The Daily Explorer

April 22, 2009

Adios California

California: April 2009

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MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome back to all our Daily Explorer readers and greetings to those of you who are joining us for the first time. To our regulars, many thanks for viewing our online publication and for giving us your feedback. As this issue was published, over 12,000 visitors had been to see our site since the beginning of 2008. If you are new to The Daily Explorer and would like to know more about what’s in our archives, check out some of our Previous Issues. We always aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray, ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at thedailyexplorer@gmail.com

Our lastest issue has been compiled for us by our top American guest correspondent Nick Elandimer (above). Hailing from New York, he is one of the most experienced online journalists of his generation. Nick ends his current tour of duty by bringing us the latest news and pictures as Ray and Nikki complete their tour of California, visiting Lake Tahoe and the beautiful city of San Francisco. They also spent some time exploring the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, stopping at Carmel, Monterey and the Big Sur. We have all of the details. Plus, we get an update from Ray as he attends a two day workshop in Oakland and leaves the USA to begin training for his first ever marathon – yes, marathon – in New York this coming November.

In our last issue, Nick Elandimer followed Ray as he and Nikki continued their tour of California and beyond on the west coast of America. Nick got some great pictures for us as they visited Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park and Seattle in Washington State. If you missed it, you can read it now at: From The Strip to Seattle

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Above: Why is there a statue of Lenin in the Fremont area of Seattle, USA? You can find out and get more pictures and stories about Ray and Nikki’s adventures from the west coast of America in our last issue: From The Strip to Seattle

After their hectic three day trip to Seattle,  I caught up with Ray as he landed in Sacramento to find out what was coming next. “In the couple of weeks we have been touring, our feet have not touched the ground so me and Nikki both feel we would like to rest for a few days and spend some quality time with our friends here” said Ray. “Regular readers will know that I have known Nic Meredith for many years and we are very close friends. Nic and his wife Regina moved to Sacramento from Sedona a couple of years ago and whilst Sacramento would not normally be on the itinerary for most visitors to California, I love catching up with them and hearing about the amazing Conscious Media Network which they run online” he told me. “And another friend of mine there has a photography exhibition happening whilst we are in town which we intend to make the most of” added our traveller.

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Above: Sacramento (circled) would not normally feature on the itinerary for most visitors to California, However, it is pretty close to Lake Tahoe, which is one of the ‘must see’ natural beauty spots in the huge state and only a couple of hours from San Francisco and Monterey, which our two travellers intended to see later in their trip

Below: Sacramento is the capital of California, which has the tenth largest economy in the world! The governor, or ‘governator’ as he is known locally, is Arnold Schwarzenegger (right) and you will find his office inside the Capital Building downtown (left). Sacramento was a major point of distribution during the California Gold Rush in the late 1880’s. It was the central terminal for stagecoaches, wagon trains, riverboats, the telegraph, the Pony Express and the First Transcontinental Railroad. Sacramento officially became the state capital of California in 1879. The capital building was designed to look like the United States Capitol in Washington DC and was completed in 1874

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Above: Regina stands on the balcony of her and Nic’s home on the outskirts of Sacramento (left) – “The house is fully equipped with a recording studio (right)” said Ray. “They were fantastic hosts” added Nikki

Below: At Nic and Regina’s home, Ray is re-united with his canine friend Angel, a Bichon Frise – “She is absolutely delightful” he told me. “I hate to admit it, but I love it when she comes running up to me in her excited way, wagging her stubby tail and rolling over for a tummy rub” said our rather soft hearted explorer

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Above: Nic and Nikki pick fresh vegetables for supper from the garden (left). They then head for the kitchen (right), where they join Regina (third from left) and Anna Skacel (second from left) to prepare a wonderful meal – “Regina is a very accomplished vegetarian chef and used to have her own programme on US television. She has also published a number of vegetarian cookery books” said Ray. Anna, who is English, has lived in California for 25 years. “She is an excellent amateur photographer and we were invited to see an exhibition of her work” recalled Ray. “She also works part time in a nearby dental surgery, so we thought it would be a good opportunity for Nikki to get her teeth and gums checked out” said Ray

Below: “Oh my God! Anna, what have you done to Nikki’s teeth? – you were only supposed to give her a check up and a quick polish!

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Above: Nikki takes a closer look at some of Anna Skacel’s superb photography on display in a Sacramento gallery

Some interesting facts for you about Sacramento: It has a fabulous Summer Shakespeare Festival. This version of Shakespeare in the Park has been around since 1986. Each year they put on two Shakespearian plays in William Land Park. Sacramento also has many nicknames, being referred to variously as “the Camellia Capital of the World,” “River City,” and “City of Trees”. Locals tend to call it Sac or Sactown. My favorite nickname has always been “The Big Tomato”. The official hottest temperature on record for Sacramento is 115 degrees farenheit. The record was set back in June of 1961. The coldest temperature on record is 18 degrees, set in December 1990. That was the winter that all of the exposed pipes froze and burst.

Every year on Memorial Day weekend, Sacramento hosts the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. If you like any variety of Jazz, from Mainstream to Big Band, you’ll certainly enjoy this festival! And there are so many museums in the area, there is a Sacramento Museum Guide Website.

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Above: (left) Nikki meets Stuart Campbell (left) and his girlfriend Steph Allen (right) outside their apartment in the city – “They are both in their 20’s, building a life for themselves in the city and are great company” said Ray. “I spent quite a bit of time with them in 2007 when I was last here and we always have great, stimulating comversations”. Stuart, who is Regina’s son, works in a restaurant at The Tower (right), which is a Sacramento icon. It also houses an original old style movie theatre and is the place where Tower Records (which has now gone bust) was founded

Below: Nikki and Nic Meredith talk to one of the waiters inside the restaurant at The Tower. “I loved the fact that the restaurant contains a large and interesting collection of artifacts that the owner has sourced from all over the world during a lifetime of travelling” said Ray. “I have not acquired anything other than what is essential, as I live out of one bag and could have filled it 100 times over; plus I have no home address to send anything to” said our nomadic traveller

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Editors Note: Reflecting the difficult times society faces as the world economy struggles, our two travellers learnt of a rather alarming development as they were preparing to leave Sacramento. “Times are pretty bad for a lot of people around the world, but for some in Sacramento, who have lost their homes and all sources of income, a new ‘tent city’ has started to materialise on wasteland on the outskirts of town” Ray told me. “It is a reflection of the divide in society that is getting bigger by the day and has to be addressed in some way” added our concerned traveller. “I was shocked and upset to hear about it” he told me.

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Above: A homeless man fixes a tarp on a tent at a homeless tent city (March 2009) in Sacramento, California. Sacramento’s tent city is seeing an increase in population as the economy worsens with more people becoming unemployed and having their homes slip into foreclosure (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images). For more pictures, visit the SF Gate Photo Gallery Online

Lake Tahoe

Lt. John C. Frémont was the first non-indigenous person to see Lake Tahoe, during Fremont’s second exploratory expedition in 1844. John Calhoun Johnson, Sierra explorer and founder of “Johnson’s Cut-off” (now U.S. Route 50), was the first white man to see Meeks Bay (from a peak above the lake) so he named it “Fallen Leaf Lake” after his Indian guide. His first job in the west was in the government service, carrying the mail on snowshoes from Placerville to Nevada City. The lake didn’t receive its official and final designation as Lake Tahoe until 1945. California and Nevada reached the compromise to partition Tahoe between the two when California became a state. With the state line east of the approximate centerline of the lake and then at 39 degrees north latitude, the state border runs south-easterly towards the Colorado River.

Tahoe is a freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the largest alpine lake in North America and its depth of 1,645 feet (501 metres) also makes it America’s second-deepest, with Crater Lake in Oregon being the deepest at 1,945 feet. The lake was formed about 2 million years ago and is a part of the Lake Tahoe Basin, known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. “I love this place” Ray told me. “I first came here many years ago and have since been back two or three times, most recently in December 2003, just before the chain of events that led to me becoming a nomadic traveller” he told me. “Being a big fan of the great outdoors, I knew Nikki would really enjoy coming here, so her, Nic and I made a day trip of it from Sacramento, as it is only about 100 miles away” explained Ray (see map above).

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Above: The view of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains in the distance is captured in this picture Ray sent to us from a look out point high up on Highway 50. You can just about see the runway at Tahoe airport, surrounded by snow, to the right of the centre of the photo. August is normally the warmest month with an average maximum of 78.7 °F (25.9 °C) and an average minimum of 39.8 °F (4.3 °C). January is the coolest month with an average maximum of 41.0 °F (5.0 °C) and an average minimum of 15.1 °F (-9.4 °C)

Below: Lake Tahoe is the 16th deepest lake in the world, and the fifth deepest in average depth. It is about 22 miles long and 12 miles wide and has 72 miles of shoreline, with a surface area of 191 square miles. Mean annual precipitation ranges from over 55 inches in watersheds on the west side of the basin to about 26 inches near the lake on the east side of the basin. Most of the precipitation falls as snow between November and April, although rainstorms combined with rapid snow melt account for the largest floods. There is a pronounced annual runoff of snowmelt in late spring and early summer, the timing of which varies from year to year. In some years, summertime monsoon storms from the Great Basin bring intense rainfall, especially to high elevations on the east side of the basin

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Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction for both California and Nevada. Snow and skiing are a significant part of the area’s economy and reputation and there are many resorts. The Nevada side also includes large casinos. “Having just recently been to Vegas, we were definitely not interested in them” laughed Ray. “We really wanted to ride the Gondola to the top of Heavenly Mountain, one of the popular ski resorts on the south shore and take in the awesome views from the top, so we rushed towards it as soon as we arrived” Ray told me.

For those readers who love to ski, Heavenly has 97 runs and 30 lifts that are spread between California and Nevada and four base facilities. The resort has 4,800 acres with approximately 33% developed for skiing, making it the largest ski resort, (by area) in California. It is also Tahoe’s highest ski resort, with a peak elevation of 10,067 feet (3,068 metres). With an average of 360 inches (9 metres) of snow annually and one of America’s largest snowmaking systems, their season usually runs from mid November to late April or early May. “Under the recently approved 10-year Master Plan Amendment, Heavenly is continuing to improve their resort” Ray told me. “The resort now has the longest zip line in the United States, The Heavenly Sky Flyer, which is 3,100 feet (940 metres) long, with a 525-foot (160 metre) descent and is located at the top of the Heavenly Gondola at Adventure Peak. Guests can enjoy a sweeping view of the Sierra Mountains while zipping down the mountain at 50 miles per hour” said our impressed visitor.

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Above and below: The gondola which takes visitors 10,067 feet up to the ski areas and the viewpoints at the top of Mount Heavenly. There are a number of improvements planned at the resort, including a 27,650 square-foot building that will seat 950 people, called the Powderbowl Lodge, and a skier bridge from the top of the Gondola to Tamarack Express

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Above: Nikki enjoys the breathtaking, fifteen minute ride to the top (left), whilst Ray and Nic explore the surrounding mountains from the observation deck (right). The placque by Ray’s elbow denotes ‘Martins Peak’ in the distance

Below: One of the most spectacular views in California, or America or even the world – Lake Tahoe is truly magnificent

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Carmel, Monterey and The Big Sur

About two hours south of San Francisco are the coastal towns of Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea and a beautiful, rocky stretch of coastline known as The Big Sur. “The Pacific Coast Highway connects all of these places and Nikki and I decided to spend 2-3 days exploring the area before ending our trip in San Francisco” Ray told me. “The dramatic, winding shoreline road made the drive alone a highly worthwhile trip, with loads of sweeping bends in the road and spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean” recalled Ray. “Monterey itself was very touristy and not really of much interest to us, although it made a perfect base geographically” added our global nomad.

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Above: To reach Monterey and Carmel, Ray and Nikki drove down the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from Santa Cruz

I wondered what our two adventurers made of the tranquil little enclave town of Carmel? “Well Nick, it is very sweet, very small and quite boringly nice” said Ray. “The main reason we decided to stop by and take a look was that one of our best friends in Chiangmai, Erin Palmer, spent many years living there and it made us really want to see the place. We even managed to find a close friend of hers in a local bookshop and deliver a personal message on her behalf” said a very satisfied Nikki. “Although we kept an eye open for him, we did not spot Clint Eastwood, who served as Mayor of the town for two years from 1986-88” she added. “We discovered that an unusual law, forbidding selling and eating ice cream on public streets, was a focal point of Clint Eastwood’s campaign for mayor” said Ray. “He, and the new council elected along with him, overturned the ordinance and other similar laws that they considered to be too restrictive of businesses” said our well informed visitor.

Another unusual law in Carmel, though often erroneously thought of as an “urban myth,” bans the wearing of shoes having heels greater than two inches in height or with a base of less than one square inch, unless the wearer has obtained a permit for them. This seemingly peculiar law was authored by the city attorney in the 1920’s to defend the city from lawsuits resulting from wearers of high-heeled shoes tripping over irregular ridges in the pavement (caused by tree roots pushing up). Permits are available without charge at City Hall. While the local police do not cite those in violation of the ordinance, a person wishing to sue for damages from tripping while wearing such shoes is precluded from doing so unless a permit had previously been obtained! Carmel is and has been home to many famous residents including Ansel Adams, Jennifer Aniston, Doris Day, Jack London, Rupert Murdoch, Patrick McGoohan, Kim Novak and Brad Pitt.

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Above: After a short stop in Carmel itself, our two travellers headed for the world famous ’17 mile drive’, which takes you through Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach and the Del Monte Forest and is stunningly beautiful – “My favourite spot along the route was ‘The Lone Cypress’, which is one of California’s most enduring landmarks” said Ray. “The tree has prevailed on its rocky perch for over 250 years. This icon of fortitude has inspired many and is revered as the eternal symbol of the Pebble Beach Company” added Ray

Below: Nikki takes a barefoot stroll along Carmel beach – “I was extremely impressed with how clean it is” observed Nikki, who is more used to the unloved, garbage covered beaches in the poorer parts of Asia

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Just a couple of miles south from Carmerl along Highway 1 is the Point Lobos State Reserve. “A vast area of natural coastal beauty, landscape artist Francis McComa once described it as the ‘greatest meeting of land and water in the world’ – a brief and extravagant comparison that still goes unchallenged” said Ray. Point Lobos has also been called “the crown jewel of the State Park system”. It has diving unmatched on the California coast, great hiking, perfect picnic spots, vistas well suited for painting or photography and even an old whaler’s cabin. In the winter, migrating gray whales are visible from the shore. “We kept our eyes peeled the whole time we were there but alas, we never spotted any” said a disappointed Nikki. In 1960, 750 acres of submerged land were added to the Reserve to create the first underwater reserve in America.

The ocean at Point Lobos is home to sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters and a plethora of bird species, including the chestnut-backed chickadee, the pygmy nuthatch, Anna’s hummingbird, the dark-eyed junco, scrub jay, wren tit, white-crowned sparrow and California quail. “We were lucky enough to see a few seals, basking on the rocks” said Ray. “There are even more animals on land at Point Lobos than there are in the ocean, although many of them, such as the grey foxes, raccoons and coyotes are primarily nocturnal so we didn’t spot any” he added. “For us, the best thing about Point Lobos was the hiking” said Ray, “For anyone who is thinking of coming here, there are a number of excellent hiking trails that range from easy to challenging. For more detailed information, there is list of Top Nine Day Hikes in Monterey County, including online trail maps” said our helpful traveller.

The State Reserve at Point Lobos has also been used as a location for a number of movies filmed throughout the twentieth century. An astonishing collection of famous film stars have been in the vicinity, with 45 movies featuring scenes shot here, including Treasure Island (1934), Rebecca (1940), Lassie Come Home (1943), The Graduate (1967) and Blind Date (1987) with Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger. “I heard that Robert Louis Stevenson visited Point Lobos in 1879 and was so inspired by the landscape that it is said he used it as the basis for the setting of his novel Treasure Island – still well worth a read!” said Ray.

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Above: Ray and Nikki enjoyed coming into contact with nature at Point Lobos, meeting these wonderful seals (left) who had stopped to feed and rest, and walking a few of the many trails (right) – “It is ironic that I chose to do the ‘Old Veterans Trail’ said Ray, who at 48 years old is about to start training to run his first marathon!

Below: The scenic Highway 1 is unbelievably beautiful and offers some stunning views over the Pacific Ocean. You can see the Bixby Bridge to the right, which crosses the chasm at Dinosaur Rock – “After we left Point Lobos, we continued going south towards the Big Sur” recalled Ray

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Historically, the name Big Sur was derived from that unexplored and unmapped wilderness area which lays along the coast south of Monterey. It was simply called “El Sur Grande, The Big South”. Today, Big Sur refers to that 90 mile stretch of rugged and awesomely beautiful coastline (marked in red on the map, left) between Carmel in the north and San Simeon (Hearst Castle) to the south. Highway One winds along its length and is flanked on one side by the majestic Santa Lucia mountains and on the other by the rocky Pacific coast. In 1937, the present highway was completed after 18 years of construction at considerable expense, even with the aid of convict labour. The road has since been declared California’s first Scenic Highway and it provides a driving experience unsurpassed in natural beauty and scenic variety.

“This is a staggeringly popular piece of coastline” said Ray. “Big Sur has been voted the ‘Best Place to Play Hookie’ and the ‘Best Romantic Getaway’, as well as being home to the ‘Best Marathon in North America’ and the ‘Best Hotel in North America’. It is now home to the ‘Best Restaurant in California’ (per the Zagat survey) and National Geographic Traveller listed it as one of the ’50 Places of a Lifetime/The World’s Greatest Destinations’ he added.

Big Sur enjoys several outstanding wild beaches but visitors should expect to hike to reach most of them. Pfeiffer Beach is one of Monterey County’s handsomest beaches, located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. “Nikki and I decided to stop there and explore” recalled Ray. “Unfortunately, there had been quite a serious forest fire a day or two earlier and large sections of the park were closed, meaning our hiking opportunities were severely curtailed. So instead, we took a short walk through a newly constructed tunnel that runs under Highway 1 to get a much better view of the wild and rocky beach below” recalled our adventurer.

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Above: “Whooaa – slow down, Nikki” calls Ray, as she goes striding off in to the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. “That 15 mph speed limit is for hikers” he laughed

Below: “The World is Not Enough” – Ray poses James Bond style at one end of the foot tunnel underneath Highway 1 in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. “It may not be enough, but there is still plenty of it to explore, so it will do nicely for now!” he laughed

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Above: On the other side of the foot tunnel (see picture above this one), visitors are treated to this remarkable, hidden enclave – “It looks like one of those places where someone gets marooned on a paradise island” observed Ray

Below: “Our journey just kept getting better and better” said Nikki, who joined Ray for an early supper on the clifftops at the Nepenthe Restaurant and then sat and watched the sunset over the mighty Pacific Ocean. The restaurant is one of the most picturesque dining spots in California and overlooks 50 miles of coastline

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San Francisco

Without doubt, San Francisco is one of the most loved, most photographed and most visited cities in the world, with over 15 million people coming every year to experience what it has to offer. “I first came here in 1974 and have been back several times since” said Ray. “The strange thing is that I never get bored here, always find something new to experience and now, know my way around pretty well” added our experienced traveller. “I am so excited about being here” said Nikki. “This is my first visit to California and I have been dreaming of coming all my life since I read all the ‘Tales of the City’ books by Armistead Maupin. The Golden Gate Bridge in particular is something I have seen so many times on TV and in films, I cannot wait to stand on it and take it all in” she told me, as her and Ray left Monterey.

Before reaching the city by the bay, Ray wanted to make a brief stop in Los Gatos, about one hour south of San Francisco, to meet with an old friend. “Some readers might remember that when I was last here, in January 2008, I was re-united with Grant Atwell some 25 years after we worked briefly together in London. Knowing I would be virtually driving past his door was too good an opportunity to miss so Nikki and I arranged to have breakfast with him in his neighbourhood” recalled Ray. “Although he now works as a massage therapist, Grant is a very talented photographer and I was hoping he might get a couple of good shots of me and Nikki so that I could send them to The Daily Explorer” said Ray

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Above: Los Gatos is located in the San Francisco Bay Area at the southwest corner of San Jose in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Homes are mostly upscale, varying from century-old one million dollar cottages in the downtown area to large multi-million dollar custom homes in the surrounding hills. The town is noted for its small, pedestrian-friendly downtown, with many boutique shops and restaurants. It is also a preferred destination for antique shopping

Below: Our thanks to Grant Atwell, who captured this delightful image of our two travellers (left). Ray’s effort wasn’t too bad either! (right)

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Above: Ray’s return to San Francisco was also an opportunity to catch up once again with old friend Mike Banks (left) and his girlfriend Karin Jordan (right), Both English, they have lived in San Francisco for many years – “Nikki and I had a great evening with them, starting with a short hike up in the hills of Mill Valley where they live, followed by a traditional English Cottage Pie that Karin masterminded for us – Ahh lovely!” said our traveller

As well as being very popular with tourists, San Francisco is the financial center of the Bay Area (and has the second highest density rate of people in the USA after New York City). The Bay Area is renowned for its natural beauty, liberal politics, affluence and its new age reputation and encompasses large cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, along with smaller urban and rural areas. Overall, the Bay Area consists of nine counties, 101 cities, and 7,000 square miles. The nine counties are Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. When defined as a combined statistical area, the Bay Area is the sixth largest in the USA, with over 7.2 million people.

I asked Ray and Nikki to tell me more about their plans whilst they were in the city. “I am registered to attend a two day workshop this coming weekend, so I will only have a couple of days to hang out here. So I am going to visit parts of the city that I have never been to before, as well as one or two of my old favourites” said Ray. “I don’t really mind where we go or what we see” said Nikki. “Although I definitely want to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, eat in an old American Diner and find out for myself just how steep the streets of San Francisco really are” she told me.

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Above and below: First things first! Nikki and Ray find an old American Diner on south Lombard Street and tuck in to a hearty breakfast – “The portions are so big in America, after a week we decided we could eat one breakfast between two of us, and we were always full!” she told me

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Above: Nikki not only discovers the streets of San Francisco are steep, but also very winding, as she drives down the section of Lombard Street on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth (left). The roadway has eight sharp turns (or switchbacks) that have earned the street the distinction of being ‘the crookedest street in world’. The switchbacks design, first suggested by property owner Carl Henry and instituted in 1922, was born out of necessity in order to reduce the hill’s natural 27% grade,which was too steep for most vehicles to climb and a serious hazard to pedestrians used to a more reasonable sixteen-degree incline. The crooked section of the street, which is about 1/4 mile (400 metres) long, is reserved for one-way traffic traveling east (downhill) and is paved with red bricks. The speed limit here is a mere 5 mph. Next, its on to the oldest Chinatown in North America (right) – “The area just overflows with colours and images of swaying lanterns, bright calligraphic signs and intricate architectural elements” observed Nikki

Below: The way these cars are parked gives you an idea of how steep the streets really are!

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San Francisco Bay is a huge, shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California enters the Pacific Ocean. It has been traversed by watercraft since before the coming of Europeans; the indigenous peoples used their canoes to fish and clam along the shoreline. The era of sail brought ships which communicated with the rest of the world as well as serving as early ferries and freighters within the Bay and also between the Bay and inland ports such as Sacramento and Stockton. These were gradually replaced by steam-powered vessels starting in the late 19th century. The huge bay is spanned by five bridges (see below): the Golden Gate Bridge (2) (which was the largest single span suspension bridge ever built at the time of its construction), the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (1), the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge (3), the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge (4), and the Dumbarton Bridge (5). The bay is also spanned by the Transbay Tube, an underwater tunnel through which the BART runs. The Bay continues to serve as a major international shipping port, served by a large container facility operated by the Port of Oakland, and two smaller facilities in Richmond and San Francisco.

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Above: The Oakland Bay Bridge, visible in the distance from downtown San Francisco looking east (left). It carries approximately 270,000 vehicles per day and with a length of 8.5 miles, it is one of the planet’s longest suspension/cantilever structures, making it one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. Conceived as early as the gold rush days, construction on the bridge did not begin until 1933. It opened for traffic on November 12 1936, six months before the Golden Gate Bridge. The five main bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area can be seen in the pictoral on the right

Below: The San Francisco Cable Car system is the world’s last permanently operational, manually-operated cable car system, and is an icon of San Francisco. It forms part of the intermodal urban transport network operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway, or ‘Muni’ as it is better known. Cable cars operate on two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third route along California Street – “I didn’t realise that the whole system was invented by a Brit” said Ray. The driving force behind the system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw a horse-drawn streetcar slide backwards down the steep, wet slopes under its heavy load. The heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths. Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem – “The ride is a lot of fun” said Nikki, “especially when you stand on the running board and hang off the side! (right)” added our excited traveller

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Above:  One of the city’s best kept secrets are the Yerba Buena Gardens inside the Museum of Modern Art complex (MOMA) – “It just goes to show how modern city’s never stay the same for long” said Ray. “I am pretty sure this was not here the last time I visited” he added

Below: Baker Beach, beneath the Golden Gate bridge on the ocean side was also a new discovery for our global nomad – “I have been coming here for over 30 years and have never really thought of the place as a beach resort. Now I can honestly say that this city really does seem to have something for everyone!” said our surprised visitor

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The Golden Gate Bridge links San Francisco with Marin County. Before the bridge was built, the only practical short route between the city and Marin was by boat across a section of San Francisco Bay. For a long time, the bridge was considered unbuildable because of foggy weather, 60 mile per hour winds and strong ocean currents. Ferry services began as early as 1820, with a regularly scheduled service beginning in the 1840’s for purposes of transporting water to San Francisco. The ferry crossing between the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco and Sausalito in Marin County took approximately 20 minutes and cost US$1.00 per vehicle, a price later reduced to compete with the new bridge.

In 1917, a former engineering student, James Wilkins estimated the cost of building a bridge at around $100 million, which was impractical for the time. So he contacted every bridge engineer he knew of to ask whether they thought it could be built for less. One who responded, Joseph Strauss, presented a design which he estimated could be built for considerably less. Local authorities agreed to proceed only on the assurance that Strauss alter the design and accept input from several consulting project experts. Construction began on January 5, 1933, with the project budgeted to cost more than $35 million. It was finished by April 1937, $1.3 million under budget.

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Above: This satellite picture of San Francisco Bay shows just how huge the area is and how critical it is that the north and south peninsulas are connected by road – “You can see when you look at this that if the Golden Gate Bridge had not been built, getting from downtown to Marin County would take several hours by road, making it totally unworkable for people in a busy metropolis, let alone those wishing to travel south to north on the Highway 101” observed Ray

Below: This graphic shows the main dimensions of the bridge. A relatively unknown residential architect designed the overall shape of the bridge towers, the lighting scheme, and Art Deco elements such as the streetlights, railing, and walkways

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Above: This statue (left) of the designer Joseph B. Strauss (with Alcatraz just visible in the bay in front of him) has an inscription that reads: “Here at the Golden Gate is the Eternal Rainbow that he conceived and set to form – a promise indeed that the race of man shall endure until the ages”. He died in 1938 – just a year after the bridge opened. (Right) Ray stops on the bridge to take in the view across the bay – “I remember standing there, saying a little prayer and asking if I should continue with my nomadic way of living for a while longer or change tack” recalled Ray. “I asked for a sign and when I turned my head a few moments later, I think I got the answer I was looking for” he joked

Below: A cross section of the main suspension cable. The weight of the bridge’s entire roadway is hung off of two of these cables that pass through the two main towers and are fixed in concrete at each end. Each cable is 7,650 feet long and is made of 27,572 strands of wire. There are 80,000 miles of wire in each and they are 37″ in diameter; each weighs 24,500 tons and if you laid all of these wires end to end, the total would be sufficient to go around the world 5.79 times!

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The Golden Gate bridge is said to be one of the most beautiful examples of bridge engineering, both as a structural design challenge and for its aesthetic appeal. It was declared one of the modern Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to Frommer’s travel guide, the Golden Gate is possibly the ‘most beautiful, certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world’ (although Frommers also bestows the ‘most photographed’ honour on Tower Bridge in London). The famous International Orange colour was originally used as a sealant for the bridge. Many locals persuaded the architects to paint the bridge in this colour, instead of the standard silver or gray, and it has been kept the same ever since, especially as it is perceived to give it greater visibility during fog.

Since its completion, the Golden Gate Bridge has been closed due to weather conditions only three times, because of gusts of wind between 69 – 75 mph. Modern knowledge of the effect of earthquakes on structures led to a programme to retrofit the Golden Gate to better resist seismic events. The proximity of the bridge to the San Andreas Fault places it at risk for a significant earthquake. Once thought to have been able to withstand any magnitude of foreseeable earthquake, the bridge was actually vulnerable to complete structural failure (i.e. collapse) triggered by the failure of supports on the 320 foot (98 metre) arch over Fort Point. A $392 million programme was initiated to improve the structure’s ability to withstand such an event with only minimal (repairable) damage.

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Above: As the only road to exit San Francisco to the north, the bridge is part of both U.S. Route 101 and California Route 1. The median markers between the lanes are moved to conform to traffic patterns. On weekday mornings, traffic flows mostly southbound into the city, so four of the six lanes run southbound. Conversely, on weekday afternoons, four lanes run northbound

So what else did Ray and Nikki have planned for their last couple of days in San Francisco? “Well Nick, we want to take a walk through the Haight-Ashbury area, which is universally recognised for its creativity and diversity and was supposed to be the place where the hippy movement started in the 1960’s” said Nikki. “And we also want to take a look at the Castro district” said Ray. “We recently saw the superb film ‘Milk’, in which Sean Penn gave an amazing, Oscar winning account of the life of gay politician Harvey Milk, who is a hero in this part of town, which caters largely for the city’s gay and lesbian population” explained Ray. “We have one day left after that so we intend to do the thing we love most – hiking! And we are going to choose one of the trails on Mount Tamalpais, which has a superb overlook of the city if the visibility is good” he told me.

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Above: Nikki stands outside a shop called ‘Positively Haight Street’ in the colourful area where the hippy movement started in the 1960’s – “Haight Steet was known as Hippy Central during the Summer of Love in 1967. The best way to enjoy the district is simply by taking up residence in a cafe and ‘people watching’ for an afternoon” said Ray

Below: The houses in Haight-Ashbury reflect the spirit and artistic culture of the neighbourhood

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Above: The diversity of architecture throughout the various boroughs of the city is one of the things that gives San Francisco so much character

Below: The Castro cinema is the epicentre of the district made famous by the recent movie about the life of Harvey Milk. Known as the city’s gay capital, this vibrant, close-knit neighbourhood maintains its 1960’s foundation of expressive activisim. Many local landmarks were used in the making of the recent hit film, ‘Milk’

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Mount Tamalpais (known locally as “Mount Tam”) is the highest peak in Marin County. The elevation of the East Peak, its second highest point, is 2,572 feet (784 metres). The West Peak, where a radar dome currently stands, is slightly higher at 2,574 feet (785 metres). “The mountain is clearly visible from the city and the views from the top are spectacular” said Ray. Early wireless towers were constructed on the mountain in the early 20th century, only to be destroyed by one of the periodic hurricane-force windstorms. The peak and its surrounding areas were the birthplace of mountain biking in the 1970s, where early mountain bikers such as Gary Fisher, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze were active.

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Above: Standing high up on ‘Mount Tam’, Ray and Nikki were able to see the San Francisco skyline in the distance, partly obscured by clouds and Sausalito, which is one of the more affluent suburbs north of the city, with a huge harbour full of expensive yachts

Below: High above the clouds – “I rarely get the opportunity to stand above the clouds without flying in an aeroplane” said Ray, but to be able to do this just a few minutes drive from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world is truly awesome and definitely draws me back to this place time and time again” said our traveller

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Above: After a good hike on Mount Tam, what could be better than a walk along the fabulous Stinson Beach, near Muir Woods

Oakland

Oakland, which is located on the opposite side of the bay to San Francisco itself, was the last stop on this particular tour for our two travellers, so I was curious to know what brought them here. “Well Nick, we are really here because of me” said Ray. “There is a personal development workshop taking place here, called “Taking the Mid-Life, One Leap at a Time” which is being run by two women I am very inspired by, as I have read one of their books called “Undefended Love” and gained many useful insights from it. The following is the information I received from them about the course, whilst I was in England earlier this year, and it was enough to scrap my visit to India and instead, register to attend:

If you are between 45 and 65 years old, you are undoubtedly attempting to navigate your mid-life passage. What makes this an experience unlike any other is that it requires the death of who you have known yourself to be and promises the birth of who you could possibly become. Far too many people ‘die’ in their fifties and are not buried until their eighties because they did not take the full journey possible at mid-life. The whole point of midlife is to allow the construct of who you are and the life you have created to fail. It’s not just an opportunity for a fresh start; it’s a mandate for one”.

“To me, this invitation sounded irresistable! Living the nomadic life and travelling is not just about taking a look at things outside of myself the whole time, which is great, but includes time when I take a deeper look at what is going on with me on the inside” explained Ray. “The journey I have been on and am still on is a great opportunity as it allows me the time to think about and explore the fundamental things that are really important to me. These include how much love and initimacy I would like to experience, the kind of values I have and the things about myself and other human beings I am most curious about. It will probably sound a bit ‘new agey’ to some of our readers Nick, but I can assure you that what I am talking about is very down to earth. What I am seeing from this journey is there are many ways a person can live a life. I want to be as certain as I can be that I identify and take the real opportunities for deepening my experience my life presents to me in this coming decade, and make the right choices for myself so that I do not have any regrets later” added our traveller. “If anyone out there relates to this and wants to talk to me about it, you are more than welcome to get in touch” added Ray.

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Above: Jett Psaris and Marlene Lyons, authors of “Undefended Love” and facilitators for Ray’s workshop, make their last minute preparations before the participants arrive – “I was quite surprised and re-assured by the many people (just like me) showing up who were curious to examine their lives in this context” said Ray

Below: “The weekend had a very deep impact on me” said Ray, “as I considered those aspects of myself (my beliefs and typical behaviour) that it might well be time to let go of. I have started to realise that even patterns of behaviour that have been very useful in the past now feel quite restrictive. One of the big surprises for me in the workshop was the chance to review some of the reasons my marriage failed five years ago with a supportive group of people. This led me to a much deeper clarity and understanding of who I am as a person and it has enabled me to let go of some of the repetitive thoughts that run around in my mind when I think back to that period, leading to a sense of freedom and peace around it” explained our global explorer

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Whilst Ray was attending the workshop, Nikki had a chance to explore Oakland. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 78.2 square miles. Oaklanders most broadly refer to their city’s terrain as “the flatlands” and “the hills”, which up until recent waves of gentrification have also been a reference to Oakland’s deep economic divide, with “the hills” being more affluent communities. About two-thirds of Oakland lies within the flat plain of the San Francisco Bay, with one-third rising into the foothills and hills of the East Bay range. Oakland has more than 50 distinct neighborhoods across land running from the San Francisco Bay up into the East Bay hills, many of which are not “official” enough to be named on a map. East Oakland actually encompasses more than half of Oakland’s area, stretching from Lakeshore Drive on the east shore of Lake Merritt southeast to San Leandro. North Oakland encompasses the neighborhoods between downtown and Berkeley and Emeryville, while West Oakland is the area between downtown and the Bay.

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Above: One of Oakland’s most notable features is Lake Merritt near downtown, the largest urban saltwater lake in the United States – “I know it’s what it says in the book of facts, but Lake Merritt is technically an estuary of San Francisco Bay, not a lake” pointed out Nikki!

Below: Some Oakland residents are very lucky to have this wonderful 50’s style movie theatre in their neighbourhood

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Above: Adios California! Ray touches down at Heathrow for another brief stop in London before departing for Chiangmai in northern Thailand, to begin training for his first marathon in New York City this November

Editors Note: Our thanks to Nick Elandimer, who has compiled the last three issues of The Daily Explorer from the USA and who has done a superb job in bringing us all of the news and stories of Ray’s travels over the last few weeks. Nick will be back in November when he will be bringing us full coverage of Ray’s visit to New York and his final preparations for the marathon, as well as the big day itself on Sunday 1st November.

Our next issue sees the return of our Asian Fitness correspondent, Me So Fit, who will updating us with all of the news and pictures from Thailand as Ray simultaneously starts his five month training programme and fund raising campaign. “It is my first marathon, so naturally, I am a bit nervous” he told me. “I am also very excited about it, to say the least. “My training goal is to get ready so that I am able to complete the race in a time of four hours or less. Fortunately for me, Matt Campbell, a friend who lives in Chiangmai, has run six marathons and has agreed to be my mentor!” said our grateful virgin runner. “He is also into eating raw food and I am hoping to learn a lot from him over the next few months. Naturally, I will be in touch with everyone in due course and asking for your support, as I intend to raise loads of money for the three charities I have decided to support” said Ray.

That’s about it for now. We aim to maintain our high standards of journalism and presentation at The Daily Explorer, so please keep sending us your ideas to help us improve it. You can use the comments box online, or email ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at thedailyexplorer@gmail.com

MOZZIE BYTE

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Above: In our next issue, our Asian guest correspondent Me So Fit (left) will be updating us with all of the news and pictures from Thailand as Ray starts his five month training programme for the marathon. Ray is also raising money for the World Cancer Research Fund, the Namaste Childrens Home in Nepal and the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, where he is training. He is pictured here in the London offices of the WCRF, signing his registration form with Natalie Tarrant, who is Events Manager for them (right). We will keep you posted!

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2 Comments »

  1. Wonderfully detailed edition this month. Look forward to seeing you in Chiang Mai very soon!

    Comment by Nic Meredith — April 25, 2009 @ 12:53 am

  2. Inspiring as usual Ray. It also makes me want to go back to California and explore more!

    Comment by Karla — May 19, 2009 @ 7:36 am


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