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. 

I pressed on to Samuel P. Taylor State Park, and was once again shrouded in forest, I pulled into the campsite, only one spot remained, I had forgotten it was a friday night and the park was packed with campers of people out enjoying the weekend. I set up camp and decided to use the little bit of daylight remaining to go for a short hike. The trailhead was right next to my campsite and soon I had left the noisiness of the crowded campground behind. The path walked along the edge of a steep hill and was littered with tree branches, which I assumed were the result of a recent storm. It was comforting the see such devastation to the trees in the forest, some completely uprooted, considering I was sleeping beneath three giant ones. 

The trail led down to a creek and the site of a former mill. The foundations and chimney stack were all that remained from the mill, the remaining stone piles covered in moss. I walked down into the creek, which was bubbling calmingly, evidently a low flow for the area by the water marking on a bridges pillars. Down in the creek bed I was skipping rocks, watching the remaining light escape from the sky, the rocks were littered with tiny fragments of smoothed glass, what most would recognize as sea or beach glass, but these fragments had been smoothed by the current of the creek, further evidence that the babbling creek of today was a crux. 

The sky was getting dark as I walked back and soon I was walking through the dark forest, hoping I didn’t take a wrong turn. Rarely do I venture out on a trail without being properly prepared but it was just a short trail and I had thought nothing of it, not even bothering to grab a flashlight. Luckily the flickering light from the dozens of campsites gave me bearings and I found my campsite with little incident, a stark reminder to not do such a foolish thing again.

I had little interest in staying awake for any longer so I made dinner and headed off to bed. The warm night air a welcome change from the cold nights up in the redwood forests. 

A flock of birds had planted themselves firmly about my camp, insisting a wake up as early as they had. I tried to ignore them but after several failed attempts I decided to just start my day. I had no aspirations of hiking in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, plus I needed to have cell phone reception when the tire place called. I headed back into Petaluma, where I had pulled off the highway, to find breakfast. The green knolls of the evening before were covered by fog, masking their beauty, a surprising number of cars decided to not have their headlights on while driving through the fog, further increasing my anxiety as I drove cautiously on my half sized spare.  

It was barely after sunrise when I got into Petaluma, I pulled over and parked, deciding to wander around on foot rather than push the car anymore then I had to. If there is one way to learn the essence of a city it is to watch it wake up. I am not a morning person at all, but the early hours of a day reveal so much about a city and it’s people. Petaluma was stunning an old town with beautiful victorian homes and a stunning main street. Most business were still closed but a cafe on a non-descriptive block was packed with people waiting for a table. Sticking to my time tested theory of, “if there’s a line, than it’s probably worth the wait,” I went up to a waitress and asked for a table. She informed me it would be a couple minutes when I spotted some empty tables outside. I asked her if she minded if I sat outside, she looked perplexed, it was only 40 degrees outside, but to me having slept in cold for day on end it felt pleasant with the warmth of the sun beating down on me. 

I ordered my breakfast favorite, eggs Benedict and watched the businesses across the street open up for the day. My breakfast was delicious, confirmation that my line theory was still applicable. I headed out to wander the streets some more. The city was now awake, businesses just putting the finishing touches on opening up as the streets began to fill with people out to enjoy the beautiful weekend weather. The tempter had risen steadily with the sun and it was a pleasant 65 degrees out, according to the bank sign that informed me of this. I turned down a side street and found a alcove between businesses that was painted in elaborate graffiti. I wandered in, a man picked through the dumpsters looking for empty bottles and cans. 

I am not 100 percent sure but I believe the artwork was the doing of a teen outreach program hosted in the painted building. Apparently they used the alcove, which I endearingly termed a “graffiti garden” as a way to let kids get out some energy. The street art covered the back of the building, an abandoned semi trailer, a smattering of dumpsters as well as an array of random trash cans, discarded theater seats and sheets of plywood.

I could see that there was more pieces up above the trailer so I climbed a fire escape and made my way across the top of the trailer. A small room of cinderblocks was painted in amazing colors, and a series of lose plywood sheets could easily have been put in a museum. I decided I shouldn’t push my luck by trespassing so blatantly and climbed back down, venturing back out into more traditional tourist sites. 

I walked down a residential street, the beautiful victorian style houses hugging the sidewalk, the stunning bell towers of a beautiful Catholic Church offered a brilliant centerpiece to this picturesque community. In hide sight I wonder how I wasn't hit by a car as I have little recollection of ever taking my eyes off the beautifully crafted houses. I had wandered my way back to the other end of the main street now, it was packed full of people out shopping and kids enjoying ice-cream, or at least the small amount that made it in their mouths and not on their cloths as they walked along gleefully. 

Suddenly my phone rang, it was the tire place, it was time for me to go, I said my goodbyes to Petaluma and raced back to my car. The small town I had never heard of 20 hours prior had stole a piece of my heart. 

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