As we all know, life during COVID-19 took on a new, rather challenging reality. Having spent the first five months of the pandemic locked in my home—with only the rare, small, socially distanced garden hang to break up the monotony of life—I was, like the rest of the country, feeling a bit stir crazy. I spent most of my adult life as a touring musician in the band Grizzly Bear, and the sudden reality of not traveling hit me especially hard. Grateful for my health and home, I was constantly pulled between that gratitude and the realization that it was ok to feel exhausted by the relentlessness of the situation. So, when my boyfriend suddenly got a job as a creative director for Sea Ranch Lodge, I was ecstatic at the prospect of leaving home. We embarked on a road trip that was meant to be a week-long sojourn to an Airbnb in Northern California. Instead, it became a month-long road trip through the American West.
Sea Ranch, California
Sea Ranch, an inviting enclave in Northern California, is right on the coast, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. We scoured Airbnb, and booked a mountainside retreat with high-concept design. Sea Ranch is a design enclave founded in the mid ‘60s by architect and planner Al Boeke. Sea Ranch has had a mysterious yet glamorous existence in its 50 some years. The iconic logo, designed by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, is one of those images that people recognize but can’t place. My first time driving through the small, meticulously designed town was six years ago; it left my boyfriend and I curious as to the story behind this misty town, where all the houses looked the same.
As we pulled into our new home away from home, I was overwhelmed with an excitement that was honestly reminiscent of the first time I set foot in a foreign country. The lockdown had transformed what used to be a simple seven-hour drive up the coast of California into a full-blown trip of wonder. Sea Ranch Lodge is now undergoing a massive renovation, complete with a new, world-class restaurant and fully refurbished and re-imagined interiors. Given the strict building code Sea Ranch adheres to, there will be no changes to the exterior, apart from a fresh wooden façade. Once open, the new space will host weddings and retreats, and promises to become a must-visit hotel for Bay Area folks venturing north.
After a week of incredible bike rides and hiking, it was time to head home, but heading back to Los Angeles, where a massive heat wave and rolling black outs waited, just didn’t feel right. Rarely has there been a time in my life where quite literally nothing was tethering me to home and I could follow my every whim. So, with my better half returning with the dogs to his LA home office, I decided to head north to Portland to visit my cousin, China Forbes, the amazing lead singer and founder of the classical lounge act Pink Martini.
A warning to anyone attempting to drive from Sea Ranch to Portland in one day: do not do it hung over. I made this crucial error and was holding back nausea as I spent 12 hours twisting and turning along the slow yet stunningly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway. I arrived at my cousin’s amazing cabin, situated in the hills of PDX, to extreme relief and my favorite Thai food on the west coast from Nong's Khoa Man Gai. The week was spent largely cooking, singing, and taking day trips up the Columbia River to swim and hike. Feeling refreshed and revived, I was ready to head back home when I got a call from my best friend from high school, who had relocated to Seattle for the duration of the COVID-19 lockdown, urging me to continue the trek north and visit him and his family.
With the temperatures back in LA hovering steadily in the high 90s, Seattle sounded positively heavenly in comparison. On top of that, my friend’s family had rented a stunner of a house on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands, and I was dying to see that region for the first time. The house on Lopez Island was nestled on a southwestern peninsula with massive sweeping views of the neighboring islands. We rented e-bikes and putted around the island, trying out a local poutine food truck, shopping at the farmer’s market, and spotting bald eagles and even orca whales cresting. The San Juans felt wholly reminiscent of summers growing up on the East Coast; the terrain and atmosphere is similar to Maine’s rocky beaches and chilly nights.
As my time in the Pacific Northwest drew to a close, I was faced with yet another invitation, this time to a ranch out in western Montana. This invitation came from a friend who, amid stay at home orders, had retreated to a vast horse ranch near Twin Bridges, Montana, not far from Bozeman.
I promptly got another COVID-19 test to ensure I was arriving healthy and drove east toward big sky land. I was hesitant about continually extending this now three-week trip—and driving further from home—but the prospect of galloping through the open fields of western Montana was too amazing to pass up. The ranch compound where we stayed consisted of three houses, all lining a creek and flanked by mountain scenery. I was given a sunset beer upon arrival and told to hop in the ATV for a quick four-wheel tour of the ranch. I spent the days that followed riding horses and ATVing up to remote lakes, where we’d hike and picnic in the wilderness.
The great American road trip was always a bit elusive to me. Having spent my entire life on a tour bus, trying to find healthy food at gas stations across America, I was never quite sold on the appeal of road trip life. But the claustrophobia of the first few months of lockdown gave me a profound appreciation for all this vast country has to offer. Of course, the restrictions of COVID-19 weighed heavy on my trip, but I found the best approach was to be pragmatic, testing frequently and following mask and distancing guidelines as I wove up the coast, and then inland through the great American West. By the time I made it home, I had been gone a month living off one week’s clothing supply—the trip called for multiple laundry runs—but returned to LA feeling refreshed and energized for another few months hunkered down at home.