March 2015 - California Dreaming

Ralph's Blog

Previous     Blog Index     Next

After visiting Taliesin we headed west to California. Since we try travel 200-300 miles in a day (we're not in a hurry) that brought us to the Mayflower River Park in Blythe California. We punched 'Colorado River Road' into the GPS and found only 'Colorado River Drive'. OK, Blythe is a very small place, that must be it. We followed the directions and ended up in a manufactured home community - looking good so far.

You know the old saying about what the real definition of the word 'assume'. Well, it is indubitably true: Colorado River Drive is accessible by footbridge only, 8 ton RVs need not apply. It was also about thirty miles the wrong way. After Judy insisted that we actually call and get directions we got an answer from the park office and they gave us directions to a very nice little RV park just before sundown. If the GPS fails you, the cell phone can save your cookies - as long as someone is available to answer on the other end.

We took a stroll with my new camera, admiring the Colorado River and watching the birds and the other critters as the sun set. It was a beautiful sunset and the shot below is one of the most lovely I have captured.

The counties in California are very large, the next day we drove 180 miles to Jerupa Valley, far enough away to have a new area code for the phone, but the Rancho Jerupa Park was still part of the River County Park System. We spent a couple of days with our old friend Kristi and her two wonderful children. Summer had arrived and it was in the 90s after a cool winter even in the southlands. The water park was open and the kids frolicked and splashed for hours. We cooked on the BBQ and sat around the campfire. Well actually I collapsed early that evening and slept while Judy made the camp fire and stories, songs and smores were shared around the campfire.

We also got to spend a few hours with Judy's cousin Stuart. We gave him a tour of the RV and he gave us a tour of his new Tesla. Quite a car and an impressive piece of engineering. The control console is worthy of the Starship Enterprise - it can even play any radio station in the world via its data network - you can call them all up on the touch screen menu.

In fine spirits after a wonderful visit we headed north. Somewhere around Agoura Hills (yeah - we had no idea there was a Agoura Hills CA either) someone pulled along side the white goddess honking and pointing backward. Looking in the rearview there was a great cloud of black smoke pouring from the rear wheels of the Gypsy Wagon. So I hit the brakes and worked my way to the convenient exit that appeared along with the cloud of smoke. Crawling along as slowly as I could the I tried to find a place to pull over safely and assess the damage.

This is easier said than done in overpopulated California. Passing several fast food places on the main drag I took the first right onto a side street, but it was too narrow. The next right was looking better, but not too safe to be examining the wheels. At last a very wide street appeared at the entrance to a townhouse community with enough space to stop safely. Getting out of the pickup I heard a loud beeping from the trailer, so I opened the door and was engulfed in smoke - the smoke alarm was clearly working! I fired up the big exhaust fan and cleared the noxious stuff and hoped the poor cats hadn't been suffocated. They were disgruntled but unharmed.

The livestock having been cared for I crawled under the trailer and found the bracket that supports the leaf springs had broken, causing the trim around the wheel well to rub the tire. The black smoke was part tire rubber, part plastic trim, but there was no irreparable damage to the RV.

Once again we called the folks at Good Sam, who hooked us up with a Mobile Mechanic. These are the guys you see pulled up beside a broken down 18 wheeler trying to repair whatever has gone wrong. It's a bit of a problem trying to tow an 18 wheeler or an RV with broken wheels, so it is usually a better idea to fix it on the roadside if possible.

Since it was a very beautiful day, we broke out the camp chairs and set up on the grass to await our mechanic. In 5 hours or so he arrived, assessed the damage and assured me he could fix it. I spent the next several hours watching a master mechanic ply his trade. The man was a genius with steel - Taking a piece of 3/8 plate he had in the back of his truck he cut, bent and beat - using only hand tools - the steel until it was a replacement for the failed spring bracket. There is something very satisfying in watching a master craftsman at work; even though it was going to cost us a whole lot of money I was mesmerized by his ability. If you ever break down near Agoura Hills CA call Advanced Mobile Truck and Trailer Repair (805-857-0424).

You have to visualize the scene - we were parked in the entrance to a very ritzy neighborhood, even the road was made of fancy interlocking bricks instead of asphalt. Behind the 37 foot RV was a very large truck with a gas powered compressor on one side and a gas powered welding rig on the other. Under the trailer was the Mobile Mechanic with his air hammer chiseling off the remains of the broken bracket. In other words, we were making enough noise to shake dentures loose at 100 yards. We were not the type of neighbors that would be invited to set up housekeeping in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Several of our impromptu neighbors stopped by to see what was going on, one even brought some Cokes along since we had been there so long. We were expecting a security patrol to grump at us and instead met with curious and friendly neighbors. Nice to find a stereotype that vanishes in the light of reality.

The whole operation took many hours, as darkness fell I had to get out the floodlights we keep in the RV so he could see what he was doing. At last the new bracket was welded to the frame and, as our Mobile Mechanic pulled the axle to align the spring with the new bracket the bracket holding the spring on the other side of the trailer snapped off. I have to hand it to the man, I would have been swearing a blue streak at this point but he calmly jacked up the other side of the trailer and tack welded the bracket in place so we could move the trailer if we didn't drive too fast.

We spent the night at the back of a Denny's parking lot and had breakfast there in the morning. I haven't been in a Denny's in decades, but the food has markedly improved since that last visit. In fact, the breakfast was pretty darn good. I guess I have to let go of some of my prejudices.

We drove to our Mobile Mechanic's shop, which was far too small to fit our rig, and he directed us to a sandy parking lot down the street next to a decrepit abandoned building and about 20 feet from the railroad line. We did have some entertainment as we waited, the business across the street sold chickens and ducks so we spent a little time watching their antics. As we were sitting and reading a box came blowing across the sandy wasteland. Not wanting to add to the litter around the place I snagged the box and looked inside. There was a copy of the Boston Globe from August 2013. Sadly, not much had changed in the headlines.

There we waited while a job shop fabricated a new bracket and our Mobile Mechanic consulted an RV dealer as to the best way to proceed. It appears the brackets on this model of RV are known to fail after several years, so now we have a pair of I-beams reinforcing them - they'll never break again. It was too late to resume our track by the time the repairs were done, so we spent the night in the company of several passing trains.

Having lost our deposits for two nights we decided to push it and drive 400 miles or so to San Francisco to get back on schedule. The drive wasn't bad and we reached 'Frisco around dinnertime, low on fuel for both ourselves and the truck. We passed several gas stations, but they were all arranged so that you couldn't pull a big RV into them and get out again. Real estate prices dictate compact gas stations for compact cars, I guess. We rolled through 'Frisco and across the Golden Gate headed for Olema CA in the hills north of the city, blithely assuming there would be a gas station in the suburbs we could enter safely.

There were gas stations, but none with diesel. With perfect hindsight, this may have been a clue that big rigs do not use the roads we were on, but it certainly wasn't obvious at the time. Following our trusty GPS we turned onto Route 1. Now look, I'm not from California, I had no idea that Route 1 is famed for it's hairpin turns and spectacular scenery. (Judy rightly refers to them as Z-turns as opposed to S-turns) You've probably seen pictures of a zippy little sports car cruising along a road precariously clinging to the sheer cliffs above the magnificent Pacific ocean as some buff blonde surfer wends his way to his date with the waves. That's Route 1. Don't ask me about the scenery, however, I was staring fixedly at the road trying to stay on it and had only occasional glimpses of the sheer cliff with no guard rail that was the fast exit to the Pacific Ocean. I stole this picture off the internet to give you an idea of one of the tamer parts of Route 1.

Our first clue was a big yellow sign warning that the road was not safe for vehicles over 30 feet long. The Gypsy Wagon is 37 feet long. I have to thank the State of California for the warning, but THERE IS NO PLACE TO TURN AROUND AFTER THAT BLASTED SIGN! Judy tells me that for the next 26 miles I was continuously chanting "Were gonna die! We'll never survive this. We're gonna die". She may be right, I was too busy being scared out of my mind.

That is not hyperbole, it's the literal truth - I have never been so scared. The only way around some of those blind turns while pulling a humongous RV is to go halfway (and sometimes all the way!) into the opposite lane. Night was falling, limiting still further the limited visibility. The gas gauge was falling along with the night as I glanced into the rearview mirror and saw the RV was trying to climb one of the cliffs, tipped at a heart stopping angle. I came damn close to dumping us into the blue Pacific ocean and I don't want to think of this incident again, thank you very much.

It was completely dark when we made it into Olema. I had been driving for a good ten hours and was shaking with reaction to the last few miles when the cheerful voice of our GPS announced we had reached our destination. Yeah, right - there was absolutely nothing there but a light in the distance. I knew my judgment was shot after the day's adventures, with no gas to spare if I missed the RV park. I pulled to the side of the road and Judy walked to the light ahead.

Fortunately for my remaining sanity it was the RV park. Since there was no street lighting in the park I crawled after a very kind woman with a flashlight as she led me through the twists and turns to our site. At the end of a mythic day you'll forgive me if I had visions of following Diogenes on a quest for an honest man. Feeling more like a zombie than a human being we set up the RV and hooked up the power and water. When we entered there was complete disaster - tipping the trailer had opened all the cupboards on that side and the contents were strewn about. You have no idea what a mess a pound of couscous can make when scattered around a living room.

There was only one thing to do - flee in abject capitulation and go to town for something to eat. A great idea, but we arrived at 9:05 to find everything closed at 9:00. We slunk dejectedly back to the trailer and found something (I really can't remember what) to eat, then firmly slid the bedroom door shut on the chaos and fell into an exhausted slumber. Cleanup could wait for tomorrow.

Things looked much better in the morning - at least if you were looking out the window at the beautiful sylvan setting. Inside it was the same old crap all over everywhere. Judy went into a cleaning frenzy while I went in search of diesel, a great division of labor if I am any judge. Fortunately Point Reyes was only a couple of miles away, where I filled my 22 gallon tank with 22.2 gallons of diesel.

With a good night's rest and a clean trailer we set out to explore the area. Our first stop was the Muir Woods. Judy lived in the Bay area forty years ago and one of her most cherished memories was walking the Muir Woods among the giant redwoods. One beautiful day she and her first husband tramped the unspoiled forest while her late brother played Irish tunes on a recorder, accompanied by the sighs of the winds in the leaves; she has always wanted to return.

Greater love hath no man than to once again travel Route 1 back to the Muir woods for his love. I'll admit it was much easier without an RV behind me, but that road is still not friendly to large pickup trucks. Arriving at Muir Woods the parking lot was completely full and cars were parked along the roadside for a good mile approaching the place. That was our first clue that the Muir Woods were no longer a quiet, sylvan retreat.

We were only two of thousands and thousands of people who want to walk in the woods these days. It is now a full fledged National Park, complete with gift shop, snack bar, restrooms, paved and railed paths and guide brochures. Granted the trees are still glorious, but it is no longer a place for sustained, quiet contemplation. So we walked the paths and had our picture taken inside a redwood just like all the other tourists.

* * *

Our nephew Dan has lived in San Francisco for several years so we set out to find him. This was one of those easier said than done tasks, driving a big honking pickup through the narrow roads and steep hills of San Francisco is not for the faint hearted; parking a big honking pickup is next to impossible. We finally ended up in a parking garage about six blocks from his apartment where Dan kindly picked us up in his sensibly sized compact.

We also met Dan's delightful British girlfriend Jenny. Actually it's Doctor Jenny, she's a postdoc at Stanford. With friendly native guides we ate spaghetti with meatball (you only need one of those meatballs, believe me!) and hit the club scene. I was fortunate that Dan could supply me with earplugs - years of industrial work has given me some hearing loss and I wasn't keen to loose any more. The band was good but the sound man sucked; you could see the musicians playing their hearts out on a solo but you couldn't hear it.

Returning at that night we tried an alternate route that our campground hosts assured us was used by the 18 wheelers coming to the town, but Sallie (our faithless GPS) kept insisting we 'turn around when possible' and backtrack twenty miles or so back to Route 1. Judy was convinced that Sallie Forth was trying to kill us. That girl Sallie is a stubborn cuss, but we ignored her until she gave up and agreed to our preferred route. It was a much less hair raising drive, but there were still some switchbacks that I'm glad I couldn't see over in the dark.

We visited Judy's old stomping grounds in Berkeley, now much changed from her hippie days, but were able to find the house she lived in after a little searching. Amazingly, her old landlord and friend Brian still lived in the house, which we found out by meeting the next door neighbor who invited us into her home. Brian is an artist and skilled woodworker, he had restored the neighbor's home a few years ago and the work was first rate. Next we met Brian's ex-wife, who still lives in the house, and she called Brian. He was taken by surprise to have Judy land on his doorstep after several decades, but we went out to dinner with him and another old friend and had some splendid Thai food while I eavesdropped on three old friends as they reminisced about the good old days.

I also got to see the monumental mural Brian had painted that includes an 'I Love You' message from Judy's first husband. Sadly, her name has faded with time, but half the message is still there. (P loves...)

After dinner Judy and I went to the venerable Freight & Salvage Folk Club to see our friends Brother Sun. They had no idea we were coming and it was a joy to watch Pat Wictor's face light up when he recognized us in the lobby. This was their first time in California and they didn't know anyone there; meeting old friends was an unexpected pleasure for all of us; they later told us it was like coming home in a strange place. They gave one of their best performances yet, knocking the socks off of the California audience.

A few days later Dan & Jenny came to our campsite and we explored the tourist traps of Point Reyes (they have a great creamery) then took us out for fresh oysters at a place on the Tomales Bay. We parked the White Goddess on top of mounds of oyster shells left at the side of the road by previous oyster gourmands and walked some distance before we came to the entrance. Evidently lots of people will make their way there to consume oysters by the dozen.

I have to admit I don't like oysters, so I did my bit to make the tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and some wonderful dark bread disappear while Judy, Dan and Jenny slurped their way through a prodigious pile of oysters. The day was perfect, the view of the bay superb and we had a very good time, indeed.

The Point Reyes National Seashore is a beautiful place, we spent a day exploring it. You drive past quite a few working cattle ranches on the way (identified with the letters A through Z for some obscure historical reason) and then arrive at a gorgeous beach. If you bear right at the fork you end up at the coast guard station and lighthouse, although the advent of GPS has made lighthouses obsolete. I can just hear Sallie muttering in triumph for her electronic kin.

Judy opted to descend the 300 odd steps to the Cost Guard Station itself, I and my arthritis remained at the top and observed without the faintest trace of guilt.

The whales were active that day and I got a couple of shots with the telephoto lens - that blob in the middle of the picture below is a whale.

As we were driving around the area we kept seeing a bright orange VW camper gaily decorated with flowers - there are lots of VW campers still on the road in California, but this one stuck out from the crowd. We were surprised to find it parked two spaces from us in the RV park and got to meet several foreign students who were exploring the USA on their summer break. You get to meet so many fascinating people when you travel.

After a week in the bay area we headed north, toward redwood territory. We drove the Avenue of Giants, twenty odd miles of majestic redwoods, not to mention tourist traps and innumerable roadside gift shops. Finding our campground was a challenge., since the address I had on the reservation was down a road that said ROAD CLOSED. There was a KOA in the other direction; Judy and I had a rather vociferous exchange of opinion as to which campground we should go to. I must admit (grudgingly!) she was right as the KOA had our name on it's reservations despite the online receipt with the address of the other campground.

Once settled we visited a nearby state park and walked through the redwoods. You can get an idea of how big they are from the picture of Judy on top of a recently felled tree that was being removed from the roadway. You can also get an idea of how bad some drivers are by the scars on a redwood at the edge of the road into the park. Pretty hard to miss something that big!

Along the way we passed the One Log House, a primitive RV of sorts carved from a single redwood log. Not sure I would want to tow the thing, it probably weighs more than our modern RV. It was built in 1949 and put on a truck bed and toured around the country. It was probably the very first "Tiny House".

Before leaving California we stopped at Crescent City, walking on the beaches and admiring the ocean. We even got to pet a shark at the aquarium, the one I touched felt like sandpaper.

We visited the Trees of Mystery, a tourist trap but a pretty good one. They have some magnificent redwoods and a skycar that was a fun ride over the canopy of the forest. We had a magnificent view of the Ocean from the top of the skycar ride.. You can see some of our fellow tourists as we passed them in midair.

We walked the trail and admired the forest and some heroic carvings along the way.

We shot pictures at the Brotherhood Tree a 300 foot tall Redwood with an 19 foot diameter.

Entering the Trees of Mystery you are greeted by a statue of the legendary Paul Bunyan, logger extraordinaire. In a supreme irony, one of the redwoods came down and amputated Paul's arm - it's sitting in the parking lot awaiting reconstructive surgery.

This is the tree that fell on Paul

This is Paul's broken arm

Of course Judy visited the gift shop and made a new friend.

I think I've gone on long enough for this episode, so our adventures in Oregon will have to wait for the next installment.

Previous     Blog Index     Next

E-mail Ralph      E-mail Judy