Monday, February 08, 2010

Six Hours in San Francisco

Last Saturday, after dropping Vinaya at University of San Francisco campus in the morning, kids and I realized that we had nothing to do up until her orientation would be over by 1.30p.m. We returned to Presidio Inn, a desi run motel near Presidio, at the beginning of Lombard St. (on the other end of this road is the famous Crooked Street in San Francisco), Sony and I surfed Internet and Amala watched TV but we really got bored soon and decided to get out. Anyway we had to check out by noon.
Somehow Amala remembered Golden Gate Bridge from her last visit or its ubiquitous pictures on various brochures of the city might have reminded her about it. She started pushing me to walk there. The bridge was not that far from where we were but not close enough to take kids on foot, and the road was still wet from showers few hours ago.

I managed to convince Amala that it was better to get there by van and soon we were on the bridge crossing the San Francisco bay. Since we had the plan to walk the bridge, crossing the bridge by car to get to the northern end was a mistake; we could park the car in one of the parking areas in Presidio, on the south end of the bridge and walk from there, and that would have saved us the $6 toll that had to be paid upon returning to the city. Let the state take the money, California needs it :-)

We parked the van at the (standard) first vista point on 101N, immediately after crossing the bridge. Soon kids and I were on the bridge walking. It was chilly outside, mainly due  wind, but we were well dressed to take care of it. The bridge is 1.71 mile long which is not very obvious when you drive, but easy to realize once you start walking in the cold. Amala's enthusiasm soon evaporated after she fell down few times due to awkward sprints from her over excitement and I found myself carrying her on my shoulder and encouraging Sony to complete the trek, as he was trying to convince me that it was better to turn back. But, we slowly walked almost up to the other end, well beyond the tower on the city side, and turned back as we had to pick up Vinaya.

I think we took more than one hour to complete the trek on the bridge, about 3 miles up and down. We saw lots of runners and bikers on the bridge, most of them seemed  to have been trying out their physical skill on the bridge. Sony and I found it very funny to see one runner starting his run with 4 bottles of some drink tied to various parts of his body to cover the maximum 3.5 miles up and down. (I am not sure if he had been running beyond the bridge to the city.)

Once in the van, I realized that I didn't have enough cash on me to pay the toll. So, we took the next exit on 101N to Sausalito. I don't have to describe how cute that ocean-side town is if you ever had been there. This time there was hardly any tourists and whole town was empty. We quickly found a grocery store with ATM and went inside. They had a small deli and few exotic sandwiches were on their menu. Though Sony was planning to eat  fried jumbo shrimp at Pier 39 in San Francisco after we pick up Vinaya, I couldn't resist ordering a Pilgrim sandwich, which was basically a turkey sandwich with stuffing and crane berry sauce which looked liked that from a typical Thanksgiving dinner. It was sloppy with all the liquids and mushy things inside but it was delicious too. Sony ate some and I hogged the rest. I was very hungry from that walk with load on my back :-)

From there we quickly reached the university campus on Fulton St. and Vinaya was waiting for us. It seemed the day was great for me to find good food: Vinaya saved half of her turkey sandwich for me from her lunch. In few seconds I gulped it down and we did a quick browsing of the campus and the St. Ignatius Church located in it. The church is very beautiful, esp. inside and worth visiting it.

From there we drove straight to The Embarcadero ,the long ocean front of San Francisco where the piers are. On one end is the famous AT &T Ball Park where Giants play, and the other end is Fisherman's Wharf. There are so many attractions in between and even with our numerous visits there we haven't covered everything yet.

We parked on Pier 23 and walked to Pier 39. It is a consummate shopping center built for tourists but we go there to eat fried seafood, clam chowder and ice cream. We always eat at Chowders and then have ice cream at Dreyer's Ice Cream across the walkway from there. This time, I liked the excellent black coffee at the seafood place than the food; may be I was stuffed with the 1.5 sandwiches I ate already.

We walked back to the Ferry Building area where the famous Farmers Market is held. But we were too late to get there. (It is held from  8a.m.- 2p.m. on Saturdays.) So, we browsed around inside the Ferry Building which has a permanent market. I was lucky again at the Boccalone (sells high quality traditional Italian cured meats) outlet; I spotted a hot Prosciutto sandwich and got one. While I waited for it with sleeping Amala on my shoulder, Vinaya and Sony got some coffee drink (I rarely go beyond black coffee). The sandwich was warm and simply delicious and Vinaya and Sony took big bites from it. I have to go back to this place and try their sandwiches; for less  than $10 those sandwiches made with excellent meat and bread, are real bargains.

San Francisco is a great place if you are a foodie. No visit to this city is complete without trying out some local offering there.

By then it was 5.30p.m and it was turning dark. We then started our drive back home. During all these quick trips to the city, we are reminded that we are so lucky  to have this great city just 45 minutes away from our home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hiking Half Dome

The plan and the preparation

Though I do some physical activity to keep myself fit, I started hiking regularly only by end of this winter. Thanks to Rajesh for dragging me to the popular Mission Peak in Fremont to hike the not-so-easy 6 miles there on every Saturday morning that I used to spend clearing away the hang over from previous night's party.

And during some conversations during one of the hikes, I heard about his plan to hike Half Dome from Maneesh. Without researching anything on it, I signed up but soon I was told that it is one of the most grueling hike that you can do in California, and I need to get 'ready'. So, I bought a hiking boot, decided to buy a walking stick and tried to show up for the Mission Peak hike regularly. However when my hikes at Mission Peak got easier, I became complacent and assumed that Half Dome hike will be just a longer hike. Now I confess, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Now, let me describe little bit about Half Dome it self. It is one of the well known dome-shaped peaks in the Sierra Nevada range. It is mainly accessible from Yosemite Valley via Mist Trail which is 14.2 miles round trip from the trailhead. If you walk to the trailhead from Yosemite Valley locations, the total distance will be about 16.2 miles.

Manoj E. booked the stay early in Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, which is about a mile from the Mist Trail trailhead. The plan was to travel to Curry Village on Jume 18th (Friday); hike next day and return to Bay Area on Sunday. That early setup by Manoj kind of made all those signed up for the hike to take the project seriously.

Except for a cheap hiking boot, I did not have anything specifically for hiking. So, I started acquiring few things needed for the hike about 2 weeks from the D-day: a backpack with straps to tie it to your body; a walking stick (not a pair); a waist-bag; and a hand glove for climbing the cables at Half Dome. Later, I realized that my gloves purchase was bad, as you need a full glove to cover your hand completly; typically a cheap cow hide glove you would use in garden is enough. On the last practice hike on Mission Peak, I took all the items that I was going to take to Half Dome. To simulate the weight of 3 liters of water and food items, I took few thick books including a dictionary in the backpack. Then I realized that a heavy backpack on your back will make the hike tougher, as the usually easy hike on Mission Peak turned out to be little bit exacting on that practice day.

Starting for Yosemite - the few uncertain days

I think, on Thursday, Ajith dug out this weather report that predicted bad weather in Yosemite during the weekend. There were exchanges of emails discussing the wisdom of going to Yosemite. Maneesh and Rajesh were keen on going to at least Yosemite whether or not the weather would be bad. I decided to go also as there was booking and it was a long time since I had been to that beautiful natural destination. If we would be confined to the tent by bad weather, drinking with friends in that cool climate wouldn't be a bad idea also, I calculated.

Anyway, I kept my backpack and other things ready on Thursday night. A list send out by Maneesh was very handy to make sure that all the necessary items were taken; these are the items I took with me for taking on the hike:

Hiking boot and socks with extra pairs
Water - 3 liters (After the hike, I think you need only 1.5 liters)
Gatorade - 2 bottles (20 oz. each)
Food for the day (dried fruits, energy bars) (After the hike, I think one should take some fruits and a sandwich and few energy bars)
Camera (optional)
Binoculars (optional. I didn't take it.)
Caps (baseball hat and woolen hat to cover head)
A hiking stick
Baby wipes in a plastic bag (I didn't take these, but very useful)
Anti-bacterial lotion, small bottle (I didn't take this, but very useful)
Warm jacket/fleece (lighter the better)
Hand gloves for cold weather
Extra T-Shirt (lighter the better)
First-Aid kit (Bengay,Gauss, Neosporin, Tylenol/Mortrin, Anti-diarhoea tablets etc.)
Sun screen
Plastic bag for trash
Kitchen Towels/Napkins in a Ziploc bag
Swiss Knife
Leather gloves that covers your hand fully, for climbing cables
Flash light
Sun glasses

During the hike, these items will be hauled in the backpack and the waist bag. Items that need to be used frequently and that may have to be taken quickly like camera, 2 Gatorade bottles, Swiss knife etc can be kept handy in the waist bag. All other items can go in the backpack. The waist bag had 2 bottles and holders, and the gatorage could be kept in those.

It was full of drama on Friday. There was not much change in the weather forecast and it loomed large through out the proceedings of that day. Maneesh was going to Yosemite with his family in the morning and he was open to postpone the hike to some other day if the weather gods will play havoc on Saturday. I didn't have that option, and even it was hard for me to get out early on Friday from work. So, I decided to start around 5p.m. Vinaya was working that day until 7p.m. and I had to pick up kids from the daycare, put them with Nishi and then start the trip to Yosemite. That was very ambitious and therefore it was very attractive to cancel hike blaming the weather. But Ajith, Manu and Manoj TN were going with me and that kind of deterred me from calling it off. Little past noon, the first team that had Rajesh, Manoj E. and Jose headed to Yosemite. They picked up Anoop on the way from Tracy. At work I could see Manoj E. and Jose were updating their statuses on Facebook. They indicated that the weather en route was very pleasant and they seemed to have been enjoying. Meanwhile, Ajith became really concerned about the bad weather and he even pointed out his vulnerability to sinus attack in such a bad weather. But, I assured him that I would stay with him in the tent if it would rain on Saturday morning. To me it was too late to backtrack though by doing that I could avoid all the troubles on that Friday evening and continue to enjoy the sunny Bay Area weather during weekend. Now I am so glad that I persisted over my own doubts as hiking Half Dome was one of the best things I did in my life. I could get out from work only by 4p.m., as somebody tried to get something started on a late Friday afternoon, but I could convince him that it can wait up until Monday morning.

The road trip to Curry Village

By the time I reached Ajith's home after picking up Amala and Sony, it was already 5.15p.m. Ajith and Manu were waiting there. We quickly loaded the car and headed to Manoj TN's place. Meanwhile, Jose was calling everybody to bring lemon pickle. Ajith and I thought that they had already started drinking in the tent and lemon pickle was the only thing missing for them to have full joy. So, we only did a feeble attempt to get it and took some mango pickle instead ;-)

When Manoj TN was told that we might not hike next day if the weather would be bad, he acted reluctant to go with us. But with little persuasion, we were at last ready to take the highway. I think, it was already around 6p.m. then.

There were few traffic choke points on I-680 and I-580,but once we passed the Livermore area, the drive was pretty smooth. It never used to be like that on a Friday evening, thanks to the bad economy. We were riding in my 10 years old Bimmer (323I sedan). Though its trunk was too small to store all our luggage, I preferred it over a minivan as it could handle the winding Sierra High roads much better.

Once we got off I-580 and entered the state road CA-120, we simply couldn't escape the vast stretch of agrarian Central Valley that was spreaded all around us seamless. Fruit picking seems to have been started (which reminded me about my family's annual ritual of cherry picking in Brentwood) and signs of that and fruit stands were plenty on the way. Our concerns about weather slowly dissipated as there was no sign of bad weather on the way, though on KGO radio, I had heard about snow fall in the high altitudes of Sierras.

We started looking for food by the time we reached Manteca. Somehow, we couldn't spot anything good in that city from the road, and finally we stopped in Oakdale, which looked like a big town, complete with all the standard fares for a traveler, though I never heard about this city before. When we got to the GPS suggested Mexican restaurant, we found that there was still a Mexican restaurant but its name was different. It was around 8p.m. and the night was yet to set in. There were not many patrons in the restaurant. We got lightly intoxicated and ate some good Mexican food which tasted more like home-made food. Some of us tasted wine-margarita (yes, without Tequila) for the first time. It was little weird to learn that a Mexican restaurant didn't have Tequila.

We were constantly in touch with the advance team and Maneesh. The plan was slightly changed and it was decided to start the hike at 6a.m. instead of the earlier plan to begin it at 5a.m. It had been raining in the area; and the hour delay was for the terrain, especially the Half Dome cables, to get dry. To us, it was one extra hour of sleep as we were running late.

It was little dark by the time we resumed the drive. The easy driving on the flat Central Valley roads gave away to climbing the altitude of the High Sierra. Though there were not many roads to change, the Magellan GPS helped immensely to locate Curry Village in Yosemite. There we reached around 11p.m. and it was very clear that it rained there heavy. Yet the parking lots were full. Manoj E. had already checked out the tent for us and we knew where to go. I parked the car in an unpaved area and we quickly located the tent and headed there.

Though Rajesh and team were already in bed, when we passed their tent (we had 2 adjacent tents), Rajesh recognized our chattering easily. We had taken sleeping bags and blankets with us on the assumption that the tent is not furnished. So,it was a pleasant surprise to see that it had bed and sheets, and even towels for each person.

We quickly slipped in to whatever warm objects we could gather around the bed and started sleeping. At least I was very tired and just wanted to rest whether or not I would go for the hike in the morning. And in the morning before on my cell phone went off, Rajesh's talk in the neighboring tent was enough to wake us all up fresh. I don't think anybody talked about bad weather in that fine morning; all the talk was about how to get ready for the hike. What a turnaround from yesterday when the gloomy talks dominated the day!

The hike

Everybody was ready by 6a.m. and we walked to the Happy Isles trailhead to Mist Trail which is about 3/4 miles from the tents in Curry Village. The shuttle service is not available that early; otherwise that is another option to get to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, Half Dome is 8.2 miles away on the Mist Trail. In between there are few landmarks that are famous by their own rights- Vernal Falls, Emerald Pool, Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley. The Half Dome has two parts- the shoulder and the summit. The famous/infamous Half Dome Cables is used by the hikers to climb the last 400 feet from the shoulder to the summit. The hike starts at an elevation of 4000 feet and the Half Dome summit is at 8900 feet; so you will gain an elevation of 4900 feet during the hike.

Until we reached the Vernal Falls bridge (0.8 miles) where the ascend to the top of the falls begins, everybody was in picnic mood and we stopped at every thing that looked pretty to take pictures. However, Maneesh and Manu seemed to have gotten serious early and they broke away from the group.

The hike suddenly became difficult from that point. I broke away from the group after sometime and climbed the slippery steps drenched by the mist from falling water by myself. It was a beautiful scene to watch the water crashing onto the rocky bed below standing so close to it, though I was struggling to catch breath. I guess, the trail got its name from the misty conditions in this section of the trail. There was a constant stream of hikers and I had to go forward as there was very little space to let them pass you. 0.7 miles of grueling climbing in very wet and slippery conditions took me to the top of Vernal Falls. There I met Manoj TN who was climbing alone also. We rested there for sometime, took lots of pictures and continued on to the next section of the trail.

Next point was Nevada Falls which is 3.4 miles from the trailhead. The Nevada Falls is not exactly on the Mist Trail, but you can see it little far from the trail, and you can take a little detour to go near it and enjoy the scenery there. Manoj TN and I admired the fall only from the Mist Trail and continued with the hike. The climb in that area is also very steep, but not as difficult as it is not slippery. After we passed the Nevada Falls area, the hike became little easier though we continued to gain elevation.

Somebody brought a set of walkie-talkie to the hike. Such things can soon become a nuisance once the novelty of hearing the sounds of your buddies (and strangers who use the same channel) would wear down. And I don't think they are needed on a hike unless you would be taking a desolate route, which Mist Trail is not.

After hiking about 4.3 miles from the trailhead Manoj TN and I reached Little Yosemite Valley.This is a large campground on the side of Merced river, and from the trail you can hear it flowing loudly by the campground. This point has the last bathroom on the trail, and you can see lots of hikers taking longer breaks here. We stopped there for a snack and drink break and to go to the restroom. After sometime, Rajesh and Jose joined us, and later Ajith also. Another few minutes later Maneesh and Manu also got there; though they were far ahead of us in the beginning, they took the detour to go to the Nevada Falls and had fallen behind. Before getting to the top of Half Dome summit, this is the only other point where everybody remained on the hike met; Manoj E. and Anoop had returned after climbing to the top of the Vernal Falls- we were told.

The trail gradually gains elevation from the Little Yosemite Valley until it reaches the bottom of Half Dome shoulder from where the ascend is extremely steep, like it is near the 2 falls. Maneesh and Manu pulled ahead as usual while the rest of the group was busy taking pictures and huffing and puffing. My stock of 3 liters of water in 2 bottles was still untouched; I had been drinking only Gatorade. Just to reduce the weight that we had been carrying, we left some water on the way, in unopened bottles. (Upon return, we realized that most of that abandoned water was salvaged by other hikers.) After sometime, Rajesh and Jose broke away leaving the last batch- Ajith, Manoj TN and I - behind. The hike at that point was more of the same thing- constant pain on your limbs, a heavy load on your back, and the anxiousness to get this ordeal over soon. But, we were thoroughly enjoying the grueling experience and the pristine beauty that nature presented to us on every inch we conquered with our tired legs. The large and majestic Sequoia trees simply stood there watching us stoickly.

The Half Dome shoulder is very steep, and climbing it was really tough as we were tired, but as our destination was very close and visible, at least, I felt rejuvenated. We took some pictures at the top of the shoulder before started climbing the cables.

Climbing cables

Climbing cables to Half Dome summit

We didn't leave our backpacks at the bottom before climbing the cables; leaving the heavy stuff at the bottom might have made the climbing easier. The cables is a rudimentary setup to help the hikers climb the last 400 feet of the Half Dome to reach the summit. Two parallel lines of cables are permanently fixed to the rock. Beginning May (late in Spring) through the summer, those cables will be put up on metal poles that are loosely put in holes drilled into the rock, to facilitate the climb. Falling from cables is rare, but that can be fatal. (Couple of hours after we left Half Dome, one woman had actually fallen from the cables, but she was lucky to survive. A week later a man from Bay Area had fallen to his death.) I encountered few scary moments while on the cables- one young woman got scary and was struggling to climb down. Since both ascent and descent have to be done on the same narrow space between the 2 cables, such panic can create chaos and stop the movement of people that can keep you up there on the cables for long time. Then I saw one water bottle falling from someone standing above me on the cables. Watching its falling trajectory down to the gorge on my right was very scary. (Later, I learned that the bottle actually dropped from Ajith's backpack.)

Though there were couple scary moments, the climbing cables was not that hard. When we reached the top around 1p.m., after about 6.5 hours of hiking, Maneesh, Manu, Rajesh and Jose were waiting for us. The Half Dome summit is a large rocky, flat area that provides beautiful 360 degree views of Sierra High. Though cell phone connection was not available on most part of the trail, signal was available on the summit. Though I couldn't get Vinaya on the phone, I could call Rajesh's home and we could talked to the spouses and kids camped there for the weekend while we were away.

Atop Half Dome summit

Half of the Half Dome hike was done, and we thought the return trip would be easier, as that is the case usually in a shorter hike. But, I started struggling from the moment I stepped on the cables to climb down the summit. Initially I tried to climb down with my frontal body leaning forward. That made the toes jammed against the shoes which caused extreme pain; may be because I was wearing wrong shoes or socks. Jose and Ajith could climb down like that easily. I had to change my climbing style by stepping down the cables backwards, and that made the task less stressful on the toes. I used my grip on the cables primarily as the very mild flurries that had been falling made the rocky surface little bit slippery.

I felt really relieved once I reached the bottom of the cables. There I realized that I just did something that had really risked my life. The big jolt was yet to come many hours later though.

Maneesh, Rajesh and Manu had already started the return trek. Rest of us, Jose, Manoj TN, Ajith and I hiked together slowly taking frequent rests. By the time we reached the half-way point at the Little Yosemite Valley, it started drizzling continuously, and we became slower. The slippery rocks on the switch-backs near the falls were the most risky things we encountered on the return trip. Our tired bodies could handle only short memories, it seemed then, as we wondered if we ever passed some of the sections of the trail while hiking to Half Dome in the morning. I think, we returned to the trailhead around 6.30p.m.,after hiking 5 hours from Half Dome. If you include the time to reach the tents in Curry Village, I took almost 12 hours to complete the hike.

When we reached the trailhead, we saw a helicopter flying to the direction of Half Dome and an ambulance passed us. It was very clear that some accident happened somewhere, but we wouldn't know the details till the next morning.

We spotted a sandwich shop behind the bus stop near the Mist Trail trailhead. I was not feeling hungry though I was very tired. I got a shrink-wrapped cold turkey sandwich, and my first bite simply brought out a huge craving for something that looked like real food. I was actually very hungry, and in few big bites I gulped down that big, soggy sandwich which I wouldn't have touched in normal conditions. We ate the sandwiches sitting at the bus stop, and rested there for some more time while the shuttles came and went; we planned to walk to Curry Village anyway.

And then there was a big brown bear standing on the middle of the road that leads to Curry Village. I was seeing a wild bear for the first time and there was good photo opportunity, but none of us was in a mood to snap a picture. We just sat there and watched the curious and the bear getting scared by each other. And when the bear was hidden behind the vegetation on the road side, 2 guys were walking towards it, without knowing that the bear was standing few yards in front of them. When the verbal warnings went unheeded, Jose alerted them with his trademark huge whistle. It worked and the men saw the bear and all the parties involved got scared and tried to avoid each other awkwardly.

The celebration and the return trip

When we reached the tents, the first group had gone to have coffee and snacks. Manoj and Anoop had returned after climbing the Vernal Falls and they already had few beers and were resting in their tent; actually Manoj was tucked inside few layers of blankets and he was reluctant to come out of his cozy environment. We quickly set out to get ready for the celebrations. The hot shower was so soothing to the sore muscles and we all thanked Manoj one more time for the excellent arrangements.

Then we headed to the shopping area in Curry Village for food and drinks. The Curry Bar has excellent draft beers and cocktails. I had a large glass of IPA with lots of french fries and chicken wings. Maneesh couldn't join us as he was with his family, but he stopped by and we all could say hello to them. (The following weekend, we would have a family get-together of all the hikers at Rajesh's home.) After returning from the bar, the celebrations continued in the tent by downing Tequila and Whiskey shots, till the ranger reminded us that it was time for quiet hours that is effective from 10p.m. to 6a.m.

But Rajesh and the birds didn't adhere to the quiet hours etiquette. Rajesh talked and the birds chirped and that definitely woke us all up early. Someone in the group was so kind to buy coffees and bring them to the tents. That was a great incentive to get up from the bed, and surprisingly nobody complained of much body pain. The regular hikes at Mission Peak really helped, in keeping us from getting injured and pain.

At Curry Village Pavillion for breakfast (Photo by Manoj TN)

The breakfast buffet at Curry Village Pavilion was our next target. I ate most everything that I usually avoid in a typical American breakfast- sausage, egg, bacon, biscuit & gravy. I treated it more like a brunch and we had planned to drive home straight. After breakfast, we took lots pictures and bought memorabilia for families. By then all of us were eager to get back home. On Saturday, Jose was planning to spend some more time in Yosemite for sightseeing and taking pictures. But next day, he was found busy buying stuff for his sons in the souvenir shop; it seemed he became homesick in the morning.

While checking out at the souvenir shop, the clerk mentioned that somebody fatally fell from Half Dome the previous day. (Later we had confirmed that that person didn't actually die; but on the following Saturday one man from Bay Area would actually lose his life from another fall from Half Dome cables.) And that explained the sighting of ambulance on our hike back to Curry Village. We were all sad, and immediately realized the quantum of risk we actually took during the hike and how lucky we were to avoid any mishap.

On the way back, in Yosemite Valley (Photo by Manoj TN)

After reaching Bay Area late in the afternoon we started beating our chests like monkeys by posting our pictures in various poses on all the photo sharing sites and Facebook :-)

(Family get-together at Rajesh's home. Photo by Rajesh)

Maneesh and Manoj E. also described the hiking very well in their blogs. The links are here: By Maneesh By Manoj E.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lake Tahoe, Reno Trip

Trip started on: August 17th, 2007 (Friday)
Returned home on: August 19th, 2007 (Sunday)
Thomas, Vinaya, Sony and Amala
Ajith, Nishi, Swetha and Sneha
Vinay Chandran, Supriya and Keerthana
Guest appearances of mothers of Ajith and Thomas

Our last getaway was at Mendocino, more than an year ago; few months after Amala was born. After that trip , the life has become hectic, especially after Vinaya started work. So, this one was overdue, and Ajith took the initiative to reserve the vacation rental and he did that at Lake Tahoe.

The original plan was to explore few things off the beaten tracks in Lake Tahoe and Reno. But, it was ended up as an effective stress relieving trip with few activities and lots of relaxing.


Ajith and Vinay planned to start early. The vacation rental was located on the North Lake Tahoe area (Tahoe Vista); about 12 miles from Truckee. Vinay took the I-5 route and Ajith took the I-680, I-80 route to cover the approx. 230 miles distance from Bay Area.

View Larger Map

We started at about 5pm and took the I-680; I-80 route. The traffic was not that all that bad for a weekend; we reached the destination at about 9pm. It seems, Vinay and Ajith got stuck in traffic; and it might not be a good idea to start around 3p.m., as it is hard to beat traffic in all the cities en route.

The vacation rental was located at walking distance from the lake, and situated in an urban setting. Very spacious and clean place. The house had a broad-band connection also. Good work Ajith!
Address: 345 Snowflake Ave, Tahoe Vista, California 96148. And I strongly recommend this place if you want to just spend some quality close to the lake and don't plan to do activities like gambling, cruise and ski-lifting there. ( All such commercial facilities are on South Lake Tahoe area.)

The evening programs after getting there were brief. Drank wine and margarita, and
ate the cooked meals brought by Nishi and Supriya. Went to bed at about 2a.m. For some reason, I got up little after 5a.m. and couldn't sleep after that. Spent couple of hours on the laptop coding for new project up until the women folks got up and made morning tea.


The black-pepper flavored scrambled eggs and bread was good to start the day. We started off to Reno little before noon. The idea was to go there via Carson City where the Nevada State Railroad Museum
could be checked out.

The drive along the north shore of the lake, and through the mountains to Carson City (route 28-US 50-US 395) is very scenic, and thoroughly enjoyed though I was repeating that drive for the n-th time.

The railroad museum is right off Carson St. that cuts through the Carson City (which looks too small as the capital of Nevada state); 2180 S. Carson st. (US 395). The weather was warm and it was windy outside; a taste of the Nevada desert which was very different from the rather cooler climate in Lake Tahoe area. There were couple of engine yards with engines from the mining boom era and even one used by France in WW-II. We did the toy (?) train ride which is complete with signals, track changing, steam engine era horns and even a live ticket checker. However, we wished the lengthy introduction speech of ticket checker before the ride could be avoided; or at least be trimmed down. At the end of the ride, kids even got a chance to blow the horns.

Sony tried to persuade us to go to McDonalds for lunch; but we persisted and ate at IHOP instead.

The trip continued to Reno. The original plan was to visit National Automobile Museum
in Reno before hitting the casinos circuit. But, everybody was tired to browse another museum. So, we decided to spend some time Circus Circus and return to Lake Tahoe and make BBQ for dinner, instead of the usual buffet fare at a casino. Everything was checked off quickly at Circus Circus; the best items I like there this time were the circus act by the little Chinese girls. That was amazing! the rope balancing tricks show by the Russians was also good. Not much luck for Vinaya this time in gambling or game booths; she was distracted by Amala's acts; the latter was really enjoying the bright colors and loud sounds.

We got back in Lake Tahoe quickly by 9pm via I-80. Since BBQ was not planned for dinner, the fish was still in the freezer. So, we had to do thawing also on the grill! We also bought some Tyson wings from the Safeway nearby. The fish and wings came out pretty good. Washed them down with couple of white wines. The Chardonnay was really good.


I got up really late at about 10.30; I had to compensate for last night's shortage of sleep. By the time, I got up, Vinay and Ajith were coming back from a morning walk. Their pilot trip to the lake confirmed that there is a beach at walking distance and we can spend the morning there.

All the kids (both small and big) had wonderful time at the beach as you can see from the pictures. Even Amala tried walking all the way from the vacation rental to the beach. It was little cloudy when we got there first. But, as more sun light emerged, the lake looked so picture perfect.

This is the first time I spent time at the north side of the lake. Usually we go to the south side of the lake, where most of the commercial setups like ski-lifts, cruise and casinos are located. During this time of the year, the beaches will be crowed with folks doing BBQs and other family activities. I am now convinced that north side is the location to go during summer, as there is no crowd and scenic beauty of the lake is no less at this side.

The best part of trip for men was yet to come. Earlier we had decided to eat lunch at the vacation rental. But, before returning there from the beach, Ajith spotted a Mexican restaurant El Sancho right across from the beach, and he suggested to drink couple of beers. So, Ajith, Vinay and I stayed as the women and kids headed to vacation rental. We sat outside El Sancho and started drinking glasses of Fat Tire. The weather was warmer there than at the beach; the scenery in front was picture -postcard perfect; and food (chips; salsa; guacamole; sauteed prawns; fish tacos) was delicious. I think, we spent lot of time sitting there enjoying the aforementioned things that rarely come together, and chit-chatting which was interrupted
only by our regular trips to the inside of restaurant to pee or to order more food and beer. The only problem was that the server was a an under-age girl who couldn't refill beer for us; and the cooks volunteered for that task messed up little bit.

We were feeling little bit guilty when we returned to vacation rental and realized that they only had a spartan lunch of eggs and rice.

Ajith, Vinay and I returned to beach to take some extra-ordinary pictures of the lake. We continued our trekking to Safeway to buy few items. On the way, we spotted a hidden (?) beach that could be accessed from the road only through a sandy pathway. (I actually don't think it is a hidden beach; but I am too lazy to do additional research to identify its name; the feeling of visiting a hidden beach far cooler!)

The return trip to Bay Area was started at about 7.30pm. The plan was to eat at a Thai restaurant (Thai Basil) in Sacramento on the way. By the time the team reached Roseville at about 8.45pm, we realized that we cannot make it to that place in time; so the dinner plan was canceled. We got off some exit in Roseville and had pizza and garlic bread at a Pizza Guys.

It was close to mid-night when we reached at our San Jose home.

Please checkout the trip pictures at:
Pictures from the trip; hosted on Flickr

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mendocino Village off Route 1 on the Pacific Coast, North California

Trip started on: September 29th, 2006 (Friday)
Returned home on: October 1st, 2006 (Sunday)
Team: Thomas, Vinaya, Sony and Amala Rajesh, Radhika and Nikita Ajith, Nishi, Swetha and Sneha; Jeomoan and Sheena (guest appearances)

Mendocino - 2006 September
Sep 30, 2006 - 57 Photos

Mendocino Village is a small town on the Pacific coast, off route 1. It is in Mendocino county which is one of the well known California wine regions, but not as chomped by tourists as the Napa region. Mendocino area has other bigger towns like Fort Bragg, Kampuchia etc.

A vacation get-away was due for long time for us, but we couldn't really plan it as we were all busy with baby related matters: Vinaya and I were just coming back to our normal selves after the birth of our daughter Amala 2 months ago; Ajith and Nishi were almost in the same situation with the birth of Sneha, who is one month older than Amala.

Rajesh took over the planning part and booked a vacation rental in Mendocino through an agency, Mendocino Preferred. Except for its name for wines, we didn't know much about the place. We just wanted to go up north of San Francisco and chill down during the weekend. Usually in most of our group weekend get-aways, we hardly go outside and do anything. Most of the time will be spent cooking, eating and drinking. And sometimes playing whatever available in the rental -- pool, ping-pong and 56. The idea behind such trips has been always to have everyone under the same roof and spend some quality time together. Not to do many outdoor activities, and if we ever could pull off doing something, that would be always an incentive.

Radhika is in the last phase of her pregnancy and they didn't have lots of time to waste. Or they will have to wait for few more months to do anything like this. Balan and Prasi opted out as the place was far, and Prasi was very late in her pregnancy. Sasi and Sree didn't want to join as they had already planned for a long trip to LA, and another big one to London.

One week before the trip, Jeomon got an interview call from HSBC based out of Salinas. They also offered to buy Sheena's ticket if she wanted to accompany Jeomon and to spend the weekend in Bay Area. They took that offer and decided to join us. His interview was on Friday and it seemed that Jeomon could come back from Salinas before we start for Mendocino at 3.30 p.m.

We wanted to start early at about 2 p.m. to beat the traffic, but Sony's class would be over by only 3 p.m. and picking him up early might not go well with his disciplinarian class teacher; yes, he goes to a Catholic school.

Jeomon and Sheena reached home at about 10 p.m. on Thursday. We didn't have to pick them up as they rented a car from San Jose airport. Vinaya made a dinner of Vellayappam, chicken curry, and Sirloin steak cooked in wine vinegar and black pepper. Before went to bed, I cleaned and marinated the chicken, shrimp and salmon bought from the Chinese Supermarket, Lyon's that night. Those items were meant for the BBQ dinner on the second night (Saturday night) of get-away. For the dinner in first night, Radhika would bring her famed Chicken biriyani, which has become a huge hit lately in our group.

Next day (Friday) morning before 8 a.m., Jeomon started for Salinas for interview. Sheena stayed home and worked from home.

I took off from work at about 1 p.m. Reached home and helped Vinaya to pack up. We had to be at St.Lucy to pick up Sony by 3 p.m. We had to rush at the end to get to the school in time. Jeomon was not reachable on the cell phone which he was carrying. So, as per the plan, Sheena stayed home; and we started off with the idea that Sheena and Jeomon would join us in Mendocino later that evening.

The (to) Drive:
By the time we started from Rajesh's home in Milpitas, it was about 4 p.m. Three families in 2 vans -- Rajesh's Mercedes and my brand-new Mazda MPV. The plan was to get to Mendocino via I-680N - I-880N - I-580E - Hwy 101N - Hwy 128 - Route 1, bypassing San Francisco city traffic. The traffic was already built up and we found ourselves crawling on the interstates. My right heel started burning due to a rough sock and frequent braking on the road.

At about 4 p.m., Jeomon called from Salinas finally. It seems, the interview was good, but very tedious. From 9 a.m. through 3 p.m., including a full fledged lunch with the hiring manager etc. Good for him.

It was about 6 p.m. when we could get to Hwy 101 where the traffic was normal. But, Rajesh took I-80 by mistake and went into San Francisco city traffic; the very thing we wanted to avoid. That set them behind almost an hour. We stopped at a Burger King parking lot in Petaluma and had a small party with BK coffees and apple pies. And the women cleaned babies and fed them too. Rajesh and Ajith reached there at about 8 p.m. They also had coffee and burgers. The urgency to get to the destination died down somewhat, as it was clear that we were not going to make it anytime soon.

Earlier, while waiting in the traffic, I had called Jeomon and recommended them to stay back and join us only in the next morning, as it was late and coordinating with them would be really hard. And told them to hit Santana Row in West San Jose instead, for watching a movie and eating at one of those good restaurants there. But, it seems, they went to some Persian or Greek restaurant in our neighborhood ( was it Zorba the Greek near Campbell light rail station? I don't recall.)

The drive was incident free until we hit Cloverdale, where we have to change to Hwy 128. That road basically connects Hwy 101 and the famed route 1, and it cuts through Mendocino county. We had to go via Cloverdale Main St. and it was hard reading the road signs in the dark. However, the sign for Hwy 128 was very clear and we could locate it. Hwy 128 was winding and the initially part of it was through a forested area with majestic Redwood trees stand guarding on both sides of the road. Vinaya, the navigator, felt sick due to the gut-wrenching drive on the winding road as usual and stopped "navigating". Couple of times I had to move to the side of the road, and let the tail-gating traffic pass by. After a while, I could spot Rajesh's car solitary car following us little behind.

I was unusually tired when we hit Route 1; with the burning pain on my heel came back during the tough drive on Hwy 128. That portion of Route 1 is also winding, but not as bad as Hwy 128. We had to take a left to the Main St. in Mendocino Village to pick up the key for the rental, from the agent's office there. I think, it was about 10.30p.m. when we reached Mendocino Village. It was hard to read the small road signs. But, the distance mentioned on Yahoo direction helped to locate the intersections and without making any mistake we got to the rental office.

The rental was about 3 miles from Mendocino Village. We tried to follow the direction provided by the agency, but that only took us around the Mendocino Village. Yahoo direction again helped and we reached the address. I stated "address", because the address of the rental was first spotted on a mail-box on our left. And I couldn't see any sign of a home there, except for couple of huge tree trunks! (In the morning, actually I could see a home, painted all black, situated little away from those scary tree trunks.) Our rental was on the right actually. It was very well lighted and was on a huge lot. Going by my past experience of ending up in rentals situated in tiny lots at dark corners of some obscure part of the town, I didn't expect that the well-lighted house on our right would be ours. (Well done Rajesh!) We entered the house cautiously, expecting someone to emerge, and to shout at us for disturbing their peaceful get-away from busy life in some Bay Area city.

Nothing happened, as you might have already gauged. The house was well-lighted and was painted with light colors. A hot jacuzzi was set up on the deck outside overlooking the empty lots adjunct to the house and the winding road beyond that. The house had 3 bed rooms, dining and living areas, a small but clean kitchen, and small area behind the house for BBQ and hanging out. The kitchen was well stocked with equipment and supplies. I bumped into a shelf that was full of local wines. We decided to try them second night, as the first night was reserved for Patron.

I think, the time was little past 11 p.m. by the time the luggage and families were inside the house. Rajesh acted quickly to get started on the Patron (a premium Tequila) bottle. Ajith was trying Patron for the first time, and didn't seem to like it. He moved on to some white wine he brought along, after few sips of Patron. Rajesh and I finished most part of the bottle, drinking it dry, as usual. Food for first night was cooked by Radhika. She brought her famed Biriyani, and it was simply great.

I don't remember when I crept into sleep. We were discussing too many things, and eating lots of Biriyani. But, when I got up, it was about 10 a.m. in the morning.(Rajesh and Ajith claimed that I passed off in the night. But, who would believe their words when they themselves were drunk.)

In Mendecino:


Looks like Jeomon and Sheena started very early from San Jose. They almost woke us up from our sleep in the morning. That helped us to start things little early. We made toasts and scrambled-eggs (Burji) for breakfast. And got ready for some sight-seeings in Mendocino area.

We did not plan to see everything in that area, and wanted to relax and enjoy, instead of rushing and checking out each and everthing in that area like in a usual desi trip. Fortunately, Mendocino doesn't have lots of very attractive, touristy "spots" that you have to go and visit. Most of the places are natural attractions like preserves, parks and beaches.

First we went to Point Cabrillo Preserve, which was close to our rental. It is right on the Pacific coast and from the huge open space of the preserve, you get a panoramic view of the ocean. The major attraction there is the historic 1909 Light Station. The light station building is very beautiful, and we tried capture some of that in pictures. (Please see the link for photos we took there.)

The day was extremely good with comfortably cold that provided us with endless energy and enthusiasm. We walked all the way from main parking area to the light house station on the seafront (which I guess, is about a mile long). We could spot few deers standing still in the tall grass that covers the entire open space between the main parking area, and the sea. Sony, who is usually reluctant to walk such distances, was not complaining at all. It seemed that everyone including kids liked the good weather, the ocean, the light house and the walk.

But, we had an emergency waiting for us at the end of the walk back towards the parking lot. We were about to start the vehicles when Sony started crying. He was biting on some really chewy candy and one of his many wiggling teeth came off. (Yes, he is 10 years old and it is teeth falling season for him in his life.) I took him to the bathroom. His mouth was full of blood and he couldn't take out the dangling tooth that almost came off, though he was trying hard to pull it out. Then I assured him that I would take it out in one pulling. He agreed, and fortunately I could pull that out in one try. We spent sometime cleaning the mess and Sony was very happy that he could finally get rid of a tooth that was bothering him for quite sometime.

However, seeing the blood coming out of Sony's mouth and his painful expressions, Nikita started crying too. But, she was pacified after Sony emerged out of bathroom smiling, and showing off another big gap between his teeth. Nikita also thought that losing tooth is a sign of a child turning adult and she didn't want Sony to grow up. (And lose company may be. Kids don't like us :-) )

We went to Mendocino Village looking for some fast food. Unfortunately, that place didn't have any, and we were not in a mood to eat in a regular restaurant with infants. Usually that would end up in huge mess and disappointment. Jeomon or Rajesh got some gourmet chocolates, and we decided to drive towards Fort Bragg, a larger town in that area, to eat lunch and do some more sight-seeing. The first eatery we spotted was a Round Table Pizza. We ordered couple of large pizzas, chicken wings and beers. Spent lots of time eating, cleaning up infants, and just plain relaxing. The day seemed to very slow for them; no rush there and the whole space in the pizzeria was available to us.

Then we drove to McKerricher State Beach, which is located between Fort Bragg and our rental near Mendecino Village. On the south end of the beach, a boardwalk leads to tide pools and a seal observation point. We took a walk on the boardwalk; Radhika was tired by then and stayed in the van. Jeomon and I got lots of time during that walk to talk about the interview he gave at HSBC in Salinas. Vinaya carried Amala baby in baby bjorn. The boardwalk along the beach is beautiful and a branch of it is even going into the grass covered open space behind the beach. Looks like the park around that beach has facilities for camping and picinic. We also saw one old local man emerging out of shallow sea water with a huge abalone.

We had to get back to our rental soon to kick start the main activity of that day, BBQ and drinking. Jeomon didn't want to miss our salmon BBQ party that night, and for that very reason, he drove all the way up from San Jose that day, beating early morning lethargy. Ajith started fire in the fire place and made the interior comfortably warm. Kids had fun playing in the jacuzzi outside. I don't know if any adults were using it as I was busy starting fire for BBQ on the grill kept at the backyard patio. Usually, we relax in the jacuzzi after first day's long drive; but we couldn't do that last night, as it was too late.

Once the patio became warm, people started coming out of the cozy interior of the house. The wine drinking began. As mentioned earlier, there was a big collection of local wines kept in a shelf, and we started tasting all varieties we found there, though we brought lots of cheap, but extremely good wines purchased from Trader Joe's and BevMo. For BBQ, we always will have salmon, marinated in fresh lemon juice, red chili, turmeric and salt. The fatty salmon chunks will always come out great on the grill, and that paired with a red wine is a huge hit in our parties. Sometimes, we grill black pomphret (AvOli) spiced with black pepper and other Indian spices. Chicken marinated in yogurt and Indian spices is another sure shot winner on the BBQ grill. (May be I should write a separate blog on the BBQ topics as that is vast.)

Like any other drinking-BBQ parties, we don't know when we stopped. People just fade out from the scene, or pass off while talking or watching something (usually some Malayalam comedy show or movie) on the TV, and get up in the morning with a slight headache. Women really don't drink wine, except for tasting some super sweet Muscat or Riesling. So, in our group, drinking is pretty much a male affair.


Jeomon and Sheena had to get up early in the morning as they had to catch return flight to Dayton, Ohio, from San Jose. I don't recall if I went back to sleep after they left.
We hadn't planned anything for Sunday. On Saturday, we had spotted a cute beach few blocks away from our rental. Before returning, we wanted to check that out too. We parked near the beach and spent some time on the beach. Sony and I went to a grocery store nearby and bought some coffee and sodas. I tried to buy some local wines there, but they carried only few boring Gallos from Central Valley.

While returning, we passed by our rental (Gull Cottage) and said good-bye to it. All of us loved that place, and decided to go back there if at all we would come back to Mendocino to spend another weekend.

The (fro) Drive:
Many famous wineries and their tempting tasting rooms line either side of the road. (Of course, we couldn't see any of those while driving to Mendocino as it was dark.) It is extremely beautiful drive during the day, with forests, wilderness, small vineyards and orchards lining each side of the road. We stopped at one of the wineries. While women and kids were busy using the bathroom there, Ajith and I tasted few wines. The tasting room ambiance in these wineries are very different from that in Napa wineries which are crowded, and run like tourist attractions. At least the Mendocino winery that we visited has a simple but well kept tasting room, and its owners passionately poured the wines for us to taste. They wanted us to taste all their products, but since we had to drive, we stayed away from becoming drunk. We also picked up couple of Zinfandels to drink later at home. (Mine is still not opened though.)

At Cloverdale, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant and ate. Rest of the trip was eventless. Just for a change, I took a different route to get to Bay Area, via I-280 by crossing Golden Gate bridge and passing through San Francisco's west side street traffic. By evening we got home; and felt really good after spending some quality time in Mendocino Village.