Last week I went to northern California to visit some friends and to install a small solar electric system for a friend of a friend. I used to live down there, in Humboldt County, about an hour south of Eureka on the coast. It was the first real road trip in the recently repaired diesel Jetta that is featured elsewhere on this blog.

I like going down there at this time of year. Everything is so green and flowers are starting to pop up everywhere. And the coastline is beautiful.

ocean and rocks

On the way into California, along highway 199, the road drops into the Smith River drainage and follows it down towards Crescent City on the coast. I have a favorite stop that I make almost every time, a little turnout where you can walk down and sit by the river.

smith river canyon, california

I took this picture underwater with the little waterproof Pentax. The color of the water is just about perfect for steelhead fishing.

under the surface

South of Crescent City, there are numerous places where you can see elk herds. I actually pulled off this time and took a couple of pictures of the elk and their warning sign. Do not approach on foot! Yeah, no kidding…

do not approach on foot!

While waiting to meet the person who needed the solar panels installed, I took a little drive through one of the many redwood groves, and got out and hiked around a bit. This forest type is very different than what I am used to in Washington. The dominant softwood of course is Coast Redwood, and the main hardwood is Tanbark Oak, not a true oak in the Quercus genus, but it produces acorns like an oak tree. Its latin name is Lithocarpus Densiflorus. It is the only Lithocarpus outside of Asia. I used to work at a small sawmill that was focused on making lumber and especially flooring from tanoak, which is considered by the mainstream softwood industry to be a “trash tree”. We made a lot of really beautiful boards from this “trash tree”. Other hardwoods include oregon white oak, black oak, canyon live oak, bay laurel, and madrone. One of the few things I miss about living in California is the smell of woodstove smoke from all these spicy hardwoods. Lovely!

tanoak and redwood forest

Saturday night, I was all done and headed back to Portland. The car had been running flawlessly the whole trip, and I had done my 1000 mile head gasket retorque the day before. I was zipping along south of Albany, OR when it suddenly started running ragged and quit. I got over to the shoulder and tried to get it going again, but to no avail. It took a $400 tow truck ride to get to Portland, where the car is sitting right now at a friend’s house. I will head over there tomorrow to pick it up. Once again, I curse my failure to have purchased AAA towing insurance!

Initially I was hoping it was just a plugged fuel filter, but it seems to be more serious than that; I wasn’t able to get it going again even after a new filter. I’ll tear into it again when I get it home.

Ah, the joy of owning and working on old cars!

tow truck

Yesterday was a long day!

I started out the day in Astoria, at Shannon’s house, having been there the night before to see Opal’s first band concert at school. She is learning the snare drum right now.

My plans involved going to see my friend Don Beale, in Manning, OR. Our task was to make a few Greenlandic harpoons, for practicing and competing at the annual SSTIKS event. Then I was going to go on to Portland that evening for the OOPS kayaking club meeting where I was asked to come and promote the kayaking business at their annual enticement event.

What I didn’t realize though, is how snowy the coast range actually was.

rear view mirror

My 20 year old VW Jetta was not really the ideal vehicle for this kind of driving, with its old, balding tires and lack of all wheel drive. But I just kept poking along, rarely getting out of second gear, and I made it all the way through the snow without incident. It must have been twenty miles or so of snow covered roads! What a well placed sign this one was. Slippery indeed!

slippery road - no kidding!

But when I turned off the highway, I suddenly was in deeper, softer snow, on a steep winding road. The car started slipping and then, there I was, stuck in the middle of the road. A couple of more tries, and suddenly my transmission was finished. No warning, no reason to believe that there had been anything wrong. It just stopped transmitting power to the wheels, and started instead making an unpleasant grinding noise. I think the ring and pinion actually broke. My $700 car, after 271,000 miles, came to a halt. Bummer!

What wasn’t a bummer though, is that I was actually only about 100 feet from Don’s house, and the driveway I was stuck in front of was his in-laws’ house. He came down and helped me roll the car into their driveway, where it is sitting right now. We went ahead and spent a couple of hours carving harpoon shafts and visiting and then headed into the city to the kayak club meeting. Did I mention that he was also going to the same meeting? What luck!

Don took me out to lunch at Sushi Town, my first experience with one of those conveyor belt style sushi joints. There is a little conveyor belt with different sushi and desserts and so forth that goes all around the restaurant, and when something you like comes by, you pick it off the track. The plates are color coded for pricing, and when you are done, the lady comes by and counts up your colored plates and gives you the bill. It was fun to watch the sushi going around and around. I wish I had thought to take some pictures!

Anyway, we made it to the meeting on time, and afterwards, Don was kind enough to drive me up to Longview, and Shannon was kind enough to come over from Astoria and drive me back home. Tomorrow I head back to Don’s house with the truck and flatbed trailer to haul the poor car home. Whew!

What a day!