Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Starting off on the cross country trip with Felix began pretty inauspiciously.  Since Felix pretty much requires the whole back of the car for his traveling comfort, I depend heavily on the storage capacity of my Thule roof top storage system.  I had a Yakima box many years ago but found it to be difficult to use so when it was no longer effective I bought the Thule, which was far easier to mount and operated from either side.

Nonetheless, the box is large and not easy to handle alone so I have gotten into the habit of asking my friend Josh to help me put it on the roof rack prior to traveling.  Since the plan was to leave early on Friday, I asked if he could come over on Thursday morning on his way to work.  This didn’t work out due to his having to get an early start so he and Lanny who had just had their engagement pictures taken at Rumbling Bald, stopped by on their way home to help me with the box.

We got it on the roof pretty quickly and they headed home.  Felix was already pretty nervous with all the packing and other non-normal activities so I didn’t do anything with it that night and the car just sat out in the driveway with nothing loaded yet.  I figured I could spend much of Thursday putting all our gear in other than what had to stay out until the last minute.

Thursday morning I got up, took Felix for a walk and headed off to get a Shingles inoculation as per the recommendation of my primary care doc.  This turned out to be an expensive and annoying proposition that I didn’t finish until almost lunch time.  I raced back home, pulled into the driveway, opened the garage door and drove in until I heard a very ominous scraping and crunching noise.

I had forgotten that I was driving around with my Thule box on the roof and that the garage opening isn’t high enough for the assembly to clear.  By the time I got back out of the garage the box had an enormous chunk missing and my garage door appeared to be slightly bent at the bottom.  Fortunately, I guess, the distorted shape of the garage door didn’t prevent it from opening and closing cleanly.  Unfortunately I realized immediately that the Thule box was toast.  A trip of close to 3,000 miles with a gaping hole in the box was simply not going to work.

So, after waiting until my heart stopped racing and I got over the need to hyperventilate I drove to REI to see about buying a replacement.  Again this turned out to be a good news/bad news situation.  The good news was that the following day REI’s big spring sale started and the racking systems from both Yakima and Thule were discounted 20%.  The bad news was that the largest Thule box they had in stock (or any REI had within 150 miles) was 4 cubic feet smaller than the one I had destroyed.

In the end I bought the largest Thule they had and drove home with it on the roof and the old box leaning against REI’s dumpster.  I did remember not to pull into the garage.

To their credit, they gave me the 20% discount even though the sale wasn’t starting for another day but still these things cost a fortune.

I spent almost the entire remainder of Thursday packing and determining that the 4 cubic foot difference was enough that certain things were going to have to stay at home.  I have come to regret this since I am now in California at the house my friend John has turned over to me for the summer and there are a lot of things I wish I had brought from home and will probably end up having to buy here.
That aside, almost at the exact appointed time, Felix and I got in the loaded car and headed West. . .our first day’s destination being Nashville and the home of a very old friend from my early days in Sacramento in the 70s.

The drive to Nashville was easy and largely uneventful.  I arrived at the home of my old friend almost an hour earlier than promised (due to my not knowing that Nashville is in the Central Time Zone) but her husband and dog, neither of whom had I ever met, were there to greet us and keep us entertained until Barbara got home from work.

This was one of those encounters in which you really never know what to expect since it had been 35 or more years since we had seen each other or talked.  Happily, Barbara looked like a slightly older version of the woman she had been in her twenties and seemed to have pretty much the same personality.  This was most comforting and made for a very pleasant evening.  We had dinner at their house in the gorgeous park-like back yard, which was also a treat since the rest of the nights I would spend on the road would feature restaurant meals and most of those pretty basic.

We spent the night at Barbara’s house, had a leisurely coffee in the morning and hit the road West by mid-morning.  The second day’s drive was to Fort Smith, AR.  This actually was a reasonably pleasant driving day.  We did hit a little rain now and then although nothing like the storms that had been predicted, and generally enjoyed the scenery.  Much of Arkansas, particularly West of Little Rock, is actually quite scenic.  Fort Smith is on the Arkansas River separating Arkansas from Oklahoma and I chose to stop there because of the distance from Nashville and the availability of dog friendly accommodations.

The same was true for the next day although I have to admit that the drive was a pretty bleak one.  The Eastern part of Oklahoma wasn’t bad.  There are a number of lakes you pass by (or over) and the land is pleasantly rolling and was green.  I-40 takes you around downtown Oklahoma City which looks considerably more built-up and impressive than it did when I drove through in January of 2005 on my way to North Carolina.  We didn’t stop though and drove on to Amarillo TX where we spent the next night.  Western OK and the chunk of North Texas you cross on this route are pretty bleak.  Miles of comparatively featureless landscape do not make for a very interesting drive so I was pleased to finish day three and crash at a clean hotel there.

On Monday we started at about 9:30 in the morning and made it to the hotel in Santa Fe by about 1:30 or 2:00 since the drive from Amarillo is fairly short even including fuel and rest stops.  We found our way to the Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino where we were to spend the night.  This is a very large and actually quite nice Hilton property about 10 minutes North of Santa Fe on the highway that Beth takes to go to Abiquiu from her job in Santa Fe so it worked well for us on several levels.

We walked on a golf cart path on one of the courses and by around 4:00 Beth made it over to the hotel for our reunion.  We had not seen each other since I drove through in the summer of 2008 so getting together was a real treat.  We went into town for dinner at an attractive restaurant with outdoor seating in a courtyard.  It was pleasant enough until the temperature dropped precipitously and the rain got heavy enough that it penetrated the umbrella under which we were seated.  The food was good buy seriously overpriced.  The wine list was huge and shockingly expensive, and the service was quite disappointing.  I will not mention the name of the place here but I did give them a rather weak review on Trip Advisor.
Tuesday Beth had a morning doctor’s appointment during which Felix and I hiked another route of about 4 miles on the hotel trails after which Beth came by and we headed into town to gallery hop, eat, shop and enjoy each other’s company.  Weather was perfect and it made for a very nice day.  We decided not to risk another dinner like the one the previous night so we stopped at a Japanese restaurant and got sushi, soup and sashimi take-out, stopped at a dubious looking but superbly stocked liquor store for a nice bottle of Dolcetto d”Alba and ate back in my room at the hotel.  I had planned to take a selfie (although I loathe that expression) of Beth and me to prove to all our old friends that we really did get together but I forgot until after Beth had headed home.  Still, it was a really great two day visit.

Wednesday morning we started around 9:15 due to the length of the drive to Las Vegas.  I am not a Vegas fan but there really aren’t a whole lot of places that are approximately half way between Santa Fe and Sacramento unless you are willing to drive to Bakersfield and head up highway 99.  I have driven this freeway many times and really hate it so I decided to stay overnight in Vegas and then drive up through the Nevada desert until we were a tad South of Lake Tahoe.  We then crossed over several ridges of the Eastern Sierras and found our way to US Highway 50 for the drive down into the Sacramento Valley and up to our lush spot on the river.  We made it here by about 6:30 and were met by Robyn who helped us get set up in the guest house.

I was very proud of myself on this drive for a couple of things but the best was that I made it all the way across Arizona without spending a penny.  It took some planning but we didn’t buy fuel or food the entire time we were in that State.  Of all the States that have these ridiculously right-wing nutmeg legislatures, governors, and in Arizona’s case, crazy bigoted sheriffs, I am more offended by what the pull in Arizona than the others so it really felt good to have traversed the entire State without ever leaving any of my money there.  I admit that isn’t a huge achievement but it felt good just the same.

John’s house in Carmichael is what is now referred to as “mid-century-modern”.  It was designed by Carter Sparks, coincidentally the very architect who, over lunch one day in 1977, convinced me to go out on my own in practicing architecture.  Carter must have been pretty early in his career when he did this house. . .the website chronicling his work indicates that it was built in 1962.  It was remodeled in 2005 by architects who exercised dubious taste in their update but it is still a very intriguing house with some truly great spaces and a spectacular view over and across the American River which flows past it about 100 feet below the bluff on which it sits.  John has hired an old friend and colleague of mine to get rid of some of the questionable improvements from the 2005 remodel and bring it into a state of restrained elegance that honors the original, remarkable design.

In 2007 the couple who owned the house built a detached guest house to serve as a residence for the mother of the wife.  It has one bedroom, a bath, a great room with fireplace and dining area, a great kitchen and its own laundry room as well as two private patios.  It sits some distance from the main house and is separated from it by the large pool and garage.  The whole site is lushly landscaped and almost flat until you reach the edge of the bluff.  The three sides that don’t face the river are enclosed by high fencing and the bluff is so high and steep that I can let Felix out to roam around without worrying too much about his getting out or in trouble.  There are deer and turkeys roaming around here from time to time and I suspect once they all realize that there is a big dog living here they might start grazing elsewhere.  This pleases John since both of these animals are prodigious producers of poop.
In the first couple of days I did a lot of very expensive shopping at Costco and a couple local grocery stores in order to stock up so I could cook most of my own meals here, but I think I am over the hump on this issue.  Kitchen equipment is a problem since the house doesn’t have a whole lot of it, but since John recently sold his rather large house in San Francisco, all the equipment from that kitchen is now in boxes in the garage here, so sometime soon Robyn and I will start exploring those boxes to find all the tools I need to live here much the way I do at home.

So now Felix and I have been here for 4 days and have seen a couple of friends but have spent most of our time settling in.  I purchased a County Park pass that is good for a year providing access to all Sacramento County Parks so Felix and I can go exploring lots of different trail networks most of which are along the American River.  At some point we will also probably start driving up into the foothills to hike at higher elevations in search of cooler weather.  Sacramento can get very hot in the summers.

I am really excited to have gotten here and am looking forward to a long season of getting together with old friends and having a quiet time with my dog.  More reports will appear on this blog.
 The photo above is a freeway exit off I-40 in Eastern Oklahoma which I thought might amuse the readers who are in drought stricken parts of the world.  Oddly enough, shortly after this exist you drive across a bridge over a lake so you do see a lot of water.

The photo below was taken near Lamy NM on the way into Santa Fe after surviving the rather bleak terrain of North Texas and Eastern NM.

 At the Buffalo Thunder Resort in Santa Fe they have several golf courses, portions of which are not in use.  Hiking is encouraged on the cart paths in those areas although the trails are not well-marked so we wandered frequently from the unused to the active parts of the course system.  It is all very pretty.
 Santa Fe is known for its art galleries and some actually are quite good.  I found this in front of one and it reminded me of a photograph a friend took years ago of rocks behind a caged structure of a retaining wall.  He described it as a Pet Rock Penitentiary.  This reminded me  of that.

 The shot above is on the road in extreme Northwestern Arizona right before you go across the huge bridge spanning the Colorado River just below Hoover Dam as you enter Nevada.

The very next day, after a night in Las Vegas, we headed Northwest on US95 through the deserts of Nevada.  While there is very little out in these vast stretches of countryside, it is oddly beautiful.

 Once we arrived at John's place on the river things began to settle into normalcy, or what masquerades as that.  Above is a shot looking down on an inflatable floating living room that passed by us when we were on the deck looking at people enjoying the holiday weekend on the American River.

The shot below was one I took while sitting at my computer yesterday morning as about 6 turkeys spent 4 or more hours grazing around the yard.  Nice view to look at while at a desk no?

Lastly this is a shot from the deck of the main house looking upriver toward the Sierras, which at this time of year are only visible when the sun is coming up.  This really is a beautiful spot.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

As I begin this post it is Mothers’ Day 2015 and I am in the final couple days of preparing to leave Asheville for the whole summer.  Felix and I are hitting the road on Friday morning and will drive to Sacramento over 6 days.  We will stop in Nashville to see an old friend from early in the Sacramento days (we met in 1973 when I lived in an apartment complex before buying my first house) and whom I haven’t seen since probably the late 70s or early 80s when she lived in Chicago.  From there we will drive to Fort Smith, Arkansas, Amarillo, TX, Santa Fe, NM, Las Vegas, NV and finally Sacramento.  I have allowed two nights in Santa Fe to catch up with my old friend Beth Kiyosaki whom I last saw when Abner and I did a similar trip West in the late summer of 2008.

All day I have listened to radio shows the themes of which revolve around mothers, as seems appropriate for the day, and I have had a realization that I guess should come by the time you are 66 years old.  My mother was 23 years old when I was born and my father was 28.  They could not possibly have known much about life, let alone parenting, at that age, as few of us did in our 20s.  They had lived through the Great Depression and then WWII.  Much of the time during which they might have been able to learn about how people treat each other and behave in the real world had to have been spent focused on fear, grief, basic survival and hope.  Given all that, it is nothing short of amazing that as Mom approaches her 90th birthday in a few months and Dad his 95th they are still together and seem to be happy and reasonably content with their lives.

They certainly made their share of mistakes as parents.  All parents do things when their kids are young and difficult that the kids ultimately end up resenting to one degree or another.  Probably no parent has survived parenthood without being told by one or more of their kids how much they hate them.  In the end, in thinking about my mother today, I realize that she and my father did the best they could possibly have done, and bore and raised 4 kids who grew up without becoming drug addicts, spouse abusers, ax murderers or any number of possible psychotics.  They also, I believe, gave us the most important knowledge that you have to have to make your way in the world.  We have the ability to distinguish between manipulation and love.  For that, and so many other gifts, I think I am actually quite lucky.

Getting ready to leave for my long summer trip has been unlike almost anything I have ever done aside from moving.  When you move you are forced to choose all the things that really matter and that you think you will really need.  In theory everything else gets given away, sold, or trashed so you don’t go through the pain of having to carry things you really don’t need.  Going away for more than 4 months is oddly similar other than the fact that you will eventually return home.  As such, one has to look at all one’s stuff and consider what you really are going to need in this whole season away from home.

Felix and I are traveling by car, as I mentioned, and since he requires almost the entire back of my Touareg whatever I choose to take for myself (and him) has to fit in the rather large Thule roof-top box I have used for many years of travel.  It is actually rather commodious but due to its oddly aerodynamic shape, it doesn’t encourage traveling with items possessing bulk.  In looking at my daily life it is obvious that one of the more consistent activities is that I make myself a couple cups of coffee every morning and lattes on Saturdays and/or Sundays.  My friend John has equipped the house he is letting us occupy all summer with a couple of coffee brewing devices but after all these years of using my Jura Capresso it is hard to think of doing without it for 4-1/2 months.  The problem is that it is bulky.  What to do?

Clothing is another matter.  When I am living in Asheville and my life revolves around hiking with Felix, playing bridge with a bunch of friends twice a week at UNCA, and the occasional lunch and frequent dinners with other friends, I generally have few times when I need to dress in anything other than shorts/jeans and a t-shirt or polo.  I am not certain that will be true this summer in California.  I am expecting to be traveling to San Francisco, Aptos, Los Angeles, San Diego, Napa/Sonoma, Lake Tahoe, Fort Bragg/Mendocino, and probably one or two of the National Parks.  It is true that in most of these places I can dress as casually as I do at home but sometimes not.  Furthermore, in California, on any given summer day, it could be 110 degrees in Sacramento and the high 50s in San Francisco and the coast.  Spread out over the months from May through September this increases the likelihood of straddling a couple of seasons.

Of course the other issue is shoes.  I am quite picky about footwear both functionally and in terms of what it looks like with the rest of my outfit.  Shoes are not, as most travelers know, easy to pack and carry.  I am debating the value of filling a box of shoes and taking it to UPS to ship.  I have already filled one decent sized box with shorts, jeans, t-shirts, underwear, socks and other necessities and am not eager to spend more money shipping stuff but truthfully I just don’t see how I am going to manage to get all my “necessary” crap out there without some items going separately.

All that aside, I am really excited about this trip.  I left California in early January of 2005 and have tried for all those years to maintain friendships from 3,000 miles away mostly with 10-12 day trips.  Inevitably I spend the whole time frantically going from lunch to dinner in a vain attempt to have quality time with a whole slew of people and in the end, fly home exhausted, in need of a vacation, and having pissed off the people I didn’t have time to see.  By going for 4 months I should be able to connect with just about everyone who matters to me without feeling pressed for time.

The onslaught of really warm muggy weather and the huge influx of tourists that occurs in Asheville after Memorial Day will all occur after Felix and I have left so, if this summer works out well, I may just start doing this on an annual basis.  One could do worse.  4+ months of the year in California and the other 8 in lovely Asheville is not the toughest gig you will find.

And so on Friday, assuming I haven’t failed abysmally in my preparations, Felix and I will hit the road.  I am hoping that, as the summer months progress and perhaps fun and interesting events follow our travels, I will post our comings and goings for those of you who enjoy reading this stuff.  Until then. . . .