The Great California Road Trip

(or, "Where's the RV?  What's this tent thing you keep talking about?")

It was almost spur of the moment.  The group talked about taking a trip up the coast, but in the end only Cori, Beth and I would be able to.  Everyone else was busy with work, school, or student teaching.  But us three, due to some time off, a free week, and no life (respectively), were able to.  Beth had just returned from her month long hiking trip of the Cascades, and I had just gotten back from Florida so on the 13th of August we met at Beth's house to finalize our plans.  Cori's mom had been very kind to lend us her car, a Mazda Tribute with AC and a 6 CD changer, and - most importantly - room for all of our stuff!

Let me say this right now.  I am not a camper.  The only times I have camped (camping being in a tent) are twice with my girl scout troop in California, once with my Oceanography class, and once with Mom and Dad when I was a baby.  That's it.  The rest of my life I've spent RVing.  This would by far exceed the amount of time I'd spent camping, the longest being two nights.  This trip was -7- nights camping.  7.  I was excited.

Our largest piece of equipment was the cooler, which Cori's dad had lent us.  Inside it was elk, elk, and more elk.  Elk chili, elk sausage, elk steaks, elk jerkey...lots of elk.  There was also apple juice, for which I was very grateful.  We had cans of soup, a dozen eggs (cage free!), and after a trip to the grocery store, graham crackers, Hershey's bars, and marshmallows.  Beth brought a 5 person tent and she lent me a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag.  Basically all I brought was a few maps and my own stuff.

Beth also brought ropes.  Having just returned from the Cascades where it was commonplace to have to repel yourself down a glacier, Beth just couldn't leave her life saving ropes behind.  Regardless that we would be driving a car and not walking our way up the coast, she insisted.

We spent the night in Chino, that being the closest house to California, and woke up the next morning at 5 am.  Mom got up and made us breakfast burritos and orange juice, and we set off.  I had made a CD of songs all having to deal with California, so we were off to the happy tune "California, Here I Come!" by Al Jolson.

The drive to California is very long and very boring, and our route was mostly on small two lane highways winding through deserts, farm country and small towns.  It was actually quite quaint and cute, but very very long.  Because we'd gotten an early start though, we arrived in Pismo Beach around 5 that evening.

At Pismo Beach we met up with my family.  My Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Juli, Uncle Ken, and cousins Jake and Cole.  It just happened that they were having their annual visit to Pismo while we were taking our trip up the coast, so they offered to have us stay at their campsite for the first night.  It was very sweet of them.  We set up our tent and walked along the Pacific, feet sinking into the sand.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner and beautiful sunset over the ocean. 

This was the first time we'd set up the tent.  Beth had set it up a few times before, and Cori was familiar with tents, but I was mostly at a loss.  By the time the trip was over I was still mostly at a loss.  Not that I couldn't have figured it out on my own if I had to, but there were too many little things to remember, like what order you do things, and which pole goes in which grommet.  Though I have to say that by the last night we had the tent up in about 5 minutes. 

This was also my first experience with paying to use a shower.  It's a bit of a hassle, state park showers, because there's no place to put your clothes to keep them clean and dry while you're showering.  It's all a bit of a balancing act.  Also, you have to predict how long of a shower you're going to take.  Beth and Cori could do it in about 5 minutes - I usually took 7.  I blame it on my long hair.

This is the part of the trip where we drove up Highway 1.  That's Highway 1 in California, not Highway 1 in Florida.  Curvy, windey, with sheer cliff drops to the surf below, it's quite the spectacle.  This is also the only day we drove on Highway 1.  We were on our way to Monterey, and despite it being a short distance away, it took us about twice as long on 1.  Not that it was a bad thing, we just got to Monterey a lot later than we'd anticipated.

Driving into Monterey we saw a sign that said, "Aquarium Parking Full, use Downtown Lot".  Then we see a sign that says, "Downtown Lot, Left".  Hey, we think, this is easy!  We park in the downtown lot and look around, wondering where the aquarium is.

Turns out it's 3 -miles- away from where we parked!  We had a nice stroll down the Wharf, and got lunch.  I've always been wary to try new things, so I got a hotdog.  I regretted it when I saw Cori got clam chowder, and Beth got some delicious looking garlic bread.  My hotdog was awful.  Oh well, it was cheap.

Then we reached the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  My favorite aquarium in the world.  Not that I've been to many aquariums, but it's better than Sea World.  It's a research institute, so it's very information driven.  No captive animals doing tricks.  The animals they do have there (some birds and sea otters) were found injured or abandoned in the Bay.

It was as magnificent as ever.  The Jellyfish exhibit was still there, as were the cute otters and my favorite exhibit - the sea birds.  Honestly, I could watch that one little guy dart back and forth with the waves forever.

We also saw a really cool fish...thing.  I forget what they're called, but they dig into the gravel.  They're long skinny fish, and while we watched he kept coming up with a mouth full of gravel and spitting it out.  It was amusing to watch a fish excavate the exhibit.  I think he was trying to dig an escape tunnel.

   And don't we make very cute penguins?


After the aquarium we headed back south on Highway 1 to our campsite, which was beautiful.  In the forest, right next to a river.  A river.  With actual -water- in it.  On our way down Highway 1 however I noticed that my cell phone reception was not as reliable as it usually is.  Duh, Stephanie, the ocean and the mountains.  I tried roaming, but that didn't work very well either.  Beth was also trying to call home to talk to her grandfather before he went back home.  So we pulled off the road into this beautiful lookout, and tried to get our phones to work.  I think they eventually did, but note our frustration in the picture to the right.

When we got to the campsite we decided to make a campfire, so Cori went to the office to purchase some "wood".  I use the term loosely, as what they sold us wasn't exactly wood, persay.  It was...compressed-fibers-that-may-have-been-a-tree-at-some-point.  And impossible to get started.  I watched in quiet amusement as Cori and Beth fought with this stuff, blowing on it, fanning it, cursing it, until it finally gave us enough fire (and not too much smoke) to roast marshmallows by.

I slept okay that night.  Again, I'm not a camper and so sleeping on the ground - despite the mat and sleeping bag - did not work out well for me.  The next day it was time to go to San Francisco!  We decided to take Highway 101, because it was a long drive and the 1 is, well, the 1.  And so, before too long we found ourselves looking for our campsite.  And looking.  And calling.  And saying, "It can't possibly be that one."

And finding out that it was, indeed, that one.

"That one" refers to a parking lot.  A big parking lot across the street from the old stadium, between two abandoned lots, one of which was populated by an old man who enjoyed going through the dumpsters with his flock of seagull palls.  Our "camp site" was essentially a planter.  We were camping in the greenery planted by the staff to make the parking lot look a little nicer for the people in motor homes.  Our patch of "greenery" was literally less than twenty square feet.  Look at the picture on the left.  I'm standing at one end of our campsite, Cori is standing at the other end.  The car didn't even fit, we had to back it in.  Our /tent/ went over into our "neighbor's yard" by two inches.  And yes, we did have neighbors.  Evil neighbors who stole our tent spikes!  (Yes, we returned from the city once to discover that no less than six of our tent spikes had gone missing.)

So this brings us to San Francisco!  Big city, wonderful city, busy city.  Our first stop was, of course, Ghirardelli Square.  Chocolate is essential.  Oooey, gooey, delicious chocolate sundae...Mmmmmmmmm.

After that delicious stop we began to explore the city.  I found a great little sandal necklace charm for mom, and a cool Buddha for Creighton in this little shop.  Walking around the wharf we found a place to eat called Joe's Crab Shack.  It was upstairs and had a great view of the bay.  I had clam chowder this time, and it was delicious.  We even saw "The Bushman" of San Francisco.  This old guy who pretends to be hiding behind a bush (a bunch of sticks) and jumping out at people passing by.  And people give him money for this.  It was very odd.  The waiters were hot.  ;)

Now full, we continued to wander the city.  Wander, wander wander.  :)  Then we returned to our tiny little plot of grass in the middle of the parking lot.  I believe this is when we discovered the missing tent spikes.  Beth was not pleased, and I've hired a PI to seek out the offenders, even though they've probably left the country with their ill-gotten metal plunder.  Jerks.

The next day we decided to go buy a pass which would let us use all the public transportation in the city.  It took us a while to find these, as each place we walked turned out not to have them, including the bizzare Safeway that was inside a building.  I know that sounds like a "duh" statement, but this Safeway was not a free standing structure.  It was inside a mall.  Like a Dillard's or a Macy's.  Very low ceiling, it was strange.

Finally having found the passes we jumped on the first cable car we could find, and ended up in China Town.  Now this place was a blast.  Tons of little shops, no one paying attention to street signs, nearly getting run over, road construction...the works!  We shared a pork roll and went shopping!  Actually I didn't end up buying anything, even though I found this great clock.  But it was too expensive.  Then we hopped another cable car to head for the Exploratorium.  There were plenty of seats, but Beth and I wanted to hang off the side like they do in the we did!  It was fantastic.  What a rush!  Cars whizzing by, inches from my shouldn't have been legal. 

Reaching the Exploratorium we walked around a bit.  It was in a part of town done up to look like Ancient Rome.  One wonders why people build things to look like Rome when they're obviously not Rome.  Strange.  Anyway, the Exploratorium was great.  It's a huge warehouse filled with hands-on science exhibits and stuff.  Think the Phoenix Science Center, only bigger and with less funding.  Still, this was fantastic.  My favorite one was where two people sat opposite this strange mirror and saw what their kids would look like.  Hard to explain.  Even harder to photograph, sorry.  :)

After that we rode the busses back to the car.  I started to read a book (The Princess Bride) and Beth and Cori proceeded to get thourally lost.  I'm still not sure what happened, or what they were trying to do.  :)  We ended up beneath the Golden Gate, for a fantastic photo op.  Then it was back to our planter for another night's sleep.  This time I tried stuffing my sweatshirt into my pillow to make it thicker, and that did seem to help a bit.  I'm not a great camper, I repeat.  We left that campground the next morning and headed north, for the redwoods.  We crossed the Golden Gate, and I was driving.  It was great to finally get to drive across it.  It really is huge.

Then it was to the redwoods!  A rather long and boring drive up the 101, and by now we're starting to get tired of the CDs we brought along.  I was afraid we wouldn't be able to find the Avenue of the Giants, but I'd forgotten that it's California, and everything is well marked by signage.  Especially things that define California, like the redwoods.  So we finally reached them.  The redwoods.  One of my favorite places on the planet, if not /the/ favorite.  It's impossible to convey their majesty in mere photographs, not that we didn't try.  Our campsite was, funny enough, the same one Dad, Amy and I stayed at last time we came to california.  We got a great campsite, right up in the trees and right next to the bathrooms.  This was my relaxing time.  I sat around the campsite and read my books while Beth and Cori went off on hikes.  One hike they wanted to do was about 7 miles long, so what we did was I drove them to one end of it and dropped them off.  I did hike with them for a little ways, long enough to see Giant Tree.  The park ranger took a nice blurry picture of us all, and then I went back to the car.  I listened to Aaron Copland while driving through the was very nice.  I had planned on getting out a chair and sitting in a grove to read while Beth and Cori hiked, but it turns out the bugs were atrocious, so I ended up sitting in the car with the AC on and listening to the radio.  I'm not much of a nature person, I guess.  :)

Then we drove to the river.  It was strange...I don't have very many memories of family trips when I was a kid.  Very few clear ones, anyway.  One of the clearest happened to be at this river.  At this exact spot, even.  Mom, Dad, Amy, Amber and I were there, and we were throwing tennis balls into the river for Amber to fetch.  I remember being terrified the river would wash her away...So while Beth and Cori swam in the river, I sat on the beach and felt oddly homesick.  Not homesick for a place, because I was there, but homesick for a time.  And I really missed Amber.  Still do, of course.  We had a nice picnic on the rocks, and drove back to the campsite.

This night, when we bought firewood, we got actual wood!  Imagine our surprise!  The fire was fantastic, and perhaps a little too hot, as Beth burnt many marshmallows.  Even though we're near the end of our trip, let me explain to you Beth and Cori's views of marshmallows.  For Beth, the marshmallow is best eaten lightly toasted, swelled to at least three times it's natural size.  So she uses great patience in roasting. 

For Cori, the marshmallow is nothing but a device to melt the chocolate.  She feels nothing for the poor little white pieces of fluffy suggary goodness.  Lashing them into the coals if they catch fire, which of course they always do because she has no patience, because she wants her chocolate, dangit, and it needs to be melted.  :)

So note Beth's surprise when one of her marshmallows actually does catch fire.  It was a rare thing, for her. 

How do I feel about marshmallows?  I think they're an equally important part of the smore equation.  I like mine lightly toasted but not burnt, and am willing to wait patiently for them.  I like them to not melt the chocolate all the way so you have a nice hot/cool contrast when you bite into them.  And that's probably more information than you wanted to know.  :)

The next day we begin our long trip home.  Split into two parts, the first leg is from the Redwoods down to Fresno, somewhere in the middle of California.  Now, I feel the need here to pause and explain to you how I am on a "travel day".  If we're going a short distance, I have no problem stopping, getting out, taking little side trips or the like.  If we're going a long distance, say, from Northern to Central California, I want to get there and be done with it.

Which was why, I'm afraid to say, I got so incredibly frustrated when Cori pulled off to the side of the road, onto this tiny little unused logging road, and said, "Let's have a picnic!" 

And Beth said, "Yeah!"

And I thought, "What?!  We've been driving for three hours and have only gone about 200 miles and we've got about 400 to go and you want to stop and have a picnic?"  Well, okay.  We're just going to get out, make sandwiches, and then get back in the car and keep driving, eating as we drive, right?


I proceed to watch in anxious horror as Beth and Cori proceed to take almost every single item out of the car.  They get out a blanket, the ice chest, the chairs.  Plates, utensils, water bottles.  Everything.  They lay the blanket out on the ground, and begin to make sandwiches, peel fruit, and generally have a lovely time.

I went crazy.  I really, really wish I could have sat and enjoyed the picnic.  I tried so hard.  But I just couldn't.  I ate my sandwich and then studied the map, waiting anxiously for them to finish.  Every time they were done with an item I'd scoop it up and store it back in the car.  I was, generally, a pain.  I'm sorry you two, I was terrible.  Finally we were on our way again.  I can laugh about it now.  In fact, my behavior was hilariously annoying.  Again, I'm sorry.  I'll try to do better the next time we stop for a random picnic.  :)

We drive what feels like forever, making a quick stop at a Barnes and Noble so I can get the next book in the series I'm currently addicted to.  When we get to Fresno, we still have a half hour drive out of the city to the lake where we'll be staying.  And it's a lovely lake.  I feel bad it was on our last night, because we didn't appreciate that campsite as much as we could have.  Well, at least I didn't.  But I was still  in "travel mode".  We roasted hotdogs over a fire, and Beth and Cori went swimming in the lake and I went to sleep.  This final night was the culmination of all my camping knowledge, and I blew up my little mattress inside my sleeping bag so I'd stop sliding off it in the middle of the night and waking up very, very close to Cori.  (I don't know why Cori was always down hill from me.  I never ended up against Beth...hmm..)  I stuffed my pillow with my sweater, and that seemed to work pretty well.  I just remember a very loud group of guys across the way.  Their voices were in their 30's, their words were in their teens.  And did I mention the red anthill in the middle of our site?  And all the random snake/gopher holes?  And we were of course still a few stakes short. 

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and this time I was driving.  No more picnics, I vowed, it was time to go home.  :) 

The picture to the left is one Cori took of the lake that morning.  Isn't it a fantastic picture?  I just had to include it.

The drive from Fresno to Prescott is very, very long, and boring.  The only thing I really remember about it is this road that had a lot of those up-downs that make your stomach lurch, and stopping in Barsto for ice cream.  And then...we were in Chino and I was being dropped off.

And that was it!  The Great California Road Trip was at an end.  I got all my stuff inside and that night...I have never slept so good.

I only have one request.  Next time, let's take an RV, and I can show you the way -I- camp.  :)

Love you guys!


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