I planned on navigating San Francisico on a Sunday because I have been there often enough to know that traffic, like any other large city, can be a headache.
I didn’t want any headaches.
What I didn’t plan into this little scenario of mine was Mother’s Day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was reluctant to say good-bye to Monterey. It is a destination unto itself, and although I’ve been here twice before, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. The surface of the water I haven’t even begun to touch yet (Monterey Bay is so special).
I will be back Monterey.
I headed north on Highway 1 going inland once again.
Let me say this about Highway 1, what the rest of the world knows as Pacific Coast Highway. Every county through all three states has renamed highway 1 as if by putting a different name to it they can lay claim to it’s notoriety. But they can’t change the number!I still had my convertible top down and although I feel like I might be close to the shore, I can’t see it. This is a pretty unremarkable stretch of highway that widens as it goes through the marsh lands and sand dunes.
This was one of the places I was tempted to take 101 as it would have cut off a considerable amount of travel time, but I stayed true to my plan. I wasn’t in a hurry, and my bucket list said Highway 1, not 101.
I am aware that I am only slightly more than halfway through California, yet if I were on the East Coast I would have already gone through 3 states.
45 miles north of Monterey I reach the other end of Monterey Bay where lies the city of Santa Cruz. I wished I had time to stop and play here. I have never been here before but feel like I have after hearing all about it from friends who attended UC Santa Cruz.
It’s beach, boardwalk, seashore amusement park, pier and other unique qualities make it another destination, but I have an unfamiliar and the longest drive day ahead of me so I wistfully move on. I had the feeling I would be sorry, but as it turned out…I wasn’t.
The tundra between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (another 50 miles north) is all the same; rolling hills, grasslands, marsh, farmsteads, and brush. At least I got to play peak-a-boo with the Pacific Ocean along the way.
The highway meets up with the sea again and it is glorious between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. The road isn’t challenging, instead it rather lazily follows the shoreline which affords me the luxury of staring at the water and clouds. It is Mother’s Day, and I see families at all of the local beaches picnicking.
This makes me homesick for the first time since I started my lone trek.
I stopped at a beach and had what had become my daily meal “on-the-go”, a PB&J with trail mix. The weather had turned from sunny to grey. I noticed my mood would change accordingly.
I don’t know what came first, the grey or the homesickness, but they did not compliment each other.
I pressed on to what I both adored and dreaded, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Here would be the last place that would be familiar to me. I have spent time in San Francisco on many occasions, and I love it. I didn’t necessarily leave my heart there, but very close.
Over the last 40 years of my life I have been to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Wax Museum, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park and Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street and various other absolutely fantastic points, and again there is so much more I have yet to see, but not today.
As I approach the city, what I dreaded the most happened…gridlock. The sky had grown foggy and misty, and I regretted leaving my top down (you KNOW I mean convertible), but I dared not get off of highway 1 lest I not be able to get back on. The traffic would move just enough so that I couldn’t put it up in traffic, but it wasn’t so bad. Much better than entering the city from the 5, and sitting in traffic there.
I finally reach the Golden Gate Bridge, and as fate would have it, I couldn’t see it. It was shrouded in fog, but I still took a photo from where my car top would be if it wasn’t down. Traffic was bad, so I didn’t take my eyes off of the road, so let me apologize in advance for the dicey photos.
This was what the bridge looked like as I reached what I assumed was the midway point.
But this is what it looked like when I disembarked…crazy huh? Notice the traffic at the bottom of the photo. Yeesh.
But the fun was not yet over. It took me another hour just to get to where the 1 and 101 parted ways again.
Then came the most challenging part of the highway that I would encounter. From where the 1 and 101 split to Stinson Beach was another 2 hours.
This is the only stretch where I felt road rage welling up. There was a sign before the hair raising turns started that clearly said “NO VEHICLES OVER 23 FEET ALLOWED”.
Pretty straightforward to me. I didn’t know why just yet…but I would take note, if I had a vehicle over 23 feet.
Evidently others do not take note, and let me add if they were in LA, they would have been set straight pretty quickly. Tour busses would get stuck on those hairpin turns and the road would have to clear in order for them to execute the turns. Not just one or two, but what seemed like at least 20 of them.
The lesson here? Patience Prudence, patience. I am not patient, which is why I’m a Mad Baby Boomer, not Patient Baby Boomer. ‘Nuff said.
After Stinson Beach (which looked like an adorable little beach town, but crowded (which is something I had already grown accustomed to NOT seeing in the last 2 days) so I pressed on through.
I was terrified more than a couple of times along this stretch of road, and quite frankly my nerves were frazzled by the time I reached level ground again.
I nearly got out and kissed it. Silly me, I had no idea what was in store for me later in the day.
Oddly, the next 50 miles to Bodega Bay was lonesome. I had very suddenly been abandoned by all of the traffic at Stinson Beach, and in addition to the grey conditions again (Stinson Beach had been awash in sunshine), I felt insecure.
Had I taken a wrong turn like Day 1?
I had no phone coverage to consult my GPS, no hubby to reassure me, and the road signs seemed very far apart. Tomales Bay was grey, desolate, and downright depressing (and seemingly never-ending). I didn’t even feel jealous of the occasional homestead along it’s marshy shores.
Back inland, and after Bodega Bay I got my wish to be back to the seashore, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging this stretch of highway 1 would be. It certainly didn’t look that bad on Google maps!
I was getting tired, I had been driving now for 6 hours, and I was completely off track as far as where I was with regard to my destination…Gualala.
Had I passed it?
Finally! I came upon something I could easily pinpoint on my paper map (like old school) by way of the Russian River. It was still a little grey, but there was no denying the distinction of this waterway. It meandered beneath me on the highway, but it wasn’t until I crested the mountain and caught site of the estuary that I was left breathless.
I looked closer at what I initially thought were very tidy logs along the sand bar, but when I looked closer I realized they were more of my friends the elephant seals. Very smart of them. I’m not sure what the big birds are, city girl remember?
After stretching my legs and breathing in the incredible beauty of this place, I moved on with a much lighter heart. I was exhausted though, and I didn’t know it but the most challenging and treacherous part of this day’s road was still ahead of me.
The next 33 miles would take me another hour to navigate, and by the time I saw Ocean Cove General Store, I was nearing tears at the thought that I had passed Gualala and would have to go back through what I had just endured.
I parked my pony and went into the General Store to confer with someone…anyone…where I was with relation to Gualala.
As I entered the store in my near hysterical state, I could tell the four men inside were enjoying a Sunday rhythm that they must practice regularly. They stopped their easy conversation and looked at me. All four faces.
The one behind the counter said, “Can I help you little lady?”
I replied with a dry mouth and even though I tried to control it, my voice was too high and betrayed me., “Have I passed Gualala?”
They all turned around at that point to fully face me and the same gentleman replied, “No ma’am, it’s another 20 or so miles down the road.”
I replied “Oh thank you so much” with such relief, that one of the other gentleman asked, “Are you driving these parts alone?”
“Yes” I said. I added, “I’m traveling highway 1 to Seattle”.
They all walked toward me while the original gentleman (coming out from behind the counter} said, “Well God Almighty, do you know how long it’s been since we seen a lone woman purist along here?”
“No” I said, “I don’t know how long and I don’t know what a purist is…”
“A purist is someone who sticks to highway 1 to get here. It’s been a long time since we seen a lone female do it. You got guts girl!”
With that, they all took turns patting me on the back and high fiving me.
This did more for me than I can adequately express. I will be eternally grateful to those men. They gave to me a renewed sense of pride, strength, and determination. Never underestimate the power of encouragement and a kind word. Thanks boys.
I finally made it to Gualala, and this time I enjoyed the scenery. It reminded me of Colorado, if Colorado was on the ocean. In other words…just beautiful.
I checked into my small room (because that’s all they have in Gualala), but the view was breathtaking. In spite of the fact that I still had no phone reception and would spend the only Mother’s Day to date without speaking to my kids or hubby, I could breathe again.
I found peace here.
I cannot end this day without speaking of the most incredible woman (and her husband) I met on this little path outside my window.
She was in her 80’s and was a transplant here in Gualala from her home in South Africa. I asked her if she missed her home, and if she was willing could she tell me about it?
She said, “Yes, I miss it every day of my life” and proceeded to paint the picture with both the good and the bad of the world she had to escape to survive so long ago.
What an incredible gift.
Her last words to me were, “Be careful on your travels my dear, you are rather special.”
Thank you God for sending these incredible people my way, and making both the landscape that I see, and the landscape of those who have indelibly touched my life…so special.
Until next time dear diary.