Last Friday at 2pm, Jackson called me on Google chat. I was about 99% sure it was an accident, but he started talking right away. He mumbled about poor call quality, hung up, and called me back on the phone. He immediately asked the only thing I’d hear for the duration of our call: “Hey, uh, *dramatic pause* what do you think about going to California this weekend?”
Obviously I interpreted that as, “Hey, we are going to California for the weekend.” I heard nothing that followed – such as him saying that the entire trip depended on receiving supplies that we would be dropping off on the way and his boss approving the trip. Those catalysts were minor details in my mind, and I expected Jackson to arrive home 45 minutes later, and for us to be on our way. I gave him until about 3pm and started nagging. “Where are you?” and “What’s the latest?” texts were met with “Still waiting on the supplies” as responses. FINALLY, I got the word – pack the car, it’s official – supplies arrived and boss approved!
We initially planned on getting to Reno Friday night, then heading to Tahoe after dropping the work supplies for Jackson’s job in Carson City. So, I looked up the forecast for Tahoe and packed somewhat accordingly. More accurately – I threw a bunch of top layers in my bag, every vest, jacket and fleece, and figured I’d be fine with a pair of shorts and one pair of leggings. Jackson arrived home shortly before 4:30, took a similar approach to packing; we threw our camping gear in the car with the work supplies and headed out before 5pm.
Soon, we were the farthest West on I-80 that we’d ever been, listening to the radio as we drove through the desert. Jackson was being rather silent, which isn’t unusual – especially when he’s plotting something. Finally, I asked how he envisioned the next 48 hours. He told me he thought of making Tahoe a stopping point en route to Yosemite. Also, he was going to take Monday off so we got an extra day for the road trip… WHAT!!! Yosemite!??! HELL YES. Our plan shifted multiple times, evolving from a day hike and camping in Tahoe then heading South to having lunch in Tahoe and immediately continuing on to Yosemite. We crossed into Pacific Time Zone as we chased the setting sun. Jackson repeatedly offered to take the wheel, but I stubbornly drove the entire way to Sparks, NV – just outside of Reno.
Up early the next morning, we drove through an interesting little town called Virginia City, NV. Uneven boardwalk-style sidewalks, old western store fronts, a museum paying homage to Mark Twain, and an annual Outhouse Race were made complete by the stunning views. It was a worthy stop en route to Carson City. Honestly, I wish we had passed through a little later in the day so we could have stopped in the museum or watched the race :D.
After a quick stop in Carson City to drop off the work supplies, we arrived in South Lake Tahoe by 11am. We parked the car and walked a short way along the beach, taking pictures with Ponderosa pine cones that were larger than my head. We sat on a bench overlooking the massive lake and planned the next part of the trip. It was at that point that I decided to look up the weather in Yosemite: HOLY COLD. Temps were going to drop into the 20s at night. Oof.
We got food supplies for camping then stopped at MacDuff’s Pub for lunch before driving to our next destination. On the way, we talked about needing to come up with a list of places we want to visit so we could start really organizing our adventures. Maybe that night once we were warm in the tent… The drive was beautiful despite CA drivers rivaling UT motorists for the honor of Worst Drivers in America. After a few hours over winding passes, we arrived in Yosemite. Another National Park!! The ranger informed us that all campgrounds within the park boundaries were full, so we U-turned back out after renewing our annual pass and stopped in the first campground outside of the park. We have terrible luck with these things, so we were in shock and disbelief when we saw two open spots. Another group pulled in at the same time and claimed one, we put our money into the box and claim slip on the other. We set up our tent to make it clear this was our space, then drove back into the park.
We enjoyed a short meandering hike on the John Muir Trail to the river then strolled back to prepare dinner. While Jackson was starting the fire, a couple pulled up to the campsite and asked if there had been a slip on the post. UGH – of course it was too good to be true. Their slip must have been lost in the wind, but we still felt bad. They started to pull away, but we decided we couldn’t let anyone with a MA plate just be left out in the cold. I walked over as they were re-attaching their trailer, and offered to share the space. We made friends for the evening and learned about their awesome adventure – talk about a road trip! They had been traveling since late July, sleeping in their trailer, seeing everything from the Badlands to Banff to Glacier National Park. After Yosemite, they were continuing their journey south before heading up to Seattle to catch a flight to Hawaii (one way tickets FTW). They were fun to learn about and I’m grateful that we all shared the campsite.
Jackson and I woke up early Sunday morning, broke down camp, and drove into Yosemite Valley. Along the way, we stopped at a view point where we saw Cloud’s Rest and Half Dome. Hm.. one of my friends had just posted a picture from Cloud’s Rest… Seriously!? KBenson was in Yosemite!? At the same time?! And I don’t have cell service to track him down!?? Argh!!! I was more than mildly disappointed that our paths didn’t cross, but it’s ok because we’re planning a fun trip for the late spring, so we have that to look forward to. Aside from that realization, we got a spectacular view – the first of many we’d experience on Sunday. We drove around the valley, talked to a ranger in the Visitor Center to get ideas for the afternoon hike, then took the long way to get to Tunnel View. Breathtaking. El Cap and Half Dome staring at us, and a valley of conifers like I’ve never seen. I had already decided that if John Muir and I lived at the same time, we’d be best friends – seeing Yosemite confirmed that I was right.
After soaking in the epic view (and equally epic people watching), we drove back up toward Tioga Pass. We decided on a hike to Elizabeth Lake – it would give us enough time to get back to the car and out of the park before the road potentially closed for expected snow. It started off cold, warmed up momentarily, and dropped to something around frigid once we reached the lake. It was so beautiful up there though and worth the numb extremities. The cutting wind encouraged a faster pace and different route on the way back – which ended up being a little longer and ultimately connected with the John Muir Trail.
When Jackson and I arrived back at the trailhead, there were signs that the road closure would take place at 7pm. It was 4 so we had plenty of time to get out of the park and over Tioga Pass. We drove until we had cell service again then researched camping spots along the route home. We found a place surrounded by aspens and literally nothing else – we were 3 miles off the road into the middle of nowhere. The tent was set up, and we started cooking dinner. Somewhere in the next 20 minutes, both of us got so cold that we decided to sleep in the back of the car instead of the tent. We enjoyed some gourmet Annie’s Mac n Cheese, rearranged our gear, and tucked into our sleeping bags for the night. We played Cribbage before deciding that the earlier we fell asleep, the earlier we could get started on the last leg of our road trip in the morning. I woke up a few times feeling cold, even though I had stuffed all of my jackets into my bag, so I was happy when the alarm went off at 6am. The car was covered in frost and when we turned on the car, the temperature read 16.
Convincing ourselves to get ready as quickly as possible so we could get warm again, we packed everything up and started driving back to the main road. The sunrise cast a gorgeous glow on the mountains to our West so we stopped to capture it.
On the drive back to SLC, Jackson and I finally started putting together the list of places we want to visit while soaking in the surroundings on a new route – and it’s enough for a full time explorer who gets paid to adventure. The destinations fell into three categories: regional, domestic, and international. I sure hope we win the lottery so we can make it to half of the places we just set as goals. Luckily, we live in an incredible place where some of the destinations are just a crazy weekend road trip away…
*I need to share photo credit with Jackson Arvidson – some of these are either his photos or taken with his phone.