Rolling Down the Highways (and freeways, and byways)

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Rolling Down the Highways (and freeways, and byways)

July 10-11 Mendocino to Point Reyes to Salinas

When we started rolling yesterday down Highway 1 from Mendocino to Point Reyes, everything was a bit unexpected. We had thought we might stay another night in Russian Gulch, but as I mentioned, I messed up the reservations. How to get down from Mendo seems simple: Highway 1 runs directly to Point Reyes, but for those who haven’t driven that part of the 1, there is a section on the Sonoma coast just before you drop down into Jenner that is, well, terrifying? The road narrows and narrows, and there is frequent roadwork as the Cal Trans crews try to keep the highway pinned to the sheer rock faces. If you are driving south in the outside lane, as we would have been, a glance over the edge is familiar to those who fly in airplane. In other words, it is very, very high and the road is so narrow that other cars heading at you are unnerving to say the least, especially when they are not cars but logging trucks or RVs. To add to the thrill, drivers are warned about falling rocks and cows on the highway. We have driven that section many times, but it seemed prudent to avoid it on this trip, so we detoured out through the Anderson Valley and then slowly back to the coast.

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Goodbye to the Mendocino Coast

The driving took up most of the day and was made more exciting by a brush fire and traffic jam going the other way, not to mention the scorching heat. The bus is air conditioned, thank goodness, if by air conditioning you mean an air cooled engine and windows open to blow hot air right back at you. I was relieved when we got back on Highway 1 near Bodega Bay, and since I know those roads very well from my time in San Francisco and Petaluma, so passing through the towns of Tomales, Valley Ford, and Marshall was like visiting old friends. West Marin never changes because it is an agricultural land trust, undeveloped in perpetuity. The cows silhouetted against the waving yellow grasses are not the same cows I remember, but they are all related.

We camped in what is probably the worst campground in the area, Olema Ranch, because we knew we could get a “site.” I use site loosely here, as a piece of grass with a truck tire on the ground for a fire pit is what passes for a camping site in Olema, a place that caters to RVs. However, we were glad to have somewhere to set up camp, and the young people camped on the lawn were so excited to see us; they waved as we drove through, beckoning us to camp near them. We wound up next to a group of young Germans in a funky van, and although Olema is not lovely, it was clean and comfortable, and we needed the rest.

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Happy to be in Olema at last

Yesterday was the day I really started to realize just how happy even seeing the bus makes people. All down the 1 in Sonoma and Marin people waved, honked, photographed us and flashed peace signs or thumbs up. Campers came by to ask their questions (“It’s a 66. It’s not a custom top—made for export to England). It was Robert who pointed out to me as we were sitting at the picnic table that little girls are especially attracted to the bus, as two girls came by again and again to look at him, something we had seen in other campsites. I wondered if it was seeing the top up and the doors with the cabinets open and imagining the bus as a playhouse, just as he had been for me, or if it was something about his sweet face. But even today rolling down through the little towns before Santa Cruz, people honked and waved, and smiled at us as we passed. When we were stopped at a light, one guy on a motorcycle told us he had a 67 and that it only went one speed: slow, but we already knew that.

This morning (July 11th?) feels like a million years ago tonight, but I know I woke up in the bus, had coffee, showered, and then we headed out to conquer SF. The bus hadn’t been back to the Bay Area in many years, but he used to live in Burlingame and at 9th and Judah, but Robert and I had been there much more recently. Both of us had been dreading San Francisco for different reasons. Even driving modern cars, I find the approach to the bridge a little scary, and Robert was afraid of driving in the city. More specifically, he was afraid of stopping on hills, rolling backwards, and hitting another car. This was a frequent topic of conversation as we approached the city. But everything went fine, and we took the 1 out through Pacifica, sunny for once, and then back into the fog as we followed the gentle hills along the shore, looking at gray waves, yellow grass, fruit stands and gnarled trees, the sights of the coast in that area. We were heading towards Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, a place we had never visited, and now likely never will.

I know those of you with smart phones rarely use maps, but I have always loved maps. When I was a little girl, my father would take me to his office in the old Forest Service building in downtown Medford, and I would sit perched at a drafting table, coloring topographic maps. I learned to read them when I was young, including to avoid any areas where the lines are very close together as they will not be fun to walk or drive. However, I think mapmakers may be getting a little lazy, or else I purchased two absolutely terrible maps for this journey. I had located Henry Cowell on the map, and it appeared to be right before Santa Cruz, near Davenport. We drove right through the tiny town of Davenport and into Santa Cruz, but no park. Frustrated, wanting to arrive, we stopped at a gas station. The very nice gentleman told me we needed to be on Highway 9, just down the way. Upon learning this, I realized the line on the map that indicated the park’s location was actually a very small arrow pointing to another area all together.

But we had directions, so we were back on the road. Robert doesn’t care for Santa Cruz—it’s a long story—so when the bus died at a stoplight (clutch!) and a guy in a huge pickup got mad, we were really ready to leave. Up, up, up a twisty road we went, into the redwoods, rising as high as the tops of the trees with a sheer drop on one side, but Robert was driving beautifully, and we were so happy to finally see the “North Entrance to Henry Cowell” signs. There was a locked gate, so we assumed the entrance must be at the south end, so we wound around and around and up and up some more, but when we arrived at the south entrance, there was another locked gate. “I think these are only maps in the sense that they have place names on them,” I said to Robert. We realized that the actual entrance must be on Highway 17, requiring a full loop back and then yet another road, miles out of our way. “What if we go on to Salinas,” I said. I had toyed with the idea of Salinas in the morning because I wanted to visit the Steinbeck center and it would put us closer to our destination, San Simeon State Park. We have to detour onto the 101 because of the huge landslide in Big Sur, anyway, hence not taking the coast route all the way. After a break and a Cliff Bar, Robert agreed, so off we went, into a traffic jam worthy of LA, and then a scary road with two way traffic moving very, very fast through farmland. “Slower traffic must use pull outs, “ the signs read, and so we dutifully did, but with the autobahn of farm trucks, speeding cars, and giant pick ups, it was almost impossible to pull back in after pulling out to let the faster cars pass. Lesson learned: don’t take that road in the bus.

We did make it safely to Salinas, and that is where we are tonight, but I am leaving out a big part of this story because I am exhausted. Tonight I will take my last bath because there is no shower at San Simeon and collapse into sleep, but even sitting here typing this, I still feel like I am moving. Every day as we start out, we repeat the mantra: “Emergency brake off! Lights on for safety. How do we roll? Slowly, steadily, safely!” and finally “Where is the wheel? The wheel is under your butt!” This last comes from an ancient Volkswagen guide my father gave us, with R. Crumb style drawings and hippie lore, but it is comforting to say it and to know. Where are we? We don’t know, but the wheel is under your butt.

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On the bridge

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Driving on the bridge

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