TRAVELS WITH GREASE AND PADDLE
Friday, November 30, 2007
Czeching out NoCal
On the tour of the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, we had heard about the company's commitment to renewable energy, which includes a large solar array and what they touted as one of the country's biggest hydrogen fuel cell installations. The carbon dioxide produced through fermentation is captured and used around the brewery, and their waste water is captured to power the fuel cells. So, it seemed like a good place to ask for a sample of the other amber liquid they produce: waste vegetable oil from their adjoining restaurant. Our request was passed up the chain through a few people, and soon Michael Ilse, the executive chef, came out to meet us. He was really enthusiastic about what we're doing and personally let us in to the dumpster where we found a jackpot of used rice oil, the first on this trip. It's high quality and produced locally in California, so it fits into the company commitment to local agriculture. Michael told us that the beef served in the restaurant is raised naturally nearby at CSU-Chico , the animals munching on the spent barley and hops from the brewing process. We took several keg's worth of grease off their hands and left Chico with our 100 gallon tank full to brimming....
A week into the California portion of our journey, we find ourselves in the little town of Inverness, squeezed between Tomales Bay and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, a little piece of bucolic nirvana just a stone's throw from San Francisco. We came here for some sea kayaking and to look up a childhood friend of Matt's, David "Dude" Willard, a sustainable energy consultant who, among other projects, works with local wineries to help them lower their carbon footprint. Matt is picking the mandolin as the morning light filters through the trees and fills the beautiful post and beam house tucked into the hillside, and well designed to suck up every bit of this late-November sunlight.
We had great visits to UCDavis, where the Fried Piper was welcomed into the bicycle-only campus, and CSU-Chico where we gave a presentation to the monthly meeting of their outdoor club. Multi-tasking in Chico, we visited Haines friend Robin Barlow and dropped off two cases of canned sockeye salmon, an Alaskan-style care package from her mother in Haines. We also got to see the only three-story covered bridge in the nation. Filled with brewery grease, we braved the crazy freeways and made our way to the Bay Area for a Thursday visit at the Bay School, a fairly new prep school nestled in the Presidio. We rolled into Berkeley late on Wednesday and hooked up with Chicken Dave, and old Vermont friend and classic character. A fondue plan was hatched late night, including a slideshow of the trip with Matt playing the mandolin and improvising lyrics. After dinner and tunes we slept on the roof of Chicken's apartment building, with me perched at the edge closest to the van, figuring I could throw stones at any potential thieves.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, Matt in van , me on bicycle, in the bright California sunshine and made our way to Marin Headlands to scout the surf. Instead we found a contracting crew dressed in haz-mat suits, cleaning balls of fuel oil off the beach. The oil had ridden tides out of the bay and north up the coast after the spill of a few weeks ago. No surfing here, bru.
North again through a beautiful grove of redwoods and the rolling pasture land of Pt. Reyes. The wind was howling on the beach, so we hunkered down at Vladimir's, a restaurant run by a Czech man who has been in business since 1960. Stumbling on little places like this is one of the sublime pleasures of the American road trip. We enjoyed some Pilsner Urquell and played some backgammon while we listened to three locals opine on current politics ( "I hate commies as much as anyone, I fought them in Africa..."). Vlad runs the place by himself, at one point we saw him in the back, hunched over the next roll of apple strudel. The locals left and were replaced by a couple from the city on an overnight getaway. We chatted with them and before long they were offering use of their houseboat in Sausalito. It's that kind of place. The bread was reminiscent of shoe leather and the prices were somewhat shocking, but the pickled red cabbage was delicious and the experience was priceless.