Turning 40

A birthday I didn’t want to be home for

Krista Marson
Taking Off
Published in
10 min readMay 9, 2023


Jenner Beach, CA. photo by author

Having a birthday so close to Christmas means that I never go anywhere to celebrate it. I hate crowds and spending money, and traveling over the Christmas holiday is the deadly combination of both. I have never been anywhere other than where I live on the day of my birthday, but for whatever reason, I didn’t want to be anywhere near my own house on the day that I was to turn 40. For some reason, that number slightly scared me into thinking that I was going to be entering into some sort of uncharted territory, so I wanted to start my middle-aged journey on equally unfamiliar ground. I thought it better to face 40 while standing on a wild beach as opposed to lazily sleeping comfortably in my own bed so I tasked myself to find the most undesirable beach that was likely going to have super miserable weather to ensure my avoidance of both people and spending too much money. I scoured the map of California and found a location north of San Francisco called Jenner Beach that seemed to fit the bill. A quick internet search confirmed that this beach seemed lousy enough in December, so I secured reservations for my husband and me at a place called River’s End Inn as perhaps their only guests for the whole Christmas season.

When the day arrived for us to fly to San Francisco, I used up every ounce of energy available to me just to get my butt out of bed. I am a relatively healthy person and can go through an entire year without getting so much as a stuffy nose, but when I get sick, I usually get completely incapacitated. All I wanted to do that particular morning was temporarily die, but I had a birthday that I did not want to be home for.

The beginning of our itinerary had us staying two nights in the Napa area and Ryan told me that Napa was great, but I didn’t see any of it. All I saw of Napa was a hotel room and a toilet bowl that accepted my donation of chewed-up French fries. In a town that had a thousand wineries, I had not a single sip of wine at any one of them. I did, however, manage to immerse my body in a vat of mud for nearly an hour at a spa in Calistoga on our second day there which proved to be worth crawling out of bed for because it was the only thing that physically revived me. I started to feel better the moment we walked out of that spa and into a gray world of pouring rain that was going to be our new normal for the rest of the trip.

There was a reason why we were there and no one else was and that reason was the weather. Any photos that we saw of Napa before our trip looked nothing like what we actually saw mainly because we couldn’t see any of our surroundings. There were shadows of vineyards extending far off into the horizon and if we squinted while tilting our heads to match the angle of the slants of rain coming down, we could barely make them out. We can now technically say that we’ve been to Napa, but we can also technically say that we haven’t. I still wonder what wine tastes like at a Napa tasting room even after I have stepped inside one or two of them. Maybe if I ever turn 40 again, I should consider going back for a second time around.

A Napa Winery. photo by author

We didn’t have any luck in escaping the rain for it followed us the forty-some-odd miles to Jenner as if we invited it along for the ride. Even though I wasn’t feeling 100% great, simply seeing a beach, any beach, even in the rain, was an automatic cure for my upset stomach.

There was something about staring at waves that washed me of my ills and a massive part of me wanted nothing more than to stand on a partially covered patio in the rain forever. My birthday was to occur the following day, and as we both stood out on our cabin’s deck braving the wind and the rain, all I could possibly hope for the next day was at least one measly hour of sun. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was being unrealistic in my hope for a slight break in the weather, and it bummed me out that my stomach was not exactly feeling well enough to wallow in alcohol over the matter.

No matter how the weather went, though, at that very moment, I was feeling very real. The weather was violent enough to shake me out of any sort of a stupor and the wakefulness was invigorating. I wanted to be out on that deck getting wet and making my cold worse. I wanted to feel it. I wanted to feel alive. A hot bath could wait. Looking at the waves through rain and a dull setting sun was something that was happening at the moment and the moment was fleeting. Inside wasn’t going anywhere, whereas the outside was changing. I see so very few gray sunsets that I knew that I’d always remember seeing that one. It was oddly beautiful in all its blurry wetness and it made me feel secure. It assured me that if the world could look that attractive even at its worst then I had nothing to be afraid about growing older. If aging was akin to a damp sunset, then so be it. It didn’t look as harrowing as I thought it would.

Stormy. photo by author

Once inside, we laid on our backs and listened to the raindrops and the ocean waves. The cabin that we rented was built in 1927 and it definitely sounded like it with every step that we took. The creaky wood underfoot was another noise that added to the melody of soothing sounds and the whole cabin practically lulled us both to sleep. The only thing that distracted us from our zen was the fact that the cabin was confusing us into thinking that we had time-traveled to 1984. Both of us wondered if our parents had secretly donated decoration and furniture to the hotel because we both swore that some of the upholstered chairs and hanging wall art looked a little too familiar to be coincidental. It was as though we both stepped into our childhood homes albeit this home was way better because it was on a beach in the middle of nowhere. Suburbia never sounded as good as what our ears were hearing from the confines of the cabin so nostalgia could only take our imaginations so far.

I almost didn’t care that it was still drizzling the next morning when we woke as it was a good excuse to stay in bed and listen to the pitter-patter. I would have suggested that we stayed in that bed for the rest of our lives had the rain not unexpectedly stopped and the sun started to peek through the window. It was as good a moment as ever to run outside and recreate the beach poses that we had been staring at in a photograph for the last twelve hours.

Bedstand picture. photo by author

On the nightstand beside the bed, we had been studying a black and white photograph of five young ladies on the beach wearing swim attire that was in style from at least 100 years ago. The photograph was obviously taken on Jenner’s beach as the rock formations that served as the backdrop were still there because we spied them from our cabin’s window. The girls in the picture had their names handwritten above their heads and if the clothes weren’t a dead giveaway of how old the photograph was, seeing Hazel, Viola, Ethel, Daisy, and Gladys as teenagers certainly pegged the photo as having occurred sometime near the turn of the 20th century. The only women I ever met with those names were all over eighty years old and it was odd to think that anyone with those names was ever young. That photograph really put aging into perspective for me and I wanted to stand on the same spot and do the same pose that a twenty-year-old Ethel did one hundred and ten years ago.

beach. photo by author

We both ran on the beach and looked for the spot that looked identical to where the early 1900s girls stood. Once we identified the location, I assumed the position and felt the connection. One arm up, one arm back, front leg bent, back leg stretched, back slightly leaning forward, ya they were all doing it differently and so was I. It was a funky time warp pose and it didn’t have to be perfect as nothing in life ever is. Life is rather sloppy, and I don’t know why it’s natural to have high expectations for oneself when really one shouldn’t expect anything at all. Life looks more like five teenagers who can’t manage to do the same pose even though they all have the elements right. Life is basically about getting the gist of it and not being too concerned with what other people are doing so long as you’re all doing this thing called life together. We’d all probably enjoy living a heck of a lot more if we learned how to embrace all of our sloppy poses because the truth is that we are all rather clumsy. No one should really care when mistakes are made because they are going to happen due to our natural inclination to be wildly imperfect.

A glorious day. photo by author.

The weather, on the other hand, was unnaturally perfect that morning, so we took advantage of the sun and drove up the coast a wee bit to an old Russian outpost known as Fort Ross.

Neither of us knew anything about the brief impact the Russians had on this little section of America so we had much to learn from each plaque that was slapped onto every reconstructed building. In my school years, I was never taught that concurrent with the opening of the Erie Canal in the 1820s, the Russians were on the California coast trying to get a foothold on the land grab that was occurring on the western portion of this sizable country.

My teachers were always focused on teaching us about every little event that occurred on the east coast that they completely failed to acknowledge that anything ever happened on the west coast at all. I only found out that the Russians had colonies in Alaska because I happened to read about them in one of the Fort Ross buildings. It has taken me years of traveling around my own country to piece together a broader picture of my nation’s actual history. America’s story is far more interesting than the same handful of east coasters that every student gets told about. I was bored learning about John Quincy Adams by the fifth grade and would have appreciated learning about Ivan Kuskov, leader of the Russian-American Company and founder of a Russian settlement in northern California, at some point instead. As an adult, I am always learning, and I enjoy seeking history in particular because it always gives me something to look for.

Ft. Ross. photo by author

The day remained sunny throughout and it made my turning 40 bearable. I was finally feeling officially better, enough to waste sixty bucks on a dinner that was merely worth twenty. Why do birthdays make people feel like spending more money than they have to? Going to a McDonald’s would have made for the worst birthday ever, but somehow overspending on a meal that tasted mediocre and made me feel awkwardly unworthy was somehow perceived as being the better option.

Birthdays are meant to be celebrated and to celebrate properly, one typically spends way too much money on them. That’s stupid and I hate it, but I do it anyway. If I don’t spend enough, then that must mean that I don’t love properly. The two things have nothing to do with each other, but they most absolutely do because we perceive them to go together. Life is determined by culture, and I live in a very expensive one.

My newest quasi-travel memoir Time Traveled is available as e-book or paperback! Buy it either at Amazon or at most major retailers.