Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Week 4 : Rincon Beach to Santa Barbara

Our week started with the rather dreary prospect of the massive Mobil Rincon Oil Facility and therefore we closed our eyes and thought of ... the Rincon valley. To be more precise, we thought of the 93001 Zip Code area (which is more or less the Rincon valley). The amount of detailed information which is available on relatively small areas such as Zip Code areas is astonishing. According to those nice people at, 32,898 people live in the Zip Code area in 13,703 houses. 24,545 are white, 444 black, 627 Asian and 513 are native American. The average citizen is just over 35 years old, they live in a 3 bedroom house built in the 1960s which is now worth about $325,000. They own about two and a half vehicles and spend about 25 minutes travelling to work. Of the people living hereabout, some 2,613 classified their ancestries as being English, 531 French, 101 Hungarian, 19 Australian, and 8 Icelandic (there were a lot of others too boring to report).

With my head full of statistics and Amy's tummy full of chicken nuggets, we walked westwards until we reached the City of Carpinteria. "Carpinteria is a coastal community with small town charm valued by visitors and residents alike. Beautiful beaches, breathtaking mountain views, and a diverse economy make Carpinteria a wonderful place to live, work, and play!". So says the City website anyway. I was intrigued by the idea of Carpinteria being a city and tried to find a meaningful definition of city status. I did discover that the city had been incorporated in 1965 and that its claim to fame is that it has "the world's safest beach". This claim has obviously been around for some time as we found a postcard dating back to 1947 which included the phrase.

After Carpinteria if was a pleasant seaside walk through the small towns of Summerland, Sandyland and Montecito towards Santa Barbara. Santa B was an important staging post for a number of reasons. It is the last major town (city) I would be passing through for some time and therefore a chance to stock up on those things that only towns and cities can provide. Also it marked the point at which I would say farewell to the beach and the sea for a good few weeks as I would now head north up Highway 154. It was goodbye also to the spectacular views of the Channel Islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz) which I had been enjoying for the last week or so.

Whilst in Santa Barbara I took a tour of the harbour with Captain Jack in a kayak, took a ride along the sea front in the new electric tram service and had a splendid dinner at the Endless Summer Bar & Cafe. Amy and I also visited the excellent Santa Barbara Museum of Art which has got an exhibition of the work of Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo at the moment. Well worth a look. Dogs are not allowed in the Museum and therefore she had to wait outside but she managed to amuse herself by reading the Santa Barbara Independent. This magazine has a section - The Angry Poodle Blog - which Amy found very amusing but which, I must confess, I had some difficulty understanding. It would seem to be a series of regular features commenting on topical local stories written by dogs. The articles are flanked by adverts for dog obedience classes and firms which guarantee to treat "dog whining" quickly, cheaply and effectively! Amy decided it was time to leave town and head for the hills. I agreed.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Week 3 : Point Mugu To Rincon Beach

It is week three and Amy and I have already established a routine. We must be averaging about four miles a day which, I suppose, means that we should reach our first sub-destination - San Francisco - towards the end of the decade. Still we are enjoying ourselves and learning a lot about the land over the oceans. The first couple of days this week were dominated by the massive Point Mugu Air Station : indeed it took us the best part of a couple of days to walk around it. This was where the US Navy developed its guided missile programme and a comforting reminder is provided by the fact that many of the roads on the base are named after some of their creations. Thus Amy and I ambled down Oriole Drive, picked daisies on Gorgon Avenue, and skipped merrily passed Regulus Way. Any faith I might have in the fact that all this hardware could effectively defend freedom, democracy and apple pie was shaken slightly when I checked out the airfield on some database of US airports (I toyed with the idea of Amy and I taking a helicopter flight) only to discover it wrongly located in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!

Now if there is one thing that Amy is fond of it is chicken. The wonders of the information society means that we can access the menu of the Navy Station's own restaurant "The Point" and delight of delights the Wednesday menu is Chicken in a Basket, fries and a drink - all for the very reasonable sum of just $4.95. Much refreshed we headed north for Oxnard. For whatever reason I didn't manage to get an overall impression of Oxnard. Whilst there is plenty of information available - it was all a bit flat and lacking in highlights. Within 24 hours I had forgotten I had travelled through the place : even though I hadn't (if you take my convoluted meaning). I did note however, that preparations are already taking place to celebrate "Older Americans Month" later this year by organising the 1st Annual Senior Legends Games. I make a mental note to try and return so I can participate. Perhaps I could fly back down to Point Mugu Air Base. As long as they change the airport location database first.

Later we hit the seafront again at Hollywood Beach, just west of Oxnard. Getting to the beach involves crossing over a series a small canals and waterways that make up Channel Islands Harbor. At a bit of a loss what to do of an evening (Amy can be less than good company at times) I discover from a wonderful site called "Things To Do In Hollywood Beach" that the main excitement around here is going for a ride on an "electric gondola" along these quaint little waterways. For the ticket price I get not only the ride but also a bottle of wine, some flowers and a box of chocolates. Amy likes chocolates.
Spend a night amongst the sand-dunes of McGrath State Beach which, according to the Guide Book, is one of the best sites for bird watching along the southern California coast. Amy likes birds. Then it was a matter of pressing on north-west and through the southern suburbs of Ventura. I had been looking forward to getting to Ventura : the name is evocative of 1940s gumshoe detectives. There I would find Sam Spade or maybe Philip Marlowe. No such luck. I met Mayor Carl E Morehouse AICP.

Well, when I say "met" I mean it virtually of course and via the City of Ventura website. There I found the Mayor's 2007 "State of the City" message. I was delighted to note that I could download this as an MP3 file and play it back on my MP3 player. This was taking virtual reality to a new level : I could walk Amy along the wet and grey lanes of West Yorkshire and pretend to be walking through Southern California whilst listening to the Mayor of Ventura explain about the My Ventura Access Scheme and the expansion in the Program Enrichment for After School Kids (PEAK) initiative. Unfortunately it would not download so I listened to The Archers instead.
I left the Mayor and his City "growing from good to great". Nice phrase that. Perhaps I should have used that when Amy saw the vet. "She's putting a bit too much weight on" said he. "No she's simply growing from good to great", I reply. That would have stopped him in his tracks and I would be sitting at home in front of the telly instead of walking from Los Angeles to New York. Ah well, day dreaming will get me nowhere. Onwards and upwards. By the end of Week 3 we have reached Ricon Beach. If I look out towards the blue Pacific Ocean I can see a massive oil terminal. Bliss.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Week 2 : Malibu Bluffs Park To Point Mugu

The start of Week 2 of our epic journey sees Amy and I heading west from Malibu Bluffs Park. Pretty quickly I discover another advantage of virtual travel – you can virtually meet old friends. I e-mail Charlotte who I haven’t seen for close on thirty years – well I did meet up with her about 12 years ago but that was back in the days when I was deaf so it doesn’t count – and we exchange life stories. Charlotte is now a poet living in Los Angeles so I challenge her to summarise the last thirty years in a sonnet. I await the outcome.

Whilst looking for somewhere for us to virtually meet up, I discover the Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market and Patio Café. It all looks very tempting and with fish and chips for just $4.95 it seems like a bargain. The only problem is I am not sure what kind of fish it is. However, the is virtual reality and therefore on the day Amy and I pass by it is fresh Whitby cod in a crisp batter fried in best beef dripping. Ahhh.

A few miles further west we leave the coastal highway and head up Solstice Canyon – “one of the most beautiful coastal canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains”. I note with approval on the official website that “dogs on leash are welcome on the park's multi-use trails”. But the lure of this area must surely be the coast and therefore Amy and I return to the beach and our westward progress. We do leave the coast again the next day but that is simply to take a short-cut and it takes us through somewhere called Malibu Riviera. Googling this brings up an article in something called the LaLa Times headed “Malibu Riviera to Secede From Rest of Malibu” but I decide this is just another example of the American sense of humour. The trouble with this place is that you can never really tell.

Then it is back to the Pacific Coast Highway which hugs the coast and skirts the Santa Monica Mountains. For some reason, my progress seems to have been slow this week - 2 miles one day, 1.7 miles the next - and I decide that I will have to increase the daily rate if I am to meet my deadline of reaching New York before the world comes to an end through climate warming. Towards the end of the week we pass Leo Carrillo State Beach with its “1.5 miles of beach for swimming, surfing, windsurfing, surf fishing and beachcombing”. “The beach also has tide pools, coastal caves and reefs for exploring, and giant sycamores shade the main campgrounds”, trills the park website. The really interesting thing however is that the park is named after Leo Carrillo, 1940s and 50s Hollywood actor and early conservationist who served as a member of the California Beach and Parks commission for eighteen years. As I read the biographies of him, I suddenly remembered him from my distant childhood. There was an early television show called the Cisco Kid. The Cisco Kid had a sidekick called Pancho, a large, happy-go-lucky Latino. And that was Leo Carrillo. As well as his acting and conservation work, he was also a political cartoonist and an author. The beach looks like a fitting memorial.

With some heavy walking, by the end of the week we make Point Mugu. There is a big Naval Air Base here, but Amy and I ignore the planes and the rockets and look out to sea. Two weeks down, five years left to do.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Week 1 : Los Angeles to Malibu

Never having been to California in reality I was not sure where to start. But everybody has been to California. The names, the images, the sounds and the sights of the city are engraved on the consciousness of all of us. Thus, for everyone, it is a journey of rediscovery : rediscovery of the locations of a thousand films, books and TV programmes.

My mental image of Union Station was something big, grand, imposing, Hollywood-like. I therefore got a bit of a shock when I actually downloaded an image of it and found it looked a bit like a Mexican municipal hospital. So this would be a journey full of surprises. I headed west. I was determined to reach the sea as quickly as possible and therefore Amy and I stuck to the main thoroughfares with a minimum of diversions. I have never actually seen the Pacific Ocean. I once got to within about 20 miles of it - in the middle of the Panama Canal - but then the ship I was on turned tail and headed back to the familiar safety of the Atlantic. I was anxious to see this most massive of oceans and I therefore hurried past some iconic locations with barely a glance.

By Saturday (Day 4) I had reached Santa Monica Pier. This seemed a good place to test out the extent of hard information which could be grafted onto my virtual experience and I turned to the Santa Monica Pier website with eager anticipation. Unfortunately all I found was a logo, a list of car parking charges, and the statement "welcome to Santa Monica Pier". Other web sites proved far richer and I spent an entertaining time exploring the area. The Santa Monica PierCam reminded how much traffic there is (virtual travel is car and pollution-free) and therefore Amy and I took to the beach for the rest of the day and headed north-west towards Malibu.

By the end of Week 1 we had pitched our virtual tent in Malibu Bluffs Park. Amy lapped up some bottled water and I sipped a glass of Dalwhinnie 15 year old malt and listened to smooth jazz on The Wave. The first week has been a journey of discovery but one which has been overloaded by too many sights and sounds. As I head north towards San Francisco there will be weeks when I hardly pass a town or village. I suspect I will discover more about America today in these outlying areas that I will in the big cities. Week one is now over .... roll on week two.

And So It Starts

Like all good adventures it started with a coincidence. Amy, our soft-coated wheaten terrier had to go to the vet with a cut paw. In addition to prescribing the usual antibiotics the vet weighed Amy and decided she was slightly overweight. "Plenty of exercise" was his recommendation and I was determined to be more organised - and if possible more adventurous - in our daily walks. On the same day my friend Janie let me know about Microsoft Live Search and I discovered that you could plot a detailed route on the maps and aerial views which are available on the site. And then whilst shopping for beer and potatoes at the local supermarket I spotted a special offer on pedometers. Amy - and I confess her owner were in need of serious exercise, the pedometer allows me to measure our daily walks, and Live Search allows me to transfer that distance to anywhere I want in the world. The only thing that remained was to choose a starting point and a destination.

The starting point I decided upon was Union Station in Los Angeles. I have never been to the west coast of the USA and therefore it seemed a suitable starting point for our virtual adventure. Our goal would be New York .... a long, long walk. And just to make things interesting we would take in Seattle and Chicago on the way. A very rough calculation suggested that it would take us anything between three and five years to complete. Now that's what I call an adventure.

Along the way I can add whatever level of virtual reality I like. I can look at websites, photographs, films and all forms of descriptions of the places I pass through. I can listen to local radio as I walk. I can discover just how real virtual reality can be.

I will try and update progress on a weekly basis on this blog. By the end of the trip Amy and I should be a lot fitter and a little wiser.