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.

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.

Hiking, Art, and Music

July 17, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Hiking, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We began today by heading out to a local hike called the Adams Canyon Trail shortly after breakfast. We had a quick drive over to the town of Layton after getting directions to the trailhead, which is located in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. The hike started off pretty sandy and gradually progressed more into rock as we got further up the mountain. Although it was described as fairly steep, I didn’t think it was that difficult of a climb. We were also told it would take a few hours, but we reached the waterfall at the end within an hour. Granted, I may have been a little amped and didn’t stop the entire way up. The waterfall was pretty cool, both to look at and to the touch. Off to the right was a small, rocky area that I climbed up to enjoy the view more. To the left was a much taller rock area that looked pretty steep, but some guy climbed up to the top. I was not inclined to follow.

After the hike we took a couple hours to walk around some stores and then found a Flying J truck stop to shower at before meeting up with Carolyn and her friends to head into Salt Lake City. There was a small art showing for a local artist that was being held by some of Carolyn’s friends. And by small, I mean it was a tent. And by tent, I mean a canopy. Most of his work was African safari type stuff; elephants, a giraffe, all that. There were a couple abstract pieces, also. We didn’t stay there long, maybe 15 minutes at most.

From there, we headed to a nearby town called Draper to attend a music event that was part of their Draper Days celebration. It was packed and looked like it was part flea market and part fairground. We settled in at the far side, away from the majority of people and spent the evening talking about nonsense. My stubbornness was pointed out a couple of times in the difficulty of answering a simple question, like “what did you want to be when you were younger?” Apparently “nothing” was not a normal response, but that’s seriously how I’ve always felt. I’ve never wanted to be just one thing. I’d be just as happy building furniture as I would doing electrical or programming computers. As long as I can find creativity in what I do, that’s all I need. So much of what happens in my head is difficult for me to explain. As someone once told me several years ago, I am a contradiction. If I like something, then I probably also like its opposite, but expect to find both in one thing… which is almost impossible, except when dealing with people and even then it’s quite rare. Now I’m rambling.

It was a pretty good day. I enjoyed getting to do what I felt was a real hike for the first time in this trip and spending the evening with interesting people.

Oh, and I may have gotten bored and wrote something in the dirt on the back of the van…

Yellowstone National Park (Part 2)

July 10, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We started this morning with a walk around Gardiner, Montana, where we camped out last night. It’s a pretty small town just outside the North entrance to Yellowstone. There were a bunch of interesting shops, mostly catered to rafting and fly fishing, since the town is right on the river. It was after 11am by the time we decided to head into the park.

We stopped in at the visitor center and I, of course, had to get some postcards and one of the National Park “coins”. While we were there we looked at the map and found out it would be about a two hour drive to the South end of the park to check out Old Faithful, which was our main goal for today. It’s only a 48 mile drive, but much of the road is under construction and many other parts have low speed limits. Along the way, there are many pull-offs with things to see and we stopped at a few.

Eventually, we actually made it down to Old Faithful. We got there almost right in the middle of the time between eruptions. It erupts every two hours, plus or minus 10 minutes. We had about an hour to waste, so we walked around and checked out the junk at the gift shops and whatnot. There’s a surprising number of people who sit out and wait for the geyser to erupt. It’s funny to me because essentially we were all just there to see some hot water get blasted into the air. It was pretty nifty and I was surprised that it kept going for around five minutes; I figured it was gonna be much shorter.

We left the park around 6pm and headed out the West entrance, which leads back into Montana to a town called West Yellowstone. It’s a pretty small town and we were able to walk around the entire place pretty quickly. While looking for a spot to park the van for the night, we saw some other campers parked on the side of the road and after talking to them, they told us they were actually staying in a cabin right across the street that night and weren’t using the parking space for it, so they said we could park there. We thought it was really cool of them and ended up thanking them three or four times before we headed back out to walk around town some more.

We had dinner and some drinks at a place called Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon (14 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, Montana). Pretty darn good pizza, would definitely recommend it to anyone, and they had some live music… even if it wasn’t the best in the world. A group of Chinese tourists next to us seemed to think it was good, and who can argue with that? They went full honky-tonk up in that place.

I forgot to mention it yesterday, but we drove through the Lewis & Clark National Forest on the way here, then later on drove through the Gallatin National Forest, but I wasn’t able to get a pic of the sign. Le sigh.

I have to admit, I thought Yellowstone would have been the most exciting part of this trip so far, but I don’t think it even compares to Glacier National Park. I like all the unique features that are here, but there’s a certain beauty to Glacier that’s hard to beat. I love the mountains, I love the green, I love the cliff-side drive, and I especially love the lake views with cascading waterfalls in the background. Granted, out of all the days up to this point, my favorite has been our random day in Minnesota when we went to the Rusty Bucket and later the Woodtick Theatre. Such a pleasant, unplanned day.

Porcupine Mountains State Park, Michigan

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

Our camp out at the random casino last night worked out great and we were undisturbed the entire night. It was a very comfortable sleep, though it did get a little chilly at some point during the night. We hit the road around 10am and headed for the Porcupine Mountains State Park, right off the shore of Lake Superior. We got in the area a little after 11am and stopped along the beach to relax for a bit and have lunch.

After a stop off at the visitor center, we drove up to the Lake of the Clouds, another seven miles up the road. There’s a really nice scenic overlook about 300 feet from the parking lot. I snapped a few photos of the lake and then we headed out to hike part of the Escarpment Trail that follows the ridge along the lake. We only hiked about an hour before stopping on a cliff on the opposite end of the lake. I think we sat there for a good 45 minutes just staring out at the forest and the water, enjoying the view, and talking about completely random nonsense. Eventually, we hiked back to the van.

There’s only one campsite in the park with modern facilities and we took it upon ourselves to stop over and use the showers. We’d paid the $9 for the daily “Recreation Passport” and figured we’d get the most out of it. It was a nice way to cool off after the hike.

We ended the day by driving to the opposite end of the park to look at Manabezho Falls, which ended up not being as impressive as the post card at the visitor center. It was still cool to see a waterfall two days in a row.

We’re camping out in a Walmart parking lot tonight, so we’ll see how that goes.

Ottawa National Forest, Michigan

July 1, 2015 Categories Camper Van, Road Trips, Travel, USA

We’re currently in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula checking out the Ottawa National Forest and a couple state parks. We were gonna do Isle Royale National Park, but it turns out the ferry ride to the island is like $120 per person, plus $4 per day to be on the island. I have no intentions of spending close to $300 just to visit ONE National Park on a list of many. I’m trying to conserve my pesos, man.

This morning started a little slow getting the last little bit of things loaded up into the van, as well as fixing/modifying some things that I noticed yesterday after driving a little with the drawers fully loaded. When I built the drawers, I bought drawer slides that have the soft-close feature which make them a little more difficult to open for the first inch, as they have to pop the soft-close springy thingy (technical term) in place. Well, with the full weight of food in the drawers it just wasn’t enough to keep the drawers shut going around corners. So, simple fix, I just bought the same door latch clippy things (another highly technical term) I bought for the cabinet doors and mounted it to the inside, top of the drawers. We drove all day today and they held up great. One of the other last minute add-ons was buying a cheap bathroom door mirror from Walmart (like, $5) and attaching it horizontally across the top of the kitchen sink area to use as a mirror for shaving (trimming), brushing teeth, or whatever. I also bought a small, wicked sweet rooster chalk board and mounted that up.

It was around noon by the time we actually hit the road. It took us about five hours to get up to Michigan from where I live in Wisconsin, and that’s including a stop to pick up some extra stuff along the way. We ended the day by checking out Bond Falls State Park inside the Ottawa National Forest. I’ve never heard of it before, but it is a pretty kick ass waterfall. There’s not much of a trail to get to it, but there’s a very nice walkway that goes all the way around it. We spent over an hour there walking the entire thing and I ended up taking over 100 photos, most of which I won’t be posting since a lot of them are similar.

We left the park and camped out at Lac Vieux Desert Resort Casino for the night. Seemed like a good place to stop where we wouldn’t be bothered. Today is the first time cooking in the van, and it went better than I was expecting. Because I’m using the counter top that covers the stove to put things on, I did have to clear it off and temporarily place everything on the bed, but since it doesn’t take too long to cook, it wasn’t that much of a bother.

As I’m sitting here right now, it’s honestly very easy to forget that you’re in a van. I feel like I’m just sitting in my bed at home; it’s surprisingly comfortable in here.