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Know When to Fold Em

November 19, 2018

After a relaxing evening at the Hampton in San Jose and their free! breakfast! (yes, I love me some free food), Gladis and I got on the road about 7 a.m., hoping to avoid more San Jose OMG DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE LANES LIKE THAT ANTHONY? traffic.

I would be home by three, I thought, including a carefully timed stop at Vic’s Cafe in Paso Robles for pie. I don’t even LIKE pie that much – I’m a cake girl through and through – but Vic’s pie is to normal pie as the International Space Station is to a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s good enough to convert pie agnostics like me.

Then I hit the fog. It was bad, a wall of white that made me squint and lean over the steering wheel. I couldn’t see more than a few car lengths ahead of me. I tried driving slowly, then realized I just couldn’t do it safely. I exited the freeway in Morgan Hill – about 10 miles south of San Jose – and crept along the country roads until I could find a safe parking place, which was hard because I could barely see the sides of the road around me.

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One of the best things about having an RV? If you’re stuck somewhere in the fog, you have a comfy seat, a blankie, and a bathroom. I wrote a blog post and talked on the phone and drank my coffee. I waited about 2 hours for the fog to lift until it was safe to get back on the road.

Just after 11, I stopped in Soledad (city motto, no joke: “It’s Happening in Soledad!” City industry: a prison).

I had once stopped there about 10 years ago and had gotten a bean burrito that had the best beans I had ever tasted. They were a miraculously soft but somehow still firm silky perfection that made me think about them every time I drove by Soledad…but I was never hungry until this trip. I figured an early lunch would give me room for pie in about 2 hours…so I went searching for the same place I had eaten so memorably a decade before.

I found it on a side street – Acamparo Panaderia. And guess what? The beans were as I remembered them. Perfection! Just like mom used to make (my mom wasn’t Mexican, but she grew up during the Great Depression and could make a mean pot of beans).

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I got to Vic’s Cafe at 1 pm. Vic’s seats maybe 65 people if you pack them in, and they had 4 servers and 4 cooks on. It had been a busy morning. I gasped as I saw this.

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Because of the fog and because it was Sunday and because people in Paso Robles are too damned selfish to leave a single slice of pie in the event that a weary traveler stops by, THERE WAS NO PIE.

I sadly drank coffee and ate a consolation cookie at the counter, glancing over and over at the empty pie board. No pie. Sniff.

(Gladis, however, got a little snack of $100 worth of gas).

On I drove through the gold California landscape of fall, the beautiful flickering yellow cottonwoods and the apple stands giving way to the coast once again.

A few hours later Gladis and I were home. Nancy’s dogs were overwhelmed with OMG SHE’S HOME! I fell asleep at 8 pm, exhausted and happy to have had such a great 20 days on the road, and joyful  to have people and dogs glad to see me.

 

Towanda!

November 18, 2018

When I started my travels south yesterday, I had two conflicting priorities (because of course I did): I wanted to see the North Coast of California, and I also wanted to avoid staying in the worst air quality areas for the night.

Much of the state is blanketed in heavy smoke from the Camp fire in Paradise and the Woolsey fire near Malibu. The worse air quality was in the center of the state, around the Bay Area. I would have to run long and hard to make it from faaaar north through the gigantic bad air zone.

Gladis and I started the day in Eureka after a very pleasant Elks Lodge stay:

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

The understated NY Times Map with its pale buff colors doesn’t do the air quality justice, so I will include a more urgent-looking map:

Air quality map of California showing smoke from fires

So I was way the heck up north, wanted to be south of the scary red and purple dots, and wanted to still see the coastline. No problem. I am woman! I am Towanda! I can do it all!

I left by 7 a.m. and hummed down the road, taking a side trip down the Avenue of the Giants, a redwood grove stretching 22 miles parallel to the main highway.

If you have a reverent bone in your body, this place will make you want to fall to your knees and give thanks to God for letting you witness this at least once in your life. If you don’t have that inclination, well, it’s still dang pretty. And quiet. I was the only car on the road due to it being winter and early in the day. The redwoods have a deep and lovely hush.

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I reluctantly drove on (after trying to figure out if I could stay there forever) and turned westward to make the connection to California 1 South, which would take me to the ocean.

The first sign said “No RVs over 40 feet” and the second said “Winding Road Next 22 miles.” I actually pulled over and thought for a minute about whether I wanted to continue down this road. I knew the RV sign meant this road was really, truly curvy. Over 40 feet was banned, but I knew even 23 feet would be no picnic. I took a deep breath and put Gladis into drive. Onward. Towanda!

They weren’t kidding. It was hairpins and climbs on top of hairpin descents. I learned a lot about using a lower gear and using the whole road when I could safely do so, flattening out some of the curves by crossing the center line. It was so beautiful, though, redwoods crowding both sides of the road, little creeks, hawks zooming in front of me, tiny towns of 50 to 100 people suddenly appearing out in the middle of it all.

I popped out onto the coast here. I know, right? Worth it!

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As I pulled over to take the photos, my brother-in-law called and I told him “I survived.”

Then I got back on the road and about 1 mile later, the sign said “Winding Road Next 16 miles.”

Then 8 miles. Then 11 miles. All the way between arriving on the coast and Mendocino, it was like this. It was a test of my nerves and my driving, and I did it. It was so beautiful that when I could remind myself to breathe and relax and be in the moment, I was brought to tears with gratitude for the journey. Redwoods. Cypresses. Crashing waves. Rocky shores. TWISTY WINDY ROADS.

I eventually got back to the 101 south (after 22 miles on guess what – the twisty windy and narrow CA-128), relieve to be on a real freeway  immediately and encountered a traffic delay. Of course. Sitting stopped in traffic, I flipped on Waze to find “Fire. Four Miles Ahead.” I had tried to escape smoke, and somehow found fire. I bark-laughed. A few minutes later one of the commenters, thankfully, added that the fire was out. Breathe. Drive.

I wanted to make it through the Bay Area, where the traffic is bad and the air was worse, to at least San Jose, where the air was in the red but not purple zone. This meant driving in the dark, something I hadn’t done before. In the shitshow of Silicon Valley, it was as crazy as might be expected.

Do you really NEED to do a sudden four-lane change at 65 mph, ANTHONY? But despite all the people cutting in three inches from my front bumper, I survived! And so did they, somewhat surprisingly! (I only had to brake hard and hear all of the contents of Gladis slide sickeningly forward one time). Towanda!

The San Jose Bass Pro didn’t have RV parking that I could find and the San Jose Elks lodge RV park was dark and creepy, so I gave up and went to the Hampton Inn. You KNOW I love me some Hampton. Ironic considering how in my last post I was trash-talking motels, but that’s God’s sense of humor, isn’t it?

After 12 hours on the road, I ate some leftovers, drank a bottle of water, took an hour-long shower and turned on the sleep meditation app. It was the most gorgeous, tiring, scary, damnable, wonderful day on the road. Smooches to Gladis, who performed like a champ. Towanda! We can do this thing!

 

 

 

My BFF Gladis

November 17, 2018

Gladis and I spent 12 hours on the road today, which is entirely too long. I’ll tell the story some day when I haven’t driven for 12 hours. We went some cool places, though.

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Creature Comforts

November 16, 2018

Being on the road in an RV like Gladis is pretty comfy. It’s far more comfortable than sleeping in a tent or van, and it even has advantages over motels (I KNOW when the blankets were last laundered, thank you very much). But it’s not quite as nice as home.

The mattress is ok, but not like home. The couch (the folded-down dinette) will do, but it’s 3 inches of foam rubber on top of boards, not a foam blob engineered to perfectly fit your body like real sofas are. And the shower….well, it’s ok to get pretty kinda somewhat clean, but that’s about it. And then there’s the “everything here is new to me” aspect of moving around and doing everything at different grocery stores, gas stations, etc., than I’m used to.

I’m not complaining. I’m just saying that’s how it is. But the effect of these little slightly-less-than-comfortable aspects builds and makes it necessary to ensure I do have creature comforts on hand to soothe my mildly jangled soul.

One is NPR from home. I got the local station app and play it over my bluetooth whenever I want to know what’s going on down there.

Another is bikkies. Biscuits. Sorry, I’ve been obsessively watching The Great British Baking Show again. Cookies. A girl needs a cookie or two at the end of a long day of driving and trying to figure out where the heck I am going. Preferably a nice gingery Biscoff biscuit.

Some creature comforts require a little ingenuity. Dennis, Gladis’s previous owner, God bless him, installed a lot of lights in the unit. Twelve to be exact. In a 23-footer. And he made the rookie mistake of putting in “true daylight” LEDs, which have a razor-sharp glare that makes any space feel harsh and uninviting. And I do want my space to feel inviting.

So please forgive me, if on the road I improvised until I can figure out something better  (something that doesn’t involve buying 24 new LED bulbs). Observe: I am master of my domain. The new, the beautiful, the coffee filter lampshade. If something happens to me, please explain this to whoever finds Gladis. I’m not insane. My eyes just hurt.

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Two Roads Diverged

November 15, 2018

After watching some YouTube videos, I diagnosed myself as having anxiety. Some of the symptoms matched up perfectly. Mostly the fact that I’m usually convinced everything will turn out for the worst.

“What if the worst thing DIDN’T happen?” a friend asked. That has become my new mantra.

When I was talking about this trip to my therapist, she asked where I was going.

“I don’t really know,” I said. “I’ll decide when I come to the forks in the road.”

She started laughing. “You’re not a terribly anxious person, you know,” she said. “A truly anxious person would never have said what you just said.”

This freedom is odd to experience. I literally don’t know where I will be from one week to the next.

I ended up where I am completely by chance. A bartender mentioned the place. Then I told my host in Ashland, Ross, about what the bartender said, and he agreed. Driving Gladis this direction, I still wasn’t sure I would come here. But the right fork looked nicer than the left fork, and I thought it would certainly be cheaper to buy gas in Oregon than California, so I decided to come here for at least an hour.

Seven days later, I’m having a hard time figuring out why I should leave Brookings, Oregon.

Grants Pass Part Two

November 14, 2018
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Grants Pass does autumn up right

After I left the woodcarver, I took myself out for a little lunch at a charming cafe called Cultured Palate.

I was the only person to walk through the door and the owner, Angela, greeted me warmly. She’s of Cuban extraction and obviously loves her little restaurant.

We talked about food, of course – she makes a fine chimichurri – and about how she should  promote the fact that she has vegan food (she makes a great picadillo) on the menu on Instagram (that was my idea).

We also talked about Grants Pass. She talked about how small businesses like hers survive on summer tourist traffic. Grants Pass is known for its mild summer climate, much cooler than some other areas of Oregon.

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Cultured Palate

But for the past few years, there have been giant, long-burning wildfires in the summer, driving the tourists away, and she and her fellow downtown business owners are hurting. She used her fingers to tick off friends who had closed up already, some who had been in business for decades.

It struck me for the first time how climate change could just decimate a town in a short period of time, and how we’re all going to be dealing with this from now on. I don’t mean to be depressing, but with fires raging all over California and people choking in clouds of smoke from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Sacramento, it’s hard not to be sobered.

i hope Grants Pass survives. It’s a nice town full of nice people. I hope we all survive.

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The former Grants Pass Steam Laundry

 

Ashland to Grants Pass, Oregon

November 13, 2018

Leaving Ashland after a week with on my friends’ farm, I decided to drive north to go south, which only makes sense if you realize that a bunch of mountains are in your way and there are only a few ways to get through them.

I had already been south, so I headed up toward Medford and Grants Pass, so I could cut over to the coast and the 101 to head back south.

I also felt a strong need to re-visit Grants Pass, where my family had stayed on a road trip when I was a kid. We stayed at a 3-story motel on the riverfront. The third floor was just two rooms perched on top of the other two floors, and we got one of those rooms. I was convinced we were staying in the penthouse suite, and that seemed so luxirious to me at age 11. We fed ducks at the river and everyone was in a good mood and it was one of those days so happy that it led me to want to come back to visit, 45 years later.

Grants Pass did not disappoint. After a drive through mountains covered in tall trees, many of them damaged by recent fires, I emerged on the main street of a the town. It looked like most buildings were from the 1930s to 1950s, a real downtown with lots of little locally owned shops.

I parked Gladis on a side street and began walking around, accompanied of course by Pokemon Go. Bonus: it was Community Day and all you PoGo people know I wouldn’t want to miss that.

Crossing Main Street, I spotted an older man napping in a folding chair, holding an open briefcase full of nicely displayed hand-carved myrtlewood butterflies. I thought they were so beautiful I had to speak to the man. He woke from his doze in the sun and told me his story. He is a Navy veteran the aircraft carrier Yorktown. He was released from the Navy when his toe was crushed in a ship elevator accident.

He loved Grants Pass but rued the rent – he said he survived on $900 per month. He had always been a carver and bragged that he once carved a life-sized possum hanging from its tail. He discovered butterflies sold well, so was out on the street with his $20 butterflies. I bought one, thinking of my mom, who had a wood butterfly sculpture on her wall that she loved so much.

He told me he was a Mormon and was the most blessed man he knew. Even though one leg was amputated in a long series of operations, it was paid to the tune of about $700,000 for by the VA, which wouldn’t have happened if that toe hadn’t been damaged in the ship accident. He considered that a gift from God.

He got so happy and excited to tell me he was going to make his daughter-in-law a carved purple stone butterfly with a stone slab he had gotten. His eyes danced as he described how happy she would be.

He did seem a truly blessed man. I’m happy to have met him.

 

 

At Arch Rock

November 12, 2018

That precise moment when you realize you have become one of those kinds of tourists.

I was trying to take the classic photo where the subject points to some scenic or historic site. Then I realized that instead of pointing AT it, I could fit my finger in it. Half a dozen shots later, I got it.

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Oregon, Green and Lush

November 11, 2018

Diamond cann

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in this state, and they have taken to it like an Oregon Duck to water.

When you cross the state line, there’s a sign that says “Welcome to Oregon.” About 150 yards behind that, there is a store with a sign with letters about 8 feet high that reads “WEED”.

The names of the dispensaries crack me up.

  • La Mota
  • Gräs
  • Doctor’s Orders
  • Green Gratitude
  • Urban Farmacy
  • Canabliss
  • and my favorite, Pharm to Table.

Have I partaken? Nah. Not my cup of tea.*

 

*This is a little joke at all the drug education officers who came to my school and tried to convince us that people referred to marijuana as “tea,” which never ever happened anywhere but drug education seminars.

 

Backwards

November 10, 2018

What do you get when you have a narrow driveway with a rock ledge on one side, an inexperienced driver who needs to back up to dump her tanks, and a man who doesn’t understand that the driver can’t tell left from right and doesn’t know what “cut the wheels” means?

You get an RV that is backed straight up into the space. After about 15 minutes.

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