Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Through the desert on a truck with no name …

2 December 2009

1 December Palm springs CA to Green Valley AZ.

Got up at 8:00 although I had wanted to get up earlier to do my laundry. I must be more tired than I think, or it was the LA traffic that did me in. Had breakfast at the hotel, did the laundry and left Indio around 11:00AM.

I-10 in the desertDesert scenery all the way except around Blythe CA where there is some agriculture. I saw my first saguaro cactus just after I crossed the Colorado River into Arizona. I took a lot of pictures of saguaros. Here is this icon of the western desert, seen in innumerable cowboy flicks and cartoons.

The second one was taken from far. I thought og getting closer, but then I thought; “Hmmm, desert, rattlers, scorpions, maybe not a good idea”. Grizzlies I can deal with, you see sign, you hear them and generally can see them coming, but those small poisonous critters, I don’t know.

ratty 1st saguaro

ratty 1st saguaro

classic saguaro

classic saguaro

No lunch stop: I survived on fruits and nuts left over from yesterday. I took the highway 95 bypass to Gila Bend on I-8 to avoid the rush hour traffic around Phoenix (Is there a rush hour in Phoenix? I don’t know but did not want to repeat the LA & SF experiences.) Turned off on I-19 towards Nogales around Tucson.

On I-19, I did a double take as I saw a road sign in kilometers, but the speed limits are still in mph.

I arrived in Green Valley around 7:30 PST, went for supper at an American restaurant (pot roast with corn and mashed potatoes, washed down with a Sam Adams) and checked in to the hotel where I had an interesting conversation with the desk person.

Driving in the States

I didn’t realize how thoroughly metrified (metricated?) I had become until this trip. I had to convert distances back into kilometers and speed into kph. Same for temperatures. Overall, it seems that Americans are slow drivers, generally respecting speed limits (always with some exceptions), unlike Canadians who tend to drive 10-15kph above the limit. They are also polite; I never got honked at once, except as a thank you after I let someone pass in the curvy Highway of the Redwoods. However, the rush hour driving around LA was just as crazy as Montreal, with some people trying to create an additional lane. In Montreal, it doesn’t bother me as I usually know where I’m going, but I did miss an exit around Riverside. Also, Americans do not see that the left lane is for passing and the right for driving: they will take any lane to pass you.

I have to say that the sanest expressway drivers are—believe it or not—in Italy where they drive at crazy speeds (speed limit is 130kph (80mph), so the minimum speed is 140kph (87mph) except for the trucks who drive at 100-110). But they stay in their lane, signal that they are about to pass by flashing their high beams, signal when they change lanes (suicidal motorcyclists excepted). The calmest heavy traffic driving I ever did in an urban area was around Rome, where everyone was driving at 130-140!

Mañana México!

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California is the place I oughta be, loaded up the truck and drove to …

1 December 2009

Fort Bragg. OK, not as sexy as Beverly Hills. California! Where it seems so many things in our western culture get their start: Hollywood and stars and celebrities, Disney and Mickey and Yogi, surfing, expressways/freeways/motorways and the automobile culture, blondes in convertibles and hot tubs, fast food and McDonald’s, Haight-Ashbury and hippies and massive recreational drug use, Berkeley and the peace movement, fern bars and sushi and fusion cuisine, varietal wines (the point that now even the venerable burgundies are putting “Pinot Noir” on their labels, as if they could be anything else), JPL sending us into space and Silicon Valley into cyberspace, etc.

27 November, Highway of the Redwoods to Fort Bragg

Got up fairly early & drove down the curvy and twisty Highway of the Redwoods to Crescent City on California’s coast, not without occasionally stopping to admire the big trees.

I stopped at a Home Depot to buy a crescent wrench for the propane tank and took a look at the lumber. I was appalled: “construction quality” doug fir full of loose knots, waney edges, rot pockets. I won’t speak of the unspeakable “Whitewood”. That stuff should have gone into the chipper to make ass-wipe or termite puke board, not construction lumber.

I had a bad smoked salmon omelette in Crescent City and continued along the curvy and twisty coast road.

View from Crescent City dock

Vista from Crescent City dock

I managed to piss off quite a few Californicators in their sports cars with my slow driving. Par for the course, revenge for these Californian old farts in their bus-sized RVs who are always slowing us down on the Alaska Highway and who don’t bother to pull over. Maybe we need signs like they have in California telling slow traffic to pull over at pull-outs to let others pass.

I got to Fort Bragg around 4:00 PM. Lymond Hardy took me to the College of the Redwoods http://www.crfinefurniture.com/ woodworking school where I met a number of his fellow students as well as Brian the man responsible for their amazing stash of wood. For those not familiar with wooddorking, the woodworking school at the College of the Redwoods is probably the best school in North America and notoriously difficult to get into, so it is quite an accomplishment for Lymond to just getting accepted. The school was made famous by its founder and inspiration – http://jameskrenov.com/ James Krenov – who died recently. While I am not a particular fan of his designs – they look spindly and unbalanced – I recognize Krenov’s incredible workmanship.

Lymond and Brian

Lymond and David Welter

Lymond is making a blanket chest for his first project: coopered sides and top, held together with dovetails. Its mass and solid look make it decidedly un-krenovian and respects Lymond’s style: he is into mass.

Lymond's chest

Lymond's chest

Both of us were to tired to cook that night, so after drinking the bottle of bad lambrusco and some even worse Sangiovese (which will get turned into vinegar, shouldn’t take long), we went to a French restaurant where we had the mushroom tasting menu and crab cakes. It was OK, not bad, maybe even pretty good but we were nevertheless disappointed.

28 November, Saturday, Fort Bragg & Mendocino
Finally, sunny t-shirt weather! Well over 10 degrees Celsius! I am in California!!

After a lazy morning, we drove to south to Mendocino where we bought a bottle of California sparkly to celebrate Louise’s (Lymond’s mother’s) birthday. They were having a party back in Whitehorse. We also visited a furniture gallery full of furniture made by graduates and teachers at the college of the Redwoods. Nothing really grabbed me except for an Ash chair made by a woodworker who is to teach next semester. We also went into a place that has massive wood slabs, mainly of local reclaimed wood (redwood and cypress),  some of it old growth.Luigi with curly redwood slab

We had lunch outside in the sun where I actually started sweating even though a guy next to us had a fur hat and quilted jacket and most people wore jackets. We Yukoners are tough!

We then went to a winery right on the coast: http://www.pacificstarwinery.com/ Pacific Star. Lymond had previously met the owner, Sally Ottoson, and talked about me and how I was disappointed in the quality of the grapes I was getting and the wines I have been making in the past few years. She said she wanted to meet me and might help in finding grapes.Pacific Star winery

Anyway, there were a lot of people when we got there and Markus, her partner who used to be a chiropractor, was hard-pressed to keep up.

Pinot noir on the shore

Pinot noir on the shore

We did try a number of wines and she does use a couple of grapes I have never heard of: Roussanne—a white from the Rhône—and Charbono—a red from Savoie but also used in the Val d’Aoste. The wine is also aged in barrels which are left outside, to be exposed to the sea air. And it is aged in barrels for a long time, like up to 8-9 years. This is pretty impressive, I would be very fearful of barrels going bad in that time.

The wines I really liked were a white Viognier-Roussanne, the Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. I have to note that Lymond is a bit of a Zin addict: he started drinking wine when he was about 10 or 11 when I fed him my Zinfandel cut with ginger ale. So he has been more than partial to Zins ever since.

As there were still a lot of people, we got a bottle of 2002 Pinot Noir and went to drink it by the sea. I also had a piece of cheese I had bought in Seattle: a cheddar with the consistency of Port Salut. So we cut off the mould and had that with the wine. I also lent a sweater to Lymond as the wind made us decide to give up on our northern tough guy act. The Pinot noir was quite disappointing when we first tasted it, but it greatly, massively improved with time, so that by the end of the bottle, it was excellent. It needed time to air out. I finally got to talk to Sally after almost everyone had left, and jokingly complained that she should have opened the Pinot Noir a couple of hours before we got there. She got us to try a Charbono-Barbera, which was excellent. I then remembered I had some Vidal ice-wine in the camper, so I went to get a couple of 200ml botlles. We tried one and it was disappointing, not as good as I had hoped. I think I’ll have to let Lymond in our wine cellar at Christmas time and bring Sally back a really good bottle of ice wine.

For those not in the “know”, ice wine is quite appropriately a Canadian specialty made with grapes frozen on the vine. The grapes have to be harvested when it’s at least -10 or -12 Celsius and immediately pressed at low temperatures to extract the freeze-concentrated juice. It was originally a German thing, called eiswein, made in special years when it got cold enough. But in Canada, we can do it consistently as it always gets cold enough.

After that we went home where Lymond cooked up an excellent meal: abalone wrapped in prosciutto, battered lightly and deep fried. Superb! I also had some raw abalone, equally excellent. But it does require a serious beating. Lymond had invited two friends, Doug a colleague at the College of the Redwoods and Jennifer, his girlfriend.

29 November, Fort Bragg to the Central Valley.

I took it easy in the morning, updated the blog and had a few cups of coffee. Tim, Lymond’s roommate, came back from visiting his family in Marin and we went out for a coffee.

Lymond and Tim

Lymond and Tim

I got ready to leave and needed to get some stuff in the back of the camper. A total mess! One of the hatches had opened and a bottle of olive oil had spilled all over. Yuck!!! I had to go buy a mop with Lymond and cleaned up the camper. The floor is now cleaner than it’s ever been since Marilyn last went at it. Lymond made lunch of home-canned albacore on toast. Excellent as usual, his room-mates sure do appreciate his cooking. He gave me a can of albacore and I gave him a pound of Yukon Midnight Sun coffee and a can of my sauerkraut, which he had never tried.

Finally got going around 1:30. Drove through southern Mendocino and northern Sonoma county on highway 99. The countryside reminded me very much of Italy, with low hill, vineyards and the narrow autostrada, except that the cars were going at 140kph. Not surprising that Italian immigrants found the place so congenial. The pictures I took through the windshield don’t do it justice.

Got stuck in traffic around San Francisco. I really wanted to spend time there, but I do have to get to Cancun to meet Marilyn and time is getting short. Continued south, stopped for a subway sandwich and then went into a Best Western Motel Apricot, where I crashed out after quick call to Marilyn.

30 November, San Joaquin valley and LA traffic.

Had breakfast at the Apricot restaurant, French toast smothered in apricot syrup with canned apricots on the side. Went down the San Joaquin valley, which reminded me very much of central Spain: the dry almost desert flat plain with the Sierra Nevada in the background. Saw a number of signs on empty fields saying “Congress created this dust bowl”. Apparently, there is a shortage of water due to some smelt in San Francisco Bay or the delta of the San Joaquin/Sacramento Rivers. The one farmer I talked to was slightly incoherent ranting about environmentalists. While we can blame politicians for any number of things, I don’t think dustbowls are one of them. They are usually caused by farmers planting inadequately drought resistant and inappropriate crops.San Joaquin valley view from hotel

One thing I found interesting in the San Joaquin was the intensity of plantings: fruit trees 10 feet apart, intensively panted vegetables all obviously dependent on massive irrigation, next to fields of sagebrush and other desert vegetation. What clinched it for me was seeing pear cactus growing at the end of an orchard. When I drove through Spain many years ago, the fruit tree and vine plantings were much further apart and adapted to the amount of water available.
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Anyway, I bought some fresh fruit at one roadside fruit stand (persimmons and grapes) where I got to speak Spanish, and mandarin oranges, almonds and pistachios at another. The fruit and nuts were my lunch. I was surprised to see a skiff of snow at the Tejon pass, near LA, which went up to 1,400 metres according to my GPS.

I got stuck in traffic twice around Los Angeles, and probably wasted a total of four hours. I got there around noon and did not get out of Riverside until 5:30. I then stopped at the Best Western Date Tree Hotel in Indio, just past Palm Springs, in the desert, where I am writing this.

T-day: It never rains in California

29 November 2009

26 November, Thanksgiving Thursday , Dayton OR to Grant’s Pass to California.

Today is the most important American Holiday. Just a four day weekend spent eating Turkey, giving Thanks and Travelling. No gifts, no commercialism until Black Friday (the US equivalent to Boxing Day, but they start shopping at 6:00AM). The day is spent with family and friends, and maybe watching football for the guys. Much more significant than our early October Canadian version, where we get a long weekend and eat turkey, maybe.

As Americans cannot stand the thought of anyone spending Thanksgiving on their own (much to their credit), I got two invitations. The first was from Larry Jaques in Grant’s Pass, Oregon and the other by Lymond Hardy’s friends in Fort Bragg, California. I ended up accepting Larry’s invite just because it was more likely that I would get there in time. And I also wanted to finally meet a wrecker friend for the first time in person. For those of you not in the know, wreckers are participants in the rec.woodworking Usenet group. It’s also available on Google Groups. I have been participating in this group since 1995, and have made many virtual friends, including Larry “C-less” Jaques (never spell the name with a “c” – he gets annoyed – which is very difficult for us with a francophone background; it’s even worse than spelling Georges without an “s”). Larry and I, among many others, have been trading barbs, quips, and ocasionally actual woodworking information and insights and all kinds of other information in the rec.woodworking group. We two go back to 1995 in the internet’s infancy.

I-5 in the Willamette Valley

So I had to get to Grant’s Pass by 1:00 PM. Larry had also asked me to get an apple pie, preferably sugarless for his diabetic neighbour’s father. I left at 7:00 AM in the rain. It cleared up eventually in the southern Willamette Valley. I stopped in Eugene to try to find a pie. I found a nice bakery, but their pies had sugar. They directed to another bakery and a grocery store (Market Choice). I found sugarless apple pies there and also some organic Bonaterra wine that Marilyn had like in Whitehorse. Oh, and a bottle of cheap Riunite Lambrusco. Riunite, which was made by a Communist cooperative in Italy, was the best-selling wine in the US in the 80s. I like fizzy reds, must be genetic.

On the way, there were hardwood forests that looked like oak, but all the trees were covered in moss. Larry had warned me about fog and the possibility of snow in the passes before Grant’s Pass. I told him (I should say wrote) that I did have some experience driving in snow. It started raining again as I gained altitude, but no snow.

It stopped raining by the time I got to Grant’s Pass and i finally met my first wrecker in person. I embarassed myself by not reccognizing a maple in his front yard, thinking it was an oak, but all the bark was covered in moss. Larry also has a giant tree in his back yard which i first took for a cedar, but it’s actually a coast redwood. My first view of a real redwood, I should have taken a picture of it. It’s unfortunate that it, along with its doug fir neighbour will have to come down as they are destroying his foundation.

We eventually had our birds, yams, salad. I contributed some pickled beets I brought from home and the apple pie. We also had long talks about woodworking, our current lives, the US health care system, and totally disagreed about climate change.

Larry

I left around 6:00 PM to try to put on some miles so I don’t get to Fort Bragg too late. Raining heavily most of the way on the Highway of the Redwoods, US199, a curvy narrow road with giant redwoods on both sides of the road. I crossed over into California and finally found a campground in the Smith River National Recreation area.