Friday, May 16, 2014

West Coast Road Trippin' - Day Seven

Today was going to be a great day.

No, it was going to be an totally awesome day. Long one, but awesome nonetheless.

After saying our farewells to the Golden Gate Bridge, we went in search of a place to eat, figuring we'd just start heading south (and staying true to our bond of not eating small business folks!). Taking the I-280 and then the CA17 south, we decided to make a pit stop in Los Gatos and fuel up, on food and to top off Big Sexy Grey's (the Challenger's) 19 gallon tank (California fuel prices are insane but not the worst we'd seen that day...just wait). One restaurant that caught our eye was Double Ds Sports Grille since it was located just off the highway and right across from a nearby gas station. Filling our bellies on a Carne Sada sandwich (me) and Artichoke Chicken (Roger...fancy). we then topped off Big Sexy Grey and continued on CA17 with Roger at the wheel towards Monterey and the beginning point for our epic Pacific Coast Highway run.

Roger doing windshield cleaning duty in Los Gatos

The drive to Monterey gave us just a taste of what we would encounter later that day. Seaside farms, beaches right next to the road and undulatimg tarmac at times served to exercise the Challenger's suspension in preparation. Monterey itself wasn't that interesting in my view but that was probably due to my salivating at what lied beyond. So after taking a brief break at a nearby beach, we switched places and headed off.

We hit school traffic (this was a Thursday after all) heading out of Monterey and for a few miles, the drive was uneventful. It didn't get interesting until we were well past the small town of Carmel and headed into Point Lobos State Reserve. The road opened up and before we knew it, we were viewing what it's like to see mountains unwittingly meet the ocean. The scenery was breathtaking and the road was incredible. There were various points along our route called vista points and turnouts where anyone can park their cars right up to the cliff (or beach) and explore the surrounding area. We stopped at a few of these, thinking each was the best view but it really didn't matter: it seemed like just when we found the perfect point for taking photos, down the road was another, even better location. In some areas the cliffs were jagged and steep while in others, the terrain rolled gently from the road into a beach. The cliffs ranged in height from just above sea level to over 1,000ft, as high as I fly my aircraft at Tamiami airport. Along the way, we saw an elephant seal colony (they stink even worse than cow manure), dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean at one of the many almost-deserted beaches (Roger collected a bottle of Pacific sea water and sand to bring back) and came reeeeaaaallllly close to driving off the edge of the road. Anyone undertaking what we did better have nerves of steel. If you've never driven along cliff-side roads with no guardrails, you will have ass-pucker moments. Our stops were short and quick, just enough to take in the scenery and snap a few "yes-we-were-really-here" images. Briefly, the road took us away from the coast through the redwood forest of Big Sur but the road was no less challenging for the, uh, Challenger. One observations we made was that Mustangs littered the road here. At one of our stops were quite taken aback to see just as many Ford Mustang convertibles as there were minivans surrounding our Challenger. But seeing Big Sexy Grey stand our proudly in a sea of lower vehicles, we were confident we made the right choice. Another confirmation was seeing some of those Mustang pilots eyeing our Challenger quite jealously as they either pulled in to park or departed with a tire chirp.

Big Sexy Grey stands proudly

The drive itself was pretty spectacular, this part of the PCH being all I read it to be. Blind turns, good straights to wind out the big Pentastar V6 and enough elevation changes to almost cause worry regarding how well the transmission would hold up. I kid you not, the five-speed automatic was poor at this sort of exuberant driving. I was using manual mode most of the time but it didn't matter. One example was approaching a hairpin turn while playing cat-and-mouse with one particular black Mustang convertible. Using Autostick I downshifted to second gear in preparation, hoping the transmission would hold the gear through the corner. It downshifted alright, but midway in the turn it upshifted itself into FOURTH, bogging the engine and making me lose any momentum I had to help accelerate out of the turn. Seeing the Mustang I was chasing pull out a significant lead I nailed the throttle, hoping to get V6 back into its power band so I could use what adequate horsepower there was to get the big Challenger up and running after the disappearing Ford. Over the last few days with Big Sexy Grey, I had gotten used to the soft suspension and skinny 18" tires, coupled with the quick steering rack but the transmission had me cursing each time one of the many Mustang convertibles along our route caught up with us. I'll give it to the Mustang driver, he doesn't have much to worry about as his car is a few hundred pounds lighter than Big Sexy Grey. I, on the other hand, had to be fully conscious of her weight as I sawed at the wheel, trying to place her on the correct line while cornering and praying her brakes would halt all that momentum. Didn't matter though, I always caught up to his tailpipes, ensuring he'd always have a rearview mirrorful of Challenger face glaring at him

Enough about the car, you might be saying at this point. Did you take pictures? Did you shoot video?

Here's your answer:

Just outside an elephant seal colony

After a few hours we made it down to the end of our route at Morro Bay, partially exhausted but with a sense of accomplishment. Morro Bay is sleepy and quiet seaside town with its most prominent feature being the Morro Rock, a large volcanic plug that is tied to the mainland via causeway. We wanted to visit it but time was against us since we needed to be in Bakersfield that night (plus it was getting pretty dark and the tours had already ended). After exploring the road directly next to the harbour (and remembering our earlier experience with "authentic Chinese food"), we settled on getting dinner at Rose's Landing Cafe. Taking in the NFL draft on their large big screen monitors, we chowed down on fish burritos (Roger) and chicken fettuccine (me...yes, I was feeling fancy).

Some factory or powerplant

The Morro Rock landmark

Even Embracadero is down here

By this time, night had fallen so Roger took piloting duties and nosed Big Sexy Grey northward along CA41 to CA46 and finally I-5 towards our resting spot for the night in Bakersfield. Remember that earlier bit about California's extraordinarily high gas prices? Just outside the city, we passed a gas station which was selling fuel for $5.09/gallon. That's FIVE DOLLARS folks...and not premium either. Good ol' regular, the stuff our Challenger had been feeding on for the last six days. It took a while for us to collect our jaws off the floor and resume navigating to our hotel. And then Tupac's California Love came on the radio. Sure we were nowhere near Compton or Los Angeles, but the song was just as appropriate as we pulled into our Bakersfield, CA. Sleep was calling to us and we knew tomorrow would be an equally epic day. Desert run? Vegas baby?

Yeah baby.

More video will be available on my Youtube channel so subscribe already!

Friday, May 9, 2014

West Coast Road Trippin' - Day Six

In front of the Bay Bridge

San Francisco is a pretty awesome city.

By the time we left the room (and the Challenger parked for the day), it was after 11am. Our plan was to head downtown by MUNI rail to Fisherman's Wharf at Embracadero, walk the piers, see the sites and be tourists for a day. First of all though, we needed food. Roger took the lead and suggested we hit up Chinatown for some "authentic" Chinese food for lunch. After reaching Embracadero,we explored the Asian part of the city a bit before settling on an almost literal hole-in-the-wall eatery called Gourmet something or another.

The less said about that place, the better.

The Challenger gets the day off while we exercise our feet

We made our way down to the piers and strolled up to Fisherman's Wharf, passing a number of seafood restaurants, Alcatraz tours and all manner of shops and such in the process. Being as Roger and I both share an allergy to all things shellfishy, we decided against upsetting our tummies any further and did some shopping. We also saw the famous Pier 39 sea lion colony, visited the Exploratorium and rested our feet with some light drinks at Fog Harbor Fish House.

Roger admiring the sea lions

Apparently at times, the colony numbers in the thousands.

Seafood bars litter the place

Historic part of the wharf

The infamous Alcatraz

Nice decor

The Bay Bridge

Roger trying to figure out where the heck the train left us

Golden Gate Bridge in the distance

After waltzing up and down Embracadero, we so wanted to get that taste of kung pao out of our system that we decided to have a late lunch at The Naked Lunch. A short walk from wharf area, this sports bar and grill has an interesting menu that apparently changes daily and a no-nonsense atmosphere to it. I had their staple, farm-fried chicken sandwich while Roger elected for the burger-of-the-day. While I have no doubt the chicken sandwich is absolutely scrumptious, this time around it was less than stellar (the chicken could've been left in the fryer a little longer) and probably further aggravated my already-karate-chopped stomach. Nothing a cold IPA can't assist with.

We were scheduled to leave San Fran' the next day, but we couldn't bid adieu without at least sampling the city's nightlife. Roger suggested we hit up a hip hop club that was relatively close by. Called Double Dutch, the place boasts a pretty rad interior design, one that I'm sure will appeal to my DJ counterparts. As you walk in, you're met with a wall made almost entirely of vintage boombox radios on one side, while the bar itself sits opposite. The wall above the bar, is decorated with pictures of hip hop icons like Naughty-By-Nature, Run DMC, Ice Cube, etc. The DJ spun pretty well, though the transitions could've been better (my DJ criticals would not be contained) but everyone there seemed to be having a good time. Knowing we had a full day ahead, we stayed an hour before returning to our base (hat tip to Phil!).

Did I mention we got a parking ticket during our day trek downtown? Apparently we parked Big Sexy Grey in an area (adjacent to our base) where street cleaning happened during a specific time. It just so happened that while we were gone, that's when the street cleaning happened. Parking in this city is tough, man. The parking instructions alone, left for us by our host had us triple and quadruple checking our spots to ensure we weren't breaking any laws and parking by any green, yellow, blue, red or black sidewalks.

In that order.

We had a pretty good day all the same. Check out the video below for our views on Day Six as well as what's to come on Day Seven when we tackle the famed Pacific Coast Highway:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

West Coast Road Trippin' - Day Five

Once again, a hat tip has to be extended to our more-than-gracious Santa Rosa host, Tamara. Not only did she allow us to couch surf for the night, she also pretty much planned our next day as far as sites and eats.

And, oh boy, did she nail it.

First off, we needed breakfast. Never mind it was already an hour later than we intended to leave (around 11am if you really must know), we were going to make it to breakfast and that was that. Her first suggestion to start the day was a Mediterranean eatery called East West Restaurant. We were greeted by our beautiful and friendly waitress, Christina (please forgive if I misspelled your name if you see this) and, it being a gorgeous day, we elected to eat outside.

With breakfast on my mind, I opted for the Mediterranean Omelette: a three-egg wonder stuffed with mushrooms, tomatoes, basil, feta cheese and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember, with country potatoes and sourdough toast on the side. Washed down with Jasmine Chai tea, it was a relatively healthy meal that didn't leave me feeling...heavy. Roger chose the French Toast combo with scrambled eggs, artichoke chicken sausage (fancy) with some multi-named iced tea. The meal was, in a word, delicious. Along with the great weather and fantastic service, the day couldn't have gotten off to a more awesome start. After ordering a meal to go, we thanked our waitress and set out south to Tamara's office to drop off some lunch (hey, it's the least we could do) then headed west to our first sightseeing stop of the day: the Korbel Winery in Sonoma County.

Now, I know what you're all probably thinking: what's so special about the champagne we pop every New Year's Eve? Trust me, so were we, but it turns out there's over a hundred years worth of history inside that bottle in your cupboard. We were shown a brief video about the history of the winery and then led through the original building used to actually make the wine, as well as shown the time-consuming methods used to blend and bottle the product. At the end of the tour, we were treated to a complimentary tasting of the four lines of champagne made at the winery (we both took part in that last bit) from driest to sweetest. We also learned that Korbel makes much more than just champagne, such as brandy and actual wine. You won't find them for sale at retail stores however as they can only be purchased at the winery. Hey, believe me, if we could we would, but we're flying back, so we didn't.

The old way of prepping, corking and labeling

World's largest champagne bottle and glass

The full line of products

So what were our thoughts? Here ya go:

Following our wine tasting stint, we pointed the Challenger's nose westward to Tamara's next suggested stop, the actual west coast, specifically Doran Beach. Taking the 116 road west linked us up to the California 1 aka one part of the famed Pacific Coast Highway. While the road there might not have had the same, hilariously hairpinned and blind curves as the road Roger took the previous night, there was still plenty of turns and braking/accelerating events to make the drive interesting. Of course, the Challenger is a pretty big car, bigger than the Mustang, bigger than the Camaro. As a result, you can't argue with physics. Instead of deftly swinging the Challenger's nose through tight turns, I was more herding the big car. The brakes were decently strong and the power from the big V6 was adequate to pull us through the corners. But as Roger alluded to previously, the big failing part is the 5-speed transmission. At anything more than 6/10ths, the Challenger falls over itself and the transmission's slow response to prods of the go-pedal exacerbates this.  The steering is quick, but the body takes a while to settle once's the nose starts swinging into the desired direction. Anyway, having never seen the Pacific shoreline (at least enough to appreciate it), once we arrived our collective breaths were taken away.


The Challenger looks just about right here

The views were utterly breathtaking. If this is what the Pacific Coast Highway has in store for us a few days from now, we'll most certainly take it. This, my friends, is what road tripping is all about: going somewhere you've never been to see things you've never seen. And we enjoyed every flippin' minute of it. The images don't do these views justice. It was windy, like 40-50mph windy, the air was cold and salty, necessitating the donning of our jackets. Plus, even though the cliffs we were on were perhaps 100ft above the water, the pounding surf was enough to spray salt water that high up on our faces. And even then we still reveled in the natural wonder. It had us both feeling...exhilarated.

There are a ton more photos and video we took, a lot more than I can post at the moment. You can catch some of the videos posted here as well as others on my YouTube channel. After a an hour or two of soaking in the views, we made our way to the third leg of our Santa Rosa excursion to the town of Sebastopol where we cooled our heels at the Russian River Brewing Company. We wanted to take the tour but elected instead to just rest a bit. Toasting to a pretty awesome day thus far, we chowed down on some chicken wings then started the southerly drive to our date with San Fransisco. It was around 6:30pm when we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge (we were annoying our friends Tiffany and Kerrie on the phone at that point so not many images were taken at this particular milestone). Yes folks, we've finally made it to the town of cable cars and Rice-A-Roni. We were pretty beat but knew one of the first things to do was update you guys on our trip since we've missed a few days. You can read all about Day Four here and since we've just completed Day Six and our tour of the city, that update will be posted soon. That night we felt peckish so we made a late night run to an In-N-Out Burger joint a few miles away. No frills is how I'd describe the place and the food. The ingredients were fresh and the burger patties were well cooked. Our bellies full, we headed back to our staging area (hat tip to Phil at airBnB for the comfortable room!) to rest up for the next day's activities.

The trip has been pretty spectacular so far.