September 15, 2013

Part 4, California, the journey continues west

We left Tahoe and headed west, at least that was out intention.  In reality the road initially headed south along the lakefront and then went up and along the ridge of some of the narrowest and winding roads I have driven the Rambler on.  At one point we had to back up and make a two point turn to get around one really tight corner. The road continued another 20 miles south with more twists and turns.  One plus from taking the long way out was that the view of the lake was amazing!
Finally after way to many twisted miles we were back on the highway and in the groove of burning diesel and putting the miles behind us.  Our next destination was Napa Valley and then on to San Francisco.  We had been driving for most of the day in the rain and he sun was setting. When we just want to put miles behind us this is about the time we start looking for a Wal-Mart to pullover and spend the night.  Wal-Mart is great about letting RV's camp in their parking lot at most locations and it saves the hassle of finding a campground and secondly because you always need something from Wal-Mart right? 
It was still raining, so we went to cinema and when Daria checked in on Facebook via Foursquare after the movie she told me that an old grade school friend of mine Jennifer had seen her on there and had sent here a message that she lives just 10 minutes away!  What an amazing coincidence!  To top it off that it was Jennifer's birthday and she wanted to know if we had time to get together with her and her husband Gary for dinner.  Well that was a silly question!  When things as amazing as old school friend show up by surprise and have a special occasion to celebrate to boot, of course we have time!
A few hours later we were sitting across from each other for the first time in over 25 years celebrating her birthday with her husband and reminiscing old times.  Isn't technology amazing? 
After many miles of open road the conditions began to get tighter and busier when we pulled into the small town of Napa Valley.  Then things got really crazy when we followed the visitor center signs all the way into downtown and ultimately wound up on a dead end road!  Great here we are 65 feet long with lots of traffic at lunch time rush hour with no place to turn around. It did not matter where I moved I was being honked at from blocking one driveway or another,  Finally one good Samaritan stopped and got out of his car and stopped traffic while I backed up and made the turn back to freedom.  In the meanwhile Daria was in the tourist center taking her sweet time getting all the information we needed to have a great week in Napa.  I simply pulled up in front of the information center double parked with my flashers on waiting patiently dodging F-bombs and fingers but while they gave me one finger I just returned two, the peace sign and smiled!.  One guy thought he was actually smart enough to tell me that I could not double park there? Well apparently he was wrong because I indeed had the parking brake on and was in neutral and obviously parked.  Sorry, but when you are un-towable, 25 tons and 65 feet long you can park where ever you want!  
Our next mission was to actually find a place to park where we could legally leave the bus for a few days and not worry about it.  We headed to the old side of town and found a furniture store with a big empty parking lot and just by chance the owner was driving by when I flagged him down and asked if it would be a problem to park there a few days.  We chatted a while and swapped stories and he was very nice and let us park there for free and latter even brought us a friendship loaf of bread.  He was one of the few people I had ever met from the Middle East and was one of the nicest people I had met in Napa!  

After we parked we unloaded the bike and went back downtown and had lunch in Daria's favorite Japanese chain, Morimoto… I was happy to, they had an awesome beer selection there!

Daria had made reservations at Hotel Yountville and we packed a few bags and hopped on the BMW and rode up the valley 30 miles to the Hotel.  It was nice to be out of the bus and have room to take a bath and relax is what Daria was thinking but me as the lifelong camper was having a hard time shelling out $500 a night when there was a perfectly good bed back home in the Rambler.  But we do what we have to do in life I guess…..  The hotel turned out to be amazing and located right in the middle of the best wineries Napa Valley has to offer in Yountville.

Daria did first pick, it was beautiful vineyard Artesa, but wine was just ok.

Next turn was mine. I decided just drive bike to first place, which I'll like. Bad idea. It turned to be some fancy swanky place that told us that a tasting would be $30 for one wine! (The name of the wine was Opus One, they've got just one wine*) Well this cowboy has rarely even spent $30 on a whole bottle and a taste for $30 was just redonkulous!  So back on the bike we went heading north to greener pastures and more reasonable wine!
The bike was the perfect way to get around and we had amazing weather to ride in.  We visited 7 or 8 really nice places including the Castle and one of my favorite Robert Mondovi Winery and then Daria's favorite Mum and took a tour on how they make sparkling wine. You could spend a week here and not see all the wineries but after three quick days we did our best to at least see the valley and enjoy what it had to offer.  Napa is like an adult Disneyland with lots of excellent restaurants and places to see.
Thankfully our hotel gave us 20 vouchers for free tasting and also 20 half price offers.  So actually the price of the hotel was not so bad, you just had to drink a lot of wine! 

We continued our trip west to San Francisco but instead of taking the bus into the city we decided to just repack our bags and take the bike. 

We took the long way to the city and went north through Petaluma and through the rolling country side that had the remains of the small dairy farms that looked to be struggling through another drought.  It was so hot, dry and dusty with pastures brown and struggling to survive.  The temperature dropped quickly as we approached the coast from the mid 90's to the low 70's within minutes as we turned onto Hwy 1.  We continued north rode into a small sea side village and stopped at a small fish market for lunch.  We enjoyed fresh fish and oysters and washed them down with a few tasty micro brews.
After lunch we turned back around and the road wound its way south along the coast and the weather and views were fantastic.  A small farmers market lured us in to buy fresh fruits to snack on along the way. Finally after a few hours of scenic road the city appeared on the horizon and we crossed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Golden Gate Bridge.  While driving across it is hard to imagine that man could build something this huge.  The view of the city from the bridge in itself is amazing and then you have these massive 300 foot towers supporting giant cables that hold the whole bridge up!  Simply breathtaking!
We found our room downtown after a near death experience of sliding sideways with both tires locked up through and intersection because I missed a red light. City driving in SF is like driving in LA traffic with pedestrians and bicycles!   Rattled from the city driving we checked into our room and hit the streets in search of a place to eat and relax on foot!

Just a short walk from our hotel was Hakkasan Restaurant and we had an great time there enjoying food and drinks I had never even seen before!

Later we found out to our surprise the Americas Cup sail boat race was in town!  What a treat here we are sailors and by chance hit town the day the races start!  In the morning we had a quick breakfast at famous SF market…. and

 And we were off to buy tickets and watch the first of the series of races that would take place in the next several weeks.  We found a crowded place on the finish line to see the race and were able to see just what these boats were capable of.  It is hard to imagine a sail boat hitting 50 mph but here they were rising up on their hydrofoils and screaming across the water!  

Sailing has come a long way from the first cup races and now it is piles of money and technology rather than skill that decides the winners.  These machines are single purpose engineering marvels and designed to sail in winds 15-20 knots anything more would topple them in no time.  The USA lost the first few challenges but replaced a faulty electronic gyro that controlled the boats pitch while on the foils and wound up winning the last several races by a big margin.

Later this afternoon we took a tour bus and saw all sightseeings, it was a lot of fun!

Back in the RV we took the 101 south with Hearst Castle as our next destination. On our way we stopped for lunch in Monterey Marina and did quick mototour around. 

The castle is on Hwy 1 and about half way there we saw a small grey line on the map that would take us across to the coast and back on Hwy 1, a kind of short cut!  Two hours later we were wondering how it was possible to make a 40 mile long road this crooked and narrow as we slowly progressed through the mountains that run along the coast of California!  The road curved through beautiful valleys filled with oak trees and we saw at least 20 deer on our way across the mountain range.

The so called shortcut would have been a blast on the bike but in the RV it was torture! There were a few turns that I had doubts we were even going to make, scraping things I hoped were not important on the underside of the bus as we struggled around them all the time hoping the road would not get any worse!  Finally just after dark we made it to the top of the pass and found a place to pull over and give my tense nerves a break and went to bed.  In the morning we woke to a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean covered in a blanket of clouds 3000 feet below us.  Another tedious hour driving down the twisted road and we were finally on Hwy 1 and just an hour away from the castle. 
On the coast just before San Simon there was an Elephant Seal refuge with hundreds of these stinky monsters noisily sunning on the beach.  These are BIG seals weighing upwards of 900 pounds and 10 feet long each one eating who knows how many pounds of fish each day to maintain their layer of blubber.  With no natural predators left after we wiped out their main concern the Great White sharks years ago the population is exploding and causing economic grief for the local fishing fleets.

This believe it or not was my third time to Hearst Castle and would be the first time I would finally take the tour.  The times before I arrived when tours were sold out or times were just not convenient.  You need to buy tickets well in advance in the summer or be patient and flexible.   With tickets in hand you wait at the bus station for a narrated trip 2000 feet ride up the hill to the Castle.  I will not go into detail about the castle but will just say that this is one of those places where money and dreams came together and created an amazing collection of ideas and architecture.  The castle was never actually completed or even lived in for that matter; rather it was more of a party gathering place for the rich and famous movie stars of the 40's and 50's.

Back in the bus we had the wedding of my oldest son to get to in So. Cal. and motored that direction. With a few extra days to burn we called up some old friends and family in the central valley and announced we would be in town. 
We arrived in Visalia and parked the bus in the driveway of my cousin Jake and Terry's house on their farm and used it as a base camp to meet friends and family for the next few days.  Jake gave me a tour around his dairy and farm and I have to say that I never in my life seen corn grow as tall as it does there, over 12 feet with ears 6 feet off the ground! 

Jake is into adventure dirt bike riding and has a couple of Husaburg 690's in the garage. These dirt bikes are amazing machines with 80 something horsepower and made to go FAST!   We took them for a ride one day down a wash that Jake had been down hundreds of times and I held on for dear life going as fast as possible along the brand new trail.  There was no way I was falling off holding on that tight but even good riders get caught by surprise and an hour later I was shaking dirt out of my helmet and shirt!  This was my test ride, so Jake could see if this sailor was up to the 3 day 500 mile ride he had planned in Vegas next month. I made the cut and will tell that story later.
It was great to have dinner with so many friends and family and to spend time with all of them after way too many years had passed.  
A few hundred more miles south put us in So. Cal the day before my oldest son got married.  I hoped my tux would fit as we got dressed for the occasion and the weekend went off without any problems. 

 One last stop in California put us back in my old hometown where we parked the bus in my lifelong friends Tony and Gina's back yard.  The reunions continued with another bar-b-q and more old friends taking their time to come say hello. I lightened the load in the trailer going home and left the Polaris Ranger to live the rest of his life with Tony behind the wheel, enjoy it guys!
Sunday morning Daria hitched a ride to LAX for a trip home to Russia with the honey moon couple who were off to Hawaii.
It had been a busy few months and I took my time driving the 1200 miles back to Kansas to put this amazing machine, "The Rambler" back in the storage shed where she will wait who knows how long for the next land adventure sometime in the future?
Looking back at all the friends we make in life and the roads that bring us back together, we all go our own way in life but keep that special place in our hearts for the special few we call friends.  Great to see all of you again and I promise it will not be 20 years until next time we meet!
The adventure continues in our next story, we head east to see yet more friends!

live your dream Daria (@Daria_Friday)