Monday, April 24, 2006

A Passage to Rogue (Part 1): Through the Desert and into the Trees.

For corn-fed landlubbers like me, there’s something elemental and deeply symbolic about those places on our planet where ocean meets land.

Verily, navigation is treacherous – out amid the vast seas themselves, and also around the multitudes of clichés that have been deployed throughout history to describe the sound, the appearance and the visceral feel of large volumes of salt water coming into shore and hitting rocks that appear to be stationary, but gradually yield to the incessant assault over the eons.

Beaches, both sandy and rocky. Blow holes. Surf, waves, mists and sprays. Undulating, crashing, rocking. Flotsam and jetsam.

I’ve seen a more than a few Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic coastal vistas in Europe, by land and by sea, and admired the varied Atlantic shoreline at different times of the year in Maine, South Carolina and Florida. There was even a brief Caribbean idyll more than two decades ago, and I’d consider going there more often if the beer were better and Jimmy Buffett hadn’t already written so many songs and books about it (see “clichés,” above).

Until then, it’s hard to beat the “view” at a beach in France, even if the beer’s not very good there, either.

Prior to catching sight of the Pacific Ocean just north of San Luis Obispo on April 9, it had been all of 27 years – more than half a lifetime – since I’d found myself perched on the American shore of the Pacific Rim, gazing over towards Asia.

In 1978, the occasion was a weeklong visit to San Francisco and a glorious day spent hiking at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

In 2006, the travel plan hatched by my buddy Graham was to take a right turn at San Luis Obispo and drive north along California’s Highway 1 (and later, US Hwy. 101) all the way to Newport, Oregon – home of Rogue Ales and a pilgrimage site all its own.

We knew there would be a few brewery and pub stops along the way – and I’ve heard they even make wine out there, somewhere in California and Oregon, but with only one liver to give, savoring the grape seemed far less likely than draining the grain.


On the morning of April 9, we emerged from a Day’s Inn in Barstow, greeted a temperate and sunny morning, and began driving toward Bakersfield. The previous day had ended with a fittingly surreal passage from the Arizona border through the silence and majesty of the Mojave Desert, with decrepit road signs pointing the way variously to Ludlow, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and with the brooding legacy of the concurrent Route 66 readily available for silent contemplation much of the way.

With the leafier beginnings of America’s national salad bowl within heehawing distance of Buck Owens Boulevard, we ventured west from Bakersfield and crossed the middling Temblor Range on Highway 58, ascending on the eastern side through scrub and dry pastureland, past hundreds of spinning and power generating windmills, then passing through the eerie elevated Carrizo Plain before making the descent past freshly verdant green fields, broadly leafy trees and impossibly fat cattle.

At times, it’s easy to see why the pioneers spoke in terms of a land of milk and honey, especially after a desert passage. The downhill plunge ended in the tidy outskirts of San Luis Obispo, and a few miles further the Pacific Ocean finally was revealed on the horizon near Morro Bay.

The only European parallel to this experience that I can offer is inexact, but the course of our morning’s drive from Bakersfield to San Luis Obispo reminded me of being in Albania in 1994 and traveling the old Italian-built coastal road between Vlore, an Adriatic port city and onetime submarine lair, and gently shabby Saranda, another port that lies south along the gulf facing the island of Corfu.

Both routes – Albanian and Californian – began quite dry, only sparsely vegetated and relatively dusty, and changed dramatically in terms of landscape after the top of the range was mounted and the weather line was crossed.

In both cases, I had a driver, for which I remain thankful. When it comes down to it, I’ve always preferred watching … the scenery, as opposed to the roadway.

The Albanian mountain descent wasn’t as lush and green as California’s, but there were no stolidly ancient olive groves waiting in San Luis Obispo, as there were in Saranda.

The Albanian road was half the width of the California highway, only sporadically paved, and lacking even the most rudimentary of guardrails.

But no one in California was offering freshly roasted lamb at an improvised roadside eatery and slaughterhouse (actually, a slaughter tree), but rest assured, the zesty California-brewed craft beers proved far better than the workmanlike lagers brewed in the Balkans.

The latter fact I sought to reaffirm that very evening after we stopped for the day and set up bivouac at a motel in Monterey, a plush city of Spanish colonial origin situated near the Pebble Beach Golf Course, and consequently one obviously accustomed to entertaining duffers and other travelers who have more than a dollar or two to spend on amenities– as well as the usual assortment of globetrotting English soccer hooligans and associated Euro trash, who in this case probably were making their annual spring migration south for requisite photo-ops at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go in LA.

These types generally can be relied upon to locate the nearest pub with a British Isles theme, as Graham and I also promptly did in spite of being headed toward Oregon, not Disneyland.

To be exact, The Mucky Duck, a soothingly lived-in and vaguely English-style pub of long standing in the community, with perfectly appropriate greasy fish and chips and virtually the complete Sierra Nevada product line on draft, including Bigfoot, IPA and the brewery’s always delicious Porter.

Nice. Very, very nice. The passing ruffians were so pleased with it that they didn’t object to standing outside to chain smoke. Pleasant chaps, after all. Hope they do well in the City of Angels.


See also ...

Desert life and a fortunate spin of the wheel. (California arrival)

Backfill: Something to which we all aspire? (San Simeon).

... both at NA Confidential.

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