We packed our apartment into the VW Jetta and left San Francisco on the first of October to spend the month as curious vagabonds – wandering through California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York – and now I find myself here, typing in my childhood home in Connecticut. California to Connecticut.
We started in Point Reyes at Wildcat Camp:
Point Reyes National Seashore is a special place, one that I was introduced to by my Waldorf mentor, Lucas, with the second grade that I was blessed to work with all year. Spending the first few days of our trip hiking these trails was refreshing – a relief from the city and an exciting taste of what’s to come – lots more time outside. We said farewell to the Pacific with a freezing swim and jumped around on the huge dunes lining the empty beach.
Yosemite National Park: After picking up our wilderness permit and bear bin, we hiked up from where we took the top picture and scrambled to our campsite for the first two nights in Yosemite. The second picture was taken where we spent our last two nights, Cathedral Lakes, a pleasant hike up from Tuolomne Meadows. The trail was pretty chewed up due to the long line of pack donkeys that had escorted a trail maintenance crew while they cleared fallen trees from a storm the night before. Cool fresh air was startling to my nose and my fingers didn’t want to listen to me in the cold of the mornings. We were greeted by a lone white wolf on our way back down the trail before we set off across Tioga Pass.
Our next camping stops were in Eldorado National Forest, Lassen, and Mt. Shasta. On almost every hike we went on we were greeted by couples three times our age briskly descending the trails with words of advice – how windy it was at the top, how cold they think it was last night, what brand of shoes they bought last summer that made all the difference. I hope that I’m still huffing and puffing up dirt trails in my 70s.
We drove by huge fields with happy grazing cows, scattered horses, dilapidated barns, and train tracks clinging to the sides of mountains on highways maintained by “Butterflies and Rainbows” and “Hardcore Hikers,” passing roads like “Rock Bottom Lane” right next to “Wise Man Road.” When we reached the Redwoods there was a 120-acre forest fire raging through part of the park, which changed our camping plans a bit. We ended up further north and ran into a swarm of firefighters leaving for dinner at the end of their day. One of them mentioned that 120 acres isn’t that big compared to what they’re used to dealing with- but it didn’t look all that small driving through.
These winding, one-lane, cliff-hugging highways are where I dusted off my questionable stick-shift driving skills.
Graham ended up driving the entire rest of the way across the country.
Redwood National Forest:
After spending time with the redwoods, we ended up staying in a redwood. Exhausted and very much in need of a shower, we headed out of the forest and found a motel that was made out of a single curly redwood. This type of redwood grows in a spiral (or curl) so the age of the tree can’t be determined.
Well-rested and finally clean, we hopped back into the jam-packed Jetta (Literally- it was stuffed to the roof except for a 12” window so we could see with the rear-view mirror) and drove through Oregon.
We rode these wonderful beater bikes all around Portland – crunching through leaves, passing houses lined with carved pumpkins, and getting gloriously lost on the way back to our friend Sam’s house. Sam loaned us these sweet bikes and was our very first couchsurfing host! I could write a book about how incredible couchsurfing is, so instead I will just post the link here and highly recommend you check it out. Another recommendation is to get lost in Powell’s Books if you ever find your self in Portland. A bookstore that spans an entire city block, I knew it was going to be sweet, but Powell’s was better than I imagined- the books seemed to be organized more by stream of consciousness than anything else.
This was one of many ferocious and tourist-trained begging raccoons who greeted us at Point Defiance in Tacoma. We drove from Portland up to stay with my dear friend Jackie who I met in India and now lives in Tacoma. After a few relaxing days in the city, Graham, Jackie, her friend Kate, and I all packed up and took the ferry over to Vancouver Island in search of salmon.
The license plates across the ferry read “Beautiful British Columbia.” They’re not kidding.
The salmon were definitely in the water- jumping up with loud splashes every now and again- just to taunt us, show off their huge glistening bodies, and make it clear that they were by no means interested in our lures. We probably could have caught a fish that meandered near shore, but he was missing a large chunk of his back, which was most likely in the belly of the black bear swimming down the river having much better luck than we did.
Not catching anything made for a great excuse to head to the local pub filled with plaid-wearing locals, good beer, and cheap burgers.
The ferry ride from the island over to the city of Vancouver was chilly, foggy, and breathtaking. I can only imagine the ferry ride that weaves in and out of these islands and up to Alaska.
While in Vancouver, we spent a lot of our time on the campus of the University of British Columbia. The Museum of Anthropology had a great collection of First Nations art, and the surrounding gardens and buildings were all interesting and pleasant to walk by in the slightly drizzly and cozy weather.
After Vancouver we spent a very cloudy two days hiking around Whistler (Which, sadly, didn’t open until mid-November) before driving to Seattle to stay with two amazing couchsurfing hosts: Tristan and Johnny.
Seattle was a blur of conversations by the wood stove, exploring the city- falling in love with pioneer square, farmers markets, and cooking in a beautiful little kitchen.
Graham drove us from Seattle to Montana while I played DJ or read a book aloud. We arrived after dark at our couchsurfing hosts’ house and found a nice fire going in the wood stove and a cozy bed. A flat tire cut our Glacier National Park exploring short, but we ended up at our hosts’ band rehearsal- the Tropical Montana Marimba Ensemble. An absolute blast, complete with hula hoops in an old mercantile building.
From Montana we drove down to Yellowstone, negotiating our route around the snow-covered closed roads. We froze through the night and explored the odd dream-like landscape during the day.
After hearing enough people say they’d packed up their camping gear months ago, we finally caved and decided Yellowstone was our last camping spot. So we drove down to see the mighty Tetons.
We were in Jackson Hole for a few days since I-80 was closed due to a storm.
Then we took absolutely no photos while walking, hiking, and biking around Boulder – oops. But we did stay with my sweet sweet friend from college- Beth! So good.
In Omaha we stayed with a very nice couchsurfing couple and then decided the car needed a wash before Chicago.
In Chicago we stayed with yet another incredible couchsurfing host, Stephen. After giving Millenium Park a good stroll, we spent a few hours in the Art Institute Museum, circled about on the loop, and ended our day eating deep-dish pizza before dragging our tired bodies back to Stephen’s.
It was a long drive from Chicago to New York with lots of caffeine, but we’re here. I hopped over to Connecticut and that is where we are in this little adventure.