Napa Valley…

Day Thirty-four:

My eyes opened at three thirty. Why? Not sure. I thought perhaps I heard thunder in the distance. The tent has been on a slight incline the past three nights and I’ve been sliding off. Regardless, when I realized that I was not going back to sleep around 4:15, I got up and broke down camp extremely quietly, slowly, and in near darkness. I was driving by 5:00.

I drove past the road that still was closed due to the fires in Yosemite. After five hours, I arrived in Napa. The city was quiet. It’s most likely mobbed on the weekend. While wandering, I saw the recently opened City Winery Napa. A very nice lady offered to give me a tour of the venue after I mentioned that I’ve been to the original in NYC numerous times. In its previous life, the venue was the opera house. As soon as Morimoto Napa opened the doors, I was enjoying my treat for hiking Half Dome. (I think I’ll use it as an excuse for a few more days.) There’s something about “bento-box esque” lunches that I find so appealing. So delicious!

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The next stop was in Yountville. When originally planning the trip, I was tempted to reserve a dinner at The French Laundry. Within three seconds I realized that was not the ideal meal for a solo traveler whose car is packed with camping gear. One day I’ll return. The second best thing was choosing two pastries from the Bouchon Bakery. (Again, that Half Dome thing.)

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A few more miles north, I reached Cakebread Cellars. As I seriously prefer white wine, I was given the recommendation of heading here. (Thanks, Megan.) The wine specialist, Summer, was extremely nice and knowledgeable. I shared my wine tasting experience with Lucy and John. They were great company. (Hello, if you’re reading this post.) After sampling several white wines, and having serious conversations about bacon, caramelized onions, Denver, and South Dakota, I headed north again.

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Calistoga was a nice town to wander around for a short time. (Thanks, Eileen.) Unfortunately, the outside temperature was 101 degrees. After twenty minutes, I decided that an air conditioned hotel room was a safer option. I’ve been relaxing for a few hours and will appreciate the comfortable bed tonight.

Final Thoughts:

Sushi, wine, and pastries are not the worst things to fill your day with.

Yosemite…

Day Thirty-one:

Yosemite National Park looked as if it was snowing. Unfortunately, it was ash. A massive fire was sparked by lightning and smoke was in the air. (As of now, over 2100 acres have burned.) I spent the morning and early afternoon wandering around Yosemite Village, doing laundry, and setting up camp. My cousin, Kevin, arrived shortly thereafter. We spent time catching up. After all, with twenty-two years between our last visit, there was a great deal to discuss. We cooked dinner, and walked to grab ice cream. We tried to get to bed early, with our alarms set for four-thirty in the morning.

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Day Thirty-two:

The alarm wasn’t even needed. I woke up at 4:15. We made coffee, ate breakfast, and geared up. We got to the trailhead at 5:30 in the morning. Here are some details about our hike. (I’ll let you use these with the photos to create your own description of the day.)

-Total distance hiked: 17.5+ miles
-Total time hiked: 13.5 hours
-Total elevation gain: 4,800 feet
-Total elevation drop: 4,800 feet
-Total water consumed: 1.5+ gallons

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Day Thirty-three:

Needless to say, my legs are sore. Kevin and I got up, and drove towards the Ansel Adams Gallery. We hobbled on a picture taking walk with our guide, Christine. On our walk, we encountered a large black bear eating apples no more than twenty feet from us. Afterwards, Kevin and I said our farewells.

I’ve been finishing writing postcards to my students. It’s a nice tradition, but 55 postcards take awhile to write and address. With my exhaustion, the plan is to take things easy today. I’m going to grab a shower, pizza, and a beverage at Curry Village later. Tonight, I hope to return to Yosemite Village to capture Half Dome in the sunset.

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Final Thoughts:

Fear can be immobilizing. Yesterday, I experienced such fear on the cables up to Half Dome. In moments like that, I’ve learned that true internal dialogue is quite powerful. I kept telling myself that I just need to take each board at a time, and keep a good grip. The entire day was powerful, exhausting, long, wonderful, extreme, and peaceful at the same time. Like any fear generating experience, the journey is only enriched.

Big Sur and the Coast…

Day Twenty-eight:

Departed the beach and began heading up the coast. Based on what I’ve heard people say, I decided to stop in Morro Bay. I’m so glad I did. Morro Rock was covered in a blanket of fog that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Walked around the shops a bit, and visited a really eclectic little shop run by a sweet lady named Heather. I also visited a skateboard museum in town. On the docks, I chatted with a fisherman named Don. We talked awhile about fishing and traveling. I thought he’d be a good person to ask about fish tacos for lunch. He told me to drive to the next town for his favorite place. Before doing so, I drove to the base of the Morro and met a local friend sitting on the rocks.
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The recommendation to stop at Duckies in Cayucos was good advice.

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I stopped very briefly at the Hearst Castle. After seeing the throngs of people, the over the top commercialization, and the screaming people, I decided that the two minute view from the observation deck was more than enough for this trip. I’ll return when I’m in a walker some day.

Highway One was something I had been looking forward to since planning this trip. It may come as no surprise, but I thoroughly enjoy driving. Add twists and turns, beautiful scenery, a cool ocean breeze that necessitates window down driving, it simply can’t get any better. Along the drive, I saw elephant seals, eagles, and even a condor! Had I not been on a tight curve with cars all around, I would have stopped to snap a photo. As a child, I has visited the Wild Animal Park where the conservation efforts were centered. To see one freely soaring over the cliffs with its massive wingspan is certainly a highlight.

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As I got closer to my campground, I stopped at another state park. The walk to the waterfall overlook wasn’t long, and I secretly wished it required more effort to see the view.

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I pulled into my campground around 5. After setting up camp and cooking dinner, I decided to relax amongst the redwoods that my site was nestled between. I spent the evening reading, which I love to do. (Sadly, I don’t get to read as much during the school year, as I’m often exhausted at night.)

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Day Twenty-nine:

The following morning, I got up early to beat the crowds to a local beach with amazing views. The road is a two-directional one lane road that runs for two miles. The entire time driving down, I thought about the cars I would pass on the way back up. (I didn’t pass a single car on my return trip.) The morning was beautiful. I had read that the winds can be so strong that visiting is nearly impossible. Luckily, only a gentle breeze accompanied me that morning. I was the only person there for about thirty minutes, then others arrived. A father and son carried their surfboards towards to insane waves. (Yikes. There were a few times when I held my breath to make sure they would surface.) I spoke with a nice couple from the Philly suburbs who happen to live a town or two over from where my friend Lisa lives. After being on the beach for an hour and a half, I began my exploration of the coast.

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My first stop after the beach was in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Every time I have heard someone mention Carmel, they mention how much they love it. I can see why. I walked around the shops, and down to the ocean where I saw sea lions swimming along the shore. There was a cute little French cafe where I had lunch. Overall, a short, but sweet, visit.

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I paid my $10 toll to drive along the 17 Mile Drive. Must be nice to afford some of those homes. I stopped to walk around the Pebble Beach golf course. I’m not a golfer, but I could see why this course is so famous.

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As I continued along the drive, I stopped at various points to take in the views and to take photos. The crashing waves were my favorite.

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Pacific Grove was a nice stop. Grabbed a coffee, strolled along the town, and even spotted a unicorn. (There was some sort of a festival going on. I saw two kids in full monkey costumes walking with their mother.)

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Drove the 30+ miles to return to camp. After eating, I decided to take an early evening hike to a waterfall. The two mile out-and-back trail was good exercise, as I haven’t hiked in a week after non-stop hiking. (A little appetizer for my 16-mile hike tomorrow morning.) Two baby deer jumped in front of me on the trail.

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Day Thirty:

Drove through the fog on my new favorite road. I walked around Cannery Row in Monterey while waiting for the aquarium to open. I spent about three and a half hours exploring the famous aquarium. My favorite part was watching the feeding in the Open Ocean. After that, the crowds were getting to be too much. Ate at Bubba Gump’s & grabbed Pinkberry for the road. Headed towards Yosemite.

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I had planned on updating the blog and doing laundry last night at the KOA, but neither were working. So I hit the road early this morning to do both in the park. As I’ve been out of the loop, I hadn’t realized that Yosemite has been dealing with major fires this past week. One of the main roads into the park is currently closed. (Mine was open.) There is a smoky haze throughout the park. Every employee that I’ve seen this morning is talking about it. Fires are an essential part of regeneration, but it sounds like this is worse than usual. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to my first visit here, and my hike tomorrow. I’ll update again at that point.

Final thoughts:
Big Sur was stunning.

Big Sur

I started and finished The Fault in Our Stars in the last few days. It has been on my “to read” list for many months now, but I decided to save it for the trip. Overall, I enjoyed the story and the characters very much. I always find the connection one could have to fictional people remarkable. Definitely not an easy read in terms of emotions, but one that I highly recommend.

Carlsbad to Santa Barbara…

Day Twenty-seven (I think):

Woke up early and said farewells to Aunt Diane & Uncle Orv. Hit the road and ran into the inevitable traffic that permeates the LA region. Drove past Disneyland on I-5, and was tempted to abandon my plans and make an unexpected detour. I kept on trekking. After a three hour drive, I made a quick visit to the UCLA campus to say a quick hello to some of the people I know from my many summers of working out west. It was good to say hello to Jimmy & Brian. After ten minutes I was out the door, hoping my illegally parked car was ticket free. (It was.)

I made my second visit to the Getty Center this morning. The first time I experienced the Getty several years ago, I was amazed. The architecture and location alone would be reason enough to go. Add thousands of pieces of artwork, and it’s an even bigger draw. Took photos galore, ate lunch, then continued onwards.

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After the hilltop stop, I continued on towards Santa Barbara. I’ve only passed through the city, never stopping to explore. Grabbed an iced latte, looked at all of the expensive gear in a REI, and wandered about for over a hour.

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The remaining drive was only a few short miles to the El Capitan State Beach. I’ve camped here before, but this time seems much less hectic without 40 teenagers sharing a campsite. The views are amazing here. I enjoyed taking photos from several areas. The water was cold. Knee deep was more than enough to experience.

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Final Thoughts:
Campground etiquette is a fine art, which has skipped over many of the people here tonight. When I arrived, all three of the parking spots designated for my site were filled. As I pulled up near my site, three competing people from different sites were trying to persuade me that I should let them stay. Thank goodness for the campground host driving by on a golf cart at that moment. He explained that any vehicle in another site will be ticketed. One guy kept giving me dirty looks. I wonder how some people get by in life. Even the stairs seemed to be making faces at me…

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Southern California…

Day Twenty-three:

The Movie Colony Hotel was such a cool place. I went to have a continental breakfast fairly early at the outdoor kitchen/bar. The other Gregory was there with his friend. Thoroughly enjoyed having breakfast with them. After packing up, I headed for the mountains. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was immediately put on my “To See” list when I knew I was passing through. The ride up was beyond amazing. The circular tram rotates 360 degrees while you’re ascending to the peak of the mountain. When I arrived, I decided to complete a short 1.5 mile hike, during which I had views as far as the eye could see. The walk back to the tram was accompanied by a very nice family from LA who were preparing for their own cross country trek in the near future. (Hello, and safe travels!)

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After a short two-hour drive, I arrived at my aunt and uncle’s apartment. It is always so nice to visit with them. We’ve been fortunate to be able to arrange visits every few years, whether on the east coast or west coast, or even on neutral territory. We spent some time catching up before heading over to Forrest’s 21st birthday bash. (Pure coincidence that I planned my visit sixth months ago to arrive on this day. An enjoyable coincidence.) We arrived a bit early and helped with the set-up and decorating. If you were ever wondering how many people it takes to screw in dozens of lightbulbs, the answer is two!

I’m so happy to have been present for Forrest’s celebration. My lasting memory of him is still as a young boy jumping and screaming in my parents’ pool in NY. How time flies…

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(Thank you, John & Sarah for welcoming me to the party… and for the design inspirations for my new apartment.)

Day Twenty-four:

Snooze, round two!!!

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After breakfast, we tried to burn off some of those pancakes by walking around Solana Beach and Encinitas. We were able to organize a brief meeting with Rose & the family on the sidewalk. Root beer floats topped off our visit. So much for walking off those pancakes.

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We spent the afternoon resting. I even managed to do two loads of laundry. In the evening, we went to see the movie, Tammy. I can’t explain why, but I find Melissa McCarthy hysterical, even when she’s not overtly trying to be funny.

Day Twenty-five:

Snooze, round three!!! (Truth be told, when I mentioned to Rose & the kids that we had gone and showed a picture, they suggested we go there for breakfast. I promise, I don’t have an addiction!)

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I became an “adopted” member of Rose’s family for the day. We entered the world famous San Diego Zoo and promptly headed over to the sky ride that takes you to the other side of the zoo. (Whenever I see that ride, I think of the cautionary tale that had always been told to the staff when I worked for the tour company.)

We spent the morning and afternoon wandering throughout the exhibits and watching the animals watch us. I had fun pestering the children to take some family photos. (I’m pretty sure there are one or two great ones on my camera.) After walking, we got an ice cream/popcorn treat and boarded the guided bus tour. The sun was strong, and at that moment we all knew that our trip to the zoo had come to a close.

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After the zoo, we headed to the Gaslamp Quarter to grab a quick pizza dinner. I took the family to Urban Outfitters, which the kids thought would be boring. Little did they know… They went to the movies, and I gassed up the car and drove back north. What an enjoyable day…

Day Twenty-six:

Waiting (and starting to write this blog) in the Hyundai dealership. For those who are curious, I’ve already put on 5,200 miles on my car since leaving NY. I’m waiting for my 15,000 mile service to be completed before heading to Trader Joe’s and Target to gather my provisions for seven consecutive nights of camping.

Spent the afternoon hanging around the apartment. Aunt Diane and I went for coffee and tea at a newly opened (and very empty) tavern/coffeehouse that is a replica of one from the colonial days in Boston.

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We met up with John and Sarah for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Enjoyed the company of family that I don’t see as often as I would like. After dinner, we went to a cool surf shop and then an even cooler ice cream shop. After choosing between the base, flavors, and add-ins, liquid nitrogen is added to freeze the concoction.

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My flavor: Blackberry peach malted custard with mango & cashews…

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Final Thoughts:
The initial hope for the Southern California visit when planning the trip was to keep it low key. My hope was realized. I still managed to see many new places, but the focus was relaxing and enjoying the company of my family.

Memories took center stage the past few days. We spent so much time reminiscing about shared memories, as well as those we did not share. Much time was spent on talking about my grandparents, both of whom I sadly didn’t know for that long. My grandfather passed away when I was around two years old, and my grandmother passed away when I was ten. I see them both so much in my aunt, and it makes me smile. She shared with me a humorous note that my grandfather sent to her while in college. She humored me by bringing out a small metal dog sculpture that used to adorn the window sill near my grandmother’s kitchen sink. I was so fascinated by it as a child.

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We also made new memories and shared many laughs. I felt the same way about spending the day at the zoo. The memories that I will take from this entire trip will hold a special place with me always. Thinking about that brings such peace and contentment. It’s a great thought to process as I’m about to close my eyes to go to sleep.

Mojave and Joshua Tree…

Day Twenty-two:

After walking back from the northern end of Las Vegas Blvd. to the southern end the night before, I hit my snooze button several times this morning. Grabbed coffee, checked out, and hit the road. I stopped in Primm to gas up the car. Sadly, the roller coaster there doesn’t open until the afternoon. I had been on it back in 2004, and received the greatest spinal adjustment ever at that time.

Within a few minutes, I crossed the border into California and entered into Mojave National Preserve. I am always amazed at how peaceful it is driving through areas where the road is the only sign of human existence. When planning the trip, I prepared myself mentally for 110-120 degree temperatures. It was a surprise that the car’s thermometer read 93. Either way, I had two extra gallons of water in the trunk… just in case.

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I arrived at Joshua Tree National Park in the early afternoon, already having seen many of its namesakes along the way during the previous hours. The Mojave Desert truly looks like Dr. Seuss’s desert. After stopping several times to take pictures of unique looking trees, I decided that the outside temperature was not conducive to making multiple stops. (Interesting tidbit of knowledge… Joshua trees are neither tree nor cactus, rather a relative of the lily.) I’m glad that I decided to drive a little farther into the park, as the views of the valley and the San Andreas Fault below were amazing.

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After passing some incredibly beautiful windmills and holding the wheel tightly due to string winds, I arrived at a Palm Springs. While checking in, I was immediately shown that I selected a smaller hotel with character. The front desk employee, Juana, left her post to walk me to the room, pointing out all of the services available to me. Besides the pool, the hot tub, and the cruiser bicycles, she noted that I could use any of the kitchen area resources located under the misted bar. Perhaps some French press coffee in the late evening? (The room was less than a hundred dollars when I booked in January. I am still shocked. If you’re ever planning on visiting the area, I highly recommend this hotel.)
I had planned on going out to dinner right away, but as I descended the stairs, Juana was setting up a happy hour for the guests. Naturally, I stuck around. As others gathered, we began to chat and share our stories. I spoke mostly with a very nice woman from Massachusetts who was awaiting her husband to arrive via airplane to celebrate her birthday tomorrow. We talked about places we’ve been, and I talked up the a Highline Park when she mentioned that she’s on a current assignment in the Newark area. Another couple just moved to Vancouver from Seattle. There was even another Gregory! After an hour, I decided that walking to dinner would be much more pleasant, and necessary, and would have to wait a bit. After an hour rest, I walked a mile to get sushi, which I haven’t had in almost four weeks. Grabbed some banana & peanut butter frozen yogurt, and headed back to the hotel for a night swim. (Something tells me that I’ll be humming Ingrid Michaelson’s cover of the REM song that I heard at Red Rocks several years ago.)

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Final thoughts:

Today was officially my first day alone on this journey. However, as happy hour proved, that is not entirely true. People had such mixed reactions when I told them I’d be solo for the second half of the trip. Some seemed worried, others seemed envious of the opportunity for solitude. I found the drive today relaxing. I was able to think clearly, enjoy the landscape, and sing out loud with no one having to worry about bleeding ears. I am excited to have more opportunities to do the same in the coming weeks.

As for tomorrow, I’m heading westward to spend time with my California relatives. I have enjoyed the time that I’ve been able to spend with them over the years. The next four days will be great. You’ll hear from me again at that point.

Good evening…

… After swimming, I decided that I would try my first link on the blog.

Nightswimming