Sunday, May 20, 2012

Abbott Lagoon and Back To the Bay

Sunday, May 20th

Oh no, this was our last full day in California!  We had left the day open on the itinerary and were hoping to meet up with friends of Sarah’s at some point, but there were several factors in play: what the old cars was all about was that it was American Graffiti Day in Petaluma (the 1973 movie set in the ‘50s, which apparently had been filmed in Petaluma) and the crowds were gathering for that, it was the day of the Bay to the Breakers race in San Francisco and the city would be a mess of road delays, and Sarah’s friends were driving from Sacramento and going to the Giants-As game at Candlestick that afternoon which promised a massive traffic vortex itself.

Dave and I slept a bit late again (we hadn’t gotten to bed until 1:00 or so) but made it down in time for the classic California continental breakfast.  We then assessed our situation and decided the best thing to do was to head back to Point Reyes, try to get to the airport hotel before the baseball game ended, and then meet Sarah’s friends (though spotty cell and wifi coverage might complicate things) for dinner South of the city.  We packed up Vicky for the last time … the huge trunk was just perfect for our stuff and we had come to appreciate the Crown Victoria very much, though it had its foibles.  We hit the road back through the suburban town and then through the farms and steep hills back over the ridge to Point Reyes.

Oh my God, it must have been some kind of holiday for bicyclists too!  They were all over the road like ants and were not paying attention to the cars … this was their world.  Finally we got by them and back down past the reservoir on another sunny, glorious, warm day into Point Reyes Station and then out the peninsula past Inverness and then took a right turn on the (at last) isolated Pierce Point Road out toward Tomales Point.  We had picked Abbotts Lagoon for a destination and it turned out to be an excellent choice.

We were perhaps a little later than most of the birders out at the Abbotts Lagoon parking lot (they hadn't rock and rolled all night I’m sure) and the lot was already a quarter full by the time we got there.  But we packed up our stuff, our water, and our cameras in a deuce and were out of there, down the trail through the low dunes.  The first stretch was through some cow fields, where the cows were acting a bit frisky (relatively speaking of course) on such a beautiful day.  Then the trail got into some serious winding between higher and higher dunes, across a marsh, and through endless sun-blasted shrubs and glorious wild flowers with birds buzzing all over and tweeting loudly when they alighted.  Again, the variety of life was impossible for us to catalog, though we were definitely more attuned to the environment than we had been at the start of the trip.

The trail wound downhill slowly and ended between two arms of the large, shallow Abbotts Lagoon, that dried up and then was replenished periodically when storms mashed the barrier beach just beyond it and waves flew over the dunes.  This day was less windy than the day before; we traipsed through the sand between the dunes and finally made it out to the beach where the Pacific was as roiling and fearsome as ever.  Even on a day like this, and even if the weather had been warm (or you had on the best wetsuit ever), you would have to be supremely confident in your abilities if you wanted to go swimming here.  The waves came pounding in and then sucked sand, pebbles, stray pieces of flotsam, and would have sucked innocent waders back underneath the next pounding wave up the steep shoreline if they had a chance.  If you made it past the surf out to the waves you would have had a hard time keeping your head up and then the tide would have ripped you away up the coast.  This was definitely a place for watching the ocean rather than interacting with it, though Dave and I did get our tootsies wet from a few encroaching waves.

The beach was almost washed clean of anything but miles and miles of sand, stretching to Tomales Point about 5 miles away on our right and to Point Reyes itself about 10 miles away on our left.  Nevertheless, I found a perfect sand dollar (with the old NORML logo emblazoned on it) on the beach, we found some wind- and surf-carved pieces of driftwood, and an old buoy (or mine?) that looked a little like a frog had washed up beyond the high tide line.  As we were watching the sea and the sky, we were exhilarated when a flock of pelicans flew by on their way up the coast, maybe the same flock that we’d seen down in Montaña De Oro, up the Big Sur coast, and then at Waddell Beach; I wonder where they’re flying now?  We love beaches and knew that when we left this one we’d be saying goodbye to California, though we had many miles to go to the airport!

OK, we headed back into the shelter of the dunes and past the lagoon where naked boys were playing in the stifling heat.  We got back to the grasses and watched some hippedy-hoppity birds jumping around after bugs.  On the way back we got some perfect shots of a quail and a redwinged blackbird when they popped right up and posed for us.  We talked with a very nice guy from Barcelona who had some excellent camera equipment and was as much or more excited about the birds as we were.  We was starved for conversation and gushed about his plans to drive farther down the point to the Tule Elk reserve next, and we gave him tips about what we’d just seen down the San Francisco peninsula, in the direction he was going next.  He was on a 4-week vacation to America … by himself … that he’d apparently been planning for a long, long time.  We talked to him about the other wonders in this country, such as Yellowstone, Arches NP, and Acadia.  He told us in a charming way, afraid that we would not get the meaning of what he was saying, that nowhere in Europe would we find places as natural and unspoiled as in the United States.  This was a reminder that, although we complain about people and the impact man has had on the environment, we need to be very appreciative of and very careful with what we do have.

Now back to the pollution of the big city!  Well, first some challenges.  We were avoiding going back into the city on route 1 even though we knew we’d see some beautiful vistas across the Pacific to the Golden Gate that way because of 1) the bicycles we’d be sure to encounter, 2) the traffic we’d be sure to encounter, and 3) the gridlock back through Mill Valley and Tamalpais Valley that we’d barely escaped the day before.  The way we chose was probably less stressful, but the road went through shady and green Samuel Taylor State Park where we saw some of the most outrageous bicycle tricks on our journey and then through the endless suburbs and stoplights of Fairfax and San Anselmo before we finally made it back to route 101 in San Rafael, just one exit South of where we’d been the night before.

101 picked up speed and then slowed down as we crested the ridge of Sausalito and then sped up again as we went downhill, through a tunnel, and wound down to the Golden Gate Bridge.  We were ready for Bay to Breakers madness, but we made it through the toll booths ($6) and over the majestic bridge without delay, and then followed route 1 South instead of continuing on 101 downtown.  We wound into and out of Golden Gate Park and saw some leftovers from the race but no untoward delays.  We cruised back through the city, past the cute houses, and were South of town before we knew it, turning East on route 380 towards the airport and then South again on route 101 towards Burlingame.  We’d been here before and ended up back at the Vagabond Inn, a week and many miles, sights, and experiences since we’d been there last.

They gave us room 117, right underneath the one where we’d been the last time, which was fine with us because we were so done lugging things up and down stairs.  We fell into the room and decompressed, while trying to contact Sarah’s friends, who were at that moment in the eighth inning of a losing game while having a marvelous time.  We started to get organized for the trip home and the game finished, but unfortunately we realized that by the time they got unstuck from traffic they would have to head right home to Sacramento and we couldn’t get together.  Oh well, that meant that it was time to take Vicky back and I left Sarah and Dave to the organizing while I did the honors.

Made sure everything was out of the car (and the business card we had found was tucked back in to the pocket where it had been), and I drove the few miles back up route 101 to the rental car return North of the airport.  For once there was absolutely no traffic as Vicky and I cruised slowly along the endless ramps to the return garage and an efficient person with a clipboard checked for dents, checked the gas (I had filled up in Burlingame), and handed me my receipt almost as I got out of the car.  We had put 1344 miles on the Crown Victoria and probably less than a tenth of that was on roads it had been on before!

Took the train back to the airport and then waited for the shuttle bus to the Vagabond Inn, where Sarah and Dave were ready to go to dinner.  We walked over to the restaurant next door but that was already overflowing with families with beepers to tell them when their table would be ready, so we didn’t even stop and kept going to the next restaurant, which was a homely (but big) Mexican place where English-speakers were definitely in the minority.  That was fine with us and they had some great food.  Sarah had combo fajitas and a house margarita, Dave had ceviche, and I had their pork carnitas dish … all of them huge.  We stuffed ourselves with their very tasty food, and then staggered back to the Vagabond Inn, where we went to sleep early since we had to wake up on Eastern time the next day.

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