Sam McManis

Discoveries: California's diversity

Lovely as Sacramento and environs may be, brimming with boundless leisure time pursuits as it promises, sometimes you’ve just got to get away.

You know the feeling, I’m sure, that inchoate yearning to toss an overnight bag in the trunk, fire up the dashboard GPS and mainline caffeine until you reach your destination.

And where, pray tell, is that? Well, people have been wrestling with that question for ages. What they want, I believe, is a temporary change of scenery and perspective, a respite from the dreary reality of job and familial routine. Quoth Kerouac:

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ‘til we get there.”

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know. But we gotta go.”

Perhaps I can be of assistance. For the past two years, I have crisscrossed this crazy, beloved state of ours – along with a few forays into bordering principalities – searching for Sal Paradise’s elusive “there.”

Like Neil Young, I’ve been to Hollywood; I’ve been to Redwood. I’ve also been to deserts high and low, a freeway-choked metropolis or two, countless one-pump-of-the-brake-pedal towns, mountain retreats and seaside hideaways, dusty Sierra trails that take you back to Gold Rush days of yore and sleek, urban, high-tech Silicon Valley spots that auger the future.

And I’ve found it. In short, “there” is everywhere. The great thing about California is its diversity, geographic, political and cultural, at once sprawling and accessible via a tank or two of fossil fuels, maybe boosted by a lithium-ion battery. And Sacramento’s position nearly smack dab in the middle of the state –something city leaders like to downplay, lest Sacramento’s identity remain as merely a portal to snazzier locales – makes a day trip or weekend getaway not only doable but irresistible.

“There” is here in the gold country, where in a few hours, you can find yourself rappelling down a jutting calcite deposits at Moaning Cavern in Vallecitos, then have a nice lunch at Jackson’s Hotel National. Another “there” is the Sonoma and Mendocino coast, where you’ll need a translator to understand the native language, “Boontling,” at the Anderson Valley Brewing Co., but need no words at all to drink in the views on the cliffs above the terminally-quaint burg of Mendocino. There are so many “theres” to be had on a weekend jaunt to the Channel Islands, the eco-Disneyland of a national park off Santa Barbara, or the strange, moon-scaped beauty of Mono Lake in the late spring.

Along the way, you’ll meet all sorts of characters and see all manner of things that could serve you well if you ever decide “On the Road” needs a sequel.

I still think of Monty Patterson, the adrenaline-junkie mountain biker-slash-shuttle driver with the backward Pabst Blue Ribbon ball cap, who entertained a van full of hikers, runners and mountain bikers with tales of derring-do on Tahoe’s famous and and infamously narrow Flume Trail.

Or the wry and sly presentation of Liz Michaud, a guide for an outfit that provides Segway tours of the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, completely composed weaving in and out of San Francisco noon-day traffic.

Or astronomer Dennis Mammana, geeking out to the max while jabbing a laser pointer at the inky darkness of an Anza Borrego State Park and nattering on about the Double Cluster of Perseus or something while we craned our necks and gawked and coyotes yipped in the distance.

Or the three old-timers I shared a Sunday brunch with at the Samoa Cookhouse, a 119 years old former logging cafeteria hugging the shore west of Arcata. These guys, septuagenarians all, regaled outsiders at the family-style by tossing around stories about the old days while tossing back stack-after-stack of flapjacks and mounds of scrambled eggs, their ethos being, “Eat and eat and keep eating until you can’t do it anymore.”

I have seen strange and ineffable things, run the gamut of sensory experiences. I have taken a vow of silence at a meditation retreat in the foothills north of Nevada City, and laughed-on-command as part of a studio audience at a TV sit-com taping. I’ve snowshoed under a full moon in Lake Tahoe, communed with cacti at Joshua Tree, and ziplined from redwood tree to redwood tree in the wilds of Sonoma County. I have stalked celebrities on a TMZ tour of Hollywood, dropped faux “acid” on the Magic Bus tour of Haight-Ashbury, nursed my inner guitar hero at the Fender factory tour in Corona, lurked during a tarantula peep show during mating season on Mount Diablo.

I have gotten my car stuck in a drive-thru redwood tree in Leggett, my kayak stuck in a dark cove off Santa Cruz Island, my tongue twisted trying to carry on a conversation with a naked group of strangers at Harbin Hot Springs in Middletown.

And I have eaten chicken curry out of a porcelain toilet bowl, people, at the Magic Restroom Cafe somewhere near L.A. Really, I have.

And you can, too. Well, you might want to eschew the curry dinner, but I highly recommend getting out and wandering, well, aimfully around our state. Quoth Kerouac: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”