“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
― John Muir
This post is not sponsored in any way. We just loved our trip and our Airbnb so much we felt compelled to share it with all of you!
I found myself wondering how many people have had nervous breakdowns along the I-5. As tears threatened to form in my sleep-deprived eyes, I tried to take some comfort in the fact that I couldn’t possibly be the only one. Surely others had, in the highway’s 50 + year history, been on the brink of various states of collapse. And what a charming anecdote it would make someday “…Yeah, that’s pretty bad, but have you ever had a complete mental collapse on the side of one of the most tedious roads known to man?”
It was something I mulled over after the first tire blew out, as we limped our car towards the nearest gas station, as we scoured said gas station (and those in the immediate vicinity) for the tools needed to change a tire (no luck). Several hours, two tires, a lot of money, and a rendezvous with a plasma cutter later, we were back on our way, with me holding back a panic attack behind clenched teeth. We should have been well into the forest by now—the 5 freeway is the antithesis of that—if you’ve never been.
2017 in particular was a rough year for many of us. I had so many personal/health issues I was completely worn down. It left me in a bad place, longing for happier times; like when I was stung by a swarm of baby jellyfish in Puerto Vallarta on an ill-fated snorkeling excursion. Or when I had six (yes six) wisdom teeth removed and my face swelled up to three times its normal size. Determined to end things on a positive note, Simon and I decided to plan a quick getaway. The forest, I pleaded with a wild look in my eyes when we sat down to plan our trip. I wanted to go to the forest, any forest. I wanted cold weather, quiet, a cabin-esq place to stay, and trees for miles and miles.
We spent the better part of a Tuesday scouring Airbnb for such a place—but given the time of year (booking between Christmas and New Year’s) we had no luck finding a retreat that matched the dreamscape I’d conjured up. We were on the brink of giving up when a listing caught my eye. It was called The Little Hobbit House—great start. There were trees in the photos—yes please. The price was right—this was looking promising.
Simon went about booking the cozy space while I tried not to get too excited about the bits and pieces I’d spotted at first glance. Phrases like “12 acres”, “Bear River”, and “waterfalls” danced before my eyes as I tried to play it cool –as though being nonchalant about it would somehow help the process.
We booked the place. We were going to the forest. We’d be sleeping above Bear River. There would be hiking and waterfalls and cold weather and quiet. When I saw that fresh eggs would be waiting for us upon our request, I began calculating what it would cost for us to run away and spend the year there. We went out at around 7PM to grab dinner, purchase some things we needed, then hurried home to pack. By 6AM the next morning we were on the road, with about three hours of sleep a piece.
The day started out well enough. We can skip over the delays, the tires, the money, the monotonous stretch of dusty towns along the I-5. The finer details of my near mental collapse. My anxiety and panic took the reins quite effortlessly. Practice makes perfect. Day one was coming to a close when we finally pulled off the highway and turned down a dark wooded road with the moon and houses decked with Christmas lights guiding our way.
When we reached our destination at the end of a dark road, we were worn down, exhausted, and delirious from hunger—we’d driven straight through. Our host Birdie came out to greet us and her warmth and enthusiasm brought me back from the edge. She told us everything was ready, the heater was on, the eggs were waiting. I don’t remember how I responded, I only hoped I did a decent job of hiding the breakdown seeping out of my pores. We thanked her and made our way down the staircase, pausing at the door to listen to the roar of the river below engulfed in the night.
Stepping inside I glanced around, taking in the scene before us; a cozy bed with a backdrop of stones, flanked by medieval-styled lanterns. A cozy faux fireplace whose fictional flames could not have warmed me any more than real ones would have. Picture-perfect furniture, vintage books, carefully selected knickknacks—every detail so clearly and carefully chosen to give off a cozy cabin feel—very much like you’d imagine Tolkien’s hobbits were accustomed to in the Shire. I threw myself on the couch and proclaimed my desire to never leave.
Later—after I’d clamed down—we drove into the little town of Meadow Vista to the Holiday Market and purchased ingredients for that night’s mushroom bourguignon with mashed potatoes. Birdie had stocked the kitchen with everything you’d need to cook simple meals. There were pots and pans, utensils, spices, butter, and a coffee and tea station with sugar cream and honey—the essentials. I—being a lunatic food blogger—brought a potato masher and my favorite cast iron pot “just in case”.
We cooked, I sipped wine, and we took turns sinking into the plush couch marveling at our surroundings. We ate dinner ravenously, serenaded by the river below. As soon as we’d arrived, Simon booked us another night, to make up for lost time, and because he’s quite simply the most wonderful human being. I don’t remember falling asleep that first night—but it was dreamless and deep.
In spite of my exhaustion I woke up around six the next morning. I walked to the living/dining room windows and pulled up the blinds and got my first real look at Bear River below. Painted in pastels from the rising sun that crept over the valley, it twisted and crept along rocky banks and towards tree-lined mountains. I made some tea and, ignoring the cold, cracked a window—letting my surroundings swallow me up.
That morning it was ricotta, tangerine, and sage pancakes along with scrambled eggs. Simon set up a camera to capture photos and videos of the humming birds outside our window. We made plans to run into town for picnic essentials—sandwiches, chips, several mini bottles of champagne (essentials). Then, armed with camera gear and coats we ventured out into the 12 acres of wilderness around us.
The forest was enthralling. Dense and green and full of life. Deer—mildly indifferent to us—roamed everywhere, birds and squirrels populated the trees, mushrooms sprouted in two’s and three’s above dry leaves and twigs. We explored mossy rocks, and gnarled tree trunks, and I asked Simon if every green plant was poison oak. We made our way to a waterfall on the property and further—to the trail above the river itself. There we climbed on top of a large rock where we spent a good chunk of the afternoon eating, taking photos, and falling into spells of silence as we took it all in.
We spent most our time outdoors. I loved the crisp cold air, the smell of the trees, the crunch of leaves underfoot. Southern California is seemed a barren desert by comparison. I’d sit on our little porch early in the morning, ignoring my frozen fingers just listening to the water rushing below, watching the few remaining hummingbirds battle over the feeder, scanning for wildlife—startled at how seamlessly nature can erase the troubles of city life.
Birdie and her husband Glenn were the perfect hosts. After seeing us hanging around the chickens one day they invited us to feed and hold them—an offer I readily jumped at. We learned a bit more about the careful details they created or sought out to bring their utopia into being. Even the chicken coop has a colorful history tied into rustic Hollywood memorabilia. Birdie had also hidden hand painted rocks around the property for guests to find—I’m proud to say we went home with two.
One evening they invited us up to their deck where where we watched the sun start its descent over the river. Later that night we ventured out to take photos of the stars. Even hindered by the moonlight there’s nothing like a black night’s sky with an expanse of stars, uninhibited by encroaching city lights.
We were only there a few days but it had already begun to feel so familiar. The moment we left it felt as though we were leaving home, not returning to it. We’ve long talked about getting out of the city for a more peaceful and rural life. This adventure only further encouraged us. I can’t wait to return. I can’t wait to run off to our own wooded retreat someday. I’ve long had an affinity for the forest. I’m not sure how this evolved since I never lived anywhere near one growing up. Maybe it’s the absence that did it. Or maybe it’s my inclination towards restlessness and anxiety in busy landscapes. I feel more myself surrounded by nature, away from the rest of the world. The forest is calling, and I will answer, as soon as possible.