Redwoods, Big Rigs and Glowing Grapes

Grapes at Cakebread Winery in Napa ValleyLately, I’ve been telling myself money doesn’t matter. Well, my West Coast Cali adventures taught me just how much money really does… or doesn’t… matter to me. Back to that in a minute.

Dustin and I set off for Cali in great spirits excited about the prospect of unknown adventure ahead of us. We hadn’t planned much (just the way I like it!) and what little plan we did have was all Dustin. He had friends to visit and ideas to cruise the Pacific Coast Highway and I was all for it. So, after touch down in L.A. our first mission was food. A quick inquiry directed us to a sweet little Mexican joint. The food was good, the horchata… a bit chalky. Definitely good enough food to satisfy our grumbly stomachs though!

St. Supery wineNext plan of action: rent a car for a decent price. Dustin really wanted a convertible, but most of the regular rental places were a bit outrageous… you know, Cali style. A bit much for us Midwest folk. Dustin then went to a shifty, foreign-owned rental shack. The guy just about had Dustin… had him convinced to rent a beat up old eighty-something Mazda with no guaranteed roadside assistance. Fortunately, I was able to sway Dustin otherwise. After hopping online and pulling some strings a of a friend of Dustin’s we managed to snag a Dodge Charger for a super decent price. Great! It was time to hit the highway!

BJ, Dusting and I at St. Super winery in Napa ValleyOur destination was Davis, CA. Home of UC-Davis and of Dustin’s childhood friend Bj and his girlfriend Tiffany. The two were excellent hosts. Tiffany had a plethora of sample products like shampoos, lotions, mouthwash, face wash etc in the bathroom… a better selection than any hotel! On our first full day in Davis, Dustin, BJ and I set off for Napa Valley for some fine wine fun in the sun after all four of us enjoyed some excellent breakfast crepes at Crepeville. Geez, Napa Valley is every bit as gorgeous as it’s prestigious reputation implies. Not quite Tuscany… but close, really close. We visited three wineries: Cakebread, St. Supery and Frog’s Leap. There are nearly 250 wineries in the wine growing region that do boast wines comparable to those of Italy and France, even if the landscape is a close close second/third. So, there’s plenty of reason to go back.

Getting a nose for St. Supery wineInterestingly enough, Cakebread started off as a bakery before it became a Napa Valley winery. Of the 10 wines we tasted at St. Supery, I would say, in my humble amateur wine-taster opinion, that at least seven of them were great wines and three were exceptional: the cabernet sauvignon, the merlot and the Rutherford merlot. I case you haven’t noticed, I prefer dry reds. Frog’s Leap was the last stop on our mini-tour. Unfortunately, we only had time to taste one varietal and it was the merlot. It didn’t quite hold up to St. Supery. But, hands down, Frog’s Leap had the best landscaping, views and tasting lounge. It also has the best website, if you ask me.

Needless to say, the three of us were delightfully buzzed by late afternoon. Heh. That night the three of us joined Tiffany for dinner at a local brewery, Sudwerk Restaurant and Brewery.

Chillaxing between the trunks of two Redwoods at Muir Woods National MonumentMore outside bliss was planned for day two. Again, it was a Dustin, BJ and me threesome and we headed out past San Francisco to Muir Woods National Monument for a day of hiking through Redwood forests. If my memory serves me right, this is the first time I’ve every encountered redwoods up close… and, let me tell ya, I got quite close. I couldn’t help but scramble up a few of them. It’s really cool how Redwoods work. They often grow in “families” with several huge trees all growing from a cluster of the same root system. That means they often grow quite close together. That also means I just had to take advantage of that and climb up between two closely situated tree trunks on several occasions. Redwoods are hard to climb though. Their bark is quite slippery and even more fragile. Every time I tried to get a good finger hold in the bark, it would just melt away in dust. Once, I shimmied up a bit far, then quickly realized both my feet and hands were beginning to lose my grip on the slipper bark. Dustin wanted a pic though, so I managed to smile and cling on just long enough… and then, whoosh, I was falling. Clouds lacing over rolling hills and valleys near Muir Woods National MonumentIt wasn’t to bad of a fall. I think we estimated somewhere around ten feet between the bottom of my feet and the ground. I had about a foot wide margin of ground between the two tree trunks to plant my feet. Somehow, I managed to land perfectly, avoiding banging into the trunks on the way down and avoiding the rocks in the soil below. I didn’t even get a scratch. Weird. But great!

We saw several trunks blackened and a bit burned out by forest fires past. I think it was Dustin who read that redwoods naturally have a fire repellent characteristic in their bark. It’s so cool learning how nature is designed…

Straddling the Redwoods... just moments before I slip and fall!The hike we chose was a long haul, but it was excellent getting some decent exercise again. Ever since my intensive, month-long Muay Thai work out in Thailand, I haven’t gotten much satisfying exercise. Work-related travel begs less time for physical fitness. So, this was a real treat for me. Bj even called me the “six million dollar woman” because I was tackling the hills and climbs with vigor. How sweet. But all I could think was man, if I were back out trekking in Thailand, I’d be sucking wind on those climbs. And you know what? I will be back out there… in November… so I’ve decided it’s high time to start getting back into decent shape. Biking is now my preferred mode of transportation.

Anyways, back to Muir Woods… The views on the drive to and from the national monument were absolutely stunning. The clouds wrapped themselves around peaks and valleys and wove along lakes and turquoise ocean like ribbon. Unfortunately, both times we crossed the infamous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco it was shrouded in this ribbon of cloud. So, no incredible LMAC photos of that landmark. ; ) But, wow, an awesome two days!

Clouds over San Francisco BayThe next morning Dustin and I took it easy doing some laundry, lounging by the pool and I did a bit of work for my clients before we took off to had south again down the PCH. Laugh… I think we were on the incredibly scenic road for maybe 25 minutes before we made our first stop in Half Moon Bay, CA. Half Moon is quite the charming and quaint little Cali town. When we rolled in though, it was kind of late and rather chilly and foggy. Later, we would find ourselves emerging from what I’ll call a “fog-o-dome,” literally a huge dome capsule of fog that seemed to encompass the entire San Francisco Bay and surrounding area. Anyways, most of the businesses were closed. But, we did manage to duck into the quirky little Casey’s Cafe. They were getting ready to close up shop, but they served us drinks and soup nonetheless. Dustin and BJ in front of a shrouded Golden Gate BridgeIn one of the little squares in the center of the small town I saw a sign that said the following:

Zaballa Square

This creek marks the northern most border of the 1841 Mexican land grant to General Miramontes. Zaballa married his daughter here, he created the coastside’s very first market area, he built his house, saloon, general store and stables here. That land grant became “San Benito the Spanishtown.” And now, it’s Half Moon Bay.

More interesting things I’ve learned since my visit to Half Moon Bay are that it’s a HUGE surfer spot and that it’s home base for Odwalla, the producers of the nutrient-packed, 100 percent fruit drinks that I drink all the time (just saw that on an Odwalla bottle yesterday in fact). Huh.

Dustin and I burrowing in the burned out Redwood hollowsWe made it only about another half hour down the road before we stopped again, this time at a gorgeous lookout over the Pacific Ocean. Dustin and I are wanderers and explorers, so it took us maybe a minute to spot the trail that led down the cliff and to the beach below. Let’s go! Wow, when I said cliff, I meant it. There was a random rope rigged up and tied to an anchor along the steep, steep trail down. I mean, you didn’t have to use the rope. You could have just sat on your bum and slid the whole way down. But it was rather rocky and bumpy so I can’t say that would have felt to swell. Plus, I was wearing white pants, so I opted to use the rope (Turns out that didn’t matter… I emerged from the beach as my typical adventurer persona: swampthing.) So yeah, the beach was just as stunning from below as it was from above. It was still chilly and there were only about a dozen other people on the entire beach. The beach was a little bit of a cove between outcroppings and rocks spilling of cliffs. It probably stretched about 3/4 of a mile, but that’s just a guess.

Dustin and I just wandered around the beach, exploring and enjoying. Of course, I was snapping pics too. Near where the rocky area was at one end, there was a cave half above and half below water. I really really really wanted to go swim in it. I was freezing as it was though. I’m such a pansy when it comes to the cold! Frog\'s Leap Winery in Napa ValleyThe chill didn’t stop us from fording the little waterway between beach and boulder though. It wasn’t so bad on the way over and I even got to practice a little of my bouldering (climbing) skills. But, the tide had come in quite a bit by the time we crossed back. I had to full out wade across, waist deep in the frosty water, camera held over my head. Hmmmm… so much for those white pants! Maybe my then wet whities are what enticed some gents from a group gathered around a bonfire to wander over and offer Dustin and I some beers… haha. Naaah, we had talked to some of them earlier around the big boulder. Quite the interesting bunch. They were locals and they were mucho impressed with the fact that we spotted this beach and navigated our way down the cliff to get to it, since we were, ya know, non-locals (who apparently shouldn’t be able to find a way down a cliff to a beach… heh). They were very welcoming people. But, also very much into talking about video games and movies of blood, guts and gore. Nooooot quite my style. We got to see them blow up a firework in a huge tunnel that ran up the cliff though. The explosion reverberated up the metal tube… WHOMP.. Whomp… whomp. Kinda cool really.

Frog\'s Leap Winery in Napa ValleyIt was dusk by the time we high-tailed it outta there and set off down the PCH again. And that’s when we emerged from the fog bubble. It really was this huge shroud of cloud. Once we were outside of it, dusk wasn’t so dark! It was an awesome view with the beaches, ocean, fog-o-dome, moon… and fireworks!! That’s right it was the 4th of July baby! I tried to get some pics, but it was just too dark without a tripod.

Further down the PCH we spotted a small brush fire by the side of the road. We jumped out to help stamp it out. Not sure whether a stray firework or a flicked cigarette butt started it, but our handful of random civilian “firefighters” did our duty to put it out. Who knows? We could have helped stop the next huge, menacing blaze that was to rip through the area. Climbing down to the beach below along the PCHHa! Speaking of, our PCH drive would have to be detoured just after we hit Monterey Bay. The entire Big Sur region was burning. We weren’t too close to it yet though.

Since it was now dark, Dustin and I decided the next city would be our stop for the night. We didn’t want to waste what PCH coast side driving we had left in the dark. When we rolled into Santa Cruz, the fireworks were booming overhead. Despite the beacon though, it took us a while to find the main, beach side strip though. Locals exploring a hidden beach along the PCHAfter a bit of deliberation, we parked and hit up a Greek joint for some late night eats. At that point, I wanted to just call it quits for the day and crash out in the car. But, Dustin wanted to get a drink at a local joint. So, we wound up in a random bowling alley bar with a band going at it with live music. They weren’t too bad considering we were in a bowling alley bar. That’s where Dustin and I met Bruno. The Peruvian and I jigged to some beats before Bruno led us to another joint, the Red Room. The Red Room was much more my style. Chic, chill, served wine. By the end of the night, Bruno decided he couldn’t let us go back to sleep in our car and generously offered to host us for the night after learning we were a couple of wandering vegabonds. ; )

Dustin and I were in for a surprise though. A good one, if you ask me…

And here’s where we’ll break. This post is long enough and it’s a natural little cliff-hanger… so, you’ll just have to wait for Cali Part 2!

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