July 12, 2009

A day on CA1 : A day of madness


There were some ambiguity on the July 4th weekend on whether Qualcomm is giving the Friday as holiday or the Monday. I hate confusion. So I took both days off. That decision gifted me with one complete day to make the return trip from Sunnyvale to San Diego. Almost every long weekend I visited Sunnyvale to see my friends Samik and Anish. Each time I traveled on the rather uninteresting I5 highway in order to make it within eight hours. Also each time I traveled at night to save a day. Driving alone at night for eight hours is not the easiest of the things I have done, but repeatedly I had to prove myself that I could do it. But this time I had one complete day to make the return trip. I chose my long desired route - the beautiful California 1 coastal highway!

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Over the weekend I finished a fascinating trip of northern California with my four friends - Samik, Ananya, Anish and Shalini. We visited the beautiful coastal town called Mendocino, enjoyed World's Largest Salmon BBQ festival (Yummy!) etc etc.. But that story later..

Monday morning, when Ananya and Samik left for office (I was staying with them), I was doing my packing. Packing is a very important part of any trip. It is never waste of time to put some extra thinking behind what all things will be required to be easily accessible during the trip versus the things I will need later. Also, it is important to keep some stuffs for emergency conditions. These are more important for me since a lot of time I travel alone. I kept my still camera, video camera separate. Filled a big bottle with water. Stole some biscuits from Ananya's stock. Made sure my first-aid kit is packed. Dumped the bigger bag in the trunk and the hand bag on the passenger seat for easy access and started my Honda Accord. It was a very modest start to what was otherwise going to be a remarkable day!

I was running low on gas. So first I went to the nearest gas station and did tank full. Then I started on the historic El Camino Real (In English it means the Royal Road). This road goes through the heart of this Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View area. On and off, this road is visible in various parts of California. I heard this is a very old and long road. Now it exists only in parts as you go from north to south of the state. I heard stories that in days when there were no cars, people used to walk from southern California to San Francisco over this road. In between there were churches built to shelter traveling people. Those churches were named after saints. Like San Diego, Santa Ana, San Jose etc. They are big cities now. Not sure whether the stories are true, but I love to believe.

After some left-right turns in no time I was on highway 17, on the way to Santa Cruz. Highway 17 was built in 1940, few years after the depression. I found it to be a very scenic highway with lots of sudden speed changes and surprising sharp turns. It was fun to drive on. But no wonder this highway accounts for large number of accidents and fatalities every year. With a careful driving session, I reached Santa Cruz by 9:30 morning. Santa Cruz is the place where highway 17 meets CA1. It was easy to find the exit to CA1 south. I was excited. First time in my life I was driving on my dream road. California 1.

The initial impression did not quite go with the reputation. This road is supposed to be one of the most scenic and adventurous highways of the World! But at Santa Cruz it was just like any other state highway, busy and little unruly. I took an exit to Santa Cruz town and finished my breakfast.

Around 10 am I started the second phase of my journey. I was already dreaming of the road twisting on the hills with pacific on one side. But I knew I had to wait for some more time. For about half an hour I drove through very usual and plain American terrains. CA1 runs couple of miles away from the sea in this area. First time it kissed the pacific at Moss Landing where I saw a yacht yard with couple of small sail boats and catamarans parked. Recently I discovered a hidden interest in myself for sailing and my heart beats when I see these boats.


A few minutes later I was driving by the sea side. Just before entering the beautiful Monterey town I saw the exit to highway 218. I was not going to take it. Not this time. But this goes to the famous Laguna Seca tracks where MotoGP happens every year. I am planning to visit next year MotoGP. I also have a desire of riding my motorcycle on this track, sometime!

Monterey is a beautiful beautiful town by the sea. Looked to be a perfect vacation place for spending some days doing water adventures. From top of a hill, from the highway, I saw thousands of people enjoying boat riding, yachting, sailing in the Monterey bay. The saturated blue color of the bay vanished in the horizon. I pulled my car out of the road and enjoyed this beauty for few minutes. I could not afford more.

Few miles after Monterey, I was driving right beside the sea. CA1 has already taken the form it is famous for.

The Pacific Coastal Highway

On my right hand side, the dark blue color of the Pacific waters softly melted with the light blue sky. Creating a very vague horizon line. On my left there was this mountainous elevation covered with dark green grass. The grass bed was spotted with bright yellow color unknown flowers, giving it the look of an enormous Kashmiri Pashmina. The road itself was at some height from the ocean level. That meant I had a very far reaching horizon line and a large section of my visual canvas was colored with blue.

It is truly an inexplicable beauty. One has to be there to feel it. I am adding few photos here to do little justice to what I saw.

I drove miles after miles savoring this god's gift. It was becoming hard to keep eyes focused on the sharp turns of CA1. But that was part of the fun too. From the other side, motorcycle gangs were passing by me very frequently. Hundreds of motorcyclists take this route every day. This is one of the best routes to ride Motorcycle in America. The unique fact is, generally when you talk of best motorcycle routes, you talk of one or two hour long roads. But CA1 is a whole day long route, which makes it one of its kind, among the best. I started missing my motorcycle!

Big Sur and Big Lunch

It was about 12, noon. The road left the coastal line and entered the redwood forest. On both sides of the road there were those giant redwood trees. They are the tallest trees of the world. Sometime it is hard to see the top of these trees. They just vanish in the sky. My tiny car was running over the thin road beneath these giants. I reached Big Sur.

At this point I realized I was hungry. I could not locate too many establishments beside road in Big Sur. Finally I reached a place which looked good from outside and was quite crowded. It was called the The River Inn. It was really beside a small wild creek. They had a restaurant whose patio extended till the river bed. On the river they had put couple of chairs half dipped in river stream where people were enjoying relaxed time with beer while their legs where getting massaged by the smooth flowing cold water. They also had a lovely swimming pool beside the river, most of which was occupied by bikini clad ladies and kids. I wanted to spent some time on the river side, but my stomach took me to the restaurant. I selected their outdoor seating and a table with a view. When I finished my King Salmon Sandwich I had already spent an hour in the restaurant. I came out of the patio and looked around to enjoy one of those river chairs. But to my surprise, I discovered that this was a place where even fishes were swimming in pairs. So much so that I started thinking that my presense was breaking the law of nature. It was time to start again.

Afternoon Nap and the Honk

I crossed those forests full of giant ghostly redwood trees. Passed by numerous state parks. On and off meeting the ocean on one side. I was focusing on the road....on the break paddle....on the on coming traffic....and then....I saw a red light shining brighter and brighter on my eyes. My thoughts went to my childhood. My college days.. friends.. close ones.. people I lost, I will never get back.. The journey of life became together with the journey of road.. which could have ended right there without the honk!

It was a desperate honk. I opened my eyes and saw that I have crossed the yellow line and was almost facing a truck from the other side. A cold shiver ran through my spine. I was hallucinating! I thanked all the gods of the world and the truck driver and pulled my car off to a shoulder. I put the car seat back, emergency lights on, closed my eyes and slept like a baby.

When I opened my eyes, it took me some time to remember my current situation. I never woke up like this before. Right on the lap of Pacific. When I analyzed how I did what I did, I found it was the after lunch metabolism that drained all my energy and almost took me to sleep while I was driving! I have to be careful and planned on this. But that said, it felt good. Many people travels on CA1, but how many of them really enjoyed an afternoon nap on the road?

By Hearst Castle

I lost almost an hour in the sleep. I had to hurry. The sleep worked well though and I was feeling fresh. I pressed on the accelerator and started making the miles faster. Hours after hours passed. I kept on driving on this beautiful road thinking this should never end, crossing so many beautiful sea side resorts and parks. So many small sea side towns came and passed. When I was passing by San Simeon, I saw a sign board giving direction to the Hearst Castle. My watch did not allow me, but otherwise I would have loved to visit the castle. Anyway, for those who have seen the 1941 movie Citizen Kane, the movie, which is considered as one of the best piece of work in the history of world cinema, was loosely based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. This was his castle till 1947. I just passed by the sign board.

The Elephant Seals

I just happened to note them on the road side. They were lying on the ground. Hundreds in number. They were giants. Each one around 6 to 8 feet tall. I never saw this big seals in such huge numbers. I stopped my car, took my camera and went close to them. While walking towards the water I noticed a squirrel running behind me. I offered him some left over biscuit I had in my pocket and he took it by standing on his two legs. He even nodded at me to say thank you. Amazing! In the water I found some pairs of seals playing with each other. But the seals on the ground were enjoying the sun in a very lazy manner. They were using their fins to put as much sand as possible on their body. Other than that they were barely showing any body movements. I enjoyed the view of these wonderful creatures for some time. I also made a small video. You can see if you are interested.

Home Sweet Home

Few hours passed and I felt that time was approaching when the road is going to say good bye to pacific and going to hide inside the American mainlands. That happened right after I crossed the beautiful Morro Bay. Morro Bay looked to be a very interesting place too and I will visit it again some time. But after that CA1 became an ordinary American highway passing through local towns. When I reached Santa Maria, sun was already falling. I regretted that I did not see the sunset while I was driving beside the Pacific. But then I had to leave something for next time.

After Santa Maria I took the Highway 154 route. It was a small stretch of mountain road with lot of enjoyable vistas. I joined Highway 101 at Santa Barbara. After that it was a not so mentionable journey to San Diego. Home sweet home! When I went to bed I was still driving beside the sea.