On Thursday (June 27th) I woke up and got myself to the Laguna Hills Civic Center to watch my good friends Brian and Stephanie get married. I met them three years ago whne Brian started as a visiting professor at Augustana, which was the same year I began teaching there. Going through the hurdles of learning a new environment, Brian and I became somewhat close and by extension, his partner Stephanie. Last year, Brian found a tenure track job at Cal State Fullerton. I actually spent the last evening in Iowa before this road trip at their going away party.
Brian and Stephanie moved to California a couple of weeks before I arrived. They made the decision to get married, and when I was in Vegas, they asked me if I would be a witness at the ceremony. I actually got to choose the time and day they got married so that I could be there. Traffic in southern California can be horrendous, so I woke up early and actually got to the civic center an hour early.
The ceremony was lovely, and I am so honored that I could be in attendance. I took a lot of pictures for the couple, and hope I wasn't too intrusive with my camera. I'm so happy for the couple and hope they are happy in their new home of southern California.
Once the ceremony was over, I was back on the road going to Santa Monica. I had a lunch meeting scheduled, but found out while I was on the road that the meeting needed to be canceled. Instead, I decided to continue onto Santa Monica and explore the city's famous pier. I had lunch, walked the pier, and then continued onto Hollywood to a coffee shop to get some work done as waited for my friend Stephanie to get off of work.
Stephanie I meet at a concert in Chicago in 2003 or 2004. Since that moment, have have become close friends. Despite never living in the same city, we have stayed in contact over Facebook Messenger, sharing the story of our lives together. We probably only see each other once a year at most when she comes to Chicago for the holidays, but Stephanie is one of my closest friends. Stephanie and her boyfriend Berko rent a house in the Hollywood hills with the most incredible view of the valley and the city. I am 100% jealous of her place and what she gets to see every morning and night.
Stephanie, Berko, and I went out to a bar/restaurant called the Pikey which had some really good burgers and drinks. The next day, Stephanie took me to the Griffith Park to hike. We hiked up the to Griffith observatory, and then continued on up the hill to take a picture at the Hollywood sign. On the way back, we stopped in the observatory and explored the cool exhibits.
After the hike, I said goodbye to Stephanie and Berko, and made my way down to Huntington Beach to see my friend Shelly. I met Shelly at church when I lived in Orange County in 2007/08. We became friends, I house sat for her once or twice, and we have stayed in touch. I met her at her house, and then met her brother Pat who is a super cool guy. Shelly, Pat, and Shelly's daughter Lauren and I went to an Italian place in Long Beach for dinner, and it was wonderful. I had so much fun catching up with them and got to spend the night in their guest bedroom. The next day I spent the morning chatting with Shelly before going down to the Huntington Beach pier. I then started the next part of my road trip: taking the Pacific Coast highway north!
As I worked my way north, I kept pulling over to enjoy the scenery. There is something special about the ocean that calms my soul. I spent the night at the Morro Strand campground, near San Luis Obispo. The next day I continued north and tried to visit Big Sur state park, but the parking lot was full. So instead I spoke to a ranger and checked out McWay falls and then hiked to Partington Cove; both of which were amazing. I continued up the coast and checked out the Carmel brewery as well as Monterey (which has the craziest road system ever).
Afterward, I headed to my stop for the evening: Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles national park consists of fairly rugged terrain, but has some great hikes. It was is the home to the California condor, which nearly went extinct. You can see the condors living up in the mountains using stationary telescopes near the visitor center which was pretty incredible. After spending the morning hiking, I jumped in the pool by the visitor center to cool down, before continuing onto Sequoia and King's Canyon national parks.
The entrance to Sequoia national park is about a three hour drive from Pinnacles which was fine with me. However, upon entering the park I was told by the ranger that my campsite was not in Sequoia, it was actually in King's Canyon to the north, and it was a three hour drive. It was already five pm at that time, and I knew that sunset was around 8:30pm, so I had to drive straight through Sequoia without stopping in order to get to my campsite on time. Despite that, the drive was incredibly beautiful through the Sequoia forest, then then became astonishing upon seeing the King river cutting through the canyon.
That night, after quickly setting up my tent, I was approached by a woman named Monica who had questions about my setup. Monica is an Aussie and has been road tripping across the USA for a year in a van. We had a great conversation, and she shared some tips with me. We exchanged information so that we could try to coordinate some hikes in the future. She is a videographer, so everyone should check out her website.
When I woke up in Kings Canyon, I found it to be astonishingly beautiful. The King's river was raging through the middle of the canyon, and was beautiful to sit and watch it flow. I hiked the Zumwalt meadow loop, but found out that the ending part of the loop was closed due to flooding. I decided to press on to the end of the canyon, and then would double back along the road. At the end of the canyon is Muir's rock that stick into the river, which was a great place to take some photos. I hiked back to my car along the road, then got started the trek out of the Canyon. On the way out, I stopped in Sequoia to see the General Grant tree, which is known as the nation's Christmas tree. In honesty, the tree was a little underwhelming, but still I am glad I got to see it.
After a morning of hiking in King's Canyon, I took a more relaxed afternoon driving to my next campsite outside of Yosemite. Due to Yosemite's popularity, I was unable to get campsites in the park itself. So my first campsite was at Bass Lake south of the park. The lake felt like a touristy area, but I still had a good camping spot. I met the people in the campsite next to me, and learned that their children were world class snow boarders, with the daughter having won the national championship the prior year. It was an interesting conversation, and it just shows that you never know who you will meet when on the road.
I got up early and headed into Yosemite the next morning. The first stop was the Mariposa grove which has tremendous trees. The fallen monarch tree is one of the first that you see (pictured below), and then the Grizzly giant.
After taking pictures, I went back to my car and drove into the valley. The parking situation is crazy at the park, even on a weekday, so it took me an hour to find parking near the Lodge. I got some lunch at the Lodge which was surprisingly affordable, and the jumped onto a shuttle to go on a hike. Based on a ranger's advice, I decided to go on the Vernal Falls hike. There are two ways up to the falls, and I took the shorter but harder way up. This involves hiking right next to the waterfall, and it gets really wet and misty. I tried to take a lot of pictures, but I was soaking wet and the camera couldn't get a lot of clear shots. You eventually get to the top of the waterfall and are rewarded with an amazing view of the valley and below.
I decided to take the long hike back because I was a little nervous going down the wet and steep steps next to the waterfall. It took over two hours to get back to the shuttle and then to my car, which was a bit tiring, but I eventually made it and then continued onto my trip. My campsite for the night was north of Yosemite at Cherry Lake. Cherry lake is pretty secluded, so I had to take some back roads to get there. However, was on my to my next stop, San Francisco, so I was ok with the back roads since I knew they were taking me the way I needed to go.
I spoke to a ranger at Cherry lake the next morning before taking off, and they gave me directions to a better road system to get to San Francisco compared to my planned route. I had a hotel for tonight nights in the city, but realized an issue with the hotel about a week before. The issue is that with my tent on top of my car, my car is 7 feet tall. The hotel's parking garage only has a six feet six inch clearance, so I needed to find an alternative parking spot. The best spot I could find on my trip was at the city's airport. So I parked at the airport, and then took the rail system into the city and my hotel.
The first day in the city was the fourth of July. I spent the afternoon wandering the neighborhood near my hotel, and found out from a bartender that the Hilton nearby had a bar on the 46th floor with glass windows that would be a good place to watch the fireworks. I got to the bar around 9pm, and stood in line for about a half hour to get in. Unfortunately, clouds dominated the sky and no fireworks were able to be seen. I made my back to the hotel, and rested up for a day of exploration.
I spent practically the entirety of the next day exploring San Francisco. I first walked to the famous Union Square. I then walked to Pier 14 to take a picture of myself with the city, and walked north along he shore line. Walking past all of the piers was pretty cool, but there were two highlights of my day. First, I explored the USS Pampanito, a submarine that was in service during World War 2. The sub was incredibly cramped, I can not image living and working under the sea with over 70 other crew members. The audio tour also described when the sub saved 73 British and Australian prisoners of war that were afloat in rafts for days. That meant that there was over 140 people on this ship until they could get to a port to get them off of the boat. I was in amazement during my tour of the ship, and it made me incredibly thankful for the sailors in the 52 submarines that never returned home, their sacrifice helping to win the war.
The second highlight was seeing a national park sign near Fisherman's Wharf. Intrigued, I entered the building and found the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. Not only was there a museum about the history of the city's port, but there were old ships in the small harbor area that I could explore for free with my annual pass. Exploring the Balclutha, a cargo shipped built in Europe, but made its way to San Francisco for trade, was amazing.
I walked back to my hotel after my day of exploration and was exhausted. I did some laundry, but spent the remainder of the evening in my room watching television, something I haven't done in weeks. In all honesty, I am becoming pretty tired of being on the road. I am not sure what it is, and I hate to complain when I am on this amazing adventure that most people could not take. But I constantly feel like I need to do something at every minute, whether it be filming something for my eventual movie, doing another hike, or writing the blog. I haven't had a lot of 'down time' and I have been toying with the idea of going home early. I do not think I am at the point where I am actually going to quit, but knowing that I have an entire month left of this trip feels a bit overwhelming to be honest. On the brighter side, I am looking forward to the next part of the trip, Oregon and Washington, which were incredibly fun to visit last year. Hopefully I will be in a better spirits when I get to Portland and can do my next update.