Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Freeway Free”

Freeway-free in California: Amtrak Falters, BART to the rescue

We are ready for the parting of our ways:  M and the trailer will return to Davis, where she will dive headfirst into the maelstrom of detail involved with selling a house and buying another, while I will catch a Capital Corridor train at Fairfield and spend a relaxing two hours reading, writing, admiring the scenery, and feeling sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

First wrinkle:  There are now TWO Amtrak stations in Fairfield.  Our faithful GPS unerringly directs us to the new one, Fairfield – Vacaville.  I have been to the Fairfield station before it was re-labeled Suisun -Fairfield, and I am pretty sure this adobe “Transit Center” in the middle of a giant parking lot next to nothing at all is not it. 

Moments of panic –I check my ticket and realize the error.  Is this really a train stop?  Where are the tracks?  Will my ticket be good starting at a different station. Should we head off for the other station? Cooler heads prevail; I spot an underpass which leads toward the tracks, we trundle through and there are a couple of benches and a sign saying that the train I am scheduled to travel on will arrive in 15 minutes, and, most reassuringly, another passenger waiting. 

I hug M, “Wonderful trip!” and watch her pull out of the parking lot.  The train arrives as advertised, and the conductor doesn’t get around to our car to check my ticket until after we have arrived at and left Suisun Fairfield.  My only regret is the lack of a snack machine at the new station – I had counted on a candy bar to get me through to my Great America stop.  Rummaging through my tote bag, I find a forgotten granola bar.  All is well.

Until we get to Richmond.  We stop.  And stay.  An unintelligible announcement is made.  I get out and find a conductor in the next car.  “There’s damage to the tracks ahead.  We don’t know how long the delay will be.  Could be 45 minutes.  Could be two hours.”

I go back to my car, inform my fellow passengers, and we stare disconsolately out the window – at the sign that says “Take underpass for BART”.  The young woman across from me is distraught. “I’ve GOT to get to the Oakland Airport for a flight!  I allowed an extra hour but…”  

I look at the sign.  “There’s a BART stop at the Oakland Airport”, I tell her.  There is also a new BART station in Milpitas, not so much further from home than the Great America station.  We gather our bags and lead a parade of passengers to the BART station.

To our surprise and pleasure, a BART official is handy who tells us “We have an arrangement with Amtrak.  Just go through that turnstile there – no charge.”  A BART train arrives a few minutes later, I phone my Personal Travel Agent at home, he checks the route to the new station, and I settle down to read, write, admire the scenery, and feel sorry for the people in the homeless encampments along the tracks.

Coda: The next day I get a standard email from Amtrak asking about my trip.  I grouse about the lack of signage at the new station and most particularly about the delay and poor communication about it.  The next day I receive another email from Amtrak giving me a voucher good for the value of my trip from Fairfield –Suisun to Great America.  They are trying!

Freeway Free in California: Ocean to Forest to Vineyards – What’s not to like?

We wake from untroubled sleep to fog outside and a healthy breakfast of fruit and granola as a sendoff. We dress lightly in spite of the fog, as we know summer heat is just on the other edge of the fog bank. Bits of sun are already breaking through as we pass Arcata and Ferndale without stopping for the Victorian delights available there.

But now we are truly in Redwood Country, and we can’t resist the Avenue of the Giants, so we take the side road off the freeway through the green canyons of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We do stop to switch drivers and use a restroom at the Eternal Tree House. (Yes, it’s a cheesy roadside attraction, but the setting is beautiful, the cafe is hospitable, and the restrooms are clean.)

No signs anymore commemorating the great flood of 1964, and there is no trace of the town of Weott anymore, though Google says remnants still exist high above the flood plain.

And then we emerge into sunlight and suddenly the outside temperature is in the 90’s.  Our Redwood RV Resort is right next to Hwy 20, a fairly busy e/w corridor from Willits to Ft. Bragg, but it has shady valley oaks and redwoods, a pool, a splash park, a trail through adjacent vineyards, and lots of Hispanic families and American flags.  We back successfully into our gravel pad (four tries to get close enough but not too close to the picnic table), change to airy cotton frocks, lay out late lunch/early appetizers of hummus and veggies and Ritz crackers on a little table at the splash park, and watch the children playing int the water. It’s 90 degrees in the sun, but we are not in the sun, and we are feeling very relaxed.

Freeway Free in California – Morning among the Giants, Evening among Friends

 

My old friends T & C, who live in McKinleyville, arrive at our campsite. T is a volunteer ranger at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, so of course we go for a hike enjoying all sorts of special tidbits of knowledge provided by our Personal Tour Guide – and also the lunch goodies brought by C. We eat our lunch at the foot of the big tree used in a National Geographic article about mapping the redwood canopy. re redwoods.

T&C twist our arms a bit and we desert our campsite in favor of a night in their new “downsized “ 3br / 2ba home with a 270 degree view of ocean and forest. Every wall and bookcase is filled with photos, artifacts, and mementoes. The old house accomodated a family of nine, but looking around, I can’t see what’s missing, other than the seven kids.

T, M and I go for a walk on Clam Beach, a short hike from their promontory. I find a whole sand dollar. Lucky omen for upcoming days, we hope.

After dinner C offers board games, and I choose Scrabble. Fair warning: Don’t ever let me choose Scrabble! Years of crossword puzzles, anagrams, and the license plate game make me near invincible. (However, Son#1 skunks me regularly – don’t know what he practices on!)

Our bedroom – a queen-sized blow up bed, two large glass-fronted cabinets mounted on the walls, both full of Madame Alexander and other collectible and not-so-collectible dolls. All those glass eyes staring at us as we sleep. I’m glad I never saw those Chucky movies.

Freeway-Free down the Left Coast

For the next two days we amble our way down the Left Coast, hugging the coastline, stopping once in a while to admire the sweeping surfline, the white sand dunes, the rock stacks, the redwoods. We spend a night near Florence at Honeyman State Park, one of the largest campgrounds in Oregon, we are told, but still offering fairly secluded hookups for our trailer and, I suppose, a hundred others.

We stop at Bandon to visit our nephew J, who is living a bachelor life in a fixer -upper in the charming seaside town of Bandon. When he has finished the re-hab, he will rent the cottage out as an AirB&B. On the day we visit it is still missing a fence, kitchen counters and appliances, but he assures us that his first renter will find it habitable when he arrives the following week. We can see what a nice seaside pied a terre it isgoing to be – but not quite yet.

J breaks for lunch and takes us for seafood sandwiches at Tony’s Crab Shack, and gives us a brief tour of Bandon’s interesting spots. That orange globe in front of the house facing the ocean? It’s a tsunami escape pod.

We continue down the coast, crossing into California, where the highway swings inland to introduce us to the towering trees of the Redwood Empire. More on this next week!

Freeway-Free in Oregon: Beach Town

Our next day was spent in Astoria and Ft. Stephens, and I have written about Astoria and its wonderful Maritime Museum in an earlier blog. The following day M and I set off early, determined to cruise the Oregon coast quickly, pay a call on our nephew in Bandon halfway down, and make it to our campsite in the redwoods across the California border in good time.

But we were derailed en route by a sign for Mo’s Seafood and Chowder, and M’s memories of her student days in Corvallis when a bowl of Mo’s chowder was the high point of a weekend. There was a branch of Mo’s in Seaside. So we stopped.

Seaside is also a claimant to being a final stop on the Lewis and Clark trail. Certainly their statue to the adventurous explorers is the most elaborate we had seen, with bas-reliefs around the base and a commanding view of the Pacific at the end of Seaside’s main street.

It was a gray, foggy noontide, but as we walked to and from the car we spotted some enduring signs of the beach party culture that would animate Seaside on a sunnier day, and since the bumpercars, the tilt-a-whirl, and the carousel ware all indoors as a concession to Oregon’s variable weather, why not buy a bug-eyed beach toy to invite the sun to play?

Freeway Free in Washington: Camping by the Cowlitz

Off to Cowlitz Falls County Park.  This park is maintained on behalf of the public by the Lewis County Public Utilities District. There are actually no falls here, as the river has been dammed for hydroelectric power, and the only access to the river, the boat ramp, was destroyed in a flood and is being repaired. Aside from the misleading name, this is a lovely quiet place with lot of shade, lots of woodsy trails between sites and restrooms, a sunny meadow with a volleyball net, a horseshoe pit (equipment for both available from the ranger) and a playground.

We set up in adjoining camp spaces, our tiny teardrop next to C&C’s Trailer Mahal. Instant conversation starters with folks strolling through the camp.

Then, just to make sure we meet everyone, we walk the dog, an adorable little white mop of a thing. Nothing like a cute dog to make instant friends along the trail.

The next morning we are just finishing a tremendous breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast (Thanks to C&C’s full kitchen) when our nephew P arrives with his wife T and five lively children. 

Fortunately Cowlitz [no]Falls has lots of distractions to offer. A walk to the river.  Fallen trees to climb. Back at the camp, Grandma C has provided plenty of hot dogs, sodas, chips, and watermelon, while Auntie M has a box of trailer games. Five-year-old G is surprisingly deft at removing blocks from the Zenga tower!

I’d forgotten how exhausting family gatherings can be for us empty nesters. M and I tumble into our trailer while C&C are still admiring the moon over a last glass of wine.

Tiny Teardrop Trailer Travel 2 – Day 2

Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure.  Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30.  We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon

We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA.  They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true.  The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.

Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT.  The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.

The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill.  We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often.  M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house.  Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.

Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more.  We stop for gas.  Still hot.  We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other.  Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS!  Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.

And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more.  We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner.  Bed and books look good.

Tiny Trailer Travel 2 in 2022 – Day One

My sister promised me two trips in her tiny teardrop trailer as Christmas/birthday presents. For our second expedition with her favorite toy, we decided to do a variation on an earlier trip, going north to visit our brother in Washington state, but on our way we also planned to visit old friends up and down I-5 and US-101.

We had planned to leave early in order to beat the heat on I-5, but domestic circumstances (which I resolve NOT to talk about in this series) delayed our departure until nearly 11:30AM. We had loaded the trailer’s refrigerator with a fresh-caught frozen salmon courtesy of M’s neighbor, a partially-pre-cooked hamburger casserole courtesy of my Personal Travel Agent, some gourmet cheese, assorted fruit, hummus, and enough wine to keep us merry as we camped our way up the valley.

M drives for the first two hours, straight up I-55 aiming at Mt. Shasta.  We stop for lunch at a rest stop, where our little cocoon is dwarfed by the semis also taking their breaks in the lot marked for “Trailers and RVs”. The rest stop offers shade and a bit of a breeze, and duly fortified we proceed to our first camp spot, Railway Park Resort at Dunsmuir. We pull into the registration office past box cars and cabooses that have been re-purposed as lodge rooms for families, a gift shop, and a history museum. A Dining Car is now a restaurant. But we have our own traveling accomodation, and continue further up the road to our RV site in a different area.

It is HOT, but in the shade bearable. We see other campers returning from a swimming pool located back in the railroad car section, but it seems like too much trouble to change clothes and hike over to share a pool with a bunch of teenagers and tots. Instead, we explore and discover a creek near our site ideal for wading in.  Oh bliss!

Returning with wet feet to our camp, we discover that the electrical connection to the trailer has come unplugged. We can’t know how long we have been driving without blinkers or brake lights, but long enough so that the salmon is completely thawed.  We cross our fingers against botulism and hope for the best. Our first night meal is the partially pre-cooked casserole layered with noodles and cheese in a frying pan, super easy to fix, and we have some (warm) red wine to wash it down and some chocolate covered cranberries for dessert.

M’s sleeping bag has a velcro-fastened interior lining, so we could pull off the warm layer and sleep under the lightweight sheet. Despite the heat of the day, the trailer cools fast with side windows and a ceiling vent open. We have no trouble falling asleep.

NEXT: Finding Friends and Family – Day 2

Hidden Gems: Ruth Bancroft’s Cactus Garden

Ruth Bancroft’s legacy garden in Walnut Creek, California is a small plot of land full of wonders. Ruth Bancroft’s family had a farm in Walnut Creek; she was attracted to a rosette-shaped succulent, and this grew into a fascination with succulents, cacti, and numerous other drought – tolerant plants. The result is a fantasy garden of growing greenery, some of which looks as though it originated on another planet.

Despite years in the general area, and having heard about the Ruth Bancroft Garden, it took a family wedding to draw me there. Now I’m eager to go again with visiting friends.

It’s spring, folks! You’re going to see some gardens!

Freeway Free in California: Iris Chang Park, San Jose

I spent Earth Day with friends, making a rather neglected park more beautiful by pulling weeds and trimming invasive plants. I hadn’t planned on doing anything to mark the day, but my friend Tao invited me to join her and her partner in a work project sponsored by the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project of San Jose.

The location was Iris Chang Park, shoehorned between a huge apartment block and culverted Coyote Creek. It was established to honor Iris Chang, the brilliant young author of “The Rape of Nanjing” and other histories of the Chinese experience, which opened to much community fanfare in November of 2020. But during the lockdown months care and maintenance fell behind, and the nettles and dandelions had grown almost as tall and profuse as the native grasses originally designed for the landscape.

The park offers a simple strolling path past a cenotaph telling about Iris Chang, a large circular sculpture evoking traditional Chinese artifacts, and several markers and low walls with quotes from Chang’s work. In April, irises planted by Chang’s parents were in bloom in several beds.

So we set to work. A couple of hours later, with a dozen people busy, we had accumulated quite a collection of refuse bags, and the park is ready for its closeup – a May 1 event to mark the anniversary of Chang’s death. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood!

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