After several days of procrastination and minor setbacks, I finally hit the road. As free as a bird, as unencumbered as a cowboy on the range, as high as a bulgarian weightlifter [1]. The first official decision of the committee of myself and Noogie was, in light of being a day and a half behind schedule, to pass on the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens in Santa Rosa. Noogie has not taken well to car travel, and insists on eating whatever she can get her tiny fingers and teeth on, including parts of the car, my socks, and a good portion of my sleeping bag. A few miles down the road, I remembered to turn back and drop off my change of address form. Nine miles later, I remembered to take back the key to my apartment. Another half-dozen miles and I remembered I left my sleeping bag, spare clothes, and last day's mail in the apartment.
Finally hit the road! One thing I will not miss is the inability of NorCal drivers to merge, as I have been stuck behind slow moving traffic coming from the on-ramp for the last dozen miles.
My first attempt at sabatoging the trip has failed. I pulled over earlier today to top off the oil in the car, and remembered several miles down the road that I forgot to put the cap back on. Fortunately, Kragen had a spare.
Noogie is rapidly developing a taste for car upholstery.
I was seen off by an oppressive, muggy NorCal heat, definitely not the kind of day an east coast boy expects in September. It has to be between 85-90 degrees at 4:30 in the afternoon. It's humid and muggy and, damn it, my ear keeps getting sunburned because my visor doesn't reach all the way over.

Willits - "The Gateway to the Redwoods." My first stop in NorCal was the town of Willits, which wasn't really an intentional stop, but the fact that 101 goes through the center[2] of town and ends up having a 35 Mph speed limit and stoplights. Willits offers visitors the chance to "Ride the Skunk Train," which is like the "Love Train," except for people with body odor problems. Willits is a small town, populated primarily with people who wear overalls. In contrast with the hundred or so Hee-Haw extras I've seen, I saw one "goth" chick, who I'm guessing is either just visiting or is a genetic anomale. To be fair to Willits, they're not wholly backwards, they do have a Masonic temple, so they are getting their regular dose of Satan worship. The Willits High School sports team, I can't tell what sport, is called the "Wolverines," but their logo seems to be the fat jug-band bear from "Song of the South."

10 Miles North of Willits - have sighted my first Redwood trees. Nothing mighty or impressive, mostly between fifty and sixty feet tall, rather on the skinnyish side. I'm still hoping to find a petrified forest like you see in the Woody Woodpecker cartoons. It's interesting to note that there are people living out here. I've noticed trailers and other dwellings, mostly utilizing the decorating technique Christopher Lowell refers to as "old car rusting on the lawn." I'm very sorry I saw "Deliverance" at the moment, and am currently driving at least 20 miles over the speed limit in the hopes that I can get out of here before asked to do my "piggie" impersonation.

40 Miles North of Willits - Am currently passing through a small valley composed of lightly wooded hills. I have encountered what I believe to be a prime example of the fine work put out by the California Department of Transportation. This area is low, rolling hills, small trees, and very little underbrush, yet I just passed a sign that said, "WARNING: Future Rock Slide Area." That's how efficient the California DOT is, that they're already planning out where the new Rock Slide Area will be constructed.

Mendocino Mile 66 N. - I'm currently surrounded by decripit looking houses, trailers, farms, a very sparsely populated area. I have seen what I believe is a prime example of how far we've come over the last decade as far as technology goes for, here in the middle of virtually nowhere, I saw a sign tacked to a tree that said, "MAKE MONEY FAST! Own a computer? Work at home!" If that's not an indictment as to the pervasiveness of Spam, I don't know what is.

Laytonville, Population 1133 - I'm tempted to assume that the population estimate on the Welcome sign is grossly overestimated. Although I'm not stopping here, I just wanted to point out that Laytonville is situated in a most beautiful valley, and the style of architecture here, in sharp contrast to the spanish influence just a few miles south, is almost colonial. A lovely little scenic town.

Lunch, Day 1 - In case anyone is wondering about the pretentiousness of California, whether it is grossly overrated, I just wanted to point out that I am currently sipping on a bottle of "McDonalds Spring Water."

Leggett - Although the Chandelier Drive-Thru Redwood is highly publicized, entering Leggett leaves you rather less than confident that it exists. The Redwoods surrounding the highway and the town are small and pathetic, rather like seeing an elementary school basketball team when what you were expecting was the Lakers[3]. But, I have to add that this is only due to the fact that the highway is several hundred feet above sea level. Following the signs to the Chandelier Tree, you drive down into the valley along "Drive Through Tree Road." You can't even detect the valley because the tops of the trees here are level with the tops of the trees higher up. The Chandelier Tree Park itself is guarded by a bored woman in a wooden booth, who will gladly accost you with tales of locals, anecdotes about visitors to the park, and the history of the trees in the area[4]. She's a very friendly woman, but has apparently spent far too much time out of the company of other humans. However, she was nice enough to give me a discount[5], so instead of the normal $3 entrance fee, I payed only $2. The road down to the Chandelier Tree is long and unpaved. I would recommend traversing it in an SUV or similar vehical, but then you wouldn't be able to fit through the Drive-Through Tree itself. The trees in this area are massive, truly unbelievable. Those next to the road are easily twenty feet in diameter, and the smallest one I saw was at least one hundred and fifty feet in height[6]. The Chandelier Tree itself, in a prime example of Mother Nature's foresight, is conveniently located next to a gift shop. Actually driving through the tree is made even more wonderful by the fact that you end up facing the restrooms. Surrounding the Chandelier Tree are several gigantic trunks from felled Redwoods, which have had the names of thousands of tourists carved into them with penknives[7].

Elfen Glenn - Although this area is chock full of chainsaw and hand-carved Redwood sculptures, Elfen Glenn stands out for the shear quality of it's hand-carved characters. If you drive through the area, it's worth a visit.

The World Famous Tree House - If it's "World Famous," then it must be something else the world laughs at about Americans. The "Tree House" is nothing more than a largish felled redwood tree that has been hollowed out and had windows and a door added to it. Judging from the furniture inside, I'd say that the previous occupants were Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman. It's also hard to get down to the tree itself because you have to pick your way through an entire herd of giftshops and snack bars. But, in all fairness, it's more impressive than the Piercy Tree House, which is about the size of a camper.

Confusion Hill - What a load of crap. After paying your entrance fee, you are led up a small trail to a house built on the side of a hill.
"The house is tilted," I said, as we approached.
"Shut up," hissed the tour guide, "Don't ruin the surprise for everyone else."
That's it, that's the joke. The house is built tilted, but you're supposed to pretend you don't know that. You can grab a bar and tilt sideways, roll a ball upwards, feel "gravity" pulling you sideways, and watch water flow upwards. But anyone with the intelligence of a badger can figure out the schtick.

The Legend of Bigfoot - Unfortunately, this really has nothing to do with Bigfoot. It's just a big store where some guy sells his chainsaw carvings. So impressed was Noogie with it that she made wee-wee on my shoulder, which pretty much sums up my impression of it as well.

Phillipsville - You have to get off the highway, and follow the road to the "Avenue of the Giants" to get to Phillipsville, but its well worth it. First thing to see here is the "Chimney Tree," which is a fairly large tree that was struck by lightning in 1914 and the center of the tree was burned completely out, making a chimney. The tree itself, although hollow, is still alive. Inside the tree you can sign the guestbook[8] and look up the chimney.
I was mildly disappointed by the fact that, when I arrived in Phillipsville, there was a note on the door of the gift shop stating that there was an emergency and they would be back soon. I waited almost a half hour before finding out that the gate to Hobbiton USA was left open, so I decided to walk the trail alone. Hobbiton USA is a retelling of Tolkien's "The Hobbit," brought real with life-sized wooden sculptures. You walk along a trail and go from scene to scene, beginning with several hobbit warrens built into the side of the hill. The carvings are excellent[9] and walking around in the forest, not knowing what you will find is just too cool to describe. The only unfortunate scene was the one described on the plaque as "Bilbo Rescues the Dwarves By Putting Them In Barrels." I remember the scene in the book, but the creek/river running through the middle of Hobbiton seems to have no water in it, and there are no barrels to be seen. Also, it looks like someone has vandalized Smaug at one point, since his wings are mismatched.

The Avenue of Giants - This is way cool. The road snakes through a thick Redwood forest, with massive Redwoods towering overhead. Sure, it adds about 15 miles to your trip[10], but the trip through Humboldt State Redwood Park is worth it.

Humboldt - Just as a I passed Humboldt, the highway came out to my first view of the highway. As I passed into Fields Landing, the cold breeze from the ocean changed into a thick, white fog that covered everything. It's the coolest, thickest fog I've ever seen, definitely head and shoulders above the San Francisco fog. Very reminiscent of the movie adaptation of "Hound of the Baskervilles." It was here that I was treated to one of the best sites of the day. In a field, just off the road, the fog had gathered between some trees and the side of the highway. Standing in the field, covered by the fog up to their shoulders, was a herd of cows. It was interesting to see the cows seeming to swim in the fog.


[1] That joke was funny when I said it. Trust me
[2] Or, for our non-Merkin readers, "centre"
[3] To be fair, Leggett isn't wholly backwards, and global pop culture is present. I passed by an acne-infested youth who was wearing a Shonen Knife T-shirt.
[4] Apparently, there was a world famous Walnut Tree in the area, but it was killed by tourists stepping on its roots
[5] Because of Noogie, I might add. She spied her through the window, and after inquiring about my "boy and his hamster" epic adventure, decided that what would really help me is a $1 discount to the Drive Thru Tree.
[6] Or, for our metric friends, 2743 parsecs
[7] No, my name is not among them
[8] I'm registered!
[9] Particularly that creepy-looking spider
[10] Both ends of the drive terminate at 101, so you can't get lost if you drive it