FREMONT PEAK, CA. -- Elevation 3,169. Pop., 1 to 10.
I'm not really at Fremont Peak anymore.
I'm now in a McDonald's in Amarillo, Texas.
I'm dangerously close to McSreamland, or whatever they call it, where dozens of crazy kids on speed are running around in circles. The cost of free high-speed wi-fi is high.
Speaking of high, last Saturday -- it seems only 1,316 miles and three wide-empty states ago -- I stood atop rocky, dizzying Fremont Peak and looked down on all of Steinbeck Country.
Fremont Peak, the highest point on the Monterey Peninsula, was the last stop on my quick farewell tour of the important Steinbeck stops, all of which I had seen before on previous research expeditions.
Before Fremont Peak, I stopped briefly in Salinas at John Steinbeck's modest gravesite in the Garden of Memories Memorial Park. Steinbeck is buried with his mother's family, the Hamiltons. So despite the colorful sign pointing the way, it's hard to find his small marker in the low forest of headstones and monuments.
Most of Steinbeck's ashes have been there since he died in 1968 (some were tossed into the Pacific).
Next to him is Elaine, not Charley (he's supposedly buried at Steinbeck's Sag Harbor house). She died in 2003.
From the cemetery in Salinas I drove straight to Fremont Peak. That's actually a lie. It's impossible to drive straight to Fremont Peak from Salinas or anywhere else.
You have to go about 25 miles around the other side of the Gabilan Mountain range, drive up a twisting-turning-harrowing road for 11 miles to Fremont Peak State Park and then hike the final mile to the base of the spiky peak.
Then you have to scale the final pile of marble boulders that constitute the peak itself, which is like a tooth with a craggy platform at the top that's smaller than a tennis court.
Fremont Peak is worth all that effort. Don't believe me, believe John Steinbeck. In "Travels With Charley," as he prepared to leave the Monterey Peninsula for Texas, he said he went up there with Charley.
He wanted to take a last sweeping look at -- and say goodbye to -- the places he made world famous in books like "Of Mice and Men," "The Red Pony," "The Grapes of Wrath" and "East of Eden," a fictionalized rendering of his hometown of Salinas.
He did the job simply, beautifully, perfectly. His scene from atop Fremont Peak contains some of the best writing in "Charley."
Whether he went there right before he drove east, or went there at all, doesn't really matter. He had been there many times. As a boy he played on the grassy slopes below the peak and wanted to be buried on it.
It's easy to see why he loved Fremont Peak. The 360-degree view is absurd. Twenty miles away is Monterey Bay, where the sun disappears every day.
At your feet are the city of Salinas and the fertile lettuce and strawberry fields that have made the Salinas Valley the "Salad Bowl of the World." Behind the low mountains on the horizon is the city of Monterey and Pacific Grove.
The little peak spiky is the star attraction of little Fremont Peak State Park’s collection of steep ridges and wooded canyons.
The previous time I was there, on a Wednesday, I had the peak-top to myself for two hours.
It was great, but I admit it got a little lonely as I shivered and waited for the sun to sink into the bay.
On Saturday I barely beat 10 other people to the top. Seven or eight of them were from Salinas and were having a picnic in Fremont Park, whose campgrounds, picnic areas and trails are underused most of the time.
At first I was disappointed by the crowd. But then it turned into a nice little party. We all took each other's pictures.
I put my camera around the 11-year-old neck of Marcos Duliba and asked him to take my picture, which he did.
It was a lot of laughs.
I think I made a few new friends, though they looked at me a little funny when I told them I had slept the night before in the Salinas Walmart parking lot.