are—to take me there.
My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.
It will be published in Fall 2016