Dec 2016 Christmas Visit

WHUFU Trip: Christmas visit | 0

Monday (Dec 19)

Time for this year’s Christmas Trip to Eureka.  The plan is to sleep in a parking lot first night out, so I can be pretty leisurely about when I get started. But when I got around to getting my stuff down the elevator it stuck!

Let me explain: A couple of times a year our old, decrepit elevators get weird about making it all the way up to the third floor. If my floor-mates the Blakes are in town they’ll complain and it will get fixed. It always works to the second floor because Carol needs it. But if the Blakes aren’t here, I tend to just live with it, and Carol doesn’t care as long as it makes it to her floor. Anyway, it’s been acting flaky and it’s desperately cold today. I didn’t really trust it, so today, I loaded it with my stuff but not me!

I called it up (it came!), loaded my stuff in but did not get in myself. I reached in, pushed G and took the stairs to the basement and waited for it to appear. It didn’t.

To the great credit of the elevator company, the fellow got there quickly, like ten minutes! He couldn’t fix it right then, but he could use his elevator key (a giant thing straight out of the Steam Age) to open the doors and unload my stuff onto the second floor landing. So I got my exercise today, doing 150-ish stairs overall, some carrying heavy loads where I couldn’t see my feet.

I finally got going around 3, so that after my Safeway run I really hit the road about 3:50. That doesn’t leave a lot of daylight one day before the winter solstice, basically just enough to get over the high passes and headed towards the lowlands. It’s very cold but clear so  I-80 over Donner Pass was easy.

Around 6:30, it’s already been dark awhile, stopped in Yuba City to eat in a little fish place Yelp told me about. It’s a dingy little place in a dingy part of town, but I like the cheerful asian folks that run it and the fish is good and cheap.

By the time I finished it was way after dark, so straight to the casino parking lot and straight to bed.

Colusa Casino:  

RV parking is way in the back of the parking lot ... That part of the lot is still gravel there and quite muddy in the rain.

Casino is cozy and not unpleasant. Wifi is terrible except close to the coffee shop.

tonight: got here well after dark, just stayed in the van, no casino adventure. The unobstructed view of the surrounding orchards in the early morning mist is just beautiful


I decided to try the coffee shop in Colusa that always looked interesting. It was quite nice. For some reason I decide to crank up Zillow and do a little house shopping. I think that I actually will eventually sell my condo in Reno, even though I am making piss-poor progress on doing so. It is much less likely that I will buy another place after, but sometimes I like to window shop anyway.  The Central Valley really is super nice in the winter, enough so that I tend to forget how sultry and uncomfortable it is the summer. The modest little Colusa homes look pretty nice today.

Anyway, after that I spend the rest of the day looking at wildlife. First up, Llano Seco. It is cold and windy and deserted. I amuse myself by doing my tai chi long form on the viewing platform, migratory birds on one side, 60 mph farm vehicles on the other.

Next stop the Sacramento NWR. It is too late in the day to do the walk and the drive, so I opt for just the drive. It was a spectacular sunset!  Then the long straight drive in the dark to sleep in another parking lot, at Granzella’s.

Granzellas Deli:  

They have a parking lot dedicated to overnighters and trucks carrying boats/trailers. There's one very comfy stop next to a tree. It's really handy for me as an overnight before Harbin.

tonight: Used the place to its fullest this trip. Arrived 6:30 after a gorgeous sunset at Sacto NWR, had cocktail hour in the van before going to the sports bar at 7:30 to watch Warriors and eat. Their "green salad" side dish is very good. Then in the morning did usual coffee+pastry+wifi+order a sando for the road, plus a hunk of peanut brittle for Christmas!

There is a Warriors game at 7:30, and it’s only 6:30 so I have a little private party in the parking lot. That is, I hang out and have one of my beers and listen to history podcasts. Once inside I have one of their beers, my go-to meal and enjoy the game.


I am taking the 101 route to Eureka this time. 299 still has landslide problems and really, this route is a little less stressful. After breakfast I continue on Route 20 west. At the intersection with Route 16 I take a left to check out Cowboy Camp, an alleged camping spot that recently appears on my Allstays app. It is a BLM parking lot which is the trailhead for a series of horse trails along the Cache Creek Valley. They evidently allow overnight parking, which is good enough for me. Super nice place, at least in the winter. I want to stay here some day.,

But today, onward! Continue on 20 across the top of Clear Lake. Again, late afternoon comes up really quickly this time of year, and the glare off the lake was really bad. I get to the Army Corp campgrounds on Lake Mendicino with a little daylight left. Kyen CG appears to be completely closed, but it turns out that they have kept one loop of Bushay CG open. So I backtrack the 3-4 miles and 10-ish speed bumps to go there.

Bushay Campground:  

on Lake Mendicino, off SR 20 a few miles east of 101. Annoying access road with 6 or ten speed bumps, but a very pleasant place once you\'re been assigned your spot by the check-in. Nice, free showers!

tonight: They've gotten smarter and closed off all of the huge campground except a small loop at the top of the hill. I am greateful that they kept it open. It's really nice except that busy route 20 is directly across the valley and even though it's maybe a mile away, there is nothing to stop the noise.

Not much to say about my stay here. I had only a few minutes of daylight left when I arrived. It was green and peaceful(*) and deserted and I slept well. In the morning I walked around a little and left.

(*) despite the racket of Route 20 across the valley

Thursday – Sunday 

The the first time I’ve driven 101 since the Willets Bypass was completed. NOW I know that there is ONLY a south of town exit and a north of town exit. There is NO middle of town exit! :< I therefore drove past the southern exit and blew my chance at the coffeehouse with wifi at that end of town. I had to settle for the coffeehouse with no wifi at the northern end. The Brickhouse is a nice enough coffee place, but I will not be able to load today’s fresh podcasts. bummer. Poor me, only >2-day old podcasts to listen to.

My lunch is a magnificent Peg House burger – not only no wifi, but not even phone bars. That fuels me all the way to Eureka.  When I get to town everybody is busy, so I make lemonade out of that lemon by dropping in at Dave’s Bar for two IPAs and the first half of the Warriors-Nets game. The Nets are terrible.

I had a little more time to kill, so I window-shopped the Ace Hardware around the block, and ended up with $38 worth of on-sale Christmas lights! Christmas comes early for me!


Last week I was thinking I should get a haircut before the trip, then I realized that niece-in-law (Chad’s sister) Ariel cuts hair, so I brilliantly made an appointment with her … for 11 am today. Nice haircut and a little family bonding – win-win!

Then home to babysit Rylan so the grownups can have their Friday date. Then off to the Library to copy missing Pink Puzzle Pages, then home forever.

Saturday, Christmas Eve

Coffee at Old Town, neighborhood walk, drop by Because. Then back to meet up with everybody to go to Grandma Gales. Chad’s family, the MacDonalds, celebrate Christmas on the eve. This is definitely NOT how we Freemans do it. No presents for me, but they open a the intra-family presents for this side of the family..

Sunday, Christmas

They let me sleep through opening the rest of the presents VERY EARLY this morning. It would have been cool to be up for it, but it’s better this way. Back to Gale’s for a very nice Christmas dinner and the Warriors-Cavs game. The Warriors did ok for a while, then they just kind of gave the game away. Since this is the team they almost surely will face in the finals again, that’s worrisome.

Monday – Wednesday

Today we all travel back down 101 in our respective vehicles to San Rafael to the other grandparents for even more Christmas. Nobody rides with me, so I set my own schedule … which of course means that I leave later. Breakfast at the Chalet on the way outta town.

By the time I get to San Rafael, they have already had their third Christmas – the kids couldn’t wait of course. I score a few nice presents! Then I go downstairs to my sleeping quarters on the floor of Laura’s office.


Martha calls and gets me moving a little early to drive six blocks to accompany her through the checkout line at the San Rafael Goodwill so she may get the 35% senior discount for today only! That was the peak of today’s excitement. The rest of the day is hanging around with various family members at the house. My function is mostly to step up to the plate to be the person that Rylan wears out for a few minutes or hours so his regular caretaker can get on with their lives, eat a sandwich in peace, that sort of thing. That is a completely awesome Grandpa niche, kinda what I’m here for really.


I commit a food faux pas this morning! I eat the lasagna filling with my morning coffee 🙁 There is a general kitchen rule here that if you come across food you might as well eat it because someone else will eat it by the next time you look. So yesterday, demolishing the quarter of a pumpkin pie in the fridge with my morning coffee was just fine. Today however, demolishing the lovely bowl of sauteed ground beef and onions was not fine. I am in the doghouse. Oops.

Otherwise, today is just like yesterday, Grandpa doing grandpa things.


Leavin day. I generate a little drama for myself by not being able to find my van key. I always bring a spare because such dramas are all too common for me. In fact I  had one in the previous post about the previous trip.

The key will not show itself, so I eventually give up an head off with only the degraded, un-electronic spare(*). (Yes of course, the other key does turn up a few days later, I believe hanging from the hook over my van sink.)

(*) Of the four keys that came with the van, only one is worth a damn. One is missing (I never say lost, just not found for the last year or so), and the remaining two have had their electronics fried by jumping into hot tubs with them in my swim suit pocket – That is all too easy to do on the road – lock van, put key in pocket, jump in water – boom! – fried key. Anyway, these degraded keys will manually open the drivers door or the back door, but clicking the button to open (or lock) all the doors is a big FAIL. Sigh…

I do a drive-by on the house in Petaluma that the kids hope to buy. It will be cool if it works out and they get it. By the time I do that it’s rush hour. I decide to take the overland route home from here, which will take me over two coastal mountain ranges. Head out of Petaluma on 116 East, then pick  up 12 / 121 across the heart of Napa County. Stick with 121 at the split, through the busy town of Napa then eastward into the hills. It gets pretty curvy and narrow up there. It’s not relaxing or easy, but to me it’s totally preferable to sitting in four lanes of stopped traffic on I-80.

121 turns into 128 which skirts the bottom of Lake Berrysea then follows the lake’s outflow – Putah Creek to Winters then the I-505 cutoff.

Not long after the lake I took a minute to check out Lake Solano County Campground. Looks real nice! Then it’s just a few miles to the happening town of Winters, and then to I-505, to I-5 to repeating almost exactly the same evening at Granzella’s that I had nine days ago, except no Warriors game this time.


Get up mid-morning, hop across the street for Granzella’s coffee and a nut bar, then I’m off! … Six miles to the Colusa NWR to drive the Auto Tour. It’s very nice this time of year. Then I really hit the road. Drive through Colusa to the fish place I like in Yuba City again. Route 20 is such a busy, traffic-controlled road in YC that there is a heavy penalty for choosing a restaurant on the wrong side of the highway. Stopping there last week going west it was a simple right turn, and leaving was a simple right turn to get going again, Now going east, the wait at the light for a left hand turn was significantly annoying both to get there and to leave.

The weather is clear and unthreatening and has been for a few days, so I feel ok about taking my time and allowing darkness to overtake me up around Donner Lake. I drive the rest of the way in the dark, get home 7-ish, and even go out for some Friday night fun when I get home!