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Day 54

July 23, 2010 4 comments

Location: Redding, CA

Miles Driven: 308

Total Miles: 13,459

Thursday morning was time to continue the journey, so around 9AM I parted ways with Kevin and made my way south towards San Francisco.  It only took about 50 minutes south on Hwy 101.  Before I knew it, I was in a tunnel, then boom…coming out of the tunnel I saw part of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Just after crossing the bridge, I noticed a marina off to the side where a lot of people were walking/biking.  Thinking that would be a good place to explore, I parked the car, put on my jacket (it was about 65 degrees at 10AM), and got out.  I had some good views of the bridge surrounded by fog, the city, as well as nearby Alcatraz Island (I had no idea it was that close to land).

The Rock

I took a seat on a bench near the water and relaxed for a while just enjoying the view.  Ended up falling asleep for a little bit.  A nice break.  When I woke, I figured I’d explore a little more of the city before heading back north.

San Francisco is a cool city, but not one I’d like to return to with a car.  Lots of steep hills, and although most stops were 4-way, I couldn’t help but feel nervous as many times you couldn’t get a good look at traffic on the streets you were crossing.

Hilly San Fran

I made my way over by the touristy “Pier 39” area and found a (relatively) cheap place to park – only $2/20 minutes.  After about 5 minutes there, I had enough.  Big crowds and all kinds of touristy stuff for sale.  However, there were some good views.

Lots of people

I left San Francisco shortly after 1PM, and made my way towards the scenic Napa Valley.  I’m not a wine person, but had heard about how nice the place looks.

I think some grapes grow there

My brother Brendan would be proud of me.  I recognized the name of one of the vineyards – Robert Mondavi.

I didn’t stop for any tours or tastings, but continued in a northeast direction to link up again with I-5N.  A few hours later, I arrived in Redding, CA where Mara and her family lives.  It’s been at least six years or so since I’ve last seen Mara, who long ago used to date my brother Jon.  Thanks to her and her husband, Andrew, for letting me crash here.  Got a great home-cooked meal, and got to relax and swim in the pool (the temperature up here was in the 90s).

Mara and her son, Gavin

On Friday morning we might go out and check out some of the nearby scenic areas and do a hike or two, and then later in the day I’ll make my way up north to Crater Lake, my favorite National Park.

joe

Day 53

July 22, 2010 2 comments

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

I had a nice chance to bum around at Kevin’s place during the day while he was at work.  Updated the site, got some exercise, and swam at the pool (mixed in with lunch with Kevin at a tasty Italian restaurant).

For dinner, we went to a local place called Johnny Garlic’s, owned by TV chef Guy Fieri (it actually was the first restaurant he established).  Awesome food.  Definitely unique styles.

Tuna sashimi tacos

My "Volcano Chicken" dish. So good

What a great meal.  Also turned out to be Kevin’s birthday, so the waitress who dug him got him some cheesecake.  Nice work, Kevin.

Good friends back together again

Thanks so much to Kevin for his hospitality and generosity he’s shown me.  I had a great time in Santa Rosa.

On Thursday, I’ll visit San Francisco, then work my way back North from there towards Redding, CA to visit another friend.  I’m lucky, I didn’t think I’d run across many people that I know out west.

joe

Day 52

July 21, 2010 10 comments

Location: Santa Rosa, CA

Miles Driven: 525

Total Miles: 13,151

Taylor had to head out to work early, and my plan was to be a bum for the better part of the morning.  I took advantage of the continental breakfast, relaxed for a bit, and then got some exercise before getting ready.  I made it a point to shave the beard that had been growing on me for about two weeks, and man, that took a long time.  Thanks again to Taylor for letting me treat his hotel like my own.

Around 1PM I was on the road and making my way north along Highways 101/1 along the coast.  It was a beautiful drive, and I had good views of the blue Pacific.

Farmland near Hearst Castle

Big elephant seals on the beach

The only bad thing was I got hit with some overcast skies as the drive went on.

One of my last glimpses of the sun

Winding turns along Hwy 1

Looking back along the coast

I had underestimated how long it would take to get north via Hwy 1, as at some points you need to travel fairly slow going around the turns.  Before I knew it, it was dark, and I wasn’t even close to San Francisco (and the heavy clouds didn’t help).  I eventually veered off of Hwy 1 around Monterey, and made a beeline towards Santa Rosa.

In Santa Rosa lives my buddy Kevin, a guy I knew back in college and became friends with thanks to us being assigned to the same project team in a class.  Haven’t seen the guy since a reunion with that professor several years ago.  So I’ll hang with him for a while, check out San Fran, and enjoy the nice company in Northern CA.

joe

Day 51: The other side of the country

July 21, 2010 1 comment

Location: Santa Clarita, CA

Miles Driven: ~370

Total Miles: 12,626

Despite the 90 degree heat, I woke up fairly comfortable in the car and had a good night of rest.  Hit the road before 7AM and made my way southwest towards San Diego, first destination of the West Coast.  I had never been to southern California before, and the landscape was pretty interesting.

The swing in temperature from inland as I got more towards the coast was pretty dramatic.  By the time I was on the outskirts of San Diego, the temperature had dropped to 70 degrees.  I made my way towards the downtown area, then west towards the beaches.  And the trip’s first views of the Pacific Ocean….

Hmm, looks probably a bit more dismal than the Pacific Ocean we all think about in our heads.  It was a cloudy day near the water, and a bit chilly. I didn’t need a jacket, but the water was freezing.  Don’t know how people were swimming/surfing.

I walked along the beach for a while, and made my way to that long pier.

a view from the pier

At the end of the pier

Well, it wasn’t the bluest Pacific I had seen years ago off the coast of North, but still pretty cool to be out on this side of the U.S.  Strange to think it wasn’t that long ago I was on the shores of the East Coast.

So I made my way back to the car and decided to push north towards the Los Angeles area.  It wasn’t a bad drive – less than 3 hours, I think – and I headed towards Manhattan Beach.  There, my well-traveled friend John (and former host in Georgia), recommended I hit up an Italian restaurant called Mama D’s and order their chicken penne with pink sauce.  He described this dish eloquently to me – “if you put it on your forehead, your tongue will beat its brains out.”

A great dish. Thanks John

After that filling meal, I headed towards the beach area to hang out.  Now if San Diego was slightly cooler than inland California, Manhattan Beach was downright chilly.  I could’ve used a jacket.  But the sun was out, fortunately.

Manhattan Beach

After hanging out for a bit, I left the beach, got back in the car, and made my way north to Santa Clarita where a friend was staying.

Taylor and me

Taylor just moved out here from Georgia for work, and was set up with temporary living at a hotel.  Taylor made me feel right at home and said I could take advantage of the place as long as I wanted.  Great to laugh again with a good friend.  He may have attended Georgia Tech, but he’s an all right dude.  Thanks buddy.

On Tuesday I’ll make my way further north towards the San Francisco area, and drive up famous Highway 1 along the coast.  Every time I read an article about “Best drives in the U.S.”, the CA Coast is always mentioned.  Can’t wait.

joe

Categories: Uncategorized

Day 50: Arrival in CA

July 19, 2010 4 comments

Location: near Dunn, CA

Miles Driven: 276

Total Miles: 12,256

Woke up around 8 in the morning on Sunday and took a drive near the Red Rock Canyon conservation area, just a few minutes drive from Jim and Elyse’s place.  They told me Red Rock Canyon was something not to be missed while visiting Las Vegas.  So I drove the 13-mile scenic loop around the park, and it was pretty amazing.

Great views. They should make this place a national/state park

I spent the remainder of the morning restocking on some supplies for the next several weeks, as well as getting my car back in clean order.  Thanks so much to Elyse for preparing a lot of food, snacks, and supplies to take with me.  I will be well fed for the next several days thanks to her.

By mid-afternoon I was packed, re-stocked with supplies, as well as some music and audiobooks thanks to Jim and Elyse.  By the way, Sting has a great new album out called “Symphonicities” (play on The Police song Synchronicity) that takes some of his old classics and he’s accompanied with an orchestra.  Very good.

Me, Elyse, and Jim (and Simon the cat)

Thanks so much to my generous hosts in Las Vegas.  I had such a great stay.

I didn’t have any specific destination in mind for the day.  My rough plan was to work my way to San Diego by Monday, so I didn’t have to hustle anywhere.  I know I wanted to see Death Valley National Park again (the picture on the top right of this blog is from there).  So I headed into the park via an entrance I hadn’t come in before, and also left via a route I hadn’t seen.  It’s hot like an oven, but Death Valley is one of my favorite national parks.  Take a look at the temperature from my car gauge:

That usually runs a few degrees hotter than it really is, so it was really only about 118 degrees or so

One of my first stops was Zabriske Point, which my National Park book recommends as a stop.  Some great views here.

From there, I made my way towards Badwater, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level).

Moon above Badwater

Badwater Basin

I began to make my way south to exit the park and link up, eventually, with I-15.

Looking back towards Badwater

So long, Death Valley

The timing worked out well for me.  I left Death Valley just as the sun was going down and the first quarter moon lit the path south.

Found a rest stop outside of Dunn, CA, and made that my home for the night.  Pacific Coast on Monday!

joe

Day 49: Viva Las Vegas

July 19, 2010 2 comments
Location: Las Vegas, NV

 

Slept in a little bit on Saturday, lounged about a bit, and then Jim took me to a great breakfast buffet at nearby Red Rocks Casino.  The food was so fresh and delicious, it was a shame I could only finish one plate of the entree-type items.

Soooo good

Near the Red Rocks Casino front door

After breakfast, I made it a priority to be lazy.  I stayed at the air-conditioned house all day and just relaxed.  Thanks to my my hosts, Jim and Elyse, for letting me just bum around the house.  This was my second time in Las Vegas, so I had no big desire to do much sightseeing, and I was happy to just sit around.

Late in the night I drove down towards the Strip and walked around for a bit.  I forgot about the atmosphere out there, even in the 100+ degree heat.

Fountain show by the Bellagio

I thought about maybe catching a show or something, but there was nothing that struck my interest enough outside of the “Tournament of Kings” at the Excalibur Hotel (just like Medieval Times), but that would be more fun with another person.

Made it back home before late, and relaxed a bit before crashing.  That was it for my day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it.

joe

Categories: Uncategorized

Day 48: Remember this hike?

July 17, 2010 12 comments

Location: Las Vegas, NV

Miles Driven: 329

Total Miles: 11,980

For the past several weeks, I’ve been lucky to have zero car trouble.  I have a AAA membership, but as I told Kelly at Big Bend, I have never used it in the five years I’ve had it (at least for a car of my own).  Well, Friday morning I put that membership to good use.

It was my own fault.  I have a system for when I go to sleep in my car – crack windows, recline the seat, then turn off the ignition.  I must’ve been too tired, because I managed to shut off the engine, but not turn the key all the way.  So when I woke up near 6AM, I saw the red lights on the dash were on and immediately thought, “Uh oh, how long have I been asleep?”  Sure enough, it was too long, as I could not power my windows back up, nor could I start the car.  Drained the battery.

I was annoyed at myself, but grateful at the same time for a relatively minor issue.  Fortunately, I had slept at a combination privately-ownes/public rest stop, so there was a 24-hour Chevron right there.  I stopped in and asked the two gentlemen working if one of them wouldn’t mind giving me a jump.  One of the guys said he used to do that all the time, but that Chevron is next door to a mechanic, and he said management doesn’t want him helping people with auto issues because that’s business taken away from the mechanic.  Somewhat of a moot point, considering I can’t give the mechanic any business at 6AM when he’s not open until 9AM.  And then the original clerk, referring to the other clerk, says “I was told not to do it, but maybe he wasn’t.”  His response: “Well yea, but I heard it now.”  So they weren’t going to risk getting in trouble, and I respected that.  I figured maybe I could grab a passerby.

It took me a few minutes sitting in my car to remember that I had a AAA membership.  With no cell phone service, the clerks kindly loaned me their phone and I got word that someone could be there in 45 minutes.  Win.

Killed some time playing on the computer, and before I knew it, this man Rick showed up with his truck.  Within two minutes my car was up and running again.  I thanked Rick and the guys working at the station, and by 8AM I was on my way.

My plan was to avoid any super long-distance driving today, as I covered about 1,200 miles in the past two days.  In Cedar City, Utah, I made a stop at a local coffeehouse (I recommend “The Grind Coffeehouse” to anyone in the area), covered breakfast and lunch, and took advantage of the free WiFi.

By early afternoon I was back on the road, making my south towards Zion National Park.  I first stopped at the Kolob Canyons entrance to the park, which is a 5-mile loop that takes you inside the Northwest portion of the park.  I had never seen this part of the park before, and it was pretty impressive.

This section of the park offered a couple trails for hiking, but I wanted to get down to the other area of the park before it got too late.  In about 45 minutes, I was near the Visitor Center and a lot of memory of this place came back from five years ago.

Hopped on the free shuttle to get a ride towards the trailhead for the Angels Landing hiking route, most likely the coolest hike I had ever been on before.  Like last time, I noticed all the warnings about the 5-mile route being strenuous, “don’t hike here if you are afraid of heights,” etc.  And now this time I knew what I was in for, and I was even more excited about it.

The trail goes 1200 feet up to that peak

The trail winds up and up

The path winds up more, this time steeper
Stay near the chains, or you’re going off the cliff

I made a video from one of the areas near the chains (don’t worry, I was in a safe spot) so you could get a better sense of the place:

Chains taking you higher

Another video:

View of Zion Canyon close to the top

It wasn’t long after this point where I reached the top of Angels Landing.  The view was even better than I remembered.  I was breathing heavier this time around, but man, if there’s anything worth exerting yourself for, it’s this:

One of the most amazing views available on this planet

So before I hopped on the park shuttle, I changed my shirt.  I had remembered the yellow shirt I wore on this hike five years ago, and sure enough that shirt I included in this trip’s luggage (in addition to my hiking boots).  So when I was at the top of Angels Landing, I vaugely remembered where I had the picture taken five years ago (almost to the day), and worked to set up the same shot.  So here’s me at the top of Angels Landing in 2005 and in 2010:

What differences can you spot between the two pictures?

Earlier in the hike up, I had met another person doing the hike on their own.  I since continued past her after she stopped for a water break, but she found me at the top not long after I got there. Turns out this girl, Marta, is a doctoral student from Spain who was on her own roadtrip exploring the western U.S.  Pretty impressive, especially being her first time to the country.  I had mentioned to her that I was blown away by the number of foreign visitors to this place (particularly Eastern Europeans).  I’m glad that so many people from outside the U.S. come see places like this as opposed to just the big cities, but it’s also somewhat discouraging there aren’t more Americans here to enjoy this place in their backyard.  Maybe it was just my timing, but I felt like I was in the minority at this park.  In any case, what a testament to the beauty of this place when travelers from all over the world come to Zion and climb the Angels Landing trail.

Marta and me

The trip back down wasn’t as bad as I expected.  It probably helped having someone to chat with along the way.  It was good timing, by the time we hit the bottom there were some strong winds that picked up sand and dust into your eyes.

Sun going down on Zion Canyon

Took the shuttle back to my car, and around 8PM I was back on the road.  I was originally thinking I’d drive just a little bit southwest towards Nevada then find a place to crash for the night.  In Las Vegas, I had family friends Jim and Elyse offering a place to stay, but didn’t think I’d get there til Saturday.  But I talked to Jim on the phone, and he said the drive towards Las Vegas from the east is pretty cool, as you come over the mountains and then get to see the bright lights of the city down below.  That was enough to convince me, so I drove the easy 130 miles or so and made it Las Vegas before it was too late.

Las Vegas ahead

I’m glad Jim recommended that drive, because it was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever experienced driving at night.  There was a lightning storm off in the distance (the kind you see in the desert where the lightning goes horizontally across the sky), and then seeing the expanse of Las Vegas coming down the mountain.

Jim and Elyse kindly offered their place to me as long as I need it, so I’ll stay here through the weekend.  Not a lot on the agenda.  It’s good to just be in an air-conditioned home relaxing once again.  The simple pleasures of a nice bathroom and a bed to sleep in…can’t take those for granted.  And thanks, Jim and Elyse, for the banana/chocolate chip bread.  Sooooo good.  Guess you’ve been talking to my Mom.

joe