Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Week 42 : Fortuna To Humboldt Bay

Amy and I are walking with renewed spirit in our steps : we are heading back to the Pacific Ocean. We walked through the outskirts of Fortuna, feeling sure that we could smell the salt of the sea. As we walked alongside the Eel River we gazed into the distance, trying to see the point where river meets ocean. But what we saw was a bridge and what we smelt was ice cream! 

The bridge was Fernbridge which is the lowest crossing point of the Eel River and a listed National Historic Monument. When the 1,320 foot bridge was built in 1911, it was referred to as the world's largest all concrete span. It has worn well over the last century and stands out from the carpet of green fields and forests that surround it. The green fields provide a home for dairy cattle and these, in turn, provide the raw material for the Ferndale Dairy which produces ice-cream for a large area of Northern California. The local dairy farming industry is a legacy of Danish settlers who came to the area in the 1870s .  They established a number of local co-operative creameries which quickly gained a reputation for both quality and innovation.
Ferndale City, which Amy and I could see in the distance, south of the River, became known as Cream City. I entertained Amy as we walked along by reading to her a list of notable innovations the local Creamerey had been responsible for : the introduction of the first butter wrapping and cutting machines, the first milk tank trucks and the first cow testing programme in California.  Amy gave me one of those looks which implies that I have crossed the concrete bridge between harmless eccentricity and raving madness.

Fernbridge - as distinct from Ferndale City - is a tiny place with a population of just 59 souls. As its website says - blink and you will miss it. That may be the case if you are speeding north along Redwood Highway in your gas-guzzling SUV, it is not the case if you are a footsore man and his pawsore dog walking from Los Angeles to New York. There was a nice little wooden store where I had a beer and a little wooden bear where Amy had a wee.

We went on our way, and soon the aroma of ice-cream was replaced by that of cheese. We reached the town of Loleta. "Just a vowel shift away from temptation", I said to Amy but my literary joke fell on flat ears (well, actually, remarkably hairy, long, terrier ears). The small town of Loleta is the home of the Loleta Cheese Factory which ships its famous cheese throughout the world. Amy and I took a tour of the factory and Amy - who enjoys a bit of cheese as mach as the next dog - did a big tasting performance which seemed to please everyone and resulted in her being given even more cheese. Eventually I had to drag her away and we headed west out of town. I was anxious to see the ocean.

The back tracks north-west of Loleta cut through the low-lying, swampy estuary country and eventually merge into the sand-dunes. It was then, towards the end of the week, that Amy and I heard the crash of the waves once more and we knew that after far too many weeks, we were about to be re-united with the ocean. We walked to the very end of the promontory that forms the southern barrier to Humboldt Bay. Across the still waters we could see the City of Eureka, our destination. The problem was, how to get there? There were no boats, no way to cross the water and to retrace our steps would add another three or four days. We were tired and wanting our Christmas break. I looked down at Amy and she looked up at me. "What the hell, I said, it's a virtual journey after all. Let's fly!".

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