Northern California to Vancouver
San Fran done and dusted, Electra and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to Northern California. First stop was Point Reyes, where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates grind together along the San Andreas Fault Zone. San Francisco has been devastated by 2 sizeable earthquakes, yet no-one moves. The possibility of another happening is huge and scary. At the Bear Valley Visitor Centre you can go on the Earthquake walk. Really it’s a stroll through some very pretty countryside, but you are right above the San Andreas Fault. The conversation along this small walk was ghoulish but droll, where we speculated that at least if there was an earthquake, we would fall straight into a crack in the earth, and at least our mothers (who both worry excessively when their daughters are overseas) could be consoled somewhat by the fact that it was over very quickly!
The drive through Point Reyes to the lighthouse is arduous, and I would like to say we were rewarded with spectacular view of the coastline, but the fog and clouds were rolling in and as we reached the lighthouse it started drizzling. This is typical weather for this part of the world and gives the landscape an ethereal quality. Still, there are over 300 steps down to the lighthouse, which meant 300 back up, and after a couple of late nights in San Fran it was time for the body to get some much needed exercise. Point Reyes is home to elk, historic ranches, rolling green fields, pretty little towns and has some lovely beaches. Once again there was not enough time and the weather was not playing ball, so once we’d hiked up and down the 300 steps we hopped back into the car and made our way back through the drizzle to the Highway. We stopped briefly in Bodega Bay for a late lunch, which is where The Birds was filmed, a picturesque coastal town. We walked past a stand in the lobby where a couple of elderly ladies where sitting in a booth talking to people. I figured they were either giving out information about the town, or it was a fundraising exercise. Then I noticed on the wall that Tippi Hedren was signing autographs that day. Tippi is star of The Birds, and patron of the Shambala Reserve which she set up as a rescue centre for abandoned exotic felines. I remember seeing a documentary about her when I was very young, and being intensely jealous of Melanie Griffiths who got to grow up with wild animals in her back yard! (Tippi is Mels’ Mum). Anyway, I not only got to meet a true Hitchcock star, but also someone who makes a real difference to the lives of animals, and she’s a lovely lady, and rather well-preserved herself!
We then hotfooted inland: home to the redwoods, pioneering country, lakes and cabins. This was one long day of driving, and also the day I hit a deer. Now roadkill is commonplace along the highways – I’ve seen almost every kind of native species of animal in America – unfortunately most of it has been dead. Skunks, raccoons, deer, coyote, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, elk. And it’s continuous – you don’t go more than a few yards without spotting some sort of furry or feathery corpse by the side of the road. Some of the new kill is distressing enough, as they just look as if they’ve gone peacefully to sleep. Worse are the ones who’ve been hit a few times, and grisly is not the word. Then there are the smears – thousands of red smears. It’s as much as a part of the roadside scenery in the States as farms, mountains, deserts and lakes.
So when I HIT a deer, you can imagine my horror. She was in the middle of a six lane highway at dusk, which was empty apart from us, with her fawn at her side. Instead of staying put, she hesitated then ran straight in front of the car, fawn in tow.
I had braked the instant I saw her, and so luckily by the time we struck her I wasn’t moving very fast, but still the right side of my car glanced off her right flank. The fawn must have darted behind the car – if I’d hit and injured, or worse – KILLED Bambi – then I’d be in therapy right now. There was nothing I could do, it wasn’t my fault.
There was a steep bank on the right hand side of the highway, and by the time I’d come to a stop and ran out to see how badly she was injured, Mum and Bambi had disappeared up it and out of sight. We hadn’t hit her hard, and there was no blood on the car but a few hairs stuck to the light. I can only hope that she wasn’t injured badly enough to die, that perhaps we just bruised her leg. As I chased along the highway, leaving a startled Electra in the car, a lady stopped on the opposite side of the road in a pickup to ask if I was ok. She explained that it happened a lot, and that usually the deer had a place they went to either die or recover. I still think of that deer today, and hope that she and her little one are ok.
Nothing sounds more majestic than Avenue of the Giants. This mystical-sounding road takes you through the giant redwood forest of California situated in Humboldt Redwood National Park, and is as impressive as the name suggests. Towering trees over 100m in height make you feel like Tom Thumb. The forest is ancient, until 1991 there was a tree there that was over 1600 years old. Like so many things on this planet, the trees and the animals that call the forest home, now need protecting. On the map this area is alarmingly small, even though it encompasses 210km2. There are several good hikes in amongst the redwoods, once you’ve visited the Giant Tree (over 950 years old), you can head out for a few hours in any direction. The trail we took was NOT well sign-posted however, and as we wandered along the path, desperately hoping for an indication that we were going the right way, we lamented that we hadn’t really watched enough survival shows. A woman was recently found who had been surviving in the forest for weeks, her husband still missing. So much of America is forest and mountain, maybe you are just born knowing which roots and berries won’t kill you, how to hunt deer with your bare hands, and how to build a cabin with only a penknife.
I think the name of the trail we did was called Bull Creek Flats trail which runs either side of the river. It starts at the Giant Tree and is about 7 miles long.
After this was over, we hot-footed it to Crescent City, the last bastion of Northern California. Lonely Planet don’t give it a good rap, but this is a pretty little place to stay with reasonably priced hotels and a few restaurants.
Next day we entered Oregon. A land of mist, pine trees, log cabins, and rain. Rain rain rain. It would have been nice to do some more hiking but the weather was not conducive to anything. We had a minor tragedy because I’d left my lights on the night before, so when we woke up the battery was dead as a dodo. Nicks. Nada. Nothing. You can’t throw a stone in this part of the States without hitting a pickup truck, and we figured that any diner with pickups outside would have patrons with jump leads. Bingo! We were on the road within 20 minutes. The tragedy was that I’d left my Garmin plugged in, and when the battery died there must have been a power surge, wiping out all the information on it and rendering it useless. We had a map, and finding Portland wasn’t too much of a nightmare. Best Buy also exchanged my now dearly departed Garmin for a new one, although it seems to lack the pizzazz of its predecessor.
We had little time to explore Portland, deciding on a short walk around the city in the morning, and then driving to Seattle which is a little further North. What I saw I liked though, it’s easy to see why this laid-back town was the home to indie/grunge bands like the Dandy Warhols, and the birthplace of that style of music, with musicians moving there from all over the country to take part in the grunge revolution. Kurt Cobain met native Portlander Courtney Love in one of Portland’s bars. There is an urban trendiness about the place, the coffee bars packed with young hipsters with cyberpunk hairdos, the industrial undercurrent blending in with the creative hum. The city sprawls along a river, spanned by several cast-iron bridges, and the city centre is small enough to walk from end to end in about 45 mins, lending a cosy, community feel to the place.
This is where I experienced another technological breakdown, again with my Garmin. I decided to ‘update’ it using Garmin Maps. Now to me, the word ‘update’ in IT speak means that it’s going to ADD things to improve my existing maps. Not completely wipe the whole device and replace it with the maps I’d selected to ‘update’. In other words, I asked for an update of Canada and Bordering States. It then REPLACED all my maps with just Canada and Bordering States.
This meant that I couldn’t put the address of our Seattle hotel into the navigator. We called and got directions instead, which turned out to be as bloody useless as teats on a bull. In the end Electra had to get on the phone with the hotel, who guided us there with the use of google maps. Not quite as easy as using a navigator, but nevertheless effective. I then had to get online to redownload all the United States maps I’d wiped off. I’m wondering if the deer was actually a shape-shifting gypsy.