Mission Nuestra Señora de la SoledadWell, this roadtrip took a sharp left turn. I lost my co-pilot and my wingman before I even hit the road. The ironic thing is that Susi and I had mapped out every contingency should toddler Amelia (also known as The World’s Most Beautiful Baby) have a melt-down at any point on the trip. Then, when I arrived to pick them up, Susi was the one who was down for the count. But projectile vomiting and roadtrips don’t mix, so I spent the morning watching Amelia while Susi watched the room spin. (I’m not sure if I was that much help as I may have exceeded the recommended episode count of Sesame Street in an effort to keep Amelia amused. You know, it is actually possible to get toddlers hopped up on too much Elmo. Not pretty.)

Still, the wonderful thing about roadtrips is, even if the trip isn’t the one you planned or expected, it can still be a wonderful experience. So this is going to be a very different expedition than I thought it would be. Yet I still see possibilities. The first order of business was to make up for lost time. I had a reservation in Pismo Beach, three missions to see and a lot of ground to cover on the way there. Of course, the answer was to drop back and punt. Mission San Miguel can be picked up on the way back. Mission San Luis Obispo will have to wait until tomorrow. The mode for today was to make tracks. And tracks I made — at an average of 70 MPH and 50 Miles per Gallon thanks to Flame, my new Prius. It didn’t take us more than 15 minutes out of built up Silicon Valley to get into serious farm country. We sped through Gilroy, the self proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World, past Castroville which maintains a similar boast for artichokes and through Salinas, which calls itself The Country’s Lettuce Bowl.

That’s how I found myself at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad at its moment of greatest Soledad — which the guidebooks keep translating as “Sorrows” but my Spanish-English dictionary says means “Solitude”. That Soledad Moment would be the space between when the single docent leaves and before they lock the gate. I tell you, this is the mission that truly lives up to its name. I’m not sure which padres drew the short straws and got assigned here in 1791. Apparently, it was Father Junipero Serra’s protege, Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén, who happened upon this windswept, isolated spot and said, “Let’s build here!” I see only two advantages: a) the soldiers defending it could see an enemy coming at least 30 miles away over the flat plains and b) there is a large wide arroyo seco nearby which must have been a torrent during the rainy season. Otherwise, this place, even today, qualifies as The Back of Beyond.

Soledad Mission

The unadorned Mission in the middle of the great expanse of the Salinas Valley defines the term Soledad.

View of Salinas Valley from Mission Soledad

Even today, Soledad is in the middle of nowhere. And the wind through here is FIERCE.

So after my solitary exploration of the grounds around Mission Soledad, I hit the road again hoping to make Pismo Beach before nightfall. Luck was with me, as I made it in time to check into my hotel — which had kindly upgraded me, at no charge, to a full beach view room. That allowed me to stand on my balcony and photograph this incredible sunset.

Sunset on Pismo Beach

This is the view from my hotel balcony.

Pier at Pismo Beach

I'm walking down to this pier tomorrow morning.

All that was left for the evening was to seek out the famous and now elusive Pismo clams. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, there is now a ten clam per day limit for clammers. Very few restaurants now serve dishes made with Pismo Clams. This was confirmed by my waiter when I ordered the seafood pasta and asked if I dared hope there would be Pismo Clams in it. I ordered it anyway and paired it with a local Pinot. Guess I’ll have to get my clam fix by seeking out the giant clam statues that are supposed to be erected in various places in town. Apparently, they even get dressed by the locals for various holidays. Too bad I’m not here during a holiday season. I’d like to see an 8 foot clam statue dressed as a Leprechaun for St. Paddy’s Day. As long as I’m seeking out roadside attractions, I’d better swing by the Cowboy Tree Statue. It’s pretty much a requirement for a blog with Cowboy in the name.

Well, that’s the report. Tomorrow my Mission Mission properly begins. All the pictures from today are here.