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Day 1 - Pasadena to Oregon

It's 7:30 in the a.m. when my friend Gina and I pile into the car for the trip to the wilds of Seattle. We're taking the scenic route and I've got it all planned where we're going.

However, in spite of that "scenic" qualifier, our first leg will be up the 5 through the San Joaquin Valley, which is classed as the antithesis of "scenic." The only thing I've got to keep me interested, visually, is trying to locate where a couple of big lakes were here/are on "Trolley World."

We're heading towards San Francisco and a crossing of the Golden Gate (via the Bay Bridge), then towards Redwood country and to do that and actually still have light to see redwoods once we get there, we have to get through the first part of the trip as soon as possible. That proves to be over the usual six hours or so. It would have been shorter, but we stopped in Santa Nella to eat at "Anderson's Split Pea Soup Restaurant."

Anderson's is kinda a California icon. There are four of the restaurants in the state all of them placed (as far as I can tell) to be as far from people as possible (Santa Nella, fer example, basically is the restaurant, plus a motel and gas station or two and is at least fifty miles from any other town with more than ten-thousand people in it). So, how do they survive (I mean, besides licensing their name for the canned soup)? Well, for most of the way there, as you drive you'll see signs saying "Only 252 (or whatever) miles to Anderson's Split Pea Soup." On the 5, you'll start seeing them as soon as you get past San Fernando (or going south as soon as you cross the Oregon border).

Now, on all my trips north & south to cons and whatnot, I've been meaning to stop there to eat, but either I didn't have the time, or it was two in the morning, or I really just wanted to get where I was going fast as possible. So I kept missing it. This time, however, I stopped.

I recommend the namesake split-pea soup, but avoid the calamari. It has both the appearance and most of the taste of scrambled eggs (don't ask me how).

The Golden Gate Bridge - In the Sun!A couple of hours later, we hit the Bay Area and headed for the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. Once across the bridge, the freeway disappeared and we made our way across surface streets (always an adventure in San Francisco) towards the Golden Gate.

Once there, we stopped for about half an hour to do the tourist thing at the bridge. Now this was the really weird part. You see, it was sunny...and clear...and a comfortable temperature...in San Francisco!

It was actually a gorgeous day I've never seen one better and it was probably the only day like that San Francisco will get all year (it was Mark Twain who wrote "the coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco").
From the Golden Gate Bridge
After taking some really good pictures of the bridge, the city, and Alcatraz, we piled back in the car and headed north on the 101 as fast as possible (we were an hour or two behind schedule) for the redwoods.

Alcatraz and San Francisco from the Golden Gate BridgeThis bit proved to be much farther than I remembered. In fact, it wasn't until nearly a hundred and fifty miles later, just past Willits, that we started hitting the big trees. Once we did, however, we pulled off the main 101 onto the "Scenic Alternate" (actually, the old pre-freeway 101) to actually enjoy them a bit. In Leggett, we stopped to drive through Chandelier Tree, then continued north on the scenic route (the "Avenue of the Giants"). We also made a stop at a touristy gift shop or two.

However, by now it was nine-ish and the sun was doing it's slow fade in the west. We rejoined the main 101 in Redcrest, but it was dark by the time we hit Eureka. That slowed our drive down considerably, because between Eureka and Crescent City (pretty much on the Oregon border), the 101 is two lanes of narrowness that twists back and forth and up and down along the coastal mountains. Neither of us (for once, I'm on a trip where someone else can drive too) was willing to drive what you'd call "fast" for much of the trip (well, what we'd call fast, anyway). Still, by eleven or so, we're pulling into Crescent City for a brief stop to eat dinner.

Soon we're off again, this time jogging northeast on the 199, back to the 5. We twist through the dark coastal forests, climb into the mountains (passing a semi that almost rolled off the road) and at around one a.m. reach Grants Pass and return to the 5.

Day 2 - Oregon to Seattle - Con Thursday

Now we're zipping through the Oregon night. Dawn hits us just pass Salem, and we stop for a few photos.

Gina's driving and I'm napping as we tool through Portland and cross the bridge over the Columbia into Washington.

Much to my surprise, the day has once again dawned clear and sunny, and for the first time ever, I'm actually able to see the battered peak of Mount St. Helens - something it has always been too cloudy to do such before. By now, however, even with the naps, I'm getting a little punchy. We've been driving moreMount Saint Helens - USGS Volcano Cam than twenty-four hours (my previous limit) and as usual I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before we left (just once, just once...). Still, we're now only a couple of hours away from Seattle. Those two hours eventually pass by, and we're getting off the 5 in downtown Seattle, for a three-block drive to the hotel.

We park, check in (surprisingly early), move stuff up to the room, and wash off twenty-six hours of road grime. Then I go off in search of the con.

Our hotel was about in the center of downtown as it's possible to get, and tons of interesting things circled around it. "Gameworks" one of a new chain of major-league videogame parlors was right across the street (our room's windows looked out at it, abet from fifteen floors up), so was a "Planet Hollywood." Across another street from the hotel was a F.A.O. Swartz. The monorail terminal was about three blocks away, the Space Needle at the other end of that. "Pike Place Market", a harbor-side collection of shops, stores, and restaurants was six blocks away. The farthest we had to walk to anything was a restaurant eight blocks away.Pike Place Market - from Seattle's homepage

And the whole time we were there, Seattle was bright and sunny. Oh, on Saturday morning, it rained briefly, but it cleared up before noon and as it turned out, we weren't to hit real clouds and rain until the trip home.

Like most cons on their first day, Westercon Seattle was a little slow, a little quiet. I started planning what panels I wanted to see, and when the Huckster's room opened, checked that out. That was a major disappointment. As Gina said It's smaller than the one at Gallifrey. It wasn't quite - but for a major Westercon (note that Gally is a very small con) it was, well, trivial.

Other things that bugged me about an otherwise fairly well run con. The entire film and video program for the convention was run over the hotel's video channel. Oh, there were a couple of rooms that had TV's to show this program but since the exact same thing was on back in your hotel room, why bother? There was also no anime program.

The Art show (when I finally found it) was up on the very top floor of the hotel - which wouldn't have been so bad if you didn't have to dig through the program book for a couple of hours to find out this fact. And speaking of the program book, let's talk about the pocket program.

First, like almost all "pocket programs" I've ever seen, it did not fit in a standard pocket. But more annoying was how difficult it made it to find out anything about the panels it listed. First, you looked at the grid to see what was on when. Because they'd chosen this wonky little manual-typewriter-style font to do it in (okay, so it was part of the Fiftieth Westercon theme of "Westercon, Past, Present, Future" - it was still a bitch to read...) they couldn't put a very long name in any of the grid boxes. So you had to flip to another section of the pocket program to cross-reference the shortened name with a list to find out what the full title was. But then, you had to note down the number for that title, and go to the program book and another list to find out a description of what the program was about...

...and about a tenth of the time, the only thing the program book had for a description was the title.

Gina and I got together again for dinner at one of the hotel's restaurants which was very good (I had this spicy shrimp thing). However, by now we're wondering where Manoa and Edward are.

My friend Manoa (from Vancouver, BC) was coming down with her S.O. Edward to the convention, and they were going to share the room with us (at $130 a night, you need people to share with...). But I had expected them by, well, late afternoon at the latest (Manoa was a little vague about exact times). Night continued on, though, and they still hadn't arrived.

After dinner, I went off to do the rounds of some of the parties. In spite of being totally zoned from the trip, it wasn't until very late that evening that I got back to the room and crashed. Then, at about two in the morning, Manoa and Edward finally arrived...

Day 3 - Con Friday - Fourth of July!

It's the Fourth of July in Seattle, and we spent it mostly at the con. And Pathfinder arrived, so the convention's TV's were turned to CNN so that everyone could watch the first pictures download. Gina and I spent a couple of hours watching that.

However, we did all get together to go see Men In Black at the theater across the street (eighteen screens, half of them playing "MiB", so the movie was basically playing every half-hour from ten a.m. till midnight) and then go off to a very nice Korean/Japanese restaurant a few blocks away. Satiated, and walking back to the hotel, the evening's fireworks began. They were still going on by the time we reached our room so we got to watch a very nice show from our window (including the more private displays of illegal fireworks that would sprout from places about town, including the alley between Gameworks and Planet Hollywood). I then spent the rest of the evening doing the parties.

Day 4 - Con Saturday

More convention. I tried to go to all the panels with Jack Cohen - who I really liked as a speaker - on them. Later that afternoon, Gina and I walked over to the monorail station and took it to go visit the Space Needle and Seattle Center (site of the old World's Fair). The monorail itself isSpace Needle - from Seattle's homepage kinda silly. It's only got about a mile of track and two stops: Downtown and Seattle Center. Seattle Center has a small amusement park, a Children's museum, the big Pacific Science Center museum (closed, by the time we got there, darn it), some shops and food places, the Space Needle (which we were not about to spend the eighteen bucks or so to ride up into) and this really cool fountain.

The fountain is a giant golf-ball-ish metal structure sitting at the bottom of a sort of artificial crater.The Fountain, Seattle Center - from the city's homepage Water randomly spouts out of several of the holes that pockmark it's surface, which made some lovely rainbows. But unlike almost every other public fountain I've ever seen, the builders here not only acknowledged that the kids were going to play in it, they actually built ramps down into the bottom of the "crater" so that it'd be easy to get down to it. Yes, remarkable as it sounds, here was a public fountain that actually invited people to come and play in it. And the kids were.

We headed back after that for more con. I ended up at a midnight (of course) showing of Rocky Horror before heading off to more parties, then bed.

Day 5 - Con Sunday

The convention was pretty much winding down by now, so much so even the "Dead Dog" party was, well, dead. After it's official closing, all four of tried to think of a place to eat, and ended up at Gameworks - which has various fast-food class foods along with the games. Afterwards, we went to see My Best Friend's Wedding then it was back to the hotel for our final night's stay.

Day 6 - Seattle to Grants Pass

The day dawned slightly cloudy as we crawled out of our respective beds and began packing to check out. Manoa and Edward had to be at the train station by 7:30, so we gathered up stuff as fast as possible, and dragged it down to the car. I checked out, and we were off on the streets of Seattle.

The Amtrak station wasn't too far away, but it was in a direction we hadn't really investigated during our walks about the town. A pity too, because Seattle's old town - "Pioneer Square" - was down there and looked very interesting. Oh well, maybe next trip. We got a little confused trying to follow the signs to the station entrance, but soon Gina and I were saying goodbye to Manoa and Edward as they headed inside to catch their train and we headed off to catch our ferry.

The plan for the day was to take one of the ferries across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula, then drive around the peninsula and down the coast seeing the sights until we hooked back up with the 5 near Portland. We drove onto the ferry at Pier 52 and chugged across the waters towards Bainbridge Island. As we sailed west, the cloud cover got heavier and heavier and by the time we docked, the sky was totally steel-grey.

Arriving on Bainbridge, we got gas, then began our trip around the peninsula. Actually, we had to cross over a couple of bridges (one from the island, the other over the Hood Canal) before we met up with the 101 and the main portion of the peninsula, but along the way we passed through some nice small towns (effectively "suburbs" of Seattle) and some pretty scenery.

Once on the 101 we were soon driving through a mix of forest and heavily logged forest. On the trip, we only skimmed an edge of Olympic National Park, so most of the land we drove through was privately owned by lumber companies. Trees came in large blocks of different sizes (the trees and the blocks), usually accompanied by a sign that told when it was last logged, and when it was next scheduled to be so.

Port Angeles - from the Olympic Peninsula homepageWe reached the town of Port Angeles, where we could see the island of Vancouver out across the strait, got slightly lost, then continued on.

A few miles later, Gina pointed out a sign towards a fish hatchery and we decided to jog over to take a look. The "jog" off the 101 got longer with no sign of the hatchery and we were just about ready to turn around when we hit this park/campground on the coast. We decided to get out and visit.

It proved to be a lovely site. Dense forest worked its way to the edges of bluffs that overlooked the tidepools below. By aTide Pools on the Olympic Peninsula, North Coast lucky chance, we arrived pretty much at low tide, so were able to walk down to the pools and investigate all the nifty sea life within them. Bright orange starfish, kiwi-green anenomies, and tiny little mottled fish abounded in every pool. The bluff faces were covered in a coat of deep green foliage with the occasional trickle of a spring dripping down them. Absolutely beautiful.

On the road again, we decided to follow the small 112 along the coast until we hit the 113 to go back to the 101 instead of simply backtracking. Along the way we stopped occasionally to take pictures of the wonderful landscape under the now brooding grey sky.

Olympic Peninsula Coast from the 112When we reached it, the 113 proved to follow a small river back inland. As we followed it, we finally hit our first real rain of the entire trip. It would continue to at least drizzle on us all the way to Aberdeen.

Now heading south, the trees grew taller on each side of the road, and the undergrowth heavier as we got into the true rainforest area of the peninsula. Ferns, moss, and stumps covered with the green growth of new plants abounded.Forest for the Trees, Olympic Peninsula

By now feeling a little bit peckish, we had brunch in Ruby Beach. I had the salmon, on the theory that to go to Washington and not at some point eat salmon was Just Not Done. Fortunately, it was pretty good too.

Unfortunately, Gina was now starting to get sick, with all the symptoms of a case of the flu. As the trip progressed, she got worse and this would leave me with all the driving while she tried to rest.

Moss, Ferns, and Trees, Olympic PeninsulaAnd we were way behind my tentative schedule. I had hoped that we would reach Crescent City back in California by nightfall, so that we could stop there and have time to take the 1 down the coast to the Bay Area. But it was becoming increasingly obvious that we couldn't make it that far, even though I had already decided to cut back to the 5 at Aberdeen rather than following the 101 all the way down to the Columbia River. I tagged Grants Pass as our new stop for the night.

Reaching the 5, we burned our way south, stopping only at the occasional rest stop and in Portland to get some ibuprophin for Gina. Night fell at about the same point of the route that dawn had risen on the way up. We didn't reach Grants Pass until about midnight, at which point we found a Motel 6 and crashed for the night.

Day 7 Grants Pass to Pasadena Home!

Depressingly early the next day, with Gina still sick, we headed off down the 199 back to California. This was my first time driving the 199 actually in daylight, so I spent a lot of time trying to watch the scenery while not driving off the edge of the road into the river. At Crescent City, we returned to the 101 heading south. Soon, we stopped for breakfast at "Trees Of Mystery" - or rather, the restaurant across the road from "Trees Of Mystery."Entrance to Trees Of Mystery, Highway 101 - from their homepage "ToM" is a typical tourist-trap affair, comparable to the "drive through a tree" thing we'd hit on the way up, or the "Grand Canyon Caverns" that I visited on my Route 66 trip. We only stopped long enough to eat and didn't visit (or pay money for) the trees. I had some rather impressive pancakes, "impressive" because apparently they took the name rather literally and each pancake was the diameter of, well, a pan.

We were now traveling through territory that we'd hit at night on the way up, so we could both go faster - and not want to, because we could now see things. In Redwoods National Park, we pulled off to go visit some of the trees for a while. I love redwoods.

It was pretty obvious by now that if we wanted to get back home by any reasonable time (and as both of us needed to be at work the next day, it had to be reasonable), cutting over to the 1 at Leggett was now out and our only hope was to drive as fast as possible. I also realized that "fast as possible" was necessary so that we didn't hit the Bay Area at rush hour, which could add a very frustrating hour or so to our trip.

Gina was sleeping or trying to most of time, very sick, as I drove south. The miles and, unfortunately, the hours scrolled by and by around four we were driving through San Rafael, heading for the last of the Bay Area's big bridges - the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. It totally lacks the style of the Golden Gate - or even the Bay Bridge - but it did have the advantage that we wouldn't have to go through downtown San Francisco's late afternoon traffic. Instead, we went through Richmond, Berkeley and Oakland, only hitting minor tie-ups, until we reached the 580 and our route back to the 5.

Much of the part of the trip is kinda a blur to me. I was driving in the eighties most of the way, the vibrations from the road kept screwing up the CD player, and as the sun set, we were just at the southern end of San Joaquin valley. Darkness descended pretty quickly as we climbed the Tejon Pass, passed by Magic Mountain, and soon dropped back into the Los Angeles basin. At about ten p.m., two very tired and one very sick people arrived back in Pasadena.

Oh, and as it turned out, Gina didn't just have the flu, but a case of strep-throat!
© July 30th, 1997 by David William Johnson
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