Back to Seattle

As some of you will know, I've actually been back in the UK for over a month, although it doesn't feel like it - visiting family, taking a few days away with Sarah, starting to fix the Tenere, and going back to work haven't left much time to think, let alone catch up on blogging.  I'm going to try and put that right over the next week or so, and give a whistle-stop tour through my adventures between leaving San Francisco and flying home to the UK.  I will, at some point, write up the full story - even my rough notes are considerably longer than the account I've been posting here - but I'm making no promises on the timescale for that.

I rolled out of San Francisco on the last day of May, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge slightly faster by car than I had by bicycle.  

For the next two days I hugged the Pacific coast, camping both nights and having the pleasure of some great company from fellow campers, and a dinner of abalone fresh from the ocean and cooked on an open fire.

After a couple of days on the coast, I moved slightly inland to pass through the Coastal Redwood forests of Northern California, taking in the kitsch...

...and the downright incredible.

Into Oregon, and back onto the coast, although with a very different feel to the Californian shore.  Much more forested, and a lot of deserted sandy beaches littered with green-topped sea-stacks.  The overall impression is straight out of 'Jurassic Park', leaving you expecting to see a couple of dinosaurs amble around the corner.

I spent a night in Port Orford, the western end of the TAT, trying not to ponder what might have been.

Before taking a tour of a lighthouse, and bumping into a couple on a Goldwing I'd seen a couple of days before at the 'Drive-thru Tree', and who turned out to be Randy and Susan Powell of

Camping outside Lincoln City, OR, I had a bit of a headache during the evening, which seemed to pass with the aid of some aspirin from the campsite shop and a bit of a nap.  It wasn't quite going to give up that easily though.

It returned the next day, but I decided I was going to proceed with my plan of visiting the Tillamook Air Museum anyway.  In the end, I spent a whole ten minutes inside before throwing up behind a bush in the car park.  It was at this point I gave up, booked into a motel, and went to bed at midday.  This didn't prevent having a couple more cycles of headache - vomit - sleep before finally waking up feeling OK(-ish) the next morning.

There was one good outcome though - chatting online to friends back home triggered a memory of why I had the cryptic note "McMinville, OR" in my notebook (written, I think, as a result of a random chat in the common area of the hostel in San Francisco).

McMinville is home to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, which in turn is home to all sorts of things which are extremely exciting from a nerdy engineering point of view.  The centrepiece of the museum is the Hughes H4, better known as the 'Spruce Goose' - the only example of the design ever made, and still the largest wingspan aircraft ever to take off, being slightly wider than an Airbus A380.

Oh, and they've also got an SR-71 Blackbird, as you do.

After spending most of a day in the museum, I hit the interstate northwards through Portland rush hour traffic and into Washington, where I spent a final night in a motel somewhere near Tacoma before rolling back into Seattle, checking myself into the HI hostel, and returning the filthy, 4300-mile-older Mazda to Enterprise.

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.