The following morning, we packed up our tents and breakfasted on some of our newly gifted fruits. We wandered in to town and checked out a few of the cheesy tourist shops offering up such delights as Pina Colada salt water taffy. We carried on down to the beach, and spent a while relaxing in the morning sunshine watching surfers and horse riders enjoying the southern California lifestyle. It certainly seemed like a wonderful life; surfing in the morning, and up to the mountains for skiing in the afternoon. No wonder California is such a popular place to live.
We headed back to Oceano airport late morning, and pre-flighted the aircraft. Starting up, we departed out over the beach and turned back inland, climbing over the coastal hills into the central valley. The central valley makes up 11% of California’s landmass, averaging 50 miles wide and is 450 miles long. It produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the USA, as well as quite a lot of the beef! The beef was the reason we were stopping off; our lunch time stop was the wonderful Harris Ranch, fly-in restaurant! The valley at this time of year was dry and dusty, with irrigated fields providing a stark contrast. As we opened the airplane doors, the strong smell of beef cattle from the feed lot hit our noses.
We walked from the airplane parking, past carefully cut azaleas and through the petrol station to the restaurant. Before our main courses, Juvy decided to try an appetizer that she’d never managed to taste before. These were “Rocky Mountain Oysters”. I was not brave enough to sample them myself, a delicacy that is only available from the male of the bovine species. She described the experience:
Never having tried the infamous Rocky Mountain Oyster before, I felt compelled to order it from the Harris Ranch menu. They arrived fried in chunks, served in a cone (the kind they usually reserve for french fries). Now, anyone who’s ever prepared a flank steak knows how important cutting a piece of meat can be when that piece of meat is prone to chewiness. I recall that California was in the midst of a drought that summer, so extra requests for water were needed. I am sorry to say that the Rocky Mountain Oyster is oyster-like in name, only. This is a very tough, chewy meat – more like an overcooked heart or tongue, if one eats a lot of offal. It would have benefited from a thinner, less ‘chunky’ cut. As it was, the wedge of lemon served with it was insufficient to make the chunks edible. It was a little bit like chewing cud. I’d give it a try again, if served in a more manageable cut.
The restaurant wrapped up Juvy’s leftovers for her to heat later over the camp fire, and we walked back to the aircraft. The strip parallels the highway, and we paced the cars on the interstate as we took off, accelerating ahead of them and turning left towards the foot hills of the Sierra mountains. Our destination was Columbia, with a beautiful fly-in camp site on the field.
As we approached, we passed over reservoirs that were perilously low; the area was in a severe doubt. We had to slot in between the other, higher priority traffic that was coming and going as we arrived; these were water bombing aircraft operating from the CalFire base here, combating nearby forest fires.
We taxied off the hard runway, down the grass one to the camping area and parked up, setting our tents up under the pine trees as the sun started to slowly descend over the valley. Juvy stayed behind at the camp site as I took a walk across the field to the airport office and back, as well as going to take a look at the CalFire base, before we set about cooking up some dinner. Once again we were the only campers there, and it was a quiet and peaceful night.
We left Columbia in the mid-morning, and headed west across the central valley. The skies over the valley were clear and blue as we cruised towards San Francisco. As we drew closer to the city we started a gradual descent to remain clear of the Class B controlled airspace; our destination was not San Francisco itself but the nearby coastal town of Half Moon Bay. This is a regular stop for me whenever I’m in the area and I was keen to introduce Juvy to it! As we passed southwest of the bay area, a Lufthansa A380 passed lazily overhead, seeming to hang in the air. It was weird to see such a huge airplane close above us.
There was a thick marine cloud layer, but we were able to sneak in underneath and fly a normal approach to Half Moon Bay. We landed from the south, getting great views of the harbour with the many yachts moored up, and the restaurants clustered around the sea front. We parked up at the southern end of the airport, right by the access gate to the town, and it was just a few minutes walk to the sea front. We visited the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for lunch, and also met up with a friend of Juvy’s who lived out in San Francisco and had driven across to see us.
It was a long, lazy lunch looking out over the harbour and catching up remotely with a little work. Juvy had decided to join her friend in San Francisco for a couple of days, so I would be flying on solo and meeting up with them in Davis, further inland. They headed off in her friend’s Jaguar, and after an excessively rich chocolate dessert I wandered back to the Arrow and took off once again.
I headed north along the coast, past the Golden Gate Bridge which was looking as beautiful as ever, although conditions were a little bit hazy. After a little while enjoying the coastal scenery I turned inland, back across the coastal hills. I was heading for Cloverdale airport, nestled on the banks of the Russian River. It looked like a pleasant spot for an overnight camp site and it turned out to be exactly that; a short walk down to the end of the runway and along a small track brought me to the banks of the river and a small clearing. I set up the tent overlooking the water, and settled down for a lazy evening.
It was a very calm and peaceful night by the Russian River, with no noise other than the gurgling of the water out the front of the tent. Conveniently, there was even 4G phone coverage right at the camp site, for flight planning! I packed up the camp site and carried everything back to the airplane. I had a day to kill before meeting up again with Juvy; I’d originally planned to fly up to Shelter Cove for a night, but on reflection it seemed like a long way to go, so I decided to visit a couple of airports more local to Cloverdale that I’d not been to before.
My first destination was Boonville airport. This small strip lies up among the hills northwest of Cloverdale, and is within walking distance of the small town. I landed and parked up on the edge of the apron, as an inquisitive horse came over to say hello. As I headed out down the airport access road, another little single engine airplane came in to land. The walk into town was about 20 minutes, and there were a few quirky little cafes open for a late breakfast. After a bite to eat, and a look around, I wandered back to the airport and headed out for my next stop.
This flight was just a short hop over to Ukiah Municipal. Apart from a brewing company and a nice little FBO, there wasn’t much for me to do here. I did take the opportunity to buy some oil and a chart that I needed for some upcoming flights, though. After a little bit of quality time with the airport cat, I made the decision to fly back to Cloverdale and enjoy another night by the river. Tomorrow, the journey east was going to begin!
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