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August 1, 2009

2009 Father-Son Road Trip Day 9, Part 2: The Northern California Coast.

Filed under: father-son roadtrip — chuck goolsbee @ 8:11 am

Nick & I wander out of the Blackhawk collection a couple of hours later than we expected. We had hoped to make it almost to Oregon, but given that it was already afternoon this was unlikely to happen. I’d been offered a place to sleep by a friend in far northern California, but unless we took to the Interstates, there was just no way we could make it that far before very late tonight. Given the geography and scenic potential of the coast roads, we just cant fathom going inland. We decide to just drive, and see where we end up. Lunch is on our minds. We hop in the car and I lay out the route possibilities to Nick on the map… he wants to see San Francisco and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, so that’s where we go.


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From the east bay that means retracing our steps back up to Lafayette and then west over the Bay Bridge first.

Crossing the Bay Bridge.
Crossing the Bay Bridge.

As is typical the fog covers half the city. I’ve been here a hundred times (usually work related) but this is Nick’s first time. He soaks it all in and shoots lots of pictures.

Nicholas' first view of San Francisco.
Nicholas' first view of San Francisco.
Nick on the Bay Bridge.
Nick on the Bay Bridge.

As we come off the Bay Bridge he sees a billboard atop a building advertising a video game. He thinks it is really cool. I look at it and tell him that the building the billboard sits upon is where one of my old employers’ SF office was located 10 years ago. (539 Bryant Street… I see now that Twitter is headquartered there. My strongest memory from that place was spending a night, alternately on the office couch or the men’s room, dealing with a horrific case of food poisoning. But I digress…)

Nick saw this other billboard and thought it was funny.
Nick saw this other billboard and thought it was funny.

As we come to our exit for US Hwy 101 traffic grinds to a halt, and we sit for several minutes, making little forward progress. We hear sirens, and an aid car goes by so I bail out of the stuck queue and head up to the next exit. I’m familiar enough with the city to navigate freestyle, and sure enough within a few turns get ourselves back on-course.

Nicholas' first view of Market Street.
Nicholas' first view of Market Street.

As we drive up Van Ness Ave I point out the Jaguar, Lotus, Lamborghini, & Bentley dealer, which Nick thinks is cool.

say... Ja-GU-wha.
say... Ja-GU-wha.

We run into one really bizarro situation where Van Ness Ave turns left en masse onto Lombard Strert. Just before the light turns green a City worker pulls a pickup into the left-most lane of Lombard (the one we are waiting to turn into) gets out, and proceeds to water plants in the median. The light changes and we have nowhere to go! the folks in the other lane aren’t letting us move over, and the idiot City employee just ignores us. Finally a space opens up and I dive into it. This is a major thoroughfare, in fact a major US Highway, yet this bozo thinks nothing of parking in it to water flowers!

Finally we arrive at The Golden Gate Bridge. As expected it is half-veiled in fog.

Nicholas' first view of The Golden Gate Bridge.
Nicholas' first view of The Golden Gate Bridge.
Nick rides over the Golden Gate.
Nick rides over the Golden Gate.

Nick enjoys seeing the bridge for the first time. Now that we’re past the bulk of the city our first priority is finding lunch. I tell Nick to start scouting for a place to eat. The only criteria for choice as far as I’m concerned is a sloped parking area to minimize starting issues. We exit 101, and follow CA Highway 1 as it loops and wiggles towards the coast. Surprisingly it goes from rurban to rural very quickly without presenting us with anything resembling a lunch spot.

Finally off the freeway and heading for the coast on CA Hwy 1
Finally off the freeway and heading for the coast on CA Hwy 1

Thankfully I know there are towns along this road, so we just have to be patient, and we’ll find a place to eat. I’m usually a very patient guy. Today however we come upon one of those things that tests my patience to near the breaking point: The Passive-Aggressive Driver Set On Controlling Others By Their Actions. The P-ADSOCOBTA is somebody who violates the law, (not to mention common courtesy!) in order to control the behavior of other drivers. The law states that on narrow, winding, or mountain two-lane roads: “if you have five or more vehicles behind you, you must make way at the first available and safe turnout to allow following vehicles to safely pass you.” (From the Washington State Driver’s Guide… yes, I know I’m not in my home state right now, but as a common courtesy, and likely law, it still applies!) I roll up behind two SUVs and, following courtesy and law, they pull over at designated turn-outs and let me by. This car is built to handle curves at triple-digit speeds and despite 45 years of technological advancement by the auto industry it can still do it better than many cars on the road. So here on this twisty coast highway I can drive right at the speed limit (which varies between 35 and 55 MPH) with no effort at all. In fact it is a ton of fun! What is NOT fun however is putting along at 15—25 MPH behind a long line of cars, which is precisely what happens next. There is a person in an early 90s vintage red Honda Civic two cars ahead who just barely maintains forward momentum. All the people that allowed me to pass them are now crowded behind me. Between me and the rolling road block is a hopped up white Mustang, whose exhaust note is only slightly less annoying than one of those blattering Harley-Davidsons.

We reach the Pacific Coast for the first time on this northbound journey! Unfortunately we're stuck in a rolling queue...
We reach the Pacific Coast for the first time on this northbound journey! Unfortunately we're stuck in a rolling queue...
In front of the white Mustang is a Honda, driven by a complete asshole.
In front of the white Mustang is a Honda, driven by a complete asshole.

One of the odd things about this old Jaguar I’m driving is that on roads like this it wants to be driven “fast”… meaning 2x what everyone else is driving. However on “fast” roads like Interstates, where most of the other drivers are in a hurry I hang out in the slow lane and move along leisurely. The just isn’t much joy to be had in this car on a multi-lane freeway. The issue is really the completely open nature of the E-type Jaguar, at least in roadster form. You see and hear everything when at the wheel of the Jaguar. Noises come from 360° and when you are on the freeway the noises from other cars and trucks is overwhelming. The faster you go, the noisier it becomes. On a two-lane road however, especially when alone, the noises you hear are limited to those you make, and what nature provides. You hear the engine and all of its components. You hear the suspension and the tires. On the freeway it all becomes a wall of sound that only Phil Spector would enjoy. So I tend to just roll along in the slow lane at the speed limit, and let everyone pass me. Unlike a freeway though, having somebody putter along on a twisty two-lane prevents those behind them from enjoying themselves.

So we were sort of stuck. Frequently in this situation I pull over and just let the slow parade vanish ahead of me and find some empty road behind, rather than in front of the crowd. Today however, I’d like to get as far north as possible… ideally make it to the free accommodations that have been offered. So I stay behind the Mustang, who is staying behind the Honda. The Honda passes at least four or five designated and signed “Slow Vehicle Turn-Outs” and even more non-designated places where they could have easily allowed us all to pass. The Mustang driver is obviously getting ticked off and is on the Honda like a cowgirl riding a Palomino around the barrels at a rodeo. I’m hanging back a bit as the Mustang’s “tuned exhaust” is tuned to “annoying” so my ears could use the buffer of a car-length or two. Behind me is all the SUVs and cars that allowed me to pass them earlier.

FINALLY, after what seemed like an eternity the Honda pulls into a turn-out, and the Mustang takes off with me right on his tail. Now this is fun. His noisy exhaust note is now smoothed out by some throttle (no more blattering semi-idle) and it sounds much better. I’m giving him a demonstration of what a 45-year old sports car can do, and stay right on his tail no matter how fast he takes the corners. Suitably impressed, after a mile or so he takes the option of a slow vehicle turn out to let me pass, coming right in on my tail for a bit of follow the leader.

Nick reminds me that he’s going to chew my arm off if we don’t find some food as soon as possible. When we come to Olema we spot a restaurant with a sloping parking lot and I hang a U-turn to grab a spot at the top of its incline. Nick & I head in and enjoy an awesome lunch. Nick orders a hamburger that turns out to be almost as big as his head. I have a pulled pork sandwich that’s very very tasty. This part of the coast highway is actually a bit inland as Point Reyes extends westward from here. As such it is hot and I drink a couple of gallons of iced tea along with my sandwich. The Bacon Cheeseburger that ate Cleveland vanquishes Nicholas’ puny attempts ate forcing it to submit, so the waiter brings him a box to carry it along. (I think he continued to eat it until we reached the Columbia River!)

Further up the coast, at Jenner, we stop for gas as I spot a station with a long sloping driveway with which to roll-start the car. I also know from our southbound trip that gas stations are somewhat rare along the northern coast. A bit north of Jenner, as we are nearing the end of the Sonoma Coast we climb a steep switch-back road that affords a nice view back to the south. I stop the car (but keep the engine running) and grab this shot:

Looking back south along the Sonoma coast
Looking back south along the Sonoma coast

We’re once again running in a big pack of cars, with no hope of passing. When I stop to get the shot above they all trundle past us and disappear over the top of the hill. We start back again and find ourselves sitting at the end of a long queue waiting at a stop light. It isn’t really a stop light so much as an automated flag man to care for a construction zone that is shut down now that we’ve reached the end of the working day. The hill is steep so I shut off the car and when our turn comes to go it takes me so long to get in the car, buckle my seat belt, etc that the light tuns red again before we reach it. All the other cars are gone though.

waiting at the light
waiting at the light

Our wait is quite long, but no cars ever come southbound. The light turns green and we’re still the only car waiting. I roll-start the Jaguar and drive the long one-lane construction zone through several hills. Once out of this area we literally have the road to ourselves, and it is wonderful! I drive the car like it is meant to. For what seems like hours, Nick & I roar along to the tune of Sir William’s Sixth Symphony, and an occasional squealing tire as we take a corner hard here and there. It is genuinely blissful. We stop now and then to soak in views and take photos.

A quintessential California Coast view.
A quintessential California Coast view.
We have the road to ourselves!
We have the road to ourselves!

We traverse most of Mendocino County in what seems like the blink of an eye. The only thing that spoils it is the return of the fog. No, not an early 80s horror flick, just plain old cold fog.

The fog returns.
The fog returns.
Nicholas in the Fog.
Nicholas in the Fog.
Both of us bundled up.
Both of us bundled up.
No, not rain... just thick, wet fog.
No, not rain... just thick, wet fog.

We break out of the fog again north of Fort Bragg and the sun is now approaching the horizon. I pull over for a quick “bio-break” and am greeted with a wonderful sight once over the berm at the edge of the road. Could a guy ask for a nicer place to relive himself?

The view from the loo.
The view from the loo.

I tell Nick to come have a look, but he refuses…

Nick stays in the car.
Nick stays in the car.

A bit later I spot a nice beach, with an obviously well-sloped parking area and only one other car there, so I say to Nick “Hey, let’s go hit the beach to watch the sunset!” He agrees and we hang a left, park the car, and walk down to the beach.

Perfect parking place for a car with no starter motor.
Perfect parking place for a car with no starter motor.

The beach is wonderful, with things to see and do, and all the while the sun sinking into the Pacific. Nick and I spend quite a bit of time there. Climbing on rocks, watching the surf. Exploring.

foliage on the bluff over the beach.
foliage on the bluff over the beach.
Nick crossing a stream on the way to the beach.
Nick crossing a stream on the way to the beach.

We leave the beach just as the sun is slipping over the horizon. In fact we stop halfway up the stairs from the beach with our arms around each others’ shoulders and just watch it. I remember to grab a photo as it slips away as a memento of the magical moment.

The sun slipping away at the end of the day.
The sun slipping away at the end of the day.

Back at the car Nick gnaws on his leftover lunch a bit and we continue north after roll-starting the car down the short incline and turning around at the bottom of the parking lot. The post-sunset light is amazing. I instruct Nick to try and photograph the twilight reflected in the car’s bonnet as we drive along. Both he and I give it a try…

As the light fades we come to a spot I recognize: where CA Highway 1 leaves the coast to ascend the hills and meet US 101. I stop and tell Nick to soak in the view because we’re going into the trees and it will be dark from now on. The view is stunning and it is a fitting end to a great day.

Days like this are one of the reasons we embarked on this trip, seeing cool sights, stopping for a nice walk on a beach, exploring and spending time together. However sun down is not really an end of the day, just the (direct) light provided by our nearest star. Nick and I are still on the road and seeking a place to sleep for the night. The northern end of CA Hwy 1 is an insane little stretch of highway. Chris and I drove it southbound, in daylight while escaping the heat. Now we’re driving it after sundown, in a car with weak old British headlights (Joseph Lucas is suspected of saying “A proper gentleman does not motor about after dark.”) The forest is thick and the road twists and turns. On the southbound journey I dove this section with glee and squealing tires. Now in the dark I’m driving quite cautiously as I know I’m in a region populated by many deer, and perhaps even elk. The last think we really need right now is an elk-shaped dent in the bonnet of the E-type… not to mention ourselves. Manifold Destiny might claim the XK Engine is one of the best cooking devices ever on wheels, but the E-type itself makes for a lousy butchering tool – no sharp edges. So we slow down and keep our eyes peeled for fauna.

We meet US 101 (the drive-though tree was closed for the night already!) and begin a search for lodging. We’re both very tired and I know there is no way we’ll make it to our hoped-for destination… or even Eureka, where lodging should be plentiful. Motels are few and far between. I stop at a couple of them and check prices.. all are beyond my admittedly low budget tolerances (what can i say, I’m cheap!) so we continue driving. The fog rolls back in and Nick is curled up in blankets and drifting in and out of sleep. I just keep driving. I leave 101 and follow the “Avenue of the Giants” for a ways as that actually goes through many of the small towns instead of bypassing them via 101. More hotels are checked some are full, some have offices that are already closed for the night. We keep driving. Finally I find one that has a room at a very reasonable rate. We park the Jaguar with it’s nose out and Nick collapses into bed. The parking is pretty flat and I pack the Jag’s starter in ice in an attempt to have it start for us in the morning. My logic is that it worked when cold, and failed when hot. Now that we’re back in cooler climes perhaps a jolt of cold will bring it back? That task done I also stumble into bed and sleep.

1 Comment

  1. Here’s the CVC equivalent:
    “21656. On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of
    traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving
    vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, behind which five or more
    vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the
    nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the
    authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever
    sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the
    vehicles following it to proceed. As used in this section a
    slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed
    less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and
    place.”

    We have the same problem around here (Santa Cruz Mountains) on the twisty roads where folks crawl through the curves and then speed through the towns.

    Comment by johnh — August 2, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

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