I took my somewhat typical path up I-680 in the east bay. I gather a lot of folks in the south bay and the peninsula don't particularly like the east side, and I'm not sure why; 680 is a beautiful route that goes through some wonderful little towns like Pleasanton and Danville. I wouldn't mind living in either of those, really; by virtue of being small towns in a huge, upscale metro area, they keep the "Main Street USA" feel of smaller towns, but with main streets that actually have interesting places to walk to. Danville has the only New Mexican restaurant in the area, too -- not "nouveau Mexican cuisine," mind you, but rather, New Mexico, the state. (The nouveau Mexican is in Pleasanton, although I really want to get interested people up to try Maya in San Francisco sometime.)
No stop there on the way out, though; I ended up in Napa, for a slightly late lunch at the Buckhorn Grill. I think I've passed this place before but didn't stop there, figuring it to be a somewhat expensive steakhouse. It isn't: it's what you'd get if people who ran a somewhat expensive steakhouse decided to open an Arby's. Counter service, roast beef sandwiches, even the "add $2 for a combo with fries and a drink" schtick. It's just that the roast beef sandwiches are twice the price of Arby's, and are made of aged Black Angus tri-tip, marinated and spice-rubbed and fire-grilled. Are they worth the price difference? Yes.
From there, it was on northward, through St. Helena and finally to rejoin Highway 101 and head into Ukiah. I spent a little time there, but this time only a little; unlike the last time I'd come through, the place was mostly deserted (save for the brewpub), and the day was hot enough to be unpleasant.
By the time I hit Willits, it was about 5pm, so it was time to decide whether to continue on and make this a two-day trip, or turn around. After a lot of waffling I decided that I'd rather be moderately prepared for an overnight -- for instance, actually having an overnight bag -- so I figured the trip through the national forests up there, and to the Mount Shasta Scenic Byway, would wait.
I stopped in Willits at a little coffee shop to have a cafe breve. "Do you want American style or European style?" the aging hippie behind the counter said. (North of Sacramento or so, all of California is populated by loggers, farmers and back-to-nature hippies. Really.)
"What's the difference?" I asked, never having heard this before.
"American style is like a latte, but made with half-and-half" -- this was the type I'd had before -- "and European is about equal parts espresso and heavy cream."
Naturally, I went for the European one.
From Willits, it was a meandering trip southeast on Highways 20 and 16 through lake country, until I joined up with I-5. I stopped at a somewhat nondescript Mongolian BBQ place for a somewhat nondescript dinner, and made it back at 11pm.
The XM radio worked fine, most of the time. It's a little more sensitive to being in mountains than I'd like, but I can live with that. I don't have a favorite station yet; I bounced around between the soft rock and "eclectic" stations (like "Fine Tuning," which plays one of my favorite obscure groups, Renaissance, fairly frequently, along with everything from Tom Waits to Sibelius), with occasional forays to harder rock, talk and alt-country. "The Boneyard" is essentially a reincarnation of an old favorite radio station from Tampa Bay, WYNF -- this was one of the last great "AOR" (album-oriented rock) stations, a now almost-vanished format. As it turns out, the WYNF connection isn't my imagination: The Boneyard's program director is Charlie Logan, who was WYNF's long ago.