For more than half the trip we were glad we were on the road. After light had come to Humboldt we were on our way to drive most of the way to Mexico. We weren’t sure if we’d make our way to I-5 and then slog down the Central Valley to the Grapevine and into the LA megalopolis, or perhaps take 101, closer to the coast. In either case, we would find a place to stay after dark, using one of the coupon books we found at a rest stop, and then finish the next morning when we were fresh, arriving at my mom’s house on the second day of our trip.
At first you can’t see the forest for the trees. Even along the 101, the redwoods reach out to shelter the road and there is little to see except wherever the nose of the car is pointing. The road wound through the thick green, and while it rained sporadically, it never poured. A rainbow shone over Scotia. There is so little traffic between Fortuna and Garberville that you can relax, enjoy the landscape and the slowly waking day. Low-hanging clouds danced among the lower ridges, the sun flirted with us – We kept reaching for sunglasses and putting them away.
As we approached Ukiah we decided the day was too beautiful to go east to the Central Valley. 101 is a little longer, we thought, but so much prettier. We continued past highway 20, the decision point, and stopped in Hopland for a fabulous breakfast at the Bluebird Cafe. It had been such a long time since we’d eaten there that I had to have the Smoked Salmon scramble. I ate most of it, getting practice in overeating for the Thanksgiving holiday, and didn’t get hungry for another ten hours. We bought a lovely peach and blueberry pie for the feast at Mom’s.
Fields of grapes covered the ground to the horizon – the valleys are stunning at any time, but more than ever at this time of yellow fields alternating with red ones. We thought our timing on crossing through San Francisco would be good, and so we didn’t circumnavigate the city as we usually do. Driving south in Marin on 101 to reach the bridge entrance, you cross a ridge – maybe it’s a headland. At any rate, the road swoops and you suddenly see the two red towers of the bridge framed between two small peaks, with the city behind them. The light is infused with fog. You’ve seen it on calendar pictures, but it’s a breath-stopping thing. Still, as I was driving, I had to keep breathing and continue over the bridge, where I could see the city through the quickly ticking uprights of the bridge’s pedestrian barrier. Then you drive through the park and along 19th Street, past the university and tony condos. On 19th Street, you can appreciate the ethnic variety of the population of San Francisco (“kung fu and acupuncture” reads one store sign), and then you are out of town, zipping along on a bay area freeway, strikingly free of traffic. We always recite, as we visit, pass by, or drive through the City, “It’s not so far, we should come and spend several days, and do it soon.” And then, somehow, the year passes and we haven’t returned, not even to see our friends Jim and Karen, who live in the Sunset District.
Onward past San Jose and then toward familiar environs: Watsonville and then Salinas. We’d thought of spending a few days in Monterey,where we used to live, and where Eric and I met, and if the weather predictions had been more optimistic, we would have stopped there. But as we traveled down the 101 toward Soledad (once I was acquainted with the locksmith at the correctional facility there) we looked to the right and the River Road, where the clouds poured over the coast range like heavy whipped cream. Above them, dark clouds, but through a gap between the two layers of cloud, the sun fired the foggy air in a glory -- a combing of frothy alpaca fiber. It must have been cold, wet, and nasty in Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove. Maybe we’d stop for a day on the way back.
Still, it was all beautiful and we were glad we were there, on the road, sliding down the edge of California. As dusk approached, I was still driving, and we’d skimmed along to Santa Maria. Here at last, a traffic obstruction. Stop and slow for 25 minutes while we covered 5 miles, and we never saw what caused it… no accident, nothing. Pulled over in Pismo to change drivers, so it was Eric who was driving when another mysterious stoppage caused us to pull off the highway in Santa Barbara We needed to buy gas, anyway. And then, two evidently related traffic disruptions. We crept in 1st gear – the Miata does that very smoothly -- and finally passed a tangle of wrecked cars and rescue vehicles; flashing lights, guys in slickers, the whole frantic story. Then, more creeping until we passed another knot of accident victims (or perpetrators) and rescuers. The first accident we saw must have been incited by the one we saw later. After you pass such a thing everyone drives slowly and more carefully – for a few minutes. Then it was slow and tight all the way to the turn-off on Valley Circle/Mulholland to my mom’s. We spent over an hour in stop and creep mode, kind of killing the enjoyment of the day.
One pleasure of the trip south was finding a new place to eat. We were hungry approaching Santa Barbara, but it was late, so we wanted something light. We stopped at random in Goleta at a restaurant showing on the GPS, but they were crowded and not what we wanted (too meaty, hot-daty. loud, and young) and the kind hostess suggested we try Pepe’s, a few blocks away. However on the way to this unknown place we realized we were in student food heaven, old town Goleta. Wow. Whatever you wanted, here it was: Italian, Indian, Chinese, burgers and fries. What caught our eye was The Natural Café -- perfect. Order at the cashiers, have them bring your ginormous salad to your table. Also, there are more Natural Cafe's in the area.
Well, we made it. It’s a tough trip no matter how you do it, but it’s great to see Mom.
My niece Hallie brought the entire Thanksgiving feast (except for the cranberry sauce, which is mine mine mine) and her lovely friend Rebecca. Eric lurked around the preparations with his new camcorder, recording Hallie tearing the turkey to pieces, Mom and me kibitzing with her, and then, when we sat around the table after eating to repletion, set p the tiny camera while Rebecca, Hallie, Mom, and I chatted. There was no prearrangement, we just chatted, and Rebecca, being a thoughtful and kind person, asked Mom a number of questions. I thought Mom was being unusually accomodating, not to make a fuss about the recording. When I mentioned it later, she said she didn’t know there was a camera. When you watch this 5-minute, unedited bit of conversation, it’s obvious that Mom is comfortable and unfazed.
Several days of hanging around… Hallie and her bf, Carlin, came over on Friday to go for a little walk in the hills close by with their pooch, Umei, and hang out for a while. On Saturday we stripped the bed and headed onto the road again. North through Santa Barbara, and then, after one of our favorite places to eat, the All American Café in Pismo Beach, a quick stop at Pipestone Vineyards in Paso Robles. So nice to see Florence (Wong) and Jeff (Pipes), and taste their wonderful wine. We had room in the trunk of the Miata, having removed the 6-quart enameled Dutch Oven which was our gift to Hallie, so we bought 7 bottles. Elegant, delicious, extraordinary wines. [You can check out their website and phone to buy your own!] http://www.pipestonevineyards.com/
Eric had cruised the web and found a place to stay in Carmel. We usually stay in Pacific Grove, but decided to make a change. The Carmel Village Inn turned out to be a good choice. We enjoyed leaving the car parked and walking to our meals, to the beach, and so on. We especially enjoyed La Bicyclette where we had pizza, soup, salad. The place seems to be a copy of a provincial French bistro. But then, everything in Carmel is a copy of something. Also, we bought hats at the Carmel Hat Shop. Humboldt is a great place to wear hats – warm hats, rain hats, even sun hats, but, aside from Abraxas in Ferndale, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to buy them. Hats and shoes are things we often buy when we’re traveling.
The drive to Humboldt from the Monterey Peninsula is another 7 hours or so – in fact the MP is a nice half-way point between Mom’s house and ours. (The sleigh ride Over the River and Through the Woods didn’t used to be 14 hours.)Magically, it happened that we were hungry for lunch in Hopland, and so stopped at the Bluebird Café again, this time sharing a mammoth salad and a ½ pound “buffalo burger.” We thanked our stunning waitress for baking the pie we enjoyed with our Thanksgiving feast. Then another three hours to home. We’d spent almost a week on the trip. It was great to see Mom and Hallie – too bad neither Daniel nor Ira were there. But they can watch the movie.