Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 17 -- Home again

It was hard saying goodbye to Jan and Jim. I miss them already. I wish I didn't live so far away and could visit them more often. I would enjoy hiking with Jan all over the continent.

Flying is never an enjoyable event for me, but the San Diego airport is well-organized and easy to navigate. When I turned in my rental car, I noted that I had been 3,786 miles in that car. I had probably driven several hundred miles in the first car I had (the one with the dead battery), so I'm estimating that I covered at least 4,000 miles this trip. That's a long way to drive in a month!

The three-hour flight to Houston was uneventful. However, when I got to the airport, I turned on my phone and had a voicemail message from work: Call in now! I called in, but couldn't talk to the boss, so I made an appointment to talk with him tomorrow afternoon. Calls like that always make me nervous about my job security. I hope everything is okay.

My connecting flight was a half hour late, and we had a last-minute gate change, but the pilot promised to try to make up some time in the air, which he did. I was thankful, too, that my one checked box made it intact. I'm always worried that they will lose my luggage.

My mom picked me up at the airport and was really, really happy to see me (of course). She took me to dinner, which was nice, since I hadn't eaten much all day. She had even bought me some cereal and milk for breakfast, so I wouldn't have to go to the store right away. That was nice! And to top it off, she had washed and waxed my car while I was away. Thanks, Mom!!!!

My two kitty boys were happy to see me, too. My big boy tried to pout for awhile and let me know that he didn't appreciate my being gone so long, but he soon came around. I'm glad, because I missed them so and wanted lovin'.

I get to sleep in my own bed tonight. Yeah!! No more sleeping on the ground in a tent in the cold. I can't wait.

May 16 -- San Diego

I dropped my hiker trash (a term of endearment in the hiker community), Paul and Sonya, off at a Starbucks in downtown Visalia, CA. They were grateful for the ride out of the park and all of the transportation and assistance that I had provided them. They are an interesting couple, and I'm glad I met them. Having spent the previous three weeks traveling alone, I enjoyed their company. I wish them well in their travels.

I hit the freeway about 8:00 am and cruised south on this Sunday morning. I had really been sweating driving through the heart of Los Angeles on I-5, but it was not a problem. Thankfully, traffic wasn't bad, but I wouldn't want to experience it during rush hour. I could see what a mess that would be. Unfortunately, it was overcast and smoggy, so visibility was limited, and I didn't get to see anything. I didn't even get a good view of downtown, even though I was pretty close. South of L.A., I-5 tracks fairly closely along the coastline, so I did get some limited views of the Pacific Ocean. I wish it had been a sunny day. I'm sure it would have been more beautiful.

Unexpectedly, I made it to San Diego in about four hours, which was a lot less than I had imagined. I was happy to Jan and Jim again. They are both angels from heaven. Jan and I walked down the street and visited briefly with Scout and Frodo. It was good to see them again, too. Jan then made a fabulous dinner. I had been craving real food (i.e., something other than peanut butter and snack food), so I gorged on chicken, potatoes, and artichokes. Yum.

Tomorrow, I will fly home. I don't like flying, but I will be glad to be home. I have missed my mom, my home, my children, and my friends. But, wow, what a fabulous time I have had!!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

May 15 -- Lake Kaweah

Paul and Sonya stayed with me for the day. It was really cold in the morning, so we packed up and headed out in search of hot coffee at one of the lodges in Sequoia NP. We were all disappointed to learn the all the of the trails in Kings Canyon are under snow, and thus not passable. So we headed south to Sequoia and lower altitudes. First, we walked two miles to Moro Rock, which is a huge rock outcrop from which we were able to have a panoramic view of the Sierra Nevada mountains -- at least some of them -- and of the valley west. Nearly 400 steps took us to the top of the rock, but it was worth every step. The view was breathtaking.

From there, we had a nice picnic lunch and then set off in search of a campsite for the night. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and, by the time we got to the campgrounds, they were full. We were very disappointed. Having been to this part of Sequoia NP earlier in the week, I remembered that there was a lovely campground on Lake Kaweah, which was about 10 miles outside the park. Though it was 5:00 pm when we got there, we managed to get one of the last few sites. The campground host then told us that we had to be gone by 2:00 pm the next day, as they were going to close the campground for two months. The snow melt was feeding the lake and would soon raise the water level five or six feet, totally submerging the campground. How crazy is that?

We had a beautiful view of the lake from our campsite, but unfortunately the campground was very, very noisy, being on the road. The other campers were very loud, as well, with their party boats and such.

I was slightly sad when I went to bed. This was my last night camping -- my last night on the road, exploring the west. Tomorrow, I will be back in San Diego, getting ready to fly back home. I've had an amazing time and will never forget this time in my life. I've seen some incredible things. But now it's time to go home and get back to work -- back to life.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Saturday, May 15, 2010

May 14 -- King's Canyon NP

I made it into the park by 8:00 am and was pleased to see that much of the snow had, in fact, melted, at least so that the roads were open. My first stop was General Grant's tree, the third largest tree in the world at 278 feet tall and 40 feet in diameter at its base. It is a massive stick of wood. And since it was so early in the morning, I got to enjoy it all by myself. Nice.

From there, I hiked several hours into the sequoia forest, again all by myself. There were families of deer roaming around and waterfalls made by the melting snow. It was a special time for me, having the forest to myself, surrounded by these giant trees. I will remember it always.

Since the snow had melted somewhat, a section of park had opened that was not open before -- Cedar Grove -- which took me down into a canyon of towering granite walls. The King's River runs through it, and massive waterfalls tumble from the heavens. On my way back from the waterfall, I spotted a couple of backpackers walking down the road. They stuck their thumbs out, so how could I resist? Paul and Sonya are from Quebec. They have been backpacking around California for two months. I drove them back to Grant's Grove, and we're now sharing a campsite near General Grant's tree. We're about 6000 feet up, so it's going to be a cooold night. There is barely room in the campsite for two tents, because the rest of the ground is covered in drifts of snow, some a foot thick or more.

Paul and Sonya are a delightful couple. Canadian hippies. They speak relatively good English and are very down to earth. I am enjoying their company.

Tomorrow, Paul and Sonya and I are going to make our way to Sequoia NP, which is connected to King's Canyon. I will probably drop them off half-way through the park -- by their choice, not by sheer abandonment -- and stay the night near the park entrance, so I can rise early on Sunday and beat a path to San Diego. It will take me nearly all day to make it down there. Sunday will not be a fun day, but I will be happy to see Jan and Jim again before I leave California. My grand vacation is almost over, but it's been a special time. I will always be grateful that I had the time, money and opportunity to make this trip. It was an excellent Plan B to my original endeavor.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

May 13 -- Yosemite NP & Fresno

I left my Aunt's and Uncle's house at 8:30 am, but with traffic and construction delays, it took me 6 hours to get all the way into Yosemite NP on the valley floor. When I got there, it was a zoo. There were soooo many people there you'd think it were the middle of summer, which I assure you it's not. By mid-day, there were no accommodations to be had. No campgrounds or lodges or motels. I was so disappointed and annoyed by all the people that I drove out of the park (two hours) to Fresno, where I got a motel room. I will have to come back when I can reserve space and spend several days here exploring this vast park.

Tomorrow, I'm going back to King's Canyon NP. The roads should be open and the snow partially melted, at least enough to move around and enjoy the sights. I have two days to enjoy it, which I think will be enough time.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 12 -- Grass Valley, CA

I'm having an absolutely wonderful visit with my Aunt Linda and Uncle Phil (my mom's brother). I haven't seen them in a long, long time, so it's nice to finally spend some time with them and talk about the family and other things. I'm sorry I haven't had more contact with them in the past.

I spent the morning writing my blog, which is loooong, I know, but get over it. It's my blog. I also uploaded all of my photos for you to enjoy. I didn't take the time to caption them. I will have to do that when I get home. But I think you can get the gist of where I am from the signs that I photograph along the way.

After lunch, we took a short ride to the South Yuba River State Park, which has the longest single-span covered bridge in the U.S. There were some interesting exhibits, as well, of the vehicles people used in the late 1800's to transport goods and people from Pleasant Valley to Sierra City, which is 128 miles away. The Yuba River itself was crystal clear from the snowmelt feeding it from higher elevations and fast-moving.

We then took a drive through "gold country," while my uncle gave me a history lesson on the area and the gold mining efforts of previous generations. It was nice to be able to ride, and not drive, and see the scenery from the passenger window. This is absolutely beautiful country with everything in bloom.

In the evening, I set up Skype for them and connected with their daughter, Jami (my cousin), who lives not far away in Folsom. I enjoyed seeing her for the first time in decades, and they were happy that they could communicate now with webcams over the internet. We then Skyped my mom and spoke with her for a few minutes before calling it a day.

Tomorrow, I will leave for Yosemite National Park. I looked into changing my flight from Monday to Thursday of next week, but it was prohibitively expensive. I guess I will just have to come back out here and spend more time in the Sierra Nevadas. They deserve two weeks by themselves. But at least I will have two days to hit the highlights before I head back to San Diego and then home.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 11 -- Grass Valley, CA

Well, what goes up must come down, I guess. This was a particularly frustrating and disappointing day, but ended on a high note.

During previous nights while camping in the woods, I gave very little thought to crawling out of my tent and walking to the bathroom when necessary, except, perhaps, to lament that it was cold, and I didn't want to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag. Last night, however, I was in bear country and had been warned repeatedly that they were "out there." Although the bathhouse was lighted, there were, of course, no lights between it and my campsite. All I had was a headlamp that cast a bright, but limited, glow at my feet. In fact, I made a point not to scan the horizon with it, for fear of what I might find (and so as not to disturb the other campers in the middle of the night). On my way back to my campsite, however, I lifted my head and looked over at a campsite across the road. My headlamp caught the orange glow of two beady eyes staring back at me. They were close to the ground, so they did not belong to a bear, but I had no idea what they might be attached to -- and didn't really want to know -- so I scampered back to my tent and hopped in. It was a bit unsettling. I normally try not to let my imagination run wild while sleeping outdoors. After all, I am, when sleeping, in a semiconscious state, and all that separates me from the wild animals in whose home I am sleeping, is a thin piece of fabric that comprises my tent. Last night, however, it took me awhile to go back to sleep. The river next to me was roaring so loudly that anything that might be investigating me would not be heard scampering around over the din of the rushing water.

Now back in the mountains, I awoke to a wet, soggy tent and trees dripping with moisture from the rain that came during the night. It wasn't much, but it was enough to dampen everything through and through. The dampness also made the cold air (32 degrees when I awoke) feel that much colder. As usual, I quickly (though not as quickly as when I'm in the warm desert) broke camp and made coffee. Breakfast would be a bowl of cereal (cold) and pop tarts.

Because I go to bed early and awaken early, I usually enjoy a good two hours in the morning exploring the park without other people. There's no other traffic on the road, and no one else in my space. I like that a lot. This morning, however, my timing was a little off. I set off about 8:00 am and decided to drive up the park road to the Giant Forest, wherein lies General Sherman, the biggest living Sequoia tree. On my way up the twisty-turny mountain road, I came around a horseshoe bend and on my right, on the other side of a low rock retaining wall, was the mug of black bear, munching on the flora and fauna. His/her face was only three feet from my passenger window, and he/she looked right at me, totally unconcerned with my sudden presence in a vehicle. I stopped the car a few yards up the road (when I could do so safely) and watched him/her for a few minutes before he/she ambled off into the woods. Because of the rock retaining wall, I never saw his/her full body -- only his/her head and back. Thus, I was not able to get a good photo. He/she was not in the mood apparently to mug for my camera. But I saw a bear!!!

A few miles up the road, I came upon road construction and a flag person, who told me that the (only) road was closed, and they would let me/us through only on the hour, every hour. It was 8:20 am, so I had to sit there for 45 minutes and wait for them to let me up the road. What a drag.

Once through the construction zone, I climbed up and up and up. At around 4500 feet, there was a light dusting of snow all over everything. What had been rain for me at the campground had been snow in the higher elevations. As I went higher, the snow became deeper, and a thick layer of ice had formed on the road. At 6000 feet, I was in a winter wonderland. A deep blanket of snow covered everything. I was also driving through a forest of giant sequoia trees. Although the ice and snow on the road made driving treacherous (particularly for this Florida girl who is unaccustomed to such driving conditions), I drove slowly with my mouth agape. I was in awe of the landscape. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. A giant forest covered in virgin white snow. Truly amazing.

When I reached the Giant Forest Museum (2 miles south of General Sherman), I gladly pulled in. The driving conditions were continuing to deteriorate, and my knuckles had turned white on the steering wheel. I ever so carefully made my way from the parking lot to the museum through a crust of ice that covered the ground, occasionally slipping and sliding, my arms pinwheeling to right myself.

Once inside this fine heated building, I discovered that it was 29 degrees outside, and there was a 20% chance of more snow. Even more disappointing was the fact that there was now a driving restriction on the main road -- chains or snow tires were mandatory from that point forward. I had neither, nor the experience to drive with them even if I had them. The ranger suggested that I walk a trail 2 miles to General Sherman, but the trail was hip deep in snow, and I have only tennis shoes to walk in. I was soooo disappointed. I could not even see the General.

The ranger was unsure when/if the road would open without restriction, so I decided to go back down the mountain to the visitor's center and re-group. Of course, I had to sit through the road closing at the construction zone again. Thus, it was nearly 11:30 by the time I got back down the mountain. At the visitor's center, it was sunny and bright and 53 degrees!

A ranger there suggested that I drive to the north entrance of the park by going back into the valley and driving north for an hour and a half. There was another large forest of sequoia trees up there, and the roads were all open and unrestricted. He even showed me a "shortcut" up a county road. Lesson learned: never, never, never trust a park ranger.

The shortcut was the narrowest (often one lane), most twisty-turny road I have ever been on. If I were prone to car sickness, this road would have had me retching out the window. Once I was on it, there were no intersecting roads, so I was stuck. I pressed on, but it was grueling. At the end, I once again began climbing into the mountains. Although the road was clear, I encountered snow again at 4500. It got heavier the higher I went. By the time I made it to the park entrance, the snow was several feet thick. The temperature was hovering at freezing again. The snow was deeper and more significant than it had been at the south entrance. I wondered why the ranger had sent my up here. The campgrounds were buried in snow, and I would have had to camp on the snow, which would have been cold, cold, cold. Needless, to say I was a little frustrated by the turn of events. There was fog that had descended on the park, as well, so visibility was minimal. Although the roads were open, I did not really want to explore the park under these conditions.

I have an aunt and uncle, whom I haven't seen in 15 years, living east of Sacramento, so I called them, and they invited me to come join them. Once I drove back down into the valley, it took me four and a half hours to reach them. Thus, it was a brutally long day of driving. My plan is to stay a day and head back to the parks. The general consensus was that the freak snow storm that had hit the parks was the last of the season and would be gone by Thursday. It is supposed to be 88 degrees in the parks by the end of the week. I would much rather explore when the sky is clear and the temp is reasonable.

I enjoyed visiting with my aunt and uncle during the evening, catching up on lost time. I will get to sleep in a bed again and have a shower -- both well worth the drive.