"If you drive about a mile north on 101," the round-faced woman said handing me the credit card receipt, "you and the kids can drive on Sunset Beach."
At first I doubted her. I thought driving on the beach only happened in old movies. Had I been around to drive in the 1950’s maybe I, too, could have taken a car for a spin in the surf. In 2007 could there actually be a beach where vehicles were legal?
"Yes," the store owner affirmed.
"Really? Where?" I asked incredulously.
As she gave me the directions I jotted them down on the back of my receipt. It sounded simple enough, nearby and worth a try.
"We’re going to drive on the beach," I announced to the kids.
"Sure," my daughter shrugged. I don’t think she believed it either.
I gave her boyfriend, Ari, the directions and started up Highway 101. He navigated while I drove for about a mile, looking for signs for Sunset Beach. I turned west, driving through a residential area. We crested a hill. The storekeeper was right. We found ourselves on a beach, the noonday sun shining brightly on the gray-blue ocean. We saw cars: Ford Rams, Honda Civics and Chrysler Aspens traveling up and down the broad sandy shore. Some sat parked on the sand, their occupants flying kites or resting on lawn chairs facing the Pacific. Once we turned right and drove parallel to the shoreline we could see that the sand and surf went on for miles, twelve of them open to vehicles.
Immediately my eleven-year-old, George, shouted, "Yippee! Mom, drive into the waves."
I laughed and explained I’d have to see how it went because I needed to take good care of the rental car. I felt tentative, worried I’d get stuck in the sand or run into a two hundred car traffic jam, but for a warm, clear, summer Sunday afternoon the beach seemed almost empty. Cars parked at least a quarter to a half a mile apart and I rarely had to move over to allow someone to pass. Occasionally the car tires spun on the sand, but more often the sand felt like a well-packed dirt road. I picked up speed. The kids opened the windows as we cruised beside the salty waves.
We took photographs of the myriad of seabirds—sandpipers, plovers and long billed curlews—as well as battalions of crabs dodging the hungry gulls. The birds seemed to have a gentlemen’s agreement with the cars. They hung out in groups near the surf or on the slops above the sand, as if resting on the curbs of a sandy roadway. Venny took some time capturing the images of small flocks of pelicans as they flew low, in straight lines over the crests of the waves, and George insisted in running behind the car as Venny hung out of the window snapping photos of him laughing and tossing handfuls of sand at our wheels.
Hours later we were still discovering new beach adventures and activities: building sand castles, digging holes for the sea water to rush into, searching for shells, finding hermit crabs and sitting and watching the rhythm of the sea. Our vacation transformed from a sightseeing drive pass beaches and lighthouses to an energizing and daring adventure that continued long after our water supply ran out, but I felt energized by the experience, pulled to the beach and the waves and not easily released.
Toward the end of our stay, I became confident enough to do a couple of donuts with the rental car. When would I ever do this again, I figured, and how could I say I drove on a beach and without spinning around a few times?
"Mom," George said, "Aren’t you going to drive through the water?"
I thought about that for a moment. The girl behind the car rental counter had convinced me to upgrade to Subaru Outback. She did not have to pressure me. I planned to drive up Mount Hood and the size of the Outback allowed ample room for our luggage and the four of us.
I figured one trip into the waves would be okay. As the surf broke, I turned the car into the final flow, the gentlest part of the surf. The water splashed up at us and splattered hard against the windows.
"Awesome." George squealed. "Do it again, Mom."
I stopped, got out and inspected the car. Really, no damage. It was like driving through a six-inch puddle and I took care not to flood the engine. Why not? One more time.
Patricia Ljutic January, 2009
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