Our trip to South Korea has been scrubbed. We just simply ran out of time on our sign-up before any flights materialized. From our arrival here at Travis Air Force Base on March 30th and daily, sometimes more often, checks with the passenger service counter until our time ran out on April 18th we held out hope that we would make the trip.
In retrospect we learned a great deal about the process and we will be much more prepared for success the next time we attempt a military hop. We thought we had done a good job of researching for this attempt, but there was one facet we failed to consider and, at least in my case, failed to fully understand. That facet was the impact spring break has on the ability of retired people to get to and from Hawaii.
For active duty personnel living in Hawaii, spring break is an opportunity to take leave with the family and hop back to the mainland for a reunion with the extended family. It is also an opportunity for the family members to fly without the active duty member in a status called environmental leave. This category is assigned to persons living in isolated areas and thereby affording them the opportunity to reconnect with their families at reasonable intervals thereby reducing the hardship of the isolated duty station. Yes, duty in Hawaii is considered isolated. I am not sure why, but it is. Anyway, those people trumped us retired folks. Then there were the spring breakers on this side who wanted to go to Hawaii for some fun in the sun. They, too, as long as they were flying with the active duty member, out placed us. So, my tip to myself and anyone else who is eligible to fly space available on military transports, stay away from spring break along with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer vacation.
Having missed out on this opportunity, we found ourselves with a few weeks on our hands. We broke out the maps and started making some plans.
One of the first things that appeared (in fact it showed up on our radar screen before we knew we wouldn’t be leaving for Korea) was a 5 Kilometer foot race in downtown Fairfield. Connie had picked up an application for me and was encouraging me to enter. I had a few reservations, the first being that we didn’t know where we would be on race day. I was also concerned about my ability to finish in what I considered a respectable time. Having run competitively for many years in my younger days, I was not willing to go out and look foolish. Of course the appearance of foolishness has different images for different people. Just spend some time watching You Tube and you will understand that what is art to one is foolishness to another. I am sure I look foolish to many as a plod along trying to look like a runner. In the specific case of my running, foolishness starts to creep into my image of myself if I cannot run under the finish banner in something less than 27 minutes. That time being just below nine minute miles while not fast, certainly does not represent walking. My final early concern was that having not run competitively for so long, would I have any memory of race strategy and how to employ same? Allow me to explain competitive running from my point of view. With very few exceptions I was never good enough to ever be a contender as a runner of any distance. I mostly competed against my former times for the same distance, some goal time for the event, and rarely for a place in my age group. That latter goal only came into play when running small races in Southeast Georgia. In other words, I was and always will be a pack runner who enjoys the thrill of the event and always tries my best to beat the crowd around me at the end.
The distance of 5,000 meters is too short to test real endurance and too long for someone of my abilities to be a sprint. My strategy has always been to go out fast and then hang on for the finish. If I start slow I will only get slower, so I just go for it.
As the days rolled by and the opportunity for a flight looked more and more bleak, I worked harder at convincing myself that I had a sub-27 minute race in me. On my six mile runs I worked really hard for the first three and then coasted for two before pushing hard on tired legs for the sixth. My strength was improving and my times were coming down. Several days before the race I injured my back. I am not sure what I did, but I had trouble getting out of bed one morning just days before the race. I was concerned about moving the suitcases to the car should we get a flight, much less about my ability to run. Finally, on the very last day to register, I checked with the terminal and saw there were no flights on the board for Thursday, Friday or our last day of eligibility, Saturday, and I submitted my on line registration for the race. Of course we continued to monitor the flights as those last few days passed by just in case a flight popped in. None materialized and on Saturday, April 18 I found myself standing behind the 8 – 9 Minute per Mile sign at the start of the “Run For Good 5K”.
Even with my tweaked back I fared well by my standards finishing in a time of 26:40 for the 3.1 mile run. As for how I did compared to the field, well that is another story all together. I finished 7th in my age group which was not too shabby, except for the times of the top five guys. They all ran in the low 7 minutes per mile range. Overall I was 125th of over 500 runners. I felt good about the race on a lot of levels and will be looking for more races to enter as time goes on. I promise to not drone on about future events.
I do need to spend a few words talking about the cause this race was supporting. All proceeds from the race went to the Matt Garcia Youth Center and the Fairfield Police Activities League. Matt Garcia was the youngest ever city counselor in Fairfield, California at just 18 years of age. He ran for office on a platform to clean up the city and make it a safer place for the youth. He was very popular with all the citizens and looked to be on a fast course to what should have been a very successful life of community service. Sadly, he was gunned down as an innocent by-stander in a drug deal gone bad. There are tributes to this remarkable young man all around the city. Given such an honorable cause it made me nearly duty bound to participate and therefore donate to the cause.
One final thought and then I promise I will leave this subject. The race director and really the major organizer for this event is an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel stationed here at Travis Air Force Base. It was his desire as a temporary resident of the area to try to do something to give back to the community that will have long lasting positive impact. That speaks volumes for the community spirit of our military personnel.
While my running and Connie’s aerobics sessions at the gym certainly have played a major role in our lives here, they do not represent all that we have done. More to the point these activities have helped us stay fit enough to enjoy all the other wonderful activities we have taken on.
As we studied the maps we fell upon a winding road that crosses a narrow mountain situated between the wine growing valleys of Sonoma and Napa and the coast. The highway is called the Fairfax-Bolinas Highway. We had to drive that road and see what was there. Of course all roads lead somewhere and this particular road would eventually take us to California 1 at the extreme southern tip of Point Reyes National Seashore. We packed up our binoculars and camera and set off relatively early on Sunday morning to see what the drive would reveal. The drive along the Fairfax-Bolinas Highway was absolutely breathtaking. I really enjoyed it because Connie was driving and I got to take it all in without worry about running off the road or hitting an oncoming car. We rode in amazement all the way over the mountain. We did stop a few times and snapped a few photos. I have included some of these in an on line album. It was very difficult to capture the true beauty of the drive. I only hope our photos bring joy to the viewers. We shared the road with several other automobiles and many more bicycles. It was hair- raising to watch the cyclists scream down the windy road at what certainly looked like hurt yourself speeds if you crash. We decided we are not dare-devilish enough to make the trip via bicycle. Actually, I am not sure we are or at least I am fit enough to pedal the uphill portions.
By the time we got to Point Reyes we had only a very few minutes to get oriented to the geological significance of this land mass before we had to jump back into the car and high tail it up the road some forty miles to catch a shuttle bus out to the light house. Through that Sunday we were there, the only way to visit the lighthouse was via the shuttle bus. Apparently the winter and early spring visitation is so high that there is inadequate parking near the lighthouse or at the beach where the elephant seal colony is located to accommodate all the visitors. Therefore the park service has chartered a bus service to ferry people to these locations. We arrived at the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center in time to purchase our tickets and board the last remaining outbound bus of the day. The bus went from Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and then on to Historic Point Reyes Lifeboat Station before returning to Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center. Although no additional people would be coming from the visitor center after 4 PM, the buses would continue to run until all the people at the two sites were taken back to Kenneth C. Patrick. Theoretically the last bus was to leave the lighthouse at 5PM. We didn’t want to test that theory.
Once off the bus we had to walk several hundred yards along a ridge leading to the stairs that eventually took us to the lighthouse at the very southern tip of the peninsula. I took a pretty neat motion picture of part of that walk. It not only shows how windy it was, but you can see the fog rolling across the trail as Connie makes her way towards some pretty awesome looking trees in the background. I hope you enjoy it.
I need to stop here and talk a little about the geological significance of this place. Point Reyes is a stylized delta shaped piece of land complete with coastal mountains, rolling foothills, streams and a bay. Its eastern boundary is the famous San Andreas Fault. Some five million years ago this land mass was located some 310 miles to the south and attached to the Tehachapi Mountains. The peninsula rides high on the eastern edge of the Pacific plate that creeps northwestward about two inches a year. The slower moving North American plate travels westward. As well as being a land mass sort of out of place with the surrounding area, Point Reyes also seems to have a distinct climate that differs significantly from the area just to the east of the fault zone. It is this mild climate, fertile soil and closeness to the sea that made this area attractive to humans. From the early days of man’s existence in coastal California through the present this peninsula has provided a place to live and farm. To this day there are several cattle ranches (both dairy and beef) on the peninsula sharing the land with elk and deer. The peninsula is also home to the Tule Elk Reserve at the north end.
Back to the lighthouse: the walk along the ridge was interesting because we got to see the fog rolling in and we felt the cold damp wind blowing as we made our way to the stairs leading to the lighthouse. By the way, there are a few stairs, something like 320 of them. There is a break in the steps along the way where you walk along a slope. So, if the designers had chosen to they could have put in a hundred or so more steps just to make it interesting.
The lower we got on our journey to the lighthouse the clearer the air got. By the time we were at the lighthouse the fog had mostly passed and it was bright and sunny again making for some really nice photos of the shore line as well as a rather interesting shot looking up into the dome of the lighthouse from within. Of course I have included a sampling of these images in the photo album.
We had hoped to get some bird watching in on this outing, but we were a little late getting underway and our trip across the Fairfax-Bolinas Highway was slow. However, while at the lighthouse Connie got directions from the ranger as to where to look to see the Common Murres. There is a colony of these little guys on one of the rock formations just off the western side of the point. Murre look a little and act a little like Penguins. I took some photos, but we were so far away that they look a lot like dots on a rock. I will try to enlarge one of the images enough to identify the birds and add to the album. We also saw some Surf Scoters and Brandt’s Cormorants and at least one Guillemot.
We ended the day with a little straighter drive back to Fairfield and Travis Air Force Base. It was a great day. We had such a good time that we went back to the point several days later. We didn’t have much better luck with the birds on the second visit, but we did spend some quality time watching a colony of elephant seals lounging on the beach. The second visit also included a hike along a trail named Woodpecker Trail. As the name implies woodpeckers can be seen from the trail and we did in fact see several Acorn Woodpeckers. I took a lot of photos of flowers during the second visit. I have not been able to identify all the flowers, but I have included the best of the photos in the album.
|Point Reyes National Seashore, Ca|
|Point Reyes National Seashore, Ca Movie|
Our next adventure was to Oakland and the famous Jack London Square. We were there on a Saturday when the farmer’s market was open. We wandered through the market sampling the wares and eventually making a few purchases. We also walked along the waterfront taking in the free portion of the Oakland Boat Show. Connie once lived in Alameda and she wanted to go back and see if she recognized the area. So, after exploring Jack London Square we drove to Alameda and spent a few hours wandering around the former Naval Air Station Alameda looking for familiar sites. We found that many of the buildings still had signs identifying them for what they were while the base was operational. Connie did not find a lot familiar on the base, but we had a good time anyway. The USS Hornet is moored at the former air station and open to the public for tours. The Hornet is probably best known for the many manned space capsules she recovered from the ocean during the early years of the US manned space program. While the Hornet is an impressive war ship, there were two Military Sealift Command ships on the opposite side of the pier which I found more interesting. One was a heavy lift transport ship and the other was an offshore oil pumping ship. These were some impressive ships. Unfortunately they were not open to the public as they are still in active service to the Navy. The Military Sealift Command Ships are crewed by civilians. Some carry a small active Navy compliment for communications and other specialties. We walked up and down the pier trying to get better looks at the ships and in so doing we spotted some Western Grebes on the water. As we studied the grebes we were very pleased to see that there were also two Clark’s Grebes nearby. Neither Connie nor I had ever seen Clark’s grebes before, so we were pretty excited.
Following our self tour of the base we drove along the waterfront in Alameda looking for Connie’s old apartment building. We found it. However, we could not find anything else that looked familiar to her. On our way back to Fairfield we took a side trip through Berkeley. I can report that Berkeley remains a Nuclear Free Zone. It also seems to be a Starbucks Free Zone. Now, that is just wrong. Our purpose for going through Berkley was simply to see what can be seen from the streets. Not much more to say.
Our plan for the several days following our stay at Travis Air Force Base is to tour the wine country of Napa Valley. Looking at the AAA Wine Country map it became immediately apparent that you have to have a plan before you get to the valley or you could either miss something or worse hurt yourself trying to take in too much of a good thing. So, we decided we needed to make a reconnaissance tour of the valley to help us prepare for the main event. There are two north south highways that pass through the valleys, HWY 29 and HWY 121. We started by finding a RV park on the edge of Napa and took a look at it as a possible place to camp for a few days. After getting the scoop on that facility we went to the downtown area and found the visitor center. We spent a good bit of time talking to one of the volunteers about the valley. He suggested we check out the fairgrounds in Napa as a possible location to camp. We followed his suggestion and found a really nice looking campground on the fairgrounds property. We got the details from the camp host and decided to think about which of the two we should pick. We then drove north out of Napa along HWY 121 through the Napa Valley noting which wineries were where along the way. Just south of Calistoga we crossed over the hills and started heading down HWY 29 to check out the wineries in the Sonoma Valley. As we approached the Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford, CA I decided we should stop. I really enjoy the wines from this winery and thought it would be a good idea to taste a few of those that I choose not to purchase because of price. Well, they hooked us right up. In the main tasting room they were serving wines sold only from the winery, not via retail outlets. We tasted four really great reds and I chose to spend a lot more than usual and buy a few bottles. Beaulieu Vineyard has two tasting rooms. In the other room they tasted their reserve wines. While I think that would have been great fun as well, I know I cannot afford the reserve bottles. Shoot I can’t really justify the cost of the tasting of those wines.
Anyway, we finished our drive and made our way back to the base. We now feel as though we have a reasonable plan to get us through the valleys and taste some interesting if not necessarily well known wines over a five or six day period. We have decided to stay at the sort-of county park park for three nights and then move to Calistoga for three nights. That will give us short drives to any of the selected vineyards we may finally decide on.
Our last big outing was another day trip. This was a drive to the southeast to the city of Stockton. Our purpose was to visit the Asparagus Festival. You read that correctly, so don’t reread it. Worse, one of the big draws to the Asparagus Festival is the deep fried Asparagus. Connie and I don’t eat much deep fried food anymore, but it just seemed a little un-American to not try deep fried asparagus while at the Stockton Asparagus Festival. You know, it is like going to a baseball game and not eating a hot dog. Well, that was the way we looked at it. However, now that I have sampled deep fried asparagus I can say that I do not have to try it again. The asparagus was good, but the greasy bread coating and really bad cheese that covered it was truly bad. That said, they were selling the stuff like cheap wine and getting six bucks a pop for it. Obviously many people like it and that was really apparent judging by the lines and numbers of people walking around eating fried asparagus.
The Stockton Asparagus Festival is an annual event to raise money for local charities. It is a big deal in Stockton. Even with the economy as it is there were thousands of people at the festival. There was something for nearly everyone somewhere on the grounds. It really reminded us of a major fair. Not the Texas or Ohio State Fair, but certainly a smaller state fair only without the huge carnival. There was a mini carnival for children, but no big people rides. We spent the better part of the day at the festival and were glad we had made the effort. It is another of those events that we won’t have to repeat to call our lives complete, but it was fun.
|The Stockton Asparagus Festival|
|From The Stockton Asparagus Festival Movie|
Our time in the Fairfield area has been fun and we tried to fill it with a lot of activities. Even though our primary reason for being here was not satisfied, we certainly tried to make the best of our time.
From here we are off to Napa, a trip of some twenty-five miles. Stay tuned, there is much more to come.