I’m a little behind on posting here, because I was away for a few days for the holidays, and because plans keep changing. I’ll catch up eventually.
I grew up in Salinas, in the Central Coast region of California, just inland from Monterey and about 100 miles south of San Francisco. As I have said before, I have had a fascination with maps and roads for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I would look at maps, see a road that goes off the map, and develop a fascination and curiosity for where that road went. By the way, for my younger readers, when I say “maps,” I’m not talking about an app on your phone. I’m talking about a big piece of paper with pictures of roads and cities and landmarks. And there often didn’t exist readily available maps of areas outside of big cities, so if these roads went off the map into a remote rural area, I couldn’t just scroll up, I really didn’t have a way to find out where all roads went.
There is a road in Salinas called San Juan Grade Road. It splits from Main Street in a major shopping area at the north end of town and leads into a rural agricultural area. On the map I had as a kid, where the road reached the edge of the map, it was labeled “To San Juan Bautista.” Once when I was around 9 or 10 years old, I asked my parents where San Juan Grade Road led, and how you would get to San Juan Bautista that way. This is not the route I knew leading to San Juan Bautista; the route I knew, the route most people take, is to go north on 101, the main highway, and eventually turn onto another highway which leads into San Juan Bautista a few more miles to the east. San Juan Bautista is a small town that is the site of one of the 18th century Spanish missions that every California kid writes a report on when they are around the age I was when this story takes place.
My dad suggested that we take a drive, to show me that road. I said sure. So we drove out to San Juan Grade Road. A few miles north of Salinas proper, the road began climbing a hill, and it became narrow, barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other. The pavement was bumpy, and the route had many tight curves. It was a beautiful drive, through remote hills dotted with clumps of trees, but it was a difficult and slow drive. After what felt like hours of winding through hills, the road finally widened to the width of a normal two lane road, and a few miles later, we entered San Juan Bautista. We drove home the normal way, on 101.
Yesterday, on my way home from my parents’ house, I wanted to be adventurous and go for a scenic drive, to do something more interesting than take my usual route, but I also did not want to go too far out of the way. So I took San Juan Grade Road. I had not been that way since that drive with my family some thirty years ago or so. I did not remember many of the details regarding the scenery itself (the details I provided in the previous paragraph were mostly based on what I saw yesterday). But what I found most interesting was something that I clearly remembered incorrectly, about the road being narrow with many sharp curves and going on for hours.
The narrow windy part of the drive was only seven miles.
Obviously, thirty years can erode memories, and an unfamiliar trip often tends to feel longer than it actually is. But the difficult part of the trip was only seven miles. That isn’t far at all. I can easily bike seven miles in half an hour, and there was even a time when I could run seven miles without stopping (although I’m comparing this to flat distances, I probably couldn’t do either of these on a steep route like San Juan Grade Road).
When going through a difficult stretch in life, sometimes it feels like the difficult times will last forever. But someday, we all get through our difficult times, and sometimes, when we look back, we discover that things weren’t really as difficult as they seemed when we were going through it. What feels like an endless rough trip might only be a little seven mile scenic drive.