... Retry

... So, ended up sleeping about 13 hours last night.  I certainly feel better, though still not 100%.  Tonight, I was going to go home, pack, and just relax before driving up tomorrow.

I say "was" because, as I'm driving into work this morning, I get a call from my mother.  "Dad's computer won't start."  From the description, it sounds like a bad power supply.  Her next statement?  "I hate to ask, but can you come by tonight...?"

1) I told her, yesterday, that I was feeling like total crap from doing too much recently.  She said she sympathized.
2) My step-brother - who graduated with an engineering degree from CalTech and currently works for a major software company - is, right now, sleeping in my old room down the hall from the broken computer.
3) There are, like, five computers in the house for the two of them - three notebooks and two desktops.  Seriously, they have more computers than I do.

This is mild compared to some of the shit she used to pull, but it gives you an idea of what I end up dealing with.

Anyway, I still have my old computer, and the power supply in it should be more than sufficient (assuming it'll fit).  So, if that's the actual problem, I can possibly get it fixed tonight.  If not, then when I get back, I'm going to get asked to spend a day or two copying Dad's files from the old hard drive onto the new one and getting shit installed, and I'd really rather not have to do that.  Even if it means spending a couple of hours elbow-deep in circuit boards tonight.

I think it's a nacho day.  I could really use some nachos.

Out Of Cutlery Error - Abort, Retry, Fail?

I feel like crap today - not quite bad enough to be "sick", but bad enough that I'm going to go home after work, crank up the heater, crawl into bed and just sleep until tomorrow morning.

I haven't had a "day off" - my lexicon for "a day without forced socialization of some kind" in almost three weeks.  Normally, Sundays are my day to just recharge, but the last two Sundays I've had to help my step-dad take apart and put back together all the storage in the garage so they could get the garage doors replaced (long story).  Add to it that Christmas was at my parents' house (which is low-key but still OMG-I-have-to-deal-with-people!), that I worked Monday and Wednesday (and today and tomorrow), and that Wednesday was my stepdad's 70th birthday and all his kids (and grandkids, and spouses/girlfriends) were there, and...

Well, let's just say I feel like a polite train wreck.  You know, where the train comes to a gentle stop - and then just falls off the track.  If you know the spoon theory, I'm not exactly the kind of person who generally runs out of spoons; today, I feel like I've used up all my spares, raided the cabinets for any I could find, and have borrowed a couple from the neighbors.

There were a few moments of interesting things.

A minor issue that's been bouncing around for a while (as in, decades) is that my mother never really accepted that I'm not "normal" - or, rather, she only sees the good parts and none of the complications.  As a kid, it was both accepted that I was brilliant and therefore different, but also that any struggles I had with anything had to be because I wasn't trying hard enough since everyone else could do it without issue.

Over the years, I've gradually gotten her to accept that I'm ADHD (I wasn't diagnosed until late teens), largely by pointing out how she reflects a lot of the same symptoms (case in point: to relax for bed, she has a large glass of hot, heavily-caffeinated tea; she never thought about this being contrary to normal until I pointed it out).  She's never really fought me on the OCD, but again, she's got the signs of it in herself, so that's also pretty clear.  She has fought me about dyslexia, but since I've got a piece of paper for that one too, there's not much she can do about it.

I've never tried pushing the Autism Spectrum Disorder issue much, though, because it always seemed like "a bridge too far" as it were: the common idea of Autism is a stereotype that isn't necessarily representative.  I'm not Autistic, but ASD encompasses a wide range if symptoms that stretch from (probably; it's still being debated) ADHD on one end through Aspergers to Autism on the other, with a few different points in the middle.  I also don't have a formal diagnosis in ASD - there are other confounding factors, and since I had the ADHD diagnosis anyway, it didn't seem necessary.

Well, during conversations with friends and family the last couple of days, my mom volunteered information that, whether she realizes it or not, is classic ASD.  The first was when she was commenting on my tendency to take "escape" vacations.  She referred to her desire to do the same thing - especially before she retired - as "taking time to just be", to "escape from people and not have to socialize."  The overpowering need for such "recharge" time or escaping is a very common thing in ASD folks, and those with Autism and Aspergers tend to get it very severely.  In kids, it's often the cause of stimming or seeking heavy blankets and comfort - in sometimes literal terms, of enclosing one's self in something secure and safe and "blanking out" all the scarey, noisy, troubling stimulation.

The other thing she mentioned, this time in the context of things we did when I was a kid, was: "You always hated loud noises, even when you knew they were coming.  You'd cover your ears and, if you could, even curl into a little ball."  The "too loud/too bright" reaction is also classic ASD - generally brought on by hypersensitivity to stimulation (which I have in other ways as well).  It's often one of the first things that parents of Autistic children notice.

This is all on top of having speech impediments as a kid, being delayed in maturation (I hit puberty a little late and then had a longer and slower developmental period - part of the reason I still look a lot younger than I am), all the troubles I had in school despite being an "A student", etc.

In the larger scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if my mom acknowledges all of this.  It's not going to impact my life today, and none of her grandkids (my stepdad's grandchildren, really) seem to have any of these issues.   At the same time, though, part of me wants an apology.  Part of me wants to hear her admit that she made my life hell growing up, and that all of the pressure and stress she put on me was unfair.  I mean, I eventually started pushing back against it, but that was only after years of mental/emotional abuse and eventually trying to kill myself, so one could argue the damage was done.

(I should probably add here that I like my mother, as a person.  She's kind and brilliant and supportive, and as a woman, she's kicked some serious butt throughout her life.  She's the kind of woman who is a feminist whether or not she calls herself one.  She was just a very crappy - and codependent - mother, especially for a kid who needed more than to simply be pushed.)

I'd just like, in general, for the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" narrative that a certain portion of the (mostly conservative) population seems to love to be blown to hell.  It causes far more harm than good, and it's predicated on this notion that everyone is the same and has the same strengths and needs.

Anyway, Saturday I drive off to relax for a few days.  I looked into a lot of options, including Tahoe and Yosemite and King's Canyon, but as I really don't want to spend $400 a night in hotels, I'm just going back to Guerneville - they didn't end up getting flooded out, and the hot tub is always nice.  For now, I just need to make it that far.  No meetings, comfort food for lunch, and wrapping myself in my heavy coat to keep warm.

And, maybe, stealing some spoons from the cafeteria.  They're plastic, but hey.

The ceremony of innocence is drowned

... It's probably a bad thing when you score more than 20 points (self-diagnosed, so probably suspect) on the PCL-R.

Hey, there.  Been a while, though it's been fairly boring here.  Not so in the news lately, of course, but in the interest of not triggering people, we'll stay out of that.

Trying to decide what to do for New Years.  I've got the 31st and 1st off, and kind of want to go somewhere there's snow, but since I won't know that until a few days before, I haven't made any plans yet.  That being said, I haven't even started Christmas shopping yet.  I should probably get to that.

Speaking of shopping, I finally decided to try and sell some of my photography as posters and such.  I'm testing out a few different sites; no purchases yet, though there's a bit of interest in some of them.  My totally-arbitrary-mental-abacus says I need to get about 100 viewings of any one image before I'll sell something, and I'm getting close.  Not bad, considering I'm not advertising at all.

I also uploaded a bunch of photos to a stock house, so maybe that'll end up selling some as well.  You never know.  At least they're all non-exclusive licenses, so I can do it all at once and still retain the original rights.

I got a new phone, finally.  My contract was up last December, but I hadn't seen anything since then that I liked until recently.  Picked up a Nokia Lumina 920.  Seems pretty decent so that, though it's a bit large.  I love the voice-to-text options: I can have it read me incoming text messages and reply to them by voice while I'm driving.  Cool feature.

Dating, not so cool.  Pretty cold, actually.  I've had a few messages back and forth, but only two tangible dates out of it in a year or so.  I'm not terribly bothered by this, but it does raise the question as to whether or not I want to keep putting any effort into the idea.  I may try a different site, just for kicks.  It'd be nice if there was someplace local I could just go and hang out, but seeing as I don't drink and don't get along with alcohol well, the bars seem a wee bit contraindicated.

Finally getting some definition in my upper body.  The rowing machine seems to be doing the trick, and I finally figured out now not to get callouses on my hands doing it.  Still not losing the bit of excess just under my belly button that I've had for like 10 years now.  I may have to actually need to try changing my eating habits, which I've been hoping to avoid as I don't know how sustainable that is psychologically.  That being said, my weight's been stable, so maybe all it would take is losing that bit and I could keep it off with my normal habits.  We'll see.

Anyway, there's that.  It probably won't take me 3 months to post again :)  Maybe something exciting will happen.  Well, assuming we don't all die in a horrible fiery explosion on Friday (and no, I don't think that's going to happen; even the Mayans didn't think that was going to happen, and it's their damned calendar).

Remembrance of things past

A lot of people on Facebook are posting about 9/11.  A military friend even said it should be a national holiday.

To me, it looks like a huge portion of the nation is just... stuck.

Part of grieving is moving on.  At some point, you accept what happened and turn back to the rest of your life.  You never forget, obviously, but you also don't dwell on the incident.  You enshrine the memory by moving forward, growing and improving - not by locking yourself in amber and keeping frozen at one moment of time.

I have a friend who was a first responder.  He was helping people out of the buildings and only by luck was outside when the first one collapsed.  Today, for his sake, I hope he's off camping somewhere, with no t.v., no internet, no phone, no journalism, no well-intentioned bystanders wearing pins or waving flags.  He remembers, alright - usually at 2 am in a cold sweat.  For him, the trouble isn't remembering - it's forgetting, or if not forgetting then at least being able to accept the memory without it overwhelming him.

I wonder how many others out there in our nation have something of the same problem.  I think the number is dropping as people learn to cope and move on, but there are still thousands or tens of thousands who likely have a kind of distanced-but-real PTSD.

I think remembering may be necessary but insufficient.  I think we're on the right track, but it takes time.  So, I won't post a 9/11 statement on Facebook, but I won't argue with those who show signs of not moving in.

And I'll sit here and think about a man out there in the woods somewhere, and hope he's not remembering.

... skies are blue...

8 nights in paradise and, since I have yet to win the lottery, tonight will be the 9th and the last - for a while, at least.

I bite my nails.  It's a "nervous habit", something I do when I don't even realize I'm doing it.  After a few days in Maui, I notice that my nails are growing.  They'll remain intact for a few days after I get back, but not much longer after that.  This probably implies something.

The suite I'm in is almost the size of my apartment, though one less bedroom.  That's okay, because the kitchen is probably the size of my spare room.  The bedroom it does have is in the back, and yet I can still hear the waves crashing on the shore across the street as I lay in bed.

I'm thoroughly tanned, and even more blond than when I left.  I'm probably going to get comments on both back at the office.  I may have to plan a few things to keep the tan up, though I won't exactly have the luxury for relaxing nude in the sun (yes, with sunscreen) for a couple hours a day.

I've taken pictures and video.  None of them have been processed yet; this computer's not really set up for it.  It'll all have to wait until I'm at home.

No romantic interludes, nothing too exciting or impressive.  Just a quiet, relaxing week in the sun (and shade, and ocean, and hot tubs...).

I don't know that I could live here; I've entertained the thought a few times.  I'd probably end up a recluse if I tried.  But it's certainly somewhere that I love to visit, and hate to leave.


Once more 'round the park

It's 11:30 pm.  I have to be up in a little over 6 hours to catch my plane to Maui.

It'll be Tau day in a few minutes - tau being twice pi, or ~6.28.  6/28/2012 is also the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall riots.  It's the 93rd anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I - and, ironically, the 98th anniversary of the assassination that started it.

And, 35 years ago, the 28th of June was a Tuesday.  My mom hadn't gone into labor over the weekend and was now 24 days late, so her doctor made the decision to induce labor.  Tuesday was chosen because Mondays at the hospital were typically busy.  A couple hours after being induced, she had a 9 lb 8 oz baby boy, whose first act upon being placed on the gurney was to pick his head up and look around the room.

"Should he be able to do that?" my mom asked.

"You cooked him an extra month," the doctor replied, "What did you expect?"

... The silly part is that the only thing being "35" brings to mind is that I'm only 2 years away from being a prime number again.

Oh well.  See y'all when I'm in Maui.

Two words, sounds like...

Work's been hell this week.

During a normal week, Thursdays tend to be "meeting day" with a few on Tuesdays.  This week, I was in meetings most of the week; the only day I really had much contiguous time to work on anything was Monday.

Add to that the fact that my manager told me Monday morning that she wanted a user manual for the software we've developed by Friday.  We had a crappy, half-a-dozen page one for the last version, but since we've changed pretty much everything, it needed to be rewritten from scratch.

So, this whole week has been me going back and forth to meetings and dragging my laptop with me so that I can half-ignore the meeting I'm in and work on the manual.  I've also worked at home, after hours, more this week than I have since I started the company (I'll be doing more tonight, and likely this weekend - no, I'm not done, but I got a significant amount of what she wanted done so she could review it, so she's happy).

Next week, I need to get officially stabbed (for my annual TB test) and, again, meetings half of Monday and all of Tuesday.  Wednesday looks to be mostly open at this point, but we'll see how it works out.  However, by Wednesday afternoon, I'm not going to care.

Because, Thursday, June 28th, I'm flying back to Maui for 9 nights in a penthouse on the beach.

Fuck.  Yeah.

Homeward Bound - Day Three

(All these shots and more, except the map, available at flickr.  Map courtesy of Google.)

This last post is shorter, but so was the journey.  After spending the night in Garberville, we needed to get to a train station in Martinez by 3 pm or so.  The fastest way was 200 miles down the 101, which was a regular freeway or at least a major highway for most of the trip.  However, since we had some time and my wandering companion expressed a desire, we cut off the 101 just north of the bay and headed east.

The last of the western frontier.
As I said in the last post, the 101 north of the bay is known as the "Redwood Highway".  It winds through a small valley  in the center of the coastal mountains, past tree-filled hills and small rivers.  In fact, the first hundred and twenty miles or so south of Garberville - itself a barely-there town - have almost no habitation, just small ranches or truck stops here and there.  The first "city" one gets to is Santa Rosa, which is actually the largest town in Sonoma County and one of the largest in the so-called "wine region".

For, indeed, this is where California wines come from.  The trees covering the hillsides gradually give way to vineyards as one crosses into Sonoma County.  98% of the grapes eaten in the US come from California, and most of them come from this region.  We cut east before reaching Santa Rosa and took Highway 128 past areas that should sound familiar to any wine aficionado: Alexander Valley, Calistoga, and eventually to Napa Valley itself.

It was the 49ers who brought grapes to California - a few enterprising individuals decided that it was easier to grown their gold than pan for it.  The first wines were produced for sale in the late 1850s, and it's been going ever since.  This part of California is roughly the same latitude as most of France and of similar climate.  Most kinds of wines are produced here, even sparkling wines that are champagne in everything but name (a thorny legal issue).

In fact, in an interesting bit of history: France uses Californian vines - to a point, anyway.  In the 1800s, speedy transportation across the Atlantic meant more travel, and when California started growing its own varieties of grapes, some of those vines made it back to France.  Unfortunately, along with those vines likely came an aphid that carried a blight.  While it didn't affect the California vines much, it wiped out almost all French vines - until a solution was found, whereby French vines could be grafted onto Californian ones and survive.  To this day, I think there's only one native European vine that, ungrafted, can survive the blight, and it only grows in Greece.

Regardless, the California wine industry is extremely successful, and Napa is its cultural (if not literal) center.

It's also only a short hop from there to Martinez, and the end of this part of the journey.  We arrived at about 2 pm, plenty of time for Mark to catch his train and wander on as well as for me to start the drive home - a pretty bland 400-mile drive down the 5 back to L.A., one that normally takes about 5 or 6 hours but ended up taking over 7 because of construction (ironically at a place called the Grapevine, though that's because of how it winds up the Tehachapis rather than anything to do with actual grapes).

All in all, I think it was a fun trip.  I've been on many parts of these roads before, though in some cases it has literally been almost three decades.

My ulterior motive, though, and even my reason for writing up these "travelogues" as they've been called, is to get across some of the diversity of California.  I love this state - I've lived here all my life - and while I acknowledge the importance of Hollywood and the Silicon Valley to the culture and commerce of both the state and the nation as a whole, there's so much more here that most people - even most Californians - never experience.

In the 80's, there was an old show called "California's Gold" starring Huell Howser, where he wandered around the state finding small, interesting, out-of-the-way spots or sights that most people would never know about.  Part of me would like to reproduce - in a more modern way - some of that on this blog.

I still want to get out to the deserts.  I want to camp in Yosemite and spend a week at Tahoe.  I want to go back to Big Bear and Shasta and really get into the sequoias.  I want to head over to Catalina and the rest of the Channel Islands, to wander down to San Juan Capistrano and walk around the San Diego zoo and wild animal park.

And, yes, I want to go to Europe, and South America, and Africa, and Australia, and scores of other places, but those all take far more planning and longer time than a weekend.  That doesn't mean they won't happen, but it means they'll happen less often.  I hope to do a trip around my state once every month or two - perhaps not to this extent (1400 miles in 3 days is a lot), but maybe.

Anyway, I hope this gives any of you who plan on visiting - or who have been living here for years but never really looked around - some ideas of what's out there.

Pacific Coast Highway - Day Two

(All these shots and more, except the map, available at flickr.  Map courtesy of Google.)

I mentioned in my last post that most of that day's drive took place on the Pacific plate.  If you look at this fault map, you can see what I mean:

From the upper left, there's a dark line - the San Andreas Fault - that cuts off just south of San Franciso itself then cuts inland slightly but still roughly follows the contour of the state.  That fault separates the Pacific plate - everything left of it - from the North American plate - everything to the right.  Also, if you notice the green area just to the right of the San Andreas in Northern California, that's mesozoic-era rocks that are part of the plate.

What this means is that the actual soil and ground are extremely different along the coast north of the bay area than they are south of it.  For example, because of the addition of volcanic elements from the Cascades, you often find black sand beaches in northern California that don't exist in Southern California.

And yes, this is where we make the joke that, while California has many faults, lack of diversity isn't one of them.  Anyway, for the record, the plate action is such that Los Angeles (and the parts of California on the Pacific plate) is actually moving northward slightly towards San Francisco.  This is also increasing the size of the Sea of Cortez as the action creates a "gap" that will, in millions of years, probably reach up to Lake Tahoe.

Back to the trip...

Sunday started later than Saturday - we weren't rushing to get to the aquarium this time, but it was going to be a long slow slog.  Saturday's drive time was around 9 hours for 400 miles; Sunday was about the same distance but with nearly zero freeway(1) miles, so much slower (ended up taking us almost 13 hours).  Anyway, we slept in until 7ish and were on the road by 8.

First stop is the quiet little town of Santa Cruz, at the north end of Monterey Bay.  Santa Cruz is best known for surfing, a college, and its boardwalk - which is pictured here.  The boardwalk has the fifth oldest coaster in the US - it opened pre-Depression - but was obviously closed so early in the morning.

The college I mentioned is University of California (UC) Santa Cruz (SC), one of California's public universities.  It's nestled in the hills and trees just north of town.  UCSC's major focus is on marine biology - logical, since Monterey Bay is part of a large protected area for marine reserves that stretches from San Francisco south almost to Morro Bay.  The fun fact about UCSC is its mascot: the banana slug.

Leaving Santa Cruz, we headed along the coast up to Half Moon Bay, a fairly famous golf course and resort getaway for bay area types.  However, just north of the bay is more famous for surfing: surfers generally acknowledge three amazing spots in the world for the best waves year-round, one in Maui (Jaws) and two in California - and Mavericks is by Half Moon Bay.  Waves average - and yes, I said average - 50 feet, with crests over 80 feet. 

We didn't go surfing.  Instead, we headed up PCH and joined up with the 101 as we got to San Francisco.  Mark had little actual interest in the city itself - he's coming back at a later juncture - so we just drove through town, but I did want to make sure we stopped and got pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge if the weather cooperated.

Well, the weather was great, but something else made it a bit more difficult than it should have been: apparently, May 27th, 2012, was the 75th anniversary of the bridge, and so most of the viewing areas were closed off for press events.  Eventually we wound down a road to a little marina.  I've put in some of the shots, as well as one of SF from across the bay and Alcatraz through the haze.

San Francisco looking south

That bottom left shot is there to give you an idea of the size of the bridge: navy ships regularly go under it.  That one passing under it is the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, stationed in SF and one of the few surviving ships (there are only two confirmed from what I can tell) from the Normandy armada of D-Day 1944.

In the San Francisco shot, you can make out the pointy TransAmerica building almost dead center as well as the Bay Bridge on the left.


Leaving the bridge and getting back onto the highway was a little tricky, but we did.  North of SF, PCH follows the coast briefly to a "day trip" spot for beachgoers, Bolinas Bay.  The bay itself actually looked more like a salt-water marsh, but I think we were passing at low tide.  This shot is approaching, with the opening of the bay beyond that promontory.

Tomales Bay looking north at the mouth
From there, PCH cuts inland a bit heading north-northwest to Point Reyes - everything west of PCH at this point is a National park.  Point Reyes itself is situated at the end of Tomales Bay.  It's at this point that the scale of the map is a bit deceiving, as Mark noted: Tomales Bay is barely a notch in the coastline of California, but the bay itself is 11-12 miles long.

At the end of Tomales Bay, after PCH curves inland a bit and then heads almost due west, you come to Bodega Bay.
Bodega Bay

The town of Bodega Bay is a little fishing village with a very small population that, while picturesque, probably wouldn't be noticed by most people if it weren't for Hollywood.  This is where Hitchcock - who seemed to love the small little coastal town that reminded him of England - filmed his movie "The Birds", often touted as the first "fantasy/horror" movie. 

... no idea why he was up there...
Bodega also, of course, has a small beach just north of town, and a lot of rugged coastline north of that.  I'd probably make the statement that, eventually, you get ill from all the picturesque little coves with quaint fishing villages in them as you drive up PCH. 

The coastline is rather beautiful, though, and weaving in and out of shores lines with trees (often redwoods) is fairly relaxing.

The Russian River
Also, there are occasional moments that stand out more, like crossing the Russian River.  I'm very familiar with this spot, as the resort town I frequent - Guerneville - is along the Russian River about 20 miles inland from this spot.  To the south-east is a small town called Sebastapol, along the Bohemian Highway, where a friend and ex-classmate of mine has a nifty little brewpub.

There are plenty of shots along the coastline; I'll just put some of the more interesting ones here.

About 30 miles past Fort Bragg, PCH leaves the coast for the last time(2) and joins back up with the 101, now the Redwood highway, in - you guessed it - the middle of the redwoods.  Robert Frost's statement definitely sprang to mind as we drove the winding road in the late afternoon:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

We reached the 101 just before 7 pm - still daylight at this time of year - and had to take a touristy detour.  You see, we had to drive through a tree.
Think thin

The Chandelier Tree is a pretty famous attraction here.  There's a similar one, if I recall correctly, up by Yosemite, but this one's near enough to the Avenue of the Giants that it gets a fair bit of traffic.  Yes, you drive your car through the base of the tree.  Yes, the tree is still alive.  It was a tight fit for my Eclipse - I certainly wouldn't try it with a full sized van - but we made it.

We then hit the 101 and drove north to the Avenue of the Giants.  Now, to be clear, parts of the 101 here are less "freeway" and more "twisty windy road", but since we'd spend almost 800 miles on twisty windy highway, this wasn't much of an issue.  The fading light was, however, and I wanted to make sure we had time to see at least a few of the giants.  Even impossible-to-find markers along the self-guided tour didn't dissuade us: eventually, we found them.
These are smallish sequoias.

When people talk about "big trees", there are three distinct varieties in California.  The Douglas Firs are more common, a pine tree that's still been known to reach over 350 feet tall.  However, the biggest are the other two: the coastal redwood, which have been confirmed to grow up to 380 feet (and stories tell of much taller) but are relatively skinny (only 26 feet across).  The other is the giant sequoia, which only grow to 200-250 feet or so tall but can have diameters in excess of 50 feet.
The canopy above

Redwoods - all types, including sequoias - have natural pest repellants in their bark.  Also, because the canopies are so high and light so dim at the base, not much grows between them other than other redwoods and low ferns or mosses.  The effect is that of a natural cathedral, with almost dead silence and a distinct earthy smell.

I always joke with people that California is known for excess: we have the largest animal that ever lived - the blue whale - living off our coast year-round, and we've got the largest organism that ever lived - the giant sequoias - living in our hills.  But, really, there is something otherworldly and ancient when you wander through a redwood forest - I often half-expect a Tyrannosaur to come stomping through.  The main response, though is best summed up by this last shot.
If you've never been, you don't know.
Sunset came up quickly, and we drove back down to Garberville for the night.  Next up, the last of the wine (or the wine road, anyway).

(1) Okay, so, nomenclature.  "Freeway" is just to distinguish from a "tollway".  There are very few toll roads in California.  Most of our major highways are freeways - in fact, I can only think of two tollways in SoCal, and both are optional routes that parallel freeways.
(2) Technically, the 101 goes back to the coast, but PCH as an independent road ends here.

Pacific Coast Highway - Day One

(All these shots and more, except the map, available at flickr.  Map courtesy of Google.)

So, when the Wandering Pom told me he'd be coming out to California at the end of May, I asked if he had any interest in taking a drive around part of the state since he'd be here for Memorial Day weekend.  He consented, and we had some discussions about what should or shouldn't be on the list.  What resulted was a 3-day trip, starting very early Saturday morning, that mostly followed the California coast and some of the more scenic routes.

So, some basic facts: California is about 800 miles and, at its widest, about 250 miles wide.  However, the shape of the state means one drives diagonally for most of the length - going up the 5 freeway, which runs the whole length of the state, is about 800 miles from the Mexican border to Oregon.  For you Europeans, the state is almost the exact same size as the UK.

However, the 5 takes the shortest route: straight up the central valley.  While that has its own scenery, a lot of that is through the Central Valley - which means literally hundreds of miles of farms and cattle ranches.  While important to the agribusiness of the nation (CA is responsible for something like 10% of the foodstuffs of the US), it's pretty boring.

Much more scenic are the coastal routes - namely, the 101 (which weaves a bit along the coastal mountains) and, more specifically, Highway 1 or the Pacific Coast Highway.  In places, Highway 1 and the 101 overlap, but for most of its length, PCH follows the contours of the state.  It's this drive that we took for most of its length.

What you see mapped out above is the first day's trip from Pasadena (my humble abode) to Monterey Bay.  In "real distance", it's probably less than 300 miles between the two; the route mapped out ended up being almost 400.

Santa Barbara Mission
We started out about 6:30 on Saturday morning.  The first part of the drive was just along the 101; at about Ventura, it "merges" with PCH (which comes up from Malibu; we'd been there for dinner the prior evening) and follow the coastline for a while.  Our first stop, around 8 am, was in Santa Barbara - since we were following the El Camino Real for this part, I thought we ought to stop by at least one mission.

Unfortunately, God apparently likes to sleep in on the weekends and the mission was closed until 9 am, so we didn't get to go inside.  They were, however, setting up for some kind of festival outside, including a lot of chalk drawings (none of which were finished).  Instead, we hit a Starbucks for some refreshment and got back on the road.

North of Santa Barbara, the 101 follows the coast a bit and then curves inland at Gaviota State Park(1).  About here is where PCH and the 101 split for a while, and so we took PCH - here called the Cabrillo Highway, which it was named for most of Saturday's trip - back west a bit.  I'd hoped to get to drive closer to Vandenberg Air Force base - they do a lot of test launches and such there - but we were stopped by a rather polite person at a gate and made to go back.  Oh well.

North of Vandenberg, PCH winds through the hills and some small towns, meeting up again with the 101 briefly at Pismo Beach (famous for its sand dunes); just past Pismo, we actually jumped off of PCH and cut across on Los Osos Valley Road (no bears were sighted) towards Morro Bay. 
Morro Bay as we approach

Morro Bay's a cute little town, known for quite resorts and foggy ocean views (as you can see).  This shot shows the large rock for which the town is named - mostly likely by Filipino immigrants in the late 1500s (yes, 1500s; Columbus wasn't the only sailor out there, you know).

How about a nice game of chess?

The town itself it a quiet little fishing and tourist village.  Most of the resorts are along the coastline just to the north, around the golf course.  The most famous is simply called The Inn at Morro Bay.

From Morro Bay, we again joined PCH and continued north, often cutting inland a fair bit before heading back to the coast.  This part of California is technically on the Pacific plate; while it's not being subsumed at this spot(and so rumors of L.A. disappearing under the sea aren't very accurate), the constant pressure and slip motion - as well as the motion of the continental plate shifting westward slightly - creates the mountains that not only form the Channel Islands but the hills and such along the coast.  California is, in a sense, defined by mountains - and their valleys: on the east, we've got the Sierra Madres that form the temperate barrier along with the Cascades (which are volcanic and of which Shasta, Rainier, Hood and of course Mt. St. Helens are the most famous; the Tehachapis that basically divide Northern and Southern California far more decisively than the cultural war between SF and LA; and tonnes of others.  The coastal mountains are simply referred to as the California Coastal Ranges.
San Simeon from below

In these coastal ranges, however, nestled a few miles north of Morro Bay above San Simeon Bay, is, well, San Simeon, the famous Hearst Castle.  Lambasted in Orson Wells' famous movie "Citizen Kane" as "Xanadu", the property is maintained by a trust(2) that actually owns most of the fields and hills surrounding it.  Unfortunately, getting closer involves a tour group and a lot of time we couldn't really spare, so this is as close as we got.

We got a bit closer to some other things, however.  Just past San Simeon is a fairly famous spot.  My mom says that, 20 years ago, it was just a dirt pull-out along PCH, but now it's a full-fledged parking lot.  And there's a reason why it's usually pretty busy:
They're not dead, they're resting.
This guy was making a lot of noise.

Elephant seals regularly relax out on the beaches below PCH. They're noisy and they're smelly, but it's one of the best viewing spots to watch them.  And they never seem to mind all of us gawking down on them.

Of course, they weren't the only wildlife there that didn't object to having people around...

These little guys (and gals) were everywhere.

Beyond that, PCH winds its way along miles - and miles and miles - of coastline up towards Monterey Bay.  There are basically no towns in between - I think we stopped for lunch as a little dive in Big Sur, which is a camp ground.  However, some of the views are impressive, so here's a few shots along the coast.

In Monterey, we hit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I didn't take my camera inside - there are some things that are better left experienced with both eyes.  I'll say no more on that, but if you ever have an opportunity to go there, you should take it - and plan a full day if possible.

After that, we just drove a few miles up the road to the hotel.  Dinner at a pub and lights out, because it was another long day of driving to come.

More in the next post, but I'll leave you with a photoshop I did of a photo I took with a caption from a friend on FB.

(1) I'll add a note here, because it came up in conversation.  In the US, there are two major groups that manage parks, the federal government (National Parks Service, NPS) and the state (Department of Parks and Recreation, DPR).  NPS only handles parks or locations which are deemed of national significance; coincidentally, NPS was founded in order to manage Yosemite National Park in eastern California around 1880.  The state handles most other areas, often in conjunction with private groups.

(2) An instance of DPR working with a private group to maintain a property.

World turning circles

There's a little black spot on the sun today...

(Taken with my D800 with the Nikkor 28-300 lens and 3 filters - UV, ND8, and Polarizing - at L1.0 ISO, 1/8000, and f36.)

(For reference, I was facing west, so north is at the right of the picture.)

West of the Moon, East of the Sun

Just back from the weekend trip. He who wanders should, at the moment, be wandering somewhere between San Francisco and Sacramento; all in all, we basically drove 1000 miles to get him on a train (well, plus a few extras). I'd consider it a successful trip, overall, with some minor issues here and there.

I'll get the pictures done and a more detailed post when I'm not just home from spending 12 hours driving (the 380 miles home that should have taken 5 hours or so ended up taking 7; yay for CalTrans).

For now...

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

With Confident Step

Semi-random notes. Got the camera. Yay! It's awesome. I've already taken some pictures with it, and they've turned out well. I do need to try a video, though. That's next. Well, I took a few videos on the same outing, but I haven't processed them yet. But I still want to try a video post.

Friend gets here Wednesday. Pretty much everything is in place, so no worries there. Going to be a long weekend, but should be a lot of fun.

Unrelated, and the reason I popped in: a friend posted on FB that her kitty (which has been on the long, slow decline) finally died this morning. Because I'm a total freak when it comes to many things, this made me think of Leaves of Grass, and Whitman's "So Long!" section at the end. I read it when I was probably 10; we found an old (turned out to be 2nd edition) printing of it at a library book sale and bought it for like 10 cents.

I have press’d through in my own right,
I have sung the Body and the Soul — War and Peace have I sung,
And the songs of Life and of Birth — and shown that there are many births:
I have offer’d my style to everyone — I have journey’d with confident step;
While my pleasure is yet at the full, I whisper, So long!
Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss,
I give it especially to you — Do not forget me;
I feel like one who has done work for the day, to retire awhile;
I receive now again of my many translations — from my avataras ascending — while
        doubtless await me;
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays about
        me — So long!
Remember my words — I may again return,
I love you — I depart from materials;
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.

That's as close to a eulogy as I think I'd ever like.

(Yay for happy thoughs!)

Strolling through the park one day

Blah, May already. Part of why I haven't posted much is that I was intending, by this point, to be doing at least a few video posts with my new camera. New camera is still on back order (which, since I really really want to have it with me for a trip in two weeks, is starting to piss me off). I can't say life's been boring. Let's see... I went on a date with a cool guy who seems to be one of those narrowly brilliant people, which is actually kind of fun: his specialty is something I have more than a passing interest in, so I don't feel totally lost, and yet there's plenty of stuff I can teach him. So, there's a give and take. We'll see if it goes anywhere, but for now it's a "no pressure" situation. I flew to San Francisco for an afternoon to hang out with some friends. That was actually a lot of fun: we went to the California Academy of Sciences. I took my current camera and got some nifty pictures. Also got to hang out with some on-line friends I don't see often (if ever). So, a fun time. Other than that, nothing terribly dramatic. As I said, a trip up the coast with some weirdo for Memorial Day, and then (I can't believe I'm saying this) it's only 8 weeks from today that I fly off to Maui again. Oh, today is National Day of Reason (some other people think it's something silly), so celebrate by being rational and reasonable. Even if it is a Thursday.

Underpants Gnomes Not Required

Step 1: Have good credit and $yyy money to spend.

Step 2: Get credit card offer from Company A offering free miles for signing up after spending a certain amount less than $yyy.

Step 3: Apply for and be granted free miles card.

Step 4: Buy Stuff(tm) work $yyy you were planning on buying anyway via the card.

Step 5: Pay off card prior to billing cycle.

Step 6: Collect miles.

Step 7: Let card sit on shelf for 12 months, then cancel card.

Step 8: Get new credit card offer from Company B offering free miles...

... You know, even as I'm taking advantage of the system, I know it's skewed horribly: those who have continue to receive with little effort, and those who have not struggle to get a chance. This is a pretty simple example; some might argue that something like "airline miles" is a trivial form of privilege. But my execution of this plan over the next few weeks is going to net me about 50k miles - that's enough for a round-trip flight pretty much anywhere in the US essentially for free. That means that I won't have to spend money to fly, which I can use towards other things (including more of this kind of activity).

(For the record, I'm modifying Step 7 a little: I'm actually going to use the card instead of my debit that gets me miles on the same program, since for 18 months I'll get double miles via the card and I can have it auto-pay from my checking account, thus avoiding any balance fees. Which just means even more miles.)

My parents have been doing this kind of thing for years; it's always felt a little weird to me, so this is the first time I'm doing it. However, the convergence of a few things - the offer at the same time that I'm about to spend exactly the amount they want - makes it too convenient to pass up. Plus, I trust myself a lot more with credit now that I did even two years ago.

Now I just feel weird because I'm exploiting privilege.

Not all who wander are lost

... just a quick thing.

Walked 6 miles yesterday. The funny part is that two of it wasn't intended. There's a park about 1.5 miles from my apartment, and I wanted to walk down to it, through it a bit, and back, which would have been 4ish miles. However, one of the neighborhoods was pretty cool, and then I walked across the Colorado bridge (which is gorgeous) - and it was only when I was half-way across the bridge that I realized I couldn't easily get to the park I wanted to walk through, which was almost exactly 250 feet below me. So, that led to walking down some side streets to get back around and finally to the park, and then back home.

With a brief stop at IHOP to show down on a cheeseburger and drink three or four glasses of water. Did I mention it was 80-85 degrees and sunny?

This morning, I put on a pair of pants I haven't worn in a month or so, and they're noticeably more loose than they used to be. The scale still hasn't shown much change, and I don't see any change around my waist, but I guess something's working as I'm headed in the right direction.

Anyway, back to work...


Leap day. So I'm leaping over most of February.

Got my tax return; $7600, though a big chunk of that goes to the SEP for last year (that's one of my retirement funds).

Booked my trip to Maui for my birthday.

Thinking about buying the D800.

Also seriously going to look into buying a bike.

Also also decided to start something that is probably a decent idea but we'll see where it goes: I'm going to put 1/3 of my take-home aside in an account with the intention of (hopefully?) saving up and traveling a lot when I'm 39. Like, the ideal plan would be to quit my job (or go on extended leave if they allow it), hit Maui for my 39th birthday, and then just travel around for a year, coming back to Maui for my 40th and then going home.

Yeah, I know. That's a "big deal." In fact, that probably passes "big deal" to "holy fucking shit are you kidding me??" kind of deal. I haven't told anyone; I don't know that I'll pull it off, or that I'll still want to by then, or any number of things. Four years is a long time.

But that's why I want to start now. Assuming I pull off the 1/3rd amount - and that's assuming a lot - that'll put me over $75,000 by the time I turn 39. I think that's enough to comfortably travel around the world for a year while still covering things that would normally be covered by my company (health care, for example). If I do any extra work on the side, that can contribute to the total as well.

Even if I don't go, I'll still hopefully end up with a chunk of money saved up. Which isn't a bad thing no matter what.

Anyway, on other topics, I'm noticing physiological changes from my workout routine: not as much as I'd like, but still noticeable. I'm giving myself until the end of March to notice a weight/mass change before I try something else: I've been doing this two weeks already, and while I see contour changes and certainly have noticed strength changes, there's actually no change on the scale or in body fat percentage. I also haven't seen any decrease in the one "trouble" spot I actively want to reduce (which is also where I seem to carry most of my fat). That's the reason for the deadline: if I'm not seeing any progress in the specific changes I want, I've still got a few months (all of April, May, and June) to try something different. I mean, I know how to lose weight, but I'm trying to convert it rather than just lose it: much harder, which is why I'm doing the test, but healthier in the long run.

We'll see how it goes, but I'm getting tired of protein supplements :)

Old Macdonald had a farm...

So, I joined a CSA. That's not a political group - well, not directly anyway. It stands for Community-Sourced Agriculture. The idea (if you're unfamiliar with it) is to get produce from local farms and growers, as well as (sometimes) other locally-produced foodstuffs. You generally pay a fee (usually $20-40 a week) and get a Box of Stuff.

This week's Box of Stuff has: apples (6, and they're really sweet), lemons (2), pears (7, bartlett type I think), arugula, collard greens, 3 "sticks" of lemongrass, a couple largish onions, a handfull of russet-type potatoes, a bunch of rosemary, what I think is a huge rutabaga, a couple of turnips, and an acorn squash.

I also got a dozen eggs and some uncured bacon added to it.

I have no idea what to do with most of this. Well, not really true - most of it is pretty typical. Things like the collard greens and arugula I'll probably put into a salad, and if nothing else potatoes make good hashed browns.

It's the turnips, rutabaga, and acorn squash I'll have to get creative with. But that's part of the point: I tend to be slightly unadventurous when it comes to day-to-day meals, so the idea was to end up with random things I probably would never have bought on my own to see what they're like. And I need to eat better in general, so the apples and pears are definitely great snack-type items (I had one this morning, with my breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast).

We'll see how this works out longer-term, but I think it's a fun way to change up the diet a little.

To-Do Lilst (Revisited)

* Pay off all debt (should be around February / March)
* Move closer to L.A. (April-ish)
* Visit at least one country to which I've never been - likely something in the Caribbean for my birthday
* Get back into my workout routine - I fell out of it with all the stress and traveling this last quarter

Well, #1 is a "go". I paid it all off, and basically just have "maintenance debt" now (a few hundred dollars that gets paid off as I go).

#2, done, if a little late.

#3, nope. The consulting job went way longer than it should have. So, still ned to work on that.

#4, since I was in the gym earlier today, I'd say it's done. It's off and on, but especially with the gym here in the building, I've been a lot more consistent. I've actually gone the last 6 days in a row.