Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Well, the trip is history now; It was a fantastic trip.

One flawed measure of how good a trip was: whether you'd like to do it again. In this case, I don't want to repeat it, at least not for a while. But that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Perhaps I'm not eager to go again because it was a little too crowded in Southern California for a hermit like me. Or maybe there was too much effort (driving, parking, camping, buying ice, etc) to want it to be a regular occurrence. I've done many trips that were enjoyable, but which I don't want to repeat. Doesn't mean they weren't fun.

Despite all the nice people I met, and great experiences I had, there are a few minor negative things that unfortunately stick in my mind:

  • The family who'd bought a big meal at McDonalds, and when they were done, just threw all the bags and packaging out the car window.
  • The guy that drove into a campground, parked his truck crookedly by the ranger station so that it occupied three spots, and left it running while he spent 15 minutes talking with the ranger.
  • The campground partyers that transformed enjoyable camping into just getting through the night.
  • The parents who would constantly scold their kids for trivial things, when they could be having a wonderful family experience.
Luckily, those few experiences were outweighed by the many positive aspects of the safari, including:

  • Getting together with old friends and new
  • Sitting comfortably on the board on warm clear water waiting for waves
  • Getting that happily exhausted feeling after three hours of intense exercise
  • Lying in the hammock in a sleeping bag reading at night
  • Editing photos and putting together the blog in an air-conditioned library

So, in any case, that be the end of this blog -- hope you enjoyed it!


Trip Statistics

Total Miles Traveled: 2,321
Equivalent to driving from New York City to Salt Lake City!

Total Days: 16

Average Miles per Day: 145

Weight Gained: -3.2 pounds
That is, I lost 3.2 pounds during the trip.

Total Trip Cost: $841.74

Category Cost Cost/Day
Camping $361.50 $22.59
Gasoline $177.13 $11.07
Restaurants $94.06 $5.88
Groceries $112.27 $7.02
Supplies $96.78 $6.05

Total Trip Cost $841.74 $52.61

Normally I would have spent $105 on groceries at home, during a similar period, and $55 on gasoline, so the true trip cost could be considered to be around $682.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Day 16 -- Moraga to Home!

Sunday, Aug 26, 2007

I was on the road at 7 AM, and when the 100% blue skies met the northcoast fog bank, I knew I was almost home.

At 1 PM I pulled into our garage for the end of a perfect surfing safari.

Stay tuned for trip stats (distance, cost, etc.) and a profound and introspective epilogue.

Day 15 -- Santee to Moraga

Saturday, Aug 25, 2007

Because it's a little warm in the desert, I left the door to the tent open. Picture Alfred Hitchcok's The Birds. That's what the ceiling of the tent looked like when I woke up, but with mosquitoes instead of birds. No bites, though.

5:30 AM, with a big day ahead of me, so it was time to brush my teeth, take down the tent, and be on my way.

I caught an interesting sunrise on the way to Highway 5:

I didn't hit any traffic in LA -- this time it really was due mostly to planning (passing through on Saturday instead of Friday). But I saw two 10-mile traffic jams going in the other direction.

Once through the "grapevine" (the name for the route through the mountains north of LA)

highway five turns into a straight-arrow jet stream heading north at 70 MPH. The nice thing about not drinking caffeine much is that when you need to stay awake, a cup of coffee really does the trick. A slice of Butterfingers cream pie doesn't hurt either.

I had five George Carlin CDs to keep me entertained, and I made good progress. Here's a rest stop next to the California Aqueduct. Note the strips of towel tied on to keep the rack straps from buzzing at high speed.

The temperature here was 103 degrees, but with the A/C (which had fixed itself and could now be turned on or off), it was a pleasant drive. In fact, I considered pushing on all the way to home, but wanted to stop and visit with friends Tom, Berit, Sam, and Sven in Moraga.

I arrived there at 5 PM, and Tom and I collaborated on a dinner of butternut squash, corn, homemade applesauce, and spaghetti with a garlic, carrot, celery, heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, Parmesan, and onions sauce. All accompanied with a delicious bottle of J Lohr 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

One more day to go.

Day 14, Part B -- Lost!

Fri, Aug 24, 2007

I vow that from now on, I will never try to find something in a large and unknown city without first purchasing a detailed road map for that city.

My mom had lived in a house near El Cajon between about 1975 and 1987. I decided it might be fun to find it and take a few pictures.

This house was out in the desert mountains off by itself. I called my 91-year-old mom but she couldn't remember exactly how to get there. I'd visited a few times, and remembered that it was on a dirt road off of either Dehesa Rd. or Harbison Canyon Rd.

I mapquested Dehesa before the library closed at 5 PM, but I didn't have paper and pencil with me (and I didn't want to leave the computer to go get some in the car). So I memorized the route that I'd take. Here is the mapquest map I worked with in the library (click it to be able to see the street names):

So, you can see that all that I had to do was find Main street, drive east to Jamacha (pronounced "Hamasha"), and turn left on Dehesa. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. I now know why. Take a look at what the map would have looked like had I zoomed in a little more:

You can now see that Dehesa Road doesn't intersect Jamacha. Instead it turns into E. Washington Ave which intersects Jamacha. That is, the planners of the streets in El Cajon decided to give two names to the same street. Great idea, assholes! I've seen this in many cities. Is it really so hard for planners to realize that giving two ends of a street two different names will cause problems for hundreds of people?

So, not knowing this, I got to Jamacha, but failed to find Dehesa. I drove a mile or two, then backtracked, waiting in traffic for long traffic lights [longest traffic light of the trip, 4.5 minutes in Malibu], and dealing with NUTS (see earlier posts). Same thing in the other direction.

So I moved to the plan of last resort: asking for directions. This involves stopping at a gas station or convenience store. Note that people who are good at giving directions, and have a good mind for streets and locations generally don't work at gas stations and convenience stores. This does not stop them from sounding extremely confident.

The hit rate for finding someone who gives clear and accurate directions is about one in five. To give you an idea, at a gas station in El Cajon, the man behind the counter came out onto the street with me. He pointed to a traffic light. "You see that light? That's Bradley street. Turn right there, and go all the way to the airport. No, left." So I get back in the car, and go to that traffic light, and it is not Bradley street. Neither is the next street. Should I turn anyway or find Bradley? It didn't matter anyway because I couldn't remember whether he'd said "left" or "right."

You say to me, "Hey, Al, you're on a trip, you're retired, you'll find it eventually. What's the big deal?" But there's another aspect to this: the gate for the campground (in Santee, another town) gets closed at 9:00 PM. If I don't get back by then, I'll have to hike in, grab the tent, and find a hotel, or pack in my sleeping bag and thermarest, and leave the car on some dark, deserted road.

After asking for directions three times, I decide to buy a map, but am unable to find one. Finally, someone gives me good directions, and I find Dehesa. There are some more twists and turns that I won't bore you with, and at 6:30 I give myself a time limit. If I don't find the house by 7 PM, I'll give up and head back to the campground.

I finally locate the road on which the house was located -- now paved. But there are so many new houses, I can't find my mom's house. None of the houses looks like hers. I go to a likely prospect and take a few photos. At 6:57, on my way down that house's driveway, I see a man working in his yard. I stop and tell him what I'm looking for. "What's your mom's name," he asks, and when I tell him, he says "This is it. This is the house!"

This house was a prefab. My mom moved it into place in two pieces. Wondering why I didn't recognize it? Here's the house in approximately 1975:

and here it is today, taken from almost the same angle:

Joe, the man who bought it from Mom has, for 20 years, been busy adding to it, and making major changes to the landscaping. He hopes to be all done in a year or two.

Here's another series to show you the change in the view, 1975 versus 2007 (I realize this may be a little boring to most of you -- sorry). Those pointy trees in the background helped me find the general location of the house.

The changes in the "inside" of the house are more dramatic. I put "inside" in quotes, since the walls have changed such that some things that used to be outside are now inside. Again, 1975 versus 2007:

Here's a picture of Joe and his lovely wife.

He invited me to stay for a drink, and I would have enjoyed that, but there was the matter of the campground gate, and I'd already stayed longer than I should have. So after a few more pictures, I headed "home."

I now had to find my way to the campground in an hour and a half. When I got to downtown El Cajon, it was dark and poorly lit. My sense of direction had completely abandoned me. I criss-crossed the city, stopping for directions five times. Since seconds counted, I'd have to make a snap decision as to which person at the convenience store (not the one behind the counter) would give the best directions. One stop was necessary because the road "Woodside" turned into "Mission Trails." Same problem again. Hell on wheels, huh?

Believe it or not, the breakthrough came with a scholarly-looking toothless gentleman on a bicycle, and I finally got back to the gate with 35 minutes to spare.

Time to unwind and go to sleep. The plan was to wake up early the next morning and drive the 9 hours to the Bay Area. Looking for a good way to induce insomnia? Here's one: tell yourself "If you don't fall asleep right now, you'll fall asleep behind the wheel tomorrow, and crash into a tomato truck."

Despite that, I fell asleep before too long.

It helped to have a dry sleeping bag. A few nights earlier, I'd hung the sleeping bag on the line, but because of some weird dew-point phenomenon, it was wet at 8 PM even though the skies were clear. It was somewhere between damp and sopping, and even "wearing" it inside out did not help. I dreamt that I was on a trans-Atlantic solo sea voyage, and a wave had come into the cabin (I made that up).

Here's a picture of the El Cajon city planners:

Friday, August 24, 2007

Day 14 -- San Diego to Santee

Friday, Aug 24, 2007

I've been weighing the options of staying or leaving. I might have started home today, but that would put me in L.A. rush hour on a Friday, so I decided to surf and camp one more day.

This is the thirteenth day in a row surfing. That may be a record that, for me, is never broken.

After a leisurely breakfast of yogurt and toast dipped in hot chocolate, and some shopping for ice, milk and other supplies, I headed back to the same beach for some more surfing. The waves weren't quite as good today, and there was a little territorial vibe from the shortboarders, but it was still nice. A little sad to take that last ride of the trip.

Time to find a campsite for the night. I wasn't easy at all. Lake Jennings in El Cajon was full up. I decided it was quicker to just drive to another campground rather than wait on hold for the reservation system, but that one (Santee Lakes) was also full, despite having 300 campsites (only 9 of which are allowed to have tents).

But the third one was the charm (Mission Trails) because this one, despite having only 42 spaces is dry as a desert (actually it is in a desert).

Here's my campsite:

It may look desolate to you, but when you've been driving around for hours trying to find an available campsite, it looks like a dream spot.

Day 13 -- Oceanside to San Diego

Thurs, Aug 23, 2007

My Internet buddy had recommended waking up at 4:30 to beat the traffic into San Diego, but I slept in until 5:30, broke camp and was off by 5:40. I found that I could get a single breakfast burrito at McDonald's for only $1. The place was actually closed, but they'd forgotten to lock the door, so they let me have my breakfast.

Traffic on Hi-5 was actually not that bad, but I turned off to check out the surf on the way.

This was the point in the trip where the car and I started to wear out. The A/C in the car broke, but luckily it broke so that it was always on -- that won't need fixing til I get back home. On my side, my shoulder was sore, my ankle was sore, my feet had lots of cuts. I'd see places to surf, but it just seemed too cold and too far to walk, so I kept driving. For example, the waves looked pretty good at Cardiff-by-the Sea. But Al-by-the-highway would have had to walk down a big set of stairs to become Al-in-the-Sea.

Another driving problem was buzzing. The soft rack that I have is great, and it's been well-behaved so far. But on this day it started buzzing. That is, the wind makes some strap vibrate against the roof -- loudly. When it happens it's as loud as a trombone in your ear.

Usually, when this happens I just stop and twist some straps, and it stops. This time I just couldn't locate the source of the problem. I made more than 20 stops (not making this up) trying to fix it. That is, find someplace to stop, twist strap or tie towel around some part of the rack, then start again. It wouldn't happen until 50 MPH, so there was no way to test without driving. Finally a combination of ripped up towel, moving the board, and putting some part of the rack upside down did the trick.

This was a day on which I had no camping reservations, so I also checked out campgrounds.

Here's the line that formed at 6:30 AM for finding out whether there were any sites at St. Elijo state park. Even though the site was fully reserved, these people were waiting until8 AM to see if there was anything available. I decided not to wait.

So I continued on, and soon arrived at the goal of this entire trip: Mission Beach. It was the goal because this was the beach at which I first surfed. I spent a summer in San Diego in 1970 visiting my sister, and surfed at this beach using my brother-in-law's board.

The sun came out, the water was warm and clear, I got some good rides so all the aches and pains were forgotten. I surfed until I was exhausted, and then got a Subway sandwich and ate it on the beach.

After lunch: Butterfingers Cream Pie. I recommend a trip to McDonalds (or was it Burger King) to get one of these. Fortunately, they neglected to include this dessert on the chart showing fat and calories.

I also took a quick trip past my Sister's old house, so, for her benefit, this is what it looks like now:
Next, it was time to find a campsite. I knew that Sweetwater Regional Campground had a few spaces, but I was too cheap to pay the $5 reservation fee, and drove directly there.

Now mapquest is great when you can print out the map, but I don't have a printer with me. Without going into details, it took a long time to find it, but they had a number of sites available!

This actually turned out to be the nicest campground on the trip. It was on the edge of a steep hill and shady with a wonderful breeze. Since one's not allowed to tie things to trees, it took a bit of figuring to get my hammock installed.

Here's the view from my site.

The campground was exceptionally quiet and peaceful. Unfortunately, that will change soon since they are building a new freeway right next to it.

I spent some time talking to another lone camper who I will call "Crazy Steve." Crazy Steve was sitting in the cab of his truck which had no fewer than three six packs of Coors on the dashboard. He asked if I wanted an ear of corn and I said "Sure." When it was done boiling, he said "This is how we fix our corn in South Carolina." He opened a brand new tub of margarine, and submerged the half ear of corn into it. He then twisted it around until most of the margarine had melted. It actually didn't taste that different from corn on the cob that only had a little butter on it.

Steve had a TV plugged into the campsite hookup and sitting on the picnic table bench. But it was so light out that you couldn't really see the picture.

Crazy Steve was apparently smart, but something was a little off. He had been an architect, and had designed 143 banks around the state of California. He's been getting $1,000/month disability checks from Farmer's Insurance for 20 years for arthritis. Although he does indeed have arthritis, he says that the checks continue because Farmers has so much money and they don't bother to check.

He stays at campgrounds exclusively, and does house painting during the day.

Back at my campsite, I read in the sleeping bag in my hammock (it had actually gotten pretty cool) into the night. I've had good luck with books this trip, finding some that I've really enjoyed. So far I've read:

How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie). This book, originally published in 1936, isn't quite what you'd expect. Highly recommended.

Cold Paradise, Stuart Woods. Pure entertainment reading, but totally engrossing. You an always count on a satisfying ending with this author.

L.A. Dead, Stuart Woods. Fun to read this book, since a number of things happened in Malibu and other places I've been on this trip.

Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane. Leahane is the author who wrote Mystic River. I just started this one last night, and it's great so far.

One other note about this campsite, to qualify the "peaceful" comment. It is right under the final approach pattern for San Diego airport. I dreamt about airplanes all night long (not making that up) bu slept well.

So ends Day 13.