Transcontinental Travel Tips ( Part 5 )

Posted on March 21, 2015 under Storytelling with 2 comments

Cable Car (2)

One of the iconic cable cars in San Francisco



Tip # 15: The importance of spontaneity

If you are traveling to Africa to go on a safari, you need an itinerary.  If you are on a road trip with no set timeline, be prepared to change gears quickly.

We had scarcely left Mexico when we found ourselves crossing the border into California.  Our friends had told us about the Imperial Sand Dunes but it was still a shock to see these mounds the size of mountains as far as the eye could see.  Pete quipped that it would be awesome to snowboard down one of the dunes.  Well, we just happened to have a snowboard with us, as he planned to do a bit of riding while in B.C.

I zipped off the very next exit and we found ourselves in the official park of the sand dunes.  People come from far and wide with their dune buggies, four wheelers and the like.  They camp there and spend endless hours traversing this incredible landscape.  It’s like someone simply dropped the Sahara desert in South Eastern California.  We lugged the gear up one of the mountains of sand, completed a photo shoot and headed north.

Tip # 16: DO NOT travel through L.A. at rush hour

Dante tried to describe hell in his classic book “The Inferno”.   Obviously he had never travelled to Los Angeles or he would have added a special chapter.

If you want to get to San Francisco and you find yourself in southwestern California, there’s no escaping Los Angeles, unless of course, you fly commercial or have a private jet.  We drove for several hours through thousands of acres of prime agriculture land.  You get a better understanding of why so much of our fruit and produce comes from this state during our long winter months.

We had decided earlier in the day, to take L.A. off our destination list.  We were starting to run short on time and the thought of fighting traffic in order to shop on Rodeo Drive just didn’t make sense!  However we still had to drive through the city and our timing could not have been worse.  At this point we were heading north and west and we arrived at rush hour with a blazing sun in our eyes.  Pete was at the wheel.  I was praying.  The traffic, needless to say, was fast paced, bumper to bumper and relentless.

It took an hour and a half to get to the far side of the city, and even then there was another full hour of six lane traffic heading somewhere.  It is my definition of insanity.

Tip # 17: It’s not the destination.  It’s the journey.

Yes, I know.  This is a trite, overworked expression but it certainly fills the bill for a trip like this.  Most times when people travel, they know where they’re going and when they’ll get there.  The trip is laid out in detail with reservations made weeks, if not months, in advance.  If you are lucky enough to have a trip with no set agenda, anything is possible.  And it truly becomes all about the journey.

Up to this point in the trip, our accommodations had been very good to excellent.  The law of averages eventually kicks in and so it was that on day 11 we had our first and only bad hotel experience, in Bakersfield, California.  It was late at night and we were both tired and needed to be off the road.  To add insult to injury, we had to go off the beaten path and actually backtrack to get there.  I won’t mention the hotel chain (it wasn’t our preferred choice), but the room was dirty, plain and simple.

The following morning we hit the road with San Francisco clearly in our sights.  Once again, we were amazed by the scope and size of the fruit and vegetable production, especially the citrus groves.  There was also another species of trees that we weren’t familiar with.  A quick Google search indicated that we were looking at almond plantations and discovered that California produces 90% of the world’s output of these popular nuts.

And then that oh so familiar smell.  In Fresno County we came upon another feedlot and this one dwarfed the one we had seen previously in New Mexico.  The Harris Ranch handles 100,000 head of beef cows at any one time for the production of 150,000,000 pounds of beef annually.  It is staggering to see this many animals in such cramped quarters.

We crossed the Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco early in the afternoon.  We had been given a tip from my brother and drove to the Hotel Beresford in the heart of the city.  If you go to S.F. I highly recommend this hotel.  Inexpensive by S.F. standards and in a great location.  After unpacking, we decided to do the tourist thing and immediately jumped on the cable car going to Fisherman’s Market.  We concluded the day with a 2.5 hour sightseeing tour which started in brilliant warm sunshine and ended in frigid temperatures in the dark.  The long reach of the polar vortex, I suspect.

Tip # 18: “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” – San Francisco by Scott McKenzie

We spent most of the following day wandering the streets of this famous city.  Climbing up notoriously crooked and incredibly steep Lombard Street, I had visions of Steve McQueen in the chase scene of the 1968 classic “Bullitt”.  We had lunch at the oldest restaurant in California (Tadich Grill) and spent a good deal of the afternoon in Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park.  You will be happy to know that “The Haight” still has a few hippies wandering around; still lost in the 60’s by the look of it!

We crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge late in the afternoon and headed north, overnighting in Redding.

I truly believe that there is at least one Nova Scotian in every town and city in North America. (See Tip # 13 – Randomness). Checking my e-mail early the next morning, a friend from home mentioned that her son lives in Redding.  After confirming that he would be awake, I placed a call at 6:10 a.m. and we had a great gab.  Imagine two lads, one from Heatherton and the other from Antigonish, chatting it up over coffee in the wee hours of the morning, a continent away from home.

We hadn’t seen much of the Pacific Ocean coastline so we decided to head west on the 299 to Eureka.  The name Eureka comes from the Greek and means “I have found it,” a reference to the gold rush.  I was at the wheel and for the next 3.5 hours, we drove over one of the windiest roads we had ever been on. Think Cape Smokey on the Cabot Trail but much, much longer.  It was difficult to concentrate on the oft times stunning scenery while navigating one hairpin turn after another.

We emerged from the mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, with its roaring waves, greeted us.  It was also the entrance to the Redwood National Park.  We often think that the Maritimes has a monopoly on beauty but this had to be one of the most scenic vistas that we encountered.  We found it interesting to see signs alerting the public that this was a tsunami zone.  You can see why.  There’s nothing but ocean between the West coast and Japan.

We walked through a redwood forest and realized how small and insignificant we were.

Another twisty, turny drive brought us back on to the I-5 … and more randomness.  Late into the evening, with Pete driving en route to Eugene, Oregon, I happened to noticed on FB that my nephew, well known photographer Dave Brosha, was flying in to Portland, Oregon that very evening.  A couple of messages later and a breakfast rendezvous was confirmed for the next day.

( To be continued )

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