Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Bird's Eye View

After our failed attempt at seeing a great white shark, Logan and I were determined to cross something off my bucket list.  We left the hustle and bustle of San Francisco and slowed down for an afternoon in wine country.  The drive out of the city is amazing.  The views of the rolling hills approaching make you feel like you are thousands of miles away rather then just an hour outside of the city.

View from the car driving into wine country.
First stop was not for a glass of vino like you might expect, but rather some of the best fried chicken I've ever had.  There is a little spot called Ad Hoc, owned by the same chef of world famous French Laundry.  Instead of putting our name on a 3 year waiting list and spending $500 on a meal that would be memorable but also destructive to our bank account, we went the lunch route.  Ad Hoc does weeknight dinners and a Sunday Brunch indoors, but outback at 'addendum' you can get an amazing gourmet lunch box.  It was a great 'picnic style' menu which was enjoyed in their vegetable garden.  The chicken was worth every calorie consumed.  I haven't had fried chicken that good since my great-grandmother's, who made hers in the same traditional southern fashion soaking in buttermilk overnight.  If you are ever in the area I highly recommend making the stop.

With our bellies full of chicken and sweet tea, we continued our way to get a taste of some great California wine.  We were greeted for a private wine tour in Sonoma County.  (I love the perks of working in hospitality.)  We came at a great time of year because all the grapes on the vines were bursting with color and flavor, waiting to be picked during harvest, which starts this week.  Logan and I relaxed that evening with a couple of great glasses of wine and some much needed R&R.

The next morning we woke up nice and early ready for the day's adventure.  Today I would be crossing off 'ziplining' from my bucket list.  Not just zip lining, but zip lining through one of California's most beautiful places, the redwood forest.  We had a relaxing morning and took our time getting ready.  We then heading down to Bodega Bay after getting a tip from a local to go to 'the boathouse' for the best fish and chips we would ever taste.  Every morning the fishermen would go out to get their catch of the day and when they ran out, they closed up shop.  It doesn't get more fresh than that.  

The locals were right - this was darn good fish!

We took the coastal drive to see some northern California beaches and stopped in a cute little beach town.  When I say little, I mean one convenience store, a bar and a surf wear shop.  We stopped because Logan saw a huge sign that said casino.  Casino in their eyes is one video poker machine in the back of a dive bar.  However, we still go out and looked around so I could take a few photos.  There was something a little eerie about this place and I wanted to have a few shots for when I described it.  Then we found out why it felt so eerie.  This was the spot Alfred Hitchcock filmed the movie 'The Birds.'  I put my photos together... and now it makes a little more sense.

Killer Seagulls ready to make me their pray.
We left the twilight zone and headed to the woods.  I am ready for more adventure in my day!  We got a quick lesson on how to zip line properly and put on our very fashionable gear.  I felt bad for the guys in the group since the leg straps had to be very snug and gave them a nice codpiece for the day.  After we were all pro-zip liners from our practice we made our way to the 'bunny slope.'  The first zip line was short to ease our way into the day.  We would have a total of 5.  Logan was brave and went first out of our group.  He made it look so easy, so I went next.  

What a rush!  We cruised over the treetops with an amazing view hundreds of feet below.  The feeling is a mixture of exhilaration from cruising at high speeds at a pretty high point in the woods, while also peaceful and serene.  It was quite and the views were breath taking.  The longest zip line track we did was 800 feet.  It lasted about 30 seconds, but looking down from a height of 200 ft. was unreal.

The tour took a total of 2.5 hours and I got to experience the redwoods in an amazing way.  These trees are hundreds of years old and the tallest in the country.  We were able to look down on them from a bird's eye view - how many people can say that?  Our tour guides were incredible. They were so knowledgeable on all the species of trees we were looking at, constantly kept the afternoon's mood lighthearted with jokes and puns, while always giving us confidence that we were safe.  We had an amazing experience and I would definitely go back again.  I have to give a special thank you to Logan for making this happen.  He was monumental in helping me cross another item off my bucket list, but was overcoming one of his own fears of heights.  This might not be his first choice of how to spend the day, but he made sure that we both had as much fun as possible!  One more reason why I love him.  (Sorry for the moment of sappy, but it had to be said.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fog and Jelly Fish

So this was it.  Yesterday was the big day.  The biggest bucket list challenge on my list and I was going to complete it.  Excited doesn't even begin to describe the feeling I had.  Not to mention, every person who has crossed my path over the past year has been greeted with, 'Hi my name is Casey, I'm going to swim with a great white in (insert number of days.)'

We landed in the San Francisco airport on Monday morning and took a very expensive cab ride out to Berkeley.  Apparently we were the only ones who didn't get the 'rent a car' memo.  Oh well, poor travel planning.  We got to our hotel and it was too early to check in, so we left our bags and headed over to the dive shop to grab my gear.  The transaction was quick and smooth so we headed to grab some lunch to give the hotel enough time to get our room ready.  By the time we got back, all we wanted to do was eat a little dinner and watch Monday night football before going to bed early.  I keep forgetting how different the time is over here vs. East coast because Monday night football started at 5:30 here.  When you are like a kid on Christmas eve, this is a good thing since I wanted to go to bed super early.  Our boat was leaving at 6:00 a.m. with or without us.

That night was the worst sleep I've ever had.  I woke up every hour and looked at the clock to see if it was time yet.  Finally, I rolled over, looked at the clock and saw 5:00 a.m.  It was time!  I already showered the night before and laid out my clothes so it took a whole 10 minutes to get ready.  We grabbed our gear and headed downstairs to catch a ride to the docks.

We were greeted by our captain for the day James.  We headed over to the 'Superfish' and made our way on board.  The first thing I saw was the cage and the seal decoys.  It was really happening.

James did a quick safety overview with us and told us about where we were heading.  Our dive would take place at Farallon Island.  It is a natural sanctuary full of rare birds, elephant seals, whales, but most importantly, Great Whites.  According to their shark tracker, there have been about 13 great whites hanging around the island over the past few weeks.  Because of dense fog, they have not had any luck seeing sharks yet, so today had to be the day!

We took a 2.5 hour hike out to the Island.  The fog was thick and it was freezing cold.  Unfortunately for about half of the passengers on the boat, the rough waves were a little too much for them and they spent the 2.5 hours chumming the waters for us.  To give you an idea of the view - here are the BEST photos we took on our way out.

Going under the golden gate bridge

Our view of Farallon Island

We got to the island and anchored the boat.  The cage was lowered and in the distance, I could see a seal swimming.  I am still encouraged that we are going to see some action today.  The first group of divers suited up to get in the cage.  Go ahead and judge but I didn't want to be the first one in the water.  I couldn't feel my fingers or toes on the boat so I wasn't very excited to get into frigid water unless I knew there was going to be some things worth looking at down there.  I would be part of group two after the first set of people came out and told us about all the amazing sea life they saw.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the tale they told.  There was no sea life, except for a couple of jelly fish.  None of them were able to see a foot past the cage bars.  They ended up using their video cameras to just take footage of themselves underwater.

So that is how the rest of the day went.  A couple of people kept going in the cage and had the same story.  Jellyfish and sediment.  The fog didn't lift until we were getting ready to leave and the only seal we saw all day was the one when we first arrived.  I guess the great whites weren't hungry today and were hanging out towards the bottom.  Maybe they were on the other side of the island, but the water was too rough that we wouldn't have been able to lower the cage.  All and all, it was a day of fog and jellyfish... and trying not to get sick.  But, on the bright side, the crew was very friendly, food was good (for what I could manage eating,) and we did get to see some sea life.  As we were leaving we saw some Grey Whales which were cool.  People pay good money to go whale watching right?

The 'Jellyfish' cage
The decoy that didn't fool any sharks  this trip

Where I hung out most of the day 'looking' for any sign of sharks

The best shot of the Island we got all day called 'the devil's teeth'

It doesn't look like I will be crossing this off my 30 before 30 list, but it wasn't without effort!  It looks like I will just need to put this at the top of my 40 before 40 list that will come next and I will save up my pennies to go to Guadalupe Island.  After talking to many shark enthusiast yesterday, that is where the majority of shark sightings are, the water is crystal clear, and it is WARM outside.  Not freezing cold!  Logan and I do have a lot of great memories from this trip so far - seeing a great white just isn't one of them.

Even though I didn't see a shark - I still wanted to get my money's worth from the wetsuit.  If I can't cage dive with a great white, I can watch a movie about one while wearing a wetsuit and drinking a beer.  Cheers to a great vacation!

It's kind of the same thing...