Old Bay

The first week in April, I took a week off to travel up to San Francisco. My sister had planned a vacation to see a friend of hers in the area, and since I was relatively nearby, I decided it was a good excuse to explore some more of California.

This trip would require about 1000 miles of highway driving, and my luck with the van was not inspiring for care-free adventuring. After spending close to two months stressing about the condition of my mobile home, I had finally stumbled upon a solution to get the rig driving smoothly. Now, I’m no mechanic, but I’m pretty proud of my ingenuity.

The roads up here on the mountain seem as if they were designed by throwing cooked spaghetti at a map. The elevation changes and hairpin turns were taking their toll on the engine – I was losing power on the uphills and spewing black smoke whenever I’d step on the gas. It was getting worse, and I worried that it was a sign of impending doom. I haven’t ruled that out yet, but I have found a way to make the engine run like a champion race horse up and around the narrow wiggles that they call highways up here. Without any smoke coming from the exhaust, either! Want to know my secret? I call it the “double start.” I turn on the van for about a minute, turn it off, and then turn it on again.

The Rim of the World Highway. One of the many roads up here that has been the bane of my automotive health.

The result? A roaring, clean running engine that can haul my three-quarters of a ton around surprise twists at 55 mph. Slower traffic, keep yourselves to the right. I’m coming through.

So with a newfound confidence, I trucked myself up to the Bay Area. As expected, the vambulance was back to its former glory, sometimes even passing sedans on the uphill climbs. I felt like a father watching his chubby toddler hit a wiffle ball off of a tee. It might not seem like much to a bystander, but I was brimming with pride.

I was in high spirits. Excitement to see my sister and pent up relief that my vehicle was not about to explode mixed with the endorphin bath that my brain gets when I stare down a long highway with nothing but time and road in front of me, and gave me a buzz that caused the miles to fly by. It helped that I had a week off and I was escaping yet another freak snowstorm for the mild weather of the mid-Californian coast. Life was good.

This is the view from my front door of the weather that I had escaped.

On the Saturday that I rolled into Berkeley, I met up with my sister and her friends (who had just run a half marathon through Napa Valley), we drove into San Francisco and saw a concert – Jared & The Mill. We have some family friends that have a connection to the band, so this was the second time I had seen them. They played in Minneapolis in December when I was home as well.

Siblings in our Easter best.

Siblings in our Easter best.

Jared & The Mill

Jared & The Mill

Thanks to our in with the band, we ended up spending the next morning with them, which happened to be Easter. After taking in a mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Oakland, we joined the boys for an Easter brunch that featured, among fantastic foodstuffs, a truly wonderful Bloody Mary bar. I have only recently discovered that gloriously chewy, boozy, abrasive, and spicy concoction that nurses hangovers and is ubiquitous in the Saturday brunch scene. I really don’t know what took me so long to find this potable of such potent heathenism. It has everything that I love in it: depth, pepper, acid, pickled things, and salt. It’s pretty much my new favorite thing. Show me another libation into which you can plop a hard-boiled egg, and I’ll sit up and pay attention. As soon as I finish this drink. It’s my last one, I swear.

Magical little mushrooms in and among the redwoods.

In the afternoon, we drove out to Redwood Regional Park, near Oakland, and hiked around in the redwood groves. These stands only date back to the mid-1800's since the timber rush that cleared the Bay Area of much of the original redwoods, but they are formidable trees nonetheless. The nooks and corners of the groves hold some pretty fun treasures as well.

Redwood Regional Park.

Our stone sentinel, which served as the only windbreak in the area. It also served as a wonderful perch for wave-watching and beer-drinking. Just hold onto your hat.

The following day, we ventured as far West as we could, to Mount Tamalpais State Park. The girls had reserved a campsite next to the ocean in the Steep Ravine Environmental Campground that was easily one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. We watched the sun set over the Pacific, blazing vivid colors into the sky that lingered like oil on water, iridescent and abstract. In the morning, we climbed rocks and explored the coast. It was brisk, windy, and lovely.

The sunset view from my rocky perch. I don't think I've ever had a better scene from my tent door.

The coast was littered with calico succulents and preening cormorants, squeezed among the jagged black rocks and crashing waves.

Red and green on rock.

Exploring the coast - good traction and confidence in your sense of balance are two helpful traits to have.

Hiking around the park, we were treated to pastoral views of the mogul-like landscape, blue skies punctuated by puffy cumulus clouds and bright California poppies. The weather was mild and spring-like. I can see why people get stuck here.

Background: San Francisco and surrounding bay area. Foreground: poppies.

This beautiful little gem was tucked away in the undergrowth, a fairy slipper orchid.

We explored a bit of Highway One, north of San Francisco. It's an idyllic area covered in rolling hills that are dotted with cows and boulders. I had never given much credence to the whole "happy cows come from California" campaign, but I swear that these cows were among the most contented-looking beasts upon which I've ruminated.

We stopped at a shuck-your-own oyster harvesting company on the Bay called Hog Island. I've had oysters before, but never shucked them myself, and certainly not 20 feet from where they were being harvested. It was spicy, briny, and delicious, with the salty air and the hot sun framing the experience.

Oysters, fresh from the bay. I could probably subsist off of just oysters for the rest of my life, as long as I had some good Louisiana hot sauce to go with them.

Pantoll Campground

We spent the next night at Pantoll Campground, still in Mt Tamalpais State Park. It was an exciting climb in the van - a beautiful forest setting that filtered the light of sun with a pleasant cooling mist. The trees were enveloping, shielding us from the ocean winds in contrast to the open exposure of the shore.

We were woken by some wild turkeys wandering through the camp. It wasn't our first experience with the marauding poultry that appeared to patrol Pantoll and the surrounding park. The previous day while hiking, we were serenaded by a rather vocal tom whose call was echoing across the highlands. I crawled over a nearby ridge to see if I could spot him, and was startled by a grotesque blue and red head no more than 8 feet away from me. While turkeys are not the most intimidating of wildlife and generally not cause for alarm (although they can be nasty - a buddy of mine in the 5th grade was mugged by a band of criminally inclined turkeys), the shocked silence that the two of us suddenly shared as we regarded each other in the bucolic hills was pregnant with anticipation. I took a deep breath and snapped us out of the stare-down with my very best turkey call, which caused the big male to puff out his feathers with a comical popping sound and waddle in an indignant figure eight while frantically gobbling his protest of my presence. I slid down the hill with a smile on my face. Nature isn't always majestic, which is just fine with me.

The sun also rises.




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