Thursday, February 28, 2013

Eureka to Crescent City

Crescent City Harbor, Crescent City, California (via Wikipedia)

One place we walked past the night before is Eureka Old Town Coffee and Chocolates. Despite the touristy name, it serves a good cup of coffee (Colombia Supremo in my case) and blueberry scones, which Sandra and I split. With 320 miles ahead of us, we have only a few minutes to indulge.

But we do indulge, and so get a late start out of Eureka after filling our own gas tank one final time. Soon we will be in Oregon, with its incomprehensible ban on self-service.

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, attended Humboldt State, which we drive past before listening to him talk on a podcast about his unusual journey from marine biologist to creator of one of the most popular children's television series in history (which also is a blast for adults–even those without children; there is much to be said for not insulting the intelligence of one's audience).

We drive over the Klamath River, through redwood forest, and past a postcard beach south of Orick. Further up the road, traffic halts along the cliffs about 10 miles south of Crescent City due to the perpetual rebuilding of highway. Everything smells like what air freshener aspires to smell like.

Hillenburg's is a story of perseverance, luck, and the importance of following one's dreams. It is inspirational, as is listening to a chat with Susan Cain on another podcast called Accidental Creative. Cain's best-selling book, Quiet, celebrates the power of introversion and introverts in a society that doesn't always appreciate such qualities or the individuals who exhibit them.

In addition to a book, Cain has written a 16-point manifesto full of gems, including one that speaks to this particular writer:

Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.

After the rivers, trees, cliffs, traffic, and podcasts, we reach Crescent City. We wolf down “chicken sandwiches” at a fast-food joint that is trying hard to look like a café. The colors are subdued, there is plenty of open space, and the lighting is soft and inviting.

You could hang out here for a while. You might even call it cool. But the food still tastes like shit.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Leggett to Eureka

Humboldt Bay, Eureka, California

After driving around the tree that you are supposed to drive through, we continue north. We drive through the hamlets of Garberville (not named, alas, after former Atlanta Braves reliever Gene Garber), Rio Dell, and Fortuna.

The highway snakes back to the coast, near the southern end of Humboldt Bay. Our destination of Eureka lies a little further up the road. With 27,000 residents, it is the largest town we've seen since San Francisco. By our current standards, it is a metropolis.

We check into a motel on 4th Street, which doubles as southbound US-101, across from Humboldt Correctional Facility. It is cheap, run down, and three blocks from Lost Coast Brewery.

The brewery is crowded this evening, and we are led to table near the rear entrance, where folks periodically pop in and pick up food to go. Beer posters adorn the walls. Sporting events play on high-definition televisions scattered throughout the room. A couple shoots pool.

You know, it's a pub. Nothing fancy, just comfortable. A welcome stop at day's end.

The food is like the building. Sandra's buffalo chicken salad will be forgotten soon after it is eaten. Same with my turkey sandwich and lemon pepper parmesan french fries.

We sample a variety of beers. Sandra has the Apricot Wheat, which is refreshing and not overbearing in its fruitiness. The Raspberry Brown doesn't work as well but is drinkable.

I have the Pale Ale and 8-Ball Stout. As usual, I prefer the stout. It isn't the best I've ever had, but it's a solid B-minus, a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

After dinner we stroll past the closed shops of old town. We end up at Eureka Boardwalk on the bay, with its boats and hypnotic sunset. The sun doesn't cross the horizon until almost 9 p.m. at this time of year, making the evenings feel endless.

A stiff breeze blows in off the water, and the temperature has dropped from a pleasant 70 degrees on arrival in town to the mid-50s. Tattooed kids who laugh and point for reasons known only to them linger. Everyone else has gone, and we soon follow.

On our way back to the motel, we scout out potential breakfast spots for the next morning. Most places look touristy, but a few show promise. As long as they serve a decent cup of coffee, I'm happy.

The highway remains busy at this late hour. Some guy is sitting on the stairs leading to our room, which feels like it was outdated even in the '70s.

With 4th Street's drunkards and sirens below us, this will not be a restful night. But best not to think about that now, as we drift in and out of sleep before driving to Oregon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fort Bragg to Leggett

Drive-Thru Tree, Leggett, California
Leggett is home to the delightful tourist trap known as Drive-Thru Tree. As the name suggests, there is a tree that you can drive through for $5.

You can spend more money at the nearby gift shop. It's all very exciting.

There is a light drizzle when we arrive in the late afternoon. I somehow manage to avoid driving through the tree, which makes for a more interesting story than actually driving through it like normal people do.

“You see, there's this giant tree that you can drive through, which we did. See?”

“Yeah, I've been there, only I didn't drive through the tree. I paid my $5 and then drove around it.”

“You did what?”

“I drove around the tree.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because it's unexpected. Also, I suck at following directions.”

The ensuing awkward silence would do Eugene O'Neill proud.

Not the Drive-Thru Tree

We get out of the car, stretch our legs, take a few snapshots of us in a hollowed-out tree that you cannot drive through, and then return to the main highway.

Seriously, what the hell is this place?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Point Arena to Fort Bragg

I trust the opportunity will be afforded to you to render the country such service as will compensate you for your long trials and the self denial with which you have labored to support the cause in which we are enlisted. –Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis, in a letter to General Braxton Bragg dated August 5, 1862

We can redeem the past: let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little Army, still full of zeal, and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige & hurl the whole upon the enemy, and crush him in his power and his glory. –Bragg to Davis, as quoted in a letter from Davis to General Joseph E. Johnston dated December 23, 1863

The rivers come in a variety of names. Some of them (Garcia, Navarro, Albion) show slightly more imagination than others (Little, Big).

After the rivers, we come to Fort Bragg, a lumber and fishing town of about 7,000 residents. Originally home to the Pomo Indians, it became Mendocino County's first military outpost in 1857. A decade later, the fort was abandoned, opening the door for an emerging lumber industry.

The town is named after Braxton Bragg, who served as a general in the Confederate States Army and at one time was military adviser to President Jefferson Davis. It isn't the sort of name one expects to find along the Northern California coast, but in 1857, the Civil War was a few years away and Bragg was still a hero in the United States for his efforts in the Mexican-American War.

Here we see our first fast-food joints since San Francisco. We also see Piaci Pub and Pizzeria, which takes cash only and which–true to its name–serves pizza and beer. It's a tiny joint in a tiny town, at the end of the road.

Sandra and I share an 8-inch New Yorker. Pepperoni, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and herbs. The tomato sauce is thick and rich, the crust is thin and crispy.

The beer is equally tasty. Sandra has the Boont Amber, I have the Trumer Pils. Piaci serves half-pints, perfect for lunch.

We sit at a table by the window, staring out at what has become a gloomy day. The bar behind us is filled with regulars, and the strains of '70s album rock permeate the room.

East of Eden and Murder, She Wrote were filmed in this town. So were other, more obscure titles such as Soul of the Beast (featuring Cullen Landis, who was later the male lead in The Lights of New York, the first all-talking movie) and the screamy '80s horror flick Humanoids from the Deep.

After Sandra strolls about town for a bit and I take a nap in the car, we return to the main highway and continue north. On our way out of town we pass North Coast Brewing, a place I wouldn't have minded visiting had I remembered it was here. Then again, we still have 140 miles to drive this afternoon, so maybe it's best I'd forgotten.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sea Ranch to Point Arena

Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena, California
A pulsating roar interrupts the gentle sounds of surf below us. As we stand on the top deck of the Point Arena Lighthouse, a helicopter lands at the adjacent Coast Guard helipad. According to the docent, Ron, this happens about once a month. We picked a special day to come here.

Soon the gentle sounds return and we admire the view while Ron talks about lighthouses, from the Tower of Hercules at La Coruña, Spain–built in 20 BC and still operating–to the oldest in the U.S., New Jersey's Sandy Hook Lighthouse, built in 1764. He also says some disparaging things about Point Loma Lighthouse which he asks us, on learning that we are from San Diego, not to repeat. I have already forgotten what they were.

Point Arena Lighthouse was built in 1870 and badly damaged in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The one we are standing in opened in 1908. Ron informs us that it has served as the backdrop for several films, including Truck Stop, Shirin in Love, and Forever Young.

The lighthouse exists because of a rock about a half-mile to the northwest that extends to within six feet of the ocean surface. During the Gold Rush, there was a shipwreck every month, which tends to be bad for business and other things.

Ron is full of information. We learn from him that:
  • Gallery” is the lighthouse term for balcony.
  • Pharology” is the study of lighthouses.
  • People study lighthouses.
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Point Arena has the cleanest air in the United States.
I can verify the first three claims, and the fourth seems plausible (although the American Lung Association has awarded the title to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2012).

We are a couple of miles west of CA-1, at the end of a one-lane road. The top of the lighthouse, which stands 115 feet high, is reachable by a seemingly endless series of spiral stairs followed by a ladder for the final stretch. We can see vast reaches of California coast, harbor seals on the rocks below, and what Terry Gilliam would call “a whole bunch of water.”

During our 20-minute stay at the top, which includes a walk around the deck outside, Ron is periodically interrupted by a radio call from the fellow in the museum next door who sends folks up the stairs all day to hear Ron talk about lighthouses. There isn't much room at the top, so Ron has to give the okay before anyone comes up to visit.

Ron gets many calls, some of which are even warranted. It becomes a running joke. “Copy that,” Ron says after each interruption, then shrugs his shoulders and continues with whatever story he was relating.

The chopper is still resting on the helipad when we return to ground level. People have wandered over to talk with the crew. We resist, instead taking a final look at the lighthouse before heading back to the main highway.

There are many rivers to cross this afternoon. We'd better get started.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bodega Bay to Sea Ranch

Sea Ranch Lodge, Sea Ranch, California

I wake up thinking of Dexter Fowler. It's a little after 5 a.m., and I need to make a few final tweaks before filing my article on the Rockies' enigmatic center fielder. This I do while seated on the linoleum floor of our cottage in Bodega Bay. There's nothing special about writing while seated on linoleum, I'm just operating within the parameters of the room.

Today we will see the first of many Pacific Coast lighthouses. As usual, I am eager to get an early start and so wake Sandra once Fowler is no longer my problem.

Breakfast options in town are limited. We walk to a corner store just beyond the Sandpiper and ponder various pastries before leaving with only a cup of Jeremiah's Pick French Roast coffee in hand.

It is just before 8 a.m. and the motel office isn't yet open, so we deposit our room key in the drop box and return to the road. Large predatory birds soar overhead. The scent of saltwater and pine permeates the air.

Why doesn't Barney like hats? It's a question we'll never answer.

We drive through Salt Point State Park but do not stop. We miss Stewarts Point, with its general store on the west side of the highway and its post office on the east side. We miss Jenner and Fort Ross, we miss Kruse Rhododendron Natural Reserve.

What we miss in stops we make up for in views from the road. After an hour and a half of winding along cliffs overlooking the ocean, we stop at Sea Ranch Lodge. The benefits of this establishment are that it is here and it claims to serve brunch.

The smartly dressed woman at reception is having a hard time. This seems like the sort of place whose customers might give the woman at reception a hard time.

An anonymous online reviewer laments the absence of in-room televisions and poor cell phone service. Why someone would come here to watch TV or talk on the phone remains, like Barney's aversion to hats, one of life's great mysteries.

Blue Point Grill, within the lodge, is a different story. We are greeted with a smile and guided to a table whose sweeping panoramic views of the coast nearly overwhelm.

Sandra orders Eggs Benedict, I get corned beef hash. Both taste delicious. This might be a function of our hunger, the view, and our being in no hurry to get anywhere. Or, the food might just be good.

Time and responsibility are distant concepts, barely perceptible from this perspective. They continue to exist, of course, but don't seem real. It's a nice feeling to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Even baseball has faded into the background. I've already forgotten about the Fowler article. I'm aware that Kevin Youkilis was traded and that the Padres beat the Mariners in their latest Vedder Cup match, but breakfast and the ocean view keep me from caring.

Not all of baseball has faded, though. Long-time Padres bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds died yesterday after a lengthy battle with cancer. Although I never knew him, I knew people who did, and all spoke well of the man.

The temperature today is in the mid-50s. The sky is laden with thick clouds, providing a superficially apt metaphor for Akerfelds' passing. Occasionally the sun peaks through; given what I've heard about him, this seems an even better metaphor.