Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Graduate School Tour Day 3 - Big Sur, San Fransisco

        Wednesday was officailly the first "vacation" day of driving.  When I planned this trip my Cimg1839priority of course was stopping at the graduate schools I'm looking at but as usual I wanted to challenge myself.  So I decided to drive the entire Pacific coast on backroads all the way to Canada from San Diego.   I would remain on route 1 and 101 all the way to Seattle.  I didn't need many maps as it was easy to follow the road signs, but I picked up a couple anyway to locate places of interest I might want to stop at.  I got an early start on Wednesday at 8am and had gotten no further than a mile down the road when I noticed giant dark grey blobs laying on the beach.  I pulled over and was amazed to see hundreds of elephant seals squawking at each other on the beach.  They Cimg1849were all different sizes and I could see babies poking their heads up over their mothers as they fed.  I approached one mother and baby and must have pissed it off because if flopped over and roared at me and took a few flops in my general direction to ward me off.  I moved back quickly because the damn thing must have weighed atleast 1200 pounds. 
    My decision to stop driving last night in San Simeon worked out perfectly because I began to hit winding roads and cliffs just 5 miles out of town as I headed towards beautiful Big Sur, CA.  I spent all Cimg1854morning driving fast, pulling over for pictures, driving fast, pulling over for more pictures and so on.  There were many turn offs in the road for slower drivers to let me pass but that really wasn't needed because THERE WAS NO ONE ON THE ROAD.  From the road side gift shops and hotels it was plainly apparent that this route is a major tourist route but I seemed to hit it perfectly in the offseason, mid-week under beautfiful blue skies.  There was no cell phone reception, no radio stations and I literally kept my seat belt unbuckled in case I had to dive out of my car before it plunged off a cliff into the ocean hundreds of feet below.  For 90% of the drive to San Francisco there were no gaurd rails or protection against flying off the road.  At one point I was looking around and I went off the road, fishtailed a bit towards the cliff then pulled her back in time.  Cimg1860Thank God I was in the north bound lane and not the southern lane closest to the cliffs.  I stopped at a scenic overlook next to a hotel that was known for whale watching and Cimg1879was told by a couple tourists that it was prime time to see whales migrating off the coast.  I stood there for about 20 minutes before I saw blasts of water about a quarter mile off the coast.  It must have been whales surfacing.  Every time I stopped to look at the waves crashing into the ciffs below I could see seals in playing in the surf.  The road was Cimg1894built right into the mountainside and when the ridge of the mountain receded from the road followed in a giant windy turn to follow the landscape.  It was like this all day.  When the mountain receded to far from the ocean bridges were built to complete the gaps.  I saw several artists on the side of the road painting pictures of the landscape.   It was a wonderful start to the day. 
        I stopped for lunch at a Burger King in the city of Seaside just past Monterey.  I then crossed through Moss Landing which is part of the University of Cimg1903California.  It is a marine research center.  The area around Moss Landing was flat and boring and you could see smokestacks rising in the background above the complex.  I'm glad I didn't end up applying to that research center as well.  I continued on to Santa Cruz, CA and stopped to briefly drive around the UC campus there because it was one of the schools I was seriously considering.  The campusCimg1910 was odd.  All the buildings looked exactly like Vermont style barns!  Wierd.  I left the campus happy that I did not apply there and drove along the coast of the city, stopping occasionally to watch surfers out in the breakers.  I hooked back up with route 1 after a mile or so and continued on towards Cimg1926San Fran.  Then I realized that my camera was broken!  Shit.  Oh well, just have to buy another... I drove to a small mall just outside the city and ran full sprint through it to the Radio Shack.  The only camera that was left was the floor model which I quickly bought and bolted back to my car hoping to make the Golden Gate bridge by sunset.  Speeding through the city I made it with about 45 minutes to spare and snapped some great pics of the bridge, Alcatraz, and the city in the background. 
        The road coming down from the mountains north of San Fran was nuts!  It was one of the curviest, steepest roads I've ever driven and with nobody else on the road I was hitting it at ridiculous speeds, squeeling the tires of the Cobalt around every corner (Note: after this trip I fully endorse the Chevy Cobalt - it handled like a sports car.  Thank God I wrecked the Ford Focus).   I Cimg1940made it to one last scenic lookout over Muir Beach before it began to get dark quickly.  I drove as fast as I could trying to get to Point Reyes National Park because I had heard it was a prime place to see whales.  I saw a sign for a lighthouse so I pulled off the highway without consulting a map to go check it out.  I could tell I was heading up the western shore of a large bay and assumed I would be at the beaches and light house right away.  Nope... after half an hour of driving I found myself in the middle of a national park of rolling coastal hills with no trees and nothing in site with light quickly fading.  I decided to head out of there and return to the highway.  I checked a map later and found that I would have had to drive another 30 miles or more before reaching the lighthouse! 
        Once back on route 1 it began to rain and the road got a lot more twisty.  I ended up behind a very suspicious looking white van.  Maybe the driver thought I was the cops or something because he took off down the road at speeds I was scared to drive my coup at!  I trusted he knew the roads better than I so I kept up with him at a distance of course.  It was dark but I could tell that the ocean was still at my side.  All of a sudden around a corner the van was just stopped on the side of the road and I passed by it a little freaked out.  At about 7:15 I pulled over at an intersection to check my map to see how far I should drive.  I noticed that I was still a good distance from the Oregon Boarder which I had hoped I would hit.   Bang!!! Something knocking at my window in the middle of no where!  My heart jumped into my throat.  A cop, with a flashlight.... great... now what did I do.  I rolled down my window and he asked if I was alright and where I was going.  He was a young local cop and was very nice.  I told him my crazy plans of driving to Seattle, although not all that night, and a very worried look appeared on his face.  He told me he was worried about me driving these unfamiliar roads at night in a rain storm alone.   He pointed out, "There's really nothing out here, small town, small town folk.  Most businesses are closed at 5pm and people are usually in bed by 9".  I asked him about hotels and he said the cheapest ones are about 200 bucks.  No way... after a 500 dollar deductable on a wrecked car I couldn't afford that!  I promised him I would stop at the next town, Bodega Bay, to get some gas and he returned to his patrol car that had somehow creeped up on me without me noticing. 
        By now the mysterious van had vanished.  I pulled over in Gualala and the same cop pulled in right after me to fill up.  I yelled over to him, "hey, you really are worried about me aren't you?"  He replied, "Yes, I am, but there is no law stating that I can stop you from driving if you feel comfortable to keep going".  I reassured him that I was wake, which I was because it was an amazingly fun drive, got back in my car and continued on.  After about 15 minutes I could feel myself gaining elevation and began to see large cliffs on the right side of me and blackness on the left.  I assumed that I must be high up on a mountainside with cliffs and the ocean to my left.  I started to get a little freaked out because it was pitch black and pouring.  WHAT THE!??? Shit, I almost died... a cow... a big dumb stupid cow... standing in the middle of the road... I came around a corner and there it was staring at me.  After quickly swirving and skidding a bit ICimg1960 pulled over and took a picture of the animal that almost cost me my life.  Apparently I had crossed some cattle grate and hadn't noticed I was in hillside farm land!  I kept going and could sense that I was returning to sea level again.  I noticed the cattle grate marking the end of the farm land and decided to find a place to crash for the night.  There was literrally nothing anywhere and it had stopped raining so I pulled over at a look out and stretched my sleeping bag out under the stars next to the crashing surf and spent the night there.  It began to rain at about 5am so I crawled back into the car to sleep a few more hours.


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