Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

August 31, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 226.5
Miles hiked: ~10.2

Today I almost fought a bear. Ok, not really, but I did finally get to see one. And not only did I get to see a bear, but I almost ran directly into his big, fat butt.

So I guess I should start by saying we drove over to Lassen Volcanic National Park today, if you didn’t guess that from the title already. It just so happens you pass through the Lassen National Forest to get there, so it was a double win. We started off with a simple, 1.8 mile loop hike around Manzanita Lake. This trail was about as well marked as the visitor center at the Redwoods yesterday. Assuming that by “well marked” you mean not at all marked, but we still found our way… eventually.

From there we headed over to Kings Creek to check out the falls, only to discover the overlook trail for the falls was closed and we had to take a different route. We weren’t able to get close enough to get good pictures of the falls, but the view was nice in the area and gave us a decent 1.4 mile, one way, hike. On the way out, the trail intersects with the 1.7 mile Sifford Lake Trail and we decided to hike that one as well. About a mile into the trail we came to a clearing. On the right, you could see blue ridges of the mountains in the background, filled with a massive lake. On the left, there was a large, rocky area blocking the view of the trail as it wrapped around to the left. I tried getting a picture of the mountains in the background with the lake, but my shot was blocked with too many trees in the way. As I turned back to face the trail, I immediately stopped and grabbed Szilvia and told her not to move. Right on the trail, literally 20 feet in front of us, stood what I’m guessing to be at least a 300 pound black bear. He was looking in our direction, decided we weren’t of much interest, and went about his business of being a bear. Meanwhile, we slowly backed out of the area since he was right on the trail and it would have been impossible to continue hiking without getting closer to the bear. Even though it was a black bear and luckily not a grizzly, I wasn’t gonna take any chances of making it mad, especially since I left my bear spray back in the van.

I was honestly pretty excited about finally seeing a bear, especially that close. Of all the parks I’ve been to so far, not once have I even seen a bear from a distance and here I am standing 20 feet away from one. If I hadn’t have tried taking a photo of the mountains in the background, we would have literally stood face to face with that bear, as he was impossible to see in that rocky area since the trail followed it around to the left. We would have come around that left corner on the trail and I can’t even imagine what the outcome would have been, because I’m sure that bear would have been just as startled as we were.

After that we hiked a short, one mile, round-trip, hike to Cold Boiling Lake which is indicated on the map as being a geothermal area, but it looked like a regular lake to us. Wasn’t even boiling. The pictures honestly aren’t even worth posting.

We stopped at Lake Helen for a couple minutes to get pictures.

Then we hiked the 2.6 mile, round-trip, trail to Bumpass Hell – a geothermal area that almost has a mini-Yellowstone feeling; mostly because of the sulfur smell and hot steam coming up out of the ground.

On the way out we stopped at Emerald Lake and got more pictures.

That was pretty much it for the park. We did a good deal of hiking and I was definitely wore out for the day. We drove Southeast and stopped just outside of Reno, Nevada for the night. On the way, we saw a cool tree with a bunch of shoes hanging from it.

Tomorrow we’re gonna head to Lake Tahoe.

Redwood National Park, California

August 29, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 427.8 (+224.3 yesterday)
Miles hiked: ~3

Today was a lot of driving. About eight hours worth, maybe more. We even drove up to Redding from San Francisco last night so that we wouldn’t have as long of a drive to do today in order to get to the Redwoods, but it was still quite the drive there and back. In Redding, we camped out in a Camping World RV Sales parking lot and, frankly, that’s one awesome business. Not only do they gladly let you park in their parking lot overnight, but they had two electrical hookups on the side of the building that were completely FREE to use. Electricity can be expensive, especially to power an entire RV for a night, and I’m amazed that Camping World (at least the one in Redding) just gives it away for free to help out travelers.

As I was saying, the drive to the Redwoods took awhile and was largely due to Highway 299 that runs between Interstate 5 and Highway 101 in Northern California. The road is about 120 miles long and I swear is 90% made up of sharp turns, causing you to slow down to 20-35 mph in most cases; a few turns you only have to drop to 45 mph. The fun part is not only are there a lot of turns that are sharp, but many of them aren’t marked with a speed limit sign warning you of the recommended maximum speed. It’s kind of a “hope you get it right” situation. Oh, did I mention that if you where to accidentally go off the road because you didn’t slow down enough that you’d probably go careening off a cliff or down a mountain? Because yeah, there’s also no guard rails for most of the road; it’s just road and the long drop to where there is no road. Highway 299 easily makes it onto my list of the craziest roads I’ve ever driven, but the drive itself is quite beautiful… when you have the time to look up from focusing on all the turns.

Eventually we made it over to Highway 101 and up into the Redwoods area. It was honestly a pain to find a park visitor center to get a map, as the location and indicators for the visitor center we eventually found defy all means of logic (we pretty much had no cellphone reception, so looking things up wasn’t easy). For anyone wondering, the good visitor center is actually back on the coast of Highway 101, when the road starts to turn to the right and lead you away from the coast. Right there, where the road begins to turn, there’s a sign that says “Redwood State and National Parks Information”. You can’t see the building from the road and there’s no sign indicating it’s an actual visitor center or even that it’s on NPS land, but it is. All I know is that whoever is the idiot in charge of making the signs for that park needs to be fired. “Information” is not the same thing as “Visitor Center” and throw a damn National Park Service logo on it. There’s other places in the park where the signs don’t make much sense or aren’t that helpful, but the visitor center one really bothered me.

I think most people have seen how massive a Redwood tree is and since I’ve been there before, I didn’t take a lot of pictures. Without anything else in the pictures to give perception to the trees’ enormity, the pictures mostly look like run-of-the-mill trees. The big trees are about 16 feet wide or more and there’s plenty of “smaller” trees that are around six feet wide. The big trees are so old that they’ve been here since before the days of Columbus sailing the ocean blue.

After walking around in the woods for a bit, we headed further North to Route 169 where there’s a tree you can drive your car through. Let me say that again in case it didn’t sink in. You can drive your car through a frickin’ tree! I saw the signs for it when I first went to the Redwoods back in 2009, but somehow we missed it. I wasn’t able to drive the van through it, as ol’ Henrietta just has too big of a caboose to fit. The opening is seven feet wide and over nine feet tall, but it tapers in at the top and the extended roof on the van would have hit the sides. Instead, we just walked through it.

Then began the long drive back to Redding so that tomorrow we’ll be close to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Let me tell you, if you think driving Highway 299 with all the curves would be fun in the daytime, it’s more than double the fun driving it at night in a large van, especially with all the turns that don’t have a speed limit posted. Even before I got on the road I wasn’t looking forward to it; and once on it, I was only looking forward to the end of the 120 miles. The one thing that was pretty nice was the moon. I have never seen a brighter and more full moon than the moon on the drive back. It was humungous (that’s what she said).

Oh, and Highway 299 drives through the Six Rivers and the Shasta-Trinity National Forests. So other than one more National Park visited, I am also able to cross off two National Forests. Pretty successful day, if you ask me.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California

August 26, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 171.6
Miles walked: ~4

Today we drove up more of Route 1 until we hit San Francisco sometime around noon. We managed to get out to the Golden Gate Bridge and it was a pretty clear day. Last time I came through San Francisco six years ago, the bridge was completely covered in fog. Even driving across it, we could barely see three feet above the car. This time was quite different.

We walked the 1.7 miles across the bridge to the other side, took some photos along the way, and walked back.

While walking, we noticed a group of people up on the hillside near the bridge and decided to head there next. We had a few problems getting there, but we found our way. The view from on the hillside is what I was looking for. To me, it’s the vision I see in my head when I think of the Golden Gate Bridge. Definitely worth the drive up there.

We camped out at a Walmart in Oakland. It’s probably not the best Walmart to camp at, and even the Walmart employees told us they’re not liable for anything that happens to the vehicle or if it gets towed. I guess there’s a lot of crime in that area, but we didn’t have any issues all night.

Route 1, California

August 25, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 331.0

Today we continued up Route 1 along the coast of California; we’re taking Route 1 all the way up the state of California, but it’ll be a few days before we finish since we’re stopping in San Francisco for a couple of days. Most of today was just consumed with driving, but we made stops here and there to take pictures. I honestly don’t know where most of the pictures were taken, as we just made random stops. The only one I do know is the pictures with the waterfall – that was taken at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Route 1 is a beautiful drive and I can’t wait until I can say I drove the entire thing. Though, if anyone else wants to drive it, don’t drive Northbound like me, start from the top and work your way South; not only are you on the ocean side of the road going South, but there are more pullouts to stop at and take pictures.

A good portion of today’s drive was through the Los Padres National Forest.

Here’s a couple videos:

We stopped for the night just North of Monterey at another Pilot Travel Center.

I Love Truck Stops

August 24, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 177.8

Today was Szilvia’s day. We began the morning still in Los Angeles and headed out to Long Beach. Personally, I think a beach is a beach; not much differs between one or another, but Szilvia likes them and wants to see as many as possible and swim in the water, so that’s where we went. There weren’t many people there (it was early) and we didn’t stay long. There was a lot of trash everywhere; all over the pier, as well as the beach itself. It’s sad, really, how people treat it without any regard and just leave garbage everywhere.

From there we headed up to Mulholland Drive to attempt to get a look over Los Angeles. I wasn’t very interested in it and think it’s probably something that only looks nice at night. Then we headed over to UCLA because Szilvia enjoys looking at architecture and wanted to see the campus. I stayed in the van and read a little because I’m not interested in what any university campus looks like… unless it’s sprawling with half nude models or something.

Then we headed up Route 1 to Malibu and hit up two more beaches. First was Zuma Beach, which was basically the same as Long Beach in appearance; sand and water. Afterwards, we stopped at the El Matador State Park beach, and I’ll admit, this was probably the only thing I thought was interesting all day. It’s not your ordinary beach. Sure, it has sand and water, but you also have to climb down a couple staircases to get there and then there’s massive rocks jutting up out of the water and cliffs all along the backside with waves crashing in. Quite beautiful, but I didn’t take any pics.

We decided to stop at a Pilot Travel Center not too far North of Los Angeles so we could take a shower and camp out for the night. Although they have signs that say there’s only two hour parking, we talked to the people inside and they said it was cool if we camp out for the night as long as we were off to the side of the building. Frankly, I love truck stops because of stuff like that – they understand travelers. When businesses are willing to do something as simple as just let us (or other people) park there overnight, I’m more willing to spend more money there to help out said business. All-in-all, we spent about $116 there, specifically because of how nice they were (I even forgot my shampoo and soap in the shower, and the cleaners saw me and brought it back). Comparatively, I didn’t spend any money in San Diego because of how big of jackasses they were about overnight parking and I only spent money on gas in Los Angeles because they were bastards about parking, too. Maybe it’s just a Southern California thing.

Los Angeles, California

August 23, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 67.9
Miles walked: ~15

We got up pretty early this morning and headed out to the Walk of Fame. There were very few people walking the street when we got there and because it was a Sunday, we had free parking until 11am (which we were gone before that point). It took us about two and a half hours, but we walked the entire Walk of Fame. I only took pictures of a select few.

Then we headed up to get pictures of the Hollywood sign. It took a lot longer than I hoped just to walk around and see the sign, but it’s probably because we did it the wrong way.

We stopped and grabbed lunch and then headed into Beverly Hills because Szilvia wanted to see where the rich people lived. We walked around for a couple hours. I didn’t even take my camera because I don’t care about rich people’s houses.

Our last stop for the day was out to Santa Monica. I wanted to go there because the Santa Monica Pier is where Route 66 officially ends. I’m debating on driving Route 66 after I’m done with this California trip.

Probably the coolest thing that happened today was that I saw Richard Rawlings while in Santa Monica. For anyone who doesn’t know him, he owns Gas Monkey Garage and has a TV show on the Discovery Channel called Fast ‘n Loud. I’m not one of those jackasses who is gonna harass a celebrity for a picture, as I’m sure they get sick of that, but I did take a photo after I walked past him. My phone sucks for taking pictures, so it’s not the best quality.

The more time I spend in California, the more I am disliking it. Mostly, I’m irritated by the cities’ laws against parking large vehicles overnight. Every Walmart, Home Depot, truck stop, and other large retailers I’ve called all say they don’t allow overnight parking and the cities either have bans on it or there are signs for no parking in general between 3am and 6am. There’s other little things, too. Like, I haven’t been to a McDonalds or Starbucks here that has actually had decent internet. In fact, it’s been so ridiculously slow that it’s quicker to use my phone as a hotspot, as I’m doing right now. There also aren’t many options for public showers here. I can’t wait until a few more days and we’re up past San Francisco, as that’s the last major city stop for California. Everything after that is National Parks and nature – the good stuff.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

August 22, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 300+
Miles hiked: ~1

Today was mostly consumed with driving from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park and then from there to Los Angeles. Joshua Tree is not really a park I was interested in hiking in, as it’s all desert and it was quite hot out. We drove through the park and stopped at a couple of places to get pics, but that was basically it. We were gonna try to catch the sunset there, but we got there crazy early and didn’t feel like wasting five hours just sitting around waiting so we pushed on to Los Angeles instead. Anywho, here are pictures. I don’t feel like writing a lot about this day.

California Dreamin’

August 21, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles walked: ~11

Today began a new journey; well, really it began yesterday, but whatever. Yesterday I picked up Szilvia from the airport, bringing an end to the Wild Wild West portion of this trip and starting the California Dreamin’ Loop. Since it was late in the afternoon, we didn’t do much that day except check out Balboa Park and later in the evening we met up with my friend Janice and her cupcake (aka “love muffin”). Since Janice is a local of San Diego, we asked her about some places we should go to while there. It was also nice to catch up, as I hadn’t seen Janice since I left Hawaii a year ago.

We started today by heading downtown and just walking around the city for a bit. And by a “bit”, I mean we walked over seven miles. In flip-flops. My feet were killing me by the end of it. We didn’t find downtown to be that interesting, but there was some cool graffiti in a couple of places.

We ended up walking down towards the harbor and into Tuna Harbor Park, right next to the USS Midway museum, and there was a large statue of the famous “Sailor kissing a nurse” photograph. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

After that, we headed over to the Old Town district, which was the beginning of San Diego back in the day. The area is kinda creepy, as it used to be an old cemetery and then they built roads and stuff on top of it. If you walk down the sidewalk, there are small, metal markers embedded into the concrete that indicate where grave sites are. I didn’t take my camera out with me, so I don’t have pictures.

Afterwards we headed over to the La Jolla district and checked out the beach area and saw some seals lounging around on the rocks like a bunch of slackers. The area around the seals was one of the most foul smelling things ever. I don’t know how people were hanging out down there for so long.

We ended the day at Sunset Cliffs, which was easily my favorite part of the day. It wasn’t crowded, it was very relaxing, and it was a nice view.

You Suck, San Diego

August 18, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Today my name is Negative Nancy and I’m going to do a lot of complaining (also, I did a short hike). I headed out late this morning for San Diego, which was a couple of hours from where I was last night. I don’t actually need to be in San Diego for two more days, but I thought I’d come out a little early and do some hikes until Szilvia arrives here on the 20th. It didn’t take that long before I regretted this decision. But lets back up a few hours (and days) to express my other annoyances with the state of California so far.

I took I-8 over here, obviously because the interstate is the quickest way to get anywhere. About halfway through my drive, there’s a sign for a “Border Control Checkpoint” and all of the interstate traffic comes to a halt. If you’re not bothered by that sentence already, read it again. ALL traffic is purposely stopped… on the interstate. The interstate, which was entirely built upon the notion of making travel easier and quicker by not having any stops on it. Way to go, Border Control. My second annoyance is that it was a “Border Control Checkpoint”… nowhere near a border crossing. I wasn’t driving into Mexico, nor from it. Stop impeding traffic and wasting millions of dollars on “checkpoints” that don’t need to exist on roads that aren’t even crossing the border. I’m sorry, but shouldn’t the Border Control’s jurisdiction only be at the BORDER? I suppose that would just be too logical. My third annoyance with this so called “checkpoint” was that they didn’t even CHECK anything. Didn’t check my ID to verify who I was. Didn’t check my registration to verify I owned the vehicle or that it was even registered. They had drug dogs sniffing around vehicles and asked “Are you American?” I said “Yep”. Asked “Do you own this vehicle?” I said “Yep”. That was it. Seems to me the “Border Control” only cares about drugs, not protecting the “borders”. You’re not the DEA, stop trying to do their job (they waste enough money on their own).

You might be wondering why I’m so irritated from a two minute stop, and it’s the principle of the matter. This is America, last time I checked. I didn’t cross a border, so go eff yourself. Although, I will admit, it was slightly funny being stopped and asked if I was an American by someone who clearly came here from Mexico. Well, maybe he didn’t directly (I would hope you would have to be a naturalized US citizen in order to be a border agent), but I’d bet money both his parents are 100% Mexican.

Because the drug dog was there, I could do a whole side rant about how the government is creating crime by having drug laws, which are almost as stupid as having seat belt or helmet laws. Stop creating laws to protect stupid people; eventually they’ll filter themselves out and the problem will solve itself. Creating laws and wasting money to “protect” people from that stuff is about as stupid as creating an army to protect us against invading unicorns.

Druggies will eventually overdose. Non-seatbelt wearers will eventually fly through a windshield. Non-helmet wearers will eventually have their skulls crushed. Let nature take its course. Not only will the world be free of one less idiot, but think of all the jobs they are supporting in the process! Police, EMT’s, nurses, doctors, coroners, morticians, cemeteries, and many more people and businesses will all get paid because they’re all involved in the process. It’s a win-win, if you ask me.

The other thing that annoyed me was that this wasn’t even the first time this happened. When I crossed from Nevada into California on I-15, they had an “agricultural checkpoint” that also shut down all interstate traffic and they, too, didn’t do any checks or searches of any kind (not that they could, since we have this little thing called the Fourth Amendment). They simply asked if I was transporting anything, I said “no”, and I was on my way. They have no choice but to take me at my word, so what is the point of forcing traffic to a stop at all? Anyone who is transporting something they’re not supposed to is also just gonna say “no” and be on their way just like I was, so what’s the point? I completely understand having trucks that are transporting agricultural things having to stop, using an exit ramp, just like a weigh station; but stopping everyone doesn’t make sense, especially when that road only goes to Nevada and Nevada is basically 100,000 sq miles of sand. Wasting money on shit like that is partly why California is broke in the first place. You have idiots in charge who don’t know how to properly manage money and government agencies wasting millions doing things they don’t need to be doing.

Anywho, I’m off topic. Don’t worry, more annoyances come later.

Eventually I made it to San Diego and stopped at a Walmart and was gonna just hang out there for the rest of the day, but then I noticed it was one of the Walmarts that had signs stating “No overnight camping allowed”. No big deal, I’ve come across a couple of those Walmarts already. It’s rare, but there’s a few like that here and there.

Since I had to leave anyway, I decided I might as well drive to a hike that isn’t too far North of San Diego called Mount Woodson Trail (better known as Potato Chip Rock). I couldn’t find where the parking for the trail was, as the road the directions took me to said “private driveway” and “no trail access”. I figured it was like in Hawaii where the trail is actually located on privately owned land and some idiot comes along, does something stupid, and the land owner shuts down access for everyone. Or, maybe I just didn’t know where to park.

Instead, I went to the Iron Mountain Trail, which I passed on the way there and wasn’t too far down the road. It’s a 6.4 mile trail, round-trip, that doesn’t have much to look at along the way. It’s basically rocks and dirt the entire way, but there was a certain kind of desolate beauty to it. I was just happy to be on a hike, since I hadn’t hiked at all in the last two weeks. I forgot to take my camera, so all the pictures are pretty crappy because my phone isn’t that great at taking photos. Oh well.

After the hike, I decided to go to a different Walmart (San Diego has like 20 or more of them). Again, I was greeted with a “No overnight camping allowed” sign. Since I thought it was pretty odd coming across two Walmarts in one day that didn’t allow overnight parking, I decided to call some more instead of driving around wasting gas. Every Walmart, Home Depot, and Flying J (Pilot Travel Center) that I called all said they don’t allow overnight parking. By this point, I assumed there must be an entire city-wide ban against overnight parking and after a quick Google search, my suspicions were confirmed.

Not only is it completely illegal to park an RV on the street in San Diego between 2am and 6am, it’s also illegal to park a boat, trailer, or vehicle taller than 7 ft (my van is over 8 ft tall). If you’re a resident of San Diego, you can buy a 24-hour permit to park your RV, boat, or trailer, but that’s it. You get 24 hours. And you’re only allowed to purchase 72 of those permits over the course of a year. It’s pretty sad when a city screws over its own residents (there’s apparently over 100,000 people in the city this law effects).

So, San Diego, you suck and you have officially made my boycott list. After reading about that law, I immediately left the city and I don’t plan on going back until Thursday when I have to because I’m picking Szilvia up from the airport. Since there are things in San Diego she wants to see, I will be forced to violate my boycott until at least Saturday, but after that I don’t ever plan on returning to San Diego because it’s clearly run by morons. And during the two days I will be there with Szilvia, I do not intend on spending a single penny of my money within the city limits because they clearly don’t want travelers there. Message received, San Diego. I will take my money elsewhere.

I’m really hoping Los Angeles and San Francisco are smarter than San Diego and don’t have similar overnight parking bans.

Anywho, other than the hike I did today, I was pretty happy that it was 90° or less. Normally I would think 90° is way too hot, but not after spending a week and a half in 115°. By comparison, that’s the same difference between 45° and 70°. So yeah, I’m pretty happy about the 25° temperature drop. It should be an extremely comfortable night.

Cheat Day

August 15, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

I have a confession. I did not sleep in the van last night. WHAT?! I know, right? Like, total oh em gee.

Yesterday afternoon, shortly after I posted my last update, I got the hankering to go to a (very cheap) motel. Emphasis on cheap. Seriously. I was practically in Mexico. I could have probably walked to the border from there. On top of that, I was still in the desert and it was 115° yesterday. If it hasn’t sunk in yet, it wasn’t exactly a popular tourist destination and prices weren’t very high. My last oil change cost more than the room did.

Why did I go to a motel? Well, after I finished interneting yesterday and was about to leave town, I noticed my air conditioning in the cab was no longer blowing cold air. Instead, it felt as if I had the heat on full blast (side note: I might need to buy an AC recharge kit; although, today it was working fine). On top of being blasted with heat, I also realized that I hadn’t taken a real shower in a month. Since July 17th, I’ve been washing my hair in the van sink and using a washcloth for everything else. It’s not ideal, but it works and is incredibly cheaper than paying the $10-$12 to shower at a gas station. I also really wanted a night away from the triple digit temperatures and drowning in sweat.

I checked in around 2 or 3pm yesterday afternoon and stayed until I absolutely had to check out this morning. Even though it didn’t cost much for the room, I still wanted to maximize my usage of the wonderfulness that was air conditioning and having the ability to take a real shower. You can bet your ass that a shower was the first thing I did upon checking in.

After sitting in the room for a bit, basking in the cool air, I walked down the road about two blocks to get some snacks. It felt like I was walking through hell. Mind you, it was 115°, but being spoiled with the cool air for just a short amount of time seemed to have ruined my adaption to the heat.

I’ll be honest, with the combination of AC, cable TV, and free WiFi, I did not get a lot done last night (I didn’t get anything done). It was wonderful.

It was after noon by the time I got back to Slab City today. I spent most of the day reading At the Water’s Edge. It’s almost midnight right now and still 103° in the van, but I seem to be readjusted to the temperature already.