Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Gray vs. Grey and Thank God for Sun

ECG and I beat feet out of Oregon Sunday morning and headed southwest towards the coast of California. The drive was nice--full of long, swinging curves that were fun to take fast. We sang along at the top of our lungs to the iPod playlists we had built for the road, happy in knowing that we were on the return home. We were also excited about the North Coast of California, as nearly everyone we knew told us it was as pretty as pretty gets. By early afternoon, we hit California, and mixed with the salty coastal fog, we smelled rich, fishy smoke: smoked salmon. We stopped at an stand run by a local American Indian family and purchased traditionally smoked salmon that served as a very tasty lunch. A few miles later, we turned off the freeway to venture deep into the forest to a lush site called Fern Canyon. A small creek has created a deep canyon that has its own humid microclimate, a perfect place for unusual ferns, salamandars, and lots of moss. Getting to the canyon wasn't so simple, as our low-slung vehicle wasn't fond of the creek crossings. We had to hike in, but that allowed us to get a great shot of the elk we saw on the way.

We got into Eureka later Sunday night that we expected, and after a dinner of fried local seafood and chips, crawled into our comfy B&B bed. We thought we would spend Monday morning wandering around Eureka, but the town refused to cooperate with us. We tried exploring, but the acrid grayness of Eureka made us both depressed. It was gray with an a: metallic, flat, dead. The town put both of us in a foul mood that made all of Monday more difficult than necessary.

We used the time we had set aside for Eureka to head to Ferndale instead. Unlike Eureka, Ferndale is grey with an e: soft, comfortable, romantic. Ferndale is a Victorian town, and despite its cutesy charm, is a real working farming center. Green pastures, spotted with dewy-eyed Guernsey cows, surround the town. Ferndale is also home of the annual kinetic sculpture race, where artist/competitors race in funny looking human-propelled contraptions that run on land and in water.

We stopped at a farm stand on the way out of town and picked up some juicy-ripe peaches. Any town that can grow such good peaches is okay in my book.

The Avenue of the Giants was next. At first, the road was phenomenal. The size of the trees and the gravity of their age is mind-boggling, and the color of the light that filters through their needles high above reminds me of lime jello.

But, after hours of being trapped under a tree canopy while winding through curving roads towards the ocean, ECG and I celebrated the first unencumbered sun we'd experienced in a couple days by pulling over and each eating one of those yummy peaches.

We followed the 1 down to Mendocino, a very pretty little artsy town south of Fort Bragg. By the time we got to Mendocino, most of the shops were closed; however, it looks like a fun place to spend a little money.

Some of you know that ECG put in a lot of research before this trip. We looked at maps online and in travel guides. We read books. We talked to people that had taken similar trips. No matter how prepared one is, no one is ever prepared enough for everything, and ECG and I found ourselves in a deeper trouble than we expected. To mix metaphors, we were up shit creek without a ladder. We only knew one way between Mendocino and Willits, where we had booked a little cabin for the night, and that was Little Lake Road to the 20, which heads straight in towards central Willits. Somewhere along the way we must have missed a vital step, for the Little Lake Road we were on never hit the 20. Instead, it led to a dirt road, at the base of which a sign read, "8 miles to 20." I drove those 8 miles of washed out, dusty, precarious road going less than 8 miles an hour, and I still felt like I'd lose control. Rocks bounced against the exhaust plate, and each dip threatened to take out the suspension. Every mile or so, the road split with no signs to direct the driver which turn to take. ECG had to get out of the car with the portable GPS and walk down the road to see if it led towards the mythical 20 we somehow expected to reach. We wondered if we'd be lost in the forest, eaten by bears, and our remains found later by an unsuspecting deer hunter.

Don't fret. We made it, obviously, or I wouldn't be here cheerfully typing away. I certainly earned my rally racing stripes yesterday.

Luckily, we had a great place to crash Monday night. We deserved the comfort we found at Willits Creek Cabin after the difficulty we had traveling that day.

Today, we scratched our plans for the Winchester Mystery House and Half Moon Bay, and instead, headed to Picchetti Winery in Cupertino, where we wandered around in the hills covered with peacocks, a very old pear orchard, and oaks. It was a restful place, and the dusty grass-covered hill smelled enough like home to remind me that we don't have too much further to go.

After a couple of hours enjoying the warm sun, we headed back over the hills towards the ocean. We ended up in Monterey, where we walked through the farmers' market, explored the historic part of town, and ate dinner in Cannery Row. Watch out Steinbeck--you traveled with Charley, but I've got a much better travel companion.

And tomorrow, Hearst Castle, Paso Robles wine country, and home!

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