Monday, October 28, 2013

LN2 ice cream and SFJazz

We had a great day in San Francisco yesterday - lunch, jazz, ice cream and dinner... in that order!

We first went to Hayes Valley, a neighborhood with cool shops, bars and restaurants. This area was pretty run down until 1989 when the earthquake destroyed the freeway over Hayes street. The state decided not to rebuild the freeway, and the neighborhood flourished. 

At lunch we met this nice couple who asked us "are you going to the jazz concert?" We didn't know about the jazz concert, and it was right next door! We snagged a couple of tickets to Dorado Schmitt and the Django all stars (a gypsy jazz group). It was a fantastic concert that we just happened into at a new jazz venue in San Francisco. 

The stage before the concert at SFJazz
Some friends we met who turned us onto the concert
After the concert we tried Smitten, a place that makes your ice cream to order using liquid nitrogen. They claim that the use of LN2 makes ice crystals that are much smaller than regular ice cream, and it's certainly fresh and creamy! Being a chemist, I was intrigued...

The LN2 machine that makes ice cream to order
A clever idea - wish I'd thought of it! 

Chocolate with spicy caramel - very smooth consistency.
Later we had a great dinner at Park Tavern. All in all a fun day in the great city of San Francisco! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back on the road

We are rolling again after a 6 day anti-vacation at the Delta Truck center (for our motorhome) and the Hampton Inn (for us). It took calls to Freightliner HQ in Gaffney SC and several visits with the shop foreman and service manager, but they finally installed a fan belt and fixed this part, a hacked up fan clutch wire harness.

Horton fan clutch cable harness (broken)
I am learning a lot about trucks, truck drivers and truck mechanics - more than I thought I'd ever need to know. All those years of education and experience in the pharmaceutical industry don't mean a whole lot out here.

Anyway, we're through this minor setback and back to our adventure. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A temporary delay in our adventure

Man-made mechanical devices are far from perfect, and when you live in one it can be a bit more inconvenient when problems arise. We took our Motorhome into for annual maintenance at a Freightliner dealer and found out that a fan belt had partially broken due to road debris. Even worse, pieces of the fan belt destroyed a wiring bracket near the engine.

Fortunately, no major damage was done because there is a fail-safe clutch device which keeps the radiator fan running. But we had to wait for parts and spent some time at the Hampton Inn near Stockton.

Not exactly the stuff of California Dreams
When you own a Motorhome with engine problems, it's recommended to have it serviced by the chassis manufacturer, in this case Freightliner. The Delta Truck Center off I-5 services trucks, trucks and more trucks... they don't really understand motorhomes. 

Delta Truck Center, our 2nd home over the past few days
Diesel motorhomes have the engine in the rear and the radiator blocks the engine, but there is a panel inside the coach (in the rear bathroom!) to gain access. The truck mechanics didn't really get this - they wanted to pull the radiator which is a 14 hour job! I had to guide them inside the coach and remove the panel for them. 

Engine access panel in the rear bathroom of the coach
We are hoping that the repair will be completed soon so we can leave the Hampton Inn and re-start our vacation. While Stockton is not exactly nirvana, Lodi and 120 wineries are within 30 minutes so we are managing to pass the time! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sonoma Wine Country

We visited Healdsburg in Sonoma county for an immersion in great California wine. Mandy and Jeff, our friends from PA, visited the area at the same time and we arranged to meet them and their friends Ross and Mary who live in Healdsburg.  

We prefer Sonoma over Napa because you get world-class wine without the frou-frou pomposity. Also, because Jeff and Ross know some of the winemakers and belong to a few wine clubs, we enjoyed some "special treatment". We met the winemaker at Stryker who took us in the back to view and taste the wine being fermented. It had just been harvested a few days earlier.

Fermenting grapes ready for punchdown
The fermenting grapes need to be "punched down" a few times each day to mix the grapes into the juice. We tried our hand at punching down using a stainless steel tool. It was surprising how the cap was so hard and resistant - it took a lot of effort to get the tool through the cap. It was lots of fun for a few minutes but I imagine that punching down would get old if you did it 4 times a day! 

We tasted the raw juice - it was sweet and yeasty. Not bad but very raw. 

Barrels at Stryker

Jeff, Mandy and Denise enjoying a picnic at Wilson Winery

Vineyards at Wilson
We met the tasting room manager at Stonestreet who not only gave us great pours of some great wine, but also arranged for us to get into the "bubble room" at J winery, a place known for sparkling wines. This is a private room where we tried several wonderful sparkling and still wines including a magnum from 1999. We really enjoyed the chard and the pinot noir at J. 

Sparkling wine in the Bubble Room at J
Having visited the wine country in Washington State, Oregon and California over the past several weeks, we'd have to say that all 3 were great but CA edged out the other 2 for the consistency and diversity of wine. Needless to say we purchased a few bottles (well... more than a few) and have now exceeded the capacity the Motorhome. We are getting creative and storing wine in our clothes drawers and a few other nooks and crannies. We might need to haul a trailer to hold it all. 

Stryker Vineyards
Healdsburg is a nice small town with a cool town square. We sampled 2 great restaurants just off the square (Chalkboard and Bravas de Tapas) and enjoyed fantastic meals with our Healdsburg hosts Ross and Mary. The town has a California/European flair and is totally wine and food-focused. Definitely a place to put on your bucket list. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Redwoods of California

I love walking through Redwoods - you feel so peaceful among these tall giants. It's cool to think back through history as you look at these trees, some as old as 2000 years.  

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Redwoods is both a State and National Park. The state of California acted to save the redwoods from logging and established several state parks along the northern coast in the 1920's. The feds acted in 1968 (late as usual) and added some land to create a national park. 

Fortunately for us most of the park is open because it's state-operated. The ranger told us that even she didn't know where the border was between federal land and state land. We took several walks and enjoyed tress as tall as 340 feet tall. 

A walk through the redwoods

The tallest living thing in the world (the Hyperion tree, 378.1 feet) is around here somewhere, but they keep the location secret and there are no trails to it. It was found by national park researchers in 2006. 

In Humboldt State Park we took a walk through an area covered with ground cover of redwood sorrel. The trees aren't as big but the setting was beautiful.

Grieg-French-Bell Grove in Humboldt State Park 

There are redwood groves all over northern and central California - along the coast, near San Francisco (Muir Woods), near the wine country and in Yosemite and Sequoia parks. The coastal redwoods (pictured here) are taller but thinner than the giant Sequoia which grow in the Sierra Nevada mountains. If you are in northern California, stop by... it's worth the effort. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Oregon Coast

We drove down US-101 on the Oregon coast from Newport to Brookings - it's a beautiful drive on par with PCH in California. We stayed in Newport at this A+ motorhome resort right on the Pacific. The view is on par with the best hotel you can think of. 

Our "home" in Newport Oregon overlooking the Pacific
Our "front yard" for 5 days
Our view of Yachina Head lighthouse
The lighthouse at sunset
We drove down the coast and stopped at several overlooks. The views were pretty amazing with all the rocks and cliffs. Here are some samples. 

A view of 101 from Cape Perpetua
The highest point on the Oregon coast
Some cool looking rocks in the Pacific

While at Cape Perpetua I stopped to use the bathroom. The area is on National Forest land and therefore was closed courtesy of the ludicrous government shutdown. I made like a WW II vet and broke through the (open) door. 

"Due to a lapse in federal funding this facility is closed."
I am guilty as charged. 
We visited one of the most photographed lighthouse in the country and took a tour. 

Heceta Head Lighthouse from viewpoint
Heceta Head close up
We took a trip up to the tower.
This is the Fresnel lens built in 1892. 
The Oregon coast is one of the most beautiful in the world. Route 101 was a bit curvy at times but I was able to go slowly and navigate the drive without problems.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Beautiful Bend Oregon

Bend is a paradise for outdoor activities. Between visits to the brewpubs we did a bit of hiking and sightseeing in the area. Here is a taste of what's available just a short ride from town.

We took a walk around Sparks Lake in the Cascade Mts.
Mount Bachelor got some fresh snow the day before.

There is this place outside of Redmond OR which looks a lot like southern Utah. It is supposedly a world-class rock-climbing location.

Smith Rock State Park, a mini version of Zion in Oregon

Any climbers today?
A nice hike at Shevlin Park in Bend OR
Bend is a paradise if you like hiking, biking, beer and good food. We strongly considered this as a place to settle down, but it's too cold in the winter. But we'll definitely be back for a visit! 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fresh Hops in Bend Oregon

We've spent about a week in Bend Oregon, a very cool medium-sized city in Central Oregon just east of the Cascade Mountains. This place has grown from a small town of 30,000 people to 80,000 in the past decade. For a city of this size there are a ton of great restaurants, bars and outdoor activities - and a great vibe. 

There is a ski resort (Mount Bachelor) only 30 minutes away and you can see the snow-covered mountain from many areas of the city. It seems that everyone here skis, hikes, and bikes. There are trails and beautiful views everywhere. 

As I mentioned above, there are lots of microbreweries - 14 in all. We've sampled a few including Deschutes (one of the largest in Oregon), Goodlife and Cascade Lakes. 

Fresh hops is the rage here in the Northwest in early Fall (which I had never tried before). They harvest the hops and rush them into the kettles within hours. This makes for a more aromatic taste, often brighter, more citrusy and less bitter than a dry-hopped IPA.  

I'll post more about the beers on the beer page, here are a few photos to make you thirsty. 

Deschutes Brewery "Chasin Freshies" and
"Fresh Hop Cinder Cone Red" 

In case you want to see the beer list now pouring:  Deschutes beer menu

Beer List at Goodlife Brewery
Another style of beer that was new to me is India Red Ale (IRA). It's an IPA which has more malt, and so there is more body and the IPA bitterness is balanced against the sweetness from the malt. I like it. Tried the Goodlife Redside and the Cascade Lake IRA. 

Cascade Lakes IRA
The weather in Bend has been unseasonably cold and a bit rainy, and while we got in some outdoor activities, the fresh hops were a nice diversion. 

Boneheads in Washington

Well... our esteemed congressmen have reached new heights of dysfunction. I feel bad about all the people who are facing weeks without pay and hope the bozos in Washington get their act together. 

We have felt this in a small way because we planned to visit Crater Lake National Park today and it is closed. We may also miss Redwoods NP which we planned to visit in a couple of weeks.  

Experience your America.