West of Interstate 5, the transition into the rolling hills of lake country is gradual. The road takes on a gentle grade, and I see more oaks and fewer farms until the steel blue expanse of Clear Lake appears. It's enormous, spanning 44,000 acres, with Mt. Konocti looming behind. The road hugs the water's edge, and I can hear waves batting at the piers.
Beyond the lake, a detour to Fife Redhead Vineyards rewards with a key picnic ingredient. The tasting room has a glorious view of shining Lake Mendocino, set off by the dusty chaparral all around. It's a quick drive down the hill to the water, where winding Shakota Trail leads to another winery, this one abandoned and overrun with wild grapevines.
At Willits, Highway 20 begins a last long climb over the Coast Range. Laurels edge in among the oaks, the fuzziness in the air soon gels into fog, and I'm in the middle of a redwood forest. Spanish moss drips off low oaks; the afternoon darkens and the forest seems to quiet even the roll of my car's tires. Many winding turns later, the ocean finally appears, hulking, gray, and truncated by clouds.
Highway 20 ends a mile short of Fort Bragg, but I continue north to Glass Beach, where there's no road left to drive. As the sun sinks, I follow a path to the sand, stepping over limpet-covered rocks and dried sea palms. The sun, screened by fog, slips below the horizon. Waves fling themselves at my ankles, marking the limit of their eastward journey and the end of my travels west.