From the desert to the sea

A lot has happened in the couple of weeks between posting my last update from a motel in Lone Pine, CA, heading south towards Arizona, and this morning, sat in a hostel in San Francisco.

The southwards journey had one more landmark of note - Death Valley - which I managed to drive through without dying, althought it did melt my shoes a little bit.

The Overland Expo was a great weekend, which probably deserves its own post. It's an event which is beyond comparison with anything we have in the UK - vehicles, vendors, presentations, classes, and of course the US leg of the Adventure Travel Film Festival. The biggest pleasure though was the people I met and chatted to over the course of the weekend.

When I left the Expo on the Monday morning, I'd expected to depart Arizona the same way I entered - at speed along I-40. It actually took me a couple of days cruising along the remains of Route 66, stopping on the way at retro motels and diners, old mining towns, some rather large caves, and London Bridge.

By the time I did finally re-enter California, I'd had my fill, for the time being at least, of kitsch Americana, so I made an Interstate-assisted dash for the coast and a couple of nights in a hostel in Santa Monica. During the intervening day I hired a bicycle, and managed not only to avoid getting flattened in car-worshipping LA, but to ride all the way to Hollywood, impulse-buying a Ukulele from the Guitar Centre on Sunset Strip along the way and carrying it back to the hostel.

I left Santa Monica on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, which I now know to be the weekend on which the entire population of California - normally neatly clustered around San Diego, LA, and San Francisco - redistributes itself uniformly along the coast, filling campsites to capacity and allowing motel owners to demonstrate their understanding of demand-led pricing. I discovered this on the Friday, when, having passed up the opportunity of an early stop near a beautiful beach because $80 for a room seemed a bit steep, I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon and evening searching for somewhere to stop before eventually being forced into paying $120 for a room on a soulless suburban strip.

I expected the worst for the rest of the weekend, but that night turned out to be the low point. After a couple of ridiculous ($200+) quotes on the Saturday night I stopped in at the hostel in Cambria, which was full, but where the owner took pity on the ignorant Brit, invited me in and gave me a glass of water while she spent ten minutes on the phone, eventually securing me the spare room of someone's holiday home for a very reasonable rate.

I spent Sunday night camped at the Laguna Seca racing circuit. I went there chiefly to visit a memorial to a friend of mine who died a few years back (see here), and although I knew they had camping (the circuit actually being part of a county park) I expected to hear the same story as at every other campground - "we've been booked up for this weekend for seven months". Much to my surprise they had loads of space, and I pitched my tent about a hundred yards from Turn 6, before spending the evening walking round the track. There was a car trackday when I arrived, and a bike one the next day, but in the evening the place was almost completely deserted.

In between all the accommodation-related shenanigans, I was slowly making my way northwards along the California coastline, via a mixture of CA-1 and US-101, encountering not just stunning scenery, but other sights such as zebras, surfers, elephant seals, vintage engines, lighthouses, and some rather good beer.

Since Monday night, I've been in San Francisco, staying at the HI Fisherman's Wharf Hostel. I've cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge (and some way beyond), nosed around a WW2 Liberty Ship, and generally walked around a lot.

Today (in fact more or less as soon as I've finished posting this), it's back in the Mighty Mazda and northwards in the direction of Seattle, where this phase of the trip ends in one week's time.