The afternoon of June 26th I left Salinas. Finally. But before leaving I made one last stop – John Steinbeck’s gravesite.
And yes, I cried.
I didn’t see all the sights in and around Salinas I’d intended to see before leaving. I never do – in any town I’ve ever lived in, really. Just one of those things – I always think I’ll get around to it. But, ah well, that the way it go.
So, that Friday afternoon, I took off down the road. Hitting Castroville, I found myself laughing, nearly crying….and waiting for one more shoe to drop out of the sky. But, Murphy seemed to be running okay. I think I just have to get used to her stutters and bumps and hiccups. She’s an awkward old girl. Just like me, I suppose.
I wasn’t sure where I’d spend my first night. I figured I’d just drive north on Hwy 1 as long as I felt like and see where I ended up. I’d just passed the small town of Davenport when I saw this spectacular weather system forming over the Pacific and had to stop to photograph it:
I couldn’t capture the size of it in one shot. The sky went from bright sunlight to gigantic dark storm in an instant. Anyway, it was beautiful and I stood there enjoying it for a while. But when I turned back to Murphy to start driving again, there she was, spewing radiator coolant on the ground. Nooooooo……..
Well, I figured if I’m going to get stuck, I’d rather get stuck where there’s some humanity so I jumped in and drove back to Davenport, hopefully before all hell broke loose. I parked and went into Whale City Bakery where there was a Bluegrass quartet (the Black Eyed Suzies). Four women playing (guitar, mandolin, slide guitar and stand-up bass) and singing beautiful harmonies.
I sat and listened for a while, figuring I’d let Murphy cool down. But I was concerned that I was parked illegally (who wants a ticket the first day of a journey?) so I asked around if there was a place I could park for the night. Not so much. Davenport’s a small town and I guess they like to keep it that way. But a very nice guy who lived in the area told me I really should try to park further down the road to avoid a ticket and offered to look at my van as well. It turns out there was plenty of coolant in the radiator. I guess maybe it was too full to begin with or something, but it seemed fine.
As I was thanking him, I was thinking about going back in to the restaurant for a while. But he kept saying ‘happy trails’ and such and I felt like I should leave! Awkward! Anyway, I decided to drive on up to Half Moon Bay for the night.
Next morning, I was on my way from Half Moon Bay (sounds like a song) and headed north. Hwy 1 goes through San Francisco on some busy city streets, but every here and there I got a peak of The bridge towers. I love that bridge. Slowly but surely I made my way across it, holding my camera in my hand and, without looking through the view finder (because I was driving, for Pete’s sake!), I took some pictures and a few turned out pretty well. Not shots I would normally have taken, but good shots, nonetheless. Kind of like my back-of-the-motorbike shots I took in Viet Nam. Maybe I should do that more often.
Beyond the bridge it was hectic, busy traffic for a while. I thought oh, what a drag it would be if all these cars (including mine) were going up Hwy 1. But bit by bit, they filtered off and it really was just me for quite a stretch.
I made a stop. A special place. Everyone knows where it is and everyone knows its name, but no one must speak it (or write it) and I shall not.
I walked into the bar. It still smelled the same – stale beer on old wood plank floors and wet dog! Lovely. I stood there and just breathed. Remembered. Smiled. The bartender, a young guy – almost looked like a teenager – was looking at me as if to say, “Want anything?” I told him I have lots of wonderful memories from that place and I was just soaking in the atmosphere. He understood. Finally I said I’d like a small Sprite or 7-up or whatever they had like that. He filled up a glass and didn’t charge me. Nice kid.
I couldn’t stay long. I was going up to see my friend Jodi in Petaluma and she had to leave at about 3. It was already 11a.m. and it would take about an hour to get there. She had been given tickets to see the Grateful Dead on their farewell tour. Can’t blame her for not wanting to pass that up. But I just had to stop for a bit because I’m a…
The drive over to Petaluma was beautiful. California is beautiful. It just really is lovely. And Petaluma has a great downtown area. Beautiful old buildings. Good thrift stores. Jodi’s shop is great. Reminds me of the one she had in Chico only more open and breezy.
She went to the concert and I stayed in her parking lot that night with access to her studio. Had a great night’s sleep.
She told me I should drive back to the coast through Occidental – that it was a really nice drive, so the next morning, that’s what I did. I’ll say it again – California is beautiful.
There is a scene I hope always to remember but was, unfortunately, not able to take a picture of it. The road was narrow and there was no shoulder to speak of so I had to just keep going. But I saw a pastoral scene of rolling, brown grass covered hills dotted with cows and a few sprawling Native Oak trees, an old barn, rugged old fences surrounding, pines topping the hills all under a whirling mist. Simply beautiful.
Occidental was a nice town. Not what I had imagined, actually. I’d seen a picture of it online and it seemed more open. This town was tucked away in the pines. Nice old Victorian homes turned into restaurants and such. Small ‘downtown’ area.
Nice town, but definitely an ‘insider/outsider’ feel to it, but I guess that’s normal in any tourist attraction type of town.
What I enjoyed more, really, were the drives to and from it.
After having strolled around a bit, I drove out to the coast via Colman Valley Road (also at Jodi’s suggestion). Now that was a trip! It seemed simple enough at first. The sign said Colman Valley Road, after all. But a mile or two in, there was a stop sign and a right turn onto a street with the exact same name. Kind of confusing. I didn’t remember hearing anything about a right turn, so I was hoping I wasn’t getting myself lost. I suppose if I had a vehicle that I had tons of confidence in, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind, but that’s not where I’m at at this point. So, I made my right turn and found myself driving down this narrow, winding road (the first of many, many that day) that often made me feel like I was entering the Secret Garden or Narnia or something. Really sort of magical. On and on through the woods and then popping out into open hills now and then, but it was very foggy, so I couldn’t see far at all. I did see a cute little cottontail bunny, though. A good portion of the way, I was thinking I must have taken a wrong turn and that I may be lost, but there’s a liberating feeling in being lost, so it was really quite enjoyable.
Indeed it was the ‘right’ road and finally, I came out at Hwy 1 in the middle of nowhere…
A long, winding, narrow road is Hwy 1. Beautiful. No doubt, beautiful. But seemingly endless. I have a jumble of contradicting feelings about driving up 1. Worth every minute; grueling drive; beautiful scenery, but hard to enjoy since you have to keep your eyes constantly on the winding, narrow road; there’s no escape! – once you’re on it at a certain point, you’re pretty much stuck; would be more enjoyable with a smaller vehicle (though Murphy did quite well, I must say); all in all, a great once-in-a-lifetime journey, but I’m not up for another drive up Hwy 1 anytime soon, no siree, Bob. I think a passenger would enjoy it quite a lot, but personally, as a passenger, I’m sure I’d be barfing out the window the entire time. You know me. :p
But, here are a few things (besides all the gorgeous scenery) I saw while driving (animals first): the cottontail bunny; a coyote running across the road and climbing at least 30 feet up a very steep hill in about 3 seconds; a field of white cows. I’ve seen white cows before, but not so many all in one place – they were milky white, har, har; seals basking in the sun (saw these when I made a stop at Point Arena); I guess this was a partial sighting – wild turkeys….I think… I didn’t get a good glimpse of them – big birds, anyway; elk that were standing so still I thought they were statues at first. Other things I saw: wild foxglove and a huge variety of flowers growing alongside the road; old shacks that I wish I could have – I could fix them up!; a lot of old cars – roadsters, Model-T types, just really neat-looking old cars; a great big sign hanging in front of someone’s house that said, “This is a Good Sign.”
As I said, I stopped at Point Arena. I didn’t pay to go in to the lighthouse. Just didn’t feel like it and I could take a picture of it anyway. Just wanted to stretch my legs and breathe the sea air.
…. in and out of the Redwoods…
I think I’d be writing for hours to describe what a long day of driving this was. I’d started some time around 8a.m. and with not many stops, ended up in Crescent City at about 6p.m. I just wanted to get to a point where I knew the next day’s drive wouldn’t be so grueling, if that makes any sense….it probably doesn’t. I did want to get to my sister’s house, though…. and a shower! But, just to make the point again, it was an incredibly long day of driving on incredibly narrow, incredibly mind-bogglingly winding roads…..and worth every minute.
From Crescent City, I drove inland on Hwy 199. More Redwoods and the Smith River. Breathtaking. At one spot I saw the most beautiful Picasso/Cubist Natural Fantasy of a gorge. It was mind-blowing. Geology in action. There was no place to pull over there so I drove down the road and started to walk back with my camera, but the road was very narrow and there was no shoulder. Cars were coming around the corner pretty fast, too. Just too dangerous, so I couldn’t get the shot. Wow, it was beautiful, though.
…. and I’m in Oregon….
…where I’ve been staying with my sweet sister, Georgia, and her wonderful husband, Jim. I’ve been here a little more than a week and will stay a few more days then venture on to Idaho to visit with my brother. In the meantime….
So far, it’s been a trip – literally and figuratively. And it’s just beginning.