On the road, in CA (or summer travels: Part Five)

What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.

20160530 – Tuesday

We awoke around 9a, my partner before I so she began the coffee process in Mark’s kitchen, which was delightfully furnished. Stainless steel knives were suspended magnetically above the countertop, the gas range was sturdy and seemed cast-iron, and as she brewed, I tidied up a bit around the room.

The odd thing about novel technologies and ways of gathering people together, such as Airbnb, is the mish-mash of translated customs to fill the void— meaning do we tip Mark or not? This was my partner’s first airbnb, and my first time as the primary guest (meaning I contact and directly pay the host for the lodgings) so we weren’t quite sure what to do. We opted for and erred on the side of politeness and courtesy, making an effort to gather our used towels and sheets, wash the cups and plates, and overall leave the place as nice as we found it. On our way out, after packing the trusty Camry, I asked Mark about the social norms in this situation: he said don’t worry about it. I said my goodbyes to him as he gardened, and we headed further north, up the California coast towards Mendicino.

With my partner’s appetite whetted for online peer-to-peer lodging, she found a place in Little River, CA called the Om Garden Shanti, a single bed in a stand-alone shack near some national parks and winding coastal mountain roads. We left Aptos around noon, aiming for a northern route that would take us through San Francisco for a late lunch, across the Golden Gate Bridge for the very basic tourist photos, and a quick pitstop at a roadside spring before arriving at our day’s destination.

Driving through SF, we stopped near Golden Gate Park to walk around a bit and eat some delicious korean BBQ at Han Il Kwan— their galbi was divine, and their spicy pork served as excellent road food. Perhaps it was the fact that it was the back-end of a lazy Tuesday lunch rush, but my partner and I noticed the frankly startling amount of food waste by the patrons around us. I noticed it first while I waited in line for the bathroom: a bowl of egg soup was sitting, essentially ready for a table, in a bin full of dirty dishes. Whoever ordered the food had tasted it and called it a day.

When my partner and I were packing up our leftovers and preparing to leave, she noticed a large amount of perfectly good food on the table behind me: a small family had paid their check and left a few minutes earlier. I turned and casually grabbed their spicy kimchi pancakes and the galbi-tang, a korean soup roughly similar to Vietnamese pho. With a careful eye for food waste, we had doubled our road rations after an already affordable and tasty meal.

After leaving the restaurant, we decided to walk off our lunchtime laziness before jumping back into the car— a leisure amble through the Golden Gate Park, a lazy lay in the grass, and some gentle yoga and wrestling with my partner. We drove through the rush hour traffic to take some photos and breathe the ocean air on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I had visited SF a few years prior for a work-related trip with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. During my previous visit, I had spent most of the weekend in the hotel watching powerpoint presentations in the large conference hall, escaping briefly for an adventure through Chinatown with a physician and a workout at the renowned San Francisco CrossFit. Very little sightseeing, and a very different part of my life.

This time, during the drive over the big red bridge, I was struck by the immense haze and fog that blew over the cars and the bay: caused by the weird funneling effect of the mountains on the ocean breeze, the fog lives a short and magnificent life before dissipating in the San Francisco Bay. The viewing station on the southern side of the bridge was completely fogged out, with viewers barely able to see fifty feet in front of them, much less those large iconic red steel support beams. As we traversed the span, the fog lifted in almost a miraculous on/off switch: the northern viewing station was clear with blue and blustery skies.

After the requisite number of photos with the crimson bridge in the background (five), we aimed for Rattlesnake Spring, just outside of Robert Louis Stevenson State Park and Mt. St. Helena, not to be confused with Mt. St Helens). The spring is located on the side of a minor highway, winding its way through the foothills and mountains, a small but steady stream of fresh ground water out of a bit of PVC piping.

When we arrived, there were a few cars in line and we parked on the opposite side of the road. My partner and I got out our glass containers for water and joined the queue. Most of the folks in line had about a dozen plastic water jugs in the beds of their trucks, or already in formation next to the spring pipe, the kind of 5gal containers you’d find on a water cooler. As we settled into our third place in the queue, after the young latinos filling up now and the father-daughter combo waiting in the chute.

The area surrounding the spring pipe had human signs: piles of ash indicating either large campfires or brush burns, toilet paper, and poop of ambiguous origin. As I completed the tour of Rattlesnake Spring, the latino fellows filled their final jug and headed out. I wandered back to the pipe, and struck up a conversation with the father-daughter duo.

I asked him how long he had been coming to this spring, to which he replied with a hearty, “Years!” He seemed like a lovely working-class guy in his late fifties, well-tanned from laboring in the sun, and incredibly genial and gregarious in his demeanor. He introduced himself as Larry, and I can’t for the life of me remember his soft-spoken daughter’s name, but she had reddish hair and sang along to the country tunes playing in the truck while I talked with her father.

I asked Larry if he wouldn’t mind my partner and I cutting him in line, seeing as we had maybe a gallon or two to fill while he had upwards of a hundred— he was loading up for the next week or two, a regular ritual for him and apparently a good number of other locals, as a father with two rambunctious adolescents arrived during our conversation. Larry agreed, and I told him about our road trip west while the spring fell into our glass containers.

Once full, my partner took up the slack of the conversation while I secured tops and set Larry’s jug under the small stream as a small token of thanks for letting us fill before him. We waved our goodbyes and he wished us well in our travels. As the sun set and we aimed for our bed in Om Garden Shanti.

From Rattlesnake to Little River, we drove about three hours through the winding mountain roads to our destination near Mendocino. On our way there, I met my first redwood trees.

From a distance, they look like the pines back in NH: ramrod straight, lateral branches that fan out like spokes on a wheel when seen from above (or below), small evergreen needles that fall to the ground and give the earth a sponginess with each step. When you look at a distance, they look like my trees, but when you look at a redwood next to you, the sheer biomass of the trunk is startling, a city bus made of lumber and put on its end would start to describe the scale of these plants.

We drove through the sunset and twilight, occasionally stopping for a breath and view, but once the evening settled in, my partner charged through the wild roads to Little Rock. With no check-in and a few solar-powered lights to point us in the direction of the shack, we unloaded some essentials and crashed.

20160601 – Wednesday

Awaking around 8a, with the morning sun blasting through the shack’s small windows and onto our faces. My partner wandered out while I attempted (unsuccessfully) to squeeze out a few more grains of sleep, tossing and turning under the cozy blankets, sheets, and warm sun.

The Om Garden Shanti rests on Pegasus Farm, a former junkyard tucked into the Little River valley off the CA coast. The main house, about a hundred meters from our evening’s shack, was a restored barn, parts of it almost a hundred years old and is overall eligible for historical building status. My partner explored the grounds a bit and prepared the morning coffee, while I slowly arose. She had struck up a conversation with the owner when I walked into the kitchen, the two of them already thick as thieves. 

Other guests on the property include WWOOFers, travelers that trade a few hours of labor a week for room and board— two called Pegasus Farms home when we visited, each with a companion animal of a dog or cat. As I sipped the coffee, I poked around the landscape a bit. Since we arrived at night, around 11p, we couldn’t orient ourselves to the grounds: the stars formed a lovely blanket, more intricate and detailed than any I had seen before, but without a slice of moon, the solar-powered lights were our main forms of navigation until daytime.

A small barn adjacent to the main house, the communal shower and toilet in closets off to the side of the main entrance to the main building. Out the back, an open-air shower with bathtub and a gorgeous view of redwoods in the backyard.

After I finished my coffee, I completed a simple bodyweight workout consisting of squats, pushups, overhead PVC lunges, and kettlebell swings— the first movement session in over a week that forced me to suck wind and open up my lungs. During my workout, one of the companion dogs found his way outside and settled in the sun next to me, finding me interesting but nothing to get excited about. During my cool-down, we laid belly up with our backs on the dewy grass and sun warming our faces. 

While I rinsed off and showered in the outdoor shower, with a good bit of cold water to wake me up, my partner packed up the Toyota. During the wild turns and unpredictable roads of the previous night, the back right tire had lost its hubcab to the lush redwood forest. A fair trade for almost 4,500mi of service.

If Tampa represents one end of the pendulum on the eastern side, then Yuba City, a bit north of Sacramento, represents the western high point of the counterswing: a point where the moving bit slows down, stops, and changes direction. My partner grew up in this area and her parents currently reside in a lovely ranch home nestled between orchards and rice paddies.

Together, we headed west about ten days ago for the music festival, then north to her parent’s place, and will diverge at this pendulum turn: she will stay for a few weeks, enjoying time with her family and picking up a Jeep to drive back east, while I would stay for a few days, introduce myself to her family, and then head to Tampa alone and ahead of her.

This destination, which represents both the halfway point of our individual road trips and the end of our shared journey, was the only thing on the menu today. My partner had wanted to show me Mendocino, a lovely costal town that reminds me of Provincetown on Cape Cod, but with fewer gay couples. This town marks the start of her California, the sights and memories that shaped her childhood and that she could share with me.

She took the reigns, driving the three hub-capped vehicle west, to the coast, to show me an adorable book store (where I picked up reading material for my return trip east), a folksy deli (where we ate the tastiest clam chowder this side of the Mississippi), and an asexual adult toy store filled with science, drones, crafts, and telescopes (I picked up a red-light LED and some Star Wars figurines to assemble later). The coastline was gorgeous, filled with plants and flora that seemed out of a science-fiction landscape; the succulents against the wind-battered slopes seemed especially alien and hardy.

We stopped at a small coffee shop and jewelry store before heading east, for the first time in a long time, to her parent’s place a few hours away. During the drive we saw the transition away from the mountainous terrain and hairpin turns to flat valley and North/South or East/West oriented roads, just like Florida.

Arriving a bit before dark, we unsaddled our trusty steed for a true respite filled with relaxation and a lack of daily objectives. An outrageously delicious meal of fajitas prepared by my partner’s mother greeted us when we settled in, and the pendulum finally slowed to a halt.

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