Where do I sleep???

Where do I sleep??? 1) Friends and family - 36 nights 2) Couch surfing - 3 nights 3) Camping - 20 nights 4) In my car - 32 nights as of 12/24

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Days 92 to 94: NorCal and Southern Oregon...getting closer to my new home

Everyone in San Francisco had told me that a totally different California lay north of the city and for the most part they turned out to be right.  Most simply put, the pace of life seemed to slow as I moved north through coastal rural California.  It felt pretty empty too, which was a great contrast to the southern half of the state.

My goal for Tuesday as I left SF was to find a place to surf, go to Sonoma Valley to visit a vineyard and get some wine for my parents, and find somewhere to sleep.  With my later than planned start, these goals would end up consuming the entire day and most of the evening.  I hugged the coast as much as I could north of SF and checked out a couple of beaches for some surf without any luck.  Searching for surf in a vast unknown area takes up lots of time and gas so I scratched my unrealistic plan to surf and instead just focused on the wine.  I headed due east and within about an hour or so I was in the famous Sonoma Valley. 

Preston Vineyard's
I'm certainly not a wine guy.  I enjoy drinking it and learning about it, but you won't find me commenting on its palatability, earthy aromas, or smooth finishes with any of the proper jargon.  However, my father and step mother are really into wine and so I really felt that I owed them a bottle from one of their favorite wine regions in the world.  After all, without all of their support and generosity, this trip wouldn't have been possible.  The previous few days in SF I'd been asking around town and researching bio-dynamic vineyards in the Sonoma Valley region and had compiled a list of a couple that would be open when I was passing through the area.  I settled on one called Preston Vineyards. 

Preston's olives
The rolling hills of Sonoma would have been more relaxing and enjoyable if the weather had been better and my schedule not so tight.  I arrived to the tasting room less than an hour before they closed, which still allowed me enough time to chat with Preston about the wine and some of the bio-dynamic practices they use.  While they are certified organic, they are not certified bio-dynamic, but the absence of that certification, according to Preston, doesn't stop them from reaping the benefits of sustainable, environmentally conscious farming. 

Sonoma Vineyards in winter
I tried a tasting of each of the 5 wines they had available and also sampled some delicious olives, bread and cheese.  It was the first time I'd seen an olive tree and had fresh olives which was a real treat.  I'm terrible at selecting gifts for people and buying a bottle of wine was no different.  They all tasted like wine, they all were wine, so which one was I to buy.  Finally I asked Preston what his best selling wine was and what his personal favorite was.  From those answers I was able to make a confident decision.  I also got some good info on driving times to get back to the coast, which I had greatly underestimated.  As I was walking out the door with my bottle in hand, Preston stopped me and told me to take some bread they had baked the day before.  It was a very kind gesture and the malty bread was both sustaining and filling and lasted me through the final days of my journey.  

From Sonoma Valley I drove through dark, windy, and wet mountain roads back to the coast.  I found the small town of Point Arena where I was hoping to get some waves the next day.  When I arrived, I stopped for a beer at a local pub, which gave me a glimpse of the small population of Point Arena.  The locals in the pub were not terribly open or friendly but they did direct me to the local surf break and a place where I could park my car.  At one point, a couple of really messed up girls came in and disturbed the

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Days 88 to 91: Funky, Hilly, Expensive San Francisco

Adam's place is one of these town
houses across the wire hung street
In the evening of day 87 I went to SFO and picked up Noah, one of Adam's best friends who I'd met before when he visited Taiwan a few years ago and stayed with Adam and I.  I've always enjoyed the small segments of this trip where I've been able to travel with someone else and this trip to SF was no different.  Together, we found Adam's apartment without a hitch and it was at that point when I realized how valuable space was in this city.  First, I parallel parked in a space so tight that it required over ten full turns of the steering wheel and left me with less than six inches on each side.  Then, it was up to Adam's studio apartment, which is located right across the street from Golden Gate Park.  We caught up over a few beers in the tiny dwelling before laying down for bed like randomly fallen Tetris pieces.

It really looks like China or Taiwan!!
The green tea store on the right really
is a Taiwanese chain.
 The next morning Adam had to work so Noah and I scratched our heads and wondered what to do in such a big, diverse city.  It was a no brainer actually, Alcatraz, a strangely intriguing must stop tourist destination.  First, we headed down to Chinatown to kill some time and meet Adam for lunch (he works in the area).  It was one of the most developed and Chinese Chinatowns I've ever been to so I thought it was a good chance to practice my rusting Mandarin.  I'd been craving one food in particular from Taiwan; chicken rice.  It's a simple but delicious dish consisting of a bowl of rice topped with stewed and shredded chicken and light gravy.  I started asking around and quickly realized two things, 1) a lot of people didn't speak Mandarin, and 2) even if they'd never heard of chicken rice, they'd tell you they had it.  After failing miserably at a few restaurants, I made one last effort at a Taiwanese tea shop called Ten Ren's.  I know Taiwanese like to hire other Taiwanese so at least they should know what chicken rice was and where to find it, right?  Wrong!  They were mainland Chinese and had never tried the very Taiwanese dish I was craving. 

The Francis Coppola
building where many
famous films were written
 By then it was time to meet Adam at his office.  He works at a new start up company called Pogoplug which makes a device to allows users to access their hard drives and share data with most of their external media devices.  The old brick building turned modern office space was airy and comfortable and even had an exercise area where palates courses are offered to all employees.  After seeing the office and feeling the atmosphere, I could better understand Adam's dedication to his job. 

This lady is making a
Before heading to lunch Adam took us to one of the most visited tourist spots in Chinatown; the place where fortune cookies were invented.  It was a small little factory shop, similar to places I've seen in Asia.  Inside, a few people poured and folded cookies around an old, clanking cookie press.  Another, had the sometimes divine job of placing fortunes inside each cookie.  It cost 50 cents to take a picture inside, which I agreed to under the condition that one of the cookie ladies smile for me.

We had lunch at a nearby restaurant and it was the first time I'd had Chinese food since I'd been back from Taiwan.  It was sort of like eating western food in Taiwan where you pay too much and the quality is never as good as when you're back home.  After lunch Noah and I headed over to catch a boat to Alcatraz, the infamous island penitentiary. 

'The Rock' from the Alcatraz ferry

An Alcatraz cell
 Despite the cold rainy weather, we took our seats on the top of the ferry to ensure the best view.  We met a Canadian girl who was traveling alone for the time being and teamed up with her for the remainder of the day.  Since its closure more than 40 years ago, Alcatraz Island has been absorbed into the National Parks system as an historic site.  There were quite a few people there, as I expect there is everyday, and the complex was well maintained to facilitate the high volume of visitors.  The best thing they did to keep the flow of visitors from jamming up or being confined to certain tour times, was to offer audio guided personal tours.  When we were ready, we each got a headset and audio device that allowed us to start and stop the tour at our own leisure.  If not for the throngs of people wandering all around, I imagine the vibe of the complex would be much creepier.  It was my first and hopefully last time in any sort of a prison and without the psychotic convict personalities present, it didn't seem as inhumane as I'd expected.  The facility certainly did have an institutional coldness to it, and throughout the audio tour, excerpts of prisoner testimonies painted pictures of life's daily struggles. 

A cold place to do time

A holiday party bumping on second
floor corner apartment
 It was an interesting crowd at the party, or at least one that I hadn't encountered yet on this trip.  Without any empirical evidence to back this up, I'd say that most of the folks at the party were 20 something, came from affluent families, went to good schools and had found pretty well paying jobs.  Most were pretty friendly despite carrying that snooty urbane ego common in proud cities.

I got back to Adam's place late and alone to find it empty.  Noah forgot how to get home and got lost in the rainy city until nearly morning and Adam came back from his girlfriend Nirene's house around 7 because he had to go into work on Saturday morning. 

Noah and I were pretty beat and so we toured the city uneventfully through the neighborhood of Japan Town.  However, the aimless nature of our stroll soon took its toll on our legs and just as we decided to look for a place to sit down, we rounded the corner and found a movie theater.  I'd only seen one movie on this trip and with the rain spitting down like it was, it was a perfect day for it.  We saw Tron in 3D and although Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors, the story didn't really captivate me. 

When we got back to Adam's place, he was back from work and gave us a quick tour of the part of Golden Gate park that is right across from his apartment.  It's a really nice park and I liked how the M.H. de Young and California science museums were integrated right into the park.  The rain never really let up and Adam had to run off for a family diner so Noah and I chilled for a bit before going out to meet Adam's family and girlfriend for a drink. 

Nirene, Adam, Noah and I at 21st
It was cool to meet Adam's family for the first time and they were really nice, as was his girlfriend.  After we finished our drinks, his mom, step dad, sister and her fiance, went home and Adam, Nirene, Noah and I went out to a brewery that someone from Stone Brewery recommended called 21st Amendment.

The next morning came with high hope of getting some surf.  Adam wanted to give us a tour of some of favorite places around the bay so we packed up the boards and wetsuits and headed out.  On our way over to Ocean Beach, we stopped at some cool boutique clothing shops and some local surf shops. Ocean Beach is a long stretch of beach just south of the bay.  On the day we were there, the wind was blowing out the waves and it looked like a mess. 

Fort Point, S.F.
Crowded take offs are always a turn off
We circled through the city and checked out Fort Point, a wave that breaks off a point just under the Golden Gate Bridge.  It's amazing how the swell can sneak that far into the bay and wrap around the point to produce a fat left-hander, and judging by the number of folks in the water, that's nothing new.  There were at least 25 heads in the water and although I had really wanted to surf with Adam, we decided to give it a miss.  Some of the drop-ins looked downright dangerous as three or four peopled would paddled for the same wave within a couple of feet of each other. 

We continued along the bay to Dead Man's Point, a "secret" spot clouded in a reputation of localism.  It was another left-hand point, more exposed to the swell than Fort Point, and also better shape and longer ride.  We watched a bit from China Beach and saw some guys getting nice rides, but the consistency seemed to fade as the swell continued to rise.  That's the thing about those two points, they only work on low tide.  We decided to get some food instead, which left  me feeling a bit unaccomplished.  I had really wanted to surf with Adam, the guy I learned to surf with, but the stoke and vibe of moment was far different than it had been in Taiwan. 

We prepared dinner at Adam's place over a good supply of beer and everything was delicious.  There was a lunar eclipse that night and the clouded parted just enough to allow us to view the show.  I went to bed hell bent on surfing and with great anticipation for what the Pacific could serve up.

Fort Point on a sunny day
I'd been watching a swell approaching the area that was due to hit on Monday.  The wave charts were reading 17ft+ which, despite Adam's more realistic outlook, I had been refusing to believe was really too big for any chance of good waves in the area. Nevertheless, I borrowed Adam's 6'10" board and headed out with Noah to see what the ocean looked like under these conditions.  I thought the crowd would be much less on a weekday morning at Fort Point and indeed it was.  In fact, no one was out because the place was nearly flat; it was high tide. 

With little optimism, we drove over to Ocean Beach, stopping at a few minor beaches along the way.  Ocean beach was completely out of the question.  There were huge sets breaking hundreds of yards out, but to reach them you'd have to be superman.  Damn, my chances of surfing SF were running out. 

SF from Twin Peaks
Noah and I made the best of a day around the city by having lunch at a very thoughtful vegan Mexican restaurant.  San Francisco must be one of the best food towns in the country and the establishments are not at all short on diversity or creativity. 

So much to see!
After lunch we took a random detour up to Twin Peaks.  They are the highest points in San Fransisco's steep hilly topography and provide great views of the city.  We enjoyed the scenery and people watching (it's a touristy and date place) and by that time, we were ready to head back to Adam's place to pack and rest a bit. 

Noah had a late night flight and Adam was pretty busy with work so after he was packed, Noah and I headed across Golden Gate Park to a cozy pub.  It had a local feel to it, and was a great place to stretch out your legs on some really vintage furniture to enjoy a beer and sports game.  When I went to pay for dinner (Noah got the beers) neither my credit card or my debit card worked.  This was a big problem since I had a limited supply of cash and lot of mile yet to go.  Of course I straightened things out by having them extend my credit for 5 more days on the card (it wasn't expired but they had sent me a new one that I hadn't started in the required time).  Thankfully, out of great generosity, Noah picked up the tab for food and beer that night. 

It was another quiet night.  Adam and I talked until late like we often did as roommates in Taiwan and the next morning, I packed up and continued north.  Thanks Adam and Noah for the great time in San Francisco!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Days 85 to 87: Big Sur and Big Surf

Santa Barbara was a nice beach
town great for seeing on bike.
 I woke up just a few blocks from the beach in Santa Barbara where my car was parked along a side street.  The air was damp and cool, which didn't help my wet suit dry at all the night before, but was good weather for a bike ride around around town.  My first stop, of course, was the beach where volleyball courts and palm trees decorated the golden sand and a classic wooden pier led into the bay.  I rode down the quiet pier which looked to be quite a happening place at different hours of the day given the assortment of shops and restaurants on it. 

Next, I headed into town, keeping my eyes peeled for an affordable looking breakfast shop.  There were lots of high end stores, boutiques and fancy restaurants along the main strip where I finally found a bagel shop that I figured was in my price range.  It turned out to be one of the most expensive bagel sandwiches I've ever had since the prices they listed for 'bagel sandwiches' only included the inside of the sandwich, and not the bagel which had to be purchased in addition.  The owners and other customers were kind people (one women even bought a homeless guy some toast and milk) and seven dollars later, I was on my way with some good info on surf shops in the area. 

Southern Big Sur
 I stopped at a shop on the way back to the car and they had a decent selection of booties, gloves, and hoods.  The guy at the shop was friendly and helpful and the prices looked fair so I picked up some gear.  For about $160 I got a pair of 3mm gloves, a pair of 6/5/4mm booties (different parts of the boots are made with different thicknesses of neoprene), and a base layer vest with an attached neoprene hood, which will hopefully supplement my wetsuit well enough for the 50 degree water in Oregon.  Ready for the cold northern Pacific, I quickly rode back to my car and hit the road northbound.

The central California coastline had
views like this around every turn
 I stayed on Coastal Highway 1 nearly the whole way, checking the surf every few miles.  Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Cayucos and some other places were small, blown out not worth paddling out for.  Well into the afternoon, I was starting to get a bit discouraged about my chances of getting some waves that day when I passed a small jetty and river mouth just north of the quiet town of Cambria.  The waves looked fun and a few guys were already out, which was reassuring.  In a futile attempt to keep my new gear dry, I decided to skip the booties, gloves and hood.  Big mistake.  The water felt significantly colder than in southern California and within a half hour my feet were frozen.  I paddled around a lot so I could keep my feet in the slightly warmer air and just tried to catch as many waves as I could since the feeling of surfing always brings me a sense of warming euphoria.  I talked to a couple of guys in the water and they told me about a spot called Willows to check on my way north.  After about an hour in the water, the tide came in and the waves got a bit mushy so I ended the fun evening session and headed into town for some beer and wifi.

Willows cove in southern Big Sur
I slept somewhere on the side of the highway 1 and woke up to incredible views in the southern part of Big Sur.  Strangely, the waves below were pretty flat as I drove along the edge of steep forested cliffs.  Finally the twisty road made a magical turn and presented before my eyes 8 foot a-frames breaking in to a cove of crystal blue water.  I stopped at an overlook to get a better look and spotted some surfers doing the same from a parking lot below.  I headed down and introduced myself and found the guys to be really cool and friendly.  They were working each other up to paddle out into the big surf and I'd like to think I helped persuade them.  I certainly knew that I didn't want to go out there alone.  They invited me to surf with them which made me take back my stereotype that surfers are selfish and not friendly, then again, they were climbers too. 

James paddles into one of the first
waves at our Willows session

Big Sur coast
 One of the guys, James, paddled out first to a big peak in the middle of the cove.  We watched as he got worked getting outside and then tried to paddle into the big waves.  He caught a couple but came in after getting caught inside on a big set. By that time we were suited up and followed James to a northern part of the cove which was more protected.  A rip took us right out onto a left breaking peak where heads of kelp bobbed up and down in the water like one of those hit the gopher games you'd find at a carnival.  I missed a few waves before I finally caught one and sped across its smooth face for about 80 meters.  I was stoked and for about an hour we traded waves.  Later they invited me back to their 'steal this' campsite and shared some lunch with me.  It was low tide and a bit dicey going back to Willows so I followed them to some other places to check further north.  We didn't find any places working to well so we departed and I continued north through Big Sur. 

Some sets rolling in at
The Tick, but in Spanish
 I didn't find much more accessible surf along the way until I reached a headland just north of the town of Carmel where a big right hand point break was going off.  I went to have a better look and when I returned two guys had just arrived to get in.  They had come from north and told me that Carmel beach was good, but that this spot, called 'The Tick" in Spanish, was a lot bigger.  They too invited me to join them and I told them maybe I would after checking Carmel.

A few miles north took me to the affluent town of Carmel which is home to a beautiful, well protected (from wind), white sand beach.  The beach breaks looked fast and a bit smaller.  It didn't inspire me at the time, so I drove back to The Tick and suited up. 

The beautiful white sand beach of
Carmel, California
 I didn't have any beta on how to get outside (of where the waves are breaking) so I just tried paddling out from the beach.  I got shut down on three attempts before one of the guys came in and told me to go further into the cove on the right.  I didn't go far enough and just when I thought I was outside, a big set came in and pushed me back to shore.  The other because he thought his friend was warning him of a shark when really, he was just overly stoked and telling him about a good left-hander that was breaking into the cove.  It was a funny exchange of words between the two regarding the miscommunication, but some good came out of it.  The guy that had just come in wanted to catch a few more and offered to show me the way to get out, which was many time easier than paddling in from the beach.  Once outside I realized the size of the sets coming in.  I missed one and pledged to get the next big set wave coming.  He caught one and I got the next in the set, which was a biggie I had to paddle even further out to catch.  Still, I dropped in late, flew down the steep face and was suddenly thrown into the air by a bump in the wave.  It was heavy surf and I really didn't want another battle to get back outside so I went in and had different thoughts about the smaller surf at Carmel. 

I kept my wetsuit on and raced back to Carmel beach for a sunset session.  The waves at glassy waves at Carmel were steep and fast but I managed to pick off a few good ones that kept my stoke going.  I was the last one to leave the water and when I finally did, the moon was shining bright in the sky opposite a fading pink sunset. 

Maresa Beach looking a lot smaller
from the cliff than in the water.
Unable to find a shower, I washed out my wetsuit in a sink and drove toward Santa Cruz to a less patrolled area of the coast.  I found a spot in the closed down California State Park of Maresa Beach and parked as far away from the "No Overnight Parking" sign as I could. 

Thankfully, no one bothered me and I woke to find myself on at the top of a cliff that offered commanding views of a wide beach and the northern point of Monterey Bay at Santa Cruz.  The waves below were thundering and I watched one guy paddle out and fail to catch any waves.  I decided to check out Santa Cruz to see if I could get lucky at one of their many famous point breaks.

Pleasure Point, Santa Cruz

Unknown point break in Santa Cruz
 I'd heard some good things about a wave at Pleasure Point so I stopped there first.  Most of the Santa Cruz coast is southern facing and its many jagged headlands create some of the best point breaks in the country.  Needless to say, Santa Cruz is home to quite a surfing population and like the rest of California, lots of people just hanging around the beaches.  By the time I got to Pleasure Point, there were already more than 20 guys in the water so I decided to ride along the coast and try to find a less crowded spot.  It was a great day for a bike ride and along the way I found a couple of other spots but nothing that made me want to paddle out.  Many of the waves were better suited to long boards and the further north I went, to the less exposed coastline, conditions deteriorated.  I checked out some surf shops in the area and had some lunch at a great burger joint before heading back to Maresa beach to see if it had calmed down at all. 

Hanging out to dry after a great
session at Maresa Beach
Maresa was looking a bit more manageable so I suited up and paddled out to the best spot I saw breaking.  I had the whole place to myself and I caught more than a few good waves.  I was feeling great when I got out and stuck around the park to enjoy a sunset from the cliff and let my wetsuit dry off.  Later, I headed up to San Francisco to pick up a friend of a friend at the airport and then go to Adam's, an old friend from Taiwan, place in the city.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Days 80 to 84: Sooooo Cal!!

Jeremy and Sara with their kids Noah
It was great to arrive at Sara and Jeremy's place and although it had been well over a decade since I'd last seen Sara, she made me feel very welcome.  They have a really nice family and home in Murrieta which is about an hour from San Diego and LA.  It had been a long time since I'd enjoyed a warm shower and a bed to sleep in, so I really felt like I was getting five star treatment there.  I talked with Jeremy for a couple of hours and got to know more about him and the area before hitting the hay in my luxurious room. 

On Thursday a bit of swell was hitting the coast so I headed out to Trestles, one of California's most famous waves in San Clemente.  I had been curious about surfing in California, in regard to both the waves and the surfers.  How powerful would the waves feel and how competitive would the line up be? 

Trestles in San Clemente, CA 
After spending more than an hour crawling along the freeway in a classic So Cal traffic jam, I finally arrived in San Clemente and located Trestles.  I checked it our from a top a cliff and could see many breaks peeling along the beach.  It looked a bit smaller than I was hoping, but cleaner as well.  I met a New Jersey transplant who explained some of the wave characteristics of the various breaks as he headed down to the beach.  I was actually one exit from the parking spots, so I got back in the car to find a spot I wouldn't get towed from. 

After a quick burrito from a really good Mexican restaurant I was parked in front of, I made my way down the 20 minute trail to the beach.  I was excited to get in the water and since none of the breaks looked really inspiring, I chose a less crowded one so I could catch a few more waves without having to line up.  The water was cold, the coldest water I'd been in, but the my 4/3mm wetsuit kept my core warm.  My hands and especially feet, were frozen numb within an hour.  I caught a few good waves in the couple of hours I was in the water.  The waves were about shoulder high and not too steep which makes me think I was on a break more suited to longboards.  After my first California session ended, I drove back to Sara and Jeremy's place to find another delicious burrito waiting for me. 

That night I got some good info on the San Diego city scene and made a plan to check out Ocean Beach.  The following morning, I packed up my car, said good bye and headed west to the Ocean Beach neighborhood of San Diego.  The foggy morning quickly cleared up and I found parking, got my bike down and decided to explore a bit on two wheels. 

Stone Brewery has an excellent tour and
free beer at the end!!!
One of the most striking aspects of Southern California is the number of homeless.  Obviously, the weather must be a huge factor in deciding where to be homeless and it's easy to see why so many people would choose to make the streets of San Diego their turf.  To make a comparison, I saw more homeless people in 3 hours of riding around San Diego than I did in 3 months of driving around the rest of the country.

I passed the Ocean Beach surf break and considered getting in the water but decided to just stick with the bike tour.  I later regretted that decision as riding around San Diego was anticlimactic and at some times dangerous.  I must have ridden at least 15 miles through uneventful neighborhoods before I called it quits and went back to the car.  With nothing to do, I felt the sentiment often expressed by cops trying to get people moving; 'you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here'.  Well, I certainly chose one of the next best places to home, Stone Brewery in Escondido.

I was pleased to discover a free tour of the brewery that began just a few minutes after I arrived.  At first they told me they didn't  have any spaces left on the tour, but when I told them I was traveling solo, they had no problem finding me a spot.  Our tour guide was a funny, charismatic brew master who explained the brewing process, ingredients, and history of one of the most successful micro breweries in America, in great detail.  I was the only home brewer on the tour and it paid off at the end when I got extra tastings due to my ability to simply talk the brewers' lingo.  Although the restaurant there looked really good, I opted for something cheaper, like Mexican.  A Walmart parking lot served as a safe parking location for the night and the next morning I woke to near perfect weather. 

A bit socked in with fog, Laguna beach
was still beautiful.
Continuing north the next morning I stopped by Laguna Beach.  I'd been there once before, many years ago, and remembered beautiful cliffs that hugged the beaches.  I saw those cliffs again and noticed a lot more since I was able to ride my bike along the coast.  A few people were playing volleyball on the beach and I debated asking to join.  Instead,  cooked pancakes in a small park overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  After a late breakfast, I stopped by the Laguna Beach farmers' market and picked up some incredible avocado hummus and artichoke salad with pita bread.  I continued north and passed tons of places I would have liked to stopped at if time wasn't beginning to be and issue.

Crystal Cove State Park, just south
Just north of Laguna Beach the scenic coastal views  pulled me over and I decided to ride a bit more along the coast through Crystal Cove State Park.  I took advantage of the showers at the park which, thanks to California's economic situation, were free.  In fact, most of the parks I visited in California were totally free since no one was employed to collect fees.  I thought it was an interesting way to save money in a budget; fire a fee collector and stop collecting fees.  The ride was a lot of fun and the weather was nearly perfect, but it was time to keep moving north.

I regretted not getting in the water
at Huntington Beach after I saw these
fun waves
Sunset on Huntington Pier
I didn't get far before I reached Huntington Beach, a cool little beach town with a pier featuring surf breaks on each side.  Touring the town by bike, I check out Jack's Surf Shop for a bit and crossed the street to the pier.  The Huntington Pier is classic California.  People fished, others watched the surfers, couples and families strolled across the wooden planks and a diner sold food at the pier's end.  I watched the waves, which were better than I expected, and wished I had gone straight to the beach for a sunset session.  The walk down the pier was fun nonetheless and I took in a beautiful sunset. 

Huntington Pier and Beach
 The coastal drive had been so beautiful that day that I didn't want to travel any further in the evening and miss anything so I found the Huntington Beach Brewery for some beer and wifi blogging time.  I ended out staying for a few hours and watching part of a UFC fight that filled the bar.  As soon as the fight was over, I rode back to the car (which was parked on the street in a seemingly safe neighborhood), and crawled in back for bedtime.

Tons of volleyball courts are open
on most Southern California beaches
 The next morning I woke early and made my way north past numerous LA beaches including, Seal Beach, Long Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.  Finally, I reached Manhattan Beach and needed a break (both a rest break and a surf break).  There were quite a few people surfing the beach breaks that stretched miles down the coast and the waves, while a little small, still looked fun.  I parked and got my bike down to scope out some good breaks along the beach.  I found one near by my car and hurried back up to get my wetsuit and board.  I stayed in the water for a couple of hours and caught a few good waves.  I also got to take a shower on the beach, which was a big bonus about surfing in southern California.

The Griffith Observatory in LA

LA from the Griffith Observatory
 I felt great after the session and was excited to get to my next destination, Griffith Observatory.  It was a perfect night to go to the observatory, clear and a good view of the moon.  The observatory and park which it is located in was donated by a man name Griffith in the early 20th century.  Set upon a hill near Hollywood, the observatory commands spectacular views of LA and the sky above.  Inside, there were plenty of fascinating exhibits about the cosmos that caught my attention in addition to a planetarium, where I enjoyed a really cool film about our place in the universe.  I love hearing about the size of the universe and how scientists have gone about learning and exploring it.  After the movie and browsing the exhibits I went up stairs and caught my first glimpse of LA from the hills. 

I've always wanted to peer through
a telescope like this

The 12 inch Zeiss
refracting telescope pointed
at the moon and Jupiter
Millions of lights from the enormous city below along with the bright moon above illuminated the sky too much to see many stars.  Obviously that wasn't part of the plan when they put a powerful (at least for back then) telescope on the roof, but the brightening city lights didn't dim the spirits of the astronomers who worked there.  After a 30 minute wait in line, I finally got in to the telescope room where an astronomer told us about what we'd be seeing when we had our turn to look through the big lens.  That night it was aimed at Jupiter, which was close to the moon at that time.  Not only could I see the biggest planet in our solar system, but three of its moons orbiting it as well.  After that, I went back to the front lawn were two other telescopes about a quarter of the size and the same power, were pointed at the moon.  While I was waiting in line I started talking to a group of girls behind me who responded to me in what I envisioned as a stereotypical LA attitude of cold indifference.  It was one of the only interactions of its type of experienced on my trip but that general theme seemed most prevalent in Californian cities for some reason.

I picked up a late dinner at a Mexican joint before heading over to the nearest Walmart for some free overnight parking.  The Walmart was part of a mall in a crappy part of town, so when a security guard asked me to leave, I was more than happy to comply and make my way to the next Walmart in a nearby suburb.

The walk through aquarium in the
LA Science Museum
 After my great experience at the Griffith Observatory I decided to check out a couple of other museums in LA.  I found a convenient parking lot that was near the LA Museum of Natural History and the LA Science Museum.  Since the Science Museum was free, I opted for that one first.  The museum was nearly empty so I could peruse the exhibits at my own leisure.  There were some cool ones too, including an earthquake simulation room, a transportation section, a walk through aquarium with dozens of fish and an area dedicated to physics.  I spent a few hours in the museum and worked up a big appetite. 

Pulse dips, cracked wheat, some kind
of pancake, and other veggies
 The night before I had noticed the neighborhood of Little Ethiopia on the map and remembered that one of my friends from Indian Creek had highly recommended Ethiopian food.  I pedalled my way through the streets of LA, which seemed diverse, yet somewhat segregated until I reached Little Ethiopia.  It really was little and I got to choose from about 6 restaurants that all claimed to have authentic Ethiopian food.  I choose a vegan buffet and got to sample some really nice pulse sauces, veggies, and grains.  The food had a flavor similar to Moroccan food, which is one of my favorite ethnic cuisines.  On the way back, I took a different route to avoid a certain neighborhood where people looked at me like I didn't belong (or maybe that was just my perception stemming from my feeling that I didn't belong), but I still got the pleasure of passing different enclaves and the numerous mom and pap shops that characterize big cities. 

I finally got back on the road and hugged the coast through the ritzy areas of Santa Monica and Malibu where it was easy to understand why living there is so desirable.  I stopped to look at a break in Malibu, but the waves were to small to ride a short board so I continued through Ventura until I arrived in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, the girls I met in Indian Creek were out of town that weekend so I found a local brewery and made it just in time for the happy hour specials.  I talked with some locals and got some good beta about where to park, where to surf, and what to expect as I traveled north.  I felt like reaching Santa Barbara marked the end of Southern California and my trip felt closer and closer to finishing.  Thanks again to Sara and Jeremy for their warm hospitality and generosity.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Days 77 to 79: J-Tree's Summer Weather, Surreal Landscape and Rock Chaos

Bagels in the Mohave desert
 I left Red Rock Canyon on Sunday night with no destination in mind, only a plan to head toward Joshua Tree National Park and find a remote place to park for free.  Chances of success are always easy when goals are as simple as I've been keeping them on this trip.  When I got to the Mohave Desert Preserve I kept my eyes peeled for a side road and somewhere in the middle of the preserve, I found one.  It was relatively close to the main road, but far enough away to not be annoyed by the occasional passing car and I slept well in the Pathfinder through the windy, rainy night. 

Joshua Trees at dusk
When I woke up in the morning, the weather had cleared up and the light revealed my surrounding beauty.  I had a bagel for breakfast and headed toward the town of 29 Palms to log some library hours.  As usual, I spent much more time that I'd anticipated in the library and didn't get into the park until dusk.  I didn't even get to use my NP annual pass since nobody was even stationed at the park entrance to collect fees. 

It was a great time to arrive in J-Tree.  The sun was setting and painting the cool blue sky in warm blotches of yellow, orange and pink.  The horizon was hilly and rocky, interspersed with Joshua Trees posing their spiky heads in ways I'd only seen in Dr. Seuss books. 

Now this is a climbers campsite! 
Boulders and rock included
I easily found the Hidden Valley campground, the climbers' campground, and although a sign read 'lot full', I proceeded and found a couple of vacant sites to choose from.  As soon as I found one, I visited my neighbors to make sure it was a vacant site.  Kyle and Matt, like nearly all climbers I've ever encountered, were totally friendly and they informed me that my site was indeed vacant.  Moments later, Nick, another neighboring dirtbag, popped in and invited us all over for tacos.  I hadn't eaten yet so I was happy to accept.  There were about 7 others hanging around a fire they had going, a couple of Aussie girls, some guys from California and others from Washington.  We drank beer, talked and played games well into the night, which was a good change of evening routines from Red Rocks.  I popped some of uncle Roberts popcorn and threw the rest of my sweet potatoes in the fire and we all enjoyed them as they were passed around.  Sometime close to midnight I put my tent up and laid down in my extremely spacious (relative to the car) quarters and went to sleep.

Belaying Dave on the first
pitch of Dappled Mare (5.8)
 I woke up late, made a lazy breakfast, and enjoyed the warm sunny morning with my new friends.  It was a mostly relaxed crew and 5 of us decided to head over to Lost Horse Rock for some cruisy multi-pitch trad climbing. 

Dave seconding the
second pitch of Dappled
Mare (5.8)
In contrast to Red Rocks and Indian Creek, the approach was a pleasant walk through a sandy stream bed and up on some boulders.  Dave and I teamed up for a route called Dappled Mare (5.8), a 300 foot climb that we did in 2 pitches, barely.  It was a good introduction to Joshua Tree and the coarse quartz monzonite rock stuck like glue to my shoes and felt solid enough to take good gear.  I was surprised to be climbing multi-pitch routes in J-Tree since I'd always envisioned just a ton of huge boulders, but there are a few to be found.  The climb was fun, despite the crowded feel the surrounding parties added, and included some crack climbing, some slabby traversing and some face climbing that instilled trust in the grippy rock.  After we topped out, we scrambled back down via a bouldery side of the outcrop and had lunch.

Psyched at the top of Lost
Horse Rock
 The next climb we set off to do was The Swift (5.7), but somewhere near the beginning of the first pitch, I decided another variation of the climb looked more interesting and exciting.  Dave kept the excitement up with pitch 2 and from what we can gather, we actually climbed some 5.9 route whose name I forgot.  The sun was fading fast when we reached the top and we quickly descended the same way as before and walked back to Dave's car. 

The games had finsished and we traded
pics before we departed the next day
Dave had to make some phone calls in town and so I joined him for a beer and burger at a local Joshua Tree (the town) pub.  We made some calls, got some wood, and headed back to the Hidden Valley campground to find our friends sitting around a pile of coals.  We threw some logs on the fire and started another fun night of games and jokes.  That night we played the game where you have a character written on a piece of paper that's stuck to your head.  You don't know your character and must ask yes or no questions to guess who it is.  After placing last in the previous nights game, I'm proud to note that I won the character game.  I felt a bit sorry for the loser as the punishment was to, for a whole day, wear three hooker advertisement cards that I'd collected in Vegas.

The next morning started as slow and relaxed as the previous.  We decided to climb at a palce called Wonder Rocks.  It's no easy task finding routes in the guidebook or on the actual terrain.  There are literally thousands of routes in J-Tree and they're scattered amongst many thousand more similar looking rock piles.  Moreover, the guidebook writes very vauge descriptions, making it a real challenge to be sure you're on the route you want to be on. 

We started up the left
crack and finshed on the

When we set out in the Wonder Rocks area we tried to use the guidebook for the first 10 minutes, before giving up on it and wandering around looking for "something that looked cool".  I was with Dave and another neighbor, Kyle and before long, we spotted a curving hand crack that looked like a fun warm up.  Adventure climbing is really exciting and not using the guidebook adds an unexpected element to it.  Dave led the first pitch and as I was seconding, a chunk of rock broke off in my hand.  Luckily, I had a really solid foot jam so I didn't go anywhere, but whenever a hold breaks, it makes the rest of the climb very suspect.  I was up to lead the second pitch and did so as delicately and focused as I could.  All in all, the climb was probably only in the 5.7 or 5.8 range but not knowing that, being unsure of the rock, and never knowing what it would be like higher up made this climb particularly spicy. 

Plugging gear on some unknown route
in the Wonder Rocks area of J-Tree
From the top of the climb, we spotted a couple of cracks that looked like they might be good routes.  However, when we investigated the first one, it was much lower angle than we expected and we never even found the other one.  For the next couple of hours we hiked through the rock outcrops and looked for climbs.  We solo/aided some short random cracks and finally found a wall with some good short routes.  We went with the one Dave had his eye on first and so he led it.  A few meters up Dave was really questioning the integrity of the rock and so he decided to bail and used gear to walk down.  We went back to the climb I had spotted nearby and I racked up for a short crack climb.

Nearing the crux that I felt was 5.9
The rock quality on my route felt descent and it followed up a double crack system for the first half before going into one crack.  I felt like it was about 5.9, but they seemed to think it was a hard 5.8 or easy 5.9.  I guess your perspective is always different when you're leading. 

That was the last climb I did a J-Tree and when we got back to the campsite, I cooked some quinoa veggie hog jaw.  The campsites occupied by my neighbor friends were emptying out quick and I was on my way too.  It'd been about 10 days since I last showered and only about an hour and a half away, my cousin Sara's fully equiped home awaited.  I said my good byes to everyone still around and headed towards San Diego.  Thanks to all the friendly neighbors in the Hidden Valley campground.