Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Week 9 : Pismo Beach To Los Osos

I feel like starting this week's chapter with one of those headings Dickens was so fond of at the start of his chapters:

"In which our hero and his dog, get lost at the end of a trail and are forced to a halt for the first time by the need to go to the dentist"

Let me explain. After we left Pismo Beach we kept to the Pacific coast for a few more miles before turning inland in search of the city of San Luis Obispo. It is perhaps a mistake to say that this journey is planned. The starting point was planned and the end is planned. Initially, I has a vague intention of calling in at San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago for no other reason than I rather fancied seeing these cities. Friends and family who have taken an interest in this project have added a few more staging posts. Thus I need to make a quick (!!) detour up to Canada to see the place where Uncle Andy used to go fishing and I have to call in at Pittsburgh to see the Penguins play Ice Hockey. But, other than that, the route tends to be decided by me looking at the map and thinking "we need to go in that kind of direction and we could go via...". When I did that a couple of weeks ago I added San Luis Obispo to the end of the sentence for no other reason than it sounded slightly exotic. I practiced phrases like "when Amy and I were in San Luis Obispo last week" and they seemed to roll off the tongue of a seasoned international traveller rather than a sad fat man and his dog.

I was therefore delighted to chance upon the Bob Jones City To The Sea Trail which promised to transport me from the Pacific to the city of San Luis Obispo via "a leisurely stroll or bike ride whilst enjoying the views of the Avila Valley and experiencing the wonders of San Luis Obispo Creek". It was the "leisurely" bit which appealed to both dog and owner. The Bob Jones the trail was named after was "a tireless advocate for conservation of San Luis Obispo Creek who also served on the Land Conservancy’s Board of Trustees after a long and distinguished career in environmental protection". The problem with the trail is that it is still work in progress and the northern part of it exists only on a planners' map. I had become used to nice little route signs pointing the way forward and therefore when these were no longer there I began to panic. Finding myself amongst suburban streets, trailer parks and automobile retailers I assumed I had reached San Luis and, somewhat disappointed, I turned left and headed for the coast. Much later I realised I had mistaken the southern suburbs for the city itself and turned a couple of miles before I should have done.

Whispering the word Kismet to myself - Amy must have misunderstood me as she started to lick my nose - I headed west down the Los Osos Valley Road abandoning San Luis Obispo until the next time I was around these parts. Attempting to rescue something from this geographic miscalculation, I decided to stop off and view Lake Laguna and its park. The picture on the City Parks and Recreation website shows a clear blue lake surrounded by lush green vegetation. The lake, according to the guide, is a migratory stop and home to a variety of waterfowl. There is nothing I like better than a nice lakeside camping ground and nothing Amy likes better than chasing a variety of wildfowl and therefore we took the diversion from the main road with some enthusiasm. And whilst Amy got her promised wildfowl (who in the event proved more than a match for her), I got what appeared to be a muddy brown flooded gravel-pit. I have now come up with a name for such mis-alignments of promised pleasure and actual let-down. They are Santa Maria River moments, named after the disappointment of a couple of weeks ago. They are reminders that what appears as blue on the map is not always blue on the ground.

The explanation for my disappointment was found in an article in a recent issue of the San Luis Obispo Tribune (the good thing about virtual newsagents is that they always have a good supply of back issues). It would appear that "fine sediment washing down Prefumo Creek off the Irish Hills over the years has built up and turned the lake — created in the 1960s — from blue to brown". The only solution, it seems, is to dredge the lake and at an estimated cost of $3.5 million, this is not at the top of the City Planners' list of political priorities. "It’s not an emergency," said City Engineer Barbara Lynch, stressing that it competes with other projects. "When we have a situation where we have a lake which is not going to fill tomorrow and we’ve got this street with a giant hole that has to be fixed, we fix the hole," she said. With that graphic representation of the old quote about priorities being the language of politics ringing in our ears, Amy and I walked west along the Los Osos Valley Road, dodging the many pot-holes along the way.

We needed to reach a good small town - what I have now discovered the Americans call a city - because it was necessary for reality and virtual reality to come together. Amy needed her teeth cleaning. If you tried sharing a small tent with a dog you would understand that dental hygiene was an important issue, and with Amy, who has an intense fear of toothbrushes, this means a trip to the vets, a general anaesthetic, a day operation, a course of antibiotics, and a bill the size of Canada. We were therefore bound for Los Osos (try saying that after a couple of glasses of Californian wine) and the Bear Valley Animal Clinic. Amy chose this destination based on a review posted on the Yahoo listing which reads "the entire staff is so wonderful and compassionate" (grammar is not her strong point either) although I would have been happier with one which said "this place may not be good, but boy is it cheap".

With Amy booked in for the day, I had my first day of rest since we set off from Los Angeles. I read the "What To Do In Los Osos" pages on the web with particular interest. Would it be the Farmers' Market or the Audubon Overlook? The Elfin Forest or the Old Los Osos Schoolroom? But it didn't seem right to be seeing the sights and enjoying myself whilst my fellow traveller was having her gingivitis filed down. So I lazed around all day, waiting for the moment when I could be re-united with my faithful travelling companion.

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