Wild Young Minds: October 2015

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Escape from San Francisco

As the rain poured down, the dark clouds gathered. We were trying to make our way back to the car, but it was too crowded. Everyone had started to run, whilst covering their heads with bags and sweaters. We ran up the rocky stairs, but I had overlooked one slippery rock. A flashing light filled the sky and all we could hear was loud thunder. I tried to keep myself from falling but no, the rock slipped to the side and downwards I went. Our little expedition to the biggest tree in the world had turned into a dramatic scene. Thank god for our ability to relativize, because all we could do was laugh about it. What an adventurous weekend in California's wild nature.

No worries, my blog hasn't become a site for stereotypical short stories. I just thought I'd try this ''in medias res'' as a change. Moreover, this past weekend was perfect for some serious travel writing. ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' are nothing compared to a weekend on the road with the Dutchies - and our Italian accessory. A week ago we rented a car to drive to Big Sur and last weekend we went even further: to Sequoia and Yosemite National Park. I'll start with the last trip, since it's most fresh in my memory and I've already warmed you up with the passage above.

Sequoia National Park, I have to admit I never heard about it before, but when I checked Google Images, it looked pretty familiar: the bigass trees with the holes in them, where cars can pass through. Which is what we did, of course. For my Dutch readers, if the name Sequoia sounds familiar to you too, it might be because Bassie & Adriaan made a trip to this place too, during their America adventure. And if they've seen it, how can we lag behind? So traveling is what we did, in a car filled with everything we - thought we - needed: tents, sleeping bags, food, wine and more food. I woke up at 5.15 am, felt nauseous while eating my peanut butter sandwich, but made it to our meeting point on time. Ready to go!

Though I've never felt bad about not having a driver's licence - who needs one in Amsterdam anyway? - I now did. The landscapes were beautiful, the roads like a rollercoaster. Up and down, left and right, through the mountains. But I couldn't feel sad too long, since it was a thrill to sit in the backseat as well. We had plenty of music and made several stops, for instance to buy 6 avocados for 1 dollar. Let me say this again: 6 avocados for 1 dollar! As a student in the hella expensive city of San Francisco, this is the closest to heaven one can come. We could already look forward to a delicious lunch.

After a short stop in Fresno, where we had to pick up our rental tent, we drove further and further up in the mountains. I think I've spent more time in the car during the past two weekends than I did over the past 10 years. We'd never go on a vacation to a destination further than Germany by car, so I'm not the most experienced, when it comes to sitting still. But I survived and have to admit that the experience of sitting in a car in California is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As I said, the landscapes were terrific, it went from rocky mountains to sandy moorlands and from sunny and warm to rainy and cold.

Because when we arrived in Sequoia, it was damn cold. I'd brought several sweaters to wear during the night, but couldn't help but fearing that it still wouldn't be warm enough. Well, something to worry about later. For we were about to see the biggest trees of the world: the sequoia trees, also known as the redwoods! Even though it was raining pretty hard, we got out of the car and went up to a huge rock that had several stairs surrounding it. After about 15 minutes, we arrived to the top and that was the prettiest sight I've ever seen. The rain had stopped by then, but the fog just came in, which gave a very mystical view of the area. I'd love to be able to describe it all, but I think the pictures will speak for themselves.

The rest of our day was filled with walking around and making the most random pictures ever. I climbed on top of the car, pretended to be Gandalf and we made a lovely Dutch artwork while hugging a tree. After the dramatical moment I described earlier, we were completely soaked before we got back to our tent and had to warm up with pasta, wine and marshmallows. I can think of worse ways to spend your night in Sequoia! The only thing to take into consideration was the crumbles that we'd leave behind, because everywhere in the park were warning signs of bears. At first, we thought it'd be exaggerated, probably just some precaution. When we woke up the next morning, however, we were pleasantly surprised. A bear took his morning walk behind our tent! Good thing none of us is easily scared, we were rather fascinated and printed this hairy creature in our memories. He was calm and just doing his thing. An experience to cross off my list!

Another experience I can cross off, is wildfires. It's something you hear about all the time. When I arrived in California, there were huge wildfires in Sacramento, I believe. I would never have expected to see one, however. Apparently it's been a big problem in the surroundings of Sequoia lately, because Kings Canyon, the area Dana and Veerle wanted to check out, was unavailable for public. So they joined Lavi, Emma and me on our day trip to Yosemite. Another long, long ride and once again, it was raining like hell when we arrived at the park.

It was Yosemite, though, so we wanted to check out the popular things no matter what. But first we tried to come up with some creative ideas to cover ourselves from the rain, because of course, none of us had brought any rain jackets or such. Lavi bought a poncho, but Dutch as I am, I refused to pay $7 for such a thing, so I put a plastic bag over my head and resembled a non. Before we took off, we had some cheap lunch: bread with hummus, and I treated myself to a mini bottle of red wine, just to warm up. Really.

Dana had discovered a nice hike that would take us all the way to the waterfalls, and we'd be able to see the famous Half Dome too. We bumped into two guys who just got back from the hike and they told us it was 1,5 to 2,5 hours of climbing upwards and 1 hour to walk down. The road was zig-zaggy and most of the time we had to watch precisely where we walked, because it existed of rocks only. We decided to do the trip anyway, totally unprepared whatsoever. We had only one small bottle of water, no food and Emma was wearing her pyjama pants. On top of that, Veerle had troubles with her knee, because of an accident a while ago, so we were not the typical hiking team. We felt strong and persistent however, so we decided to just go for it.

And a trip it was. It took us about 3 hours to go up, lots of sweat and several pauses. It kept on raining and after half an hour, we were already wondering why we did it. But when you start something like this, there's no way to stop and besides, everyone we met along the way said it was ''only half an hour'' to go. So further and higher we walked. The view was magnificent, fortunately. It was almost apocalyptic, to stand there on top of the mountain, totally isolated, with no other tourists and fog everywhere.

It was already 6 pm, though, and it was starting to get dark. Thank the lord for our iPhones, because we hadn't brought any torches either. Our mobile flashing lights had to lead us down. And down was almost more difficult than up, since the rocks were very slippery and you had to pay a lot of attention when you stepped on them. Strangely enough, I didn't fall. The others did, though, and we were happy as little kids when we finally made it back to the car. At 8.30 pm.

That night, I couldn't care less about the rain anymore. Our legs were exhausted, our eyes were tired and our minds couldn't think clearly. After the 5 hours of driving back to Sequoia, where our tents were located, I fell straight to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I was goddamn cold and I had no idea how on earth to pack the tent, since it was still storming outside. How we managed to do it, no one knows, but around 9 am we were back in the car, looking tired but satisfied and got back to San Francisco. I'd never been so happy to rest my head on a pillow and sleep with warm feet.

If you're still reading this now - nice job! - you may have remembered that we did another roadtrip too. Oh yes, we did, and it was the complete opposite of the Yosequoia one. Don't get me wrong, I had the best time in Sequoia and Yosemite, probably precisely because of all the drama and all the laughter about it. Big Sur was a whole lot more relaxed. For one thing, the weather was insanely beautiful. It was 28 degrees and very sunny.

The route to Big Sur was totally different from the route to Sequoia and Yosemite too. Why? Because we were driving on the fucking Highway 1! Even though I don't have a lot of routes to compare it with, I can easily say that this would be one of the most sceneric routes in the States, maybe even the entire world. It goes all along the Pacific Ocean, you pass Santa Cruz and Monterey and you see the clear blue ocean, the rocks and the fog that comes and goes all the time.

In Big Sur, we spent a lot of time looking for a camping place, but it turned out everything had been reserved. A little adventure after all! We decided to just park the car at an isolated place, take all of our stuff - which was a lot - with us and make our way through the bushes to find a nice place. Just when we thought we'd have to settle for a lousy place, Veerle found the perfect camping spot. It was under a tree, with a view of the ocean and it reminded me of The Lion King. Yes, try imagining a better one. The only problem was all of the annoying insects that kept on bothering me. I seriously think they have a thing for me, and after the disaster in Berlin last year, I was slightly scared. Of course, it was fine in the end, except from about 20 mosquito bites on my legs the next morning. But hey, we slept in the open air. Something to say about that as well!

We spent most of our time in Big Sur on the beach, enjoying the heat and the chilly Pacific water. The other girls had been invited to a party in an art gallery by a guy they met at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival the week before. He owned a parrot, which was the perfect accessory for some more photos. The art gallery party was quite the experience. Drinks and food were for free, so for me, it was already a success. The audience had an average age of around 60/70 and were extremely rich. It was such a different environment, but I have to admit I was intrigued by all of the botox going on there. A good example of having too much money and not knowing what to do with it anymore.

Nevertheless, I had a great time there, merely because the view was breathtaking. The music varied from old to modern. Apparently, one of the Beach Boys was performing too, but I haven't gotten the chance to spot him. On our way back to San Francisco, we stopped at the famous bridge, which I just had to photograph, since it perfectly demonstrates the beauty of Big Sur. So what's my special relationship with this area, which most of you probably have never heard of? It's one of the places Jack Kerouac, my favourite writer, often visited. He even wrote a novel about it, which is called... Big Sur. It's a very short novel and far less interesting than On the Road, Dharma Bums or Desolation Row, but it's very Kerouac and thus, I just had to see it.

So far, our weekend trips outside of San Francisco. I love nature, I feel way more calm after such a weekend and all my stress disappears with the sun. In my heart, however, I'm definitely a city girl. The idea that a city, like San Francisco, Amsterdam or New York for instance, lives during the day and during the night inspires me. I thrive off the fact that there's always something to do. So yes, I was happy to be back in SF too. Even though, the average life here is mostly filled with university, homework and stuff like grocery shopping. It's not that we do fun things all day, every day.

But, overall, there's lots of things to see and still so much to explore. Tonight I'm going to a reading by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the beatnik writer and founder of City Lights Bookstore. He'll be celebrating his travel journals (1960 - 2010). If I have time, I might explore Chinatown a bit more too. So I guess I wasn't totally honest when saying I don't do fun things all the time. It's almost hard not to do something fun in San Francisco on a daily basis. I fall more and more in love with this city every minute. And I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.