Yosemite National Park, California

September 2, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

Miles driven: 616.7 (last 3 days)
Miles hiked: 9.2

The last few days have been tiring. First, Szilvia decided to split off and go separate ways. We stayed near Reno a few days ago and on the way there she was talking about how she originally wanted to go to the Burning Man festival and on the way to San Diego she sat next to a guy who was going and said he had an extra ticket. Since we happened to arrive in Reno while the festival was ongoing, she decided to message the guy who had an extra ticket and go to that instead of continuing the road trip (the festival is about a week long). It was nice having someone to share the gas cost with, but I’m also glad to be alone again.

Since the route we were taking was designed around some of the things Szilvia wanted to see, I no longer had a reason to stick to it. I really didn’t want to go to Vegas (again), the Grand Canyon (again), Phoenix, or back to San Diego to drop her off. Granted, since she announced her decision that morning, I didn’t really have time to think of something else to do and I drove as if nothing had changed and went down to Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t as I had imagined it’d be (being able to just show up and go to the beach). The road I was on was high above the water and the one place I pulled off at wanted $10 for parking and I’m too cheap for that. I managed to get a couple pics of the lake and that was about it.

The day was essentially a complete flop. I kept on driving until I got to a town called Sonora on the West side of Yosemite National Park. I stopped there because that was the closest town to the park that was more than just two buildings on the mountainside; plus it had a Walmart, where I camped at. The only thing I’m happy about was I got to drive through two National Forests: Toiyabe and Stanislaus.

I went to Yosemite yesterday, to check things out and try to get a feel for the park. On a map, Sonora looks a lot closer than it actually is to the park. It took me about two hours to drive into Yosemite that morning; Yosemite is deep in the mountains and the road in was quite winding.

After getting a park map and looking at it for a bit, I decided to head into Yosemite Valley, as that’s where most of the well known stuff appears (Half Dome, El Capitan, Glacier Point, JMT trailhead). The park is quite large (over 40 miles across, not sure how tall) and most of it is all wilderness. It was possibly ten o’clock by the time I got into the valley and parked. I immediately headed to the visitor center to get postcards and a park token as my souvenirs.

Once I was squared away, I thought it’d be fun to hike up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Since I already had a parking spot and the trail didn’t look like it was that far from me on the map, I thought I’d try to walk over to it. A good hour or more went by while I just crisscrossed around the valley area trying to match the map up with the roads and landmarks and none of it was making sense. Even when I thought I had it right, I’d see a sign for something that should have been nowhere near where I was. Being a typical guy, I’m far too stubborn to just go and ask for help, so instead I gave up and just got in my car and figured I’d drive there.

Turns out, the first direction I was walking was the right way, but there’s a sign for Yosemite Falls and it completely threw me off because Yosemite Falls should have been North of where I was. Anywho, after driving around the loop in the van, the parking area in front of the Four Mile Trail was packed and I couldn’t even stop there. It was close to 11:30 by this point and I was just irritated at how much time was being wasted. I left the valley and drove Tioga Road across the North end of the park instead. At one point, I picked up a backpacker who was hitching and she told me she just came from Kings Canyon (where I wanted to go to next) and there’s so much smoke in the area that it’s impossible to really enjoy anything. I guess there’s a fire there (not sure if it’s a controlled burn or not) and she was complaining about difficulty breathing in the area and could barely see anything around her. Today I heard it was actually the Sequoia National Park that had the fire, so I don’t know which is true (the parks border each other, so it’s all the same area). Regardless, it kind of rules out those two parks being my next stops.

I didn’t find Tioga Road very interesting, probably because I was still irritated about not getting to hike, so yesterday was mostly a flop as well. After that, I left the park. It turns out the Four Mile Trail was closed yesterday, so even if I got to it, I still wouldn’t have been able to hike it.

And now we finally get to today. It was another long drive into the park, but I arrived at the Four Mile Trail a little after 9am and started hiking around 9:20. Frankly, that trail is a beast to climb up. From the valley floor, you have to climb up 3,200 ft over the course of 4.6 miles to reach a final elevation of 7,214 ft. The entire trail is up. No up and then down; no up, flat for a bit, then up some more; it’s just up, up, and more up. Around 2.6 or 2.7 miles in, there was a locked gate across the trail saying the trail was closed until 1pm on Sep 1 (yesterday) because crews where spraying some chemical due to risk of people catching the plague. And yes, you read that right – the plague. Talk about a motivational booster to make you wanna keep on hiking! By the way, if I die anytime soon because of the plague, blame Yosemite. Anywho, I called the park rangers to make sure it was alright to go ahead and they said they forgot to open the gate, but the area was for sure open for hiking so I continued on. It took me almost exactly two hours from when I started to reach Glacier Point at the top. From there, you get a really good view of the entire valley and a great view of Half Dome.

Oh, and Half Dome… grrr! I talked to the park rangers yesterday about hiking it and apparently it’s by permit only and to get a permit, there’s a lottery. It costs $4.50 to apply for the lottery online, and then IF you get selected it’s another $8 per person for the permit. Oh, and you have to apply two days before you want to hike it. You’d think I’d look this stuff up before I go to parks, but I don’t. I honestly just show up and figure it out when I get there. So, needless to say, I was a little disappointed.

The hike down the Four Mile Trail was easy, since gravity did most of the work, but it was still tiring on the feet. I was happy to finally get a good hike in, but I was so thrown off from the past couple days that I left Yosemite and drove pretty far, not intending on going back tomorrow. Only now did I realize that I didn’t even hike any portion of the John Muir Trail, which I wanted to do while there. Mainly because he’s the reason we have National Parks, but also because he’s from Portage, Wisconsin – a town I once lived in long ago. Oh, and I drove through the Sierra National Forest on my way out of Yosemite today, so that was fun.

I’m not too sure what I’m doing or where I’m going next. I’m debating on going back to Wisconsin to make some changes to the van and pick up some of the things I left there, but if I do that, then I wanna take Route 66 for most of the drive back. At the same time, there’s a job I inquired about in Utah when I was still there to work for a company that builds tiny houses – which I think would be awesome, as both a learning experience and because tiny houses rock. I’m not sure if the job is still available, but I can hope. I have other ideas, but those are the ones I’m leaning towards. There’s a good chance I’ll (try to) do both. I’ve also thought about taking 18 months off from doing any travel and going to UTI. I have no intentions of ever being a mechanic or working in the automotive industry in any way, but I am interested in the extensive knowledge they can offer. I’ve torn apart and rebuilt small engines, but never a car engine.

So many choices. I wish I could do it all at the same time, as well as intern or work as an apprentice for six months as both a plumber and an electrician. I only know the basics about plumbing (PEX, copper pipe, and PVC assembly), but I’d like to learn more. Same with electrical; I know basic household electrical things (breaker install, wiring, amp limits, outlet/switch install, etc), but I’d like to learn more about the National Electrical Code (NEC) without having to read some boring book.

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.