Saturday, November 29, 2014

On The Road: California

I left the island on a Monday, I believe, and spent a few hours in Seattle with M&A and their new little one. Soon enough it was time for me to more fully hit the road and make it to my first overnight location: Portland, Oregon. As I drove away from Seattle it struck me that this was going to be the first time since I took a plane to NYC for S&C's wedding that I had gone more than a two hour's drive from the farm. I took that plane in March, so it had been a while. I was going to stay with N. and her fiancee C. I hadn't seen N. since we were both bridesmaids in L.'s wedding two years back, and had never met C. or their dog Silo. It was great to see/meet them all. We went out to a nice pizza dinner at a restaurant, the name of which I forget. L. had wanted a photo to prove that we had met up, and this is it...why it has the sort of ghost of an Instagram heading is a mystery.
N. was actually leaving very early the next day to fly to Philly and see L. I woke up early too, but not early enough to see her off. It was still dark as I started my first full day of driving. I had decided to take a relatively scenic/long approach to at least the first portion of this cross country trip, and that started by spending as little time on I-5 as possible as I wended my way to the Pacific Coast highway (101). I've spent nearly no time whatsoever in Oregon and while I knew it was pretty, I was quite surprised by just how pretty it was. The back roads I took gave me access to copious and diverse views, from a giant field of pumpkins awaiting their Halloween or Thanksgiving fates to an even larger tract of land brimming with sheep (at least five times our own flock). I went from what seemed like valley lands to wooded mountains, the trees along the roads covered in a green moss I had yet to see in my travels around New York. An old man at a relatively remote gas station called me "kid." 
After a couple of hours I emerged from the forests and mountains and found myself on 101, seeing many signs for the Oregon dunes. I paused briefly at one of the many state park entrances to the dunes and took a few quick photos, but I admit I didn't actually walk out to them. While I was taking my time and playing it loose with my final destination for the day, I did know I needed to at least make it to California. Still gorgeous.
When you see a slightly hilly road with a huge VIEW THIS WAY painted on it, you verge off course to see this did not disappoint, though it was so incredibly windy I did worry about flying away.
I'd seen a little of the Pacific when I first got to the west coast back in February, but the experience of driving on 101 and getting numerous opportunities to look to my right and see things like this was especially gratifying.
Rocks a' looming. This is definitely a different look and feel to an ocean than the Atlantic that I've grown up with. I'm sure that there may be slightly similar views to be had (maybe) somewhere in the north (Maine for example), but all the stand-alone monoliths of rock, and then the looming cliffs and mountains to the east of the road,  made for an especially lovely and unique driving experience.
Did you know that when you drive into California from Oregon there is a checkpoint with folks asking each and every car if they're driving in produce from out of state? I didn't. It felt like a very strange border patrol, but friendly. At some point after hitting California I saw a very small sign directing folks to come see a very large tree. I think they proclaimed it the largest cypress in the U.S....but maybe it's not a cypress? I'm not even sure if this is the tree...I took the small road as directed, but was deposited in what felt more like a small house's driveway than a place where one should get out and take a photo of a tree. Missed opportunities.
I ended up stopping for the day in Crescent City, which in terms of having a lot of interesting things going on, was perhaps not the best choice. And when I say "interesting things" I really mean "interesting restaurants." But I did find a nice motel with rooms with a completely unimpeded view of the Pacific, which was in easy walking distance.
The view from my motel room.
The next day I continued south on 101, driving through many sections of state parks and rather rural communities. It was too early to do any touristy things associated with these statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, but I did get out of my car to take a photo or two. Gives new meaning to the phrase blue balls, don't you think?

I had read about elk being often seen figures in the forests and took the time to go to the aptly named Elk Meadow with hopes of catching a glimpse...but there were no elk, which I found can't just randomly show up at an elk meadow for five minutes and expect elk! That's just not how the world works. But soon after getting back on 101 I was held up by a line of cars. At first I didn't understand what was happening. There were about five cars in front of me, and a van-like car on the other lane with flashing lights. I thought some sort of low-stakes accident? Then I realized that there were a few elk in the road, and that the vehicle with the flashing lights was a ranger blowing a horn and shooing them away. They tried to shoo me away as I was frantically trying to take a photograph of the animals, which were waaaaay larger than I really imagined! Unfortunately this is the best I could do before getting a finger wagging honk.
I drove through Eureka to get to the Avenue of Giants, a nice stretch of road that curves and stretches its way through many Redwood groves.
This will be stating the obvious, but redwood trees are, like, super big and tall. I tried with my shitty little iPhone to take photographs that showed the scale of these trees and generally failed.

A nice Canadian couple were inspecting a few of the same trees (I went on a short mile loop just to get a sense of more than what the forests looked like from the road) and were kind enough to take a photo or two of me. Probably the most effective sense of scale, I suppose.

After taking in the redwoods, I headed back north just a bit in order to take quite the scenic drive on route 36. This was 140 miles of nothing but trees and mountains. I think I saw maybe a total of 20 cars during the time I was on this road. Some serious switch back curves and crazy ups and downs. No guard rails, almost no houses that I could see and pretty much no cell reception. Remote, I think, is a word you could apply to this section of my drive.
It was quite surreal to transition out of those high peaks into what I called lowlands (but I'm not sure that's really accurate), with their relatively consistent golden brown hues and rippled hills.
And shoe trees of course.
My intention on that second full day of driving was to make it to a campground for the night, but I realized that the evening's weather would make it a tad too hard core for me. The idea of setting up the tent just for one chilly evening just wasn't all that palatable. I ended up staying in Red Bluff California at a hotel that made me uncomfortable. And then I kept driving, back into California mountains. I should really be better about geography and geology, because I saw so many different iterations of forests and mountains and valleys and desert on this journey, and while I can generally remember what came where, the why of it all eludes me. This was about an hour's drive out of Red Bluff.
Soon enough I was driving through a rainy day in Lassen National Forest, which was slightly more populated than my route 36 drive, but not by much. I, of course, appreciated the relative isolation and generally envied those who seem to live here full-time...until I started thinking about what the winters would be like.
Lake Alanor through the trees.
And then I hit what felt like "Cowboy Country." Was it the desert? Maybe? Was it near Nevada? Yes. I've described the overall drive as having given me landscape whiplash, which I think is fair given I saw so many different environments in just my first 48 hours. I should also note that I saw so many hobo-like homeless folks in Northern California. Packs on their backs, but not in a recreational sense of the word.

Channeling my inner pioneer cowgirl persona.
Far less pioneer-y.
And then I was in Nevada.
I rested my head at a completely decent Super 8 in what I felt was a pretty sad town: Battle Mountain. It was the kind of place that I could imagine kids growing up wanting to leave...but finding no way to do so. I had dinner at a restaurant that had a number of elk hanging on the walls. I had the steak, which was not all that great...but which came with a rather comically large crock of soup that I was to ladle into my own bowl. That doesn't really make it clear what I'm saying. It was ceramic and maybe five or six inches tall, oval in nature, with far more broccoli cheese soup than any one person needs when they're also going to be eating a salad and steak.
And that concludes the first three days of my drive. I was texting L. as I drove about my respective destinations and plans, often signing off with messages like "If I disappear it's because I was bitten by a rattlesnake or kidnapped by a hobo."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last of the Last Days

My last few weeks on the west coast (I'm currently in NYC on this particular day) were generally peaceable. I was still doing some farm work but also freelance editing to make some moola. The sheep were no longer being milked, which in turn meant that L. wasn't making any cheese, though she continued her weekly yogurt make. In any case, here are the last images of my time on the farm and around Seattle before my departure. I got to see M&A&M a few times. Little M. was sleeping for a majority of my visits, and so tiny. By the time I come back she'll be four months old and, I'm sure, a completely different baby than the one I spent a bit of time with. Crazy.
B. joined us on the farm, so I made him a painting. He liked pizza and Mountain Dew and disliked homework.
I think this may be the morning that W., L., B., and I trimmed hooves. I got down there a little early and just laid myself out on a bench area of the barn and chilled with the sheep.
The weather definitely was changing. Fewer sunny and warm-warm days, though not truly chill-chilly.
I say that and then follow with a photograph of a clearly nice and sunny day. I had been on my porch reading, or maybe trying to pack up things in the apartment, when I saw W. and B. carrying something that looked kind of heavy. Then I realized that they weren't about to embark on some kind of farm improvement project but, instead, were simply setting the ping pong table up outside. I joined them and we played like it was the last time we could do so outside, which, at least for me, it was.
I've been away from the farm for about four weeks now, which seems both like a lot of time and no time at all. I definitely miss the rhythms and routines and views of the place, as well as the people and animals. This is especially true when I look at all these photos and realize (not for the first time) just how charmed my life has been, overall, on the farm.
W. made a delicious lamb schwarma dinner one night. Seriously delicious.
For the last dinner I would make before leaving, I went to some farm favorites: barbequed/spatchcocked chicken and macaroni and cheese.

On my list of things I wanted to do before leaving the farm, was having one last outdoor fire time. B. and W. allowed me to realize this dream. I also wanted to shotgun a beer, which was also accomplished.
A morning with the lambs.
So, yeah, there were still some nice days. I laid out my outdoor blanket/shower curtain in the lambs' pasture and soaked up all the sun I could. Pretty sure this was one or two days before I left. Probably one, as the fire was two. Maybe? And that wraps up all the farm times for the 2014 season.