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A Weekend on the North Coast, part 1 - The Lyorn's Den

Sat Mar. 17th, 2007

09:53 pm - A Weekend on the North Coast, part 1

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(Well, technically it's still the West coast, as the land is east and the sea is west, but it's the Californian coast north of the Golden Gate. If any of you feels qualified to tell me the correct usage, please do so.)

Anyway.

Let's just say I managed to get into gear sufficiently early, packed my (Tiassa's) camera, my sunglasses, a lot of CDs and something to read, threw my toothbrush and a change of clothes into a shopping bag (Using a shopping bag as a suitcase make me feel as if I looked like a tramp, but it's a cool shopping bag, and wrapping everything in a towel wouldn't have looked that much better), and headed off north just barely before noon.

From my experiences in October I had learned that going over the Bay Bridge to Highway 101 might not be the best way to head north, so I tried the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. From there, the problem was to go west. I just checked Google maps and found that with looking at the area on a map and then going by "hm, that should be the right direction, lets try it" I nearly got the optimal route. Note to self, stay away from navigation systems. I need my concentration for my surroundings, not for following instructions.

I got onto Highway 1 in Bodega Bay, and it was foggy. Ceridwen and I had been going through the place in a moonless night, and with the fog creeping in, we got a horror-movie-set feel, and quickly turned away from the coast. (BTW, Ceridwen: "The Fog" was filmed in Inverness, CA, four small towns farther south. "The Birds" was filmed in Bodega Bay. But never mind the movies, it was creepy enough!) This time, despite the fog, it was daytime, and there were cafées and gift shops, surf shops and families in SUVs, so whatever ghosts might have a claim to the place were absent for the time being. (In the amount of wiki-ing I just did to be sure of the movies I discovered that in the 60s they planned to put a nuclear power plant near the town. Now that would be a horror movie scenario: The place sits squat on the San Andreas fault.)

You could actually see the fog forming near the coast and stretching out tendrils over the land, reaching for the hills that rise right behind the coast. March seems a little early for fog, but it was a warm day, well over 20°C, and I guess that's enough for a nice coastal fog. However, the fog didn't really get far into the land, but in most places dissipated on the slopes of the hills. I wonder if they have fog-eating pines here, like on Tenerife.

Driving up the coast, you cross a lot of small rivers. They run towards the sea, then they back up, looking like quite-impressive rivers, turn north for a few hundred metres -- always north, I don't know why -- and finally ripple into the sea. You see it when the waves come in, they get held back by the current of the river. Between the backed-up rivers and the sea is a sandbank, which is narrow but higher than the tides. I remember standing on such a sandbank at sunset with the Russian River behind me, dark and deep and silent, and the noisy Pacific waves crashing in from the sunset on the other. It was strange and beautiful and cold. That was one hour before Bodega Bay and the fog, then. This time it was daytime, and warm, and the fog had gone, and when I came to the Russian River I was more interested in food than in beaches. I found a restaurant right above the water, where I had excellent fish and chips, a chocolate mousse and grape juice, and looked down on the sandbank. That's where I was standing, that's where we parked the car, this chocolate mousse is great, over there is where a deer jumped out of the fog and made me yelp, and I think I'll have one more coffee, and this is really a nice day, I'll have to take some pictures, and am I really half the way to Mendocino already?

I took some pictures (and here's a Google satellite one), got back into the car, changed CDs and drove on. The scenery switched from beautiful to stunning and back. The greens became brighter, but the landscape continued to look like a garden: beautiful, well-spaced trees, some meadows between, heather here and there, trees blooming white and hot pink, orange California poppies and yellow no-idea-what-they-are-called flowers. Another river, and the road winds down the hillside to cross a narrow valley with shrubbery and trees not yet in leaf again, and then back up. I stopped at the entry to Fort Ross state park to change CDs again and get the kink out of my legs. A black gravel path led downwards through the forest, and I told myself, "I will not follow it, it goes down, so the way back will be up, and I probably shouldn't have eaten that chocolate mousse..." The path won.

It came out of the trees above a beach and split into a stairway down to the beach and an un-gravelled path down into a canyon, over a trickle of water too small to even back up much, and up again. I sighed, returned to the car to get my camera, and started climbing down the canyon. Once I was back up on the other side, the wind nearly blew me right back in. The landscape looked vaguely Irish, even though the colours were all wrong. Short grass and shrubs and heather, heaps of stone (no ruined towers or broken walls, though), single rocks pointing to the sky, a small path, and then the sea crashing into rocks. The sea was twenty metres down or more, yet I was covered in salt spray before I had gone far, my hair started sticking out in all directions, and my lips tasted of salt. I walked for about a mile, with some stops to take pictures or explore some especially interesting rocks, or watch the waves break -- Tenerife has somewhat jaded me for waves, and these weren't as blue or as big as the waves from the open Atlantic, broken by no continental shelf. Still, they were nothing to complain about. Finally I reached a large, empty parking lot, turned around and walked back to the car. I got there with 100 minutes of daylight left. The route stayed spectacular, and the low-hanging sun brought out new colours and shadows.

When I turned off the highway for Mendocino, the sun must just have disappeared in the low clouds over the sea. Dusk is coming fast here, and I hadn't quite thought about where to stay. Usually there's no shortage of Motels along the highways, can't enter or leave a town without seeing half a dozen of them. Not so in Mendocino, which, as a town, is very determined to avoid all the common roadside trappings of an American town. It even avoids the road, you have to leave the highway to get into town. I drove around some, tried to decipher the signs in the fading light, rang at a Bed & Breakfast (no one home) and finally got out of the car at an inn with a restaurant on the ground floor.

Somewhere in the news I read that hotel chains, in an effort to create their "image" and offer a pleasant stay for the guest, are now perfuming their buildings with whatever some smell designer had brewed up and (one assumes) management could agree on. Nasty thought, as I'm allergic to some substances commonly used to put a smell into deodorants and rooms: They make my nose itch like crazy. Still, there's nothing like a good smell to have me decide on a hotel. In this case, it was hot olive oil and fresh garlic. The price of a room was outrageous, but WTH, I thought. I can afford it. (The company has hinted that it would rather pay me overtime than of giving me four weeks off. Horrible thought.)

I put my shopping bag in the room, walked around town a little (tiny town, only 1000 inhabitants), had a glass of wine, considered topping it off with whisky, but all the pubs were noisy and had large TV screens. So I made my way back to my room. The restaurant on the ground floor was crowded. If the food was as good as the smell, it didn't surprise me. As I was still battling with lunch, I could live with the lack of free tables. (The walk on the cliffs had reminded my why I prefer to do my walking on an empty stomach.)

The room, to my delight, had windows that actually opened. They were hung on counterweighted cords -- you opened a catch and then just slid them up. I did just that, fell into bed and was asleep within a few minutes.