January 5, 2012

L.A. to Washougal

“How many days do you want to drive it in?” I asked my dad on speaker phone at a stoplight in Ventura.

“Well, at minimum, three but I would like to do more than that…I’m looking at flights right now into Burbank.  They are dirt cheap.  60$ one way with tax.”

“I’m all for more days.  Three days would be a schlep.  Plus, the Syncro doesn’t like I-5 much.  Lets take our time up the 1, or go up east through Death Valley and the Sierras.”

“In December?  Are you fucking kidding me?  I’m not flying down from Washington to spend more time in cold weather. I want to see palm trees and eucalyptus groves.”

“Ha I guess you’re right.  Lets do the 1 then.”

“Cool.  Tim and I will fly down on the 20th and we’ll head back up to Washougal for Christmas.  This will be a blast.”

As planned,  I picked them up at the Burbank airport a few days later and we headed north.  We took our time meandering up Route 1. Surfing, hiking and skateboarding, we made a few hundred miles each day.  At night,  we crammed into the back of the van and had snoring contests.

Picture this, three six footers (I’m 6’3, Tim’s 6’8 and my dad’s 6’1) in VW van, listening to the Grateful Dead and eating at taco trucks.

December denial.

A surf session in Bolinas.

Jalama Beach.

Shred sticks.

Could be anywhere in Latin America, but no, its Lincoln Heights.

Tshirts.

The Channel Islands.

We left the bulk of the driving for the last day and made it back to Washougal early Christmas morning.  I couldn’t say exactly when, because Tim and I were asleep in the backseat.

Some memories are better captured on 35mm film.

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December 22, 2011

Death Valley

Chattering over washboards the size of coffee mugs, I continued the Syncro’s acceleration from second to third. 35 mph. 40, the silverware in the cabinet behind me stopped chattering. 45, the coins in the ash tray quieted down.

“I think the sign said, “Dust Control, 15 MPH,” my cousin, Nikko, grinned, peering up from the Delorme Gazetteer of Southern California.

“We would separate our retinas, if we did that.”  I swerved around a six inch pothole onto the soft shoulder.  “A teacher in high school taught me this trick on a field trip to central Oregon.  He would go 50 in a fucking school bus on one lane dirt roads. In-Sane… Instead of going up and down with every bump,  we are cruising over the top of them.  Plus it’s more fun.”

“Looks like it, just don’t tweet and drive.”

“Oh noo, this is a two handed, white knuckle job.”

In the distance, the straight-away took a sharp turn up a hillside, switchbacking towards a pass, some 1500 feet off the valley floor.

“Where are we camping tonight? I asked, looking back at the dust plume behind us and the warm light on the opposite hills.

“In the next valley.  The Park Service map says this shit dead ends in two miles, or so, but we’ll take that pass into the next valley.”

“Party on Wayne.”

A #vanlife kitchen.

Sunrise.  Dirt roads, like in the foreground, are standard travel.

Nikko taking in the view.

Translation  from Park Service Square, this means, “Good things lay ahead.”

Flash flood’s a’comin’.

Red roads.

Ribeye with asparagus and bacon. Dinner.

Sunset on the Saline Valley.

Flat.

4:52 PM.

Open country.

An abounded mine turned rust pit turned shooting range.

Death Valley comes to life when you head off the main roads, away from the Cruise America RV’s, fanny packs and gas stations with scorpion lollipops.   Various jeep and hiking trails crisscross the park and surrounding BLM land, exposing remote areas.  This access combined  with December’s short days and relatively cool temperatures keep the park quiet.  For four days,  Nikko and I explored the area, and encountered 5 other groups.  Some things are better off season.

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Death Valley (Picasa).

December 8, 2011

Big Sur

The alarm on my watch woke me from a deep sleep as the first rays of light lit up the eastern sky.  At dark thirty  places can look similar and for a few moments I peered through the windows of my van, trying to remember where I had parked the night before.   The Large redwoods tipped it off.  A 35-dollar-per-night campground in Big Sur, or so they charge if you check in and out during normal business hours.

Five more minutes?  No I shouldn’t push it.

Leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag,  I crawled to the front seat and fired up the Syncro’s 2.0L Audi engine.   I motored out of the spot and followed arrows pinned to trees towards the exit in first gear.  For what seemed like an eternity,  the path wrapped around redwoods exposing RV’s and groups’ tents before ending at an unattended gate.  “35 dollars the richer, ” I grinned to myself as I shifted into second.  In 10 minutes, I emerged from the fog laden valley and pulled off Highway 1 at an appealing pull off with the false notion of falling back asleep for an hour or so.

Instead of crawling back into the fold-out bed,  I sat in the driver’s seat and looked towards the east.  The light increased and every few minutes.  I turned my head and inspected the shadows retreating down the nearby hills.  The occasional pickup sped by on its way to who-knows-where, rocking the van briefly.  Time check: 7:03.  I erected my two burner Coleman stove and opened a pack of bacon.   In ten minutes or so the sun will begin to warm up the beach.  Bacon or beach, decisions.  Deliberation.  Reaching for the bacon, I put it back in the cooler.  “That can wait,  sunrise cant.”  Throwing on my Nike Free’s, I hopped the fence and headed towards the beach.

Last light at Andrew Molera State Park.

#vanlife.

As a taxpayer and owner of multiple state parks passes, I take offense at paying shitty motel rates to park my van for a night.  Ten dollars perhaps, but $35 is out of the question.

Drive by.

Jay Carroll. Splash.

Duly noted.

Supplies.

Kelp.

Capturing the capturer.

I walked through waist high grass before reaching a well used trail.  Snaking through a grove of eucalyptus trees, it ran a mile or so along a stream before ending up at small lagoon and sand bar.  The sun lit up the top of the largest trees.  I took this as a cue, and started jogging.  I can make it there by sunrise.  The sun was now on the hills some hundred feet away.  Time to run.   Breaking out onto the lagoon,  I was just in time.  Finding a seat on a rock I sat for twenty minutes.  Shivers and the promise of bacon and eggs cooked on a cast iron pan finally lodged me from my perch.  This time I walked.

People talk about Big Sur like it’s the first Star Wars,  it changes their lives and is a constant reference point.   Mention the place to anyone on the West Coast, and their eyes light up with a story,  After exploring the area on a few trips,  I now know why it lights up people’s eyes when discussed.  It’s gorgeous and relatively accessible at two and half hours from San Francisco and six hours from LA.   As drives go,  it can’t be beat.  Highway 1 wraps around countless points and hundred-foot plunges into the ocean,  conjuring plenty of “what if” thoughts.  As for the Coastline,  take a look at the photos in this post.  If you ever have the chance go to Big Sur, do it.  Just don’t sneak in and out of campgrounds, or at least you didn’t hear it from me.

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October 27, 2011

East, Towards the Desert

The waves were dying down and after three weeks of cruising the California coast, the Syncro had developed a coating of sand and a special odor.   In addition, parts of Southern California were starting to feel familiar. Weighing my options, I stopped by Trader Joe’s in Silverlake to restock on provisions and headed east towards the desert.

The suburbs faded into obscurity as the 10 ran east towards Palm Springs.  Desert started winning the war over farms and cul-de-sacs.  Following signs towards Joshua Tree National Park,  I turned off on 62.  Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley,  Whats the big deal about this place? I asked myself.  The loud shriek of a nearby military jet confirmed my suspicions that the area was fit for weapons testing.  Pulling into the park, I started seeing what the hype was all about.  For the first time in recent memory,  I couldn’t see a house or other sign of civilization, just trees from a Dr. Seuss book.  Sporadic rock formations decorated the horizon and hills, inviting exploration.

After a day a day of solo hikes, crawling around rocks and camping in a busy campsite,  I started growing uneasy.  Nature should be raw and open ended, not packaged and consumed. Driving off in search of a campsite on one of the so-called 4×4 roads designated by the official park map, furthered my angst. Under promise and over deliver,  perhaps for a Prius.  The Syncro wanted more dirt, and I wanted more seclusion.

See the face?

Craving God’s County, BLM and National Forest, I left Joshua Tree at sunrise the next day. Setting my sites on Kern River Canyon,  I headed north away from roads connected to LA.  Traffic died off.  The occasional lifted pickup truck sped by, and my music blasted with windows down.  A sign read “No service for 55 miles.”  Good things accompany these signs.

Sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park.

These ditches are dug to stop off roaders.

One of the most beautiful sunsets of my life.

The shortening days prompted me to pull off the road earlier than usual.  Invited by a trail snaking up to a hill,  I drove to the gate, packed my pack with The Monkey Wrench Gang, my Snowpeak cook kit and two cans of chili.  No registration or designated areas to cook, just a mile of hiking to do before sunset.  I locked the doors out of habit before realizing that there was no one around for ten miles.

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Sunset (Picasa),

The Desert (Picasa).