Douglas, Michigan is a charming town right on Lake Michigan. It’s a beautiful place and during the height of the summer season you can’t get a reservation. But, now in the middle of September the crowds have thinned and the locals are relaxing. It feels like being backstage. I love it. Sunsets over the lake are breathtaking. It’s easy to take in the beauty especially since everyone is exhaling and there’s room to move around. Today was overcast, chilly, and threatening rain all day. I welcomed the grey because I had some things to do online and hate feeling like I’m missing the sunshine. I found Respite, the aptly named coffee shop with delicious lattes and really good food. For lunch I had the last serving of their coconut sweet potato bisque–much to the chagrin of a regular. I couldn’t help but overhear a lot of different conversations today. At first, I’ll admit, I couldn’t believe how much people can say about absolutely nothing.
– I hear it’s going to rain. Oh no, it better not. Tell that storm to go away.
Sunset over Lake Michigan
-The thing I like about the Lincoln is that it adjusts to YOU. Yeah, but it’s too much car for me. I saw Stu, he has a new Lincoln.
-You’re as tall as my sister. Is your boyfriend tall? My sisters are all tall but none of them have tall boyfriends.
-I just put a little bit of basil in it. Oh, you do? Fresh? Yes, i just tear it up and drop it in.
-Oh, that yogurt looks yummy. I might come over there and take it from you.
But they weren’t wasting time. And they weren’t really talking about nothing. They were doing something very important and it was wonderful to watch. They were looking at each other and taking the time to exchange a few words and be kind to each other. These neighbors, friends, and familiar strangers were connecting. It’s a simple thing. It’s tempting to say that it’s just easier to take the time in this relaxed environment. But, there really wasn’t a jerk in the bunch. I hope I’ll remember the nice balance of Respite the next time I’m tempted to be one myself.
Katherine Hoppe, Director of Promotions and Conventions for Coos Bay, Oregon found out I was traveling up the coast, sent me a quick email, and that’s how it all began. After a few exchanges I knew I had to meet her. She, like all of the tourism professionals I’ve met on the road, is so cool, so helpful, and so ready to show off her town. It was hard not to break the speed barrier driving into town to meet her.
With Coos Bay and I it was love at first sight—it’s not your typical coastal tourist town. This
is a town with industry- lumber and fishing. This is a town where you can settle into seeing all sorts of action instead of just dropping in and skimming the touristy surface. Of course, Kat made sure I got to see it all.
The first thing she deciphered – do I like clam chowder and oysters? Yes and yes. Do I want to go crabbing? Yes. Do I want to go surfing? Yes. Do I want to see the giant sand dunes? Yes.
She said, “I’ll pick you up at 9am and wear sneakers.” The plan? To wear ourselves out with fun.
COOS BAY HIGHLIGHTS
32.000 Acres of Natural Sand Dunes
1. First up, the picturesque 500 foot natural sand dunes—31,000 acres of rolling, white sand mountains— on top of 400cc Quad ATVs. Spinreel Dune Buggy Rentals provides a thorough explanation of how the dunes were formed, and their future. Then they show you a safety video, strap a helmet on your head, and turn you loose to experience their magnitude by doing your best Evil Kneivel. SO. MUCH. FUN. Then, full of sand and on an adrenalin high, the Spinreel guys had a treat for us— the RZR 800cc 4-seater. This state of the art dune buggy is fully equipped with seat belts, hallelujah. The ATV is rough and tumble but the RAZR is like a hovercraft. I don’t think we had four wheels on the ground for more than a few seconds at a time. Here we are screaming our faces off in terrified delight.
2. Next up— crabbing with locals on the docks at Charleston Boat Basin. I helped Kat carry the pods and bait to the
Off to see…
dock, and picked up a six-pack of local beer. That’s what you do when you go crabbing— hang out, talk, drink beer, throw the pods out, and pull them back in. You take a bunch of chicken legs and secure them to the inside of the pod and whirl the pod out into the water like a frisbee. It sinks to the bottom and you leave it there while you drink your beer. It’s a stress-free sport. When you’re about 3/4 through your beer you pull up the pod. People gather round ooohing and ahhhing over whether he’s big enough to keep— females and babies go back automatically and males have to be a certain size. We caught only one keeper and gifted him to the crabbers sitting next to us. The hours gently drifted by.
I squeezed as much of myself into this thing before I asked for help.
3. Rounding out the first day– a special humiliation associated with booking a surfing lesson. Trying on a wet suit. This whole rigmarole would be a lot easier if you could just slick your epidermis from the neck down and wheel a pulley system into the dressing room. Getting into this thing was a pride swallowing event for me and endlessly entertaining for my new friend Kat. Brian, owner of Waxers Surf Skate Shop, is a natural teacher– amazing and unbelievably patient. A total man’s man. He put me at ease right off the bat. I felt like a real surfer girl carrying my board on my head down a harrowing makeshift trail to Bastendorff Beach. The water was freezing but totally worth it. Brian taught me how to use the current as a guide, when to scoot my body back on the board, and when to paddle like hell. I caught a dozen waves and didn’t wipe out once. (Notice there are no photos of this glorious morning on the water.) Even if you don’t surf, which you should, check out Bastendorff for watching the waves roll in.
Brian heading to the water on Bastendorff Beach.
4. Finally— Kat’s Culinary Tour. In two days I compared six bowls of clam chowder. Coos Bay claims they have the world’s best. It comes down
The Unbelievable Crab Melt Sandwich
to personal taste– do you like thick, potato-y, thin? Kat wouldn’t tell me her favorite but she did narrow it down to a nice sample set. My favorite was from Shark Bites— their broth is on the thinner side, really tasty, and they use red potatoes thinly sliced. We also compared oysters from three different locations. Again, they’re all delicious but my personal favorite was Hilltop House. Below you will find name and location of the places we tried. Don’t miss the crabmelt sandwich at The Mill Casino Hotel— I will dream of this sandwich all my days to come.
Sitting on the docks, watching the sea lions dive for tuns scraps, pulling up our pods and sorting the keepers from the throw-backs is where I got to know Kat. She’s been the Director of Promotions and Conventions for Oregon’s Adventure Coast for 5 years. It’s obvious she loves what she does. In fact, everyone I’ve met who’s working in tourism really enjoys their work and find themselves creatively challenged every day.
She moved to Coos Bay 7 years ago and had a hard time adjusting to the small town life after years of big city California living. Trading in her heels and regular mani-pedis for the slower pace and focus on the outdoors wasn’t her plan. But, that turned around when her family visited for the weekend and she planned the ultimate tourists’ adventure right in her hometown. From that moment on, she realized she was living in a dream location and began promoting Coos Bay to potential visitors around the world. She’s a one-man-band but cultivates partnerships with local businesses, is a social media marketing maven, and everyone’s favorite around town. There wasn’t one place we visited where someone didn’t light up when she walked in. The charm of a small town.
KAT’S FORMULA FOR HAPPINESS
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO: I enjoy the diversity of what I do. I love showing off the area off to writers and visitors and letting them in on the secrets that the locals know. I work on so many different things that I am never bored. Perhaps my favorite thing is cultivating a relationship with travel writers and seeing that moment where they get how special this area is. Seeing that translated into print to share with a larger audience is extremely satisfying.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT COOS BAY: Almost everything… I love being so close to the beach
Kat Hoppe with her kids.
and that I can let my dogs run free. I love going crabbing on the docks and making new friends each time I go. When you first come into town it has a very industrial feel; you can see the boats coming in and the wood chips being shipped out… and then you turn… and there’s an unimaginable beauty that makes it feel like a secret that was meant just for you. It’s a combination of timber, fishing, small businesses and a seclusion that you don’t find many other places. It’s also the little things; In the morning when I’m contemplating going crabbing, I call the fish market on the docks and find out if I should wear pants or shorts that day, and no one thinks its strange that I call. If I’m taking a trip out of town, I always run by the airport the night before and weigh my suitcase to make sure it’s not too heavy. I drive through my favorite coffee shop and I don’t have to order, they know exactly what I want. There’s a friendliness here that allows you to come as you are and never feel out-of-place.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPY: My dream is to retire here and have a house overlooking the beach. The beaches here are so scenic and rugged, I love falling asleep to the sound of the ocean and watching the waves come in. I can think of nothing better than waking up every day to a view of the ocean and taking my dogs for a morning walk on the beach.
In 1997 I read The Gift of Fearby Gavin de Becker. He appeared on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show which got me thinking about trusting my gut when it comes to creeps who prey on women. Well, who knew that 15 full years later all of that invaluable knowledge would come into play?
The crux of The Gift of Fear is learning to pay attention pre-incident indicators (PINS)— charming manipulation, too many details, forced teaming— also known as the signs that someone is up to no good. de Becker implores women to NOT be nice to everyone, especially people who make you feel uncomfortable and NICENESS is exactly what gets a lot of women in trouble.
I booked a room at Gorda Springs Resort just south of Big Sur. Nothing was available in Big Sur proper so I took the ONLY room available within the outside range of my budget. The place had TERRIBLE reviews online but I gambled because I really wanted to spend a few days in the area. I’m glad I did because Gorda Springs Resort is just fine. It’s clean, it has a comfortable bed and a fireplace in the room. It’s perfectly fine. There’s no cell service though and if you’ve read this blog you know I’ve promised some special folks that I’ll check in every night. Without any cell service or Internet it can make this difficult.
Turns out, Gorda Springs Resort isn’t as much of a resort as it is a room on top of a general store. The view is great– straight out to the Pacific– and the price is right. The door to the room locks. Safety was sort of on my mind since my cell phone didn’t work. Luckily, I found a pay phone on the side of the general store and planned to make a call as soon as I put some stuff in my car.
I was on the driver’s side of my car when I heard someone someone trying to get my attention. I noticed the
Not too far from Gorda Springs Resort
man in the shiney, black, BMW 7 Series parked in the next spot gesturing to me through his partially rolled down window. I can’t tell you exactly why, but this bugged me. When our eyes met he tried to wave me over and said, “I have a question for you.” I just said OK and continued with my business. I thought, if this guy wants to talk to me he can get out of his car.
I was standing at the back end of my car with the hatch open when this stranger dressed in khakis and a golf shirt approached.
“Hi ma’am, how are you today?”
Fine. Again, I can’t tell you why but this guy bugged me. It was like he was standing way too close to me or something.
“Can you get a signal around here? I can’t get a signal around here and I really need to get in touch with some people, so I was wondering if…”
I can’t get a signal. I can’t help you.
“I know, I know. We’re in the same boat. We both need a signal, right?”
There’s a pay phone. I managed to avoid the guy’s intense stare and overwrought smile.
“Yeah, I know. We can use that if we need something.” Nervously laughs. “But, see, I’m trying to get in touch with some people who are wiring me some money…”
I slammed the hatch and looked him in the eye— I can’t help you.
Seriously? The “wiring money” line? That line is an actual example in The Gift of Fear. It’s like the guy wasn’t even trying to be a good crook.
“Oh, ok. Well, I see you’re traveling. Where are you from? Oh, I see, Florida. What part?”
I ignored him and made sure my car was locked. It was such a mistake to stand behind my car with the door open so no one could see us– he could have clubbed me in a hot second. I practically invited the guy to see everything inside my car. And, he got a good look at my license plate. Ugh, was Oprah’s work in vain? Did Gavin de Becker teach me nothing?
I was so pissed. This guy disrupted the good thing I had going at Gorda Springs Resort. I’d just started to feel ok about staying there and then he and his nefarious ways interrupt the whole thing. I went to the pay phone and called the hotel where I really wanted to stay to see if they had any cancellations. I didn’t want to take any chances now that this guy had me unnerved and knew the contents of my car. As I was being turned down by the other hotel I noticed him approaching another woman in the parking lot. There was a single man standing not too far away but the creep didn’t approach HIM.
I went inside the general store to see if someone in there could tell him to scram. The only person working was a woman who could have been 17 or 45. We started talking and I realized she leaned more toward 17. She told me he’d approached her too and asked her how old she was and if she had a boyfriend. Since no one else was working the only person with any authority was the man who managed the place next door. She went to get him. It really chapped my ass that this guy in the parking lot thought he could target women for whatever he was up to. But, it chapped mine even more that we had to get big Daddy Manager next door to take care of it.
As Daddy Manager was summoned I made my I-made-it-here-in-one-piece call from the pay phone. While I was talking, I heard the creep call out to another unsuspecting woman. She ignored him. He let out an odd cackle. The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
A minute or two later, while I was still on the pay phone, he walked by and said, “Hey, Florida. I’m sorry I upset you.”
Big Sur, California
As he interrupted my conversation I noticed the manager walking toward us.
The person on the other end of my conversation said, “What? I think I lost you for a minute. What did you say?”
Daddy Manager towered over the creep and was making the point that he should move on. I exhaled.
Oh, I’m sorry, I’m here. I was just calling to let you know I’m safe.