Clutching at Straws

Swooping down the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada on I 80, I have not a care in the world. The scenery is dramatic, the novel playing from the car sound system is excellent, I am cosy, 3 maybe 4 hours back to San Francisco..

I accelerate to overtake someone who is going even slower than me. No obvious change in speed but I hear the frantic howling of a high revving engine. I look behind and sure enough there is tuned up Japanese sports machine howling past. I am reassured. I accelerate again and back comes the high rev howl. I look at the rev counter – 6,000rpm! I don’t think the engine has been much above 3,000 rpm all her life. The noise is coming from my truck, I am over revving her. There is no acceleration. My engine has become a detached element from the drive chain. Essentially my clutch has busted.

Ouch, bad, bad news!

Lucky as always, this does not happen in one of the remote snow filled canyons where I have lately spent my time, indeed I roll to a stop on the hard shoulder just in front of the Exit 121 sign. I am able to walk off the freeway into the crazy landscape of cheap motels, gas stations, run down malls, liquor stores, fast food restaurants that line the freeway. I get the number for a tow truck from a motel reception and an hour later my truck has been offloaded outside an Auto Shop.

It is 4:00pm Saturday. “Closed for the weekend,” says the tow truck driver, “No idea if it will be open on Monday, nearly all repair shops have closed because of the virus.”

“What can I do in Auburn?”

“Not much to do around here .” He replies ominously.

I check in at a Super 6 motel.

Spend your next romantic weekend here.

All museums are closed, restaurants only serve food to go. It is  pouring with rain. I go to a store, stock up on food and drink and go back to hibernate in my hotel room. I make a bear nest on the bed and snuggle. Saturday afternoon and Sunday pass almost unnoticed as I doze, shower, sleep, eat, drink, read, watch lots of US TV. I thoroughly enjoy myself.

9:00 Monday morning, I am outside Jeff’s Auto Repair. It is open!  I explain what happened and Jeff says ”It’s the clutch”

I know it is the clutch and want to engage Jeff on the hydraulic system that pushes the clutch plates, the clutch springs, and maybe a worn plate. He looks a bit confused and reassures me that he can put in a new clutch and seeing as I am stuck he will start right away. I am confronted with US car mechanics. Rather than repair, they just bolt on a new unit. So I am to get a new clutch.

Jeff and Dominic – great guys

How to spend another day in Auburn waiting for the call announcing the truck is fixed?

There is nowhere to go. There is nowhere to sit down. I have a whole day ahead of me. I wander around the waste land of restaurants, motels, gas stations, clutching a plastic bag. I am a vagrant. The cops move me on. I finally find a bench in a scruffy little mall. I am so pleased. It has stopped raining and I sit on my bench and write this in the sun.

I love my bench

How much longer will I be here? Will I get picked up for being homeless? 

Across the scruffy plaza I spot a table and chair outside a bagel place. I wander over and am greeted by Jasmin who says, “Let me look after you.”  She thinks I am homeless. She is the best person.

She is wonderful. Go to her Bagel shop.

I sit at the table, Jasmin gives me the wifi password. It is cold. Over the next few hours she makes me a perfect beef sandwich, an Americano with an extra shot, home made potato soup and a big smoothie. Paradise.

Very dense potato soup and strawberry smoothie. Unusual pairing.

I finally stumble back to Jeff’s auto shop around 4:30, it is getting dark. The truck is fixed! The old clutch plate is worn down to the metal!

One dead clutch plate. I am amazed that I heard no rubbing nor smelt rubber burning before the final collapse.

Jeff and Dominic also replace a shot universal joint and re rig my exhaust pipe support. Good guys. I finally make it back home at 8:00. Great adventures and the truck now has a new clutch. I find this very reassuring.

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Cowboy Onsen

Lock down in San Francisco. I find nothing in the rules about not traveling and so I decide to head off into the high hills of Northern California and the lost deserts of Nevada. The goal is to soak in natural hot springs overlooking thousands of square miles of emptiness. Cowboy Onsen.

We drive through orchards, cattle farms and vast spaces. I cannot remember where I stayed the first night but I do remember it being very cold. As usual the camper’s furnace is not working but just in case I had bought a small internal propane heater.

Now my best friend

The next day we bumble through fantastic remote country. We see eagles, real cowboys, countless deer and end up camping at the idyllic Blue Lake.

I never see a soul.
So beautiful but frozen in the morning

The next day I search for hot springs. I have little success. I have a book, but it is woefully out of date. The first 4 I found are now closed off with barbed wire. The 5th just did not look appealing.

It is now very grey and cold. I do not want to take my clothes off.

I search around for somewhere to camp and find a great spot under a tree. The sky gets darker and soon it is snowing heavily. I am very snug in the camper but the problem with snow is it covers up the tracks of you coming in and on the way out, it is so easy to drive off the road into terrible trouble.

Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise.
Good selfie conditions. You can cover virtually all your face.
7:00 am. Really cold

The radio announces very heavy snow and so I abandon cowboy onsen project and turn for home.

I see another truck
Long road home.
Pyramid Lake.

I stay just ahead of the snow and get on I 80 at Reno. Up into the mountains, past Donner Lake, Truckee and into California. I swoop down the west slopes of the Sierras knowing that in just a few hours I will be home. I sing like Yves Montand in the last scene of Le Salaire de la Peur. Actually he doesn’t sing but hums along to The Blue Danube.

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I head North to the open country, away from the heaving miasma of San Francisco Covid.

At this time of year, tens, probably thousands of er thousands of Snow Geese and Ross’ Geese come to feed and gently spend the winter on the wetlands north of Sacramento.

They are an amazing sight.

Spooked Geese.

They, along with White Fronted Geese, sit on the shallow water squabbling until spooked by an eagle or maybe airplane. Then thousands take off with a whoosh!

Soppy Snow Geese
Fine White Fronted Goose.
Pretty Pintail
Smart Shoveler.
Mi casa
Anna’s Hummingbird
Grey Heron
Geese can fly
Great White Egret enjoys a fish supper.
Little Egret prefers crayfish
Evening geese.

I spend 2 days. The weather is beautiful and the wildlife astonishing. California!

I drive over coastal mountains to Point Reyes. Fall colors.


Last year you could hardly move for the Elephant Seals and Elk on Point Reyes. This year I saw er none. Boo.

It was a great trip, so soon I am so far from Okinawa. The drive back into San Francisco never fails to please.

Fog coming in over the Golden Gate. Watch HD and full screen!

So lockdown has been tightened. Curfew from 10:00 to 05:00. This no hardship fo me as I like to be snuggled by that late hour. However no meeting with others than immediate household is a bad one. I have come over to see lots of friends and this appears compromised.

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Back in the U.S.A

Such a strange trip. There were only about 20 people on the huge Boeing from Tokyo to San Francisco. Boarding was very dignified as there was hardly anyone there.

Mad scramble to board

San Francisco airport is deserted. I walk straight from the plane to the immigration check and am outside in 10 minutes. There are no shuttles, no cabs. There is a lady who will call you a cab. I am the only client. 101 into the city is almost without traffic, so strange.

I wake up very early and go for a stroll.

I get my coffee. It is heartwarming when they remember my name and welcome me back.
Looking towards downtown
Oregon Junco
Warm in the sun, chilly in the shade
St Ignatius Church
Houses on Central.

So here I am. The city is crawling with Covid!

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I was employed this month and actually paid real money. I determine to spend it on a Farewell, Thanksgiving, Xmas dinner. I like nothing better than sitting around a beautifully laid table, groaning under the weight of fine food and excellent wine, being jolly with good friends.

We set off to various fish markets to buy fabulous fresh seafood. During the quick lunch break I decide to eat the big fish eyeball in my fish soup.

Apparently I should not have eaten the eyeball! Too late.

The menu is :

Sashimi and Oysters

Steamed clams, big ones

Pan fried Scallops in cream sauce

Russian Potatoes (Thanks Arisa)

Salad with exotic dressing (Thanks Izumi, unfortunately I was at the stove when she explained exactly what the dressing was.)

Pan seared Foie Gras

Blanc de poulet a la creme.

Apple Crumble cake with cream, strawberries and Nagano apples (Thanks Mary and Tomomi)

We drank; White Bordeaux, Chablis, Vouvray, Champagne, Morgon and quality Sake (Thanks Ichiro san)

Unforgettable meal. Hilarious conversation.

Best oysters I have ever eaten.
Coquilles St Jaques
A breather from gout inducing stuff!
I forgot to take a picture of the foie gras, this is chicken
Her amazing Apple Crumble cake with cream strawberries and Nagano apple
Wonderful cold sake
I forgot to include the white bordeaux
Thanks all for making it an sensational evening! Notice beautiful flower at the front of the table,thanks Arisa.

Now I am off to Covid infested San Francisco. At least I will pass away happy!

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Lots of Yuck

The apartment throngs with fruit flies. This not unusual in Okinawa where they flourish on any vegetable matter and in the drains. Removing the trash can, I notice strange activity behind the fridge. It is a squirming mass of fruit fly larvae – yuck!

What can you say? Yuck!

I spray and clean obsessively and employ a cleaning company. The lady is truly excellent and when I return from the subsequent yuck experience, the apartment is spotless, not a fruit fly to be seen.

While the lady is cleaning, I go down to the boat. I have a look in the engine compartment – yuck!

It is full of oil.

This not a complete surprise as I have noticed traces of oil in the the last few strokes of the mighty Gulper’ s pumping out the bilge exercise. I knew that something bad was going to happen. Recognized weaknesses of the legendary Yanmar 1GM10 are the oil lines that run under the engine. They corrode and split.

Who you gonna call? Kiyuna san!

He confirms my diagnosis.

A digression on the quality of life. Just up the road is a big Yanmar dealership with a warehouse of parts. This warehouse has made an significant contribution to my quality of life. When moving always check on the proximity of a Yanmar dealership.

It takes 30 minutes to get the replacement oil line.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Before we or more accurately, he, can fit the new oil line, we have to pump out all the oil and water in the bilge to gain access to the lines. We can’t just pump it out into the marina. Kiyuna san brings over his vacuum pump a great device that sucks all the liquids into, er, itself.

Get one of these for Xmas.
Kiyuna san in classic pose.

He installs the new line in world record time of 6 minutes 34 second.

The offending part.

So, all of this boat yuck was dealt with in no time at all with lots of good humor and levity.

I soon have to leave Covid low level Okinawa to Covid ridden San Francisco. Do not ask!

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I Am November

The weather is fantastic. I go sailing . The following movie depicts 2 days of happiness and joy. The first day the wind was strong and I put a reef in the mainsail. I did this very badly and as you will see in the movie the sail is very floppy and ill trimmed. I only had to haul up the throat and peak halyards but singlehanded, in strong wind and broken seas, on the wild and wistful ocean, this is too scary. The boat sailed well if not prettily. The next day there was less wind and to my delight I managed to shake out the reef, all by myself, far out at sea.

Incredible sailing! It is the middle of November but beautifully warm, sunny days. I am in a T-shirt! This video is really just for me so I can remember when I am an old man. You do not have to watch.

Arisa takes me to the Itoman Fish Market.,127.6591845,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x34e567c221f4f19d:0x58162367592c3315!8m2!3d26.1380987!4d127.6613785

This is paradise. A warehouse of stalls selling fish and especially sashimi presented on oyster shells. It is actually more of a restaurant than a market. You choose your food and then carry it outside to wooden tables and eat it. The fish is so fresh!

Some kind of giant whelk
More whelk sashimi
Our lunch. Fish soup, monk fish roe, fresh oyster, two takes on baked oyster, tuna sashimi, whelk sashimi, sashimi bowl.
No queues

The guy serves me my fish soup into a plastic bowl. Two huge fish eyes float to the surface. I am not ready for that and ask him to fish them out. Arisa is surprised. “The eyes are the best bits.” I am not there yet.

I would like to spend all day here. I would savour an incredible seafood dish, wait a while then go and get something even more incredible. And so on, and so on.

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Apart from filling up with water, my main concern with the boat is the starter motor. Sometimes it just whirrs away but does not turn the engine over. There is a thing called the solenoid that jams up due I think to condensation in the engine compartment.

This has been happening ever since I launched the boat. I asked my friend Nick, very experienced sailor, what to do and , to my delight, he advised me to hit it with a hammer.

In fact the condition normally cures itself but I dread being stuck on some remote island or being driven onto a lee shore and so I order a new starter motor.

Old one.

I have completely lost my self confidence when it comes to working on engines. Through stupidity and clumsiness, I now make the existing problem worse and usually initiate more problems. Also working bent double, in very cramped conditions, on parts of the engine that you can’t see, is hellish.

Call Kyuna san!

He shows up in 10 minutes and 20 minutes later the new starter motor is up and running. Several adjustments have to be made to get the new starter motor to fit. It has different electrical terminals and the aluminum casing has changed shape a bit during the last 30 years. This sort of problem is nothing for Kiyuna who files, the casing into shape and redesigns the connections. It is a joy to watch him work.

Quality of life. Having the best boat mechanic as a friend boosts it.

As you can see, the weather is beautiful and I hope to do a lot of sailing before I go to San Francisco.

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So, probably the last great sailing picnic of the year is planned. Looks like I will go to San Francisco at the beginning of December and it also looks like the weather is going to be pretty bad for the rest of the month.

The picnic will be an elaborate affair. The crew foregather in warm sunshine and light wind. The plan is a gentle cruise around, followed by languid eating. It is true that the weather prediction forecasts possible light showers but there is no evidence of precipitation.

The relevance of this photo will become clear later in this post.

We back away from the pontoon and happily chug out to the harbor basin to raise sail. Whilst doing this deep black clouds sneak up behind us and gleefully unload thousands of liters of rain right onto us. It is so sudden, so unexpected, so intense. Within seconds we are all completely drenched.

I had fouled the peak and throat halyards whilst raising the sail and was so concentrated on untangling them that I completely forgot I had two waterproof jackets in the cabin. The crew sit patiently in their light Okinawan clothes and are soaked.

In 5 minutes the excursion is all over and we scurry back to our pontoon. The crew go off to try and dry off. There is still hope of a picnic but things get worse, the wind rises and the rain, albeit less intense, continues.

We abandon the boat picnic but resolve to have a picnic in my apartment. We have the best fun.

We start with Octopus Coctel, the essential ingredient is a Mexican mix of clam juice and tomato juice, Clamato, which Arisa miraculously tracks down in Okinawa. Next is steak with asparagus and pickled cucumber salad. Salade Lyonnaise with poached egg is fabulous. An excellent carrot cake before we freshen our mouths with crisp apple slices from Nagano. Various wines. It is very dark by the time we push away from the table. We live so well.

This is a dull movie mainly about cooking octopus.

So I can remember when I am an old man. I am not quite an old man yet.

Ah, quality of life? For me availably of lots of super fresh fish, especially octopus, is key. Keep your, er, Porsche, your, er fancy house, your, er, you know, all that stuff.

Just slap me across the face with a wet fish.

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The Last Day of October

31st October, 27 degrees, cool wind, beautiful sunshine! October and November are the best months in Okinawa.

We go for a drive up a little bit of the East Coast. My companion is Japanese and she points out so many things that I have never noticed or been aware of, even after nearly 10 years on the island. I realize I have only just scratched the surface of what Okinawa has to offer.

For example, we stop at an unremarkable building by the side of a harbor. I have passed it before and have taken it for some sort of administrative office. It turns out to be the most wonderful fish restaurant. I cannot read. I miss so much.

She eats
I eat. This is the best sashimi I have ever had. Check out the huge whelk. All the fish is so fresh.
So blue
Empty beaches
So quiet, so peaceful

We go to a couple of fish markets.

Super fresh fish.
More of the same
Such colors

Okinawa is so beautiful! Never more so than at this time of year.

Poor photo of last night’s moon
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