Monday, February 26, 2007

Time with the Monsters

I haven't posted much lately, and I think it's the uncertainty. To recap; we spent about a week or more in San Francisco, never knowing from day to day when the RV would be repaired. We spent the time hopping from one photo opportunity to another, and luckily, San Francisco has a lot of those. The trick of getting some solid writing done during this is to make sure that Mary Ann has a rich photo location where she can walk around -- a hike through Muir Woods, time in the SF Botanical Gardens, or on Treasure Island, getting cityscape views. Just driving around is a bit more stressful and after the first day, I turned the driving over to Mary Ann. While I love cruising the highways, in-town city driving is not my thing.

But they fixed the RV finally, and we headed directly to San Simeon. It is elephant seal season and there is a beach there where you can spend some wonderful quality time with the monsters.

I use the term deliberately. It's mating season, and a male elephant seal is one serious monster. A monster with a dopey face, it's true, but seeing one charge another to protect its territory and its harem is a visceral experience. These things are 5,000 pounds each and move across the beach at a remarkable pace like rippling giant slugs. People are seperated from them by only a small fence and a small cliff that it just too tall for them to try to scale. It's not like the zoo experience at all, where the creatures are in their cage and the keepers are watching you. Here, people are on the top of the cliff, but the seals are in their element on the beach and in the water. This is their place and we just come to watch and to try to stay out of their way.

Check Mary Ann's blogs for photos and stuff. She's doing a better job of travel narration than I am right now. The end of the this journey is in sight and it's dampening both our spirits.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Pocket Knife


It's been riding around in my pocket for years. I don't even remember where or when I got it. I think its most common use is to make an initial slice into the skin of an orange so that it's easier to peel. Pocket knives have been standard equipment for most of my life. But I don't tend to think about them much.

Except today I do.

This afternoon, we were driving the RV south along highway 1, moving from Westport, hoping to find another sea-side RV campground Mary Ann could use as a base for more scenic photos. It's a narrow, twisty, up-hill and downhill road that takes all my concentration to drive. Sometime about 1pm, Mary Ann said, "The first scenic pull over you find, let's stop and have lunch."

So that's what I did. One showed up almost immediately and I pulled to the side and stopped the RV. Mary Ann made sandwiches and sliced apples. We ate and then it was time to push on. I turned the key, and at first, nothing happened.

With a bad feeling, born of experience, I tried again, and the starter kicked in. The engine started -- but then the starter kept going!

I tried every key position, hurriedly. The engine and the starter were fighting each other, and it sounded horrible.

Quickly, it was plain that the keyswitch had broken, again. Only this time in the starting position. Turning off the key did nothing, and shortly, the smell of burning wires added to the chaos. I ducked down, head first under the dash, looking for a fuse to pull, but the light was poor and I didn't have time to try to decode those cryptic labels.

The starter was never designed to run this long, and it was over heating. Shortly the insulation on the wire would melt and sparks would fly. I faced a very real chance of catching the RV on fire.

I hopped out and opened up the engine access panel in the front. There in front of me was a new wire -- the wire the mechanic in El Paso had installed when we had the opposite problem, when the starter wouldn't run. I reached into my pocket, and there, waiting patiently, was my pocket knife.

I whipped it open and sawed through that wire -- and the starter went silent.

Luckily, the engine was running, because likely the starter was destroyed. The air was filled with the smell of burned wiring, but at least there was no short, no flame.

Waiting for our nerves to calm down a bit, I finally pulled out on the road, and after a few hours, and a little of Mary Ann's research on the web, we arrived at the Oakland GMC Truck center.

We'll be living in a Howard Johnsons for a couple of days while they try to put the RV back in working order. Mary Ann will have opportunity to take San Francisco photos, and I'll get to take advantage of Howard Johnson's high speed internet.

But I'm keeping my knife in my pocket.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Dead Whale Strikes Back

Last night, as we visited the Westport Community Store, the lady told us about the whale. Some time in the last few days a fin whale had died, beached on shore just a couple of miles south of town. So, when we loaded up several weeks worth of laundry for a trip into Fort Bragg (9 washer loads, 6 dryers) we stopped beside the road, and took a 150 foot high view of the whale. There wasn't an instant when people weren't in the view. The whale was quite a draw, and a little bit down the road, at Chadbourne Gulch, where there was beach access, there were at least a dozen cars. After returning with the laundry, Mary Ann loaded up her camera gear for a sunset photo shoot and rather than gamble for a better view, we went to the same place.

It was about 5PM and people were gathered at the gulch. There were couples, many families with children, and a number of young bucks with pickups and beer. Mary Ann headed off with her camera and tripod, while I waited until her extra camera battery was charged. Finally, I came out on the beach to join her. She had already been to see the whale and had come half-way back to get the right angle for her sunset shots of waves crashing on the rocks. I handed over the battery and went to see the whale myself.

The body of the giant was fascinating. Due to the breeze, the odor wasn't unpleasant at the head, but at the tail, the fish odor was strong. I was more concerned about the other people. When I had arrived, a group of about eight or so young people -- late teens or early twenties -- were there, taking camera-phone shots, and throwing rocks at it.

I guess the instinct to poke a stick at the dead monster is pretty strong. Only there weren't any sticks. All they had were rocks and pickups. One of the beer-and-pickup crowd had come down onto the beach and made a run at it. It was gone by the time I walked up, but the tracks showed that it must have gotten close enough to rub the dirt off the side of the pickup. I doubt that the pickup or the rocks affected the whale any. Once the rock throwers left, I braved the surf and got close enough to touch the whale -- not something I'm going to get much chance at.

The skin was tough. The fin felt like it was made of mahogany covered with leather. It didn't feel slimy, but afterwards my hand felt oily. It was a creature of the depths and comfortable moving among rocky shores. It would take a whole lot more than a chunk of rock to make a mark on this thing. I went back to join Mary Ann, with a flashlight in case she needed it.

On the way back, the pickup returned, making another half-mile run from the gulch to the whale. Mary Ann had said they had offered to ferry her back to the car, warning her that the tide was coming in. The sun had gone down, but the clouds and the dusk light were still giving her enough light to work by. She had to move a few times, and the rising tide was pushing her back. I commented that if they weren't careful, they'd get their pickup stuck. I wondered what they were up to, thinking of the rock throwers and the tracks they'd left the first time.

Then one of them came by at a run. They'd gotten the pickup stuck, and he was going for help. I suggested to Mary Ann that we not spend a whole lot of time talking about people making stupid mistakes and pick up our expensive equipment and get back to the car before the rising tide and the fading light got us in trouble too.

We stopped at the overlook on the way back, and down below, we could see that another pickup had come to help.


Mary Ann set up her camera to take 30 second exposures on the tripod and we watched as they struggled.

I tried to make sense of the scene below. Had the pickup tried to drive up onto the whale, or had the waves washed it into that position? Finally, the second vehicle had to give it up. They couldn't get the traction, and it was still two hours until high tide. As I write, the pickup is still there in the dark, being shoved around by the waves.

I'm sure the dead whale has no thoughts on the matter, and probably isn't too concerned with its dignity. But whales are monsters to the human scale, and we risk more than our own dignity when we attempt to knock it down a peg.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Status report from Westport, CA

For those who read my blog, but not Mary Ann's, I'm posting the link to a sampler of the photos she took while we were in Crescent City. We've been stuck together like glue the most of this trip, so while she was taking those photos, I was usually within shouting distance in the Jeep, doing something or another on my laptop.

My projects are advancing as well. I completed the outline for a new time-travel novel tentatively titled "Golden Girl" and I'm edging my way into the second chapter.

We moved today, driving through the California rains south, leaving Crescent City and setting up in Westport. The drive was interesting. This last stretch was 20 or 30 miles through dense redwood forests, with so little sky that the GPS was totally out of service from where we turned off highway 101 and took highway 1 all the way to the coast. The road was two-lane blacktop and solid hairpin turns. Add in low light, rain and wet pavement, toss in some minor rock slides, and altogether it was a memorable, but pleasant drive.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mary Ann's Driver

One of my jobs is to drive while Mary Ann takes her pictures. Today was a little different because the Jeep is stuck in the shop, getting a clutch transplant. We rented a cute little red car instead. It's a little harder to fit into the driver's seat, and of course, I don't trust it on dirt roads.

So... of course the first thing we did was head out to the Stout Grove outside of town. The first few inches of the road were paved, but the bulk of it was dirt -- probably somewhat better than it was when it was a stagecoach route, but not much. And, Mary Ann was experimenting with artistic motion blur. She'd point the camera at the trees outside and yell, "Faster! Go faster!".

I was hardly able to dodge the deep pits in the road, and avoid the other cars and bicyclists on the road -- but I tried to please.

Down and around the giant redwoods we went, sometimes with not much clearance between them. Around one blind curve, we pulled to a halt. A pickup camper had ignored the warnings and was attempting to make its way though the maze. I backed up on the road until there was a wide place to let the camper pass by and then pushed on.

When we reached the Stout Grove hiking trail, we bailed out and Mary Ann set her camera for 'serious pictures' and hauled out the tripod. By the way. She's in all three of these pictures, although you'll have to look hard in the third one.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Morning Cartoons on the Beach

I have my routines. In the morning, I have my breakfast, a handful of assorted pills, and my internet fix. However, on location as we are, morning begins before dawn when Mary Ann peeks out the window to check the sky conditions. If there is a chance for sunrise light, we hurriedly get ready and head out in the jeep to set up for her photos. This was the case this morning, so slim fast shake and a bananna instead of oatmeal, and my email and morning cartoons would have to wait.

Or would they? We stopped near Battery Point, overlooking the breaking waves and the rocks below. Just on a whim, I checked for Wi-fi. Strangely enough, there was a signal, and my laptop connected.

Now, we were several hundred feet from any buildings, out on a bare parking lot, far out of range of most wireless routers. Was this a city thing, or just some homeowner's router with no passwords.

I quickly checked my email and read my cartoons, noticing that every time a car drove down the street, the signal would drop out. It had to be coming from that house on the corner, but how were they getting that range?

Then I noticed, the entire parking lot was surrounded with a decorative fence made up of a hefty anchor chain through concrete supports. That anchor was acting as a long range antenna booster, capturing the wi-fi signal and focussing it at my parking spot.

Well, I hesitate to swipe any more of their bandwidth, but maybe just enough to post this blog.