Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Alaska to California in 82 days

(This is one of two posts I've put up today, please look below to find the one about my Alaskan Summer)

My contract ended a week before David’s did and so I went down to Anchorage to pack up my things and have my car pimped up for the some 4,500 mile journey from Alaska to California.

The trip started in Denali and from there we went to:
Fairbanks, AK
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory Canada
Liard Hot springs, British Columbia Canada
Vancouver, Canada
Bellingham, Washington
Olympic National Park, Washington
Astoria, Seaside, Tillamook, OR
Portland, OR
Eugene, OR
Florence, OR
Crescent City, CA
Redwood area, CA
San Francisco, CA
Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, CA
Corning, Redding, and Chico, CA
San Diego, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
Los Angeles, CA

(sort of in that order)

As with my drive to Denali to start the summer, my drive back to pick up David was just as amazing and clear. I took my own touristy picture at the south view point again and moved on. There had been a snow storm that hit a few days earlier in the park and it was pretty to see all the trees covered in snow. Even though I had never spent a winter in the park, visiting the housing area and seeing it covered in snow was an oddly familiar feeling of the change in seasons.

I was a bit nervous about having to drive in this kind of weather, it was somewhere between rain and snow. Luckily David’s co-worker met up with us in Fairbanks and we caravanned through most of Canada. On the drive we saw lots of animals on the side of the road, crossing the road, following the road. Buffalo, elk, sheep, once even a black bear. We stopped in a place called Liard Hotsprings just on the border of BC and the Yukon. The night we got there it was dumping heavy snow on us and throughout the night we woke up to sagging tent fabric in our faces and we would have to punch it off from the inside. Our poor friend’s massive tent collapsed a bit and a lot of their things got wet. In the morning we ventured to the hotsprings and got refreshingly warm. We stayed there two days before hitting the road again. We were driving 10 to 12 hour days covering lots of ground to get through Canada and closer to warmth.

The boardwalk to the hot springs

an elk blocking our friend's car

On the way we camped at various places where I didn’t bother remembering the names, and finally we come to Vancouver! We explored the city for a few days, checking out a film festival, getting excited over a building where the A-Team movie was being filmed at the time, watching a filming of Super Natural in a park, and getting a first hand experience with the Canadian health care system. No waiting, it was awesome, and cheap.

In British Columbia, Canada

Almost to Vancouver

Bellingham, WA

Highlights of the trip were definitely the Olympic National Park, Redwoods National Park, Wine tasting in Napa Valley, camping on the beach, attending a global warming event in Portland, exploring San Francisco, and Joshua Tree National Park.

In Olympic National Park we were able to be dazzled by the rainforest, but it wasn’t as moving as the Redwoods. The whole area in northern California was mesmerizing with these gigantic trees that were up to 1000 years old! We did ourselves some tree huggin’ of course.

Ho Rainforest, Olympic National Park in Washington

Redwood National Forest

Told you we got into tree hugging

Beautiful forest

Biking 6 miles in Portland to 350.org event

350.org event

Somewhere in California

One of many amazing sunsets along the way, this one was in California

In San Francisco we did the touristy things like ride the trolley, check out the Painted Ladies (which most people know from the Full House opening), and Alcatraz. Though I started feeling too touristy in San Francisco, it wasn’t as fun as exploring in the woods, despite how much I love Victorian style houses. We headed back north to wine country to visit the vineyards. I learned all about the Coppola family at one vineyard, and about the self sustaining vineyard of Benzinger. The land was gorgeous and the free wine quite tasty, though our salesman at Benzinger was sort of rude to us with our background (road tripping, living out of car, can’t afford cases of wine like other customers he serves, and drilling for oil in Alaska doesn’t harm the wildlife at all sort of thing).

Painted Ladies

Nude Beach



Wine country

Taste testing

Magical place in Redding, CA

Went to Sierra Nevada brewing company in Chico, CA and found an old style box of Point beer in there. Awesome!!!!

We headed north still back up just north of Arcata to visit a place called the Gold Coast and Fern Canyon. We went on a 5 star, 10 mile, 6 hour hike through Fern Canyon, which was basically a narrow passage carved out by water where the walls were straight up and down and covered in ferns. Park of the second Jurassic Park had been filmed there, and no wonder, we felt like we were in a different world in there. The second day we biked along the park’s “bike trail” which was muddy, narrow, full of weird obstacles I was surprised it was considered a bike trail. We were on search of a waterfall, which we completely missed on the way in, but on the trail we were surprised to come across an elk herd gazing right on our bike path. We stopped and ate and hoped they’d leave, but they didn’t. Some of the big boys had some pretty impressive racks, but they seemed so docile and indifferent to our presence that we decided to push through anyway. A few looked up at us from their grazing and before we were even pasted them they went back to eating. I enjoyed that experience very much for some reason.

Beautiful elk

Sunset on the Gold Coast beach, CA

The Gold Coast, being in a State and National Park, is where we learned that sadly funding for parks had been cut and costs to camp and enter had spiked enormously. It was $35/night to just tent. In other parks if you had a RV it was up to $50/night. If I were traveling alone, I would be better off in a hostel for those prices. This would affect our camping drastically. We decided we’ve played enough in the woods and headed to San Diego to visit David’s brother and be rent free for a bit. We still needed places to stay on the way and somewhere between LA and San Diego we went through a bunch of parks where the prices were so high we were discouraged. Camping is so hard now, just finding a spot to throw up a tent for free in the woods is nearly impossible. There is no more un-owned land! Even sleeping in your car is illegal (which we found out the hard way). We had been plotting all the way down ways to cheat the system like getting in late and leaving early before the rangers patrol (we failed once), or writing bad checks (which were cashed anyway). Times are rough for everyone, so we were just trying to get by.

Luckily that night, on an explorative turn, we found ourselves a horse campground that was empty. The signs were unclear who and how to pay so we figured that meant it’s free. Also luckily, that night was one of the peak nights of the Leonid Meteor Shower, and it was a clear night and the eastern sky was unblocked by trees. So we laid on the picnic tables wrapped in our sleeping bags and watched falling stars, wishing we knew a bit more about the constellations since so many were visible, along with the Milky Way.

The weeks following we spent our time between San Diego and Los Angeles, saving money until our departure for Florida where we are to spend Christmas and New Year’s. LA was never a city I cared to visit but my time spent there was really nice. David’s friends took us around and I saw those cemented names, feet, and hands of famous people, the Hollywood sign, and various studios. No famous people though.

Free tickets to a Safari thing in San Diego, cute kitties.

For a weekend after Thanksgiving a group of five of us headed to Joshua Tree National Park. It was the first time I was in a desert that felt like a desert… but that was while it wasn’t hailing/snowing/raining on us. The first night we attempted to camp in some serious windy area where we were afraid we’d fly away in the tent. The next day it hailed on us in the park and I felt like it was a bit weird to look at a cactus covered in snow. It did clear up and the night time in the park was beautiful, more stars and beautiful scenery.

Gettin' snowed on in Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

I really do think I made it move

It was cold but so beautiful

So now I’m headed to Miami for my first Christmas away from Wisconsin. I’m excited for the new experience, but do miss my family and the family get togethers. Happy Holidays to everyone!

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