Friday, February 28, 2014

Marin Headlands Day Two

The fog horns from the lighthouses had lulled me to sleep. I listened to their unceasing serenade trying to pinpoint the unique blasts of each one, the chorus of bellowing horns was surprisingly calming as I drifted off to dreamland. 

Having gone to bed so early I arose at an ungodly hour, but decided to take advantage of the fog less sky and the morning lighting to try and get a photograph of the sun rising over San Francisco. It was still dark down at the campsite as I negotiated my way up to my car. I stopped short when I heard growling coming from the bushes. I pulled out my flashlight, it’s weak beam unable to penetrate the thick shrubbery. The campground was covered with flyers warning of mountain lions up at my camp in Mt. Tam, which was just a 20 mile drive away, and my mind started fearing for the worst. I scrapped my feet on the ground and waved my flashlight around, hoping this would disorient the unseen predator. Soon the growls were followed by the alarming sound of a bird, panicking as it struggled in the brush, apparently the creature had found it’s prey and it wasn’t me. The brush quoted back down and I continued you up the path, periodically looking around me to make sure I wasn’t being stalked. 

I grabbed my camera from the car and set up along the bridge capturing the sunrise as it crest over the cityscape and ascended the tall tower of the bridge. The sky glowed a magnificent orange, attempting to match it’s hue to the that of the famous bridge. After a moment of glory the show was over, and the day began, a clear blue sky overhead and the distant skyline of san francisco diluted by the bright rays of the low lying sun. I had a quick breakfast and decided I should take advantage of my early rise and go for a hike while the park was still empty. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Travel Logged

I’ve never been able to sit still. Even when forced, my mind would wander in search of something new. I always knew I wanted to travel, even when my greatest expeditions were simple adventures through the woods behind a friend’s house. I didn’t get my first taste of real travel till I was in college, up until then, I had never even left the timezone I was born into, but it didn’t matter:  I knew I wanted it. When I finally got to travel, studying abroad in Rome, it confirmed my lust for the road.

In the eight years since, I have been on three expeditions, one throughout Europe and two around North America. I feel ashamed to admit that I have only traveled to seven countries and 38 contiguous states. When I was 20, I wrote that by 30 I would set foot on each continent, but that goal seems unlikely to be achieved in the allotted time frame. I have slept everywhere from hostels to park benches, tents to train stations, and cars to under a bush.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Headlands Day One

The drive from Mt. Tam, as it affectionately called by the locals, to Marin Headlands was quick and uneventful. The most noteworthy moment was when I stopped at the grocery store to procure some foodstuffs for dinner and was forced to lie to a little girl, telling her I would by some girl scout cookies on my way out of the store. Luckily, the girls were busy with other customers when I was leaving and I was able to slink back to my car unnoticed. 

It was another clear day in the bay area, and once again I was greater with a fog less view of the Golden Gate and the communities around the San Francisco Bay. It was still early in the day when I got to the visitor center. I had reserved a campsite for the night a couple days prior, making this the first day I had made sleeping arrangements before the day of. It was a nice relief to know I wouldn’t be scurrying for a place to sleep at night. 

I drove up to the campsite and was amazed by the view. The campsite sat at the bottom of a steep hill, a picnic grove sat at the top, along with the parking lot. The view form the picnic area was stunning, a marvelous panorama showing off the Golden Gate and the San Franciscan Skyline beyond. I walked my tent and sleeping bags down the hill and set up for the evening. It was still early but I wanted to do some exploring and had little intention of having to fight with building my camp in the dark. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mount Tamalpais

I’m not sure why I didn't continue exploring Petaluma after I got my tire situation worked out, maybe I was afraid I would spoil it if I looked too deep, maybe I was just addicted to the road, either way I headed off with no particular itinerary. I decided to head to Marin Headlands, although I knew it being a Saturday my chances of obtaining a permit were low. Petaluma is only about 40 minutes drive from Marin Headlands, but I had spent much of the morning waiting for my tire to be fixed and didn’t get to the visitor center until mid afternoon. The ranger informed me of what I had feared, all the campsites were occupied, I would have to find somewhere else to sleep. I booked a site for the following night, unwilling to give up a free nights stay in the beautiful park, and headed into the town of Sausalito. 

I had driven through Sausalito back when i was exploring the bay area and had made a point to return if I had the chance. I drove into town and parked, the streets were packed with pedestrians and bikers, non of whom seemed to be speaking english. It felt like I was in a European city. Bikes out numbered cars and restaurant seating spilled out into the sidewalks. A small path led along the shore, the bay filled with sail boats on the calm water. Houses stacked upon each other to get a view of the water and the San Francisco skyline in the distance. 

Why Hostelling?

I have been asked a lot lately “what exactly is a hostel?” along with a slew of add on questions like, “isn’t is weird sharing a room with strangers?” “aren’t you afraid someone will steal your stuff?” and the most common, albeit not a question, “I don’t think I could stay at a hostel!” So I decided to give you all a little run down on what exactly a hostel is, how is works and explain why I prefer hosteling to other forms of accommodations. So I will return to my old format of writing you out a list of Five reasons I prefer hostels…

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wonderful Petaluma

Sacramento must be surrounded by farmland, because within minutes I found myself once again surrounded by a featureless landscape. I was headed back to Golden Gate Recreation Area to take advantage of a free camp site. The drive unentertaining as I made the 90 minute drive. Then I heard, “thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap,” and my dashboard lit up in excitement, apparently I had a flat tire. I urged the car on, trying to make the next exit, the world around me still sparsely populated farmland. 

“Thwap, thwap, thwap, thwap,” the tire continued, but it didn’t feel completely flat and I needed to get off the highway. I turned at the next exit hoping desperately that I would be met with a gas station. Luckily I plaza sat at the side of the road I pulled over, my tire was low but not flat, luckily I was in civilization. When the tire was removed it was revealed that a piece of metal was lodged in the tire. A six inch long half inch wide piece of metal that had pierced through the sidewall and back out the treaded portion of the tire. It was evident I was going to need a new tire, the man at the tire shop told me he could have the tire to me by tomorrow. 

I couldn’t drive into Marin Headlands on a donut, and it didn’t matter the ordeal have set me significantly behind schedule, I would be too late to get a permit. I scoured the map for an alternative. A small state park existed just a few miles outside the city I was in, I decided to head there and camp for the night. The drive through the rolling pastures was beautiful, cows and horses grazing peaceful along the gentle green slopes. The sun was low in the sky casting long shadows across the hills. The road was winding, putting the donut to the test, my nerves on edge as now I had no spare tire and was once again without cell phone reception, the sun was setting and if anything were to go wrong I would be stranded. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sacramento and The Haunted Mansion

It was dark as I pulled up to the hostel, a gold rush mansion built in 1885, the building itself needed no assistance in looking haunted, but the darkness and eerie quite of the city streets did just that. I parked along the street and headed inside, a iron fence bordered the permitter of the property, inside the gates was a fantastically maintained garden. The old stairs creaked as I walked up to the front door, a heavy wooden door, I opened in and was met with stunning classic beauty. The door frames adorned with magnificent wood work, bronze chandeliers hung from a painted ceiling. 
The Mansion, cleary not taken at night, maybe you should follow my instagram if you want that picture @St3Inmetz
A man came was painting in the back and came out to greet me. His hands still caked in acrylic as he filled out my paperwork. I took my stuff upstairs and decided to explore the old mansion. It had two beautiful parlor each adorned with an array of antiques to complete the ambiance. Street like seeped in through the massive windows, draped in decorated white curtains. Each parlor had it’s own fireplace, embellished with beautiful tile work and expert wood work. A piano sat unused along a wall in the rear parlor, I took a seat against the back wall and sat to read. According to the literature, the mansion is known as the Llewellyn Williams Mansion and is one of the last gold rush mansions in Sacramento. 
The ceiling in the rear parlor.
If the idea of staying in a hundred and thirty year old stick-style mansion wasn’t creepy enough, further research revealed that in 1907 the house was converted to a funeral home. The mansion is now used as a hostel, explaining my presences in it’s eerie confines. I spent the evening splitting time between sitting on the porch listening to an irritating mocking bird imitate a car alarm and the rear parlor thumbing through the books on the coffee table. As the night drifted on I decided to venture out for food, finding a quaint Vietnamese restaurant just a few blocks away, where I indulge in what may have been the largest bowl of pho I have ever encountered. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Out of the Woods

I had slept through the night without even noticing the cold outside, my tent and sleeping bag doing a marvelous job of allowing me to get a full nights rest. When I exited my tent I noticed something covering the top. “Ice!” I said out loud, the pack of five male elks the only ones around to hear me. My tent was covered in ice, as was my car, the picnic table and most of the ground. It had evidently gotten much colder outside then I had anticipated. I was thankful I had slept through the chilly night undisturbed. 

The Elk spent the morning mulling about as I sat and made breakfast at the picnic table. The ice had melted almost instantly once the sun had made it’s way above the tree line, it’s warm rays basking the prairie is a soft morning glow. There was no fog on this morning, which came as somewhat of a surprise given how persistent the fog seemed to be along the coast. 

As I sat enjoy my breakfast two of the elk began to lock antlers and battle, it wasn’t an epic mating battle, like one sees in a nature documentary, but more like a feud between friends fighting over who got to graze on some particularly inviting clump of grass. As I sat the group made their way over towards me, eventually the closest being maybe five yards away from me. A park ranger who had just pulled in to check up on the campsite pulled over and told me I shouldn't get so close, as if I had intentionally moved them towards myself. He was only trying to keep me from being charged at, but i still took issue with the comment, maybe all this time away from people was turning me into a crazy hermit who screams profanities in the woods at quarter to five in the morning. “probably not,” I thought to myself as I packed up my stuff. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Redwood Coast

I awoke to the sound of elk calls, at least I think that’s what they were, I guess they could have just as easily been the noises made by forest demons, but I wouldn’t want to believe that given my state of vulnerability. I hadn’t planned to spend much time in Humboldt Redwoods, but I had woke before I had plan so I decided to take a quick stroll through the woods. Soon I found myself once again surrounded by giants. I walked lazily through the forest, in no hurry and with no particular place to go, just an early morning walk through the woods. 

The trail I was on connected the campsite and visitor center to the town of Weott, and soon the trees opened up into a playground at small school. It was still too early for anyone to be around. I decided to head back to the car and finish up my drive, the short winter days meant I spent a good portion of my waken hours in darkness, which meant hiking was limited, so I wanted to get to Redwoods National Park to get at least one hike in before I had to settle in for the night. 

Leaving the campsite I decided to continue the drive along The Avenue of The Giants, the road North of the campsite less notable then that which had brought me in. The groves of tall trees were more sporadic and soon they ended all together. As I drove through a small town on the edge of the park three men were butchering a cow caurcus on the side of the road. A giant slab of meat just hanging from a pole as the men expertly wielded their knives, taking chunks off the lifeless skeleton. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Howland Stone

Something was stirring about outside my camp. “A bear, I hope it’s not a bear,” I though to myself. “It doesn’t sound like a bear,” I told myself reassuringly, although I can’t say what exactly a bear sounds like. I peaked out of the tent, three forest elders looked at me, there wise eyes looking into mine, they were right, I had better get a move on. I had a long journey through the forest today, and not a moment to spare. 
Forest Elders outside my camp.
I packed up and headed for the wood line, the elders stayed with me, their silent wisdom guiding me to a hidden trail at the forests edge. I dawned the green cloak my mother had given me three days prior.

“This will help you hide in the Red Wood,” She said, a noticeable concern on her face. 

“How is a green cloak going to help me blend in a Red Forest,” I asked naively. 

Without looking up from the table she said, “The Red Wood is not named for the color of it’s foliage, but for the blood that has been shed on those mountains,” the fear in her eyes betrayed her stoic stance. 

I entered the forest, the trees still dripping from the prior nights heavy rainfall. This was not a place for mankind, it was a forest of giants and of magic, neither of which mixed well with humans. The trees towered high overhead, darkening the forest floor. I stayed to one side of the trail blending in with the ferns that themselves dwarfed me. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The End.....of the PCH!

The fog was missing! I hurried down to a vista to confirm it, the Golden Gate Bridge was in full view, a striking contrast to the day before. I had only seen it in pictures, although I had driven over it a couple times, but every time it was shrouded in fog, this time though it was undiluted, in full effect. I jumped in my car to cruise across the bridge and back. The towers rose up, for the first time I was able to see their apexes, reaching high into the sky, holding up the enormous steal ropes that suspended the highway above the water below. 

I returned happy, I had crossed a fog free Golden Gate Bridge, a feat I’m sure some San Franciscans have yet to achieve. I packed my stuff and hit the road, I had a long day of driving ahead of me, as I intended to put the last miles of the Pacific Coast Highway behind me, although this leg of Route 1 was referred to as The Shoreline Highway, running north along the coast up to Leggett, California, where it would meet up with The Redwood Highway, or Route 101. 

The road was slow, packed with people out to enjoy the beautiful day. I decided to check out the seaside towns that hugged the Bays northern shores, creeping along from one town to another. Each town had the same mix of old time charm and new money ritzyness. Each house had a commanding view of the bay, as the road climb higher and higher into the hills. If you are looking for where the 1% live, I found a small community, each boisterous house trying to out do the one before, each jockeying for a better view of the bay. I climbed higher and higher, the road so steep I start to wonder how it was built, or if anyone had ever dared to try and walk up it, it’s steep flanks not unworthy of a mention by those who had dared to summit them. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

San Fran Part 2

My roommates were still sleeping when I awoke, so I quietly made my way out of the room to breakfast. The hostel offered a free breakfast, in the cafe which overlooked the bay. The cafe was nearly empty, a group of Austrian girls the only other patrons. I sat looking out the window, watching as the bay steadily picked up activity. After breakfast and what can only be described as an excessive amount of time staring out the window, I decided to head back out for a walk. I took the same route as the night before, but this time it was mostly filled with men working to get the shops and restaurants stocked for the day. Delivery trunks jostled for position along the narrow boardwalk street, while a series of men ran in and out of closed shops with the days shipment. 

A small exhibit of old ships caught my eye and I decided to walk down the pier they were moored to and have a look. A few of the ships I was allowed to go on and look around. I had the ships to myself, walking through their historic quarters. The Eureka use to be a ferry that ran across the bay, before the bridges took over her duties. In fact, the Eureka use to be part of Route 101, it’s place taken by The Golden Gate Bridge. Her cargo hold was filled with classic cars, representing cars that would have been ferried across in her heyday. 

The second ship was a large merchant ship, in the style most associate with pirate ships. The San Francisco bay use to be much more abustle with activity, which of course begs the question how they didn’t all manage to collide in the fog. The ships tall masts climbed into the clouds, behind her outstretched the city of San Francisco, glowing softly in the cloud defused sunlight.

Monday, February 17, 2014

San Francisco Part 1

I decided to forego doing anything around the Monterey Peninsula, instead hitting the road after a quick shower and raiding the motels pathetic breakfast selection. The weather was beautiful the sun shinning down on the landscape, the temperature perfect for driving with the windows down. The most talked about stretch of the PCH is the stretch from San Simon, just South of Big Sur, to San Francisco. Admittedly most of the southern portion of the highway was inland, with a far higher percentage of monotonous rolling hill landscape than the jaw dropping beauty of the ocean vistas along the cliffside routes through Big Sur. Above the Monterey Peninsula the rout began to flatten out, cutting between rocky beaches and hilly farmland, waves crashing violently onto the shore as cattle grazed peacefully in the fields. 

The beaches were empty as the water was cold and the air not much more pleasant with the brisk wind coming in off the open sea. I decided to pull over at a cove, and went down to explore some tidal pools. The tidal pools were a buzz with life, but it was mainly just crabs, snails and clusters of mussels. I meandered around the beach for awhile watching the waves smash against the rocky outcrops sending sea spray into the air. Birds searched the title pools for a quick meal, flying away as the waves crashed. The only sound in the air was that of the crushing surf, the only smell that of the sea. I stood alone in the cove enjoying the solitude, the peaceful serenity of this unfiltered corner of the Earth.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Big Sur

I awoke in the morning refreshed, having slept all but undisturbed through the night. The morning breeze coming in from the ocean was brisk and invigorating. It felt good to have slept so well in such a beautiful place. I packed up my stuff and went for a slow drive along the park’s coastal road. The blue waves smashed against the hardened rock sending spears of white into the air. I reached the southern end of the road where a group of hikers was getting packed up to hit the trails. I too would be hiking again today, but first I had to reach my trailhead, about two hours drive up the coast. 

As I headed north the vegetation around me changed. The rolling hills of short shrubbery was replaced by the ancient trees from the night before, visible in the fog-less morning air. I had reached what seemed to be the biological divide between SoCal and NorCal, where the desert rides right up the the forest. The road led me out of the park and into the a series of small towns before spitting me back out along the coast towards Big Sur. Big Sur is a roughly 90 mile stretch of coastline, where mountain rise directly out of the ocean, offering amazing views that draw tourists from around the world. It is well known as one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pismo Beach, PCH2

I awoke to a beautiful ocean sky resting peacefully atop a calm ocean, the world still for a moment. I stepped out of my car to stretch and take in the beauty. The waves gent ally crashed into the rocks below, seagulls sat perched on the concrete barrier, awaiting the tide to recede so they could dig up their next meal. I sat on the hood of my car and let the cold ocean breeze waft over my body as the sun slowly moved along it’s daily trek. 
The view from where I slept. 
It was still early when I hit the road, but traffic was already slugging along as I reached the outskirts of Santa Barbara. The town was still yawning as I drove thru downtown, shopkeepers were casually opening up for the day, as bikers sped along to work. I nestled into a cafe and had breakfast, watching as the empty diner filled up with morning patrons and then emptied again. I had planned on spending the day in Santa Barbara, but the city, which I had been to multiple times before, seemed dull so I headed up the coast, back along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Los Angeles and the start of the PCH

I was excited to get back on the road after the hiatus of Las Vegas and San Diego, but the knowledge that I might not see a bed again for a couple days kept me from getting up terribly early. It wasn’t of much importance anyways, I had only a few hours to drive each day, needing to only cover less than 700 miles in the next four days. When I did awake I lazily got things together. I finally headed out onto the road just before lunch, but forwent eating anything as I had come down with a stomach bug the evening before. 

I was headed onto the Pacific Coast Highway, a drive I have covered a good portion of on past travels, which I planned to follow from it’s beginning in Dana Point, California till it’s terminus in Leggett, California. The trip would be split in half, with a weekend spent in San Francisco Bay Area.

I jumped onto the highway and whizzed through San Diego, passing places I had been over the past couple days and paces that I had yet to explore, allowing me to take notes for any future visits. The highway out of San Diego is quite barren, not unlike the thousands of miles of road I covered in New Mexico and Arizona, and like those places it was also flanked with military facilities. However, it was sunday, which must be a down day for the bases as I saw no activity to arouse me from the boredom of  monotonous landscape. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

San Diego Parte Dos

He was standing above me staring at me, apparently I had slept too long at least for his liking. He noticed my eyes opened and jumped on the bed excitedly, there was no going back to sleep. It was nearly noon when I rolled out of bed, the sun careening in through the windows, illuminating the empty house. I walked over to the back door and let him out, then headed to the fridge, which was inconveniently empty. Rocky, the dog of the people who I was staying with, came back inside and demanded my attention. After weeks of loneliness it was nice to have a friend, even if he didn’t speak and his idea of a good time was chewing his was through a variety of stuffed toys. 

The afternoon was in full swing by the time I joined the outside world. Even with traffic I made it to Pacific Beach quickly, where I decided to talk a walk on the boardwalk. Pacific Beach, or PB as the locals call it, which constantly made me thin of peanut butter, is a younger beach community, known for it’s laid back youthful attitude. The boardwalk was full of colorful characters, a wonderful place to people watch. Dreadlocked kids sat on the walls smoking weed, one even had a sign that brazenly stated, “cops stole my weed, donations for replacement.” I laughed and sauntered along out on to the pier. A group of people were quietly fishing, enjoying the warm sun and the refreshing ocean breeze. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

San Diego Parte Uno

It was midday by the time I hit the road, within moments the skyline of Las Vegas disappeared in my mirrors and I was once again surrounded by nothingness. I was headed to San Diego, a relative short drive of only about four hours and before I knew it I had left the desert behind and was joining the aggressive traffic of the population centers of Southern California. This added stimuli made the back half of the drive quick and easy and before I knew it I was in the sprawl of San Diego. I was staying with my friend Takishia, who was gracefully allowing me to stay at her place. I met up with her for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant just a few blocks away form her residence. 

I was in the the community of Mira Mesa, with census data that I looked up tell’s me is made up of about 40% people of Asian descent, which accounts for the wide array of Asian dining options. I ordered some phở, a noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine like rice noodles, herbs and meat. The bowl arrived at my table in no time and I dove in enjoying its simple flavors, I have been a fan of phở since my first introduction to it, and left feeling full and at ease. Takishia and I headed over to her place where we spent the night catching up and relaxing, a nice change of pace from the constant go-go-go of life on the road. 

Takishia had to work, as most people do, so I spent the next day exploring San Diego by driving around and taking in the sights. I decided to pull over at Torrey Pines State Reserve which hugs the coastline north of San Diego and go for a hike. It’s almost as if hiking had become an addiction, but sitting in the car fighting with traffic was growing old and a stroll along the ocean bluffs seemed like a nice way to spend my day. 

I parked in the first parking lot, which in hindsight was a mistake, as I spent the next twenty minutes climbing from the beach to the top of the bluffs. The hike was in no way difficult, not compared to my prior excursions, but what I assumed would be a leisurely stroll quickly turned into a midday work out. The sun was shining down bright, but the cool air blowing in from the ocean kept the heat at bay, creating a perfect hiking climate. 

I reached the trailhead at the top of the bluffs and the path evened out. The short brush allowed me to see the ocean, it’s majestic blue standing out against a foreground of dull greens and browns. Two hawks flew overhead, gliding in the updrafts and looking for their next meal. Small wildflowers bloomed along the edges of the trail creating a nice distraction from the omnipresent blandness of the undernourished vegetation. The trail was well traveled and from time to time I had to step aside to let a jogger by, but other than those rare occasions I was left to myself once again in the wilderness. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Las Vegas Part II

For the first time I had left the East Coast I slept in and when I finally set foot outside the city was in full swing. Traffic slugged along as people on the sidewalk weaved impatiently past others who had stopped to take in the sights. I decided today I would head to the Southern portion of the strip, having conquered most of the northern half the prior day. The air was crisp, but the lack of dust blowing into my eyes made up for it. I hadn’t expected it to be so chilly in Las Vegas and had not dressed accordingly. Luckily the soother portion of the strip is navigated mostly in doors, and other than my short walk over to the strip, I was more than comfortable. 

The Eiffel tower soared up from the sidewalk, drawing my attention to the restaurant perched high above me. I have never been to paris, so I can say little as to the quality of the replica. Street performers entertained a crowd with dancing and singing before eventual making their plea for donations. People will go to Vegas and pay hundreds of dollars to be entertained in fancy auditoriums but are incredibly reluctant to throw a couple dollars into a street performers pail. I guess that’s real a summarization of Vegas, people spend extra money to get hotels close to fancier hotels so they can spend hours sitting at a slot machine that is no different than one you could find at a run down hotel and casino a couple miles off the strip.