the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing
back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My
Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or
computer issues over the years.
entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the
site, it was part of the Travel
Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange
and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.
that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost
definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site,
and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that
piece and used for the book.
material was originally posted on January 5, 2008. It was later
published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments
may have been made while bringing the material back to the site
in this posting.
~ ~ ~
two, Sunday, October 21, 2007
writing these travel entries, I have a notebook or two (or more…
in fact, usually more) that I bring along with me. Might be stored
in the backpack, could be in the car, and occasionally it’s an
end of the day in the hotel kind of thing. Whatever. I take notes.
is my tendency to try and insert something into these essays for
every note I record. I’d like to think that for the most part,
they make sense. I know that isn’t true. For instance, every so
often there will be an inside joke, delivered with an understood
wink and a nod, recorded for our memories. Other times, the note
is so short and vague I can’t recall what it is supposed to remind
me of. In any case, including all the thoughts can absolutely
create some long entries.
yet because of that habit of mine I have a way to remember… when
I think about Chicago, the woman that loved the “Yankees suck”
chant at Wrigley Field and called her friend, who was also at
the game, to discuss it… the day in southern California at Universal
Studios that was filled with notes about virtually every ride
at the theme park and finished with burritos the size of a puppy…
trips to Florida, including being part of a dozen orange and green
shirts that were recognized and praised in the theme parks… and
while I’ll never forget it, I get to share a moment in Las Vegas
with Richard gazing at two golden retrievers.
moments may not just be magical for me and my co-conspirators.
Perhaps you benefit when we mention restaurants, stores, and other
destinations. Sure… we’re sharing our opinions and experiences
from specific days. I certainly hope you’re enjoying the stories
-- perhaps you tune in regularly for the exploits of Ellen &
Richard, and can’t wait for them to travel again.
hope you’ll allow me some leeway in beginning this particular
entry of our California diary. It’s about hotel breakfasts. And
while it’s a bit of a stretch for today, I’m also setting something
up for the future… for these San Francisco diary entries… and
for our group. Today, you get a start revolving around ham and
cheese omelets. Later, when we get to Wednesday… Thursday… Friday…
Saturday, you’ll get to compare it against the Pancake Nazi… Mike’s
food affair… IHOP and the senior citizen discount… and Mike not
even having a chance to say goodbye.
not necessarily one to love or hate free hotel breakfasts. If
you’re only staying at a hotel for a night or two… they’re usually
pretty good, all factors considered. And it almost always beats
packing yourself into the car and moving along to the nearest
maybe a honey bun… some juice and coffee. Good stuff. Or… maybe…
just maybe… you find a place that offers hot cereal or
the use of a toaster. Toss in a sippy-cup-cover so you can bring
your hot chocolate or coffee on the road, and all is good. (Nirvana?
Places with waffle-makers.)
you’re staying in the same place on a longer trip, they offer
you a great option that repeats the gift-giving morning after
morning. Especially for families. Getting the young kids dressed
is taxing enough… eating in the room is cheaper than any local
place on tourist boulevard, but thanks to the young ones you’re
drained before you even open the door to leave.
let’s face facts… they’re free for a reason. It’s easy for the
same buffet of four cereals and powdered donuts and pulpy juice
to wear on you.
I said… for the most part, it works.
things about the breakfast at the Quality Suites:
one – Eggs made to order. (A limited order, but made to order.)
two – Just wait until you see what happened on the two days
we didn’t just head downstairs and eat at the hotel. Or… what
took place during our final two breakfasts at the hotel.
though… it’s Sunday morning… day two…
group gets together in the hallway and heads down to the dining
room. It isn’t large… perhaps seating 20. But they do offer a
selection of pastry, toast, juice, coffee and an egg station.
even though there is an order slip to fill out, the eggs aren’t
exactly anything by request. It’s almost like selecting “breakfast”
in My Cousin Vinny. There’s scrambled, an omelet with
ham and cheese, and over easy… medium… or hard. That’s it. But…
you do get to pick bacon or sausage on the side. And for now,
we’re pretty happy with the eggs and other items.
hop in the car and Mike fires up the navigation system. He sets
it for a small park listed at the Golden Gate Bridge and we’re
off. Within seconds the unit is talking to us…
right in point six miles…”
a stay to the left in one point one miles, followed by a right…”
the thing is great! (I can’t recreate it that well here, but the
voice has a pause involved. Different prerecorded snippets being
assembled into our directions. So it’s more like: “Approaching
a (pause) stay to the left in (pause) one (pause) point (pause)
one (pause) miles, followed by a (pause) right…”)
and I decide that if this thing is going to be talking to us all
week, it needs a name. We already love the darn thing… and quickly,
Mi Luv U is thus christened.
Luv U leads us to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. It’s a nice
area built just across the bay from the city, and immediately
after the bridge. The centerpiece of the area these days appears
to be the statue of The Lone Sailor.
the location is really good, with a fabulous view, but it has
us looking around. See… the bridge is just off to the right… and
the bay is kind of a panoramic setting spanning no matter how
far you look from one side to the other… and San Francisco, the
Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, well, they’re all more or less way off to
the left. Essentially, there is no way to get that perfect picture
of the city with the Golden Gate Bridge into a single shot.
reason that has us looking around? Because on the other side of
the road is the Marin Headlands. And from what we saw driving
over the bridge, we should be able to get up there by road, which
in turn would place the bridge directly between us and the city,
and… long story a bit shorter, give us that shot of the city with
spend a few minutes taking pictures and walking around, and then
pack into the car to receive some unsettling news.
tic tacs have been stolen!
a quick inventory check, she decides that everything else is in
her bag… including a $5 bill that was right next to the tic tacs.
So the would-be-pickpocket got her mints, but the person missed
the money. Oh well… tough for them, good for us… off we go…
gets Mi Luv U set up to bring us to a drive along the Marin Headlands.
(I would love to give you great details about the drive, but as
near as I can figure out, we crossed over to the area via Alexander
Avenue, and headed toward Hawk Hill. I don’t have street by street
directions into the area, and the maps I have found don’t fully
label the roads. It was the very next exit after leaving the Golden
Gate Bridge Vista Point area.
have a side note about Hawk Hill (in part thanks to Norm (you’ll
meet him on day 3), and confirmed as I read about the place later
on). Apparently the headlands create some incredible weather.
From the way the winds come through to the humidity and on into
fog and rain and even simply the peninsula shape, it is kind of
a stunning place. Part of this includes times when an air current
is created that allows birds, such as hawks, falcons and eagles,
to soar to incredible heights and cross over the water (where
ordinarily, they would have no assisted lift).)
is chirping away during our drive. It’s kind of funny, because
she’s doing part as a mumble, part as deductive reasoning, and
part as a complaint. Near as the rest of us can tell, the story
she is telling involves her stolen tic tacs and some suspicious
looking people that had been watching her leave the car when we
arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point stop. There were
the people on the curb that had parked next to us… the couple
across the parking lot that she made eye contact with as our group
walked away from the car toward the main viewing overlook… two
or three people that seemed to always be somewhat nearby as we
moved from the overlook to the statue and such… and one potential
pickpocket is described in great detail.
assembled her lineup of suspects, and prepared her leading candidate…
but the truly great part is when Mike and I keep getting back
to the $5. I ask if any money was taken. “No. I think just my
tic tacs.” I ask where the $5 was. “Right next to my tic tacs.”
Mike wants to know if she thinks the tic tacs were stolen. “Yes.
My tic tacs were stolen.” Which Mike follows-up with pointing
out the money was left right there but the tic tacs were gone.
Ellen pauses for a moment before agreeing that it does seem strange,
but she’s sure they were stolen.
take several pictures from different places along the road. Just
a beautiful setting. And… we avoid some crazy people riding up
steep hills on bikes. (Dear lord… bicycles all over the place.)
the last stop before heading off, Ellen calls out in the back…
she’s found her tic tacs… they had fallen under the seat. (So
much for the unnamed, but vividly described pickpocket.)
meander back down the hill and Richard comes up with a name for
the Canasta Masta. Thanks to our accidental exploits and investigative
work in finding different settings and views, he’s decided that
we see more on our trips. And hence… Seemore the giraffe is officially
getting ready to move along to Muir Woods, and Mi Luv U is taking
us through Sausalito. Lots of “ohhs” and “ahhs” echoing around
the van as we drive through the town, but we don’t stop. It doesn’t
take us long to eventually reach Muir Woods.
well… they don’t have any parking.
maybe fifty cars at the main entrance and perhaps another fifty
or so at a secondary parking lot a short drive from the entrance.
After that, indications are they expect you to park along the
side of the road.
driving around a bit, I go back to the main entrance and drop
off everyone except Mike and the two of us take off to park the
car. After circling through the secondary lot again, and not seeing
anyone heading back from the entrance, I decide I’d rather park
the darn car and walk twenty minutes then circle around for forty
minutes hoping to get a spot.
done with our walk back to the others, we reach the edge of the
main parking lot and my cell phone goes off alerting me of a message.
Seems Ellen called to tell me about all the people leaving the
main parking area. The girls decided… you know, while they were
sitting around, talking, and not walking uphill for a
mile or so… that we should have just waited for a spot. Not the
greatest of reception for phones out there at Muir Woods folks…
and my suggestion is to ignore your friends if you drop them off.
(Just park and get inside. Don’t look back at what might have
been. Don’t listen when the group that didn’t hike uphill
from the parking spot to the entrance starts talking about what
the walk must have been like.)
head inside and start along the walking trail. And… oh… my… god…
it is gorgeous. Very hard to describe. We are about a third of
the way along the trail that heads out, at a place with the Pinchot
Tree, when I try to set up a group picture. I turn around to look
for Mike and Terry, only to find them trying to get some pictures
of black tail deer nearby.
trails are very clearly marked and easily covered by foot. The
main path was shaded from the sun and… well… the word peaceful
really works here. Very peaceful… except for the six people cracking
dirty jokes and carrying a stuffed giraffe. (I’d like to share
the jokes… but I won’t. However… I do have some videos proving
that the group was not shy. You don’t want to know what the girls
were saying about some of these trees. Particularly interesting--
on the topic of videos and the lack of shyness -- was a video
from later on this day, with Mike and Richard debating one particular
swear along the Pacific Coast Highway.)
walking trail is a beautiful stretch that parallels a stream (and
actually… I don’t know that I need to point this out, but between
Muir Woods and Yosemite and all the other places with camping
and hiking and trails that we visited, I probably should… we are,
just about every place we go, walking along what I guess can best
be described as the primary visitor’s walking trail). The stream
is actually called Redwood Creek. The trail heads out almost north
or northwest, and has three or four places to cross over the creek
to the path heading south-southeast and back to the entrance.
The longer you travel out, the more options like hillside trails
and other things tie in to the main walk.
the southeast journey, we meet Roger the Ranger. We talk to him
for a few minutes, and it turns out that he has some ties to our
part of the country. During our discussion, he finds out that
we have a picnic lunch, and he offers us some friendly advice.
Telling us to continue along on the road we used coming in --
instead of backtracking toward Sausalito -- he directs us to Muir
Beach, and specifically to a location called the Muir Beach Overlook.
use his advice. And…
drive was incredible… particularly some stunning houses we saw
off of Seacape Drive. (Go figure… huge windows on the homes.)
We arrived to find the area had some people around, but overall
it was very quiet.
moved a picnic table slightly to set ourselves up and out comes
the cheese, crackers, wine and chorizo. Seemore is set up with
a great view of the surrounding area. And after a fantastic picnic
meal, we pack up and set off exploring.
overlook includes some military defense posts. It also has a great
walking ledge out to a point, a view north to Mount Tamalpais,
and overall just a brilliant setting.
hopped back in the van and took off along route 1… the Pacific
Coast Highway… heading north. We are rewarded with some spectacular
driving… and a curving road along a cliff that encourages the
use of a special word (in the video mentioned before). Once we
hit Stinson Beach though, route 1 takes a decidedly inland turn.
Again, some incredible scenery around us, but we eventually decide
to break to the east after passing some Point Reyes signs (we
never traveled deeply into the Point Reyes area).
has been playing with our maps and Mi Luv U. So… for instance…
he’d program in Stinson Beach while we were out on the Muir Beach
Overlook, and, off we went along the PCH. When the road left the
coastline, he switched it to the Point Reyes area. If he didn’t
have a specific location or address to use, Mike would just pull
names off of the map that were near where we wanted to head, look
for them on Mi Luv U, and then let her set the driving directions.
At this point, we wind up traveling past Samuel P. Taylor State
Park and along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. And again… it was
an amazing drive.
We were seeing foliage!
eventually wind up arriving in San Rafael, where we stopped for
some coffees. (Again Terry… sorry about getting you the mocha
frozen thingy and not the caramel frozen whipped cream with extra
caramel sauce thingy.)
now just after 4pm. Mike enters Fisherman’s Wharf into Mi Luv
U, with the intent being to guide us south along 101, back over
the Golden Gate Bridge, and into the vicinity of it for dinner.
arrive at the wharf… via Mason Street. At this point I’ve meandered
through two red lights… missed one “bear left” instruction from
Mi Luv U… and overall haven’t impressed with my driving skills.
But at the parking meter on Mason Street, I put on a demonstration
of parallel parking that redeems the entire day of driving. (At
least… I thought so.)
begin looking around and heading from pier 43-ish toward pier
39. A restroom break is called for, with Terry and I heading out
on the dock while the others take off. I start looking out toward
Alcatraz, and at a thin fog coming in past the bridge. (Not a
classic bay area fog rolling in… just a thin one.) And that’s
when I hear it.
and barking and noise.
been here since about 1990. Evidently, after the 1989 earthquake,
they showed up. Because of their protected status and a decent
supply of food in the water, the population expanded, and now
between 300 and 900 sea lions populate the docks depending on
the time of year. For the Pier 39 tourist attraction, the businesses
seem quite happy to keep the sea lions and promote them.
wander around some of the shops… but it’s a Sunday night, and
while it’s packed, things are really winding down. Mike gets a
tip on some dining options and leads us back up and out to the
pier 45 area. We check out the menu at Sabella & La Torre
and head inside.
don’t have everyone’s meal written down. Mike went with a shrimp
salad to begin and Dungeness crab. I believe Ellen had the crab
as well. I believe Louise and Terry went with some sort of grilled
fish, and I had the chicken parmigiana. The food was ok overall…
but here’s the thing. Terry and I split a crab cake appetizer.
It was alright. But it wasn’t nearly what we’ve experienced with
crab cakes in Maryland… and from the reactions I can recall, the
seafood (which I tend to avoid with few exceptions) in general
seemed to be good but not outstanding for our group. Good meal…
but not one worth recommending.
get back to the hotel and here’s something I noticed about the
you head for the drawers of tables and desks when you arrive in
a hotel? You know… looking for notepads and pens? When I was a
kid you might find stationery, with envelopes… maybe even a postcard.
Over time these items disappeared… to the point that you might
find one pen and a small notepad, if that.
at the Quality Suites you get an official “OfficeMax” pen. Later
on in the trip, our rooms will be short on towels, not get facecloths,
and have other questions about some elements of service.
generic OfficeMax pens. Perhaps you can tell a lot about your
hotel by the pens they offer. Because in this case they do have
them, but once I get home with it I will not be able to use it
to make a future reservation.
~ ~ ~
day three, we went traveling to some vineyards. And when it comes
to wine on any of the days, for a variety of reasons, my notes
got a bit sketchy at times. Now… it wasn’t because I was drinking
wine that the notes got sketchy. Instead, funny things took place.
For example, later in the trip, I was driving… so I didn’t do
much tasting. And with people not giving me a ton of feedback
on different wines, I didn’t keep the same quality of notes.
said… this is in no small part a wine trip… so I’ll share what
I can. And here on day two… we did try two wines with lunch. If
I like it?
2005 Sonoma County
and smooth, but seemed short
and Terry liked it too. My notes don’t say anything about
the rest of the group, though I seem to recall Louise liked
2005 Sonoma County
and a bit sharp, and… do I taste cherries?
only note I have says I liked it.