Day 28 – Bridgeville -> Mount Shasta CA

After we made breakfast for ourselves at our campground in the redwoods, we took a walk around before we hit the road. Along the way, we met and had a chat with a very interesting old guy. He was on the crew of a bomber in World War II, got shot down in November of 1942 and spent the rest of the war in the same Stalag that was the source of the story for the book and movie “The Great Escape.” He said to look up “303 bomber group”.

To paraphrase the warning signs at the beginning of this road, “If you have a long trailer, you’re gonna be really sorry if you try to go over the mountain on this road.” They weren’t kidding. The climb and the descent were steep, the turns were gnarly, and the road itself was quite narrow in spots. But it was also one of the most scenic drives of our trip.

Once the road on the downhill side widened out and became a highway again, we took a rest stop at a pull-out and found a picturesque stream with a natural log-dam forming a small pond behind it. It was a great place to enjoy the cool air of the early afternoon, because it was very hot once we got to Redding.

Searching for coffee, we somehow ended up in a downtown shopping mall that was deserted. There was very little foot traffic, most of the store fronts were either vacant or had been transformed into low-rent office space, and the air conditioner setting were totally inadequate for the day’s heat. It felt like a ghost town, and it was kind of sad knowing that this failed mall was probably built in an attempt to save a failing downtown.

We did get well-fed in Redding at a Mexican place called La Cabana. The food was good, it was delivered promptly, and filled us up in spite of our ravenous hunger.

Late afternoon was transitioning to early evening when we left Redding, and our plan was to camp at Mount Shasta tonight. If we were going to get there before dark, we’d need to use the freeway (I-5), and it doesn’t look like there are any parallel alternate routes anyway.

We got to the volcano (yes, Shasta is a volcano) at about sunset and camped at the McBride Springs campground in the national forest. At 5,000 feet, it’s a good place to acclimate to the elevation, having been close to sea level the last several nights. We ended our day relaxing as we gazed at a sky shimmering with brilliant stars.

Day 27 – Fort Bragg -> Bridgeville CA

The wine we had last night was tasty, but it left Obbie badly hung over. The noisy neighbors in the campground didn’t help. At any rate, today is a day that Rozie does most of the driving.

We took state Route 20 over the mountains to Willits to re-join Route 101. During lunch at a Chinese buffet in Willits, the owner discovered that his date-of-birth is only three days from Obbie’s and exclaimed, “we brother!”

101 through Willits was a major traffic jam, but it started moving again as we got out of town. Near Laytonville we stopped at an art shop that had beautiful batiks as well as artwork by Wavy Gravy.

An hour or so later we found the “Avenue of the Giants”. This is a stretch of the original highway that goes through the ancient redwoods, including an iconic spot where the road tunnels through a redwood tree. But there was a posted height limit. If we removed our bikes from the rack on the roof, we would still be close to the limit.

We are learning that most of the redwoods are relatively young, having sprouted after the first clear-cuts over a hundred years ago. A few pockets of old-growth remain in parks and reserves, but even century-old redwoods are impressive.

As 101 was just getting back to the coast south of Eureka, we turned back toward the mountains on state highway 36. Our map said that this road could get us to Redding and the road to Mt. Shasta. The signs said that taking big trucks over the mountain was not a good idea, but we have a small truck, so we’re OK.

Before we got very far, we found a campsite at Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, so we pounced on it. We fired up the camp stove to make some corn pasta, which we enjoyed with pasta sauce and cheese.

Our campsite thief.

There was a bluejay near our camp kitchen that was determined to share our meal with us. It was a very obnoxious bird, probably a messenger from Ariel, our lovebird at home who was very pissed off that we’ve been gone so long.

We were there early enough to make friends with some of our campground neighbors, and to walk around enjoying our presence in a dense and deep canopy of redwoods.

Day 26 – Calistoga -> Fort Bragg CA

We were the last people to leave the Calistoga Fairgrounds, and we went to find coffee before leaving town. We had an outdoor table at a place downtown, and the overheard conversations were liberally sprinkled with the words “hot tub” and “wine”. This atmosphere of polo shirts and sun hats was not to our tastes, so we eagerly headed northwest on Route 128.

Have we mentioned yet that great coffee is much more widely available than it is at home? This is good news for us coffee lovers, but it seems to exacerbate the bad habits of drivers that already are in too much of a hurry.

While on the subject of wonderfully wide availability, let’s talk about health food stores and organic produce. Every town of any size seems to have at least one health food store, and we saw organic produce being sold at conventional supermarkets.

128 shared pavement with 101 as we approached Cloverdale, where we had lunch at Taqueria Paraiso, a quiet Mexican place in a converted dance hall. It was the most authentic Mexican place we’ve eaten at so far, and the prices were very reasonable.

As we left, it occurred to us that the Taqueria was there for people who worked in the nearby vineyards, while the wine gawkers went to far more upscale places. It was quiet when we were there, but it’s likely that it’s much busier in the later hours, after the day’s picking and pruning are finished.

Obbie and our camcorder peek through the ferns near the organic apple orchard we discovered on Route 128.

Route 128 from Cloverdale to Mendocino is a highly underrated drive. Mountains of oak savannas alternate with mountains of redwoods. Near the crest of the coastal range, we found an organic apple farm with a stand that sold us apple juice and cider on an honor system.

Mendocino is an old fishing town that retains a lot of the old look. When the houses were built, they each had private water towers and windmills, and many of these old water towers remain.

We were in town to make a pilgrimage to Lark in the Morning, a music store that sells every odd-ball instrument known to humanity. There were hundreds of different stringed instruments, but none of them were tuned. (Can you imagine having to tune all of these instruments, with each one having its own special tuning?) We ended up getting a couple of hand drums and a whistle without breaking out of two figures. Amazing place.

We set out in search of a campsite in the state forest, but all of them were full. We ended up at Camp Wildwood, a private campground about four miles inland from Fort Bragg. We shared a bottle of Sonoma County wine we’d picked up in Calistoga, and relaxed while listening to the fireworks show in Fort Bragg.

Day 25 – Muir Woods -> Calistoga CA

Today’s mission is to replace Obbie’s glasses. Fortunately, we’re carrying a copy of his prescription, and Berkeley is among the best places on our route to find discount eyeglass dealers.

We know of a route over the mountain between Bolinas and Fairfax, and there’s a road that follows the top of the ridge from our campground to meet it. Then it was a long and twisting mountain road that took us through remote back country until we started seeing older but well-kept homes. We were back in “civilization.”

Fairfax was once the last accessible settlement in Marin County before the mountain terrain made commuting unrealistic. The mountains seemed to have stopped the sprawl, but they haven’t stopped the money from moving in. We continued on through San Anselmo to San Rafael, and got on the freeway to cross the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge… or, from this side, simply the “Richmond Bridge”.

As soon as we were on the freeway we heard a new noise coming from under the truck. It felt like we were driving on rumble strips and we started to freak out. This noise followed us past San Quentin Prison, over the Richmond Bridge (5 miles on the lower deck) and past the warehouses and oil refineries of the North Bay. Pleasant trip.

When we got to Berkeley, the first thing we did when we got off the freeway was to visit another place that Obbie once lived. Where the bottom (western end) of Dwight Way dead-ends at the railroad tracks is a place once playfully called the “Berkeley KOA”.

Obbie’s step-van was among three or four vehicles that were clandestine residences clustered in that neighborhood in the winter of 1991-92. The grungy warehouses are now cleaned-up office buildings, and a parking lot is now the site of a new and shiny office building. The neighborhood has definitely scaled up.

We went up the hill, parked the truck and had breakfast at the corner of Telegraph and Dwight. The place is called The Soup Kitchen, and it’s another eatery with no table service: order and pay at the counter, and wait for your name to be called. In spite of the name and the style of service, it was one of the best breakfasts we’ve had on this trip, and probably the best price we’ve paid for breakfast since we left home.

We were put off by the crowds on Telegraph, and we couldn’t find a glasses place there anyway. We finally found a place on Shattuck that would set us up with a pair of regular glasses and a pair of photo-greys for fifty bucks. “Come back in an hour.”

Prescription sunglasses will be an upgrade. So far, Obbie has been forced to “double up” his regular glasses with a pair of generic sunglasses, an ugly and awkward arrangement.

Once the glasses were delivered and paid for, we rumbled northbound out of Berkeley and picked our way through the Friday afternoon commuter mess to wine country. We weren’t necessarily interested in that region, but we had to pass thru on our way to the North Coast redwoods. We passed mile after mile of grapes, all irrigated. It’s amazing how much California tries to do with imported water.

We had our sights of some state park campgrounds on our way, but they were all full. We ended up spending the night camped in Calistoga, a hot springs town in the middle of wine country.

They seem to be accustomed to an overflow of campers, so we were directed to the Calistoga Fairgrounds. We shared a patch of grass and a parking lot with two or three other couples.

It’s level and quiet, and there are decent showers. Nothing to complain about, as we look forward to a restful night.

Day 24 – Novato -> Muir Woods CA

While we were still in our room in Novato we made phone calls to campgrounds in search of an opening for tonight. Mt. Tamalpias State Park had openings, but it’s first-come-first-served, so we jumped in the truck to go up there right away. We took a little drive-thru tour of Mill Valley, then made the steep and winding drive up Mt. Tam to the Pantoll Campground. I think we were in the Muir Woods National Recreation Area, but the border between Muir Woods and Mt. Tam State Park is kind of blurry.

With our camp site for tonight secure, we drove down the other side of the mountain to Bolinas. Bolinas is a cool little coastal fishing town about 20 miles up the coast from the Golden Gate Bridge that recently evolved into a hippy town.

Most maps show that you have to take a little side road from Hwy 1 to get there, but finding that road is a trick. Back in the 80’s, the highway maintenance people had a hard time keeping the signs up that directed drivers to Bolinas from Hwy 1. There were (and are) people in Bolinas that are so determined to keep their town from being overrun by tourists that the signs would be gone minutes after installation. The highway people even tried painting the direction sign on the pavement, but that also disappeared. Finally, CalTrans officially gave up on maintaining that bit of signage.

Having found Bolinas, it hasn’t changed much in ten years. We had brunch (fish & chips and cheese enchiladas) at the Coast Cafe. The staff was very friendly, and we had long chat with owner.

He talked about his tipping policy: all tips are shared by all staff on duty, so everyone – from waitstaff to dishwashers – is motivated to make all customers happy, even if it’s not “their table”. He also talked about wanting and needing the place to be a hit with the locals, since Bolinas doesn’t get enough tourist traffic to survive on.

After lunch, we restocked on some supplies, and took a short walk. Unfortunately, Bolinas was where Obbie lost his glasses, which spoiled what should have been a very pleasant drive back.

We got back up the mountain by late afternoon, and had time for a hike through Muir Woods National Monument. We accessed the trails from our campground, and they were as steep and dusty as the Grand Canyon trails, but they wound thru groves of old-growth redwoods. We found trees we could walk thru or hide in, and some trees that were over a thousand years old. It did look like the recent years of drought have taken their toll, as the forest seemed very dry.

As we tried to drift off to sleep that night, we were distracted by the sound of a female voice with a European accent repeatedly calling out, “Hallo?… Hallo?” Maybe she’s looking for a ranger? Or did she become disconnected from the rest of her group? Should we feel guilty for not squirming out of our sleeping bags, getting dressed, and talking to her? Even though there was little or nothing we could do to help?

Day 23 – San Bruno -> Novato CA

Our low-priced room in San Bruno was a perfect launching pad to spend the Fourth of July in San Francisco, mostly on a tour of Haight Street and Golden Gate Park. To get there, we took El Camino Real toward the city until we found Route 1 again. Just before the road goes through the park, we turned onto Judah and parked a few blocks down.

This is why we carried our bikes. It’s expensive and stressful to park near interesting places in big cities. But free on-street parking can be found in residential neighborhoods a mile or so away… a distance that might be unrealistic to walk, but just a few minutes by bike. Today our bikes took us through Golden Gate Park to Haight Street.

Breakfast was still on the agenda, and Obbie’s favorite place here is The Pork Store. Unfortunately, it’s also everybody else’s favorite place given the long line for a table. We didn’t have time for that, so we opted for the Peoples Cafe a few doors down. This was more of an “order at the counter, we’ll bring your food when it’s ready” kind of place, but the food was still good. There were many vegetarian options for omelettes, and the home fries were awesome. We’re still not used to California prices.

Haight Street businesses seem to be engaged in a competition for the most psychedelic and/or artistic storefronts, and there are some classics there. What was once a low-rent hippy enclave has seen a lot of fresh paint and high-end remodeling, and the people who made the neighborhood interesting can no longer afford to live there.

A house overlooking Buena Vista Park near Haight Street in San Francisco.

When on Haight Street, we recommend Buena Vista Park. It looks like a little pocket park from the street, but if you start climbing the trails and keep climbing, you will be rewarded with grand vistas of downtown and the northern parts of the city.

Golden Gate Park is packed with museums, botanical gardens, and other special and unique places found in most major city parks. We spent a couple of hours in a part of the park devoted to Asian art. We hung around a spectacular 1930’s bandshell and music concourse, then walked thru a Japanese Tea Garden.

At the Tea Garden, they have free admission for the last hour of operation each day, and we got there just as the ticket-taker called it a day. The place is an Asian maze where one could easily get lost. There are several pagodas, plants of all kinds, ponds, paths, sitting areas, and sculptures, including a ten-foot eighteenth-century bronze Buddha. In the center of it all is the Tea House, where you can sit down to one of several varieties of tea, all complimented by cookies and snacks.

Our truck was just a few blocks from the Tea Garden, and we wanted to take a quick peek at some other parts of the city on our way out. We drove through the Mission, then tried to do a drive-thru tour of Chinatown and North Beach, but became engulfed in traffic as the hordes converged on the bay shore to watch fireworks. We ran away from the crowds and dashed across the bridge.

The sun settles low in the west as seen from the house boat area of Sausalito.

We made a quick stop in Sausalito to check out the houseboats. Back in the 60’s, a bunch of hippies and slackers started living in houseboats near Sausalito because, hey, there’s no rent to pay. The local curmudgeons started a movement to get rid of the houseboats, since they didn’t “look good” next to their million-dollar homes.

The good news is that the houseboats are still there. The bad news is that the only ones that survive are yuppie palaces with hulls. It seems the curmudgeons got their way after all, since these houseboats do fit in next to the million-dollar homes.

As the sun went down and we looked for a room, we were puzzled by a paradox of holiday crowds. With so many people flocking to the city, one would think there are places that are not crowded. But the remote places away from the city are overrun as well. It seems the suburban and rural people go to the city, and the city people leave town. And everyplace is crowded.

We finally found a room we could afford near Novato… a bit further out than we’d planned on going, but still close enough for the things we hope to do tomorrow.

Day 22 – Santa Cruz -> San Bruno CA

We had a little time this morning while we waited for Martin and Vicki to meet us for breakfast, so we started the day downtown doing laundry at a place that was a cafe, Internet cafe, and laundromat all in one. We hadn’t done laundry since Colorado, we hadn’t checked email since Santa Barbara, and we needed coffee anyway, so this let us accomplish a lot in one place.

Obbie used to travel to Santa Cruz several times a year, and his favorite breakfast place was Zachary’s, on the southern end of downtown’s outdoor mall. Their main menu item is a “build your own” omelette. You start with a cheese omelette, and add ingredients for a few quarters per ingredient. Our omelettes were huge and rich, the home fries were real, and the coffee was as good as it gets.

Once we finished breakfast, we drove up highway 9 to Vickie’s place in Happy Valley. Martin and Vicki have their eye on a piece of property in the redwoods they hope to acquire for a land trust to demonstrate alternative living techniques. We went up there together to take a look around. Whether or not this deal works out, it was a great chance to spend time in the forest.

At sunset, we said our goodbyes to old and new friends and continued up the coast. We were told there was a hostel in a lighthouse at Pigeon Point, but when we stopped to inquire, there was no room at the inn.

That’s where we happened to see a notice about an “electric surcharge.” It seems that California has been going through some sort of weird electricity shortage, so the rates are insanely high. To compensate, places with tight margins (like hostels) have been adding surcharges to their bills. In spite of this “shortage”, we’ve seen empty parking lots bathed in street lights, wasting this supposedly scarce commodity.

At Pacifica we found a road that took us to the other side of the coastal range, where rooms were plentiful and reasonably priced. We landed in San Bruno on El Camino Real… the “real road” established by the missionaries centuries ago that eventually became Route 101… until 101 became a freeway a few blocks away.

Highway history aside, we’d finally found a room to get a good night’s sleep before we spend Fourth of July in San Francisco.