Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Greggle Turns North

The statement that this was not the best day of the trip so far would be a massive understatement.

Mainly a transition day, I began by wrapping up my time in San Francisco by heading back to the Marin Headlands to see the bridge and the city at their most picturesque. I must say, this city certainly has no shortage of tailor-made scenic overlooks. Someone should stick a mountain just outside of Boston so that people could have just as good a view of the entire city.

Only minutes after arriving, a near disaster struck.

In order to get the classic picture of me standing in front of the bridge (which didn’t end up coming out with the correct exposure, so I’m not even posting it), I put the camera on a tripod, and then put the tripod on a bench. It was a particularly windy morning, and while I was waiting for the timer to go off, it started to tip. Standing 15 feet away across a curb, I could do nothing but watch as it came crashing down, lens first. When I picked it up, I was sure that the lens would be cracked, but fortunately the only apparent damage was that the rim where filters screw on was dented. So now instead of screwing on my filter holder, I’d just have to jam it on, which was better anyway, because after this I was going to leave that holder on all the time for some protection.

But things took a downward turn when I tried to take another picture and started getting error messages. At first it would work intermittently, but pretty quickly it stopped working altogether. I tried switching to the other lens, hoping that maybe something had just gone wrong with the one that fell, but I still had the same problem. Now I was getting worried. If the problem had been that I ruined a lens, I could always just get another one for not very much money, and use the other lens in the meantime. But if it was the camera body, it would cost way more than I could afford to replace it, and I hadn’t brought my old camera as a backup.

Opening it up, I saw that something was wrong with the 2 curtains of the shutter. They were twisted and out of place, so I gently (over the course of about 10 minutes) managed to finagle them back into place. At that point the camera would take pictures again, except they all had very large smudges and stains all over them. Hoping this, too, was just a result of a bad lens, I tried the good lens again, and got the same results. Then I knew the problem was with the sensor – the light-sensitive part of the camera that replaces film. Either it had a lot of dirt on it, or it was scratched. It’s imperative that not even a speck of dust get on the sensor, or it will show up as a smudge in every picture. For that reason, the camera automatically uses a static charge to clean off any stray dust particles every time the camera is turned on or off. If the sensor was scratched, the camera would basically be ruined.

Either way, my only option was to go in and clean the sensor by hand – by far the most dangerous operation for the camera. Any smudges or dirt left behind would be magnified many times over, and any damage done would be irreversible.

Slowly, gently, I unfurled the sensor (If you don’t know why that line is awesome, you need to see more Broadway shows). With a combination of microfiber cloth, my lens-cleaning pen, the back of the toothpick from my Swiss Army knife, and a little spit, I managed to wipe all the dirt and gunk off the sensor, and could find no scratches. After taking a few test pictures and repeating the process just to make sure every speck was gone, I could finally relax.

In the end, the only lasting damage is that filter ring, which doesn’t interfere with the operation of the camera. Still, those 45 minutes were absolutely terrifying. Next time I set up that tripod, I’m burying the feet 3 inches in the ground, or I’m hanging the heaviest thing I can find from it.

Anyway, after Terror at the Headlands, I went down to Fort Baker, at the northern foot of the bridge, for another perspective. I probably should have tried to get a picture of myself here, too, but I was too busy clutching that camera as tightly as humanly possible.

From there, I found my way back to Highway 1 and proceeded north. My plan was to stay on that road, which continues to hug the coast for several hundred more miles, until finally breaking off and turning east just over the Oregon border. But by around 1:30, I was getting very hungry and there were no services along the road. I figured I’d try to stop by 2, but I hadn’t passed so much as a house by then. All the while, knowing I had 500 miles to cover today, I kept glancing at the day’s trip odometer, and seeing very little change. In fact, in the first 6 hours today, I only made it 194 miles. It wasn’t other cars that were slowing me down, it was the road itself. For the first 150 miles of Highway 1 north of San Francisco, about 15 of it are freeway, and the rest is windy mountain road with 20-mile-per-hour turns every hundred yards. One day of a road like that is fun, especially going through Big Sur where my patience was rewarded by spectacular scenery, but a second day, with markedly less amazing views, was too much.

After mile 200, I directed Copina Jr. to just point me at Crater Lake in the most direct route possible. Unfortunately, this still involved nearly 50 miles more of winding obnoxious road, but this time climbing and taxing my engine, and without the redeeming scenery. Finally, 7 hours after I left, the relief that came with hitting I-5 was like the feeling after taking a very large dump.

It was at that point that I was finally able to eat, as well. McDonald’s wasn’t my first choice, but it was the first thing that popped up in front of me, and that was the most important factor. This wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if I hadn’t nearly run out of the carload of snacks I left New Jersey with. Besides, I can’t really eat an individual box of Rice Krispies while driving.

Stopping at a rest area, I realized that the most direct route to tomorrow’s destination was actually a California Scenic Byway that wrapped around Mt. Shasta – the first volcano I’ve ever seen. However, because of my adventures on Highway 1, by the time I reached it, it was nearly dark. Still light enough to see that the mountain is completely coated in snow, it was still too dark to get any pictures. Besides, I wasn’t going to stop at this point, or else I’d never make it across the state line.

But finally, around 10:30, Copina Jr. indicated that I had crossed over and was now in Oregon. Not as if Oregon decided to put up a “Welcome to the Beaver State” or anything to let me know I had managed to make it out of the great continent of California alive. Speaking of which, Texas: You have nothing on California when it comes to big things. I spent a week in that state and only visited the northern half of it. Today I left San Francisco – considered a northern city – and drove nearly 500 miles in a straight line without leaving the state. Last summer, I drove from Massachusetts to North Carolina – nearly the same distance as the last 2 days – and passed through 8 states. Just the northern half of one today.

So here I sit, somewhere in southern Oregon. Tomorrow it’s on to Crater Lake and then just over the Columbia River into Washington. At the very least, tomorrow will be a good day because it will contain 1) only 300 miles of driving for pure transportation, instead of 500, and 2) an actual destination in the middle. The only other day I have planned like this one is the day I go from Mt. Rainier to Yellowstone, and at least that day I’ll have the option to search along the roadway for the elusive and nonexistent wild buffalo.


  1. I knew you'd slip sooner or later. This entry had your first childlike description among your, up till now, extremely well written blogs.
    I bet i'm not the only one that laughed out loud at "the relief that came with hitting I-5 was like the feeling after taking a very large dump." Well said Greg. haha!

  2. It's always fun to use lofty language to describe toilet humor. Yesterday was the first time it really felt appropriate to invoke turds.