West Coast USA – Ground Zero

It’s 02:12am (UK time) on Tuesday, and I’m writing again! Didn’t expect to be doing this, but my body and head are totally out of sync and can’t agree on what time it is, and I realised how much I enjoyed reminding myself of what I’d done/not done that day, how I felt, whilst writing my little blog/diary of the day.

I’ve felt like I should be getting up now after a big sleep. Except, I ended up having to bail from work a couple of hours early because I was that knackered. I’d a monstrous headache, overslept my alarm, which for “regular readers” is inconsistent with my sleep pattern, and was feeling sick-tired.

After getting home, I dozed for a while, and felt way better afterwards. Likely going to pay for that, though.

Although I managed to get in to work for (just) before 9am despite sleeping through my 7am alarm, it was heavy going, tbh. I think I may need to dock my wages today – can’t say it was my most productive of days, but I did wade through the 600+ emails, if nothing else! Truth is, I know I’ll make that time and contribution up before Friday.

After the power-nap, turned out it was a good time to do a bit of tidying. Jane had been doing the post-hols washing, but even though Andy Hazeldine (our builder) has very kindly given us a couple of days off to recuperate (and also treat his lovely other half on her 50th – Happy Big Birthday, Mrs H), we decided to do a bit of shifting of “stuff”.

Being honest, we’ve a house full of “stuff”. And nowhere to put most of it. I reckon if we threw 60-70% of it away, we’d never notice, and have a less cluttered house. Its definitely not a “show home”, but it is a wonderful home! And apart from a 12 year break, has been my home since I was 4. It was much more a show-home when it was Mum & Dads house!

However, that cluttery vibe is why when I turned up at the kitchen planning showroom with a full 3d model of my ideas, I explained I wanted as few horizontal surfaces as possible:

“Anything you can put crap on, avoid. Because well put crap on it, basically”. Comprehensive design brief given!

Can’t express how chuffed I am at how the building work is going! It’s really exciting, and after spending 25-odd years restoring my old Beetle, I appreciated that the very best moment is when things look their worst. Counter-intuitive, I know, but from that point on, you’re just going to see the vision realised and everything just gets better.

I’ve masked off the living room and we’ll do what we can to keep that the place to be, whilst the dining- and kitchen room are “remodelled”!

Other packing and tidying has meant that Charlie now has his dream bedroom! A big telly, plumbed in to his XBox One, a decent Cambridge Audio amp, Mordaunt Short speakers, and a Denon Dolby DTX Audio Visual Amp/Distributor! We’ll never see him again!

The bugger has all my hard-worked-for, and some inherited-from-Grandad A/V “boys toys” for now, but they’re not staying! That’s for the new layout downstairs!

One thing that I did realise, is that whilst away, the lads made such good progress on the building work, they ended up doing some of the inside work, which mean shifting and dust-sheeting the Dining room.

On our return, and having found Arthur, my Father-In-Law, tucked under the dust sheet, propped up by Janes piano, I realised we probably should have moved his ashes before we went away!

Which then led me to look for Scooter, our first dog, who resides in a little urn, garlanded by two of her dog collars (we’re not morbid, honest). Not found! I must confess to thinking that the “vase with lid” may have been accidentally discarded.

Panicking, I searched the room, under dust sheets, and other potential homes, but couldn’t see her. (Jane had nipped out, so was unavailable for comment).

Shit! What a conversation this was going to be with Andy: “Hi Pal, thanks for all the work, but did a vase get broken, and spill out a load of “dust”? If so, where’d it get put?”

Thankfully, on Janes return, she reminded me she moved that upstairs, when we sold all the dining room furniture!

After tea, I rigged my laptop up to the downstairs telly, and started reviewing my raw GoPro video from the hols.

Wow! Firstly, there’s loads of it! Turns out I took over 1,700 photos and 300 video clips! Glad I don’t have to send them off to SupaSnaps for printing! Can you imagine the bill!

Secondly, the video does actually give a better sense of the scale of some of what we saw. Helps that the GoPro has such a wide angle lens, I guess.

Thirdly, it’s probably best to avoid me for a while, especially at our house, otherwise you’re in for a marathon bore-fest of holiday footage!

It was quite a shock to see just how much we’d done, and how many things we’ve seen. We are so lucky to have been on that holiday, and despite Charlie not fully appreciating it at the mo’ (understandably), I’m sure he will in time. A big “thank you” to Lindsay Hinchliffe, for her help in arranging, booking and getting us great prices on the flights and car-hire!

It’s now well after 2am, and I’m starting to feel marginally sleepy. So, I’ll call it a night, set the alarm for 4 1/2 hours from now, and bid you a good evening!

West Coast USA – Day 22 and Au Revoir!

Apparently I snored like a trooper last night. No-one has said so much but the thunderous looks I’ve got off a tired-looking Jane lead me to feel that is most definitely the case.

I woke around 6:30am, showered under the 12” “Rainfall” shower-head, packed up my gear and had a coffee on our balcony, savouring the last of the Santa Monica beachfront sun until the others stirred.

We got rid of all of the crap that had accumulated over the three weeks: emergency water supplies from before Death Valley, now-stale cookies, Oreos, 10 bags of crisps (“chips”) that no one likes (they were in a selection box), and other such rubbish. I pity housekeeping, having to clear all that lot up! Actually, I don’t. Not at $450/night by the time state tax, tourist tax, Trump tax, and just shy of $40/night parking had all been added on! It was a lovely, modern hotel though and in the best spot, hence the premium.

At Check-Out, we had a “discussion” about the additional $200+ that had been charged as a holding deposit, and confirmation that this would be credited back.

We’ve been using a “Revolut” debit card whilst here. A card that Jane had pre-loaded with dollars at a far more favourable rate than using a GBP card and an app that shows you instantly when any charges or credits are levied against it.

But it’s a right old setup here, and one I don’t fully trust, tbh. You (or they) swipe or insert your card, they then print a receipt, which you then write on, adding any tip and reconfirming a total, and then manually sign. At some indeterminate point in the future they will then punch in the total number and charge your card. Open to abuse for sure, so some careful reconciliations to be done when we got home.

The car was delivered to us in good time today, so a final sweep for anything ours, and we set off for LAX, and Alamo Car Hire Return.

Only a half hour drive, with surprisingly little traffic, so we found the return place without issue, and we’re guided to our drop-off spot. The guy did a quick walk inspection, signed the docket, and asked about any issues. I explained the manual override key doesn’t work, and that because of this, we had ended up paying for a jump start. He signed this off and told us to go see customer service to sort out.

So we did. The guy serving us was having none of it, and was insistent that we paid the $70. So we became very American and kicked up a fuss. And got the $70 credited back!

A shuttle bus from there to Terminal

B, the bags dropped off without issue, and even strolled through security. Totally different experience from the last time at LAX which was being refurbed at the time and was hell on earth!

The plan was to look for brunch at the airport, but having checked the food court and seen the queues, we bailed and headed off the to exec lounge instead.

The KAL Lounge on Level 5 had only just opened (12pm-8pm) so we did have a short queue to get in., but it was worth it! Must confess, it’s easy to get used to comfy seats, decent free WiFi, a relaxed atmosphere and the complimentary food and drinks.

Fair play to the fella that was making the most of the “pour your own spirits” section, as I counted 4 “large” Absolut Vodka Bloody Mary’s in about 10 minutes! And I t was only 12:20pm!

Our flight was a 3:30pm depart, so we had plenty of time to kill, and so got good value out of the lounge entry.

At around 2:40, we left the lounge, had a quick mooch in the shops, and then started the long walk to Gate 159, the farthest one away.

We were one of the last to board our 747-400, without making anyone wait, and got reasonable seats three in a row, on the starboard side, with seemingly pleasant folk around us (and no p#ssed-up lass from Leeds, this time).

Pushback was bang on 3:30pm and we taxied out, getting airborne around 20 minutes later. It is a big, big airport, after all!

This 747 must have had a more recent overhaul than our outbound aircraft, as the entertainment system was miles better – a better screen & movie selection.

It was going so well, until food was served and we ended up being last. Which meant the chicken curry had run out, and we ended up with a veggy pasta. Given Charlie doesn’t like cheese, that meant he had a buttered bread roll!

I watched “Ready Player One”, which I thought was really good, and then a really ridiculous “Liam Neeson as an ex-cop, with his family in danger”, called the Commuter. It passed time. That’s my movie review for that one!

I then watched Detroit (John Boyega and Will Poulter) about the 1967 civil unrest and in particular the alleged murder of three black men by police officers in a motel. Frightening that this was a very real storyline.

Like Charlie, I didn’t get any sleep, although Jane seems to have done well!

Back into UK time now, so 9:37am and we were in a holding pattern 8,000ft over London, touchdown at 9:46am and at the Gate at 9:51am! All nice and quick!

A potter around T5, after a bit of a queue through security. And then after just short of 2 hours, we went to gate A22 to board the little Airbus A319 that was going to get us back up to Manchester.

There’s always a lot less enthusiasm for air travel when it’s just to get you home rather than away for your hols, and especially so when you know that 18 hours from now, you’ll be setting off to work!

Just the little matter of baggage reclaim at Manchester and the taxi ride home, both of which went without a hitch.

Now back home and waiting for our dog to be repatriated from his Auntie Shiela’s, and able to reflect on the hols, before the Arsenal v Man City game starts in half an hour.

I’ve already cracked open a bottle of my super-matured homebrew Amber Ale, and raised a glass to our holiday, and our new build out the back! Cheers, Andy, it’s looking brilliant!

We’ve all thoroughly enjoyed what has been a holiday of a lifetime! We may not have made Yosemite, but it didn’t end up detracting and we’ve had a right old adventure! Jane and I still find Death Valley a magical place, but Zion is right up there as one of our most favourite places on the trip. But then there’s Bryce, and Gand Canyon, and Sedona, and Meteor Crater, and Venice Beach, and…well, you get the idea!

So that’s me done for blogging for a while now! Been really surprised at the number of folk that have been reading them, and especially those that have confessed to even enjoying reading them!

I’ve really just been writing them for my own pleasure, so it’s great to hear that it’s entertained a few others as well. Thanks for the messages, we had a bloody fabulous time!

Tara for now!

Chris, Jane & Charlie!

West Coast USA – Day 21

Blimey! It was 7am before I woke. The joy of one too many Double IPAs, methinks. Either that or it was the second-hand Ganga that Mrs downstairs was smoking, that I’d inhaled!

So I’ve no idea what sunrise was all about today, which makes a change, although I did stay up late to take some night photos, in my defence.

It was a lovely morning, though. Clear and warm. Temps are back up into the high 20s and mid 30s down here.

No breakfast included or on offer at the Ocean View Hotel, so once up, showered, dressed and Pokemonned (!), we went down to get the car.

I bloody knew it would be a ball-ache, getting the valet-parked car back. We’ll need to take the 15 minute wait into account tomorrow when we leave for the airport!

When we finally took delivery of the car, we’d decided that Griffith Observatory was our destination of choice today. Which is also a “kills two birds with one stone” jaunt, as you get a decent view of the Hollywood sign from there, without a two hour trail hike!

Its a Sat-Nav half hour drive, which translates as an hour of LA driving. The traffic is everything that everyone who’s been describes. Slow!

We drove up Western Canyon Road, realised parking was going to be a major issue, we’re ushered past the observatory, through a tunnel, and then down Eastern Canyon Road! To not far from the bottom before we found a space.

Thankfully there’s a 50c (fiddy-scent?) “Dash” bus that has a stop opposite the Greek Theatre so we took that up rather than hike.

Apparently we came here on honeymoon, but I have not one single recollection of that. Must have only had eyes for my beautiful new, poodle-permed wife.

Anyway, it’s an iconic landmark, just ask James Dean, who has a bust up here (done by the same bloke that did Fulham’s Michael Jackson, and THAT Cristiano Ronaldo one), after making the place famous in those scenes from “Rebel Without A Cause”.

There’s a funky “timepiece” in the Observatory. A big brass ball, hung on a steel wire, acting as a pendulum, with an electomagnetic ring up near the roof, that means it never stops. The ball appears to swing and ever so gradually move in a clockwise direction. The funky bit is that it doesn’t – it was one of the first experiments to demonstrate that the earth rotates. Simply put, the pendulum always swings in one direction. The Earths movement around its axis, shifts the points of reference. I like stuff like that!

There’s also a really nice tower/like sculpture of some of the most famous ancient astronomers. But more wonderful, were the hummingbirds that zapped around the flowers at its base. That’s another bit of natures biomechanics wonderment at work! (It’s a crap photo, but look for the slug-like dangle just off-centre, and imagine something beautiful).

The bus back down to the car, and a drive back through Hollywood, crossing Vine, past the (very long) Walk of Fame again. Only today it’s even better. Some renegade protest group have stuck a load of vinyl “Trump Stars” to the pavement, overnight, given that the original one keeps being vandalised.

Down Sunset Boulevard, past the art-deco Sunset Tower Hotel (where John Wayne once lived in a Penthouse with a cow, for fresh milk, obvs!), the Viper Room and the Whisky-A-Go-Go clubs, and on to Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Bloody hell, there’s some dosh swilling around down there!

We then headed across to Venice, just a couple of miles south of our hotel, and managed to find a parking spot on a side road. Better than the $18+ parking charges, so long as the car is there and drivable when we get back! Oh, btw, there are canals…

A one block walk to Venice Beach, and we all got a surprise. Yes, there’s a pretty-much constant smell of marijuana (if you can’t tell, I’m a prude, and not a fan), and there are some pretty sketchy looking folk around, but we all really took to it.

Earlier in the day, I’d managed to suss out the elecy scooters, having registered with a competitor to “Lime”, called “Bird”, who accept UK driving licenses now, so as soon as we were on the boardwalk, we hunted one down using the app.

Three “broken” ones before finding one that worked, but after that, it was fab! I just wish we could have hired three, but despite an obvious lack of regard for the rules (Police turn a blind-eye), technically Charlie was too young. So we got one, and all shared it.

It was actually a highlight of LA/ Santa Monica. We loved the scooter experience, especially down Venice Beach.

I also loved (but would have loved even more if I could have joined in), the scratch basketball games going on, on the many courts. Proper “White Men Can’t Jump” moments!

So much so, I borrowed my scooter off Charlie, and whizzed the extra 2/3rds of a mile up the road, to where the court was, in one of the opening scenes of the film, even though it’s now only recognisable from the pink/turquoise hotel in the background.

We had a really good hour or so on the beachfront. Eventually turning back, with Jane Pokemoaning, me limping with my gammy Achilles, and Charlie in his element, electric scooter!

After passing “Muscle Beach” where the best thing I saw was an accolade to the original Hulk, we headed back to the hotel, carefully following the official “Tsunami Evacuation Route”.

Clear the car of all the accumulated “detritus”, ready to hand back tomorrow, carting most of the crap back to the room, and then out for tea.

A quick lap of our block made us realise we had previously headed out in the wrong way, anti-clockwise and you get to a point where you turn back and end up at Cheesecake Factory. Clockwise and there are loads of really nice looking bar/restaurants.

We ate at Plan Check Kitchen, just off Santa Monica Boulevard. (Go on…now say that again in the style of Sheryl Crow).

Burger for me, Squid for Charlie and Jane, and we’re done for the night. We had a bit of a blow out on our last night, although we may get even more value out of that, given that I ate lots of coleslaw, and had a pint of (deliberately) sour ale.

It may meant the California Clean Air act is broken overnight!

And on that note (a deep, low one), Night, night, all!

West Coast USA – Day 20

Not unsurprisingly, I woke at around 4am. Looks like another sunrise photography session for me!

I dressed, grabbed the camera gear and tripod, my fleece hoody, and set off the very short walk to the beachfront. We’re just one small block of the main Oceanside road, so a couple of warm-up photos of the streets, neon signs and passing cars, whilst it was still dark, to get my settings sorted, and then across to the Marina.

A little known fact is that Santa Barbara is the birthplace of commercial diving, with much of the early technology pioneered here in the very early 60’s and tested in the waters around the marina.

The Maritime Museum, where we ate last night is now the home of the Purisima Diving Bell, the first lockout diving bell, that allowed divers to swim in, breathe mixed gas “air” and then continue diving. It’s been restored and sits outside the museum for all to see. Even at just after 5am.

Sadly, the sunrise was somewhat ‘flat’ due to the thick higher level mist, but I got a couple of on photos, prior to the light picking up. Not great, but they’ll do.

An early morning meander around the nearby main streets, an encounter with a hummingbird, (wrong lens and not the light to take a good photo), and then back to the hotel.

I was back well before 7am, so all was still quiet. I showered, razored my head again (it’s staying “Yul Brynner” for now), packed up, loaded the car, and published yesterday’s blog. Oh, and completed my 836th consecutive Solitaire “Daily Challenge”.

Two crap cups of “Hawaiian Filter Coffee”, and eventually there was some movement from the others.

Breakfast was a continental affair, in a small and overcrowded, but very nicely furnished lobby area. A slightly better coffee and a couple of cream cheese toasted bagels, and we checked out at not long after 9am. We did much better setting off today!

A drive around Santa Barbara, and it very Spanish-inspired architecture. The courthouse is amazing! Apparently. I missed the turn. And the Mission is also really impressive.

Charlies didn’t get out of the car. And his dad of using the DSLR is also over. I’m realising he’s probably just a tad young or maybe & more likely, it’s just a generational thing. I suspect his highlights will be getting home to play Fortnite, and getting to hotels with good internet so he can chat with his mates and watch Netflix/YouTube stuff on his phone. Shame, but I hope he does end up realising some of the stuff he’s seen is really quite impressive!

Sometimes I feel the world is just too connected. Virtual is great, but reality can be way more mind-blowing! (Yes, I know that’s two-faced when I’m writing these “blogs”).

Because of that, we took the roads back to the coast and headed East/South East and down to Los Angeles & Santa Monica, where we’re staying for the last two nights.

Last two…wow. It’s been an amazing hols. Sedona, and Meteor Crater seem so long ago!

But, all good things etc. And anyway, we’ve all reached the end of our lead. We’re all missing our Toby and are desperate to see him. Even though we know his Aunty Sheila and Jude will have made a home from home for him, we can’t wait to get back to him.

After around an hour-forty, we entered LA on the 101, and headed for the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre to check out the stars, handprints and footprints.

Charlie wanted to see Donald Trumps Star. We now know why! It’s continuously vandalised to the point where they’ve fenced it off and covered it up. So people just graffiti it, instead!

A quick, expensive sandwich for each of us, in the Hollywood & Hymen Mall (I think that’s what it was called), and then off to wherever our next destination would be. I’ve abdicated responsibility now. I’ve got them this far, now it’s time for a break from logistics.

Apparently that meant we are going to the hotel but need to drift for an hour before checking in.

I tried to drive to the parking lot, that was that early scene in White Men Can’t Jump where Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) first meets Sydney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and tries to hustle him like Rev. John Squares did every time I “D’d” up on him.

Parking is horrific, even though the courts are actually a parking lot, and I gave up. For now. Perhaps a pre-dawn visit is in order!

Back to the hotel and it’s one of those bloody valet park larks. “Your rooms not ready, sir. Leave your bags in the car, and here’s a ticket. Call us when you want your things and we’ll bring the car ‘round”.

That’s all too “Hello, Mr Airey. When you need a wee, just press this button, and someone will bob around and help you – at their convenience. Oh and by the way, it’s $40 a night to park in the hotel you’ve already paid a premium to stay at.” No thanks, I’m a control freak, I’ll have you know! Good grief, I’m a grumpy old bloke!

We went for a stroll on the Santa Monica Pier, which we’ve paid a premium to be opposite.

Tbh…meh! Looks nice now mind, in the dark, all lit up. I suppose we did see a mariachi version of Donald Trump, though. So it made up.

After that back to try to check in again. This time successfully. Brucey bonus was they’d not moved the car, so it was that bit easier to sort out our luggage and get in to the “pier-view” room.

A quick pit-stop and out to find somewhere for tea. I know Jane and Charlie had wanted to try the Cheesecake Factory, and having seen the menu was actually way more extensive than cheese and cake (it’s the future).

Up the lift/elevator to the rooftop

Terrace but then seated in the vast interior space. Where we sat. For around 20 minutes before we were able to get someone to actually come and serve us. Another 5 minutes and our drink was served. Well, not our drink. Someone else’s. So that was removed. Another 5 and our drinks did turn up. Via another server. Apparently our last server was “detained in the bathroom”. I’ll be honest, I’m glad they changed servers – that didn’t bode well.

We did eventually get food. Via another, and very jolly server. And it was really good. Pizzas for Charlie and I, and pot-stickers for jane with a bowl of dip with cheesy greeniness and nachos. Ask her, I can’t remember what the greeniness was. Veg of some description.

We finished, rejected the ‘check’, reminded them that there was an offer of “the drinks are on us, to make it up to you” (which it didn’t), and settled once corrected.

From there we had a plan.

It turns out that Santa Monica, like San Fran, have been taken over by a “scourge”, a “public nuisance” – shareable electric scooters! They are everywhere. Including all of the places that state categorically “no Scooters, it’s the law”. As is riding without a drivers licence or helmet, or parking in designated spots.

It’s a lawless Wild West here! Nothing has changed in a couple of hundred years. They may be iron horses of sorts, rather than the crapping, hay eating ones, but they are everywhere.

I think they’re fab. Look fun. Remind me of being a kid all those hours ago. i don’t even think it needs “legally” regulating, as is now happening. Users just need to be more responsible. Attitude not Acts of Law. Oh, well.

Charlie and I were having some of that, though! Ok, so you’re supposed to be 16 and hold a driving license since last week!

Which is where it fell apart. We downloaded the app, recommended each other and gained $5 in credit for doing so, and scanned a bar code of a “Lime” scooter. Side one of drivers license, check! Side two – not recognised. It was a no-go for launch.

And I almost missed one of the best sunsets ever. Photos only from iPhone, not DSLR, but still, you get the gist.

Back to the hotel via a local store with a few bottles of “Rebel Rouser Double IPA” for me, and a bottle of Coke, a Sprite and two bags of Skittles for the Sugar Twins.

That’s game over for today. I think it was a hard-fought draw. Not really my thing this place so far, but will try and stay open-minded for our final day.

Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory are on the draft agenda. Let’s see what transpires, though!

Night folks! Well, not quite, it seems!

It’s 10:30pm, and for the last hour or so, the summary is as such:

    People on balcony below, repeatedly smoking (forgive my naivety), huge blifters. The lass in the hotel bathrobe is full-on trollied!

    I can now clearly determine if it’s a police siren or a non-ObamaCare private illness-taxi (we call them Ambulances)
    I also know the difference between drift-race, nitrous-oxide-pumped, Japanese Street race cars and “American Muscle” by their very loud exhaust notes.

On that exhaust (and siren) note, I bid thee farewell!

West Coast USA – Day 19

Lying here in bed at 9:26pm, after our best meal of the hols by a country mile!

We’re now in Santa Barbara, so wandered down to the harbor [sic] front, a block down and west.

We tried to eat at the place recommended by our host for the evening, Ben, which was to try the Brophy Brothers Bar/Café, but with an hour wait, we bailed and went next door to the Waterfront Grill. Seated almost immediately, we ordered drinks and perused the menu.

On the way down, which I’ll cover shortly, I asked two questions:

  1. Best accommodation so far (with two to go)
  1. Best meal (with three to go)

Answers to 1) we’re pretty unanimous, the last few nights at the Hyatt Regency Monterey, and Zion.

Answers to 2) we were also pretty unanimous – “We haven’t had any”!

To be fair, not true, as we had a great Italian meal in Page. But many evenings we’ve just not either needed or felt like having a “nice” meal. We also agreed that sometimes the portion sizes are just off-putting, leaving us to have starter or “snacky” things.

We made up for it tonight, though! Charlie had an amazing Burger – ground-steak, medium-rare, and he reckoned it was top-two lifetime Burgers!

I had to try a small cup of their “award-winning” clam chowder, but followed this by their special of Shrimp Linguine.

Meanwhile, Jane pulled no punches and went straight for her all-time fave, a whole Maine Lobster tail. Served plain-grilled, with a baked potato, scooped and re-filled with added cheese and spring onions.

The meal was phenomenally good! And weirdly cost about the same as last nights thoroughly dreadful meal. More fool us!

It’s a massive harbour. Most are relatively small/medium “pleasure craft”, but there is still a pretty big commercial fishing industry here, albeit, not on a “mass” scale. I’m hoping for a nice, slightly misty, but not foggy early morning. I could get some interesting pictures then.

So this morning we all very belatedly got up, even me – it was almost 7am when I showered, packed, and cleaned and then loaded the car.

That late start was going to cost us later. It’s a hefty drive today, albeit down one of the most scenic roads in the world. It’s 151 miles door to door. Which google and Sat-Navs will tell you is a 2h38 trip. Absolute nonsense. For lots of reasons.

We left Monterey on Highway 1, and immediately hit the traffic jam caused by roadworks near Carmel. We darted off and meandered through Carmel and then Carmel Heights. Bloody hell, those properties are stunning!

We then got back on “PCH” (read yesterday’s for background), and travelled the 55mph road, like everyone else at around 30-40mph. And stopped at nearly every turn-in, even though it was misty.

It’s part of the attraction actually. The sea mist blankets the ocean, rolls onshore and up the steep hills as far as it can and then rolls back, just like the sea is doing below it. Simply fluid dynamics, plus orographic uplift, plus the moist adiabatic lapse rate, kicking in. But we know that. Charlie was unimpressed.

Lots of stops later, we got to Ragged Point. This is the point where TomTom wanted me to turn around, drive back to Monterey and take an entirely different route, to move 3 miles up this same road.

The reason is that the road around here got washed away in a massive landslide, about 14 months ago, and they had to not just rebuild the road, but invent and build a new route, slightly higher up the steep slopes.

TomTom freaked for a while and then readjusted on the other side. Now we could actually pay attention to her (it’s a female voice) and follow her lead to the Franciscan Inn, Santa Barbara.

Next stop was a funky one! The Elephant Seal viewing point. Just off the road, there’s a beach. And it is jam-packed with male and female elephant seals. Those bulls are beasts! Massive and right feisty! I know it’s all to do with the ladies and being an alpha male, but their behaviour was akin to the Bamboo Club in Hazel Grove on a Saturday night around midnight!

After another “while”, the road kicks inland and you drift away from the coast. By now, we’d been driving & sightseeing for around 4 hours, so Hearst Castle may well be brilliant, but we were happy to see it from a distance.

We did carry out a brief and minor detour, to check out Morro Bay. We stopped, had a quick look around, realised that the place to eat seems to be Giovanni’s Fish Market And Galley, which had a queue outside longer than Anthony Scaramucci’s term at the White House. (My attempt at belated ‘topical’). It looks a funky place, does Morro Bay. We’d spend time there.

Back on Highway 1, or had it become the 101, by then? Not sure.

Next was Pismo Beach, but we were having a bit of bother by then. The traffic was horrific. It was now 4:40pm and rush hour had kicked in big time. We were averaging around 20mph. Not good.

So by the time we turned off to take a look at Pismo, in reality, we just drove through very quickly, and got back on the Highway and into the traffic jam a couple of miles further on. We didn’t see enough of Pismo to form an opinion, sadly.

After that, the drive became a chore. The traffic didn’t abate, and all the delays meant that we were looking at close to 7 1/2 hours between hotels. Not a great day for anyone, especially Charlie. Sorry, lad.

We finally arrived in Santa Barbara at around 6:30, having spent the previous hour, driving through fields of wine-producing vines, and estates (well, one) of monkey-loving, affected pop-stars with lots of personality anxieties. Neverland Valley Ranch in Los Olivos, was “MJ’s” home to Bubbles, and sleepovers with his friends, some of whom happened to be minors, allegedly.

Ben checked us in to the Franciscan Inn. He’s very, very good at his job. Bearing in mind we were all a tad frayed around the edges after our drive, he was really welcoming, funny, and usefully informative.

After a good chat about the World Cup and Man City (he’s a Spurs fan from Tunisia), we threw our bags in the room and headed straight out for something to eat.

Which I’ve already told you about. But it’s now 22:54. So, I’ll call it a day. We really, really do need to be out earlier tomorrow!

I can only hope! Night folks.

West Coast USA – Day 18

The extra, extra day in Monterey. Trouble is, it turns out we are all worn out! At one point today, we nearly turned around and came back to the hotel for a nap!  Maybe we should have, but I’m glad we didn’t.

After an early night last night, it meant I just woke earlier than usual, after my customary 4’ish hours sleep. So from around 2:30am, the usual pattern followed (awake, doze, awake, fidget, “bugger this, I’m getting up”), although I did manage to get the “Day 17” blog out with my particularly early rise.

By 7am, I’d had two cups of coffee, read a few articles (“bricklaying for beginners”, a Santa Cruz travel guide, and one on effective carburation of an air-cooled VW engine by Gene Berg), and then completed my 834th consecutive daily-play ‘win’ on Solitaire. OCD has a place…

With the world set right, I then decided I use the pool facilities. Swimming shorts on, I opened our sliding patio door and flyscreen and took around 12 steps forward before letting myself into the pool area.

It was overcast and very cool, so much so, the pool was steaming – I reckon it was around 11°C air temperature.

The water felt lovely and warm, so a few laps up and down, and a few widths underwater got me moving. It was very relaxing, and I was able to completely ‘zone-out’ for a while, focusing on nothing but the water, the temperature and not drowning.

I then moved into the jacuzzi which was comparatively scorchio! 10 minutes of that and whilst relaxed, I was overheating. A dash back to the room, for just after 10 past 8, and thankfully Jane and Charlie were awake, so some gentle ‘chivvying along’ got us to breakfast at a more reasonable time today. Scambled egg on toast, topped with smoked salmon from the buffet for me. As a heads up, the three buffet breakfasts are around $85/day, so I’m glad that’s covered for our three days, at no additional charge!

Given it was overcast and there was a sea fog, we set off for Carmel-by-the-Sea, where property prices are a snip compared to those a mile or so away on 17-Mile Drive.

You could either rent a quaint little house for $12,000/month, or go the whole hog, and spend between $1-4 million and just buy one. They are lovely though – some look almost like hobbit houses, they are so cottagey!

A walk around town sated the shoppers and “Po-Go’ers” (Pokemon Go’ers) amongst us. I was less enthused, being honest and it was noticed. Even a walk up to Clint Eastwoods old bar, the Hogs Breath, didn’t make my enthusiasm cup flow over. I’m just knackered again! We had a pint in there when we came last, but it, like Carmel as a whole, seems just that touch more touristy, even if they tourists here clearly have fat wallets.

Having seen enough artisan shops and local artist galleries, we got back in the car and pottered along the scenic drive to shortlist our holiday home purchases. Honestly, it wasn’t the $1-4mil price tags that stopped us, we just didn’t see anything that quite met out requirements, otherwise we’d have got one for us, and one that friends could have used!

From there, I was given “free rein” on where next. I had had it in mind that I didn’t want to drive south, as we will be spending the next two days doing that, so I did a “180” and headed north on the “Pacific Coastal Highway 1” (PCH, for short). Hence my reading up on Santa Cruz earlier. None of us have been, and there’s a beach from boardwalk amusement park with old-school fairground rides and wooden roller coasters. For any 80’s film-buffs out there, it’s also where the comedy/horror film “Lost Boys” was filmed.

After around a 50-minute drive through acres of Brussel sprouts and strawberries, all being picked by those nice folk that will do a hard days work, those that Mr “POTY” Trump wants to build a wall between, we arrived at the sat-nav destination. Except I’d plumbed it in wrong and we ended up at very nice harbour, which would have been lovely to mooch around, if we had another day. Five minutes of added time later and I rescued a point, by getting us to a parking meter near the Boardwalk.

Despite us only having enough silverware for 100 minutes of parking, we put the last coin in as Jane and Charlie were walking away from the car, and headed to my pre-planned, “unexpected” attraction.

As we got to the eastern entrance to the boardwalk, I mentioned that the bridge to our left was allegedly the one out of Lost Boys scene. “You know the one where the train goes over, and Keifer Sutherland and the other vampires hang below?”. With a relatively loose grip on accuracy, I then explained the scene that would be more memorable to Jane. “You know the one where the kids are crossing and the train comes and the almost have to jump off the side?”. Not that that is from Lost Boys, or anywhere near here, its from “Stand By Me”. Still…

Anyway, the ploy/manipulation worked and both Jane and Charlie, walked across the railroad bridge, with the very large gaps between sleepers, and nothing but river below.

I did remined them that we needed to make sure we got across before the train came, but fair play to them, they took that very calmly and pottered across. Up until the midway point, where there is a missing sleeper and a gap much bigger than the rest.

After a slight hesitation, we all went across, and made it to the other side. Charlie and I then walked it back, whilst Jane chose the footbridge to the side.

All good fun, and we’re all less sleepy for a little taste of adrenalin.

Right! On to the Boardwalk! It was really nice meandering through the busy-but-fun amusements. It felt very “No(rthern) Cal(ifornia)”, and laid back. Although the donuts were pretty “in your face” big!

Charlie decided that he only wanted to go on one ride, and that was the historic wooden roller coaster, the “Giant Dipper”, putting us in that elite category of 60-million riders since its 1924 opening!

It was great! Short, but fast, and rickety, where probably two rides are never the same as it shifts around so much! We both really enjoyed it and are very glad we had a go!

Back to the car after a quick game of “totally annihilate Charlie at AirHockey” (Competitive Dad on Tour), and we decided to head home. As we walked back, I pointed out the train that had just arrived, and laughed about how we were lucky it hadn’t arrived an hour earlier, otherwise, we’d have been on the bridge and had to jump off.

It was then that their expressions gave away the fact that they thought I’d been joking when they walked the bridge. No wonder they were calm.

We hadn’t decided to head home via 10 miles of traffic jam however, which added a good half hour or so to our journey. Given traffic was so slow, and our car seems to have a hole in its fuel tank(!), I decided once again to fill up with fuel.

This Gas Station was manned by none less than the “spitting image” of Jackie Chan. Honestly, that’s not in anyway a lazy, racist comment, he did look a lot like Jackie Chan. It was when he smiled, in particular. Which he did, as he took almost $100 off me, for just less than a full tank of Regular! Wipe on, wipe off, my arse!

Back onto the slow crawl, which eventually got moving, occasionally even getting close to the speed limit (65mph). We toyed with just going back to the hotel but decided to eat at Fishermans Wharf. Touristy? Yep. Value? Unlikely. A “done that”? Definitely!

It was bloody freezing walking from the car down the pier, and only otters playing and a few sea lions barking helped take our mind off what cold feels like. Something we’ve forgotten until now.

We ate at an “OK” place, Clam Chowder was good enough. I chose fish and chips because I anticipated it being poor, along with most other things I fancied, and that was the cheapest of the things I was unlikely to enjoy. Which was the case. Charlie however made the best decision, having the Clam Chowder served in a bowl of made of bread!

What was brilliant though, was our view. We watched a big boat pull in, that had clearly been out “Whale Watching” and was full of people looking way to eager to get off! Out of around 100 people that walked past our window, none had a smile on their face, at least two looked medically frozen, one lady was clearly having a “right pop” at her partner for taking on such a “goddam’ awful, freezing, seasick-ridden trip”, and the rest all looked very, very cold!

Blimey, I’ve right wittered on today, and we didn’t even do much. Sorry about that! I’ll sum up.

From there, we came home for the last night here, and I wrote this diatribe!

I’ll call it a day, and catch up tomorrow with our trip down Big Sur to our second of three Santas, Barbara!

Night, folks!

West Coast USA – Day 17

Today was a very laid back and relaxing one. Sort of! Not difficult when this is the view from the patio!

I woke at my usually early 3:30/4am mark, and tried to doze back off. At 5am, I gave up, opened up my phone, connected to the pretty good WiFi and checked up on our building work.

We’re having an extension built, and the work started the Monday after we left, which may sound scary, unless you really trust those doing the work. I do and I’ve (currently!) got a really good relationship with our builder, and he knows I’m more than a bit OCD with regard to the detailing of the build.

That said, I’ve not worried or stressed once, as I’ve been kepy up to date with progress, and been sent regular messages and photos of progress. Its been going really well, and I’m delighted with how the work is progressing.

When we have had anything like half-decent WiFi, I’ve also been able to log in to my CCTV system at home, and take a quick look at whats been done. Its that final bit of reassurance, not that it’s been neeeded in reality.

I had one query today which may have been from the fixed view on the cameras, so I dropped Andy a WhatsApp message. As ususal, its me trying to be too involved, with only one perspective, literally, and Andy sent photos almost immediately that gave me a better understanding. Happy days!

There was one aspect that probably needed a quick call, but as it was 5am, and I was lying next to a very asleep Jane, I postponed that one, until I nipped out of the room. A quick catch-up, a better understanding of progress on my part, and its all good!

As seems the case at this point in the hols, getting Jane and particularly Charlie mustered and out is becoming a harder task by the day. We eventually went for our breakfast, but hit peak service, so had to hang around with a pager, until we were “buzzed”. The complementary buffet-style breakfast was brilliant! Really nice food and a huge selection!

Once I’d finished and the others were finishing up, I nipped to reception to check out of room 408, and immediately check back in to room 408. Its because we ended up with three separate bookings. Only took a minute or so, so no real inconvenience.

From there, we got in the car and drove the 8 minute journey to Fishermans Wharf, Cannery Row, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we had decided to start the day.

After parking up, we set off towards the Aquarium, although the “retail” lure was effective, and my Shopper co-travellers took their time. As they should. They’re on holiday.

I on the otherhand had realised that I was in a foul mood, and had little patience today. Yesterdays drive and a lack of sleep, the likely cause. I warned the others that for no particular reason, I was a bit of a black cloud.

We had to queue to get in to the Aquarium, but it wasnt for long, and we got in pretty smartish, in reality. However, it was heaving! Really busy, and very difficult to stay together or even see some of the exhibits, displays and aquaria.

I had my “GoPro On A Stick” with me, and more than once I considered using it as a mallet, on one or two of the younger tourists! I really was in quite a foul mood!

Its actually very good, despite my demeanor, and we did manage to get to see everything eventually, the highlights being the Jelly Fish and the Sea Otter enclosure, and then seeing them outside in the wild.

From the Aquarium, we headed back to the car and decided to drive south and do the “17 Mile Drive”, which is a drive of 17 miles (duh!), along a private road (its a $10 fee), that meanders around the Pebble Beach peninsula, and takes in some fantastic views out over the Pacific, and the associated wild birds and sealife. The water is quite nippy, though.

Pebble Beach also happens to take in one of the worlds best and most famous eponymously-named Golf Courses (not that I know anything about that game), and on 17-mile Drive, there are some of what must be the most expensive properties in the USA, if not the world. The houses typically sell for around $30+ MILLION, so just out of our price range! I’ll settle for our extension for now.

A little “play” stacking a few of the pebbles at Point Joe Vista, just to freak out some of the other tourists, and stops at many of the amazing viewpoints, many of which, even if you’ve not been, you may recognise, as they are that well-known. Probably the most iconic is the Lone Cypress.

We stopped off at a little cove at Cypress Point Lookout, and spent 15 minutes or so watching a Sea Otter play, just out from the coastline. It was feeding, so was on its back, with a rock placed on its belly, and lay there smashing shellfish open on its “belly-rock”, and occasionally spinning over to rinse away the left-overs. They are very cute, and very easy to watch!

We eventually got towards the last section, around 6:30pm (at this early evening time, the quality of light had been fantastic, btw). We decided to go back into Monterey and eat at one of the many highly recommended restaurants.

We parked on a meter and pottered back down Cannery Row, and decided to give the Cannery Row Brewing Company bar a try. 72, yep 72 draft ales on tap. We could be here a while! And Jane may have to drive us the 8 minutes back!

Although we didn’t eat in one of the more obvious seafoody places, the food and service here were brilliant, and decent value as well, bearing in mind its prime location.

We all had their exquisite Clam Chowder (just enough, and not too much bacon, and nice and thick), and I went for CRBC Burger, medium rare, which was fabulous. Jane had the Fish Tacos and Charlie had their Pulled Pork ‘Sliders’ (three mini brioche-bunned burgers). The first beer I had was an absolute stunner, my fave so far, and from the brewery down the road. The Alvarado (Negredo?) Street Breweries “Double Dry Hopped Mai Tai-P-A”, was grapefruity, hoppy, and crisp. Yes, please! My second was a recommendation from the server, who suggested the Ballast Point Brewing “Aloha Sculpin”. Although $10.50 plus tax, plus tip, makes it a $14 pint (ouch!), it was also very good, thankfully!

Once finished, we paid up ($92 plus tip, including the drinks) and headed “home” to the Hotel. The sat-nav played up again on the way back, repeatedly locking up and saying its out of battery, even when plugged in to the charger, which created a few minor hassles whilst driving, but we got back without any real issue. I think the 54 degree heat from Death Valley has cooked it, tbh!

Speaking of temperatures, it has been quite a shock arriving here, as we’ve gone from being used to high-30s/low 40s with occasional levels of stupid-hot over the last two weeks, to arriving at the coast, with its fog, to temperatures as low as 12deg C. That’s positively freezing by our standards. But also confusing, given that if you’re in the sun, its also really warm (mid/high 20s).

We got back to the room, and I tried to write this blog, but ended up with my head on the keyboard, I was that knackered. Its now approaching 6am and I’m written up, whilst the others sleep, snore and speak (Charlie holds conversations in his sleep, probably about that bloody Fortnight game).

I’ve now got some sorting out of photos and videos to do, as I’ve run out of space on cards, sticks and hard disks, I’ve taken so many!

After I can get this lot up, I think a mooch around Carmel and a little taster of Big Sur is on the cards for today, so I’ll catch you later!

West Coast USA – Day 16

If yesterday was “strange”, todays was frustrating, yet humbling.

So, if “Plan A” was to stay at Yosemite Half Dome Lodge for two nights then travel the 180-or so miles to Monterey, then its fair to say, that didn’t work out.

  • Plan ‘B’: Drive over Tioga Pass, stay at Yosemite Half Dome Lodge for one night then travel the 180-or so miles to Monterey for an extra night
    Result: Yosemite Closed
  • Plan ‘C’: Drive over Tioga Pass, through Yosemite and stay beyond the park for one night before travelling to Monterey
    Result: Tioga Pass Closed
  • Plan ‘D’: Drive over the Sonora Pass (Highway 108) and stay beyond the park for one night before travelling to Monterey
    Result: Sonora Pass Closed
  • Plan ‘E’: Drive over the Sonora Pass (Highway 108) and stay in Monterey for an extra two nights
    Result: Sonora Pass Closed

So we went with Plan ‘F’. And what a crappy plan that was. With no other choice left, 8 1/2 hours and around 375 miles of driving later, we arrived at the Hyatt Recency Resort in Monterey. I am knackered.

I woke in time to subscribe to a free 7-say trial of ESPN+, which happened to be showing the Charity Shield game between Chelsea and Man City. Once we had picked up the silverware (2-0, Aguero for both), Jane and Charlie were up and about.

Although we got up at a half reasonable time, it was only to realise we were all feeling a touch of altitude sickness, something Jane and I experienced before.

Charlie however wasn’t expecting this and his light-headedness and queasiness meant he thought he needed to chunder. This led to a delay in (another very basic) breakfast and checking out.

We filled up with more exorbitantly priced fuel, to the tune of $100 for just less than a tank full, at exactly 10am, according to our receipt. When we set off, we were still on for Plan ‘E’ & the Sonora Pass.

As we drove up the 395 out of a still very hazy and smokey Mammoth, we wanted to quickly call in at Mono Lake, to show Charlie this massive, weird expanse of high-saline water, that has towers of salt growing out of it.

It also has a ridiculous amount of flies that gather in huge swarms on the ground, and when they move, they create their own black/grey cloud.

Just as we turned off to park at Mono, there was a Matrix sign above the road that read:

120 – Closed
108 – Closed
Seek travel advice

We know about 120, the Tioga. We didn’t know about 108, the Sonora Pass. Our hearts sank. We had got our heads around a 6 1/2 hour day, broken by a stop at the Goldrush Town of Columbia. What the hell does this mean to our journey, we wondered?

Google, TomTom and Waze concurred, and suggested that our only option of getting to Monterey at anything like a reasonable time tonight was to go over the Carson Pass, further north, and settle for an additional 2 hours in the car.

So from the 395, we took a dubious-looking left onto Highway 89, the Robert M Jackson Memorial Highway & then Highway 88, through the Carson Pass and El Dorado Forest.

As the driver, this was spectacular, but not appreciated. There are very steep inclines, descents, twists, turns and switchbacks, combined with narrow roads, and wide oncoming traffic. By the time we came out onto “normal” roads my eyes were popping out.

At just over half way, we stopped at the Subway in Lockeford, (opposite the Curl Up and Dye hair salon) on Main Street, and got a late “lunch”. To be honest the rest of the journey was uneventful and, as per yesterday, somewhat dull. Through Jackson, in to and then out of Stockton. Then the I5 down to Monterey, and our first glimpse of the Pacific.

It may have been uneventful and dull, but what was incredible, and humbling is that..well, hang on, let me give some scale first.

Imaging a clock face that is as wide as England from Lake District to Northumberland. Now imaging driving from the 3 o’clock position, around the edge of the clock face, anticlockwise. Continue around the clock face to around 7 o’clock. That’s our journey today.

But now think of this, the centre of the clock is where the fires are focused. Something in the region of approximately 80+ miles to our left throughout our drive. And here’s the humbling bit – with the exception of  the last 30/40 miles, we were never out of sight of the smoke. From Manchester, up through the whole of the better parts of England (I’m biased), to, say, Whitehaven and across to Sunderland, for example, would be smoke-affected.

As I write this, the Ferguson fire has burned 89,633 acres and taken the lives of two of the 2,500+ Firefighters, working to contain this monster. And this isn’t the only, or even the worst. There is a huge fire raging (140+mph “fire tornados”) in Redding, to the north of San Francisco.

In fact, this morning at breakfast in Mammoth, we were sat opposite to lady hikers, who were camped up near the summit last night until 11pm, when they were overcome with ash and smoke, and ended up packing camp, and descending in the dark, to book in to the hotel. They were exhausted. And very lucky.

The scale and ferocity of these fires in hard to contextualise. But the bravery and hard work being carried out by the Firefighters isn’t.

So, despite being knackered and feeling we just wasted two valuable days holiday, I’m not going to dwell on our minor inconvenience.

Because of how we’ve ended up here, we have three separate room bookings at three separate rates and room types. On arriving and checking-in with Robert S, I explained as much to him, the reasons behind it, and how it would be really great if we could have one room for the three nights, rather than have to keep decamping.

His first move was to take us to the lounge, settle us on nice chairs and tell the bar staff to look after us, “no charge”. He worked through the bookings and came back with three alternatives, the best one being a larger room, ground floor, with patio, overlooking the pool and games area, and with additional complementary breakfasts, which here are a few bob each per day ($20-30/head). I don’t care if that meant there was enough “fat” in our booking to cover that anyway, but even if it did, the way in which we have been treated, has been exceptional.

The room is fantastic, the facilities are well and truly top of the line (and you may be aware, through my job, I’ve been front of house and back of house at many, many very nice hotels, along with some not-so-nice ones as well).

A beer ( very dark Amber, that was full-on molasses!), a phenomenally good clam chowder and some ludicrously hot chilli nachos later, and we’re back at the room, crashing out for the night!

I think we need a relaxing day tomorrow! With very little driving!

Night, all!

West Coast USA – Day 15

A really strange day today. We are now at Mammoth Lakes, where we had intended to get the chair-lifts up to the top, so we could admire the views and also say we went from 282ft below sea level to 11,030ft above, within 4 hours of driving.

But we haven’t done the chair-lifts. We’ll have to settle for 9,260ft above sea level!

Today is a day of “n’ts”. We didn’t see the USAF topgunning their way down Rainbow Canyon. We drove almost 200 miles and haven’t had to make more than 4 turns. We didn’t get to enjoy the views beyond Lone Pine, or into Mammoth, and we aren’t now going to stay at, or pass through Yosemite.

The fires have spread. There are fires near here in Mammoth (we’re not in any danger, mind), and the Yosemite fires have extended into the Valley, so they have therefore had to close the Park and all of the roads in and out to the west. This means we are on the fall-back plan of our fall-back plan. With no alternative but to go “over the top” via the 108 and skip north of the Tioga Pass, this means that we needed to find accommodation somewhere between here and Monterey, which is now a 7 hour drive away.

Bugger it! Rather than stay a day somewhere unplanned and unknown just to break a journey up, we have all decided to book yet another night in our fancy hotel in Monterey (3, now), and just smash the drive in a one-er. Well, I’m sure we may call in to a few beauty spots through Stanislaus National Forest, or in the preserved 49’er “goldrush” town of Columbia, California.

So last night, after posting the blog, and as Jane & Charlie settled down for the night, I grabbed my camera & tripod (still on its last three legs, held together with hair bands), and went out onto the golf course, dodging the sprinklers as I went. Which is a lot harder that you may think, given that, save for the light from the bedrooms, its almost pitch black. These are some of the darkest skies on the planet.  Almost no light pollution at the Ranch and none, if you’re brave enough to venture out into the vast, desert space.

Which the chap from Southampton that I got chatting to (another night sky photographer) had done. However, he admitted he didn’t last long. He’d parked up, and used his phone to pick a route through the rattlesnakes, scorpions and black widow spiders (did I mention those before?), into the scrub. Settling down, after setting up his (very stable) tripod that wasn’t on its last three legs, and his ultra-fast, ultra-wide angle lens, he said he felt “watched”. He then heard movement, which made him turn, only to end up looking at a pack of Coyote, who were presumably wondering what ISO setting he was proposing to use.

Due to his lens, his “proof” photo was a pointless exercise, but I’m convinced this happened. Partly because, I’m also convinced that when I was trying to take those pre-dawn photos, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large dog-like thing, run across the golf course. They are around, that’s for sure.

We chatted about the footy (he was up until recently a S’hampton season ticket holder), and how Raheem Sterlings late winner for Manchester City made it an outstanding game. We chatted about the photography, and how much he learned on a specialist start photography course. The trick is to set your ISO up at 6400+, and keep shutter speeds to <30secs, if you’re interested. We also chatted about our respective holidays and how he was having to sneak out to take his photos, whilst his offspring just moaned about how crap the wifi is and that YouTube is just “soooo laggy!”. Sounds familiar!

A reasonable start for us this morning, and we were packed, out of the room, and checked out of our accommodation well before 9:30am. After a debate, we decided to give the canteen another go. We chose well, ordering bagels with Philadelphia, and I had toast and a portion of scrambled egg. No grease, half the price (not quite), job done!

We then began the eeriest of journeys. The 204-mile journey has three directions on TomTom Drive:

  1. Drive 103 miles down Route 190
  1. Turn Right onto the US-395 and drive for 98 miles
  1. Turn off and take CA-203 along Main Street for 3 miles. You have reached your destination!

Despite me filling up our gas-guzzler at the fateful Vegas Wallmart, we only had a half tank, so needed to be careful with refuelling. Not so easy when they’re 70+ miles apart.

On the way in to Death Valley, regular 87ron unleaded was just under $3/gallon. At Furnace Creek, it was just short of $5. I pressed on in the vain hope that I could make Lone Pine and that it would be cheaper. Wrong on both counts. We ended up doing a $40 “splash and dash” at Panamint, at $4,90/gal.

The drive so far had been…well, dull tbh. It was hazy, so the views weren’t so good, and it was pretty dull driving.

Until we dropped onto the downhill part leading to the Panamint Dry Lake crossing. We stopped and got out, despite the heat.

It was actually one of our highlights. Miles and miles and miles in every direction and for about 10 minutes, it was just us three.

What a place! With more time, this would be a stunning place to take a sunrise or sunset photo, and I bet the astro stuff would be pretty funky as well!

Onwards and upwards, literally. Even getting out of Death Valley, you jump to over 4,000ft.

Sadly, Maverick and Goose weren’t flying today, so we pressed on. Having passed through Lone Pine, the journey got more “eerie”, with the haze now taking on a “browny” tinge. It was smoke.

And that sums up the remaining 150 or so miles. Smoke-obscured views.

Entering Mammoth 2 hours before check-in, we drove up the mountain, didn’t do the ski-lift, and drove part-way down and across to Mammoth Lakes, where we stopped to get out and admire the view. We didn’t do that either! This time yesterday, we were in 54°C heat. It was now 19°C and windy. We all changed into warmer clothes!

The light, the weather, the air. All very screwed up!

We checked in to the Shilo Inn, which is pricey for what it is, but you’re paying to be in one of the best outdoor adrenalin-junkie playgrounds, with ski-lifts everywhere being used to ferry full-suspension downhill mountain bikes and their brave pilots up to the top. Where they then saddle up and then descend the “Kamikaze” downhill trail. Would love to have a go, one day!

Now with internet, we checked the latest on Yosemite, and as we had anticipated, it was buggered. No way to get in to the valley from east or west. I must be honest and say that despite acknowledging that it is an ever-changing situation, the communication from Yosemite Accommodation has been diabolical. As in non-existent.

I phoned them to check the official score (even having already booked that extra, extra night in Monterey). I explained we had previously cancelled the second of two nights, and that we were checking about tomorrow. She checked my booking reference, and then told me that the first night had been automatically cancelled due to the fire. Nice, but no one had told me that. After prodding, she did confirm that a refund would be issued in full but couldn’t say when. More paperwork to check & cross reference when we get home!

Sorted, of sorts, we then headed out for something to eat. Jane was “starving” and fancied a well-recommended Mexican. Robertos Café was a short walk from the hotel. During which, I became short of breath and began coughing. This because the air has ash in it. You can see it falling and swirling in the pretty strong wind.

A “mammoth” portion for each of us, in between Pokemoning(!) and a view of the sun, that was pre-apocalyptic, before the quick walk back to the hotel.

It really is quite sad, seeing Mammoth in such weather – it must be really affecting the hiking, trailing, biking & climbing scene here.

A long day tomorrow, but all in a good cause! Disappointed we’re not going to see Yosemite again, of course, but thrilled to have three days in and around Monterey.

An early night for us all tonight!

Catch you tomorrow!

West Coast USA – Day 14

I woke in plenty of time for the 5:54am dawn! A good two hours early to be precise! Hacks me off, my sleep pattern.

Thing is I know it won’t help when I get home and have just half a day before setting off to work for another week.

I got the camera and tripod and tiptoed our onto the balcony. Jeezus! It’s 4am and still 38°C! And that was whilst it was “blowin’ a hoolie”! No idea what it would have been if the air was still.

Tbh, it was hard work sitting there in that heat. Especially when you’re eyes told you you should be cold. Very odd! So odd I came back inside for a while!

When the sky started to change colour, I began taking some photos, but being frank, the view, and the sky weren’t a patch on somewhere like the Grand Canyon – there’s a lot of haze here, scattering light. This is reflected in my “average” photos.

I tried again as the sun just started over the mountain tops, but again, not going to make it into the album, probably.

I actually ended up going back to bed and did manage to doze for an hour, before relenting, getting up and prepping for the day (the usual – wash the water bottles/bidons, full with ice water, pack the cool bag, take to car, with camera bags).

By the time sleepyhead Charlie was out of his pit, and we got to the canteen, breakfast was had at just after 10am. And it wasn’t great, either.

Charlie managed to pour the maple syrup down himself, his phone and his shorts. Some did go on the 3 pancakes and bacon, of which he ate half a pancake. Jane had the “breakfast barm” but that turned out to be quite greasy and uninspiring, as was my scrambled egg, sausage “links”, and hash browns. Again fairly swimming in oil.

Oh well, we live and learn! Just a pity that with drinks it was over $50. Maybe Denny’s isn’t so bad after all!

Finally rounded everyone up, and loaded the car, and set off to the visitor centre, just down the road.

Nicely laid out, just a pity we couldn’t get near the tourist thermometer, due to a coach that had just pulled in and deposited 50’ish French folk.

115°C at 11am. May be a warm one today. We decided we’d head north to Ubehebe Crater, a massive caldera, crests by a steam build-up that led to a massive explosion around 2000 years ago. To give you an idea of scale, Ubehebe (Oooh-bee-hee-bee. Go on say it. Makes you smile, doesn’t it!), was a 54 mile drive north. With little else between, that’s a fair commitment for another big hole.

Pretty much all of the last 25 miles were barren, in a really amazing way. Nothing. Until you really look. Then there are little pockets of differing geology. Different colours, plants, textures. It’s really more beautiful in a twisted sort of way, than you may wish to credit it with.

The last 15 miles we’re on a dead end road. Very wide, very flat, acres of flat land to each side of the tarmac. I had cruise on at the desperately low 35mph (ugh). Charlie reckoned it looked so easy he could get us there.

These carefully constructed, very realistic photos, make it look like Charlie drove the big truck the last 5 miles unaided. He was really good! I think all of those computer games have made it easier for him to (pretend) drive, even if it was an auto transmission.

We arrived at Ubehebe and got out of the car. Needless to say, some berk with 20 other potential spaces chose the one next to ours and parked too close. WTF! Is it that same cock-womble from our last Volcano Crater?

When we got out, it was like disembarking a long-haul airline from the rear steps – when the pilot had forgotten to turn off the Rolls Royce RB211 turbofan engines. It was blowing jet-hot air at us, at a right force!

Great view, although way too hot to attempt the hilly, mile long hike through cinders. Just touristy photos, this time! They’ve done the viewing area up (like at Dante’s View) in the intervening years since we came last. Not a massive surprise. But definitely better, and with an emphasis on accessibility as well.

Back down the road for the return 50’ish miles, and Charlie had another (pretend) drive for the next 5 miles. Oh, how we laughed at his (pretend) right turn after a “Yield” sign, and inability to comprehend how much you need to rotate a steering wheel, compared to a bit of “full right stick” on an XBox controller.

Enough of this pretend stuff, we need to make up ground. I took control. “You have control”, said Charlie. “I have control”, said I. Taught him well!

We took a right not far from the Ranch and headed towards Stovepipe Wells. We were overtaken by two cars in ”stealth” mode. Basically, it was two next-year model BMW X5s being tested I presume, in a camouflage wrap, made up of Matt black and wiggly white stripes that meant it was tricky to discern body lines.

We stopped at Mesquite Sand Dunes. Without wishing to repeat myself, jeez, it’s hot! Car temp gauge is now showing 49°C. That’s pretty warm to be frolicking around in sand dunes. So hot in fact that Janes IPhone said enough is enough and flicked the overheat sign on!

Must point out that heading into the scrub, before the dunes, we all did as the notices say – “don’t put your feet where you can’t see them, due to rattlesnakes, scorpions and Black Widow spiders”. Easy to follow. No deviations!

None of us died of the heat or fatal poisoning, and made it back to the car.

We then drove the short trip to Stovepipe Wells, piled into the gift shop/general store and bought a snacks lunch. I also bought a mix of 6-bottles of Ale, which cost only fractionally more than a pint at the Ranch.

We got chatting to a lovely older couple from Oxfordshire who were on their honeymoon. Like us, they are supposed to be off to Yosemite arriving Sunday. It’s now really not looking good as they’ve closed part of the 120, which means you can’t drive east to west, and, frustratingly, they are being very late with their calls on whether there is any accommodation “in Park”. We all think we won’t get there now, and will end up having to do some very last minute reworking of itineraries.

Tbh, I think Yosemite accommodation are at fault here. They should be putting us first rather than trying to make sure they lose as little revenue as possible. The balance just isn’t quite right, IMHO.

We bid farewell, got back in our 4-wheel furnace, and drove off towards todays final stops. The biggies. The showcase “money shot” views – Artists Drive, The Devils Golf Course, and the lowest and likely hottest part of the park, Badwater.

Devils Golf Course came first, and although Charlie was mithered by needing a wee desperately, it’s a real sight to behold. That said, I reckon my mate Alan, would still go around this with his usual cussing, and end up with a similar scorecard.

Driving away, we hit our own blinder! Photo to prove, the temp hit 54°C (127°CF), just 3°C off the world record, I think. That’s quite warm! It must have been, Jane took her Cardy off…

Next was Badwater. At 282ft below sea level it was still a balmy 51°C at the lowest point in the northern hemisphere. However, before venturing onto the salt flats, I had a more pressing engagement. (No photos, you’ll be glad to hear).

Thankfully, the “Long Drop” was in service and accessible. Although taking a dump into a hole in the ground isn’t blog material per se, it is worth a mention, given where we were. If you’ve not had the misfortune, all I can say is I was in and out quicker than Jack Flash himself. No need to linger and read a newspaper.

Off to the salt flats. For about 5 minutes. Because that’s all we could stand. Our eyelids were burning. Our throats parched within seconds. Every pore was forcibly ejecting sweat and max pressure. What a place this is!

A final sojourn through the very scenic Artists Drive, and a quick wave to R2D2 and the Jawa that zapped and then stole him from here in the original (1977) Star Wars Ep III – A New Hope.

Back to the Ranch, tea in the canteen, at which we played safe and went salad and soup, after the breakfast, and then bed!

Hoping to drive out via one of the valleys where the “The United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, more popularly known as Topgun, teaches fighter and strike tactics and techniques to selected naval aviators and naval flight officers”.

Guess what will be on tomorrow’s playlist! I feel the need, the need for speed!

“Hey Goose! Take me to bed or lose me forever.”

“Show me the way home, honey.”