I use the 101 Freeway to move between San Francisco, San Jose and the cities of the Peninsula. The 101 is a gritty part of working in NorCal that shows its age, high traffic level, and isn’t helped by its location along the very flat tidal margin of the San Francisco Bay.
Through a wrong turn committed in a frustrated moment, things changed. A few weeks back I was leaving San Francisco Airport and accidentally ended up on 280, also known as the Junipero Serra Freeway. The highway climbed the nearby hills and lifted me above the Bay, the traffic jam of my former route, and melted my frustration away.
As I headed south toward Palo Alto, my pleasure only increased. The road winds through some of the most picturesque California that I have traveled. Auburn hillsides dotted with oak trees, horse and cattle farms, and the beautiful, tree-lined Crystal Springs Reservoir that falls directly on the infamous San Andreas Fault.
If that wasn’t enough, the peaks of the coastal range, the Santa Cruz Mountains, hold back the thick, white clouds coming off the Pacific, with occasional ’breaks’ where the clouds seem to tumble down the hillsides toward the freeway.
On a recent drive, I realized that behind me was the sometimes-seedy San Francisco, a remarkably liberal city and ahead was the mostly trim, proper and conservative Silicon Valley. To my left was the vast, hot, dry West and to my right was the cool blue of the Pacific Ocean.
Other times I think of what California must have looked like to the first people to arrive. How its natural beauty and fantastic weather were so much something to write home about that millions came to make it the most populated state in the US.
It’s pretty odd that a freeway can become so meaningful, but it has. I look forward to arriving and departing from NorCal simply because I know I’ll take this road. I think I love a freeway.