In general, I don’t find travel all that stressful, but it can wear a bit thin from time to time. One thing I do whenever I can is to grab a foreign language newspaper and struggle my way through it. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, I’ve studied Spanish in High School for three years, German in College for two and am continuing to study French as an adult.
I love grabbing a local newspaper (or magazine) push my language skills to the net level. On my recent trip to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to snag a couple editions of Le Monde, a French newspaper that is just slightly above my reading level. I also selected a copy of Stern while flying to Austria.
I found it to be pretty mentally taxing to read these periodicals, but reading the news in a foreign language is a very fulfilling experience for me. It shows that all the hard work is really starting to pay off.
Do you have little travel pleasures that get you through long flights?
Our trip around the West Coast of the US was pretty well planned, with hotels, routes and hikes setup weeks in advance. Most of our trips are planned this way, we rarely book a hotel on the fly. This was different. Because of some horrendous traffic issues, Highway 101 was closed completely and we had no viable way to return to our lodging in rural Mendocino County. The hotels in Willits were filling up fast. The Best Western was sold out. Similarly several other small, local hotels had filled up by the time we made it to their lobby.
Finally we found a hotel, the Baechtel Creek Inn, which is located just a bit off of the main drag in Willits, visible from the road but not as clear as other properties, it looked nice from the road, with lit trees and a winding drive. We jumped on this property. We were followed by several other cars, as we pulled into the hotel. I hopped out and ran towards the lobby hoping to beat the crowd. This town had limited hotel rooms which would be sold out in short order.
There were a few people in line in front of me and many in line behind me. The lady checking in when I arrived was arguing about the price. She demanded a jacuzzi suite (gross), but didn’t want to move her car from the temporary parking spot. She was just arguing with the guy working the front desk. He was doing his best to handle all of these new reservations and most of the people checking in were taking their traffic frustrations out on him.
I was patient and we joked about how awfully rude these people were. We managed to get two rooms and shuffled off to bed.
Our room was on the first floor, facing the parking lot. This was a motel, with exterior doors leading outside. When checking in, we were given a stern warning about smoking in the room and there would be a $500 fine. I was quite surprised when we walked into the room and were immediately hit with the smell of both cigarette and weed smoke. We got use to the stench pretty quickly though, only noticing it again, when we left the room and returned.
The floor was also a bit damp – not just near the air conditioner or near the bathroom, where there was no shower door or curtain, but everywhere. The floor didn’t exactly squish when you walked, but after the first step, you never put bare foot on the carpeting again during the stay.
There were power outlets near the beds, which didn’t do us any good because we didn’t have phone chargers with us, as we were expecting to be gone for just a couple of hours, not overnight.
I do love when a hotel does something interesting with the toilet paper. I’m just not sure why they folded this roll into the shape of a penis.
Factory muffins and some fruit with coffee and tea comprised the complementary breakfast served the next morning. We skipped breakfast.
The staff on site was pretty accommodating. I was surprised, especially considering they weren’t expecting anyone to bother them at 22h30 in the evening then they were hit with an onslaught of unexpected guests. The room was fine, better than sleeping in the car…I guess. It was a bit gross and I wouldn’t plan on staying at this property again.
Are you a fan of the Choice Hotel chain? What do you know about the Ascend Hotel Collection?
We left Hendy Woods State Park and after spending the afternoon in Mendocino and grabbing an early dinner in Fort Bragg, we decided to head back to our base camp. Taking the same road back as we did out wasn’t very exciting, so we decided to take a more scenic route. This road was interesting and brought us much farther inland than our morning journey did.
We approach the town of Willits where we would rejoin Highway 101, for the quick 20 minutes back home. The traffic wasn’t bad, but it was noticeable. We approach the on-ramp and a man from CalTrans was redirecting us, saying the road was closed for an unspecified period of time and to come back later.
That didn’t sound good. We checked the local news outlets (online) and found that a man, described as a “Grizzly Adams look-a-like” had shot people on the highway, causing a bad accident and he was still on the loose. We debated our options: 1) Wait it out – the highway has to open SOMETIME 2) Throw in the towel, grab a room and try again in the morning or 3) Find an alternate route home. The local member of our team that day called a friend very familiar with the area, and he suggested we take old State Route 306 – it’ll take longer than 101, it’s not paved the full way through and there may be water on the road.
Somehow it was decided that Option 3 was the right one for us. I’m not to keen on staying in a sleazy motel, but I’m less of a fan of wandering aimlessly down unpaved roads we are unfamiliar with – with a 76 year old driver who doesn’t like driving after dark…in a Prius.
We venture out. It was great for the first 10 minutes, then the road turned to gravel. Rocks and dust flying as we drove down this road. We weren’t the only ones who had decided to use old State Route 306. As we continue on, we come across the water in the road that the local friend told us about. I wasn’t expecting the entire road to be covered in about 4-6 inches of water, but there we were, staring fate in the eyes. Do we continue on or turn back. You know my vote. I lost. We continued on. Off-roading in a Prius wasn’t on the books for today.
I got out of the car, grabbed the biggest stick I could find and charted our car’s journey through the blockade, that I affectionately called the puddle. The water wasn’t moving, per se, but it wasn’t static either. Under surface in the murky water were rocks – lots of rocks, little rocks and very big rocks. I plotted the path and allowed the driver (it was his car) to execute the plan.
He put his car into warp speed and flew through the puddle, spraying muddy water all around – I was smart enough to stay out of the splash zone. I see the Prius pass the puddle, turn the corner and disappear out of sight. Were they going to leave me here? I take off running after them. About 250 meters away they stop. There was no need to continue on that far, but they did.
We weren’t the only small cars out there trying to ford this obstacle, hell, we weren’t even the only Prius.
These watery obstructions continued every 3-5 minutes or so. Traffic was getting worse and worse. The local folks with the big trucks passed us by and blew through the water. Their grins were big as they passed the three of us in our Prius. They smiled so big you could see the missing teeth or the hunk of chewing tobacco in their mouths.
After successfully navigating three of these puddles, we encounter the forth. Big Bertha. She was the largest puddle we had seen. Not only was she huge, but once you cleared the water, you encountered a long, straight, steep stretch of road. This road was getting muddy – all the trucks were splashing water and kicking up the rocks. This channel was also the deepest to date. It was at least 8-10 inches deep and the underwater rocks were the biggest. One wrong turn and we’d blow a tire or rip out the undercarriage.
The Decision to Return
I was not keen on the idea of us getting stuck in the puddle too – at this point there were at least a dozen vehicles behind us. We weren’t worried about the Subarus that could likely make the trip. I was more concerned about the pick-up truck driving locals and how pissed they’d be if we blocked their only way home. Not worth it.
We decided to turn around and cross those three original puddles again. The other Priuses (Priii?) followed our lead and we raced back to civilization.
As we approached the puddles, I planned on hopping out and replotting an appropriate return path, but the driver had other ideas. He said since we’ve already been through this area, we know we can make it…so let’s just drive. My stomach knotted as he laid his foot on the accelerator. We sped through each of these three remaining obstacles each time smacking into rocks – the sound of them scraping under the car caused me to gnash my teeth. The final puddle had us on a surprising trajectory – one that caused the water to flow over the top of the hood and onto the windshield. I’m pretty sure that’s not ideal for a hybrid vehicle, right?
Returning to Town
The last of the puddles were in our rear view mirror. We snaked our way through the gravel road, then back on to pavement. We hurried back into Willits to snag some motel rooms – I wasn’t going to sleep in the Prius, that’s for sure.
As we drive through town, the car was making an interesting sound – a muffled scraping sound. It didn’t sound like a flat tire, but it didn’t sound right either. When we’d pass someone on the street, they would turn and stare at us. The sound we heard inside the car was also audible outsidr. We are still causing a scene.
We pull into a local Grocery Outlet – needing toothbrush, tooth paste and phone chargers – as we had no intention of staying out all night when we left 13 hours prior. I decided to take a look at the front of the car and I found a large rubber piece hanging from just under the headlights. This part runs the entire front width of the car and it is broken. It is dragging against the pavement. It is pushing rocks, sticks, trash and other debris with us. I managed to reattach this piece, but after a few minutes of driving it would fall again. Of the four to six rivets, only two were still working properly and they wouldn’t hold the piece up.
I was terrified this would either catapult us to our death somehow, or severely injure someone behind us. We couldn’t find a way to remove this damaged piece. I made my recommendation and went along with the majority vote.
The car was in rough shape as we left Willits the next morning. The tires hadn’t deflated during the night.What a lovely surprise.
Well, Little Prius, we took you on an adventure and you returned us home. You were a little banged up, but those battle scars show what you’ve done, what you can do. This is the most excitement you’ve had and will likely never have anything this wild run under your tires again.
We left San Francisco to head up to Mendocino County to spend a couple days with family and to do some hiking. Our first hiking stop was the Hendy Woods State Park. We had some non-hikers with us, so we were happy to take an easy trail so we could all spend time together. It was their first trip to see these giant trees.
We opted to hike a flat trail – The Upper Hendy Loop Trail – which was very flat and was about 2.5 km (1.6 miles) long. While it wasn’t a strenuous hike, it was really beautiful.
This was my first redwood experience ever on foot. I drove through the redwoods about 20 years ago, but didn’t stop and hike, I had places to go and people to see. I would highly recommend this hike for all fitness levels. You get to see so much of the beauty of the region with almost no physical exertion.
Have you hiked Hendy Woods State Park before? What do you think of this trail? It was utterly dead when we were there, only coming across a single other group of travelers. So sad that more people weren’t experiencing the beauty on this long holiday weekend.
We had a single night for dinner in San Francisco, so I immediately turned to the Fifty Best Restaurants list, a list that has never steered us wrong. Saison was rated number 46 on the current listing. Like many fine dining restaurants you buy tickets for a given day and time and those tickets go on sale two months before your desired reservation time. I marked my calendar and had no problem getting reservations.
We did absolutely no further research on the restaurant or the menu before our arrival. I knew that Saison focused on seasonal produce and meats prepared in a contemporary California style. That’s all we knew – we prefer to go in relatively blind.
We arrived at 19h00 and were seated immediately. Our table was a corner two top where we sat right next to each other. It was a tight fit and for several of the courses the table just didn’t have enough real estate. It got even more crowded with the various wine glasses.
Speaking of wine, we chose not to do all of the wine pairings. Honestly, this choice was made solely on price. The wine pairings added another $298 per person, which would have brought our total bill for dinner to nearly $1,200 and while this is a once in a lifetime experience, we’ve had a few once in a lifetime meals already this year and thought we should be more cost conscious. That being said, we asked our server to select a couple glasses of wine for the entire meal, progressing and pairing as the meal went on. We also asked that our wines be different so we could more properly experience the tasting menu.
We had a team of servers helping us and they ran the gamut from Mr. Congeniality to folks on the very far end of the GADS (Asberger’s) scale – so much so that it was painful to talk to them. They didn’t have any details on some of the courses they served, but they tried. When these struggles presented themselves, the server knew quickly that they weren’t prepared (all three times it happened) and one of their colleagues would return and talk more in-depth about the course. At the end we got where we needed to be.
This meal seemed more elaborate than other tasting menus we’ve seen recently. Everything from a make-it-yourself amberjack lettuce wrap to a barbecued half quail. Dining in late June allowed for the early summer seasonal produce to really shine. The fresh peas and summer fruits for dessert were stellar.
Our meal lasted about two and a half hours, but at the end we sat around for another 45 minutes sampling a couple of wines and chatting with some of the servers, who had just recently visited Chicago and spent a week eating – so we talked fine dining to beef stands. It was a great way to end the meal.
While not without room for improvement, the food really stood out at Saison. I wish we had a slightly different table and that our team of servers were a little more well-rounded in their training and delivery. If Saison has been on your list of places to try whilst in San Francisco, you must go. It was quite the experience.
Have you dined at Saison? How was your service team? Which course was your favorite? I loved the Peas, the Antelope and the Orange dessert. So refreshing.