Archive for the ‘California Dreamin’ Category

Vacation Day 8 – The End

Friday, June 26th, 2015

I’m happy to report that my ‘rain-sense’ seems to be working in the Sierra’s. I had thought that I had totally lost it. You see, I had this uncanny sense of when it was going to rain. We would sleep in the tent with the fly off, and I’d wake up about 2 minutes before the rain started. This had not been the case when we moved to California. I was no longer able to ‘sense’ when the rain would start. So, I was relieved when I awoke at 4 am for my usual trip to the loo. Immediately upon returning to the van, the rain started. First it was a light sprinkle, but then turned into a serious coastal mountain rain.

When I awoke and was ready to get up at 8am, it was still raining. There was no sign of it letting up. We decided to pack up and head to the cafe at Toms Place for a dry/warm breakfast and hopefully some Internet, where we could check the weather forecast and figure out where to go next. We had originally planned on another day hiking at Rock Creek and then a day at Mammoth Lakes, but neither was any fun if the rains were constant and heavy.

It turned out that the only place in Northern California it wasn’t raining that day was Napa. So, we decided to head back over the Sierra’s to one of the state parks up in Napa. It would allow us to dry things out and perhaps go out for a nice meal. We had previously been to Sonoma, but had not been to Napa, so it would also be exploring a new area. The fastest way over the Sierra was through Yosemite. We had originally planned to drive over via Kennedy Meadows (which features in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild), but with the rain there weren’t many great scenic views to be had – so the fastest route made more sense. Either way, we were in for a long day of driving.

On the way through Yosemite we drove around the Tuolumne Meadows campground. It wasn’t particularly busy, but was certainly soaking wet. The roads through the campground were in remarkably bad shape for a National Park. The area was pretty nice and many people were still out and about, going on short day hikes in the area. We concluded that we much preferred the quieter campgrounds in Rock Creek valley. We would like to come back to Tuolumne Meadows to do a hike or two, but would probably try to stay in a National Forest campsite outside of the very busy national park. We snapped a quick picture and got back in the car to continue the uneventful drive to Napa.
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In Napa we stayed at the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Our expectations were low, so we were pleasantly surprised by the park. It was pretty much two open fields with campsites on the outside edges. What was nice was that the edges were trees, so you could choose a site that had either morning or afternoon sun (we opted for morning sun, thinking we might spend two nights there).

Since the campground was still pretty empty, the morning was rather peaceful (my favourite part of camping). I snapped a photo from my phone of the wild turkeys that were grazing in the field.
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After breakfast we decided that we were ready to just be home (OK, I decided I wanted to sleep in my own bed!). We had really enjoyed our time in the Eastern Sierra and will definitely make plans to go back and explore more. The old trees and the hiking were fantastic.

Through this series of posts, I’ve shared some of our pictures. You can see the full set in this gallery:

Vacation Day 7 – Rock Creek and the Upper Hilton Lakes

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

We awoke to another beautifully sunny day. We are glad we didn’t let the weather forecast stop us from exploring this area.
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Our original plan for the day was to go on a hike from our campsite. I was going to do part of the hike and then turn back when I felt I had done enough, and Scott would continue to hike a little longer.

Then I got in the hammock, and decided that I needed a rest day.

Although the sun was out, it wasn’t that warm outside, so the hammock with a couple of blankets was quite nice. The morning warmed up quickly, and I found myself shedding layers as I wrote and sipped my morning coffee. I am reminded of NaNoWriMo and thinking that my November project will be to write one of the GoingEast Books.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day lazing about at the campsite. It is so beautiful. I was even able to take a nap in the hammock.

While I was resting up, Scott went for a long hike, getting back just after 5pm.

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Yup, that’s snow.

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At one point, the trail Scott was following ended in a cliff. Rather than climbing it, he decided that backtracking was the safer of the options. I am very thankful that he made that choice! You can see the cliff in this picture.
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Some weather in the distance – foreshadowing what is to come …
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Not sure where my thoughts were at this point … but I was definitely thinking deeply!

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Vacation Day 6 – The Methuselah Walk

Monday, June 8th, 2015

We awoke to a beautiful morning. The weather up here is much warmer than it was at our last couple of campsites. If we didn’t desperately need showers and were not low on water, I’d suggest that we stay a second night!

After breakfast, we packed up and headed back up to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center with plans to walk the 4-mile Methuselah Walk. The walk “leads you through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, past the oldest known living tree in the world” – according to the self-tour walking guide that we purchased. We have found these self guided walking tour guides to be very informative and rather well written.

In 2001, there was a PBS documentation made about the Methuselah Tree.

Apparently the Methuselah Tree is no longer the ‘oldest’ known living tree, as there was another that has now be dated to be over 5000 years old (it is in the same area).

We hiked 6.32 km in just over 3 hours.

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The trail had rather steep edges. It was amazing to see trees clinging to the sides:

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Looking off into the distance, you can see the hills made of dolomite with dessert sage bush and Bristlecone Pine dotting their slopes.

Few species can tolerate the nutrient-poor and highly alkaline dolomite soil. This gives the slow growing Bristlecone a chance to grow nearly competition-free.

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The North and South slopes have quite different looks to them:
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Again we see trees that may have been dead for centuries and their trunks are still standing.
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For a new bristlecone pine see to form, pollen from cones,…,must pollinate a small purple bristly seed cone. Once pollinated, the small cone closes and begins to grow before winter. Next spring, the captured pollen will fertilize the ovule and seeds will develop. The seed code then grows rapidly and matures in the fall, opening to release a tiny white winged seed into the wind.

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The Methuselah Tree itself itself is not identified, to help protect it from vandalism. Instead, there is a labelled post and some nice rocks that act as a bench which overlooks a grove of several ancient trees, any of them could be the official Methuselah Tree. I’m now wondering if one of them is the even older, as yet unnamed, tree?

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I wonder, which one of these trees is the Methuselah Tree?

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Many of these ancient trees have exposed portions of their trunks. They only need one small strip of bark to carry nutrients between the pine needles and the roots.

Bristlecones were made famous for their age, but are most important to science because of their ability to record climate trends. Because the year’s growth depends entirely on the conditions of that year, the trees are sensitive to environmental changes, unlike a tree that may grow next to a stream and have the same amount of available moisture each year. Bristlecone’s sensitive nature gives scientists records of the past. Climates, droughts, severe frost, fires, and volcanic eruptions can all be recorded in these ancient pieces of wood.

I’m amazed at how this tree is still alive. You can see how the tree sprouts long roots with “some roots reach an astounding 50 feet out away from the main trunk.”
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At one point, we stopped at a bench to enjoy the view. Scott took a little nap:
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A snag may stand for thousands of years before it will eventually fall. This dead and down wood is of particular interest to scientists. Because the wood is so slow to decay, scientists can find pieces that are over 11,000 years old! Tree ring patterns in the dead and down wood are matched to other pieces and eventually to a living tree, allowing an exact date to be determined. This is called cross-dating and it has helped to recalibrate the radiocarbon dating process, linking these trees to history all over the world.

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After the hike we headed back to Bishop to do some laundry. We found a laundromat that also had showers – the cost was a bit steep, at $5 each, but given that we had not showered since Friday, we were in need! It was convenient to be able to do laundry, shower, check the Internet, and charge devices all at the same time.

We tried to grab a light dinner at one of the Bakeries in Bishop, but the sandwich counter was closed for the day.

We decided that our next destination would be Rock Creek. Our map of the Inyo Nation Forest showed that there were several different campgrounds along Rock Creek Road. In addition, we learned that all them had drinking water!

Before setting up for the night, we followed the road to its end, and along the way passed Rock Creek Lake.

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After exploring each of the open campgrounds, we chose a spot in the Upper Pines Campground. Our plan is to spend two nights here, and do a couple of different hikes in the area. The campground is at elevation 2875m or 9432 feet.

And of course the obligatory sunset photo:

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Vacation Day 5 – Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – Part 1

Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Before leaving the area south of Mono Lake, we decided to drive in a little further and take a hike. We found a dead end road that was not appropriate for Vance and hiked up it to see some great vistas (3.62 km, max elevation 2842m or 8324 feet).
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Dirt road that we hiked along:Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

We walked by this campsite. It would definitely have been a beautiful and peaceful place to camp:
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High altitude dessert in the foreground with the Eastern Sierra-Nevada in the background:
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Some of the hills had almost no vegetation, where others had some dessert sage brush:Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

A great photo that Scott took of me for my BCBecky Facebook page, so I don’t have to keep seeing my bald head:Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

On our walk down, we saw this very bright coloured bird. Any idea what type it is?
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On our way back from the hike we saw some ATVs or Motorcycles. That was the first sign of human life we saw since we entered the forest.  We did, however, see some hares and some deer. It was nice to have a quiet campsite, however, the morning was rather chilly. What we learned from this wild camping experience is that we would like an van/RV with at least a single burner stove. That would allow us to cook even when there are fire restrictions, but also would make it a lot easier to make up a pot of tea.

Having completed a morning hike, we headed out of the high country along highway 120 east to highway 6 then down to Bishop, which has a real grocery store and is known as the place to stock up before heading out into the Eastern Sierra. The drive down was interesting – there is mostly dessert and alpine shrub in the valley between the tall (snow on top Coastal Mountains that remind me of the Mountains in Kitimat) mountains of the Eastern Sierra and the White Mountains – which are not as tall.

It was while we were in Bishop that we decided our next destination would be the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. We stopped at the Ranger Station in Bishop and got some information on camping from the Ranger. There is a nice campsite not far from the Visitor Center called the Grandview Campground. The fee is $5 per night paid on an honour system. The campground itself has nice clean pit toilets, but no water. Fortunately, the ranger warned us about the lack of water at the campground, so we refilled our drinking water and our water bottles before driving up.

When I first heard about the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest I thought, why would I want to see a Pine Forest? I grew up in Northern British Columbia, in the middle of a bunch of Pine Forests! I truly had no idea how truly amazing, and different, the Bristlecone Pines are. These trees are 3000 – 4600 years old. They are 2000 years older than the giant sequoias in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. In the end, our walks through these ancient forests were definitely the highlight of my trip.

Before setting up for camp, we continued further up the road to the visitor center at Schulman Grove. There we learned of a short hike (1-mile loop) called the Discovery Trail. We decided this would be a nice way to see some of the Ancient trees before we setup camp for the night. We hiked 1.83 km (highest elevation 3145m or 10318 feet).

The ancient wood is so dense that it is very difficult to see the growth rings in this cross section of an old tree stump:
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Unlike the Redwood forest, there are very few types of vegetation that are able to live in the harsh environment.
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When I first saw these areas, I thought it had previously been logged and this was secondary or tertiary growth. Fortunately, the old really dense trees did not make for good wood for building houses or ships masts. It was a chance discovery by Dr. Edmund Schulman, in 1957 he took samples from a tree to study climate records only to discover the worlds oldest tree (at 4600 years old!).

The trees are rather spectacular. They are able to survive with only the smallest bit of bark along the trunks. You can tell this tree is still alive by the green foliage.

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Even dead shells of trees will remain standing for centuries.

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On the steep hills, the ground underneath the trunks erodes as centuries pass. The lower side of the trees are no longer alive, but the upper sides still have their roots firmly planted.
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Scott standing next to one of the larger trees along the Discovery Trail:

Looking back at Scott while he is still standing in the same grove of trees:
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They often grow in really cool spiral patterns:
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On our way back down to the campground, we stopped to take a photo at a scenic lookout:

There were a few other people camping, but for the most part our campsite was very quiet:
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And we even had a pretty sunset. A nice way to end the day.
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Vacation Day 4 – Mono Lake Basin

Saturday, June 6th, 2015

After a cold wet night, we awoke to a nice sunny day. Since we both slept in Vance last night neither of us slept particularly well. We each kept waking each other up. Although it was sunny and I had a chance to start enjoying my morning cup of coffee, that was soon disrupted by screaming (literally) children. Oh the joys of state park campgrounds.

With the weather looking up, we decided to head south to Mono Lake. This is a spectacularly neat area with a saline lake that exists at over 6000 ft. Mono Lake is saltier than the nearby ocean. The lake is home to billions of tiny brine shrimp in the summer months. These shrimp are harvested for tropical fish food.

There is no output for the lake. Many of the fresh water streams that were feeding the lake were dammed to create reservoirs for places like the City of Los Angles. The lake was drained (through natural evaporation and the damming of the streams) more than 40 feet. When this happened, Tufa’s were exposed – rock formations that happen when calcium rich fresh water meets the saline water of the lake. They are pretty cool to see and remind us of the Grotto in Iowa and a bit like Cappadocia in Turkey but on a much smaller scale. There is an active preservation campaign to try to get the water levels back up to a level that will allow for healthy management of the lake.

Although we had hoped to avoid rain while going south, we ran into storms over Mono Lake, in Inyo National Forest:
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We did not, however, allow the rain to stop us from exploring the tufa at Mono Lake (1.36km walk):
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Mono Lake is an important stop for many migratory birds, who feed off the summer brine shrimp:

There is even a brass giraffe tufa!

We decided to try out “dispersed camping” – that is not camping at a formal campground. This is also known as Boondocking … back in Canada we call is free camping. The kind forestry ranger and the visitor center gave us some maps for good placed to go, as well as a great map and visitor guide for the area.

As we drove down highway 120, we were struck by just how odd this forest looks:
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Unfortunately, just as we pulled off the main highway to head towards a campsite, we discovered that we needed a California Campfire Permit in order to operate our camp stove. If the stove had been built into the van (like in RVs), then a permit is not needed; however, a permit is required for camp stoves. So, we returned to the ranger station to get a permit (free, good for one year, available online). We took that opportunity to renew our Interagency Annual Pass (for all national parks and forests – we find the name of these passes confusing but have found the passes themselves to be very handy).

For our first night of high altitude camping, we ended up at about 8,800 feet (2700m). It was very quiet. From the time we pulled off the main road, we didn’t see any other people. According to the ranger, there are vault toilets up here, but we have yet to find anything that looks like such. Fortunately, we came prepared. For an
yone wishing to camp off grid, I highly recommend the book “How to shit in the woods”. It is both humorous and informative.

Dinner at the campsite:
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After supper we went for a short trek to the top of the hill across from our campsite (1.22km). It involved first crossing a bog with a little stream, which with the help of hiking polls I was able to step across and only get my feet minimally wet. When climbing the hill, we noticed that the ground was more like volcanic ash or sand rather than dirt. When climbing the hill we certainly noticed the thin air!

Looking back at the campsite:
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On top of the hill was a forest with no undergrowth. Ancient trees (but not big ones, we are 8000 ft after all), were dispersed with deadfall. It was almost like someone had paved between the trees, except that it was a sandy-ash rather than concrete.

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Vacation Day 3 – Calaveras South Grove Trail

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Mornings at a quiet campground are one of my favorite places. It is just the first week of the “high” season, so really it is a shoulder season here. It isn’t exactly warm, which means my fingers freeze as I write, and my warm coffee tastes just that much better as it warms my whole body.

Breakfast at a damp campsite and Vance with the awning up:
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After breakfast, we packed up camp and went for a hike along the South Grove trail ( This was was reported at 5 miles and involved a little more hill climbing. In reality, the hills were not too bad. I managed the full loop. Runkeeper tracked it at 5.77 km but I forgot to start it right away, so it was more like 6.5 km – certainly the longest I’ve hiked since the Peak Hike last October. My steps at the end of the day are in excess of 16,000. More importantly, I was able to walk for 2 hours without sitting down. That is a huge improvement. Of course, my feet hurt for several hours afterwards, but I do feel like they are recovering quicker too.

Scott hiked the extra part of the trail out to the end of the South Grove and caught up with me just before I arrived back at the car.

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Unlike the North Grove, the South Grove is much more in its natural state – a forest trail with all the natural mixed varieties of trees and underbrush. I found that I felt a lot more like I was on a forest hike. It helped that we only saw one other couple while we were out on the main trail. We saw several others that were just starting their hikes as we were finishing up.
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Me taking a picture of Scott taking a picture of me:

At one point, I got swallowed up by a giant sequoia:

Fortunately, Scott came to my rescue:

Part of the reason these trees live so long is that they are resistant to fire. Here you can see me looking up at the trunk of a giant sequoia that has had part of the core of the tree burned. Here I have jumped into the picture to provide scale:


The “Chimney Tree”– a large redwood burned inside so severely that a chimney was formed up through its broken top. The thick sequoia bark is relatively fire-resistant, but fire sometimes does manage to burn through. When this happens, fire can carve out a chamber inside the still living tree. (Harrison, 2008, p. 14)

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After our hike, and a picnic lunch, we showered then headed over the Ebbetts Pass to the  Grover Hot Springs State Park near Merkleeville. This campground is famous for its hot mineral springs swimming pools. The pools are open until 8pm; however, the campground ranger recommended going first thing in the morning (since tomorrow is the weekend, it opens at 8am) as they empty the pool at night and refill with fresh water in the morning. We may decide to give it a try tomorrow morning – it is somewhat dependent on the weather.

It started raining while we were driving. The rain has picked up – instead of occassional showers, it is a pretty steady rain. We were glad for the awning on Vance, as it gave us a dry space to setup and make our dinner. We’ve now reconfigured Vance to have the seats in the back accessible, so that we can sit on the back bench and read until we are ready for bed.

Dinner was clearly rather delicious … that or the beer was:
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If it is still raining when we get up in the morning, we’ll pack up and head to a restaurant for breakfast – one with Wifi which would allow us to check the forecast. If it is going to rain all week in the Eastern Sierra, we’ll figure someplace else to go. It is somewhat ironic that California is in the middle of a drought and yet we are getting rained out on our vacation!


Harrison, W. (2008). A Guide to the Interpretive Trail in the Calaveras South Grove Natural Preserve. Calaveras Big Trees Association: Arnold, CA. Available from:

Vacation Day 2 – Calaveras North Grove Trail

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Since we awoke to a stove the did not work, and we didn’t want to use our pots on an open fire, I had to get creative with breakfast. Fortunately, I had purchased some fuel tablets to use as fire starter: they could also be used to heat a pot of water. The process was slow, but we did manage (with two pellets) to get water hot enough for coffee, oatmeal, and tea. It could have been a little warmer, but overall, it works remarkably well. The good thing about having breakfast at the campsite is that we discovered we didn’t have any spoons in our camping kit. Spoons are the one thing we use the most, so after our last trip they got washed in the dishwasher and put away with our regular utensils, rather than being put away in the camping gear. Since the van was outfitted with utensils (that I brought with us), we had a backup, however, the spoons in that kit were tiny, so we added to our shopping list some real spoons!

Our first order of business was to go into town (Arnold, CA) and see if we could either get the stove fixed or get a new stove. Fortunately, Arnold has both a hardware store and a sporting goods store. The friendly folks at the hardware store could sell us a new stove, but not fix the one we have. Fortunately, the sporting good store had the one part that fails most on Coleman camp stoves – the regulator arm. After careful comparison, Scott bought a new one, tested it out, and validated that we now have a working stove. Meanwhile Becky picked up some spoons and a new lighter.

We headed further into Arnold to pick up some stuff. There happened to be a coffee shop (Becky wanting her second cup of coffee), which also happened to have Wifi. We ended up there a little longer than planned (until almost noon) managing a few things that happened while we were offline yesterday (a paper that Becky coauthored got published in Hybrid Pedagogy – yay).

All stocked up, we return to the campground to hike the North Grove Trail and see the Big Trees. The two big groves at Calaveras Big Trees State Park have giant sequoias but also giant sugar pines. As you can see by our track, we took a bit of a detour on the guided walk and ended up walking just over 5.4 km.

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Before hiking, we purchased the 50 cent walking tour guidebook/pamphlet from the visitor center. The guidebook is very well written and we were glad to have it. One thing that I found particularly interesting is that it referred to the people as Euro-Americans – I had not heard that term used before. It actually highlighted to me that the history of both the South Grove and North Grove are told from a Euro-American perspective. There is no mention of the place from a Native-American perspective. I am left to wonder whether there were Native-American peoples still alive in this space back in the 1850s when the groves were first ‘discovered’?

The North Grove Trail is rather open, with the majority of the trail groomed to be accessible by wheelchair. You can see here Becky standing next to a giant sugar pine.

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The first attraction on the North Grove Trail was The Big Stump. When the grove was first ‘discovered’ by the Euro-American Augustus T. Dowd, as a money making venture, the large tree (also known as the ‘Discovery Tree’) was cut down. At one point in time the stump was planed down to a smooth surface, a gazebo was built over it, and it was used as a dance floor.

Called the Discovery Tree, it was the largest tree in the North Grove. It was over 25 feet in diameter at the base, and over 280 feet tall. When the rings were counted, it was found to be only 1,244 years old–relatively young for such a large sequoia. (Harrison, 2008, p.1-2)

Becky leaning against one of the Giant Sequoia’s.

The tops of the giant sequoia’s don’t have a lot of leaves/branches.
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One of the only selfie’s we took on this trip.

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These Siamese Twins started life so close together that the first 50 feet of their trunks have merged and now appear to be one tree. (Harrison, 2008, p. 4)

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Another picture of Becky providing some scale for the size of the surrounding trees.
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The Pioneer Cabin Tree was chosen because of its extremely wide base and large fire scar. Because of the huge cut, this tree can no longer support the growth of a top, which you can see lying on the ground if you walk through the tunnel. The opening also has reduced the ability of this tree to resist fire. One branch bearing green foliage tells us that this tree is barely managing to survive. (Harrison, 2008, p. 10).

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We stopped at the scenic overlook on the way back to our campsite. Is that rain off in the distance?
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Before dinner, the weather shifted and it began to rain. This inspired us to setup the awning on Vance, which worked remarkably well. We were able to put the folding table (came with Vance) and two camp chairs under the awning. We sat and read for an hour and half and then made dinner. After dinner, we went over to visit our neighbour Debra. We sat inside her camper, drinking wine and sharing stories. It was a nice relaxing evening.


Harrison, W. (2008). A Guide to the Calaveras North Grove Trail. Calaveras Big Trees Association: Arnold, CA.

Vacation Day 1 – A comedy of errors

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

June 3, 2015

I found myself sitting at the campsite, slightly drunk after enjoying a glass of wine, thinking what else could go wrong? When we were packing, I figured we didn’t need the old matches that were in our camping kit. We had a nice lighter; however, I didn’t realize that the lighter was almost empty (oops). I was able to use it to light the mosquito coil, but wasn’t sure how much longer it would last. Fortunately, the camp stove in the rental van (named Vance) only needed a spark to start, that is, it didn’t need a flame. So, as long as we could light the camp stove, we could use it to light a fire. I had thought that perhaps we could use the cigarette lighter in Vance, but modern cars don’t come with cigarette lighters anymore!

It was chilly out, so I had planned to make a chicken soup broth to go with dinner. When we setup the camp stove we discovered that it leaked! Now, this wasn’t our camp stove, it was the camp stove that came in the rental van – for which we only had one set of keys – we left both of our fully functional camp stoves at home (a four hour drive away). Fortunately, I had bought baguette and salami at the grocery store before we left, and we also had an assortment of cheeses and fresh fruit. We could easily make dinner without the camp stove – breakfast on the other hand was going to be a challenge.

As I prepared dinner, I noticed that Vance’s doors were open. The mosquitoes were starting to get bad, and I didn’t want the van full of them as that is where I planned to sleep. The whole reason we rented Vance was so that I didn’t have to sleep on the ground. I walked over and closed the doors, then went back to making dinner. As I chopped up fruit, Scott was chopping up wood to make kindling for the fire. He went to grab something from the van, only to discover it was locked! The key was prominently displayed inside the van on the dash. This too happened due to a comedy of errors – Scott had been trying to reprogram the key so that it would not beep when the doors were locked. In doing this, he had inadvertently left the doors in a locked state. It did not occur to me to even check the doors, as we had been leaving the van unlocked when we were at the campsite.

So, there we were, with dinner half ready, locked out of the van, at a campground in the middle of no where (Calaveras Big Trees State Park), with no cell phone coverage – not that it mattered as both our phones were locked in the van – my immediate thought was that we were screwed. Taking stock of the situation, we realized that we did have the tent and sleeping bags. We could sleep OK with what we had, however, in the morning we’d be in the same stuck state – locked out of Vance. We asked around the campground for a hanger and only came across plastic ones. In reality neither of us knew how to use a hanger to open the door.

Fortunately, Scott did find a kind soul, who drove him into town (about 6 miles away) where he was able to phone for a tow truck to come out and unlock us. Upon return, we finished our dinner (and the bottle of wine) and waited. The tow truck was supposed to be there in about 30 minutes, but an hour had passed. It got dark, so we started the campfire. We sat next to the campfire and enjoyed the moment, while waiting for the tow truck.

Fortunately, the tow truck did eventually find us. It took him longer to process our credit card than it did to open the door. He used a balloon thing, fed it through a crack, inflated the balloon, then used a stick of some sort to press the “unlock” button. That had never occurred to me … in my mind opening a locked door involved using something to lift the lock nob, which no longer exist in most cars. So, $165 later, we were able to get back into the van, and the night ended on a positive note … with Becky happily tucked into bed in the back of the van and Scott sleeping in the tent. Becky even had an idea on how we might make hot water for breakfast in the morning …


Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Sailing is something that both Scott and I enjoy. Back in Ottawa, we spent several years racing sailboats. It is in part how we learned to communicate effectively early on in our relationship. It takes a lot to of communication to effectively race together!

Last summer, we decided to try out sailing with the America’s Cup boat in San Francisco ( The boat – USA 76 – was raced in the 2003 America’s Cup and was used as a training boat for the 2007 America’s Cup before it was retired and turned into a passenger/tour boat. It is the newest of the America’s Cup tour boats, in part because the newer boats use fixed wing sails that need cranes to put up. They would never get Coast Guard approval to take passengers, as they are not safe for the untrained person.

After our first trip out with them, we decided to sign up for the one year crew membership. This means that we can go out sailing with them anytime there is room for us on the boat. One of the things that we liked was that we could sail, be as involved as we wanted, without having to be involved. In part this was because I did not know how physically able I would be throughout cancer treatment.

We were lucky enough to be out sailing on the day they took the picture on the cover page of their website: I’ve put a copy of the picture here in case they change it. Scott and I are standing at the closest to the mast (front) of USA 76. You can identify us by our white Tilley hats!

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We went sailing this morning for the first time since October. The last bouts of chemo and then surgery meant that I wasn’t in any physical shape to go out on the boat. Today was the first time that I felt strong enough. I was able to take care of myself on the boat, but my experiment with grinding was a complete failure – I had to let go so that I didn’t hurt myself. My shoulders are still a bit sore from overuse as I spent some time with my arms hooked over the railing (in hindsight probably not the best idea).

At one point, one of the crew members went up the mast to check out how the sail was hoisted. The weather was perfect for it – we were on a long upwind leg that brought us almost all the way to the Golden Gate bridge and the water was pretty flat because the tide was flooding. He took a great photo – I’m the one second from the back of the boat with the white hat looking up. Scott is behind me with his head down getting his phone ready to take a photo. The mast is 11 stories high!

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And this is the photo Scott took just after that:

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Here is our requisite selfie with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background:

It was a fun morning sail. Because of the wind and tides, we got to sail a bit further out past the bridge, and also saw both sides of Alcatraz Island.  Hopefully we’ll find the time to get out for a few more soon 🙂

Tourist food and ‘fine dining’

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

We are up in Yosemite for our anniversary and finding ourselves wishing we had booked a condo with a kitchen rather than a hotel room. We tried twice to have a ‘nice’ anniversary meal (first at the Wawona Inn and then at the Ahwahnee Inn) – both times we were thwarted by mediocre food passed off as ‘fine dining’ (at fine dining prices) – so much so that we didn’t even consider taking a picture – although I wish we had, so you could grasp just how not elegant the food was. We are beginning to think that ‘fine dining’ just means ‘overpriced’. Perhaps, in the US there is a different term used to describe the elegantly presented fresh food that we are seeking? Perhaps I’ve watched too many reality cooking shows, that my expectations of ‘fine dining’ involve homemade bread that is still warm and vegetables that have never been frozen.

In Canada, if you go out for a nice lunch or dinner at say, a Fairmont Resort/Hotel, you get a nice fine dining experience. The food is fresh and elegantly presented. You leave the meal both satisfied but also having enjoyed the experience. It is a ‘fine dining’ experience.

This experience of overpriced mediocre food isn’t limited to Yosemite either – when my mother was visiting I had hoped to take her out to a nice fancy lunch at the Ritz Carleton in Half Moon Bay. Unfortunately, what we experienced was mediocre and way overpriced.

We have come to the conclusion that good food is not available at ‘tourist’ places. The tourist places get away with poor quality because of the volume of people that eat there only once. They have a continual stream of new tourists, they don’t need to cultivate return clientele. That or the American tourist palette sucks.

We know there is good food out there. We have discovered a couple of the ‘gem’ restaurants near where we live (none of which would classify as ‘fine dining’, but the food could easily be put on a fine dining menu). However, we didn’t look them up in a guide book. We found them through word-of-mouth.

The lesson here – ‘fine dining’ in tourist areas in the US is just overpriced mediocre food. We need to re-calibrate our expectations because Canada has spoiled us.