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,
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 April 2, 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.
~ ~ ~ ~
six, Thursday, October 25, 2007
me… but I’m a slow moving train as this day gets started. And
I have no clue what happened.
I’m the youngster of this group. But we’re on vacation… and
while I’m not advocating a daily nap or late morning starts,
let’s at least understand that the vineyards of California and
the Pacific Coast Highway aren’t exactly screaming for people
to wake up before the sun. At least not the way an amusement
park might. They suggest peace… serenity… a carefree, easygoing,
nothing to rush for day.
even the van on day three arrived after 9am.
didn’t we drive some 200 miles back home last night? Sure we
what the hell am I doing answering a 6am wake-up call!
give them credit, these geezers in my traveling party are making
the most of every second. (And yet… as we discovered the other
day, and will soon figure out we didn’t really learn… the locals
prefer to sleep late.)
the horrors inflicted upon us by the Pancake Nazi, we return
to the comfortable setting of the hotel breakfast today. Mike
is already in rare form. The girls behind the counter want to
know where he was yesterday, and he is in full flirt mode.
awake… smiling… laughing… carousing with the kitchen staff before
8am? Not a good sign for us.
decided to use today as sort of a little bit of everything day.
No amazingly set plans… so we’re just going to head into the
city, let everyone shout things out as they see fit, and eventually
we figure we’ll meander over to the Pacific Coast Highway and
just as quickly as we can agree on “no plans”… a few thoughts
are raised and some obvious paths of travel begin to settle
into place. Mike and Louise had wanted to head back into Haight
– Ashbury to find some shirts, and the full group was in agreement
that today was a nice day for that. However, on our last visit
we ran into those stores not opening until just before noon.
(Oh sure… they tell you 11… but it’s really 11-ish.)
So we can’t go there first. I had wanted to stop in at the Ghirardelli’s
store, located in Ghirardelli Square down near Fisherman’s Wharf.
Heard they had a tour and everything. And wouldn’t you know
it… right near the square was a cable car stop and another store
I wanted to check out. Perfect!
find a great parking spot on Larkin Street, but things look
very quiet in Ghirardelli-chocolate-central. So I pull the van
over, and everyone agrees that someone should go check things
out. (Umm, allow me to rephrase a bit… five people out of six
agree that “Bob should go check things out.”) So I get out and
leave everyone behind while I walk to a shop to find out what
is going on.
quickly find a store with an open door, and barely one step
inside I’m offered a free sample. Raised correctly by a mother
that cares about chocolate, I accept a chocolate-covered caramel
square. Turns out the factory has moved… out of the city… to
a location not too far away, but not too close either. Regardless…
no tour here. Most of the shops are still closed. In fact, the
one I’m in really isn’t open.
to the car… where it does not go unnoticed that I smell like
chocolate. (Remember I was volunteered to go alone? They didn’t
want to walk over with me… wanted me to check it out… and now
suddenly I’m the bad guy for accepting a free sample. Geez…
have to say I don’t care about having a lack of additional samples
with me. Their loss. Of course, I am outnumbered by a united
five, and they do not seem to share my opinion.)
items eliminated from our list, I pull around a corner and onto
Beach Street. The store I want to go to is called Lark in the
Morning, and is just a few blocks up in a section called The
Cannery. We decide to check out a stop for cable cars before
walking the rest of the way over to The Cannery.
we start asking questions, it turns out a one way trip on a
cable car is going to cost us $10 per person. Now look… we aren’t
a group of cheapskates… but $120 to bring six people round trip
on a cable car seems a bit steep this morning. It takes no time
at all to decide that money would be better spent on more wine.
continue walking along Beach Street… and I can’t find Lark in
the Morning. I’m looking up and down side streets. I’m going
in and out of buildings. I’m asking people.
then we decide to use the restrooms… and guess what? We’re directed
to use the stairs in the center of The Cannery, where off to
one side we spot Lark in the Morning. Which, of course, like
all of the other stores, is closed. And there is no sign on
the front listing an opening time.
decide to head closer to the piers for a little while. Mike
wants to check out some of the fishing boats. Once there, the
group is treated to a great early morning fog that has basically
wrapped itself around the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog keeps
swirling a bit, exposing and then hiding the towers. It’s quite
a sight. Some limited research into the fog actually claims
that the bridge does influence it… directing it up and down
around the structure.
over to Lark in the Morning. Mike and Richard are supposed to
meet us there (they had wandered out onto Pier 45), so the girls
wait while I go to move the car a bit closer. There are no postings
for hours on any of the stores, so we might be leaving if they
don’t open by the time I return. Fortunately, our group back
together, the store does open.
we meet Kira, James and Dan. We spend some time looking around,
with Terry discussing a Christmas present for Justin with the
staff. Eventually a banjo and a mandolin are purchased and shipped
back home, and we pile into the van to head over to Haight –
gift shops later… purchases packed… we turn onto some roads
leading out of the area in a different direction than we used
earlier in the week and program Mi Luv U for the Pacific Coast
Highway. I don’t recall specifically using Monterey as a destination,
but that’s the general idea and soon the water is on our right.
again the wildlife is giving us a treat. We spot four red-tail
hawks… one in flight… and a peregrine falcon. We saw several
fields of happy cows. Terry and Louise have decided they want
to buy a soccer ball and throw it into a field of cows.
we reach the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
lighthouse is roughly 50-miles outside of San Francisco. Notes
I put together list it as one of the tallest in America… standing
115-feet tall… and it has been around for over 135 years.
Point was just one of several short stops along the coastline…
we’d see something we liked, someone would yell out, and a different
group would exit the van each time to take pictures. Depending
on the interest in a cliff… a beach… windsurfers… cows… some
people stayed in the van, some would get out. But one thing
seemed to stay consistent…
funny thing was beginning to take form. We had been on the road
for a while as we passed the lighthouse. And between the walking
and shopping and multiple places visited, it had been some time
since breakfast. But we never really passed a place along the
road that seemed tempting to us, and we just kept thinking that
15 or 30 minutes up the road a local place would appear and
immediately appeal to all of us. For a while, we never even
considered checking out what Mi Luv U might have to say on the
subject… at least not in depth.
comes Santa Cruz.
are getting close to Santa Cruz and Mike has been scanning over
some of the restaurants that Mi Luv U has on file to find out
types of food… locations… distances… and stuff like that. The
trouble for him is that the ones he is finding in Monterey are
far more interesting to him than anything in Santa Cruz. Oh
the names sound fine… but they don’t quite sound like without-a-doubt
great places. And some are just chains, the likes of which we
have been trying to avoid. In fact, for every potentially risky
listing of Chinese or Italian, it seems like there are three
or four fast food entries.
only 35-45 miles to go to Monterey, Mike and I are figuring
it to be slightly less than an hour. (It took longer… a bit
of traffic… a few stop lights… and one stop I’ll have more to
say about in a second.) Mike has made a dangerous decision that
he doesn’t want to vocalize too loudly. For him it’s a magical
and unforgettable meal in Monterey at one of the names he’s
recognized, or, settling for a gamble and possibly something
far less in Santa Cruz. At this point, I’m agreeing with his
evaluation of things… a great meal in Monterey sounds really
fantastic… but I have to admit I’m getting hungry, and there
are definite signs of dissention swirling in the air behind
our heads. Signs that Mike is oblivious to -- or flat out ignoring
-- as he plays navigator for the tour… on the quest for a magical
spot a small sign that says “Natural Bridge” and, with no time
to ask for permission, swing the car off to the right to go
in the direction it pointed. I’ve taken a van filled with hungry
and unsettled passengers off of the Cabrillo Highway, and… according
to my notes… along Natural Bridges Drive to Swanton Boulevard,
and finally into an area one map calls Natural Bridges State
Beach. As I stop the van, my gut instincts to just go are rewarded.
A couple of huge rock formations are along the beach and near
the cliff we are parking on… natural bridges carved into them.
Everyone gets out of the van.
are pelicans in flight and all over the rocks, along with other
birds. There are waves crashing into the cliffs and the shore
on both sides of us. And… off in the distance… Terry spots a
sea otter. She gets some great pictures of it with one of her
new camera lenses.
spending some time looking around, we pile back in the van and
I drive along West Cliff Drive to get out.
a brief idea about food (and, in part, the Pacific Coast Highway).
we began driving -- all the way back to the start in San Francisco
-- I was thinking that… as you might find in Newport, Narragansett
or Mystic… we’ll come across some seafood place or at least
a local pizza joint. Just seemed logical. Even if it was sort
of what I encountered back in 2005 when driving south of Los
Angeles… some ocean side communities.
trick today is… I’ve been thinking that same thought since before
the ocean first appeared in our sights, hours ago.
And to this point, no real decks built for a view of the water
with a lunch service had appeared.
Mi Luv U has us back on route 1 and heading to Monterey. “Catching
a coastal view meal on a whim, impulse and divine intervention”
is long gone as a theory. And now two things are against those
of us in the front of the van… and a target is becoming visible
back roads that stay on significant portions of the coast, and
thus the ones we were on at that moment, seem to break away
from the main roads when crossing in and out of many towns and
cities. (Maybe it’s just California’s way as I think back to
my exploits of trying to drive the coast in the area of Los
Angeles and down toward San Diego. Still… back then… Seal Beach…
Huntington Beach… there definitely were waterside stops.) Basically…
we aren’t moving at a steady clip. In fact, we’re stopping at
red lights and right now we’re in traffic that just doesn’t
seem to be moving.
hunger is no longer a swirling whisper. It has a voice. On this
day, looking back and laughing (nervously), I can tell you that
the rumors of objects being thrown at the driver and navigator
have proven to be false… but lots of swearing and a “KFC… KFC…”
chant was definitely heard as we departed the outer edges of
not saying much… though I am noticing that the miles to go information
found on Mi Luv U is not getting smaller nearly as fast as I
would like to see it shrink, especially since it’s an indication
of arriving near a place for dinner. I try to ignore the crowd
behind me, staring off to the distance where an unusual palm
tree stands on my side of the car, leaving the “KFC” group for
Mike to handle.
say ignorance is bliss. Well… I have to agree. As “KFC” rings
in the air, I’m trying to figure out the satellite stations
on the radio.
the starvation of all the passengers traveling in the back seats
of the van, Mike perseveres in leading the journey to Monterey.
(He would be praised for his actions when the night ended… leading
us to the best dinner of the trip. And he is deserving of much
praise for doing so. But… truth be told… it was touch and go
for him when the girls thought they spotted an “open” sign on
a restaurant in one plaza.)
a question for you. You’re driving along the famed Pacific Coast
Highway. You’ve departed from San Francisco and are passing
some of the most noted coastal destinations in the world. What
do you expect to see along the way?
I’ve already mentioned the cows. They don’t count here.)
how about this… would you be expecting to see huge fields of
strawberries, artichokes and celery? I mean, we’re talking about
huge farms on what must be some of the most valuable
land in the country.
arrive in Monterey and Mi Luv U is bringing us along streets
and into the vicinity of the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. (There’s
a significant difference between this one and the huge tourist
attraction with a similar name several hours north.)
we walk along a pier and try to decide on dinner, we can hear
sea lions in the background. Checking them out we find sea otters
and sea lions lounging around on docks and markers, and diving
in and out of some of the boats nearby.
we head in to Shake’s Old Fisherman’s Grotto. A fabulous dinner
is enjoyed by all. Mike, Louise, Ellen and Richard decide to
surprise Terry and I by making it a dinner to celebrate our
tenth wedding anniversary.
some shopping around the restaurant, we head back home, slightly
paying attention to the side of the road for a plaza of some
sort. Mi Luv U is taking us to the hotel by going through San
Jose… night has fallen and the view isn’t quite as breathtaking
as it was a few hours earlier… and Terry and I are now counting
down to a pressing need for replacing the damaged luggage.
getting to the hotel without finding a store, I point out to
Terry that it’s still early enough for us to get to the mall
down the road. The two of us head out and find stores closing
at 9pm. I mean… come on San Francisco. 11am openings and 9pm
closings? I suppose I understand the basics of it -- but we’re
staying on a road with a string of hotels, and as a city I believe
you are expecting a tourist or two to show up. These closing
times for restaurants and stores seem a bit off… even if only
by an hour.
is open for another 30-minutes though, so we scramble in and
eventually find a great set of luggage. (Yup… shopping with
Tigg. Always an adventure… always a surprise… and in the end,
she always wins with a terrific purchase. I told you earlier
when I forced her to pack the back-up bag for the possibility
of extra items heading back home. Tonight I take her out for
one piece of luggage and end up bringing a matching set back
to the hotel. Three bags and a carry on… and of course, as I
write this… United is getting ready to implement second-bag-fees.
It never fails.)