The Virgin Clubhouse: A welcome oasis of calm

This time last week I was in the Cellarmaker having watched the Red Sox at Oakland earlier in the afternoon. That seems so, so long ago now! That aside, I am really pleased to be relaxing in the Clubhouse now. It would be a bit of an exaggeration to say it has been a stressful afternoon, but the closer I got to the airport the louder the call of home!

It hasn’t been a bad day though.

[Photos from today are now on Flickr for your viewing pleasure]

Cute squirell in Sacramento

The details…

I set off with three things I wanted to get sooner rather than later; gas, cash and breakfast. I assumed I’d be able to accomplish some or all of this before leaving Chico but without really thinking, I got on the Freeway (CA99) and before I knew it I was out of town and back in the brown countryside. Once again I had more than half-an-eye on my ‘range-versus-mileage’, but was more than confident I’d get to at least Yuba City, if not Sacramento, without a problem. As it was, the town of Gridley had more than one gas station, so the first need was taken care of there: 

Gridley, CA Highway 99:

  • 8.742 gal at 3.399 = $29.71
  • Odo 14887 

I also got a couple of bottles of Diet Mountain Dew to keep me hydrated but decided against food at this point. The drive to Sacramento was otherwise fairly uneventful. It started out as a hazy day in low 20s but the sun burnt through and the sunglasses were soon on. Sacramento appears on the skyline about ten miles away – the land is completely flat on the approach and it is a high-rise city. Siri was directing me into the parking garage for Old Town Sacramento and the California Railroad Museum and it was pretty straightforward – which was just as well as everything got busy very quickly as I approached.

Distant Sacramento skyline

I enjoyed a walk around the old town first, which is where the above picture of the squirrel was taken, alongside the Sacramento River. I stumped up the $10 admission for the Railroad Museum but politely declined the opportunity to join a conducted tour. As much as I have an interest in railways, I’m afraid that US railways have always left me a bit baffled and therefore of limited interest. Even so, I enjoyed looking at the exhibits, though not really understanding. From what I overheard of one of the tours, I’m sure that would have helped, but probably left me even more baffled in some respects! Not only that, but I was still clock watching a bit.

California Railroad Museum exhibit

In order to leave town, I decided to ignore the routes suggested by Siri as they all involved an Interstate to one degree or other. I navigated the old fashioned way; East along J Street, right onto 16th Street, left into Broadway, merge right onto Freeport Blvd. This then runs out of town past the County Airport and becomes CA Rt. 160. This road heads generally south-west, running along the top of the levee of the Sacramento River, crossing from side-to-side occasionally over the course of around 60 miles. This is bountiful fruit growing country either side of the river, known as The Delta. The road was fairly quiet with the occasional car or fruit truck. South of its crossroads with CA12, however, it got pretty busy before reaching a huge bridge over the confluence with the San Joaquin River. These two waterways then eventually flow out into San Francisco Bay.

Antioch Bridge

On the other side of the bridge (which has a toll going north, so I picked my route well!), I let Siri guide me along a weird route through a place called Oakley in order to head south through the hills of Vasco Road to Livermore. This section of journey was made all the more challenging by road works which had set the lights controlling a crossroads of a pair of four lane highways to flashing red “all way stop”. Then I was taken past a high school which was evidently kicking out (even hough it was 13:00?) as there was traffic everywhere. Luckily I squeezed through both challenges without incident.

Vasco Road

Vasco Road is a busy single carriageway ‘rat run’ through the hills to the east of Oakland. In fact, that was exactly why I was there – bypassing Oakland. The hills are home to hundreds of wind turbines and a never ending vista of parched grassland. On the other side of the hills, dropping into Livermore, I spotted a shopping plaza, and in need of a break to check the map, if nothing else, was pleased to spot Starbucks at 1502 North Vasco Road, Livermore.

Livermore Starbucks

As I sip my Pike Place at 14:00, I am apparently 52 minutes and 48.6 miles from Infinite Loop via I580, I680, I880 and I280. I’ve done my best to avoid Interstate driving to this point, but it may be time to bite the bullet. Hopefully I’ll get to Silicone Valley before the evening rush on the freeways?

Later…

That’s where the day started to become a lot less fun (with one exception!). Californian Freeway driving is fine when the traffic flows reasonably well, and for the most part during this section it did indeed flow – just. Again, history records I made it, but I didn’t enjoy it! It was again thanks to Siri that I made it. I did think there ought to be some sort of easter egg built into Apple Maps when used to navigate to 1 Infinite Loop, but no, just the regular “you have arrived at your destination”. Although it didn’t have the same wonder and excitement as visiting here for the first time with Kay in 2011, but I enjoyed it anyway of course. I came away with a few new garments and an iTunes top-up for my US account.

Mothreship Selfie

By now traffic was pretty manic everywhere, but especially trying to get on to the various (so called!) Freeways. I followed in the footsteps of 2011, along De Anza Blvd to Sunnyvale then north along a busy but generally moving El Camino Real to Stanford. I went into the shopping centre to see the new flagship Apple store there, and it is impressive, but the shopping centre itself (which is in the process of serious remodelling) held no interest.

I still hadn’t eaten. I had been hoping to see an In ‘n Out Burger for lunch, but having failed so far, decided to leave it to luck no longer. Siri found one for me just off US101 mid way between Stanford and SFO, so off I went. Not very fast. The traffic was foul by this time, especially when I joined the 101. Turned out it was a major queue to get onto Rt84 at Meino Park and over the bridge across to Fremont. Once past that point the 101 started to flow, but time had ticked on and I abandoned the idea of In ‘n Out.  I needed to fill the car up before dropping it off and had been watching gas prices in the area. There was a wide variation, but inevitably the only gas station I could find near the airport charged an arm & a leg and then some….

Gas:

  • 5.641 gallons @ $4.799 = $27.07. Odo 15133

It was then only a short hop to the rental return and on the AirTrain to the terminal.

  • Start odo: 14887, End: 15134 = 247 miles
  • Total for the trip = 2,059 miles

I was very happy to enter the Clubhouse and let out a deep sigh of relief. So much that could have gone horribly wrong, especially with the driving, hadn’t. I did bag drop and entered the Clubhouse at 18:25 for a 20:40 boarding time.

 

SFO dual takeoff

Right, see you back in Blighty. (VS042 – Scheduled 16:05 BST landing at Heathrow – somewhat bizarrely).

 

Much, much later…

I’m home. The flight was drama-free and, flying in the relatively comfy bit, as enjoyable as a 9hr 57min night flight is ever going to be. The Upper Class cabin was almost full, though there was an empty seat to my right and two across the aisle. This meant the crew were working furiously – especially at breakfast time, to keep everyone happy. Push back was at 21:21 and wheels up at 21:40 (05:40BST) on A340-600 “Miss Behavin'” (interestingly, the pre-boarding announcement at the gate included the name of the aircraft, even though at SFO the stand is visible from the gate). Souls on Board was announced as 155.

I watched a movie – Kingsman (which wasn’t as bad as the reviews I’d seen led me to fear – which is not to say it is particularly good!) while dinner was served. Inevitably, I had the beef! By now the cabin was settling down for the night and I gratefully accepted the assistance from the cabin crew to convert my seat into a bed. I didn’t bother changing into the supplied pyjamas, though. Whilst in retrospect that would have probably resulted in me feeling a little, er, fresher, the next day, I really couldn’t imagine me being able to get changed in an aircraft lavatory, Upper Class or not. I slept on and off for six hours; probably more on than off, to be honest. It didn’t feel like refreshing sleep, though.

We were woken about 90 minutes out and a reasonable impression of a cooked breakfast was served. We made landfall over Liverpool and flew over somewhere to slightly to the west of home into the Thames Valley where we were stacked for a short while. The approach into LHR was from the east so we made a tight turn over East London and landed, pretty much on the dot of when they predicted we would. The airport formalities were a breeze and I was on the Tube around 16:30. I don’t want to sound jaded or bored, but the rest of the journey home simply isn’t worth remarking on. East Midlands Trains, St. Pancras, a bit of a wait at Derby and the trundling of my back for the last half-mile to my front door. Home & car, thankfully, exactly as I left them.

East London

Twickenham

So, a great trip. When I booked it and when describing my plans to people in advance it sounded a bit short – “all that way for a week”? In the end, I felt it was the perfect length; any longer I think I would indeed have started to get jaded, if not completely bored. Toured-out might be a better way of putting it. After all, after a while, even breweries and burgers begin to become a little bit same-ish? As it is, I am very pleased to genuinely report that I have no regrets about my plan and how it worked out. Even though – in truth – the Seattle leg got on top of me a bit, I’m still glad I did it. Just over two thousand miles of driving in seven days is, by any measure, a lot – so I think you’ll understand why I felt it became a chore at the end.

I don’t regret doing on my own. There were a number of people in my life, past & present, whom I would have really enjoyed shared the trip with if circumstances had allowed and in each case the whole tone & style of the trip would have been transformed, in the most part for the better! They know who they are and they know I was thinking of them. However, that is is all obviously a moot point now.

Thank you to those of you who have been following along on the blog and have taken the trouble to comment or otherwise give me feedback. Until the next time… good bye.

 

This is what 2,059 miles looks like in the context of the USA…

The Trip

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