Early-ish Saturday morning, the only day of the week I don't work at one of my two jobs, cinnamon-hazelnut coffee at hand, pandaora playing the Supreme's station. All of the these things make for a feeling of contentment and lazy bliss. The only black mark marring my morning are the 19 report cards I have to finish this weekend. Blasted, ridiculously long and tedious first grade report cards! But for now I'll just tuck that thought away and enjoy this first hour I'm up.
How is it December already? Where did 2009 go? Seriously, time, it is a flying. Now Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas approaches. My Thanksgiving break was pretty great. It stretched on endlessly, rather than speeding by. I took a road trip with a friend who also had the week off. We had both been talking about the need for a road trip. The bay area is the perfect place to live and get out and explore. It's driving distance to all sorts of different landscapes. Mountains one way, national parks, sandy sunny beaches a few hours south, rocky, cliff beaches (a la Wuthering Heights) to the north, desert one way for those that would want to visit a desert. then there's Tahoe, wine country, and all sort of other places. The problem is that there is also so much to to in the immediate vicinity of home. You can happily go weeks and weeks only getting as for as your local brunch spot and farmers market, maybe getting as far as the city if you're really ambicious. So to get to the point, Thanksgiving provided the perfect time to get farther out.
We diecided to drive southeast to Sequioa National Park...or is it National Forest? hmm google will know. Oh, no wonder I've been confused, there is Sequioa national Forest and Sequoia National Park. I guess we were in both. We got up super early Monday and drove to Three Rivers, CA . It's a town right outside the park entrance to Sequioa National Park, so it's like a jumping off point for both Sequioa NP and Kings Canyon Nat'l Park. Our plan had been to drive there hike for the day, spend the night, get up and hike some more and drive further south to Lake Isabella to spend one night. We made great time and got to Three Rivers by 9:30 am. As a further good omen the curt, unfriendly desk person at our motel, who at first told us we definietly couldnot check in early, caught up with us in the parking lot to say her boss had just called and told her to let people check in if they showed up early. So we were able to drop our bags and layer up for hiking before grabbing a bite to eat and heading for the park entrance.
It was pretty chilly. I've lived in the bay area for over a year and froze my ass off most of last winter with no one clueing me into LONG UNDERWEAR. AKA world's greatest invention. I had no idea that people who were not grizzled, bearded gold miners frm 1920s actually wore long johns under their clothes. Because, to my knowledge, no one in texas wears long underwear. it just doesn't get cold enough. So while shopping for winter hiking gear, Rita mentioned long johns or thermals. What a great idea!!! Our shopping mainly consisted of us walking into places like REI and exclaiming "$200 for a pair or socks!!" "$50 of a coffee mug with REI stamped on the side!" "$400 for a puff jacket" while REI clad , mid-30's, north berkeley, power couples milled around buying $60 t-shirts and $100 baby hiking boots for their toddler like they were going out of style. We slunk out of REI because we clearly didn't belong there. It was like a Hybrid SUV bomb went off in the parking lot :) We tried a couple other outdoorsy stores but eventually went where the other riff-raff shop...Target and bought thermals, mittens, and heeled boots (not for hiking but at $30 I couldn't resist). I am the proud owner of my first pair of hiking boots purchased on sale at an outlet store. I ended up not buying a warm jacket. I just can't justify over $100 for an ugly, puffy jacket. And $100 would be for a jacket on sale. A new one would cost upwards of $200!!! I have a puffy vest with a hood I bought last year at Kohl's on sale. I'd just use that. ((((Music change b/c this is the 3rd time I've heard Jackie Wilson sing "Higher and Higher". Let's try the Amber Rubarth station))))
Whoa, that was a long side note about shopping. So, I had long underwear under my jeans and like 4 layers under my puff vest, warm socks borrowed from my friend Sarah, and new hiking boots on my feet, shiny and clean, pegging me an outdoors rookie. We had been worried that it would be snowing in the mountains because then all the roads into the park would be shut down or require tire chains. As luck would have it, further proof that Sequioa was smiling upon our trip, it had yet to snow this winter. The weather was cold but sunny and clear. We were able to drive to the Giant Forest to see General Sherman, the biggest tree in the world. I had never seen Sequioa trees before and honestly, they freaked me out alittle bit. It doesn't make sense but something about their sheer magnitude coupled with their age. The fact that the tree standing before me had been their for over a thousand years was kind of scary. And they are hollow, they feel like styrofoam when you touch them. I was really creeped out. Trying to take a silly picture wrapped around one was an event. I'd get my arms close to it and leap back, shuddering and shrieking. Finally I stamped down my heebie jeebies long enough for the camera to click. Beyond their creepiness, they are amazing. This is not a widely held opinion...their amazingness, yes. Creepieness, no. I think I'm alone on this one, but they are!!!!
Hiking at high altitude was another first for me. I have no idea what the altitude was when I hiked in New Zealand and SE Asia but we must have been taking it easy. I thought after a year in the bay area I was a champion hiker or something and pictured myself sprinting up mountains with ease, barely breaking a sweat. This was not the case. I huffed and puffed along the trails, whining in exhaustion, begging for breaks every five minutes. Rita said it was the altitude that the trail I hike in the bay area are less than 1000ft at their highest point. In Sequioa we started at 1000 ft and hiked up to 2000ft the first day. After seeing the giant sequioa trees we drove to something Dome. It was this rock with 360 degree views. I dragged myself to the top of that and collasped. it was beautiful! We were so high up, surrounded by the Sierra Nevada mountain range in every direction. Anticipating soreness the next day, I attempted some stretching up there. But yoga poses in jeans, puff vest, and hiking boots doesn't really work so well. :) We planned to stay up there for the sunset but because we were so high up, it set later. Thank goodness we didn't wait for it because down at my car it was already dusk. Had we waited for sunset at the peak it would have been dark down at the car and we would have been driving the winding mountain roads out of the park in darkness. We got back to the hotel around 6 and planned to shower and go to the local tavern for a drink. But a power nap at 7pm turned into us crashing for the night. I woke up at 5 am because a gal can only take so much sleep. I turned on a light to read and Rita was none too pleased but I was like "I've been sleeping for 10hours! There is no way I can sleep or lay in quietly for another second!"
Day two!!! We got breakfast and headed back into the park. Since we saw the sequioas already we decided to hike the foothills for a change of scenery. There was a trail along a river recommened by one of the park rangers. She said it was like 5 miles round trip. We started out oll layered and bundled up but this trail was on a dry dirt road and once the sun came out we began to peel off layers. Here we were worried about snow and I ended up worrying I had not worn enough sunscreen. About an hour into the hike we turned a bend and froze as a furry brown leg dissappeared around the next bend. For 30 seconds we stood like deer in the headlights, eyes darting between each other and the trail ahead. We stood waiting for a mama bear to come charging after us for having the audacity to disturb her cub's breakfast. When no roaring bear emerged, we turned and high tailed it back the way we'd come. I wasn't too freaked out to be honest but Rita was practically running down the trail. She began talking about how the back leg we saw was bigger than her torso. Ummm, no, not true. It was a baby bear and it was like the size of a labrador retriever. Not so scary but had the mama bear been around we would have been in serious trouble! So we returned to our car and went to another trail. this one was 2 miles out to a waterfall and 2 miles back. It would be a higher elevation than the day before we would start at 1000ft and reach 4000 ft at the highest point. Yes, uphill the whole freaking way!! So much for outdoorsy me. I was over it 30 minutes in. Plodding at a snails pace, climbing and climbing and climbing some more on a tiny trail that wound around mountain after mountain without end. Higher and higher I got to a new level of tired, cranky and over-it. It was 2 hours to the "waterfall." By "waterfall" I mean a dinky stream, clogged with leaves and branches, trickling over a few big rocks. Apparently in the winter the waterfalls are less impressive. Bitching aside, the hike was beautiful. I was able to see that in my weak, exhausted state. I could blame the elevation but it probably more accurate to say I'm not in serious hiking shape. Four hours later we stumbled back to the car and got on the road again. Lake Isabella bound!!
In Lake Isabella we planned to just chill by the lake and relax. Along the way we passed a sign pointing down a small, east-bound highway that said California Hot Springs 35 miles. After a shared glance, I pulled a u turn. We laughed in comraderie at our spontaneousness. Oh the beauty of a road trip, traveling where ever the wind took us. Free as birds. Aren't we grand? We talked about how perfect hot springs would be perfect after two days of hiking. I pictured warm bubbling water set amid boulders in a forest. After 35 miles traveling along what loooked like Kansas, we descended in to a beautiful green valley into a town named California Hot Springs, CA. W-----T-----F??? The town was called California Hot Springs??? That sign had not been advertising Hot Springs?? No freaking way. Aren't we grand? We drove through the tiny town, passing Hot Springs Elementary School and felt like jack asses. Then we spotted a decrepit, paint peeling, boarded up, white clapboard, building with "California Hot Springs" in faded black letters across the side. After a brief silence we exploded in laughter. What idiots! Lured by a sign and our sense of being free-spirited travelers, we had gone 70 miles (roundtrip) out of our way for this. An tiny ghost town and an ancient building that boasted hot springs in 1947!!! It was too much!! Hahahaha! So a few miles later we came to a newer version of that building and it did indeed have 3 swimmming pools fed by local hot springs. unfortuanatley it had closed 10 minutes before. At this point we were past caring so we got back in the car and head back through the empty town (we seriously didn't see a single person), up out of the green valley, down the Kansas look alike highway, to the cursed Hot Springs California 35 mi sign, onto the highway we'd left a hour and a half earlier drunk on our own spontatneous, carefree existence. Onward to Lake Isabella!!!!!
Then Wednesday afternoon we'd power on to Las Vegas. My friend Rita's sister was spending Thanksgiving there and told us we could crash in her hotel room. Turned out my dad was going to be in Vegas on Thanksgiving too, on a lay-over. So I was super pumped to get to spend the holiday with at least one family member. I figured I'd give Rita and Nita some sister time and spend time with my dad. We planned to lay kind of low in Vegas