Taft, California

South of San Francisco, California State Highway 1 clings to the edge of the continent halfway between the ocean and the sky. I think I heard that on a Visa commercial once, but it’s true, it’s an incredible road. The air is tropical, the ocean beautiful and the land looks like pictures I’ve seen of Hawaii.

From one overlook I saw otters rolling in the seaweed, but by the time I scrambled down the cliff to get a closer view they were gone. From several places I could hear sea lions barking but couldn’t see them, even though their baying chorus filled the ravines and coves. Finally I saw one for just a moment, a tiny thing that looked like a rock wriggling in the sun — I hadn’t realized how high up I was. If they listen long enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rocks learn to make the sea lion barking sound all by themselves.

There was a haze or fog on the horizon so there was no horizon, just a progression from ocean to cloud to sky. Late in the day the sun lit it so it glowed, ignited it into a blaze of white fire on the ocean that looked like Heaven. There were shapes in the cloudbank, contours, textures barely discernible in the fiery mist, either cloud-shapes or inaccessible lands to the west.

In the morning the road rose up above the fog so I could see the light slowly spilling down out of the mountains into the roiling mists below me, into the vast churning cauldron of the Pacific.

I thought the best road sign I’d seen was the one in Utah that proclaimed “HOME OF FOSSILIZED SQUID,” but this one’s hard to beat:


Population          562
Ft above sea level          2150
Established          1951
Total          4663

Both signs pale next to “The Thomas Jefferson Hour,” a radio program I found in my headphones last night on which a man pretending to be Thomas Jefferson discusses current events and talks with callers. Last night’s show was about the upcoming online auction of a woolly mammoth skeleton, with a brief aside about health care. Next week Mr. Jefferson will discuss the nuclear arms test ban treaty. It actually wasn’t a bad show, but it’s such a weird premise. The show is produced in Nevada.

From there I spun the dial on my radio past a lot of Spanish until I found Metallica’s cover of the old ballad “Whiskey in the Jar,” which you’ve gotta admit rocks pretty hard.

If you don’t learn how to work on engines and machines as a kid or a teenager, you spend the rest of your life just trying to catch up, like me.

The bike hasn’t been starting well with the electric starter when the engine’s cold. Once it catches it runs great, but the other morning after I’d drained the battery I spent an hour rolling it up and down a hill trying to jump start it — I think I’d flooded it by that point too. Now I camp only on top of big hills.

I can’t complain, though, because other than that one time it actually jump starts very easily, so easily that I can’t imagine what’s wrong with it. Yesterday I jumped it within the length of a slightly slanted parking space, push-push-pop the clutch-VROOM-clutch in-BRAKE, all before I hit the curb. This tells me that all it really needs is a kick starter.

This morning the carburetor was dumping gas on the pavement. Fortunately that’s a problem I’ve seen before, a stuck float valve, so I attacked it before breakfast: took off the gas tank, pulled back the air filter, unscrewed the throttle cable, loosened the intake manifolds, wrenched the carburetor off, pulled off the bottom and wiggled the the little floater up and down. It seemed to be moving fine so I figured it must have been just barely stuck and put everything back together again, jumped the bike and watched a fresh trail of gasoline spatter onto the parking lot behind me. I made a roaring sound and had some breakfast.

Proceeding according to the sound mechanical principle that it still HAD to be a stuck float valve because that’s the only thing in the carburetor that I know how to fix, I did it again, this time more slowly and after investing in a little can of WD-40 which I should have had on hand in the first place. After spraying everything in sight with WD-40 and then reassembling, the carburetor stopped dumping gas and the bike again ran great.

At that point I figured that since I was already there in the parking lot of the Big K I might as well change my oil, too, so I spent 10 minutes yanking pointlessly at the drain plug before I remembered that the drain plug has been stuck all summer. I unscrewed the oil filter and got out as much oil as I could that way.

To celebrate, I bought some socks and cut my toenails.