Not the desert anymore.
And just like that, we’re back in the land of weather. Travel to San Simeon was not fun. In fact, the last thirteen miles of Highway 46 going down to Highway 1 was some of the most terrifying towing I think I have ever done. That was awful.
We had been watching the weather reports up and down the state quite closely. It looked like we were going to be able to slide between two systems on our travel day westward. That was kind of true, in that it wasn’t raining until the end, and at the Tehachapi Pass, but it was very windy all day. Wind towing is one of my least favorite things. At least, I kept telling myself, it is daytime, it is not raining, and Highway 58 is not as busy as some other highways, if you have to tow in wind. There were few places I could exit or take frontage roads, so it was mostly just hang tight, be ready for the pushing and pulling every time a truck passed, and keep it slow. For a while, we listened to our audio book of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” which is fun and mostly distracting. When it got intense though, we had to pause. I took quick breaks at rest stops and exits, just enough to catch my breath and unclench, and then it was back on the road all the way until Tehachapi.
Climbing up the pass, one could see that there was going to be dense fog and low visibility at the top. Light up signs saying “Dense Fog. Low Visibility.” seemed to confirm that suspicion. I was finally able to get off the highway and take surface streets to the big gas station at the top and look for the alternate route down. I really did not want to be on the highway going down with next to no visibility. The wind was crazy up there and blew the car doors shut when you got out. Weather reports said it was not raining, so there went any credibility out the window.
The Tehachapi Loop
I was able to find the road I had once SAGed Richard on that I remembered not liking. Woodford-Tehachapi Road was narrow and curvy, with deathy edges and a serious descent for twelve miles. Well now it is my favorite road. I love that road. It is the best road ever. Crawling out of town through the thick fog, we started to go down. There was no one behind me or in front of me, so I could go as slow as I pleased and not worry about being rear ended. Almost immediately as we started down, the wind lessened and the fog lifted a little. It got better and better as we went, enough that when we got to the place where we could see the Tehachapi Loop with a train going by, I was downright happy and untense enough to make Richard take pictures.
The cloud layer by the time we reached Keene (and the unavoidable onramp back onto Highway 58), was way overhead now. There was very little wind, and traffic was moving slow and careful the rest of the way down to Bakersfield. What a relief! Traveling across the central valley was easy and the wind was not noticeable on this side of the mountains. I took 58 to 46 and stayed on 46 all the way to Paso Robles. With only about twenty miles to go, I thought I had it licked. And by the time things got socked in, there was really no turning back.
Highway 46 down to the coast is normally rather exhilarating. I mean, the views of the ocean below are gorgeous, but it is not a relaxing drive. It is a long, exposed highway that plummets about 1,500 feet in sweeping curves that are dicey on clear days. And there is often wind. On our approach, it was wind plus that damn dense rainy fog the whole way down. Visibility was so low it seemed like nighttime, the road was wet, and you could only just make out the edges of the curves as you went down them. Maybe that was good though, because seeing the dropoffs on either side of the curves might not have helped. If I had even tried to pull over, there were about ten cars behind me that would never have been able to see me or stop in time. It was death grip on the steering wheel time and just super focus on what I could see of the road ahead. I asked Richard to count down the miles, in tenths, all the way down. “7.1, 7.0, 6.9…” And me repeating, “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok…” By the time we were three miles away from the intersection with Highway 1, it was in fact ok. The visibility improved and the grade calmed down. When you roll to the stop sign, it is finally, blissfully, flat. Then it’s clear sailing just a few flat miles to the campground. I can still feel my shoulders reaching for my ears though. Weather apps insisted it was not raining yet. Stupid weather apps.
Whew. Made it!
I knew there was no bailing on that day, unless I wanted to be stuck somewhere during the big storm on Saturday. We pulled in and did our best to nose Dory into the direction the stupid weather apps were saying the wind was going to be coming from. Then I had a margarita and we pulled the privacy curtains on our little cocoon of stationary safety.
Kept an eye on that tiny little creek…
The big storm on New Year’s Eve took a while to ramp up, so much so that we scoffed a little about this storm being a “nothing burger.” We really should not do that. Ever. Even if it ends up being true. And while we were fine, we found out later that lots and lots of places flooded or slid, all over California.
Palm trees are rugged buggers.
We had reservations for a tour at Hearst Castle in the afternoon, and there was no reason not to do that. Everything was open and trams were running people up the long road to the castle, as per usual. The castle is situated at the top of a hill, about sixteen hundred feet above the ocean. Architect Julia Morgan designed the approach so that, as you bend and climb your way up, the castle comes in and out of view until you reach the top. Of course, we couldn’t see anything through the clouds, but when we got out of the bus, we sure could feel the full force of the storm. We were all geared up in rain jackets, and I put on rain pants, which fared a lot better than the destroyed umbrella of another tour member.
You only know there’s a storm outside because you can’t see the view of the ocean.
Fortunately, most of the tour was indoors, and castles are really the place you want to be in a storm. We could see the palm trees blowing around through the windows, but really couldn’t hear or feel anything inside. That’s what happens when you build things out of thick reinforced concrete.
Lots of fancy bathrooms in this place
The tour itself was fascinating, as they always are. I think we’ve done three now, all different, and I would be happy doing each one again. You always learn something new about the place, or the people who visited. This time I learned that the showers in some of the guest rooms were among the first permanently installed and plumbed showers anywhere. Everything was state of the art at the time, including the fact that there was electrical lighting in every room. That was very avant garde for the times.
The Roman Pool
The outdoor “Neptune Pool” had been restored since the last time I was there, and it is beautiful. Now they are trying to restore the roof of the indoor “Roman Pool,” which is also the floor of the tennis courts. This pool was designed using millions of cobalt blue and gold leaf glass tiles, arranged in a pattern that makes it look like a starry sky. If you jump into the pool from a landing above, it makes you think you are diving upward, into the nighttime sky. As water dripped into the pool through the leaky ceiling, it created shimmering circles of golden reflected light. Dazzling. After the tour, we watched the informational movie in their IMAX theater. We both wondered whether Dory was doing ok in the storm, but figured there would be nothing we could do if we were there, so why not take our minds off our worries a while longer.
Returning to the campground, we saw no evidence of any storm damage and the creek did not seem to have gotten much higher than when we left. Dory was fine and we had done a standup job turning her right into the wind. She hardly even shuddered. It was time for dinner, bed, and be ready for an early departure. We had planned to stay an extra night, but stupid weather apps were all saying Sunday was the break in the rain. We did not believe them at all, but still planned to head back home.
Ok, one point for the stupid weather apps. They called this.
Morning came, and what do you know? The sun was out, the skies were blue, and it was as though nothing had happened. Our drive home was long, but not stressful. We even listened to some more of our audio book to pass the time. We could see small mudslides on the side of the road, but nothing was closed that barred our way.
Once home, we discovered some things had not fared so well, our next door neighbor being the hardest hit. She had a major mud slide from her side of our adjoining hill. Meanwhile, since we are in the process of construction, and since part of our existing roof has been removed in order to connect the new roof for the ADU, our daughter’s room had been raining inside. She did her best to catch the drips with bowls and buckets, but it looked pretty bad. Her floor is toast. It was a wood laminate and is now completely warped and destroyed. The drips coming from her ceiling were not quite so attractive as those falling into the Roman Pool at Hearst Castle. Maybe if she had Venetian glass floor tiles it would make the leaking more fun. The scary part is that there is another big system due to come through. We are happy for all this California rain of course, but we weren’t quite in sync with the timing of the remodel.
Oh well. Just keep swimming…. even if it is in your bedroom because the roof is leaking. Just pretend you’re in a castle.
Total miles from Calico: 288, 15.0 mpg fighting wind, 7 hours 8 min of stressful driving. Site 206 in the Washburn primitive loop. No hookups. Water spigots, vault toilets. Good dump down below in the main campground, but rinse hose was not working this time. Fairly good cell service, but not enough to satisfy our desire to keep updating weather reports.