Car Detouring and San Francisco. Sept 2-7, 2014.
This map isn’t actually representative of places traveled in this post, I just wasn’t able to keep my GPS tracker plugged in for the rental van because there was only one jack. So, this map only tracks scooted territory.
When I heard Tim would be in the area for vacation and he invited me to join him, I succumbed to the call of car camping. We tried to plan a route for the van remotely, but I was occupied carrying out my own scooter travels. I’d have to ride hard to make it anyhow, so for a change I asked him to plan the entire route. The Sequoia National Forest, Yosemite, Lake Mono, and Death Valley were floated about in email exchanges, so these locations will probably appear further down. All I had to do was arrive at his childhood best friend, John’s, home in Gardnerville, NV by September 2.
And you know I can scoot hard.
What do you mean, you left the scooter behind? Sorry, not many scooter photos in this post. To be honest, ever since Beartooth Pass I was suffering from scenery overload. There was just too much to see. I had time to process a bit in Seattle, but was subsequently barraged by the scenic onslaught that is the Oregon coast. By California, I was beginning to glass over to the beauty of the changing landscape. I didn’t even want to take out the camera any more; everything was too big for my tiny screen, and how many angles of this blue scooter can I shoot before they all look the same? On top of that, my Vespa had developed an uncannily strong front end wobble. It was time for a break.
A whirlwind car trip through more of America’s national parks at an increased pace wasn’t the intuitive choice. For me though, it was less about the locales (I plan on visiting again by scoot) and more to visit with a friend. In Gardnerville, I rang the doorbell like I have in front of so many homes before, but this time I was welcomed by a face transplanted from my former stationary life: Tim. I gave him a hug big enough to span the miles. After decompressing with a shower, we shared dinner with John’s family. Tim and John had an easy rapport that could only come from growing up together, I enjoyed seeing this other side of my friend. After the kids went to bed, I joined the two of them for a glimpse into their multi-decade spanning D&D based game into the night.
The next morning, I parked the scoot in John’s backyard and covered it. It’s only temporary, I said quietly to her, and maybe to myself, before settling into the Dodge Caravan.
I think the first thing I did to get comfortable was prop my bare feet on the dash – an advantage when riding passenger in a car. Tim had already primed the vehicle for camping, the AC was cranking, and we filled the car with our musical taste overlaps: Miike Snow, The Shins, and Barenaked Ladies (judge if you want). The next few days would pass in a blur of naps, redwoods, and desert.
The bears of Yosemite seemed unnervingly comfortable around human folk. Another interesting note: tourists at this time of year were overwhelmingly from Europe, due to their extended vacation season.
Every so often, Tim would report the temperature reading from the gauge on the van. It sounds rote, but I appreciated the updates. It reminded me of the outside world, something towards which I felt conflicted. I was glad for the air conditioning and cushy seats in our shared protective shell. Had I taken the scooter (especially in this heat), I wouldn’t have had the endurance to explore ghost towns so much, or arrive at campsites after dark and a full day of miles, which was necessary in the limited time Tim had. In the van, we could share comments on our surroundings, easily make navigational changes, carry more supplies, and automatically had a shelter to sleep in. We could listen to Welcome to Night Vale on the stereo, and I’d missed spoken word narrative – there’s just too much wind noise in my helmet, and besides, I need attention for the road.
But it was strangely removed. The forest and valley slid by behind glass in an order I don’t remember. By my own decision, I’d not only relinquished myself to a car, but succumbed to weariness and gave up input on roads or pace. On an empty stretch of road, Tim had proved the van could go 100mph without breaking a sweat, but you couldn’t feel it at all. I missed the immediacy of the dust, noise, air, and whatever else was in the environment. I missed being responsible for my own path, all the way down to my hands pressing the handlebars, guiding the front wheel along mile after mile. It’s more exhausting and sometimes lonelier this way, but I knew it’s precisely the magic that makes me come alive.
Driving through the valley we played America – A Horse With No Name, and sang along loudly in the privacy of our metal bubble… but towards the end of the song tears began to sting my eyes. It was great to see Tim again, but I missed my scooter. I felt a bit like I’d given up part of myself, to be able to travel with a friend. Had I unwittingly traded freedom for companionship? Was I just fatigued? Why are those mutually exclusive anyway?
Feeling guilty, I brushed thoughts and tears away and resolved to return on my own, but for now to work on being present. We played the song again, because that’s a great song.
We were coming towards the end of another long driving day. Tim wanted to camp in Death Valley without too much backtracking, but he was tired and we both wanted to retreat to higher elevation for a cooler stay. The options looked grim (get it?), until we noticed an icon for primitive camping at Wildrose Campground. We took the winding, 35mph road in the dark. It carved through shadowy passes and meadows, and the beams of the headlights illuminated 3 coyotes, 20 hares, and dozens of dive-bombing flighted animals – were they birds or bats? It didn’t matter, we had a late dinner (grilled steaks picked up from Mexican market) and fell asleep with the van door still open to the bugless, cool night.
In the light of the next morning, Tim crossed in front of the car and jumped, releasing a short yelp. We had an answer to the birds or bats question.
Lone Pine is a relaxed, resort-y kind of town. We only stopped in for some pastries and coffee for me, but I liked the ‘adventure vacationer’ vibe. Also, the baked goods were cartoonishly oversized and delicious at Alabama Hills Cafe.
I don’t remember which road we took back to Gardnerville, only that it was a haul. Happily reunited with scoot, I loaded her up and we high tailed it west. Tim was headed to San Francisco for his flight back east, I was going to San Jose.
I forgot to mention in the previous post, the roads that first greeted me in California were dreamy. Challenging twisties that might be deified with a cute nickname in the east (The Rattler, The Snake), were just another California Route Something here. I was working hard not to drive off a rocky cliff or into the ocean due to gazing at the scenery. The roads carved into hillsides, climbing or descending with the wrinkles of the land or wrapping along the coastline. Every so often a gravel pull off appeared with a stunning view of the ground you just covered, and the thin dark ribbon flirting between the golden knolls that was your road.
Plus you can ride year round in relative comfort. It was positively utopian.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overshoot, and maybe not the middle of California so much. I’ve dubbed them ‘The Betweenlands’.
In spite of that darned wobble, I felt immediately better again to be back on the scoot. In spite of my overloaded travel circuits, Tim and I were hesitant to part ways and rode together until Stockton where he switched to the Interstate.
The setting sun shone directly in my eyes as I picked a route to my cousin’s place. At a red light by some wind farms, a sporty bike filtered past, reminding me, Oh right, it’s legal here. 227 miles later I turned down a quiet street, found the right number, and punched in the key code. The house was empty, but I’ve become disconcertingly fluent in strange homes. A shower later, and I mentally prepared to begin the semi-permanent stage of this journey.
But wait! Tim’s flight was overbooked, so he accepted the same flight the following day, plus a free overnight in San Francisco. The next day, I hopped on the highway to meet him for one more day of touring in the city.
Okay, for real now. I’m ready to be semi-settled again, to finish illustrations for work, explore the west coast on two wheels, and enjoy my first winter without snow in a long time.
I like the prospect of a "winter without snow".