Friday, October 19, 2007

The Great California Adventure - Part 6 (Conclusion) - Lost & San Francisco (09-15-2007 to 09-22-2007)

Well crud, I completely forgot to finish this! Its been, what, probably going on a month and a half since I finished taking this adventure.

It would be wise, then, for me to finish it before the details become to distant and blurry in my memory to remember accurately anymore.

For those that have read and followed the adventure, I thank you. This is indeed the last chapter of the California Adventure, it was a grand adventure like none I had ever taken the camper on before, and can only to take it on again. Who knows how many years it will be before I make another sojourn south. The last adventure set me back an unpleasant amount in my work towards paying down my debts and I will not repeat the behavior again to travel south.

For those that have suggested I start a blog detailing all my adventures I've done, thank you. I do actually plan to start a blog version of my posts. However, I will be putting it off until I finish writing the blog engine on my own site,

Anyway, time for the concluding chapter of our great southern sojourn!


When I left off in my last chapter, Mason and I had departed Burlington Campground in the Humboldt Redwoods and had started south towards Bodega Bay. Our plan had been originally to drive down the coast and visit Van Damme SP and stay there a day or so, then visit Bodega Bay from there, then move on to Lawson's Landing or some other closer SP. However, I had pretty much overbooked my plans for the amount of time we had, so that got postponed till next time.

So, we drove on south to Santa Rosa and cut over to Bodega Bay from there. I had read about the one Regional Park on the bay in the AAA Campground guide I brought with me (Not what I'd call super useful reading material, let me tell you!)

Well we got there late in the evening, after stopping off for dinner at a Applebees in Santa Rosa (Not what I'd call sampling of the areas cuisine, either, but I was getting tired and didn't feel like cooking). Pulled up to the booth and took a look at the campsite listings. From the best I could read, Reservations were "REQUIRED" not "Recommended" as the AAA book had stated. "Recommended" at least to me means, yeah its a good safety blanket, but there should be sites to get if you don't have one.

They did have two whole sites listed that were available for the night, but right next to all this was listed that they were having alot of trouble with property being stolen from campsites.

Can you guess what we did next?

Yup, said bugger that, turned around and headed further south for what "had" been my backup stop, Lawsons Landing.

Lemme say two things.

One, if you're trying to determine how nice an area is by Google Earth, like I did, you're a fool. Two, "websites" can be decieving. The way the pictures made Lawsons Landing look, suggested that the camping was right down next to the beach.

Uh, no.

To be fair, I got there in the dead of the night, getting really frustrated with the road and tired. I wanted a hot shower and bed. We pulled up to Lawsons. Primary gate in was locked. I poked around and figured out that the out going gate wasn't. Also noticed the sole source of fresh water was all the way up by the gate.


But, to give it fair treatment, we opened the gate and drove in to scout it out.

Mud. With some grass, here and there.

The fields with the occasional single fire pit scattered amongst a half acre of mud/grass just didn't seem super appealing. For $25 a night, it just didn't make much sense for us to stay at, it was barren, muddy fields with a few toy haulers huddled together to break the wind. $20 a night had been fetching us decent campsites with nice showers, albiet coin operated.

At this point, I turned to Mason and said, "Uh no, no, and no. Did I mention no?" (Not quite what I said, but I'm trying to keep things a bit cleaner. The original wording was more like "Oh, --this.")

So.... We turned back..... again.

For those that have doubted that I was at Lawson's Lovely Muddy Landing, here's my entire mapped route.

Road map of the California Adventure

Scroll down till you see "Lawsons Landing."

I think it was probably about 12:30am by the time we headed back onto the CA-1 again.

Have I taken a moment yet to mention just how much driving the CA-1 sucks when you're tired, its late, and you are completely unfamiliar with the area? Yeah, it sucked enough to pull a cinder block's worth of lard through a straw. I'm NOT doing it again.

Lemme just stop the running dialogue for a minute here to tell you the big thing I learned on this trip. Where NOT to go. Now that I've explored a fair amount of places on the Northern Coast, I know what to avoid and what to revisit when I take my wife-to-be.

The next time we come down, I think we'll probably have enough time left over to spend 3-4 days down in the San Francisco/Sacaremento area shopping and generally being tourists.

Anyway, back to the story.

Well, we got back onto the CA-1, and pretty much got lost for a good long while. Partly because I had seen signs for the next town down the road, and took what I thought was a short-cut to save on a bunch of backtracking. That, was a bad idea.

Road was windy and slow, not super hilly, just a whole lotta turns because of all the farms. Coupled with pitch black night, plus deer jumping out every half mile into the middle of the lane of traffic I was in, pretty much erroded any patience and self-control I had left.

I won't try and repeat my verbal frustrations that I rolled down the window and expressed at the deer as I drove past them, or stopped, shone a flash light at them for a moment and cussed out for being "--ing retarded sacks of--yeah, you get the picture."

My energy exhausted, I sought out the only RV park-camground-thing in the area, in the stop sign named "Olema."

I call it a stop sign because we nearly missed the damned thing because that's ALL there is there. Point Reyes Station (Point RipOff Station as well called it the next day) was more of a town than Olema.

But, we found the RV park. And I begrudingly paid $100 for two night stay ($45 for Thursday night, $55 for Friday, they charge more for weekends). But, it did have full hookups and we could run the showers as LONG as we wanted. It also had a laundromat, something I had wanted to use by that point, but never got around to (Running on a tight schedule).

My Camper's batteries thanked me for the recharge. They had gone for about 6 days by this point with only partial charging from driving. The lights were dimming a bit, but we weren't past half way through the capacity, this with at least a couple hours of DVD time each night, plus the lights, water pump range hood.

We hooked up, we emptied out the holding tank, we took showers, we crashed, HARD.

A peaceful, somewhat sunny morning found us the next day. We had another cereal breakfast and offloaded the camper. I went up to the main office and paid out the rear for our two nights and then we headed off following the CA-1 along the edge of the coast line as it wound towards Sausilito and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Along the way, I phoned up RR Hounds, one of the two people who contacted me about meeting up while down south. As I wound in and out of the corners and the sheer drops, we chatted, my cellphone losing reception each time we sharp banked in away from the sea and having to redial as I wormed back out again.

Sadly, distance and time erroded our chances of visiting with RR Hounds on this trip. Hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be making a return trip next year around the same time. Probably about a week earlier in September than I went this time.

The view of the sun radiating off the ocean was spectacular. Sadly, the drive was less than condusive to me even attempting to shoot pictures (Mason couldn't use both hands, which would have been needed to steady the camera), so I posess no photos of that shining golden coastline.

Instead, I do have these:

Oh God, did I love that! I had always dreamed of seeing that bridge! Even crossing it four times during our short stay in the Bay Area failed to tone down the WOW factor for me. To quote myself, "This is blood freaking sweet! Oh, holy God! This things HUGE!".

I had always pictured the Golden Gate being alot smaller. Massively long, but only two lanes wide. Not four!

The only thing that caused the grumbling was the fact that I didn't realize it was a Toll Bridge still. Or for that matter, that just about ANY bridge in the bay area was a Toll Bridge that charged by the axles.

Eventually, we made our way into San Francisco itself. We passed the Presidio on our way in towards Lombard, our goal was thrice fold. JapanTown, Fisherman's Wharf, whatever else was in the vicinity of Fisherman's Wharf.

One of big things that was on my "Must do or Dawn will kill me" list was visitng JapanTown with a list of items to find and purchase with cash that had been sent with me.

I'd never been to anyplace like JapanTown before. We really don't have anything quite like it up the Pacific Northwest. Sure, Portland and Seattle both have Chinatowns, but Japantown is something entirely different. For one, the area isn't a big slum, unlike Seattle and Portland's Chinatown areas.

While touring through one of the lower levels, I came across this scale model of the Osaka Castle, one of the feudel castles from Japans long period of Shoguns.

On the enlarged copy of the image, you can see what is printed on the sign posted in front of it.

In my wanderings I came across a great number of rather neat shops, one of which was a Japanese Sushi restaurant that had the food floating past the customers on a little river with miniature boats. I didn't take a photo of it, as I figured I probably would have gotten my backside kicked for photographing people while they ate.

I also discovered probably the largest Benny Hanas I'd ever seen
So, I plunged in, visiting shop after shop....

Till I saw this one:

Oooooh, sharp objects! I think this was the first time I had ever come across a store that dealt solely in Katana. They had all kinds, the average wall display cheap Indonesian made things to the hand crafted combat sets from Japan. Hehe.... oh, to have been rich, I think I would have probably come back with a large number of blades and an urge to katana gari no matt (It roughly means Katana Lover Matt).

After shopping around and gathering the items (well as many as I could find) requested, we packed up our prizes and drove on through San Francisco.

Eventually, we made our way down to the Fisherman's Wharf district. Home of a great many famous restaurants, including Ghiradelis Chocolate factory, Joe's Crab Shack, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, and so on and so forth.

One of the first areas we visited was the historic ships display.

While going through a small headache with a faulty Credit Card system at the Entrance fee booth, a little excitement began to stir behind me. I don't know if this a normal occurance, but I turned around in time to see a guy swimming in from the middle of the bay past the various moored boats!

After several more wasted minutes trying to get the worthless Credit Card system of the California Parks Department to work, I used some of the excess cash left behind from the fund given to me by my lady to do shopping for her to pay our entrance fees. The nice thing about the fees is that they do last more than one day, however, that did us very little good as we were planning to start back towards home the next day.

So, with time short, we started exploring the boats. I regret not looking through the old Hwy 101 Ferry they had moored there at Hyde's Pier. It was filled with vintage automobiles. Sadly, the park closed not too long after we toured around the boat I am about to show you.

The boat featured above is the Hercules. Its a 3-stage Steam Powered Tug boat. In its hayday, it was highly efficient and produced 1000 Hp. Being a bit enamoured with Steam Power, I spent a bit too much time staring at the engines. That and pushing the lever there that made the sound reproduction run for the conditions it would have been like when the engines were running.

The next ship of call on our touring was the Balclutha, a ship made somewhat well known to most who wath Mythbusters, as its been visited multiple times on various pirate myths. Most notably, the riding down the sail on your knife myth.

I wasn't able to take too many photos of the ship as some youth group was currently doing some ships crew "thing." I can't describe it better than that, I was only hearing snatches of conversation as I rushed to get what little photos I could as an annoyed parks ranger kept trying to usher me off the boat.

Having been throughly booted out of the park, much to my disgruntling, we headed on to our second major destination, the pier shops. I believe the batch of them we visited in particular was Pier 49, but don't hold me to that, I waited a bit too long between when the trip happened and when I wrote this, so some details are failing.

While Mason nipped into the giant video game arcade that he remembered from his youth, albiet in a different location in the pier than it had been back then. I floated around, snapping a photo here, snapping a photo there. Just aimlessly wandering till I came upon an open promenade in the middle of the back section of the Pier. There, in the center was a double decker Merry Go-Round. I've never seen the like before!

After milling around I eventually found myself at the back end of the Pier. Which, gave me the perfect vantage point to take these:

Golden Gate


I appologize for the qualit of the Alcatraz photos. I brought my tripod and my camera, but forgot the base that screwed on the bottom of the camera. So all the closeup shots had to be shot while attempting to hold the camera still on the edge of a safety rail and max out the zoom. I took about 20 times the number of photos you see, most of them were botches.

Bout the time I had finished shooting my pictures of Alcatraz, Mason joined up with me again, having finished his binge on the video games, we started making our way back towards the truck and Ghiradelli square.

As we were walking back, Mason pointed across the bay at something. I squinted to look and then caught site of it. A WWII US Submarine, open to public tours. Blarg! So many things I wanted to see, but no time to see them all. Oh, well, next time, perhaps.

Another thing we came across on our way back to the truck was Pier 39. Pier 39 is home to an enormous pack of Sea Lions. These things are loud and pushy! Apparently, because of their high populations in the bay, they're both the cause of major decreases in the fish populations and increases in Great White Shark sightings! All during our time the Bay Area, Mason very adamantly expressed his interest in never entering the waters of the bay, getting attacked by a man-eater was not on his top ten list, LOL

On a couple different occasions during our trip, Mason told me about the fisherman's wharf having some of the BEST Sourdough bread. He kept failing to tell me what the name of the store was, along the way back to the truck, I popped into Boudin's Bakery.

When I walked inside, I was almost overwhelmed by the wonderful scent of freshly baked bread. A basket conveyor slowly trundled over my head bringing empties back to the baking rooms, and freshly filled baskets to the bread selling counters. Upstairs, the Boundin Bakery Restaurant wafted out delicious hints of succulent cooked meats and fine wines and cheeses. I just about passed out on the floor! Oh, to have had more TIME! God, there is so MUCH in San Fransisco, and I only had set aside a single day to visit it! What a Fool I was! The idea of taking back a few sourdough bowl rolls and making a fresh batch of chowder ping-ponged back and forth in the recesses of my mind as I strolled up to the counter and purchase two loaves. One round, one oblong. I had them packed up, ready to be brought back home for Dawn, the truely last thing on her list of items to bring back.

Sadly, I was pretty well strung out at this point for spending cash for myself, so a great many things I passed by this journey.

Bread purchased, we speed stepped our way back to the truck, the meter having run out a good 45 minutes ago, praying a metermaid hadn't come by yet. As it turned out, none had and by the time we reached the truck, it was five minutes till the meters went out of enforcement for the evening. A quick sigh of relief and we resumed a more casual pace towards our next destination, Ghiradelli Square!

As we climbed the stairs from street level up into Ghiradelli square, the first thing that caught our eye was the "McCormick & Kuletos" Seafood Restaurant. We turned towards one another and scratched our collective heads. Did McCormick break off which Schmicks? The name was completely unfamiliar to us, as having lived in Oregon a great many years, we were fully familair with the name "McCormick & Schmicks" Fish House, but not Kuletos. We never did go in and inquire. In our somewhat dischevled and sweaty state, we probably would have been tossed out on our ears.

We trudged on and Finally Entered the Square!....

Only to look up at the vacant, mid-remodeling Ghiradelli Factory Building, soon to become luxury condominums..... What... the.... hell. Certainly not what I was expecting. I have no clue as to when Ghiradelli bailed out of their original candy factory, but it looks like it had probably been a while. The myriad of buildings on the property were little more than a small mall of various diners and candy shops. To me, at least, it was somewhat of a letdown, as I was hoping to see an active chocolate factory, not a Californian version of the Pearl District from downtown Portland.

We milled around the place for a while, went into the candy store and sampled the chocolates (Still exquisite), then made our way at last back to the truck, and packed in.

Our plan was to drive to Sausalito and go to a restaurant that Mason remembered called "Houlihan's".

Well, when we got into town and the road it was on.... we couldn't find it.

So, I popped into a local market, asked if anyone knew the place.

No one'd ever heard of it.

So, I drove around some more, no signs.

Finally, I stopped into a gas station to look up the phone number for the place, and ran into one of the local Sausalito PD officers buying a coke. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I inquired if he knew about the restaurant. According to the officer, Houlihans had changed names some time back, and not too long after was sued out of business for not having wheel chair ramps.

I thanked the officer, and went back to the truck to tell Mason the news.

Bout that point we were at the "Well, crap" stage. We spent about 10-15 minutes conversing about what to do about dinner. Find some place else to eat in Sausalito, or head back to San Francisco and find something, or just go back to the camper and make some hamburger casserole.

Eventually, after looking at a couple of the local fare in town, we headed back across the Golden Gate, again, and back into the area where we had been once more, on Lombard St.

While looking for an old IHOP we had seen, we came across a Drive-In called "Mel's."

Oh, God! The food was so good! And it wasn't expensive, either! It's your classic 50's style diner, with the neon and the chrome and Buddy Holly playing on the Wurlitzer Jukebox up in front. For those that watch their movies, this is one of the stores thats part of the Mel's Franchise who was featured in the movie, American Grafitti.

The milkshakes are just.... I don't know how to quantitate the joy of having a REAL chocolate milkshake, not the nasty things you get at McDonalds.

We left full and happier, and I recommend that if any of you are visiting the bay area, stop into Mel's on Lombard. They're open 24hrs and the food is just-that-damned-good.

On our way home, we wound up running into one of the famous SFPD sobriety checkpoints. Other than being slow as hell to get through the line of traffic, we had to no other problems as we were waved on through, probably because of the out of state plates, but who knows.

Crossing the Golden Gate, I couldn't resist another attempt at shooting a video of the crossing. This one came out somewhat okay, but had to be edited to correct the video in the later part so that you wouldn't need to crane your head to side to make out what you're looking at.

We got back to camp after returning via the Lucas Valley Rd, on which we wondered if we had passed the gates for Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas' property.

The next day, we slept in, took it easy and made a big hearty breakfast of Sausage, Biscuits and Gravy. Cleaned up the camper, made use of the hookups as best as possible, then proceeded to try and reload.

Oh, boy... my loading guides just about sent the KIT crashing down as both rear guides twisted out of place and jammed up between the camper body and the truck bed, torquing the jacks hard to the right. It took several tense moments with a hammer to knock the guides completely to pieces to free the camper from the truck, and then a couple more to take the strain off the camper's rear legs that had been shoved back and sideways on one side. The jack mounts held fast, their lag bolts having been upgraded earlier in the year from 1/4" to 5/16" and Polyurethane glue injected into each hole before the new lag bolts were installed.

The camper didn't completely escape without injury. A small gouge was carved into the side of the plywood on the truck box portion near the front. Some work with the hammer beat the staple strips that protected the corners back into place, but she still needs the paint touched back up.

After that the loading guides where pilled out of the way in the truck bed and junked. I'll try another approach another time, probably something involving boat rollers.


Finally, we got reloaded and started our sojourn north, north-east, towards home.

Along our route towards I-5 through Sacramento, we detoured a little further east to Rancho Cordova, so that Mason could revisit his childhood home. A great deal had changed in the several decades Mason had been away, one of which was someone cut down the two giant Palm trees that had been in the front yard of the house, and by the look of the lawn, fairly recently.

We toured his old high school, which had started out originally as a college campus that was never used.

After that, we made our way back to I-5 and started north. We drove on through most of the night, stopping about 3-4am in Oregon, just south of Grants Pass at the rest area, where I bedded down for a couple hour sleep.

A few hours later, I was dropping Mason off with family in Salem, then driving home and parking the truck in the driveway before taking a fast shower, changing into my work clothes and going straight to work. Kinda, cut it close, didn't I?


This ends my California Trip. I enjoyed the journey, and would love to do it again. Dawn's managers willing, she'll be able to come and I'll have someone to help cofinance the adventure this time. In addition to knowning what to avoid and what to revisit, our gas expenses should be able to be paired down some. For one, I'm not revisiting Lawsons' Landing or the CA-211 on the lost coast. Likely, we'll drive through the Humboldt Redwoods on our way south, but won't be stopping in the area again for any length of time. We will be revisiting the Oregon Caves, as well as Prairie Creek Redwoods, Fern Canyon, the Trees of Mystery in Klammath, and back to Bodega Bay again to visit the town made famous by "The Birds," before spending several DAYS in the San Francisco area.

I've been looking over the maps, and want to ask you folks what the Mt. Diablo SP area is like. Its not too far from San Francisco, and has campsites that the camper could actually fit in. Does the area have any trees, or is barren desert land? I would have to think that it must be somewhat green, as the area doesn't become more arrid until you head further east inland towards Sacramento.

Anyway, thanks for reading along with me and Mason and we made our intrepid journey south, and safely back north again.

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