Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

To Antioch!

Saturday, May 20th - This day began with a winding country road through narrow valleys as I worked my way through the hills from Camarillo to the main California northsouth highway artery. I had never driven through this particular area and it was interesting, orange groves and strawberry fields seemingly crammed into every flat place of small winding valleys. I was listening to a collection of Arthur C Clark's stories on audiobook and though I didn't realize the parallel at the time, it was a story about driving around on the mountains of the moon as I drove through this area, and now my memory of driving through this area is inexorably tied to visuals of moon rovers with big tires rumbling over craggy moon ridges.
   After maybe half an hour though I got onto the Five freeway and rocketed up over Tejon pass and down the steep automobile chute called the Grapevine into the broad empty expanse of the central valley.
   No sooner has one reached the valley floor than choose-your-own-adventure style one is confronted with a choice: the 99 or the 5. They'll get you up Sacramento way within minutes of eachother but the 99 goes through more towns and cities. I almost always take the 5 to avoid little mini traffic jams one might encounter in Bakersfield and Modesto. For that matter one can take the 101 which also goes the same route but goes through the foothills to the west of the valley -- it is far more beautiful but will add three hours to your journey -- and if you really have time to kill the 1 goes up the coast and takes forever but is by far the nicest -- if you ever are doing this journey as a tourist not native to California, absolutely go up the 1 and give yourself two or three days at it.

   The southern end of the Central Valley is flat and empty, as one takes the Five it passes an extremely smelly cattle feed lot and the experienced driver instinctively puts the AC on internal circulation before the first wiff of it. Once past it the road skirts the western hills and one can put the AC back on normal. The hills here can be rather picturesque in the right light. On this day they looked like the bristly coat of a freshly shorn golden sheep.
   About halfway on one's journey from So Cal to Nor Cal one comes to the exit for Kettleman City, and one stops here for food and gas. This town is barely more than several gas stations and restaurants just off the offramp. I'm vaguely aware that there are restaurants other than the In-N-Out but the idea that one would go to any of them is absolutely laughable. One goes to In-N-Out. This is the crucial caravanserias of California. This is the fuzzy naval of the state. The two crossed palm trees outside the In-N-Out are the axis upon which the state is balanced. As I turned into the In-N-Out on this occasion I noted that Kettleman City had erected a bizarre little tacky sidestreet of faux western facades. Lord knows what they were thinking when they decided on this.
   I pulled an embarrassing Australianism when I went into In-N-Out here: I rattled off my order like the native I am ("double double animal style no tomato diced chilies, fries and a small drink"), but then, THEN, I blithely waved my credit card in front of the reader like we do in Australia. The guy behind the register looked at me like I was absolutely insane (note for non-Americans, not only is this technology not available in the States, it's beyond even imagination. Someone waving a card in front of a reader must necessary be out of their mind).

   Continuing north up the highway it continues to be most of the same open spaces carpeted with dry grass, dotted with small towns off the highway (one of which is named Los Banos, which I believe is Spanish for "the toilets??"), some of which even also have In-N-Outs by now but Kettleman City is already a deep tradition.
   Eventually the empty grasses give way to orange groves. Shortly after entering the orange groves one sees highway signs advising of "Crows Landing," and then there's a facility with an enormous 30 foot tall fence around it, and every time I drive by it I wonder what it is but forget to look it up by the time I get home, and other people I've talked to who have done the drive say the same thing. Is it a prison? Is it a landfill? The world may never know. I could presumably look it up at this moment but that would violate the purity of my mind being in its original condition. There's traditions to be observed: thou shalt stop at Kettleman City; though shalt not look into what is going on at Crow's Landing.
   Also I always read the sign as more a warning sign to be on the look out for crows that are landing than that there's an actual place called Crows Landing.

   Then the orange groves give way to almond trees. Almonds are the most profitable crop in the central valley, and a few years ago farmers of other crops were pulling out all their apple or orange trees to make way for almonds, but almonds it turns out require a great deal of water, and there is now no more water to go around, so some fields have had their previous crops destroyed only to find they can't get the water to grow almonds. Also almonds are beehive intensive and the rapid expansion led to 70% of the bees in the country being demanded for pollination (or rather, enticed with pollination prices that rapidly rose from $40 / hive to $200). This in turn led to a greater stress on the bees as well as when even then they couldn't entice enough hives to come down, a perception of a bee shortage starting in 2005.

   A few hours north of Kettleman city one comes to another fork in the road. The Five continues to the right to Sacramento and onward to Oregon, Seattle, Vancouver Canada, and possibly onward to the North Pole as far as anyone knows. Okay I actually decided to google this right now, there's a Canadian route 5 that picks up near where the US 5 ends, and that joins the Canadian 16 and if you keep following it it meanders around and eventually seems to end as an obscure dirt "unnamed road" in a forest on a Canadian island. It would perhaps be an interesting roadtrip to follow it to it's very end!! If only I was legally allowed in Canada...
   The left fork on the other hand sends one through the windmill-topped hills into the Bay Area and a network of highways that end in -80 for some reason-- the 280, 580, 680, 880, etc. San Francisco is actually a picturesque city that is very worth visiting as a tourist, and my many friends who settled in the Bay Area seem to love it, but I myself hate traffic and therefore driving into the Bay Area.

   My roadtrip plan had been quite fluid over the previous 24 hours, there were friends I would have liked to see in San Francisco, so I was thinking of going into the Bay Area and ending the day there, and then perhaps making a short hop to the Davis / Sacramento area where I had gone to college. But My San Francisco friends turned out to be busy and my friend way up in Spokane turned out to have a day off on Monday so if I could hurry up and get there on Monday we could hang out all day. My beekeeping friend Doug was also near Spokane with an open invitation for me to come see him. I also sent my friend Maureen in Bellingham way up by the Canadian border an inquiry if she'd like to hang out, though for several years we'd barely been in contact so I wasn't sure if she would be amenable. And Koriander invited me to come sailing on the traditionally rigged sailing vessel Lady Washington, though it was unclear as yet when the most convenient time to do that would be.

   But anyway, here I was now at the fork in the road to take the 580 into the Bay Area or the 5 up to Sacramento and beyond ... and I decided to take The Third Path. The Middle Path, as it were. Since I hate Bay Area traffic, when my friend Nidia informed me in response to whether or not I could visit "sure but we moved out of the Bay Area to Antioch" as if it was a bad thing, I was in fact thrilled.
   Antioch is probably the furthest inland place that I would still consider part of the Bay Area. My first experience of Antioch was by sailing there on the sailing vessel Hawaiian Chieftain (not a sister ship of Lady Washington in that she's not the same design, but maybe a step-sister ship?). After sailing under the Golden Gate in the dark of night we turned North in the bay, several hours later (the boat doesn't go very fast) sailing up channel, under bridges, past the California Maritime Academy and their big training ship, past the mothballed battleships in Suisun Bay, and up river to Antioch, where spiders were blowing in the wind as we furled the sails aloft. The little spiders spun little para-sails of web and there were thousands of them blowing through the rigging on that swarm autumn afternoon. So Antioch conjures up for me memories of these spiders (I'm not arachnophobic so it's just classified as a great natural oddity in my head), as well as the quote from Mony Python and the Holy Grail about the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
   I took the 580 fork but not ten minutes later, before it enters the hills, I found my GPS guiding me off the highway onto smaller roads that zigzagged through small communities among the hills. My favorite part of roadtrips is getting off the main highways, but unfortunately on this one I've had to beat feet on too much of it and spend a great deal of time on the Five. I therefore enjoyed this bit of routing I didn't even have to coax out of my GPS. Apparently the fastest way to get to Nidia and Trevor's house from the south, it nevertheless felt like I was skulking into Antioch through some obscure back way.
   Antioch, it turns out, is more than just a marina blowing with airborne spiders. Nidia and Trevor turned out to live in an area of suburbs that looked exactly like the neighborhood my family lived in when I was in elementary school in Orange County. Stucco houses of seemingly possibly the exact same design as back home sitting on quiet cul-de-sacs.
   Nidia has a master's degree in math, I believe, and finally has a teaching job in a local college (for a long time she was stuck in administrative positions in math departments), and her husband Trevor has and/or is working on a PhD in questionmark something pertaining to either physics and/or microbiology? I'm a bit unclear on it all. And they have a three year old! Named [quick mom what's their daughter named?]! Ii had not met their daughter yet, since I didn't want to impose a visitation upon them in the first year and then I've pretty much been gone for two. Nidia is one of my longest running friends, having met at a Model United Nations conference when we were 15, and despite having never gone to the same school or lived within half an hour of eachother we've been continuously friends ever since.
   That evening we went for a walk, along with the little one, along a nice bike trail behind their house. I was really enjoying how long the sunlight lasts here in the northern hemisphere. Nidia and Trevor are really into board games and have a table permanently set up in their garage next to a bookshelf of board games. Unfortunately it was rather warm with the garage door closed but with it open mosquitoes would come in. Nevertheless I was still relishing these summer-like conditions! We played what I believe is a sort of expansion of the agricultural board game Agricola that involves caves. Perhaps I should have tried regular Agricola first but I was enticed by the idea of cavemen, although it was more dwarf-themed as it turns out. Ah well. Live and learn.

   Altogether it was delightful catching up with these dear friends. Like some kind of cave dwarf, I happily crawled into bed that night on an air mattress in their living room and their cat came and snuggled up somewhere nearby.

Up next, I get off the five and take the scenic route to Eugene, Oregon!

Tags: america, automobile travel, epic roadtrip 2017, travel, travelogues

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