May 13, 2005

Route 50 Road Trip: Day 13, California Finale

End of the line. Spent last night in a Best Western in the Soma district of San Fran. I thought about taking an evening wander through the city, but decided that I was pooped from fighting the rush hour traffic coming from Berkely. So, I stayed in and hit the sack early.

This morning I got up, packed, grabbed breakfast in the hotel (first hotel in which I've ever had to pay for the continental breakfast), and made it across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Muir Woods National Monument by 8:30 am.

Even that early, though, there were a couple of big troops of people: One of Germans who split up and wandered about in smaller groups; the other a bunch of senior citizens, all outfitted with packs and trekking poles, who chattered so loudly that I heard them 5 minutes before I saw them behind me on the trail.

Like other things I've seen on this trip, I can't begin to describe the giant redwoods and I don't think my photos fully captured the effect of them. They were probably hundreds of years older and three times as tall as any tree I've seen on the east coast. The trail I took was a loop that started out from the main area around the visitor's center, then worked it's way fairly steeply along the side of a ridge. Below and around the trail, redwoods and ferns predominate. After climbing 900 feet or so, it was interesting to be almost on a level with the tops of trees growing up from the floor of the forest.

Crossing over the top of the ridge, the trail passes out of the redwood forest into a meadowy, wooded section that would have overlooked the coast if it hadn't been so foggy that morning. I did get a glimpse of Mt. Tamalpais, though, to the north.

Back at the visitor's center after my hike, it was very funny to listen to the tourists chatter and take photos of each other with their arms stretched out in front of one of the nearby giants, and to think of how ancient these woods are. All of our petty concerns really are inconsequential in comparison. To borrow a section from Abbey's Desert Solitaire, (changing the desert references to forest, of course):

"How difficult to imagine this place without a human presence, how necessary. I am almost prepared to believe that this sweet virginal primitive land will be grateful for my departure and the absence of the tourists... Grateful for our departure? One more expression of human vanity. The finest quality of this stone, these plants and animals... is the indifference manifest to our presence, our absence, our coming, our staying or our going."

It's a great thing that someone was awed enough by this place to preserve it, so that a bunch of other people can now run around here being silly and acting as if it were nothing but an amusement park of big trees and tame chipmunks.

I'm always torn in places like this. I'm incredibly grateful that it has been preserved. And then, of course, I have to admit that the tourists are a necessary evil. If they didn't come here and gawk, this land would be lost to the damned developers, the redwoods would be churned up, and these fern-covered hillsides would be turned from an amusement park into high income 'estate homes' or worse. As disruptive as they are, the tourists actually help to protect the place. If only they could be more respectfully awed and less chatty...

But enough with my ranting. Time to get off the soapbox and steer the Pony back down to San Fran... I may have time to hit the Haight before heading to the airport.

My hat's off to whoever put in the roads leading up to and back down from Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods. The longest, tightest, curviest stretches of road I've ever been on. Too awesome. I ended up doing some cruising around the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate National Recreation Area to get some photos. More great curvy roads along with the terrific views. Stopped and wandered around Hawks Hill, where the military had built an overlook and bunkers to protect the bridge. The bunkers, etc are now defunct and in ruins, but the hill's apparently well-known as a spot for migratory bird-viewing. Got to see the moon-rise in the middle of the afternoon when I came around a curve in the trail and caught a young couple who had apparently mis-judged the solitude of the area. The view was definitely gorgeous (not the moon, though, it was a tad pudgy), but I have to admit I was most excited over getting close-up photos of a pair of ravens that were also wandering around that afternoon. (Post-trip note: The raven photos are not very good quality, so they're not posted here. Ravens are, unfortunately, very fidgety models.)

Back across the bridge in San Fran, I took a quick spin around Golden Gate Park to the Haight-Ashbury section of town and found my favorite sort of lunch spot: Rockin' Java, a very funky, punky coffee shop on Haight Street. Spinach lasagna, salad, jasmine lemonade, and a cool atmosphere in which to relax before the stress of air travel.

At the airport, waiting for my flight after sadly parting company with the Pony and having been picked out for 'extra special handling' at the security check-in, I'm reading my notes and going through my photos, anything to try and re-live this trip that ended way too soon. In retrospect, there are places where I wish I had slowed down, spent more time and been fully present in the experience. And there are places I skipped over that I now wish I hadn't. But that's the thing about a road trip-- You just don't know what's ahead. Taking the time for something now could also mean missing out on something even better somewhere else. There's no predicting, and dwelling on hindsight only takes away from the experience. You can't regret or bemoan any parts you didn't enjoy or any thing you missed. You have to get something out of whatever you do experience, whether it's good, bad, or mundane. Besides, with any luck, those places passed over could very well form the springboard for a future trip (At least that's what I'd like to think). In the meantime, these notes and photos are my way to hold on to this particular 3,537 mile experience for as long as possible.

"...So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going......"

-- Jack Kerouac, On The Road (Too bad for Kerouac that he wasn't able to get his hands on a Ford Mustang... Click here for many more images of Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands.)

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