Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hilariously delayed Californian rambles

No, not dead. Just lazy. However I've finally found the energy to move my fingers a little bit and click things, so here goes!

Towards the end of my stay in Vegas I get an email from Tyler, who some of you may remember from some of my India blogs, for example when I thought he'd been eaten by bears. It was a long, ranty, persuasive email full lists of amazing things to do and see, and waving off my excuses by saying things like 'I see here a bad case of the "next time i travel across the world to the place that im already at" mentality'. I decide he's totally right and not at least seeing a bit of the actual USA whilst I'm there is pretty stupid. So, I cancel my flight and Tyler makes the casual 2,000km drive from Michigan to Vegas to meet me at The Bellagio. It's bizarre seeing someone again that you link in your mind to one particular time and place but in a totally different setting - India and Vegas are pretty much polar opposites - but also really nice. Tyler's very easy to get along with (even if I'm not!) so we're off straight away, talking crap and playing cards. We plan to spend a little time in Vegas to build up a roadtrip roll, which doesn't entirely go to plan, but we need to head to San Francisco to meet his friend Caspian (best name ever) and his cousin Garrett. As the valet brings round his dilapidated but completely indestructible Volvo estate to the front of the Vdara, stuffed to overflowing with seemingly everything he owns, I get that tingle - you just know what's going to happen is totally unpredictable and new; that sense of adventure is undeniable!

Tyler points to one of the many dents and yells to the valet 'What the hell did you do to my car!?' and then cracks up. It's going to be a gooood ride - time to hit the road.

Since I can't drive (much to his amusement) Tyler is on driving duties for the whole trip - which is an impressive feat since we end up travelling for thousands of miles more - and is a great driver, although being in his car can be... exciting! Shall we say. He has a habit of ignoring traffic laws he disagrees with ('look at all these stupid-ass people waiting for an opening! pfft'), is usually seen rolling a joint on the map that he's also using to navigate whilst choosing the music on his ipod and cruising at 75, and occasionally drifts onto the hard-shoulder if he needs to complete a particularly awesome air-mandolin solo.

Multiple complaints about the mixture of my feet, sandals and infrequent washing - out they go!

On one memorable occasion, we're driving along, and we see smoke. Lots of forest fires in these parts, so we look around for it. Gets steadily worse to the point that my eyes are watering and we can't see very well, so we wind up the windows. That makes it worse. It starts to dawn on us...
'Dude, I think my car's on fire.'
'You need to pull over. Right now.'
We swerve to the hard shoulder and jump out, realising how bad the smoke is - both of us half-expecting the car to explode. After a few minutes of smouldering, Tyler approaches is cautiously and then starts laughing - a butt has landed on some paper and caught fire, no engine explosions for us.

So, we manage to get to San Francisco in one piece! Caspian is the perfect host - kind and generous and shows us great places in San Francisco, introduces us to lovely people, and gets us free booze. What more could you wish for?

She's also the daughter of the owners of California's biggest family-run winery up in Sonoma - the quintessential small and beautiful American town, exactly how I'd imagined it. The farmer's market, where I try my first corn dog:

(seriously what the hell america?! weirdest food ever)

We meet up with Garrett who's flown in from Indiana. He's 19, smart and eager to see all he can - he'd been to one big city before San Francisco. His sense of wonderment is infectious! We see a bit more of the city before we go, including The Castro (the gay district - go watch 'Milk') and Haight-Ashbury (birth of the 60's!) where we talk bollocks with people at the International cafe, I'm sold a Ben and Jerry's by a red-eyed, sleepy pair of ice cream experts, and see this lady:

Haight-Ashbury is actually a little depressing and corporate, lots of trinket shops selling tie-dye headbands and t-shirts with pot leaves on them. Still, was obviously still a fun place to hang around!

With some reluctance we decide we should hit the road, Garrett's time is limited and he wants to see some trees! Well we all do. We set off up the coast towards the Redwood National Park, stopping off in Sonoma to watch The Big Lebowski on a big screen at the winery. Perfect.

One more stop along the way is a hot-springs retreat, with pools, yoga and meditation classes, music shows, etc. The pools are clothing-optional(!), so I do the whole take-your-clothes-off-and-bathe-with-a-bunch-of-strangers thing, which is ok I guess. Seems to be more about the nudity than the hot springs... also the creepy 50yr old men that stretch and sigh and whisper sweet nothings as they float past really aren't conducive to the relaxing the pools are supposed to be good for, so not sold on the whole deal personally! Still, the place itself is beautiful; I'm camped in a totally secluded spot next to a stream, tons of wildlife and peace.

My memory of exactly where we went and which forest was which is a little hazy by now, so it'll just be general impressions and pictures. Our daily routine when going from place to place would usually be: get woken up by a campsite owner (or police officer) at 6am telling us to move, pile our stuff into the car and drive with frequent stops and detours for exploring and mini-hikes during the day.

Mild confusion and increasing frustration follows as we realise we don't know where we're going or will sleep, we drive for hours into the night trying to find a campsite with a space until Tyler snaps and parks off the edge of a dual carriageway next to a blind corner and we set up camp - and repeat. It's all good fun and I do enjoy it, but it does result in very little sleep and as anyone who knows me is aware: I need lots. I think Tyler gets a little frustrated at my apparent lack of enthousiasm, but it really is just a lack of energy - I can't keep up with his endless reserves! Looking back I definitely regret not making the most of it, but when I get into one of my exhausted states there really isn't much I can do, I become zombified. My brain is replaced by cotton wool and I just float with the clouds - usually when I get like this I just cancel everything and hole myself up in my room for a week/month but obviously this isn't really an option here. As I say, I do have a great time, I just hope Tyler doesn't think me ungrateful!

We do find some nice campsites along the way too where I can recuperate:

Our own stream:

We end up in Yosemite National Park, Caspian joins us and we do our first proper walk. This was just before Tyler nearly stepped on a lethal snake:

Tons of stuff happened on the way, met enumerable interesting people and saw dozens of amazing places, but far too many to recount, so I think I'll just leave you with some pictures of the trees. There is a true sense of awe walking around the forests here, such stillness and a deep silence with these natural towers all around. Most striking to me were the fallen trees; you could see where they had snapped and broken, see how they'd fallen - it was like each one told a little story. Anyway, enough rambles - they speak for themselves.

I shall be coming back.

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