STINSON BEACH

In 2015 I checked two items off my bucket list: getting a sidecar rig and doing a fly/buy/ride excursion from my Kentucky home to a distant state. In March I flew out to Tacoma, Washington and made the purchase of the little red sidecar rig I had seen at the BMW rally the previous July in St. Paul. Sidecars are a different animal from motorcycles and I learned to drive it on the way back, going down the California coastline.

At Stinson Beach, north of San Fransisco, I was tired enough to stop. I learned the hard way long ago what happens if I don’t listen to that inner voice that says it’s time to get off the bike. This tiny beach town had just three lodging places and two of them were full. I get to the third, a B&B, just as a couple in their 30’s, driving an expensive car, get the next to last room. I take the last one without any questions. It is a strange looking place, hard to describe, but I think,”I’ve stayed in worse”…and I have, but not by much.

There are chickens in the “courtyard” in front of the house, though it is hard to spot them amid the clutter. My rig is parked in front of the gate, out on the street.

I can’t really tell what the house actually looks like because of the objects, small and large, everywhere. There are signs allegedly from the Titanic, various bits of what I assume are sculptures, though I can’t tell what most of them might be, random pieces of inside and outside furniture, carved tiki gods and plants all over the place. Cats roam among the detritus. There is a fence around the house, but it is so covered in the decorative junk that I can’t get my eyes to focus on any one piece to tell what its contours might be. There is an iron staircase to nowhere. The proprietor is a muumuu clad lady of indeterminate age, probably older than me, and my guess is that in her day she would have been what back then was called a hippie here in the birthplace of that movement. She seems distracted, perhaps a little disconnected. Breakfast, she tells me is at 8:30 and when I say that I’ll be long gone by then, she gives me a discount on the room without my asking. Still, it’s the most expensive lodging of the trip so far, but I’m not in a position to quibble. My room is not in the house, but in an “annex” across a wavy cobbled brick patio, with a half bath in another building across the sidewalk. Inside the half-bath, there is a curtain across the space under the sink and when I look in, I find several broken toilet seats stored, presumably, for some future use. My quarters are small, obviously added on at some point from an outside area and there is a support column in the center. The decor is “Middle Hoarder Period” with so many things piled on every surface that I really can’t tell what I’m looking at. I do the mandatory bedbug check and find no evidence, which suggests that even they won’t live here. I devise a way of hanging my clothes from an abandoned TV rack jutting out from the wall, so they won’t touch the floor and whatever else is projecting. I keep the bags tightly closed.

A short walk outside brings me to the three restaurants in town, one of which is closed for the evening. On the porch of the next, a lady about my age is sitting, enjoying the sun she says, not here for the food, and beside her is a large dog tied to the rail (with a water bowl handy). He is of generously mixed ancestry, but she tells me he isn’t hers, that he belongs to one of the patrons inside, so I don’t try to pet him. (Cue the Peter Sellars, Inspector Clouseau “Does your dog bite?” routine.) She can’t recommend one restaurant over another, she says, but then informs me that the live music is about to start in this one, so I go to the other. The Parkside Cafe turns out to be a good choice, since the menu is eclectic, the draft beer selection small but thoughtful, and it’s quiet. I select a vegetarian combo with roasted this and that and subtle spices that I can’t definitely identify, but certainly enjoy. It is all washed down with a local oatmeal stout, which won’t knock Guinness off its perch, but was well worth a try. I walk back to the room and go to bed, even though it’s only 8, because there’s nothing else I can do.

Up at 4 in the morning, still dark but not raining yet. After a cold water shave in the half bath (no hot available), I sneak across the courtyard over to the main house for the showers before anyone else gets in. There are no towels, just a hand towel on the sink that folks have been using when washing hands. Well, any port in a storm. There’s also no soap, so I wash with my shampoo, which should mean that all my body hair is now silky soft, shiny and voluminous. TMI ? I write my journal entry by the light of the ipad screen, sitting outside at a rusty patio table, since there is no place to sit in my room. I’m waiting for dawn so I can hit the road.

At first light, I free the rig from its precarious perch by the gate and I’m off, keeping the ocean on my right. Highway 1 climbs sharply out of Stinson Beach, winding tortuously up the steep slope on a narrow shelf cut into the rocks. Much of the road is still dark, since the sun is struggling to get above the rim of the mountain but already it has illuminated the ocean a ways out from shore. It is spectacular, this chiaroscuro view of rocks and sea, a light show that would cost a fortune to imitate with technology, but here it happens every morning. I can’t watch as much as I’d like for the road is narrow, not much if any shoulder in many places and occasionally there is a large rock that just couldn’t adhere to the wall any longer and has come down to the asphalt to rest.

The curves are, as always on this north coast, tight and endless. As I reach the top of the mountain nearest San Francisco, there are more housing clusters, very expensive, beautiful constructions ingeniously engineered, the occupants hope, to cling to the sides overlooking the sea. I pull over at every turnout to let frantically rushing cars go by. These folks work in the big city to pay for these magazine-cover homes and they are in a hurry to drive their Bimmers and Volvos and exotic Italian cars down the mountain to get to the job. The racers who ascend Pikes Peak would have serious competition from these workers if the race was back down to the bottom.

Later I’m sitting in the Dipsea Cafe near Mill Valley, having breakfast and waiting for the rush hour to die down a bit on the Golden Gate. I remembered the intersection of 1 and 101 here when I saw it, probably because Brenda and I missed it the first time 20 years ago going north and had to “tour” Mill Valley until we could get turned around. We had pancakes for breakfast that morning at a restaurant in Sausalito, so I’m having pancakes here today. Can’t find the other restaurant and the traffic at 8 AM is too heavy and frantic for me to explore much. I dread the thought of going through San Fransisco, but it must be done.

The staff here at this cafe is ignoring me, probably because a travel-soiled Aerostitch doesn’t fit in well with the obviously upscale clientele they are used to serving. Three guys at the table behind me are talking about investors, debentures and who knows what in techno-speak lingo. Not sure what it all means, but if they were talking to me, I’d cover my wallet.

The Dipsea Cafe is named after a trail that departs near here and goes up over the mountain to end in Stinson. There is a footrace held on the trail every year. If it crossed the road in the weekday morning hours, I suspect some of the competitors would end up on the grille of a Volvo in an office park in the city.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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