Up On The Ridge Again

My final day in the USA this year dawns. I stay in the room breakfasting and doing a final suitcase pack, some more diary, then head down at 10.40 am. I have to query the bill as they’ve overcharged me by $2 on $450+. Hey, you gotta keep them honest!

My pre-planned route is ignored by Auto Maps as usual so I just use the phone to get me started. I fill up with gas in the city then get onto I-280 followed by CA-17 S before turning off on Bear Creek Road… heading towards Skyline Boulevard again. This time however there is not a cloud in the sky and it’s 82º. So it should be a better drive than last time.

Bear Creek Road #1

Bear Creek Road

Bear Creek Road is narrow, steep and twisty. But my recall was off. I thought the section of road I described as “scary” last time was Summit Road, before Skyline Boulevard started. I had hoped to bypass it by using Bear Creek Road to join up with Skyline Boulevard later. Not the case. I didn’t look closely enough at the route. Maybe Summit Road – the next exit down CA-17 – is as tricky as Bear Creek Road turns out to be, but the latter has brought me to a junction with Summit Road, which is Hwy 35.Bear Creek Road

About half a mile further on, and after the junction the road stays as Bear Creek Road, Hwy 35 makes a right turn and Bear Creek Road goes straight on. ‘Road Narrows’ a sign says. Damn right it does. This is now Skyline Boulevard – and the “scary” section is next. At least the weather is good this time so I can see a bit more clearly. But there’s still about four miles of mostly single lane road ahead with no discernible passing places, generally no safety barrier, and a road that is cut into the hillside with vertical bare rock faces to my right. The trees to my left are so dense you can’t see anything.

Skyline Boulevard single lane #1Skyline Boulevard single lane #2Skyline Boulevard single lane #3Skyline Boulevard single lane #4Skyline Boulevard single lane #5Skyline Boulevard single lane #6Skyline Boulevard single lane #7Skyline Boulevard single lane #8

It’s kind of fun to drive but only at 10 mph maximum, and it remains officially “scary”. Quite how people live on this road is beyond me, but houses there are, and quite a few of them. Thankfully this time I do not encounter any vehicles coming the other way. I survive, coming to a junction with Black Road, where Skyline Boulevard widens to a 2 lane ‘proper’ road.

Two-Lane Blacktop

From them on, it’s magical. Tall trees on both sides of the road but with sunlight streaming through gaps in the canopy, tight bends, sweeping bends, the road rolling up and down. All superb! There are glimpses of views to the left and right at times, but no turnouts anywhere so I can’t stop. And two lanes… 🙂

This is so different from last time. The road might be the same but the good weather makes it come alive today. Then there are gaps where the trees thin out and I’m out in the open, then the think forest returns. And repeat… I stop at a Vista Point – but there’s no view. How strange.

Skyline Boulevard two lane #1Skyline Boulevard two lane #2Skyline Boulevard two lane #3Skyline Boulevard two lane #4Skyline Boulevard two lane #5Skyline Boulevard two lane #6Skyline Boulevard two lane #7Skyline Boulevard two lane #8

Silicon Valley Vista Point #1

Silicon Valley Vista Point – north view

Just up the road there is another, and I stopped there last time. It’s the view over Silicon Valley and into San Francisco Bay. Today, of course, I can see it properly. I stop at Skywood Trading Post & Deli to buy a turkey and cheddar sub for lunch. A few miles on I pull over into Skeggs Point Parking Lot to eat it.

Silicon Valley Vista Point #2

Silicon Valley Vista Point – south view

A few miles back I’d caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean to the left. Further on, another break in the trees and I can see surf breaking out at sea. After the lunch break there comes the section of road, just before the Hwy 92 junction, where you look left to the Pacific and immediately right to see San Francisco Bay. It’s only a short section but apparently it’s the only place where you can stand in one spot and see both the Ocean and Bay at the same time (well obviously, you need to turn around…).

Of course last time I couldn’t see a goddam thing because of the clouds and rain. Today, it’s brilliant. Without the views of the sea, it would be a great drive anyway because of the road itself winding through the forest. But when you add in the views, boy oh boy, it’s great.

Pacific Ocean #2

To the left, the Pacific Ocean

San Francisco Bay

On the right, San Francisco Bay

To SFO

A turn right off Skyline Boulevard onto Hwy 92 then onto the Interstate towards the airport. I drive towards the gas station I used last year to do the final top-up to find the road closed due to road works. And no signage to tell me how to get up the road. So here is where Maps has no peer. I turn right and pull over. I tap in ‘gas station’ and 5 minutes later I’m there. Result. But $4.30 a gallon! F*** me! I thought $3.50 in San Jose was steep.

End of the road

End of the road

It’s a rip-off but needs to be done, otherwise Dollar will charge me $9 a gallon. Job done, I get to the car rental facility and deposit the car. The air train takes me to the terminal, I have a passport check at check-in then take the fast lane through security. Or rather not. They have really stepped up the security screening at SFO. One should never complain of course, but they’re now insisting you empty all your pockets – not even a tissue is allowed – plus shoes and belt off.

I still don’t get the inconsistency between airports after all these years. Why does SFO let me keep my liquids, which are in a clear plastic bag, inside my hand luggage but Heathrow says the bag needs to be taken out? And why take shoes and belts off in SFO but not London? You can hear the frustration of people by the comments they make to the staff: “Why this?” “Why not that?” Consistency please.

I get to the BA Lounge and see that the Terraces Lounge for Club World folks is very noisy and busy. The First Lounge by contrast is terribly quiet, but a bit small. The staff are not doing a good job of clearing away used plates and glasses however, which makes it tricky to decide if a seat is free due to the soiled crockery around it. So I just sit, but no-one asks me to move. 10 minutes later the guy opposite clears away the mess, so it was obviously his. Prick.

We have our own private entrance to the plane, which is even cooler. I don’t have to mingle with the great unwashed at all, and First gets called to board before anyone else. Up in the air the service is not quite as good as the way over, as I’m left waiting on a number of occasions for drinks, dinner, clear-up etc, so others in the cabin are settling down to bed way before me. Mental note for next year: ask for early service.

The flat bed is OK but not perfect. I don’t think I slept particularly well. It’s almost as if I know I’m only going to get 4-5 hours sleep so my brain said “Don’t bother”. But it’s still better than Premium Economy.

We land 20 minutes “early” but then we all know timetables are padded at both ends to allow such occurrences. A swift exit and within 30 minutes of touching down I’m standing outside awaiting my ride home. Until next year then…

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