Day 5, Leg 2: following the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco


Big Sur, following the Pacific Coast Highway to Monterey

After enjoying the palm trees and sunshine of Santa Barbara, we plan to follow the famous Pacific Coast Highway northbound over Big Sur and up to San Francisco as the sun sets.  Even though he flew us from the Grand Canyon to Santa Barbara earlier today, Jim also flies this leg, as we’ll probably arrive after sunset — and he’s done the “unrestricted night privileges” checkout at EHFC.

As Jim prepares the route and the plane, Jean-Baptiste starts calling mechanics in the Bay Area to see who’s willing to fix 7CF’s broken vacuum pump, so that we can fly on instruments if the weather calls for it (an option we’d like to have in Seattle!). We finally talk to Alberto from Rossi Aircraft at the Palo Alto AIrport (KPAO), who hears “vacuum pump for a Mooney M20J” and is able to recall the part number from memory, confirms that he has an overhauled one in stock, and volunteers to come in on the weekend so that we can keep our schedule.

We takeoff around 6 pm, first staying east to avoid some restricted airspace around Vandenburg Air Force Base, and then following the coastline along Big Sur and up to Monterey.  The famous California fog has already started to roll in, making for an awesome sight as the Santa Lucia mountains pierce through the low clouds.

Past Monterey, the coast is almost completely fogged in, and we continue VFR-on-top. San Francisco Approach clears us into their Bravo airspace for a tour of the Bay, but all we can see is the Sutro Tower poking through the clouds and a few glimpses of downtown.

After flying over the (fogged-in) Golden Gate Bridge, we’re directed to Palo Alto by first flying over the Oakland Coliseum, then the runway 30 numbers at the Oakland airport, and finally across the bay to Palo Alto.  Jim makes a low approach over the marshes surrounding the airport, setting us down on the numbers at what will certainly be the shortest runway of this trip — 2,443 ft — about 15 minutes after sunset.

We cleaning up the plane, dealing with the mess of gear from camping, and catch a taxi to the Palo Alto Caltrain station for the train to San Francisco. Someone says the train is running late, but after Jean-Baptiste asks about the stranger’s schedule, it turns out that the train was on time and we all just missed it! We’re stuck waiting for another 90 minutes before the last train of the night, then it’s an hour-long ride to San Francisco. We hike up and down San Francisco’s famous hills and finally get to Jean-Baptiste’s friend Roland’s house just after midnight. In hindsight, the cab driver’s $80 offer to go to San Francisco was a bargain! In the end, it will have taken us more time to get from Palo Alto to San Francisco (by train), than from Santa Barbara to Palo Alto (by plane) — lesson learned!