Thursday, June 23, 2011

Level Twelve

The Oregon coastal scenery has one advantage over California, it’s more lush. There’s beautiful greenery right up to the sea. The reason for this is clear the next morning when I emerge for a run on the beach to be greeted by horizontal rain!
I’ve got a jacket and it’s still a beautiful spot, or at least it would be if you could see more than a hundred yards in the fog. This presents a problem for the drive. How can I enjoy the scenery if I can’t see it? But if I stay put what am I going to do in the rain? …and what if it’s the same tomorrow?
Of course I plough on.
There’s nothing quite so grim as seaside resorts on a wet, foggy day. It’s a miserable drive. Then
I break my glasses.
Well, I didn’t so much break them, the clever hinge-less frame fell apart in my hand. Nuts! This is a real problem as I don’t have a spare set.
“Why don’t I have a spare set?” (Oh, I’m very much talking to myself after five weeks on the road)
“Because I only need them for driving, and my sunglasses are lightly shaded and prescriptive, so I can use them.”
“So it’s not a real problem?”
“Er, no I guess not.”
 In fact, my Oakleys reduce the glare from the fog, which is good because it fails to lift all day. I also fail to find a spot on the shore, as there’s a huge stretch of dunes mid-Oregon. So I stop in the remarkably uninteresting town of North Bend, and watch “Inception” on TV.
Luckily the next day the fog lifts, and the skies clear. I was contemplating jumping on the interstate and heading for California, but things are back on track. I stick to the gorgeous highway 101 through places like Gold Beach and Crescent City, and I’m into California.
The first thing I reach is the Redwood National Forest. OK, so it’s just a lot of huge trees, but it is a beautiful drive with the afternoon sun shining through. I even stop for a walk when I see a sign in the middle of the forest, simply saying “Big Tree”.
As I drive on the view reminds me of something. It’s a scene from a video game. In fact it was my favourite Arcade game, and a major influence on my love for video games, driving and life in general. Outrun. Driving across all the landscapes of the USA in an open-top Ferrari with a blonde passenger. Now I don’t have the Ferrari, nor the passenger, but this trip is the real-life version of that game. I’ve driven through snow-capped mountains, along sun-kissed shorelines, through shaded forests and past glittering lakes. It’s a lifelong fantasy come true, cue the “Magical Sound Shower”
Eureka! Was the name of the next town on the coast. Although I think they missed a trick by not getting an exclamation mark like “Westward Ho!” They also missed a trick by not having a beach, so I’d recommend stopping at Crescent City!
Another day and it’s (use your best doom-mongering voice for this) “The Valley of the Giants”!
Which is a grand name for another stretch of forest. It’s another scenic drive though, until I’m forced back on the freeway and we’re stuck behind trucks. Finally I can make a break for it, at the appropriately named Leggett.
This is the start of highway 1, and I cheer as I pass a sign saying:
“Narrow winding road, next 22 miles”
There then follows a dozen of the most incredible miles I’ve ever driven. (..and I’ve driven many of the “best roads in the world”, “Roads to drive before you die”, and the Nurburgring Nordschleiffe). The road changes direction, elevation and surface, often at the same time. I rise and fall a thousand feet through twisting chicanes and hairpin bends. Unlike the mountain passes of the alps, this all takes place in a forest, with trees at every turn, leaning into the road for a better view of the action, and threatening to end the fun with a crunch. There’s also logging trucks, with a schedule to keep, thundering towards me over blind crests and cutting sharp apices. Speed limits are irrelevant in this tortuous twisty world. I catch only a few cars, and the wonderful generous people move aside and let me hasten onwards. Even the motorcyclists move aside as this mad fool and his daft American tyres squeal through another bend at close to 18 miles an hour!
(Actually my eyes were so far out on stalks I couldn’t see the speedo, but I promise I was keeping to a speed I could stop in the distance I could see to be clear! It’s a long walk to Vegas, even further on broken legs.)
After what could have been minutes, or hours, I emerged into the blinding sunshine to find myself high on the cliffs above the Pacific and another stunning view. I stopped to take a breath, and blink.
Now I don’t mean to make a big thing of it, but I spent the night in Fort Bragg. They have a small beach, and a cycle track. However they’re lacking in nightlife. I found a brew-pub, and then a local dive, but nothing special, I guess it was Monday night.
Tuesday, and highway 1 twists along the coast. The blue skies, bluer seas, and sandy bays go on forever. Between the dawdling traffic and my many stops to take pictures or gawp at the scenery it’s slow progress towards San Francisco. Finally I get to recreate the scene from Basic Instinct.
No, not that one! The drive down the last part of highway 1! The twists and turns, and the traffic, reach a crescendo, then we pop out onto the 101 in time for the toll bridge.
I’ve been to SF twice, but never arrived from the North. It’s an incredible entrance to the city. The Golden Gate Bridge emerges from behind a hill in all its splendour. Then as you begin to cross it, you see the city on the slope facing you. As you marvel at the view you realise there’s something else in your periphery – Alcatraz. Wow.
But where to stay?
The first time I visited SF was with a few friends. Jigna found a decent little hotel, right by fisherman’s wharf. It would be great to stay there again, but after 11 years I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel, or the address, just the photo of the view from the balcony.
So I drove across the city, and was reminded why this is one of the few cities I love. The hills and views are incredible, and there’s no traffic at 5pm! I drive down the tourist riddled Lombard street – “the crookedest street” and head for Fisherman’s Wharf, trying to remember which street I want.
It’s no good. I can’t quite remember, and I can’t find it. Well, it was a long shot. I’ll try one last lap round and, hang on, I remember the Sheraton, it was near that.
There it is… “the Wharf Hotel”!
…and the vacancy sign is on.
…I get a room with a balcony like before.
I’m giddy. It’s not just the memories from another time, another me. It’s the first time since I left England that I’ve been anywhere familiar! The ship became familiar, but for the last 5 weeks it’s been All new, All day. To know what I’ll find around the corner is an amazing sensation, and I’m smiling like a loon.


  1. Sweet, sounds like you've had an amazing few days. Hope you get your glasses fixed ok :-)

  2. No joy with the glasses yet. But I've finally persuaded the blogger site to let me comment on my own blog!

  3. Haha im in this blog lol thats awesome