6. National Park Road Trip…April/May/June 2016

day 15…5.5 
I had a late night visit from a raccoon—they have super giant raccoons here in California—scratching around my car.  A few bangs on my doors & kicks to the floor sent it scurrying away.  The temps here are warm…I keep going back & forth from hiking skirt & short sleeves to pants & down coat.  I was going to hike a loop called the High Peaks trail then come back on the Condor Gulch trail.  I didn’t have a lot of info about this hike; the Visitors Center didn’t even open until 10 & there wasn’t a park ranger at the entrance gate….I found the camp host & a couple of climbers to ask about the trail.  The only maps they had were in Spanish…which the actual map part is the same, but description of the hikes were not.  I can’t read very much Spanish, but took the map with me anyway & headed up the trail.  

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I hadn’t had any service in this park, but once I began to climb higher, my phone rang.  It was Danny & he’d caught me in the middle part of the section they call the ‘Steep & Narrows’.  Both the young host & climbers told me this section was “fun!”….when that description comes from 20 somethings, you might be in trouble!  I had just begun the climb up the carved stone steps, when I took the break to unload, dig for my phone & return the call.  Luke was in town!  He’d flown to Minneapolis to visit some friends on Tuesday, then drove down to see Danny & his Grandma for a couple of days.  They’d all gone to a Royals game, ate BBQ & were just enjoying visiting!  The whole time we were talking, I was staring up at the next section of the hike which was feeling a little intimidating.  Sometimes because Im hiking alone & now about 3 miles into the backcountry & not having seen one other person on the trail, & not knowing whats coming up, your mind starts to play nasty little what if games.  Id had a nice conversation with Danny, put my pack back on, & put on my brave girl' & began to climb.

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I just kept hitting one climb after the other…none was ‘edgy’, but sometimes the carved steps were barely steps.  But, I was rewarded on the other side of the rocks, when I saw 5 Condors flying over.  One landed on a rock to perch & I could see it’s tags!  Wow!  I FINALLY FOUND THE CONDORS!

I sat on a rock & watched them fly above me for about 30 minutes!

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So, just like my whale photos, I have tons with little black dots!  I won’t bore you with more, but I was pretty stoked!  Which was good, because I wasn’t finished going through the ‘Steep & Narrows’ section.  Now I was going down…the scariest section was the pic below on the right…it was super steep!

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Once out of this section, the trail was easy & occupied!  I heard a couple of people below on an intersecting trail then hiked up behind a single woman hiker.  WOW!  Trip Magic began as she & I began to visit.  She was from San Francisco & boy did she have stories.  I was tempted to camp another night, just to visit longer with her.  As we hiked together, she told me part of her story.  She was 70 years old, hikes alone several times a year (much to her husbands dismay she said…he doesn’t like hiking or her going off by herself) & backpacks once a year by herself.  She thru hiked the John Muir Trail for her 50th birthday & when she was younger & her two boys were 14 & 19, the three of them bicycled across the country…from Seattle to Martha’s Vineyard.  She asked about me & when I mentioned I loved craft beer, she stopped & turned around & said “We are kindred spirits!”  We both discussed the beer we’d had last night at camp….we were camped by each other with several sights separating us.  Boy, last night could have been a blast if only we’d known!  We admitted we’d probably never see each other again, didn’t exchange info, but it had been a great part of the hike.  I came to my trail intersection & we stood & visited quite awhile longer, then said good bye, wishing each other many more amazing solo trips!   

The Condors continued to fly overhead & I was on cloud nine!  I found some wildflowers growing near the trail as it descended.  I was told to be on the lookout for the RARE Mariposa Lily….they were beautiful!

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I finished my hike & headed out of the park.  I was north & coast bound once again!  I arrived in Point Reyes National Park 30 minutes after the Visitors Center closed.  The drive through Oakland & the surrounding cities took forever in the crazy traffic.  I’d stopped once again to top off the tank & at Whole Foods for some cheese, crackers & a couple of bottles of beer.  The only camping in Point Reyes is backcountry camping…so you have to hike awhile to get there.  On top of that you need a permit, which you can only get at the Visitors Center, which has worse-than bankers hours.  I couldn’t find any dispersed camping in the area either.  There are a couple of State Parks close by that offer crazy-expensive camping—$35 or $43 a night for tent camping…no wonder CA state parks are in financial trouble.  I did find the hostel though, which is in the park & only $31 a night….I called them & they said to come on over…they had a room tonight!  The woman working the desk was super nice, gave me the lowdown & a passcode for the door.  I walked over to my building & picked out a bunk in the female side.  It was one of the cleanest & nicest hostels I’ve stayed in!  My first real bed in a couple of weeks & a shower too.  There was no Wi-fi or cell service, but I could easily stay here!  

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It was a two mile drive to the beach & I had enough time to take a long walk & see the sun set.  

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There were a few other people on the beach, but soon it was just me & one other person down near the other entrance.  As I looked out to the huge expanse of water, I saw something down near the other end & started running while trying to take photos at the same time.  It looked like a whale & right on the other side of the breakers…closer than I’ve ever seen one before.  I could tell the other person saw it to because they were running/photographing from their end too.

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I think there were two of them & I think they’re Gray Whales.  The fascinating thing about seeing whales this time though was that because it was so close to the shore & just on other side of the waves, it looked like a giant huge snake going through the water.  Before I could make my way down to where they were playing, they started swimming up towards me.  Then I couldn’t keep up with them…there would just be this amazing long darkness in the water & you’d see a fin or something.  It was soooo spectacular!  It didn’t take long for them to swim out of sight…so incredible how big these beauties are! (Yes I have a lot of pics like the one below….guess you had to be there to be “wowed”.)

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I went back to the car, at some yummy cheese & crackers & drank a beer & watched the sun set into the mountains.  WOW…Condors & Whales in the same day…pretty perfect!

day 16…5.6 
Today my Mom would have been 94, but she will be forever young to me & forever missed.  

Staying at the hostel was great.  Sometimes its a great place to meet people. Most of the guests were foreign & Im sure they spoke English, but they didnt start up any conversations & didnt seem to approachable, so no new friends from the hostel.  But the bed & the shower were great!  The skies were gray & super thick this morning.  On my drive out, I saw a deer with her set of twins!

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I had planned on doing a hike Danny & I have done before.  It’s about a 30 minute slow drive from the hostel, but even under misty skies, the open green space was beautiful.  This is dairy farm country & so the lush soft mountains were speckled with black & white cows, but only a few homes & farm buildings along the route.  The hike is next an Elk Reserve & goes across the top of a grassy plateau that overlooks the Pacific & Tomales Bay.  

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When I got to the trailhead, you couldn’t even see where the hike began.  There was also a hike down to the beach, so that’s the trail I took.  The wildflowers along the trail were wonderful! (In the second pic below, if you look up towards the land that juts out, the hike I wanted to take today goes along the top of that.)  I was the only one on the beachuntil a head poked up from the water to greet me!

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It began to rain so after a bit, I headed back up to the car.  I sat in the car for about 45 minutes, listening to an audio book, waiting to see if the skies would clear & dry up.  They did not.  I scrapped the hike & began the long drive down towards other beaches & the lighthouse.  It wasn’t my intention to tour the lighthouse, I’ve done it before, but I love the views from that area.  On my way out, I found more elk along the road.

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I stopped at the South Beach on my way but it began to pour.  I put on my ‘big ass’ rain coat (vs. the one I carry in my backpack) but soon the water was pouring off of it & my shoes & pants were getting soaked.  The lighthouse parking lot was busy…almost full.  I took the path to the overlook to take some shots of one of my fav views.  This is the 5th time I’ve been to Point Reyes & probably the worst weather.  So, the photos are not as colorful as they normal are, but I still love to look at these amazing views.

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As I was standing at the viewpoint taking shots of the lighthouse & on the look out for whales, two women were standing next to me talking & taking photos of each other.  We thought we’d spotted a whale, but then didn’t see it again.  The one woman said she’d love to see a seal & commented “they sure don’t have any where I’m from”.  So I asked her where that was…& she said---get ready---- “Kansas City”.  It was a funny moment when I told her I was from Lawrence.  The friend she was with was originally from Topeka.  We laughed & visited for a few minutes…she was really enjoying her time in California.  The weather wasn’t going to clear & the forecast was for the wind to pick up a lot this afternoon.  I drove down to Drakes Beach…saw more seals swim by & then wound my way out of the park & through the cute little town of Point Reyes Station then up the highway towards Petaluma.  Here’s a few more pics of my short time in Point Reyes.

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It’s not a long drive to Petaluma & it goes through some awesome lush rolling mountains….mostly open space.  The next couple of days will be more a brew trail than a hiking trail.  I’m hitting Lagunitas Brewing this afternoon.  It’s my second time here & it didn’t disappoint.  The staff is super friendly, they always have special beers you can only get here & I found such an interesting person at the bar to talk to…for two hours!

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They give out samples like smiles so I had soon tasted several beers, including a Peanut Butter Stout firkin.  This is probably the third or fourth Peanut Butter Stout Ive tried from different breweries & it was the BEST!  Beer like this though is best when it is JUST a samplecould never drink a whole pint.  But what I did order was a Zin Ztoutan Imperial Stout aged in Zinfandel barrelsWOW..it was great!  The other beer I REALLY LOVED, was the Waldos Special AleGEE.such good beer!  Its a triple IPA.  The guy that sat down beside me & that I visited with was a Lagunitas localknew most of the bartenders (went to school with several of them), some of the cooks, the 2 GMs & the guy who supplies all their hot sauce (a former priest.thats a story).  We talked beer for the first hour; he kept giving me a list of must go to breweries along my route including another one to go to tonight (eeks!)  I’m not sure how the conversation got redirected, but he sheepishly looked at me & said “I don’t confess this to most people because they think I’m weird but…” his ‘other’ hobby, besides good beer, was toy collecting.  His face lit up when I told him I’d kept every single lego the kids had & I still have all of Peters Pez collection.  The conversation that followed (for the next hour) was so interesting.  I don’t know anything about the toy collecting business, but like with most hobbies, due to the internet, there are specialized groups for everything.  It was a pretty fascinating evening.  I ate a burger (from a cow from the Lagunitas Farm) which was good, but the beer was supreme!!!

I walked a couple of blocks to the next brewery & ordered a couple of samples…Heroin IPA was one of them the guy had raved about but they also had a bourbon barrel aged stout I ordered.  Thumbs up on the stout, down on the IPA….I would have rather had another Waldo!

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That was the end of the good part of my evening.  The most difficult thing about the way I travel is where to park & sleep.  Tonight was one of those more icky nights…Oh how I wished I had a Forest Service road like the one in Big Sur! (When people tell me they want to travel like me…I ask them if they really want to sleep in their car night after night?  They quickly say NO!  It’s not the sleeping in the car part for me; mine is super comfortable…it’s the parking.  UGH!)



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