A Simple Running Log

June 27, 2017

NASCAR racing in wine country

Filed under: Uncategorized — aschmid3 @ 5:12 pm

We did a lot in Northern California over the last several days — most importantly, seeing a race at Sonoma Raceway, bringing the total number of NASCAR tracks seen to 14 of 23 — and now we’re home. Nothing makes me appreciate Delmarva more than being away from it!

We flew out of Baltimore early Wednesday morning, landing in Oakland around 11 a.m. local time. Since it was the first day of summer, Wednesday was already technically the longest day of the year, but flying across three time zones from east to west just made it that much longer.

The first thing Julie and I wanted to see was the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, about an hour south of Oakland. Years ago, Aunt Helen gave me a book about haunted houses in America, and the Winchester Mystery House is the only one that stuck in my memory.

Sarah Winchester was married to the second president of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. when he died in 1881 after an extended illness. Their only child, a daughter, had also died, in infancy.

Sarah was told by a Boston-based medium her family was being tortured by the spirits of all the people who’d been killed by the family’s firearms. The spirits “told” her to go out west and build a house to appease them, so she left Connecticut with the $20 million she inherited after her husband’s death, and ended up in San Jose, where, in 1884, she bought an eight-room farmhouse and started adding on to it.

Construction continued 24 hours a day for 38 years until she died in 1922. The house had ballooned to 161 rooms. At one point, it was seven stories high, but the great earthquake in 1906 damaged the top three stories, and they weren’t rebuilt.

There’s a lot of odd architecture within the house — doors that open to nothing, staircases that lead to dead ends, non-functioning bathrooms, etc. Some believe that’s because the house was worked on by many different contractors without a master plan, but others think Sarah wanted to confuse all the ghosts — there’s a seance room in which only Sarah was allowed, for nightly talks with the spirits.

Clark already saw it years ago, since his family actually traveled when he was growing up, and Mike wasn’t interested, so we dropped off those two at a bar in Oakland and headed down to San Jose.

The house was once in the middle of nowhere, but San Jose has really grown in the last hundred years or so, so it’s now surrounded by development. There’s a Chipotle next door and a parking garage across the street.

We took an hour-long tour that barely scratched the surface of all the rooms and passageways in the house. It was really cool though. We got to see the room where Sarah got trapped during the earthquake in 1906; you can still see how the door got pinched shut inside the frame.

Photography was not allowed inside the house, but we did take some pictures outside, in the garden, after the tour.

winchester plaque

Plaque designating it a national and state historic landmark.

winchester side

Side of the house and an out building.

winchester door to nowhere

Door opening to nothing.

winchester julie and me

Julie and me in front of the house.

Back in Oakland, Julie and I rejoined Clark and Mike where we left them. We stopped by a local brewery someone had recommended, and then we drove across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

By the time we got checked into the hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf, we were all pretty tired, so we just got take-out from In-N-Out across the street and called it a night.

Thursday morning, Clark and I went for a run along the waterfront. We made it to a small beach with a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge and then turned around, covering about 4.7 miles of a lot more elevation change than we’re used to at home.

golden gate bridge east beach

Bridge view from the beach where we turned around.

We all had breakfast at a little cafe called Eight A.M. I can’t recommend this place enough! I had a bagel, one half with guacamole, ham and an egg, sunny-side up; and the other half with Nutella, sliced bananas and Rice Krispies sprinkled over top. It was so good! Everyone else really enjoyed what they ordered too.

eight am breakfast

I get hungry all over again every time I look at this picture.

Then we did some walking. We stopped by the sea lion center at Pier 39, but there really weren’t a whole lot of sea lions out there.

view from pier 41

Looking up toward the city from the pier.

We walked up all the steps along Filbert Street to Coit Tower, where we had a pretty good view of the city. This was Mike’s least favorite part of the trip haha.

fremont street steps

A small section of the steps.

me at top of steps

Me at the top.

mike at top of steps

Mike at the top haha. No, he hadn’t dunked his head in a bucket of water!

We stopped for a couple beers at a Rogue Brewing tasting room, and then went to the section of Lombard Street famous for being the crooked-est street in the country.

lombard looking up

Climbing up along Lombard Street.

lombard looking down

Looking down toward the bay from the top.

After lunch in Fisherman’s Wharf, we went to the Ghiradelli shop, and that evening, we met TK and her mom at The Stinking Rose — an Italian restaurant that specializes in garlic — for dinner. They had been hiking in Yosemite National Park for the previous few days and were about to head back home. We all just happened to be in San Francisco at the same time.

After dinner, Clark, Mike, Julie and I took a street trolley to a different part of the city. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We got to hang off the side of the trolley as it careened up and down the massive hills.

julie on trolley

Julie on the trolley.

At the end of the line, we went to Mikkeller, a bar with a pretty extensive craft beer list, then took the trolley back to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was really late by that point. Hardly anyone was out, and fog was rolling into the darkened city streets. Kinda eerie, but cool.

Clark and Mike were talking about going out somewhere close to the hotel when we got back, but they wound up going straight to bed too.

Friday morning, Clark didn’t want to run with me, so I was on my own. For whatever reason, I hadn’t gotten enough of all the hills and steps the day before, so I ran back over much of what we’d walked Thursday — the Filbert Street steps and then Lombard Street. I then ran out along a pier with a view of Alcatraz. Also out there that morning was a dude on a bicycle with loudspeakers blasting shitty techno music. It was so weird! Who rides around on a bike making everyone else listen to your horrible taste in music like that? Anyway, I ran 4.1 miles.

We got breakfast at Boudin Bakery, where I had a sourdough waffle with Nutella. I’m not sure if all of San Francisco is obsessed with Nutella for breakfast, or if I just got lucky both days, but I sure wasn’t complaining.

We checked out of the hotel and got the rental car back. Before we left the city, we drove to a couple spots that had been too far away to walk to the day before.

First up was Alamo Square. I have no idea why so many tourists flock to a park that was briefly shown during the opening credits of “Full House,” a painfully cheesy sitcom that ended more than 20 years ago, but the hill overlooking the Painted Ladies was packed.

clark rolling down alamo square

Clark was bowled over haha.

We then drove past Golden Gate Park, but we just parked by the beach and walked out to look at the Pacific Ocean.

Our last stop in the city was the ruins of the Sutro Baths overlooking the ocean. There was once a huge building on the site, built in 1894, that housed several saltwater pools and one freshwater pool. However, the maintenance costs outpaced the revenues, and the place kind of fell apart. Finally, an arsonist burned it all down in 1966. All that’s left now is some of the foundation.

ruins from above

Looking down at the ruins from a cliff above the ocean.

baths ruins

Down by the foundation.

julie at top of ruins steps

Julie at the top of some old steps.

me looking out at ocean

Me looking out at the ocean.

lands end

If you walked through a cave, this was the view on the other side.

We then drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, barely visible even while on it because of a thick marine layer. As soon as we were on the other side of it, the fog cleared and it was a bright sunny day.

golden gate bridge in fog

That big cloud is what’s mucking up all the pictures by the ocean above.

bay from other side

Cloud extending up the bay.

Our next stop was the Muir Woods National Monument, a roughly two-mile trail looping through a forest of ancient redwood trees, which grow close to 400 ft. high.

julie in muir woods

Julie walking through the redwoods.

hillside trail

Hillside trail.

me in muir woods

Me walking through that part of the trail.

We got lunch at a little Mexican place with really good food, sat in traffic for a while and finally got across another bridge to Berkeley, where we had a few beers at Fieldwork Brewing Co. We then headed north to Vallejo and checked into the hotel where we’d be spending the rest of the vacation.

It wasn’t even that late on a Friday night by the time we left the hotel for dinner, but just about the only place still serving dinner was Napoli’s, a pizza restaurant.

Saturday morning, Clark went running with me again. The hotel was not in a good area for running, so we drove to nearby Mare Island. It was once home to a huge naval shipyard, but that was decommissioned in the mid ’90s. The “island” (it’s really a peninsula) is now a strange mix of crumbling, abandoned military structures and brand new homes, with more under construction.

It also has a roughly four-mile trail running along the San Pablo Bay, which is where Clark and I ran.

san pablo bay trail

Looking out toward the bay from the trail.

After we got back to the hotel and got cleaned up, we all went first to Napa for a late breakfast, and then we drove up toward St. Helena, stopping at a couple wineries for tastings.

Wine tastings are such a rip-off haha. You pay $40 for a few sips, pretending to taste the difference in the grapes from one year to the next while the guy pouring it yammers on about how much rain the vineyard got in 2011 compared to 2012 and how it affected the acidity. Or at least, I’m just pretending to taste a difference. I don’t have a very refined wine palette.

One place we stopped charged up to $200 for four tastings! The valet parking should have been a sign. We did not stay there.

But, we were in wine country, so we found a vineyard with some slightly more reasonable prices. At least it was a beautiful afternoon for it.


Grape vines. Duh.

We went back to Napa, to a billiards place with 60 beers on tap. Not gonna lie, a mere few beers hit me pretty hard since it’d been so long since breakfast. We were going to get dinner at a restaurant there, but the wait was ridiculous, so Julie, who was the only one being at all responsible, drove Clark and me back to the hotel in Vallejo. As soon as I hit the bed, I was out like a light. Clark and Julie walked to a nearby Carl’s Jr. (Hardee’s here on the East Coast) for take out, but I was completely out of it by the time they got back, so Clark just ate my burger haha.

I woke up absolutely starving around 2:30 a.m. Just then, Mike walked in the door — with 30 chicken nuggets from the Jack In The Box drive-thru he’d gotten his taxi driver to hit on the way back from Napa. Perfect timing! I inhaled 10 of them while he told me all about some guy named Wayne he’d met at a bar, who is going to visit Mike next spring to see some of our local breweries or something. OK!

Sunday, we just got breakfast in the hotel lobby, and we headed for Sonoma Raceway. The green flag was scheduled to drop at 12:20 p.m. We left the hotel just after 9 a.m. for the 13-mile drive, thinking we had plenty of time.

WRONG. We barely made it to our seats to see the green flag! Traffic was an absolute nightmare. Sonoma is along a little two-lane highway. It’s the only way in or out. Martinsville might have been a little worse, but Sonoma is definitely solidly in the top two worst race tracks I’ve visited, as far as traffic flow goes.

Anyway, we made it. Our seats were near the top of the main grandstand, along the stretch with the start-finish line. They were shaded the whole race, which normally would be a good thing, but it was a little cool that day.

green flag

Field taking the green flag.

turn 7 back stretch

Coming down the hill from turn 7.

Sonoma was my first road course experience. I have to say, I like the ovals better. We just flat-out could not see about half of the track from our seats. Luckily, they now have the big jumbotrons in the infield that show the TV coverage, so we could watch what was happening even when the cars weren’t passing right in front of us, but I can do that at home on my living room couch! And for a lot less money.

Speaking of money — Sonoma is the second track I’ve been to now that didn’t allow us to bring in our own beer. Clark and I got one each the entire race, because they were THIRTEEN DOLLARS EACH. And that was the cheapest we could find. The barbecue stand where we got sandwiches was charging $15 for a “craft” (not Budweiser) beer!

All’s well that ends well though, because Kevin Harvick won. At least I didn’t go all that way to watch Jimmie stupid Johnson win.

harvick after win

Harvick after getting the checkered flag and turning around toward Victory Lane.

Then everyone was invited to walk the track, which was cool. We walked an entire lap of it. It’s got some pretty solid hills on it.

group at sonoma

Clark, me, Mike and Julie.

turn 9

Apron in the final turn.

I was hoping taking the time to walk the entire track would let traffic thin out a little, but nope. It was another two-hour headache to get back to the hotel. Turns out Kia Optimas are really good on gas, thankfully, because the fuel indicator on our rental car was close to empty, and there were no gas stations anywhere until we got back to Vallejo, but we made it.

So, bottom line on Sonoma: I’m glad we went, because it’s on the list of NASCAR tracks, but I’m not planning on going back. Too expensive, traffic sucks, and, most importantly, just not a great track to watch a live race because of the layout.

That evening, after we got back to Vallejo, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and called it a night.

I didn’t really have time to drive anywhere to run Monday morning, so I just went to the “fitness center” in the hotel, an annoyingly hot room with a couple of treadmills, a stationary bike, an elliptical and some kettlebells.

I knew I wasn’t going to get very far before I just couldn’t take running on the treadmill anymore. I tried to keep it a little interesting by cranking up the speed every half-mile, but that only got me to 3.5 miles before I was drowning in sweat and lost interest. Better than nothing, but I really hope I don’t have to do that again for the rest of the year at least.

We got breakfast at a little cafe in Vallejo and then drove back to Oakland, arriving at the airport with plenty of time before our flight boarded, for once. The flight home was fine and we landed in Baltimore around 9:30 p.m.

It was so late when we got home, Pepper just spent the night at Clark’s parents’ house, where he’d been the whole time we were gone. Clark’s dad dropped him off here around 6:30 this morning. I was so happy to see him!

And that was our trip. Today, I had a lot of trouble getting up at a reasonable time. I hate the readjustment to East Coast time so much! I did eventually go out and run an easy 3-miler though. It’s good to be home on my old familiar routes!


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