June 23: My Driving Day

[I posted twice tonight, so scroll down for the June 22 entry that I missed last night.]

The day started off innocently. We left out little motel in Pismo Beach at around eight in the morning and got breakfast at this little place called the All American Cafe right down the street. We sat at booth with a little gold plate that read: “In Memory of James Dean, a true friend and loyal customer.”

Our goal was to get somewhere north of San Francisco so that we could set up for our drive through the Redwoods and our stop in the mountains of Oregon/Washington. On our way, we decided to stop at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif. This is one of the many (and supposedly, favorite) homes of William Randolf Hearst. If you don’t know who that is, Google it, but suffice it to say that he was a publishing machine during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He owned newspapers across the state, a few magazines and even movie companies. The Hearst corporation still owns a large chunk of the media we consume. So with his boat load of money and land that his wealthy parents bought soon after he was born, Hearst built a massive home up in the hills of California, complete with a full ranch and even a private zoo. Unfortunately, the zoo is no longer in operation.

We took a tour through part of the estate, namely the outside pool, one of the three guest houses, a few of the major rooms in the main house, and the indoor pool. The drive from the Visitor Center to the actual house was a five-mile journey up the mountain on a dangerously small and windy road. The property itself was a mix and match of every possible type of architecture in history: Roman columns, Greek temples, Egyptian statues. The place was beautiful, but the decorations were almost too gaudy. The best part of the place was the view, which was breathtaking, overlooking the mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

But I started to wonder what the motivation was for the decor. Were the massive tapestries meant to show Hearst’s devotion to Catholicism? Did the massive fireplace show his appreciation of French renaissance stonework? Did the ceiling in the billiard room reflect Hearst’s love for 14th century Spanish woodwork? Or was it all just a reflection of what he thought he should be, the assumption successful millionaire should appreciate these things. They were crammed in this house in such a random and seemingly uncalculated way that I had to assume that he just looked for the most expensive and foreign things he could find and just threw them into a house, creating one massive status symbol.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

We couldn’t continue up the Pacific Coast Highway because wildfires about 50 miles north of the castle had closed down the road and forced evacuations. We headed south for a few miles before cutting across to the east and hitting U.S. Highway 101 to keep going north. The ride was nice, continuing through the hills, ranches and wineries that make up central California. To the west, an ominous cloud cloud of smoke hovered over the mountains, casting a sweet and sour honey glaze on the fields. It’s amazing how such devastating events can create such beautiful scenes. We ran into a group of tall trees and they almost scared me. I haven’t seen trees like this in over a week.

Highway 101 led us right into the heart of San Francisco. Since Madison and I will be coming back here at the end of next month, we were just going to pass through the city. But while we were here, we figured that we would drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. After fighting through downtown traffic for a few minutes, we hit the bridge and cut across the bay. The tops of the bridge supports were clouded in white smoke. I wasn’t sure if it was smoke or clouds. Off to the right, Alcatraz sat abandoned and shrouded in haze in the middle of the bay.

Once we got off the bridge, we had the choice to continue driving on U.S. 101 or to jump back on California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. Since I was driving and I love scenic highways, I picked CA-1.

After cutting through a little town, the road turned into a dangerous, narrow and winding path up countless mountains. I loved every minute of it. I couldn’t go much faster that about 20 mph without risking hitting the mountain or plummeting down the cliff. Every corner was blind. I just had to hope no one was in my lane. I felt like Dale Earnhardt Jr. on a road course. I always wanted to be a race car driver. This was fun for the first 20 minutes. The road ran right along the coast, hanging on a cliff at least a hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean. You could look out and see water stretching on forever. Below us the surf lapped against the rock walls. The sun was getting low in the western sky.

But after driving this way for about 45 minutes, Paw-Paw and Madison started getting restless. It was getting late in the afternoon. Madison was hungry and sleepy. I think Paw-Paw just wanted to stop. They obviously didn’t get the same enjoyment out of the awesomely fun sharp curves that I did.

We finally got to a little town: Stimson Beach, population 751. Too small to stop in. We wound on.

Pt. Reyes Station: population 350. Nope.

Marshall: population 50. What…

Dogtown: population 30.

At this point, I thought Madison was going to start eating the seat cushion. Judging by the map, there wasn’t anything on this road for miles. There were barely any crossroads. My fun drive was starting to turn into a mistake, at least in their eyes. I was still making engine noises with my mouth as I jerked the car around 90 degree turns.

We finally found a way to get off this empty coastal road and back to U.S. 101, i.e. society. Santa Rosa was our Californian oasis. We found a Best Western and settled in. This hotel room is surprisingly the best we’ve seen on the trip so far — even better than the MGM Grand. We went downtown and got some pizza. I gave the leftovers to a grateful homeless couple. I bought ice cream for Madison to make up for my joyriding.

This seems like a nice little town, but after a long day of driving, we were too exhausted to explore more than a small section of downtown. Time to turn in.

Through the redwoods we go tomorrow.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “June 23: My Driving Day

  1. Mom and Tony

    Alright, “Dale”…….I’m so glad I knew you were doing this after the fact!!! Be careful!!! Making car sounds with your mouth???? (sounds like someone I ride with!!!!) Love you—keep Madison fed—you’ll be much happier!

  2. Mom and Tony

    P.S.–good comments about the Hearst mansion—-a lot of those thoughts went through my mind at the Biltmore today……not really—-it was really cool! love, Tony.

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