This day began with an ominous portent - the stereo in the truck apparently decided it had put out enough sound, and refused to make music or other noise no matter what forms of persuasion were applied. So, we made our tuneless way out of Aberdeen through southwestern Washington, enjoying the coolness but not the intermittent heavy showers. After a while, we rolled out along the shores of the mouth of the Columbia River, said goodbye to Washington, and over the long bridge into Astoria, Oregon (the end of US 30, and the beginning of the Trans-America Bicycle Trail).
We visited Fort Clatsop, the site where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806, and saw all the hoopla over the Lewis & Clark bicentennial celebration going on over the next few years. Back into Astoria for some great grub at the local Pig n' Pancake, and then a drive down the coast to the resort town of Seaside. Seaside offered a remarkable variety of entertainments and diversions - but given our schedule, we couldn't even come close to enjoying them all. We did visit the Seaside Aquarium, where we made the acquaintance of even more stars (well, starfishes), octopi, big & little fishes, and a whole gang of happy seals, who swindled us out of fish chunks as they flipped, flopped, spun, and frolicked. After this, we took advantage of a break in the rain to relax and stroll the Seaside waterfront, and then back in the truck to get a few more miles down the coast before day's end.
On we went through the scenic Oregon coastal regions, around Nehalem Bay, past the contented cows of the Tillamook farms, and on down through Lincoln City. It should be noted that somewhere in this stretch of Oregon our Bush/Cheney magnetic bumper sticker somehow disappeared from the back of the truck - was it the rain, the wind, or was a more sinister conspiracy responsible? We may never know... We ended the day by finding good yet inexpensive lodgings at the Sands Motor Lodge in Newport as we unloaded, relaxed, tried some final negotiation with the stereo before ripping it out of the dash, and then rested up for the long miles ahead.
The wonders of the Oregon Coast
We began our day by looking at our maps and realizing that we were still nearly 700 miles from our friends in the Bay Area, and we had only 2 days to cover this stretch of very scenic and interesting territory. Fortunately, the gloomy skies of the past 2 days were gone, and sunny skies beckoned us as we loaded up, got an early start, and headed south again on US 101. A quick stop in Florence yielded some tasty donuts, and then onward as we squoozed through Coos Bay and other towns of the Oregon coast. Further south in Bandon, Suzanne found a perfect birdhouse at a local crafts shop, and that was tossed in the back of the truck as well. At Gold Beach, we took a break to walk along the black (not quite gold) sands, hop over the driftwood, and even show our maturity by swinging on the swingsets at the visitor center.
Just before the California line, we stopped in Brookings for a to-go lunch and relatively cheap fuel (yes, $2.01 is relatively cheap compared to prices further down the California coast), and then on into Smith River, California - nearly a thousand miles from the other tip of the state in Winterhaven, where we were just last month. Further south in Crescent City, we stopped for the obligatory Redwood National Park passport stamp, and then waved to Paul & Babe at the Trees of Mystery as we wound on southward into the greenery of the redwoods.
US 101 in northern California is a bit schizophrenic - much of the route is 4-lane divided highway or full freeway, but then the road will drop down to become a narrow winding 25 MPH 2-lane threading its way around the mighty trunks of the coast redwoods, and a mile or two later become full freeway again (repeat as necessary). It makes for an interesting and scenic drive, but the volume of trucks and other traffic sometimes makes it a bit more interesting than anticipated (did that truck just take some bark off that redwood?)
Right about the "drive-thru" redwood tree (no time, keep moving, did that in '98...) we turned off onto California state route 1 toward the Mendocino coast. To say that Highway 1 is a slow narrow winding road is quite the understatement - it makes 89A through Jerome (or 190 east of Springville, for those who know California) look positively straight and level by comparison. We survived the twists and turns (is that our brakes we smell?), popped out by the Pacific right at sunset, and briefly rested the truck, its brakes, and Richard's arms as we watched the twilight settle on the seaside landscape. Then a last drive through the darkness along the coast to the town of Fort Bragg, where we got there just in time to get some ice cream for ourselves (to be eaten after dinner at Denny's) and a CD of "cow-tunes" for our new family member at the Cowlicks shop downtown. Then to the fish-shaped room numbers at the Driftwood Lodge for some well-earned sleep.
We drifted out of sleep at the Driftwood Lodge, got up, dressed, and ready for the coming day. Started off by filling up with "bargain" $2.13 fuel (most other stations along the coast were about $2.25 to $2.49 per) and steering south again along Highway 1. In a few miles we went from the working burg of Fort Bragg through the upscale village of Mendocino, yet another picturesque example of California unaffordability.
One of the signature pieces of flora of the northern California shoreline is the Monterey cypress - it is to this area what the saguaro is to desert Arizona. In Manchester, we saw a few examples of these trees trimmed into interesting disk and donut shapes along CA 1 in front of a roadside dwelling. Further south, we stretched our legs in the oddly named town of Gualala, and read the real estate ads - anyone want a piece of oceanfront property for a bargain $15 million? Not having that sort of spare change, we continued through the curves and up and down the grades, with the waves crashing on the sheer cliffs below us. A bit later, we saw some cows calmly munching right next to the seaside, and thought: "Aha! Moos with a view!" :)
We finally made our way to Bodega Bay, where Highway 1 turns inland to avoid the quirks of topography caused by the San Andreas Fault running off into the sea. When 1 turned back toward the shore, we instead continued inland through Petaluma and on around San Pablo Bay, and back into the nether regions of the Bay Area to our lodging for the next 2 days - the Motel 6 Pittsburg.
Checking in was quite an adventure: we had requested first floor, 2 beds, nonsmoking, and the first room the put us in was indeed on the first floor - but was 1 bed and stunk (the 3 ashtrays were also a clue that just maybe this was a smoking room). We requested another room, and they kept us on the first floor - 2 beds, but also smoke-enhanced. Ick. Thoroughly irked, we again visited the front desk, and were finally (afer 3 tries) put in an acceptable room (not perfect, but acceptable).
Later, we made the short drive to Antioch to visit some very close friends of ours, and made up for the motelish muddling with a very enjoyable time catching up on old times and swapping stories late into the night. It may be a long trip, but it's times like this that make it definitely worth it.
The oddly shaped cypresses of Manchester
Today was a low-key rest and recovery day, with us sleeping in quite late, and then slowly stirring ourselves and getting ready while watching the nonstop coverage on the Weather Channel, now apparently known as the "Ivan Channel" (which seemed to be the "Frances Channel" earlier in our trip).
We finally dragged our butts over to visit our friends, and we all jumped in the truck to head out for lunch at Hazel's, a classic roadside burger joint alongside old Highway 4 in west Antioch. After this, we had a ball rolling our balls down at the local bowling alley, with high spirits but not so high scores. Then a trip to the local megabookstore for more books on how to ruin our upcoming child, and back to their place for more chatting, pizza, and fun long into the wee hours.
Those "moos with a view" from the previous day
Packed up and headed out of the Motel 6 (not so bad, even after the check-in problems) and again visited our Antioch friends, this time for lunch leftovers and to do a big favor by doing bit of needed repair on one of their bicycles. After the last bit of grease was squirted and the smashed fingers stopped throbbing (oops!), we realized it was getting rather late, bade our fond farewells, and turned the truck out of the driveway and back toward home. Even though we needed to go south, we thought it might be best to avoid the heavy traffic and first head north, and so we went up the Sacramento Delta on highways 160 and 12 before we finally turned south on I-5. Alas, the ever-increasing traffic and congestion of the Bay Area development spills out here into the Central Valley and bedevils this route as well - it was as bumper-to-bumper as any other road.
We finally turned south on a very busy I-5, and made our way among the trucks and cars to and through Stockton. This high-speed I-5 slalom wasn't very enjoyable, and so we turned off onto California state route 33 for a quieter route. 33 was actually a remarkably enjoyable drive as it wound its way through the small towns of the Central Valley, and we even had the good timing to see a late-afternoon wedding in progress in a small park adjacent to Highway 33 in the nice-looking town of Patterson.
Further south, just east of Gustine, our trusty CSAA map misled us - it showed a nice paved shortcut to Los Banos, which turned out to be a narrow dirt rattleathon of a road - too narrow for Truckasaurus to even turn around. Fortunately, we were able to escape after a few bone-jarring miles, and we eventually wound our way to and through the bustling city of Los Banos and beyond. We stopped for a few minutes at a little general store in Firebaugh, and noted that some Californians were indeed connoisseurs of fine wines - there were no less than four varieties of brightly colored MD 20/20 on the shelves (as well as a full selection of Boone's Farm). We opted to skip the wine section and instead snagged some ice cream, and headed back onto 33 just in time for all the traffic heading to the local football games. Then on through Mendota (cantaloupe capital of the world!) and down through the darkness back onto I-5, made even more interesting with all the Friday night traffic maniacally zipping their way around the trucks hell-bent on getting to Los Angeles before the bars close.
By this time, we were looking for a place to rest our weary heads, and I-5 is remarkably bereft of inexpensive lodging. We turned east on highway 46 and found a perfect place to stay in the little town of Wasco - except for that little "No Vacancy" sign in the window. We plodded on into the city of Bakersfield, turned onto the business route, and were lured into the courtyard of the Tower Motel by the impressive neon sign rising above the facility. Unforunately, the motel room itself was not as majestic as the sign above - serviceable, a little scruffy around the edges, but still a bit disappointing. Our visit was salvaged by a guest that visited our room soon after we arrived - a friendly little kitty who did his best to make us feel welcome in spite of the surroundings. Our attitudes properly adjusted by our little furry friend, we spent our last night on the road resting peacefully and ignoring the minor quirks of the motel and its denizens.
The Tower Motel - a kitty-enhanced experience
Our final day, and time to head home - but we'll see if we can scare up a bit more fun along the way. Since we slept in a bit late, we ran into a bit of a time crisis as we frantically searched for a McDonalds before they stopped serving the breakfast that Suzanne craved. We finally located some arches at 10:27 AM, just in time for her to get the last breakfast and for Richard to get one of the first lunches. Then a top-off of the tank that should take us at least out of California, and off we went up and out of the Central Valley and through the Tehachapis on California 58. Further on, we took the new bypass around Mojave and continued on quickly to Barstow for our first quick stop.
East of Barstow, we strayed onto historic US 66 for a few miles as it paralleled I-40. Just east of Newberry Springs, we stopped at a Route 66 landmark for lunch - the Bagdad Cafe. Here we satisfied our appetite for good food, Route 66 ambience, and local folks telling their interesting stories of adventure. Good stop for the rest, the food, and the folks.
As we got back in Truckasaurus to finish the trek across the Mojave Desert, we saw on the eastern horizon - clouds? Impossible - we're heading into the desert. However, as we rolled eastward toward the Arizona line, the clouds got bigger and darker - sure enough, it looked like the ol' home state was getting a bit of weather (courtesy of Javier, the former Baja hurricane heading to the US for retirement). One last stop in California for the traditional serving of Needles ice cream at the Rite-Aid, then down US 95 to CA 62 and across the bridge in Parker and we're back in Arizona - rolling 197,000 miles on the truck's odometer just before the state line.
Second fillup of the day in Parker, and then down Arizona 95 and 72, dodging the thunderclouds while watching one last magnificent on-the-road sunset (shades of 2002!) Then onto I-10 east for the final run home, listening to the westbound truckers swap stories of fighting the rain, hail, and winds closer to Phoenix. The storms moved north right before we got there, and so although we didn't get rained on, we got plenty wet from the standing water and spray left by Javier's departure.
Then into town, with one last fillup of the truck marking a new financially dubious milestone - $100 in fuel in one vehicle in one day. Then up I-17, off at Cactus, over the hill, and into the driveway - only to see that thousands of dollars of brand-new baby furniture had been delivered (many days earlier than specifically reqested) - and left by the shipper in the open, without a note, and completely soaked through by the storm. No, we're not happy.
After this anguish and a few choice words left with the manufacturer and shipper, we unpacked, unloaded, and unwound, putting yet another adventure behind us. Unfortunate it had to end on a sour note, but the happy memories of the good times will definitely keep us smiling for a while to come (after we get our vengeance on FedEx Ground, that is...)
Another great Arizona sunset to wrap up another great trip
The shipper apologized, the baby furniture was replaced at no charge, everything was unpacked and unloaded safely, and we recovered. All is well, and we look forward to our grand adventure to Buffalo in 2005!
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Latest Historical Revisionism 01 April 2005Scripting: Richard C. Moeur