Point Reyes, California

I have got to stop having these amazing days, these terribly long days. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the energy to write my journal, and that’s a shame.

The format of yesterday’s journal went really well, I think, so I’m going to adapt it for today since I have a thousand things to cover. I won’t linger long on many.

First of all, I’ll just say my new tent worked really well. I slept very well and never wanted to wake up. Even after I was wide awake and couldn’t fall asleep again, I wanted nothing more than to sleep even longer.

The skies were totally cloudy for the first time in memory — possibly since Boston, even (Wow! I was in Boston!) — and I could tell that rain was looming in those clouds. I decided to forgo the tips the ranger gave last night and push on south, where I was sure the most impressive of the trees are anyway.

Most of my morning — and I swear it’s hard for me to believe it was only this morning — I spent driving through the Redwood State and National Parks, including the legitimately famous Avenue of the Giants that cuts through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, a drive that was somehow even more haunting and beautiful because of the rain, the damp canvas, the glistening ferns, dark soil. Somehow it seemed appropriate for it to be raining, like the experience would be better that way, and it was done all for my benefit, perfect timing, like always.

I made lots of little drives off the main route of Hwy 101, little unpaved coastal roads that were lackluster and monotonous, completely gray. My favorite color is gray, of course, but in order for a color to be gray it needs someone to tell it that it’s gray. It needs something to set it apart from the rest. It needs blue or green or yellow or red. Black or white, even. But there was nothing like that. There was Ocean Gray and Sky Gray and Cloud-obscured Tree Gray and Land Gray and Road Gray. And it was boring.

Dead Elk
There was a policeman with a “Slow” sign, moving his hand up-and-down like you would pat a four-year-old on the head, at a corner on the highway. Around the corner lay a huge elk. Huge. I can’t even begin to guess how many pounds, but if they ever weight a thousand pounds, this is that elk. I can’t imagine a larger, more beautiful elk with a better or fuller pair of antlers. This was one of the prettiest animals I’ve ever seen outside a fish tank. He had blood on a few points of his antlers and there was a small group of Mexican boys standing around it with another police officer. I didn’t see any car smashed up so I’m sure it had been towed. This elk would have done some damage. In fact, I have to assume that they euthanized the elk, because he looked in great shape, other than his horizontal position and minor traces of blood.

Anyway, it was sad. I’ve heard a lot about how tragic it is that elk and bears and wolves get hit by cars all the time, mostly because they’ve become less wild with all the traffic, but it never really hit me until I saw the poor thing lying there. Very sad.

Low Tide
At 8:30 this morning, something especially rare happened. The low tide, at its lowest at 8:30 today, was actually a negative tide. I don’t know much about tides, but I was told that it’s rare. I was asleep anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

Samoa Cookhouse
My lunch was a meal of Giant Sequoia proportions. I’ve never seen so much food, all for one person, all so delicious. I’ve never heard a waitress ask, “Do you want seconds?” It caught me off-guard and I had to think, even though the answer was definitely “no, I’m waaaay too full.”

The last surviving cookhouse in the West, the Samoa Cookhouse was built before 1900 by the Louisiana Pacific Lumber Company and served hundreds of hungry lumbermen three meals a day during their 12-hour shifts. The place still serves things “family-style” with heaping bowls and platters of food, but mine were only slightly-filled, since I was a family of one today. There are no menus — just huge servings of great food and in every sense of the phrase, all you can eat. Today we started with a hot vegetable soup with noodles, a cold mixed bean dish, a garden salad with croutons and ranch dressing, a two-inch thick of moist bread (everything was perfectly made, perfectly tasty). There were actually two slices of bread, huge heavy slices, but I only ate one, smothered in butter. Then the entree came: a teriyaki chicken breast, a scoop of peas, a new potato, and a pot of baked beans. I had coffee to drink and it came in a pitcher — a whole pot of coffee. There was water in large pitchers on each table. Oh, and the tables were 20-foot long and redwood, of course, covered in red-and-white checkered oilcloth, and shared. After I was finished with the entree, she came and asked me about seconds. I actually probably could have eaten another chicken breast — and she certainly would have brought it, she was about as bullying about seconds as mom is — but I knew better: dessert was coming. Chocolate cake, a big slice. More if you wanted it.

I can’t believe, now that I’m writing about it, that it’s making me hungry. I was sooo full. But here I wish I could go back, soon, tomorrow. Ugh! All that food for just ten bucks. I left a three-dollar tip, not because my waitress was all that wonderful (cute, but not overly helpful), but because I had had such a wonderful time, a meal not to forget. This one is definitely going on my Top Five Meals list at the end of the trip.

Gas is over two dollars per gallon in many places. I paid $1.95 today and filled up for $25. Maybe I should hurry out of California.

Reggae on the River
On way down Hwy-101, I passed a huge festival on some river, fifteen or twenty thousand people in the valley around a couple of stages, Reggae music. The traffic crawled to a stop as they had Highway Patrol directing traffic and pedestrians across the highway. It was the worst display of hygiene I’ve ever seen. A terrible smell will surely linger in that valley for weeks. One thing is for sure, I would not want to swim downstream from that river for many many days. The people who enjoy Reggae music so much (or pretend that they do, anyway) tend to individually express themselves all in the same way: no showering, no appropriate clothing. They’re probably really accepting people; free love, peace, sex, reggae, everyone-is-your-brother-and-sister kinda thing, but a sure way to not fit in is to look half-way respectable. Any semblance of “The Man” will surely put you in bad favor with these people. Of course I saw the people dressed like Jesus — in a thin, white blanket; an earth-tone hemp belt; hand-made sandals; long-flowing hair and beard — but that’s to be expected, there’s always the Jesus impersonators. It’s the guy in the strange, Rasta-colored one-piece that threw me. It wasn’t like a jump-suit like janitors and astronauts wear. It was more like a baggy pair of overalls made of nylon. I don’t exactly know how to explain it, but I’d rather not have this mental image for much longer.

I’m sure they’ll have a lot of fun and smoke a lot of pot and be happy all weekend, I’m sure they’ll enjoy “No Woman, No Cry” all thirty-seven times it’s played (or “Buffalo Soldier” or “Who Let the Dogs Out”, whatever), I’m sure they’ll all celebrate the person with the most rats in his hair, but they should keep one thing in mind: On Monday, it’s back to the old 9-to-5 grind at the San Francisco branch of Salomon Smith Barney investment banking. Those mirrors had better be spotless.

Okay — enough offending an entire network of fellow music lovers. I got a little carried away.

Highway One
I’d been looking forward to this drive for a long, long time. It’s just as I pictured it too. I’d always assumed the difference between the East and West coasts is that on the East Coast, you always have houses and resorts and urban sprawl between the highway and the ocean, while on the West Coast, the highway rides right on the edge, clinging to the precipitous cliff-faces. And that’s pretty true, at least of most of Hwy 1.

To get to the shoreline part, though, I had to make a long, super-curvy drive out of the forests, dropping a couple thousand feet in the process. The forty-mile drive took well over an hour as there was not a single straightaway — the entire road was curvy, all of it.

When a little kid pretends to drive and he makes those big left-right-left-right motions with the wheel, even though we think no one ever actually drives like that — well, you do on the north bit of Hwy 1, just slower. It was actually a lot of fun. I never got tired of it, not once. If I could commute through a drive like that, I’d be a happy man.

[ Sidebar ] — I’ve noticed that when little kids talk to their parents about me, like if I said “Hi.” to them on a hiking trail and the kid says “Mommy, who was that man?”, that sometime in the past year or two, I’ve become a man to them instead of “boy” or “kid.” When did this happen and what’s different about me? I don’t like it. [/ Sidebar ]

The rest of Hwy 1 along the ocean was a fascinating drive, mostly through undeveloped shoreline, eight-feet or so above the waves. Wildflowers follow the twists of the road better than the road itself, rhododendrons mostly, leading me to think they should rename the highway from “Shoreline Highway” to “Road o’ Dendron.”

The highlight of the drive, besides the sunset which I’ll get to in a second, was the vacation home community of Sea Ranch (in my atlas it’s called “The Sea Ranch”). In the mid-60s, a group of young architects and planners, set out to show that development need not destroy or damage the natural beauty of the coast. They imposed strict guidelines, preserving over half of the 5000 acres as open space, and required that all buildings use muted natural wood cladding, like unpainted barn wood, wooden shingles, and so on. The result is absolutely an aesthetic success, one of the most intriguing places I’ve seen. The houses are still designed in a modern style, sharp corners, lots of glass, lots of rectangles, and the “unfinished” wooden siding certainly adds something. Unfortunately, most of Sea Ranch is private, all the houses extending from long, private “driveways,” so you cannot see most of the houses (which was the goal, I suppose).

I had set a goal of 300-miles, in order to get me closer to San Francisco, and a ETA of 6:00 to 7:30 for finding a campsite. I passed on most of my early options, having only driven 200 or so miles, way short of my goal and much shorter of San Francisco. But 7:30 quickly rolled around and the campgrounds came only occasionally, in small clumps, but very seldom. And when I’d find one, of course being a Saturday in August, it’d be completely full. The process continued for hours, and I became very discouraged and panicky as my “latest possible” deadlines came and went with each half-hour. *”Oh eight’s not so bad — plenty of time. At least it’s not dark.”

But then it got later and later and the dozen or so campgrounds I found were all full. Totally full, no question. One man gave me a bit of hope when he pointed me towards a “very large” county park. Ahh, a county park surely won’t be full. But it was, of course. Nine o’clock came and went and so did the sun. It was dark and I was using my brights to spot any sign of the tent/camping icon on a sign or any of the related camping words. I even started to eye parking-lots for a good place to pull over and crash for a few hours.

Eventually, just on the edge of Point Reyes National Seashore, I pulled into a private campground and they had a couple spots left, a couple out of 400 or so. I wanted it, $23 or whatever, it’s mine.

The fortunate bit of the whole thing (and I can look at the fortunate side now — now that I’m comfortably situated for the night), is that I got to watch the sun set. In the hour before it met the edge of the Pacific, the sun cast its perfect golden light on everything that lay ahead of me, making the hills and jagged islands and beaches and wildflowers glow with such vibrancy, I had no problem calling this the most beautiful coastline in the world — better even than the Amalfi Coast in Italy. But it had everything to do with the light, that golden light that makes color itself three-dimensional. Cast that light on my car and I’d keep it forever. Cast that light on a Jayhawk and I’d enroll. Cast that light on the Bible and I’m in Seminary. Cast that light on your pick of girls and I’m on bended knee. It’s a magical glow.

But the time came that the golden glow disappeared. Or shifted rather, moving to the clouds, illuminating them in bright pinks, fading off toward the horizon, and all the beauty was behind me. I enjoyed bits of the sunset itself in my rear-view mirror and on the many occasions that a hairpin curve would set the sun above my right shoulder. There were hundreds of people (hundreds of couples) walking the beach, stopped at overlooks, on porches and rooftops, watching the sun slowly sink. It was quite an event.

But here I am, further down the road than I ever imagined, only a short jaunt up the road from the Golden Gate Bride. I moved 367 of most crooked miles in my life. Sitting here, I’m a bit dizzy, I swear — all because of the drive. Less so now than when I first started writing, I had trouble keeping my eyes focused and my head in one place — it felt like I was just going to roll straight into the ocean.

Of course I’ll have no trouble making it to San Francisco as planned for tomorrow. My first point of duty after I get out of here is to find a place to stay — hopefully the youth hostel, if parking is no trouble. If I don’t have luck there, I may just find another campsite around here, maybe at the National Park. It’s not much of a drive, I’m sure.

Very first thing though, just as soon as I’m awake and dressed, is to have breakfast. I know I wanted to eat healthy and all for the beach, but food is just too good. Like Armando from Virginia said, “I love food. It’s the best thing.” The campground is having an all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast for just four dollars. And although I can probably only eat three or four, I’m sure I’ll get to meet some people and that’s usually the best part anyway.

I wanted to get a Humboldt State University T-Shirt in Arcata, but I didn’t make it there. That’s just a little regret I wanted to mention.



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