Sunday, 16 July 2017

WE REACH THE PACIFIC OCEAN!

On Good Friday April 14th  Mike, Bonnie and I treated ourselves to breakfast at the excellent Howard's Station Café in Occidental.  As its name suggests, the café was formerly the station which was named after the landowner 'Dutch Bill' Howard, an odd misnomer for a Dane who was actually called Christopher Folkmann.  He gave the right for the Pacific coast narrow gauge railway to come through here, and in return received  a life time rail pass.
I tucked into an amazing eggs Benedict with wild salmon, and Mike had a large omelette, before Mike drove me into Sebastopol for an interview with a local radio station.
Later on Mike and I were back in Occidental, having ridden the 7 miles from Sebastopol..
Photo of Mike and I riding past Howard Station Café taken by local resident Clay Lynch.
Elizabeth had a stable and a small paddock waiting for the horses.

I had chosen this route as it followed virtually the only quiet road I could find leading down to the coast to the north of San Francisco.  It came out at a small place called Salmon Creek, just to the north of Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock's iconic film 'The Birds' was set.  We drove over for a recce, and to leave the trailer in a convenient spot.  I was amazed when we came over the brow of the hill into Bodega Bay to see the bay view that is so familiar from the film.  It was a must to have a seafood dinner in The Tides restaurant overlooking the bay, which was used as a location for the film - here is a clip from the movie...
 ...though it has now been expanded into an unrecognisable hotel complex....
 I kept a wary eye on these.....
In front of the house that doubled up as the schoolhouse in the film. It is actually located a little further inland at Bodega, and not right on the coast the film scenes would suggest.

The next day Easter Saturday April 15th was THE DAY, and Mike and I treated ourselves to another Howard Station Café breakfast before setting off along Coleman Park Rd to the coast.

Is that the Pacific Ocean I can see in the distance behind Mike and Mo?...
 This unusual optical illusion of white lines painted across the road apparently fools cattle who are accustomed to cattle grids!...
 We reach the Pacific Ocean!  Salmon Creek beach stretches away to Mussel Point on Bodega Head.. 
 ...but we had to ride a little way south before we found somewhere to scramble down the cliff face to the beach, having received permission from a passing patrolman......
 Denise Gilseth kindly provided a bottle of champers, and we discovered Lady has a taste for the high life - here she is tucking into her second glass!....


Saturday, 15 July 2017

On our last legs

Ready to set off on Wednesday 12th April   Sharon and British expat neighbour Anne Margadant who came over to see us on our way...
 Lady and I still had a bit of a pull up and over the Mayacamas Range, though no danger of fire with all the rain!
But although the road was narrow and winding, as promised there was not a lot of traffic and we made it safely down the other side.

 Stopping for a rest and a burrito near Glen Ellen on the Sonoma Highway to Santa Rosa.....
Further down the highway I came to some paddocks with horses, and a sign for 'The Pony Express'.  As a horse and rider who have covered the Pony Express Trail in its entirety it seemed only natural to see if we could get overnight accommodation there, and I was delighted when proprietor Linda Aldrich appeared and welcomed us with open arms.... 

Lady was given a field shelter with hay and feed, and Linda took me in to the house for shower and  supper. My sleeping bag stayed packed away once more!  The Pony Express turned out to be a charitable organisation initiated and run by Linda to mentor and empower teenagers with problems through building relationships with rescue horses.  We had a lovely evening chatting over a glass or two of Californian wine.
The next day Thursday 13th April I set off along the Sonoma Highway ...
 ..Unfortunately because of the last minute change of plan, I had not had the opportunity to research a more off-road route to Santa Rosa, though I was aware that there were better options.  Once I arrived in town I was able to revert to the route I had planned out at home.  Many large American towns have riverside paths which avoid entangling with traffic, and the Greenway Memorial Trail in Santa Rosa was no exception. Here you can see we have ridden underneath the 101 Freeway which runs all the way up the Pacific coast of the USA.
I was sometimes not sure if horses were allowed on these trails, but they were so indispensable to the ease of my journey that I am afraid I followed the principle of just do it and ask questions afterwards. In the event the only time I was prevented from doing so was on the Trans Canada in Quebec.
 We carried on along the Joe Rodata Trail to Sebastopol, coming across occasional evidence of homelessness once more...
 Arriving at Lotus stables in Sebastopol... ...
...where the horses were staying courtesy of owner Amity de Fontaine.     I say horses because I had arranged to meet Mike and Bonnie here with Mo, as Mike was going to join me on the last leg to the Pacific coast.  Unfortunately in all the excitement of settling Mo down with Lady (we had to put them in separate pens as he was hassling Lady unmercifully) I completely forgot to take photos of the lovely Amity and her partner.  
I was running a day late, but in fact this fitted in fine with our schedule, as the place we had booked for two nights just outside Occidental was only half an hour's drive away.  This was Shanti Occidental  owned and run by Elizabeth Medgyesy who had a comfortable annexe which could take the three of us. We had found her thanks to a friend who coincidentally turned out to have a friend living there!  Occidental is a lovely little town with a Bohemian atmosphere set among redwood trees in the hills to the north of San Francisco.  It is a magnet for people looking for an alternative lifestyle.  The well travelled Elizabeth practises permaculture, and keeps some sheep which look similar to our ancient Welsh Mountain badger-faced sheep breed - perhaps they are New World descendants! 

A drink with Yaoming

I was now tackling the California Coastal Ranges, a jumbled line of ridges and valleys running north to south. As I was riding east to west it had required long research to work out a viable route via the sparse network of roads twisting over the ridges. Distances were doubled, and for example the eight and a half mile crow flying distance from Pope Valley to Callistoga took me twenty miles by the only available roads!    I had already faced the difficulties of not knowing whether the roads had public access or how safe they were on the ground, and this thorny issue was about to appear again.  I had chosen to stay at Diamond Mountain stables as it was on a route I had carefully planned which looked to be mainly on quiet back roads.  But Charlie now doubted whether some of the roads (which were on all my road maps) actually had public access, and warned me that the Callistoga Rd into Santa Rosa was narrow and winding with fast traffic and no verge.  The only alternative was to take a more southerly route which would add on an extra day's travel.  He kindly let me borrow their truck on the morning of Tuesday 11th April to do a recce, and I regretfully came to the conclusion that he was right.   So after midday Lady and I retraced our steps south down the road toward St Helena.
Riding through St Helena in the drizzle and regretting the fact that I still hadn't managed to stop and enjoy a glass of Napa wine at one of the many wineries on the way (partly as I didn't have enough cash on me) I saw this by the side of the road!
YAO FAMILY WINES
Was it fate or a happy coincidence which brought me to a Chinese owned winery as I neared the end of a journey which started in China?, Of course I had to take advantage of the opportunity, and manager Sheila Thomas (of Welsh extraction - another stroke of fate?) was happy to offer me a complimentary glass of truly delicious white wine from the Yao cellars to celebrate my achievement.  In chatting about the company Sheila happened to mention that it was owned by a Chinese basketball player and the penny dropped.  The winery had been set up by Yao Ming, renowned not only for his sporting ability but his immense height.  So here I am with Yao Ming himself (it just looks like a life-size cardboard cut-out)...
I left feeling much more cheerful, but had the wine gone to my head?.......
 But I had to push on, as I had another ten miles to go, and a stiff climb up the next ridge out of the Napa Valley.  Charlie had gone to the trouble of finding me somewhere to stay with client Sharon Hinzman, who lived tucked away a couple of miles up a magical hidden valley incidentally overlooked from high above by estate of the late Robin Williams...
We arrived as dusk fell, Sharon led Lady to a stable and hay, me to supper with wine and very congenial company.... 

Flight of the Condors

Sunday 9th April   Pete was round early in the morning with his son Will and foreman to round up stragglers (cattle)from the hills, so they were able to give me a send off. 

 Lto R  Will, Petra, Me, Pete in front of the ranch-house. Many thanks for your generosity Pete!

Riding along by the lake, these two enormous birds flew down onto the fence line and I managed to snap a couple of photos before they took off again....
 What are they?  The most likely identification is that they are young Californian condors, the largest species of land bird in North America. If that is so I have been very privileged to see them, as at one point they were extinct in the wild.  Following a catastrophic decline in numbers due to human activity, in 1987 the remaining 27 birds were captured. Under a conservation programme their numbers increased in captivity, and beginning in 1991 they were released back into the wild, although the first sighting of condors actually nesting in Northern California was not until 2006..  There were 276 recorded in the wild in North America in December of last year, including small populations in Arizona and Utah.

Pete had warned us that he had been held up by a triathlon taking place on the other side of the lake, and it was not long before I ran, or rather walked into competitors running to and fro along the road...
 Just to prove that I was not whinging when I complained about my freezing hands coming over the Blue Ridge, apparently thirty triathlon competitors had been treated for hypothermia the day before.  It was even reported in the Daily Mail!

Glassy-winged or not, it seems the sharp-shooters ate not too happy about this notice......
In fact this sharp-shooter would not have been fund raising for the Friends of NRA on April 1st as it is a large invasive leafhopper which is classified as a pest due to the fact that it can spread several plant diseases. This constitutes a serious threat in this area which is part of Napa county and near the world famous wine growing Napa valley.

Crossing Pope Creek in the Pope Valley, another important wine producing area though not with the kudos of the Napa valley.
My spirits plummeted when I rode into the hamlet of Pope Valley to find the little store had literally just closed, and was then warned that my intended route was too dangerous for a horse due to the narrow winding road with fast traffic. On top of this I tripped and crashed down onto my side on the road, bruising my arm and grazing my elbow. It was a rather sorry and sniffling figure that knocked at the door of a smallholding with a grassy paddock by the side of the road.  But Keith Kirkpatrick was happy to take Lady, and wife Sarah turned out to be a nurse. I ended up being patched up, fed and offered use of a shower, and Keith's father Brad let me sleep in his camper. It is so often when I am feeling at my most miserable that the kindness of random strangers completely turns things round.
Keith and Sarah with daughters Livvy and Caitlin...
Keith was a mine of local information and told me a lot of farmland is being bought up  Pope Valley by the Chinese and other large concerns such as Fosters to practise viticulture.  As the area is in Napa county it can take advantage of the Napa prefix. In fact Keith told me that as long as it contained a certain percentage of grapes grown in the Napa valley, a wine mixed with wine from  the Sacramento valley can be marketed as a Napa Valley wine!
Following general advice, the following day Monday 11th April I took a longer but quieter route up the Ink Ridge road, winding up a pretty road through woods and secluded vineyards clinging to steep hillsides...
 After making our way through the hills and vineyards of Howell Mountain, we came to the famous Napa Valley.   About to descend into the valley down Deer Park road...
 This was quite a sizeable and busy road with a hairpin bend, so I was glad Lady was clad in her fluorescent rug.
A typically well-maintained Napa valley vineyard...


I was heading north to Diamond Mountain Stables near Callistoga, where I was welcomed by the hardworking Macella O'Neill and Charlie White, to the right of the photo below... 
Macella is a very talented showjumper and hunter-jumper trainer, and Charlie runs a thriving hay supply business. They have both been over to Europe on horse buying trips.  These lovely people found time in their busy schedule to look after me, and I was treated to supper and given the use of a very plush and comfortable trailer.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Birthday Girl

It was still pouring on the morning of Friday April 7th and Petra opted to chicken out of riding until the weather cheered up.  To be fair it was her birthday. On the other hand I was in for a soaking, but by the time I rendezvoused with Petra and friend Sue ten miles further on in Esparto, it was merely overcast. It was Sally who had kindly trailered me and Lady back out to Carson Sink in the autumn, and now she had volunteered to drive Petra's rig.  The Esparto supermarket car park was now the venue for a little birthday party also attended by Petra's mother..
Discretion prevents me from revealing a girl's age, but I can reliably inform you that it was more than the one candle on the cupcake.
Lady is getting blasé about her fan club..
 Riding through the almond groves...
Interesting if confusing...


 
Oh dear, it looks as though Petra has caught Rowena's equestrian scrumping bug....
Apart from the products of scrumping, we fortified ourselves with a birthday beer at the Road Trip Bar and Grill in Capay.  They were very excited to hear what I was up to, and I left weighed down with a selection of goodies including a Road Trip sweatshirt.
 
We camped near Cadenasso by a corral up a small side road.   During my research at home I had noticed that it appeared to be a numbered county road giving public access right up to the top of Berryessa Peak.  On google earth I could then see a private track running down the western side to the public road along the eastern shore of Lake Berryessa.  So when I tracked down Pete Craig and got permission to use the track, I thought I had cracked a safe route over the Blue Ridge. This would avoid using a busy and dangerous narrow road to the south.  However Pete queried the 'county' road, and on doing a little more research I found to my dismay that it was actually a private road with locked gates.   I spent a frantic morning following up various leads from Petra's house and identified several useful contacts, but in the end had to leave it to Petra to sort out.  But all's well that ends well, and she eventually managed to track down the owner who was a little hesitant at first. Petra explained the situation and happily he gave the required permission and gate combinations.  So on Saturday 8th April we negotiated the first set of padlocks...
...before setting off up a forested winding track into the hills.  In my innocence I had imagined a glorious ride enjoying panoramic vistas while the sun shone.  The reality was drizzle and mist with zilch chance of a view as we climbed steadily uphill.   It became colder, and I regretted leaving my gloves behind because yes those white flecks in the (Petra eye view) photo below are indeed snowflakes.....
 So much for a spring day in California.  But amazingly the mist lifted for a short time as we reached the summit of Berryessa Peak so we could enjoy the view down to the lake beyond....
Taking a misty photo with my Kindle on the eastern descent...
An unexpected locked gate....
Lady managed to scramble over the bank at the far end, but Petra had to phone for the padlock combination to let a rather fed up Red through.   Notice the sun has come out now we have nearly reached our destination.
Pete had also very generously offered us the use of the old Gunn ranch house by the lake, so here are Petra and Sally relaxing on the verandah...
 ..while the horses chill out in the yard....
 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Next Step.


It was the end of the trail, but not the end of the ride, as I still had to make my way to the coast to complete my round-the-world challenge.  Lucy dropped us off in Old Sacramento the next morning Wednesday 5th April and we made out way across the historic Tower Bridge which spans the Sacramento river (Pony club kids, never ever tie your pony up this way) ...
 Although it was only built in 1934, the bridge is very distinctive. Unlike the more famous London example in which two sections of the middle span between the towers lift up to let ships pass between, this is an example of a vertical lift bridge in which the entire middle span between the towers raises up to let the ships pass beneath.

Then it was a trudge through the western sprawl of Sacramento and over the 3.2mile Yolo causeway which links Sacramento with the town of Davis.   In the days of the Pony Express it was not possible to ride directly due west due to the wide band of wetlands along the Sacramento river which are subject to regular flooding. This is why the Pony Express mail was carried between San Francisco and Sacramento by steamship.    The original causeway was built in 1916 and the current one in 1962.  It is carried on pillars over the Yolo Bypass, which carries excess floodwater during heavy rains. The official name is the Blecher-Freeman Memorial Causeway after two patrolman who were shot in the line of duty in 1978.
  
 
Ex Brit from Richmond Paul Storey and friend Edward Serrano walking Mucca the dog....
I was now travelling without backup again, and to make life easier, had tried to sort out some definite places that would accommodate Lady.  At the last minute I had contacted Black Crest Friesians which was located a few miles the other side of the causeway, and was immediately given an invitation for both Lady and myself to stay by owner Sandi Riemenschneider.    I turned up at a pristine ranch with ebony horses behind white fences tossing their long black manes in emerald green paddocks.   I was idly chatting to Sandi and husband Ron over a glass of wine and telling them about my Welsh ponies when she mentioned that her neighbouring vet David Valchak had just been to the UK and bought a Welsh cob.  There could not be too many Californian vets who had just travelled to the UK to buy a Welsh cob.   "Is it a two year old filly?" I asked.   "Yes I think it is" said Sandi.   She immediately got on the blower.  Yes it was Carrie's vet who had been to Synod stud with Owen! This obviously necessitated a visit to see the filly, so here is Joy Valchek with their new pride and joy Synod Ruby...
 ....and here am I with David and Joy......
David specialises in AI and was a mine of information on the subject. 
All in all fabulous evening with good food, wine and company followed by a comfortable bed!
And here is Sandi the next morning Thursday 6th April with Lady and Joy who came over to see me off...
Unfortunately I got a little lost when Sandi sent me off on a shortcut across the fields, but she soon set me straight and even came to meet me as I had left my map behind (for a change!)

The Central Valley is the most productive agricultural area in the United States, but over the last few years has been suffering from prolonged drought. However thanks to me it was now temporarily out of danger, as rain accompanied me for the next few days.
Crops are irrigated with buried plastic pipes which may be pierced with holes along their length have small taps fitted, as shown in this photo with the taps protruding above the surface....
 I had conjectured that the strange green fruit on these irrigated trees might be plums...
...but in fact they turned out to be almonds.....
To my surprise I discovered that almonds are not only one of the main crops in the Central Valley, but the area accounts for about sixty percent of world production. 
Petra had planned to meet up with me at the weekend to ride over the Blue Mountains, but due to the rain here which translated into snowfall on the Sierras, she decided to come over a day early to make sure she did not get stuck on the other side.  She met me at my next stopover the Sunfire Equestrian Centre, where proprietor Alana Curtis kindly provided Red and Lady with outdoor paddocks and let me use the living area in her trailer.  She had to dash off so no photos, though here is one Petra took of me arriving..
 
 I had hoped to take an off road route over the Blue Ridge to Lake Berryessa, and after a lot of research and endless phoning around on the part of Petra and myself, we managed to get the necessary permissions.  I had managed to identify and contact Pete Craig who ranched the mountainside on the western flank of the range running down to the lake, and now he phoned to ask us out to dinner in Davis with some family and friends.    So we ended up having a great evening in a lively restaurant while the rain beat down outside.