Road Trip Report: Day 14, July 25

I thought that today’s update would be about San Francisco, and it is…but it’s so much more than that.

Because today, I think I figured a few things out.

This morning, I took the historic F-Line streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had planned to take a cable car, but the concierge told me that it can be an hour-long wait (since they’re more of an attraction than a transportation system), so I decided to skip it. The streetcars are also pretty interesting though, because the F-Line uses cars from all over North America that were retired in other cities and then sold to San Francisco (including ones from Toronto).

Unfortunately, my trip out to Fisherman’s Wharf wasn’t great, because the car I was on was packed in tight, and with every stop we gained more people. Strangely, they let people enter at both the front and back doors, even though you can only pay up front. So, at every stop, a few people would get off of the car, and twice as many would try to shove in through both doors.

Eventually I got off at Pier 1, the Ferry Building, where I had a quick lunch before walking to Pier 15. That’s the home of the Exploratorium, which sounded pretty cool. However, when I got there I didn’t actually feel like going in. So after checking it out quickly, I kept walking to Pier 39, which is filled with a variety of interesting stores, mostly of the souvenir-selling variety.

And boy, did I not enjoy it, because those souvenir shops exist for a reason: tourists. There were giant tour groups everywhere, and it was too much. I liked Fisherman’s Wharf, and might enjoy it in non-peak season (if there is such a thing), but not today. So I got out of there after maybe an hour of walking around.

Crowds exhaust me. Some people are energized by big groups of people, but I get weary. I don’t like to get in the way of other people, so I spend a lot of time plotting paths through them and dodging people who don’t see me. And since I’m small, people often don’t see me. Also, I suspect that a lot of people just assume that others will get out of their way, so they don’t really think about where they walk. That makes it hard on the more courteous folk.

The F-Line ride back to the hotel was much better, but in the end the streetcar wasn’t much different from a bus. Still, it was a solid way to get around, particularly since the Hotel Whitcomb is right on the F-Line route.

I got off of the car a few blocks early to check out the retail district around Union Square, and that’s when I confirmed something that I had noticed last night: San Francisco has a lot of homeless people.

I don’t know if they have more or less than any other city, or if it’s just more obvious, but there were a lot of them, both at Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf. I wonder if they frequent the tourist areas purposefully.

There were also a lot of black guys in suits, often with fedoras and canes. They seemed very friendly, but they didn’t seem to be doing anything other than walking around downtown. I don’t know what their deal is.

Oh, and there was an old lady with a Dora the Explorer backpack who walked by me taking pictures with a fake toy camera.

Add it all up, and I guess I just didn’t feel comfortable in San Francisco. And to be fair, I think it’s me, not the city. I’ve always felt that I’m better off in smaller communities, and this trip has proven it. I always feel more comfortable in small cities and towns, and I think I always will.

Anyway, my exit from San Francisco would involve going over the ā€ˇGolden Gate Bridge, but before that I went to Crissy Field at the base of the Bridge, so that I could get up close to the ocean. With some distance between myself and the downtown core, I started to enjoy my day.

I was smart enough to get out of town before rush hour, so my trip across the Bridge was uneventful and quick. It was also chock full of tourists, so I’m glad I didn’t try to go up on it…I would have gone crazy.

Then I got to Highway 1, and that’s when my day went from just okay to amazing.

Highway 1 takes you up the west coast, right along the water’s edge. The views were spectacular, but I didn’t take any pictures–I was too busy loving my life. It was as if the roads I drove yesterday at frustratingly slow speeds were meant to prepare me for what I’d get to do today. The highway climbed up a hill, and that was fun. Then it started to descend toward the ocean, and that was amazing. Better yet, the people with whom I was sharing the road knew what I was there to do, and they kept pulling over at the turnouts to let me by (it helps that there are lots of signs instructing slow drivers to move aside). This continued for miles and miles…up hills, down hills, at sea level. The road just kept twisting and turning, and I had more fun in my little sports car than I ever have.

And just so we’re clear, this wasn’t about speed or aggressive driving. It was about the handling of my car, the anticipation, and the feedback I got from the road. It was about my little sports car doing what it was built to do.

I stayed on Highway 1 up until Sonoma Beach, but felt that I had gotten enough of the shoreline road, particularly as I realized that it would take me late into the evening to reach Eureka, California. So, I followed my GPS (after ignoring its constant attempts to redirect me off of Highway 1) and took Highway 116 to Fulton. That’s where I decided to change things up.

Eureka was my destination when I had planned to go the length of Highway 1 along the coast, but now it didn’t make sense. So, having learned something from my previous evening drives, I set my GPS for Oregon with the goal of seeing how far I’d get and then calling it a night.

That turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in 14 days. I had to go east to connect to Interstate 5, and I had gone far enough north that I suddenly found myself in Napa Valley, California’s wine country. During a quick dinner in Calistoga I decided that my goal would be Redding, California, which I could reach by a reasonable 10:30pm. I was actually tempted to stay in Calistoga overnight, but doing so would mean a long drive tomorrow to reach Crater Lake. Also, it wouldn’t be any fun doing a wine tour on my own, particularly when I’m driving.

Pushing on was another good decision, because I was treated to another great driver’s road: Highway 29. More hills, more corners, and very few cars on the road, since it was early evening on a weekday night. I loved it as much as I did Highway 1. Maybe more. Check it out on Google Maps to see what I’m talking about.

Eventually I got to Interstate 5 and settled in for the long haul down the freeway. I’m amused that I crossed most of the states in leaps and bounds, but I’ve barely covered any ground in California, particularly with the very scenic route I took today. No complaints, obviously. I’ll take a twisting uphill climb at 50km/h over a fast freeway at 110km/h any day of the week.

And that leads to the big thing I figured out (besides confirming that big cities aren’t meant for me).

Up until today, I don’t think I knew why I was doing this, other than having an opportunity. For some people that’s enough, but I think I was struggling with it a bit. I like having a purpose, and while I’ve enjoyed my freedom, I’ve also felt a little aimless at times. I suspect that’s part of why I’m tiring of the trip.

Heck, I didn’t even know why I wanted to go to San Francisco. It just seemed like a good idea when I was laying the groundwork for my trip.

I thought that my Miata was just a fun way of getting across the continent, though definitely not the most practical way. I knew it was part of why I’m doing this–I just didn’t know that it was the main reason I’m doing this. But when I think about it, my car took me to Manitoulin Island and to Lambeau Field. I drove it across Nebraska in one evening and slept in it, then took it up and down Mount Evans the next day. Wyoming followed, and so did the Salt Flats in Utah and the desert in Nevada. And not once has my car let me down, despite my constant (and failed) attempts to run the fuel tank down to fumes. It took me to visit friends/family in Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, Denver, and eventually Vancouver and Victoria. If the mountains and forests of Yosemite and and the twisting hills of California were a reward, then the reward was as much for my car as it is for me. Maybe more.

And so, I feel like today’s drive across California fulfilled my purpose. My car will take me to Crater Lake and Portland, and then it will take me…home.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Russ