Tripping Down the I-5 and a visit to Huntington Beach

pit stop coffee machine

This is what really fuels a trip down I-5

A few days after Thanksgiving, I rode down to Huntington Beach in a compact car with my daughter, her fiance, a small boudoir chair and a large Persian Rug. My daughter has had very odd luck with cars. Terrible things happen to them but fortunately she is always OK.  Here are some of her adventures.

  • Tire blowout while she was driving North on Highway 5
  • Transmission blowout at an unspecified location in SoCal
  • Rear ended in parking lot
  • Being number 3 in a 4 car pileup at a signalized intersection
  • Having her car immersed in a flash flood while she was driving in it on the Pacific Coast Highway

So, it was time for a new car. Well, not exactly new. With a track record like that why on earth would she ever want to get a new car?  Actually, it was my son’s old car which he no longer needed. The handover took place over the Thanksgiving weekend and off we went for a few days down south.

We left town at 5 am (why, you ask, at 5 am? I am not sure.)

Interstate 5 (I-5) is the main Interstate Highway on the West Coast of the United States, running largely parallel to the Pacific Ocean coastline from Canada to Mexico (Washington to southernmost California). It serves some of the largest cities on the U.S. West Coast, including Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and also links the capital cities of Washington (Olympia), Oregon (Salem), and California (Sacramento) together. The highway’s southern terminus is the Mexico – United States border and its northern terminus is the Canada – United States border; it is the only Interstate highway to touch the U.S. borders with both Canada and Mexico. Upon crossing the Mexican border at its southern terminus, Interstate 5 continues to Tijuana, Baja California as Mexico Federal Highway 1. Upon crossing the Canadian border at its northern terminus, it continues to Vancouver, British Columbia as British Columbia Highway 99.  (Wikipedia)

One of the only major cities that the I-5 does not cross through is San Francisco.

According to the Caltrans website, the dedication for the completion of I-5 took place on October 12, 1979. The antecedents of I-5 are significantly more ancient.

Again from Wikipedia

An extensive section of this highway (over 600 miles (970 km)), from approximately Stockton, California, to Portland, Oregon, follows very closely the track of the Siskiyou Trail.[5] This trail was based on an ancient network of Native American footpaths connecting the Pacific Northwest with California’s Central Valley. By the 1820s, trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company were the first non-Native Americans to use the route of today’s I-5 to move between today’s Washington State and California. During the second half of the 19th century, mule trains, stagecoaches, and the Central Pacific railroad also followed the route of the Siskiyou Trail.[5] By the early 20th century, pioneering automobile roads were built along the path of the Siskiyou Trail, notably the Pacific Highway. The Pacific Highway ran from British Columbia to San Diego, California, and was the immediate predecessor of much of U.S. Route 99. The route of U.S. 99 was in turn used as a basis for much of the route of today’s I-5.

Dawn on I-5

This is what dawn looks like on the I-5 as we zoom down the road.

When I was a kid, our parents took us to Mexico and Disneyland on I-5. The only sign of life that I can remember was Kettleman City, the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We spent the night in a motel room there. Ironically, the next time I would find myself on I-5 would be on a road trip with my own children to Disneyland. Many years had elapsed between the two trips and it was astonishing how many roadside towns and commercial zones had sprung up in the interim.

We hit heavy fog before we got on the 5 and thankfully my daughter’s fiance is a fearless and careful driver. Heavy fog and low visibility often characterize parts of the 5. Where it was not foggy, the early morning sun pulled the dry low hills into sharp relief. I wondered what it would be like to spend a year photographing this incredible landscape, the flatlands, the orchards, the fast food restaurants and truck stops, the low rolling hills with their shallow and shadowed valleys, the delicate color gradations of the parched fields. It probably would be a pretty cool project, actually.

Preparing to Barbecue at the Harris Ranch

The first BBQ of the day at the Harris Ranch

But there is no place to pull over, just the relentless forward motion of cars. We stopped here and there at rest stops, saving ourselves all the while for breakfast at the Harris Ranch. Although originally a cotton and grain operation, the Harris Ranch is now California’s biggest beef producer, and according the ever helpful Wikipedia, producing 150,000,000 pounds of beef per year as of 2010. The restaurant opened in 1977 and the ranch and restaurant location between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the I-5 make it a popular stopping off point. A hotel was added in 1987.

Even though the fog made it almost impossible to see road signs and billboards, I could tell that we were close to the Harris Ranch by the smell of cow poop, a point also noted by wikipedia.

Santa at the Harris Ranch

Santa slides down a rope while surrounded by cow hides at the Harris Ranch Gift Shop

When we arrived at around 8:30 am, beef was already being prepared outside for barbeque. Although it was the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend, our early start meant that we beat the rush to breakfast, even though the hotel parking lot was full. The Harris Ranch Restaurant menu depends heavily on beef (surprise!), and my daughter’s fiance enjoyed his baseball steak and eggs. My daughter and I split a pile of almond pancakes, the nuts having come directly from the Harris Ranch orchards. As we ate, people starting stumbling in to breakfast. Those who were staying at the hotel arrived neatly groomed and appropriately dressed. Those who were coming off the road, appeared slightly dazed, in flannel pajama pants, with hair askew. Just for the record, although we were dazed, we were dressed in regular pants and not askew at all – for once. Thank you for asking.

The grapevine on I-5

We start the upward climb through the Grapevine

Breakfast over, we headed back on the road. A few more stops and we hit the portion of I-5 known as the grapevine, so named after the wild grapes that used to grow alongside the road. Although the grapevine has its share of complications, including occasional closures due to fire, snow and traffic failures, our ride through was without incident and we arrived home in SoCal by 1:30 pm.

Recovering chemo head needs a lot of rest, so unlike other trips I have taken down south, this time I was not jumping on and off a bike and going for long walks and city and beach explorations. Actually, I spent most of my time down there taking naps, playing with the dog, and watching a variety of crazed and fascinating reality shows with my daughter in the evening.

downtown huntington beach

Merry Christmas from Surf City

One afternoon my daughter decided I needed airing out and dropped me off in downtown Huntington Beach, aka “surf city”. The downtown is an appealing mix of restaurants, boutiques, surf shops and yoga studios, all leading down to the pier and the beach.

This late November afternoon, the streets were quiet and Christmas trees and inflatable Santas kept company with palm trees.

At the end of the Huntington Beach pier, a restaurant piped Christmas carols into the 90 degree afternoon. Fishing fans set up poles around the edges of the pier and waited for the big one. The rest of us wandered up and down the pier looking at the ocean. The best show in town were the surfers bobbing up and down while waiting for their own big one. The tension was contagious and I began watching the waves myself, wondering which crest would be “the one”. Surfing looks like fun, actually.

Surfer in Huntington Bay

A surfer glides to shore in Huntington Beach

Although I told my daughter I was perfectly capable of walking back by myself, she actually drove to find me after work and I was so glad to see her. I jumped in the car and we were homeward bound.

Bacon wrapped hot dog at farmers market

The bacon wrapped hot dot smothered with fried onions and a pepper. Heaven or Hell? You tell me.

The next evening, the two of them took me to Huntington Beach at night, for the weekly Farmer’s Market, appropriately called Surf City Nights. Several blocks of downtown are closed off to traffic and there was a great variety of vendors, including fresh produce and interesting gourmet items, jewelry and craft vendors, and street food vendors (we tried a churro stuffed with chocolate sauce – indescribable). My daughter and her fiance had their favorite item there, hot dogs wrapped in bacon and then smothered in fried onions with a chili pepper on top. I was tremendously impressed!

The next morning I was off to the airport and back to Northern California, more efficient but considerably less romantic than a road trip.

Once I have my strength back, I would like to take several days and drive Highway 1 to SoCal all the way. Perhaps that will be a project for next summer when I am somewhat relieved of this post chemo fatigue.



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