Thursday, July 27, 2006

Every Rose Has Its Thorn (And sometimes, the thorn sticks in your back tire)

We’re typing this entry just as we're ending our venture down the main stretch of Highway 1, right past a town called Las Cruces, with the scenic, lush valleys and hills surrounding our little car.

It’s so foreign here. The terrain changes so quickly. As we’re typing, we’ve gone from those verdant valleys to rocky cliffs. And as we’re finishing this paragraph, we’re back at the beach. And now it’s all Pacific Ocean to our right. Nice.

Most of our trip has been this way, and almost everything about it has been nothing less than sheer perfection. But even perfection has a limit. We found that out on Monday, when just about everything that could go wrong did.

For one thing, we got a flat tire after topping a big hill as we were heading toward La Honda. We discovered the flat when we stopped to eat at Alice’s Restaurant. No, it wasn’t THE Alice's Restaurant of Arlo Guthrie fame. The owner, a lady named Alice, named it that, in honor of the song and proceeded to turn it into a tourist destination. (In Alice's favor, they served us right, with a fat, juicy cheeseburger and veggie sandwich).

Bikers were EVERYWHERE. The restaurant sits atop a mountain at the crossroads of several treacherous roads that are very popular with daredevil bikers who zip around the steep, winding hills. We had finished our lunch and were loading up our car when one of the bikers came over and pointed out the very flat left tire. Rats!

The burly, leather-clad bikers were all fortunately very friendly, and they pointed us to a nearby store where we bought a couple cans of Fix-A-Flat-type spray stuff. We sprayed them both into the tire (the stuff foamed out alarmingly through the puncture), then hustled back to the nearest town, where the manager at a gas station assured us we had fixed the problem entirely and would be fine to continue our trip. We continued on with much trepidation and many stops to check the tire pressure. Fortunately, so far, he’s been kind of right. The tire has been fine, if less than prefectly aligned.

By the way, Kristin, who is driving, has just noted that we’re about two hours outside of L.A. 122 miles, the sign said.

Back to Monday. The less-than-perfection started as we were leaving San Francisco. It was what Kristin referred to as “creepy bad driving.” Fog was everywhere -- our first day of anything other than flawlessly blue skies. (We've had at least some fog every day since.)

Keeping all the wine we bought in Sonoma from overheating has been an unforseen challenge, especially since California is in the throes of a historic heat wave. Wine doesn't like to get hot. Cars left in the sun get hot. Herein lies a basic problem. Our solution was to purchase two el cheapo Styrofoam coolers, wrap the wine in plastic bags to protect the labels and cover them in ice. Only problem with that is, the coolers are REALLY cheap. So much so that the Styrofoam has broken down, leaking water all over the back seat of the car. We therefore have to stop periodically to empty out the water and re-ice the wine. We also had to line the back seat with the filthy tarp we use as a ground cover under the tent.

One stop for fresh ice was in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had been told this little town was a must-see, and if we had been on foot and had time to browse it probably would have been. But we were in the car, playing dodgeball with pushy pedestrians carrying shopping bags and beach chairs, and we were both extremely on edge, so the charms of the village largely eluded us.

We finally arrived at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There were annoying flies and gnats, loud, persistent and aggressive Stellar's jays (a Western blue jay - pic provided by folks at, and poison oak EVERYWHERE. Plus the campsite was noisy. Very noisy.

But even though every rose has its thorn (we promise not to get that song stuck in your head ever again), not every thorn has a rose. Our thorny day, however, did.

After we got our fly-infested, poison oak-surrounded, noisy camp set up, we set off on a hike. Perhaps we should have realized from the name of the trail, Buzzard's Roost, that it would not be a cakewalk. More fools us. We didn't realize how hot, long or vertical a hike it would turn out to be, but it was all of those things, and we had uncharacteristcally neglected to bring a single bottle of water.

The view at the top of Buzzard’s Roost, however, was unprecedented. The views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur River Gorge were superb and surreal. It was desperately hot and bug-infested, but we managed to snap off a few panoramic frames ...

....before we heard a car alarm echoing up from the valley. Irrationally convinced that it must be our car, we took off running down the mountain. Christian took the lead, quickly disappearing down the steep mountain trails. By the time Kristin made it down, huffing and puffing (some runner she turned out to be....), Christian had gotten into the car, which was, of course, perfectly fine, and he had a bottle of water waiting for her. Sweet boy.

We took the water filter down to the mountain stream and pumped out several more bottles of what seemed to the parched pair of us like the coolest, sweetest water either of us had ever tasted. Hot but happy, we headed back to camp, where we passed a blissful remainder of the evening drinking ice cold sauvignon blanc and nibbling prosciutto and mozzarella (and, nevertheless, cut with a pocket knife) from a market in Carmel and organic strawberries and cherries from a farm stand farther north. A lovely little gourmet picnic. Then we rocked and talked in our Thermarest camp chairs a while, until we were both too tired to keep our eyes open any longer (which happened about 9:30 p.m.).

The biggest rose of the entire trip, perhaps, was the next morning, which we spent at the jewel-like Pfeiffer Beach. This unmarked spot, run by the U.S. Forest Service, is right off Highway 1 on a tiny unmarked road whose only signs say things like “Narrow Road. Not recommended for RVs or trailers.” That’s true.

For two miles, the road is winding, dusty and narrow. But at the end is the most spectacular beach you could possibly imagine.

Back to today, on the way to L.A.: Now we’re staring at palm trees out our window to the right lining the Pacific. Expanse! Beauty!

Right. Pfeiffer Beach. There's no explaining it, really. It's like something out of a dream, of a sci-fi movie. The beach itself is a mile of white sand surrounded by rocky hills and sheer cliffs the stretch up into expanses of scrubby green chapparal. Massive rocks jut up out of the ocean near the shore, criss-crossed and dotted with lines and holes where the surf has broken through and etched deep grooves into the stone. Over the entire scene, even though the day was sunny and even warm, a dense fog roiled and churned, creeping up the hills and dancing on the water, flowing in and out of the coves, leaving some spots in shadow and others completely clear, then switching just moments later. Truly eerie, truly breathtaking.

We also stayed in another park, San Simeon State Park, but we didn't get a chance to explore it because it was too foggy. Plus, we had to wake up early the next day to travel on toward Hearst Castle, the huge domicile created by publishing giant, William Randolph Hearst. We could post a whole blog about the grandness of that home, but we couldn't do it justice.

Once we finally hit the road, we drove on toward L.A. We made a stop in Ventura to see our former co-worker, Eric Parsons, who now works for the Ventura County Star newspaper. Parsons, an excellent photographer whose brilliant work graced the pages of the Tennessean for several years, is having a blast out west and he was far more cleaned and refreshed than either of the two travelers who had been roughing it on wine, cheese and prosciutto, albeit without very many showers. He said he likes his new life out west, and it's not too difficult to see why. Being in Ventura is like having all the perks of LA without actually being stuck in the messy traffic and congestion of L.A. (Shhhh... don't tell anyone!) The feel of the town actually would remind Nashvillians of a quaint section of our own town called Hillsboro Village. Just take Hillsboro Village, magnify its size maybe 30 or so times, stick it beside the ocean with some killer mountains, throw in some organic dining, and there you have it. And on top of that, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and anything to do with the ocean are all few minutes to a couple of hours away. Plus, we all ate lunch at a great little restaurant in the heart of downtown Ventura called Nature's Grill. Christian had fish tacos that were out of this world good. They were made with fresh tortillas, carrots and bright red cabbage. Kristin had a chicken pita that looked amazing. And Eric...poor Eric... was kind enough to stand next to us and our unshowered bodies for a moment for a photo. Brave man.

So after lunch, we headed straight to L.A., where we hooked up with Christian's father and got the grand tour of the town. We went to Christian's favorite L.A. restaurant, Natalee Thai, on Venice Blvd. Such a cool place with not only some of the best Thai food in town, but also a very nice sushi bar. Comfortable, sleek and stylish, the place is a must see. We could do a whole blog solely on our dinner. It's very, very good. If you go, treat yourself to the Thai sausages (w/cashews). yum!!!

Right now, we're staying at a little hotel on Venice Beach, and then we're not sure where we're staying tomorrow night. We'll update tomorrow with more details. So far, we do know that tomorrow, we head out for a day of shopping on Melrose Ave. Kristin is planning to wake up early to go running on the strand, which is right outside our window. During the day, we can see painters, jugglers, strolling musicians, men walking on glass, and others contributing to the Venice's daily pageant of the bizarre. It's truly a sight to see. We'll write more and post pictures later.



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