Ugh. Moving. Ugh.
Although, I would like to point out our brilliant real-world Tetris skills.
After waffling over how exactly to move all our stuff across country from Berkeley, CA to Potsdam, NY, we finally decided that the most efficacious mode of transportation would be to tow a U-Haul trailer behind our 2000 Subaru Outback wagon. After filling the trailer to capacity, we stuffed the rest of our shit into the car. As you can see, we did a pretty good job of filling that up as well.
Notice how we were only two lampshades over the limit of what could fit in the cargo area of the car.
As Andre drove up the steep and winding road into Yosemite, Sarah was charged with taking pictures of the various assemblages of scenery that whisked past her window. Here’s Tenaya Lake!
Pictures taken by Sarah will be identified thusly:
We thought it would be prudent, seeing as how we would be leaving California (at least for a while) to do one last Sierra backpacking trip. Settling on Tuolumne Meadows as a starting point, I typed the following into Google Maps: “Berkeley, CA to Potsdam, NY” with an intermediate destination of “Tuolumne Meadows.”
Naively, we followed the directions that Google pooped out for us. These included taking the Old Priest Grade bypass. Well... As soon as I turned right onto the bypass, it became apparent that Terry (our car) wasn’t going to be able to make it up with a trailer in tow.
We started drifting backwards.
With the trailer headed for a ditch.
Fortunately, just as I had gotten out of the car to assess the sitchie, a kindly stranger in a pickup hopped out and offered to get us out of our pickle. He said that cops patrol the area constantly, dying to give people $400 tickets for blocking traffic like we were and proceeded to rev our engine like crazy to get the car moving uphill. (The clutch was literally smoking!) Anyway, he saved us from certain doom and went on his way. I spent the rest of the drive up in second gear on the longer normal route.
This photo was taken by request on account of the cool little tree growing halfway up this granite dome.
In Tuolumne, there is a grill/snack bar. At this grill they serve--among other things--goulash. (It was a special.) Here we see Sarah, enjoying a bowl of said goulash and, without even realizing it, copying the face of the illustrated Argentinian on the front of her Guayaki can.
The blue sign reads: “CAUTION. STAND CLEAR OF CHUTE.”
I have no idea what comes out of that chute. (Sarah thinks it’s probably cheetahs that come out of that chute. That’s why you’re not allowed to have pets nearby. The cheetahs will hunt/eat the pets.)
There’d been a lot of snow this year in Yosemite, so everything was still very wet. (More on that later...) The wildflowers didn’t seem to mind.
Submerged rocks in the Tuolumne River... doin’ their thing.
We’re not entirely sure, but after an exhaustive study of several maps (for about 23 seconds) we think that the dramatic peak in the background is Fairview Dome.
Sarah the flower, trying to blend in.
More wildflowers, this time white and purple together!
Walking back from our riverside hideout, Sarah climbed up on top of this rock and posed for a picture. I asked her to try to look magnificent or regal. She complied but ended up looking more like she was shunning the rest of the park behind her.
The little trees in Yosemite don’t get a lot of attention.
One of the nice things about hauling all of our shit up to Yosemite (and there weren’t many) was that we had our bikes with us. Screw those chumps in the shuttle bus! We had our own wheels!
Here, Sarah wonders if her low gear will be low enough to get up the side of Lembert Dome.
The surface of Lembert Dome was smooth enough in some places that you could slide down (right) on your pants! Most of it was flat enough to allow mom-jeans-wearing middle-aged women (left) to get up high enough to put their hands on their hips and survey the alpine meadows below.
(We wondered how the rock got so smooth. An informative placard nearby informed us that it was a result of the glaciers!)
We went to Yosemite straight after emptying and cleaning our old apartment. Note the bleach stain on the left cuff of my shorts.
(Is it called a “stain” when it’s caused by a cleaning product? Perhaps it’s an “anti-stain”?)
Sarah got a new haircut. This isn’t the best picture of it, but she’s very proud. Her last haircut was on the day of our first date, more than five years ago, and by her own admission it was “awkward and unfortunate.”
(Our friend Anicia, of van trip fame, went with her and got the first haircut of her entire life! No shit!)
We were in such a hurry to get to the park that we nixed getting supplies at a normal grocery store. “Why do that,” we asked ourselves, “when we can spend three times the amount of money on the same products at the supply store in Yosemite?!”
The beer, hummus, noodle bowls, and carrots were devoured in the camp ground. Everything else got stuffed in the bear cans.
Note the mosquito coil in the corner...
...the place was overrun!
When we picked up our wilderness permit, the ranger on duty informed us that a plague of the bloodslurping beasts had descended on the entirety of Yosemite National Park. People were getting bit by lakes, devoured in the meadows, and even chased off of high peaks. (They’d had snow really late into the season and the extra wet ground made for prime mammal-hunting conditions.)
We got some Deet, some coils, and packed extra long-sleeve shirts.
Before going to bed, I set the camera up for some long-exposure shots and Sarah tried her hand at light-painting with a headlamp. Here’s my best guess as to what she wrote:
“vvm varne ppnp”
Then I showed her how it’s done!
On the highways, we felt like badass truckdrivers. Every time we stopped and got out of the car, however, we saw how puny our little trailer actually was.
That said, check out the difference in clearance above the front and back wheels on the car. We packed that sucka pretty full!
After a tasty snack / mosquito attack at Dog Lake, Sarah and Andre continued their uphill trek to the North. A short descent down the trail led them to a lovely meadow with the most picturesque little creek you could possibly imagine.
Up close, however, the little creek had quite a bit of water flowing through it. Andre bounded over on a dicey looking log. (A earringed man who came by shortly after told us that the very same log had ripped his shorts in half the previous year.) Sarah, wise and careful hiker that she is, took the path traversed by this other hiker and opted to remove her boots for an icy wade.
Sarah schlumps through a stand of dead pines.
The best views were to be had in the handful of meadows we hiked through, but the occasional peak could still be spotted through the trees.
The last time
I came through, the creek going through this meadow was little more than a series of stagnant puddles. This time, the flow was UP!
In case you didn’t think I was actually on this trip... Here I am in all my wispy-bearded glory!
And the only cloud we saw all day!
Up at the top of the last ridge, things started getting a little snowy. Andre had an idea. Sarah was not amused. (Well... maybe a little amused.)
Ragged Peak and the last meadow before Young Lakes.
After hunting around for a campsite at the lower Young Lake, we realized that we were the ones getting hunted and opted to look for a less buggy place to pitch the tent at the upper lake. The ranger told us it was more exposed (and therefore windier) and that it might be a better bet for keeping the mozzies at bay.
We ended up taking the long way up accidentally--a route that ended with a wet climb up a waterfall. (Not fun with packs!) But it was worth the extra effort. The upper Young Lake is one of the most beautiful in the whole park.
On my previous visit, the lake was in prime form for swimming. This time around, things looked a little different.
The mosquitos eventually chilled out for the night and we got a break during dinner from being dinner.
We headed over to the lake to fill up our water bottles and met a guy from LA named Jordan. He had hiked up by himself and was in search of a vantage point from a somewhat famous photo of Young Lake by Charles Cramer. (Check it!
) He offered us his extra face net in exchange for us filling up his Nalgene. (A good trade!) He even offered to take our picture!
Here he is with the heavy looking tripod he’d lugged up the mountain.
You can see why Jordan thought this might be a good destination for photo-ops.
A wild Sarah wanders into the frame of one of Andre’s infamous upside-down-reflection shots.
I’ll never understand how snow can sit around out in the daylight and not melt right away. I mean, I was sweating bullets everytime I walked around and here it was all piled up without any regard for how I felt!
So I decided to exact a little revenge.
(It reads “A T G”... my initials.)
The one upshot of the smog that sits above I-5 in the valley is that it makes for some pretty dramatic sunsets up in the High Sierras.
I don’t know if this peak has an official name or not. We called it Boob Mountain.
Having heard about how Upstate New Yorkers have made a fashion out of meticulously draped mosquito netting, Sarah decided to get in a little practice time before the big move.
Here, Sarah engages the face net.
And here’s how things looked from the inside.
Andre figured his popped collar would be protection enough from the vamprious scourge.
The final golden rays of the day before a distant ridge extinguished the setting sun.
Ragged Peak, silhouetted in the (not-so-) foreground.
The next day we faced a small dilemma. Should we stay or should we go? Going would mean cutting our camping trip short. Staying would mean hanging out in the tent for most of day to avoid getting swarmed.
We went for a compromise day hike to Roosevelt Lake figuring the bugs weren’t so bad as long as we kept moving. It was a tough, wet bushwhack over to Roosevelt however. And once the steep terrain started getting slippery and gravely, we decided to cut our losses and head back to camp.
It was hot out, so the half-frozen lake was pretty enticing. We stripped and got ready to jump in, but were spotted almost immediately. About thigh-deep in the lake, Andre hesitated in the icy water. Sarah joined him after a few seconds and, upon seeing the sight before her shouted, “Andre! You have to get in! NOW! Your back is getting DESTROYED!”
In the thirty or so seconds between taking his shirt off and entering the water, about a hundred mosquitos had landed on Andre’s naked back. Later, back in the tent, a survey of his half-devoured flesh revealed that at least sixty had sunk in their suckers.
We decided to head back to the car.
It was a tough decision, but we didn’t see much point in hanging around if we would’ve had to stay in the tent all day.
Almost back at the car, Sarah encountered one last (raging) creek crossing. It had started to rain (with ominous thunder claps echoing through the Tuolomne Valley) and rather than take her chances walking across this dicey bridge, she decided to employ the Ol' Sierra Scoot instead.
The worst of the rain fell as we were packing up the car (after which it immediately stopped). We dropped off our bear cans and headed down Route 120 towards Mono Lake. There was a long, steep grade down the other side and, having noted a train of cars being held up behind us and our slow-moving trailer, we pulled over. Smoke was observed coming out of the car once again. This time from the brakes.
We decided to skip our original plan of taking back roads up through Canada right then and there. Once we hit I-80, it would be straight/flat roads for us from then on out.
We made a quick stop at Mono Lake first, to observe some of its weirdness and its amazing sunsets.
I guess some of the water from the mountains had made it down to Mono. The greens were unreal!
After the Sierras, there was a near constant rainbow to the east. A good sign, no?!
(I’d make a Pots-of-gold-dam joke, but I’ll save myself the embarassement.)
Around the south shore of Mono Lake, there are a bunch of weird mineral structures made of tufa.
A nearby sign revealed that tufa is a type of limestone formed by the accumulation of calcium-rich hot springs bubbling up through the ground.
A quick observation revealed that people really like taking pictures of the tufa towers.
Some of these suckers even grow out in the middle of the lake!
The dark clouds with the setting sun behind us made for some pretty irresistable photo opportunities.
It was tempting not to, but we managed to obey the many signs forbidding us from climbing on the tufa.
We spent our first night on the road at the luxurious (and supremely creepy) Clown Motel in Tonopah, NV. Sarah’s modest case of Coulrophobia was no match for her exaustion and desire to wash off several layers of Deet in a real shower.
More importantly, Andre has now completed the “Willin’” circuit:
“Well I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah.
Driven every kind of rig that’s ever been made.
Driven the back roads so I wouldn’t get weighed.”
To make matters creepier, we discovered the next morning that the Clown Motel is right next to the old Tonopah Cemetary. Most of these old prospectors died in mining accidents.
Given the dates on some of these headstones (headplanks?) and the fact that they were made out of wood, I think it’s probably a safe bet that they don’t get a lot of rain out in Tonopah.
You might have to click this picture for the full-res version to be able to read the headplank, but it seems that whoever was hammering out the tin grave plates could’ve used another year or two in school.
Reward for doing what?!
Shoulda called the number...
Routes 6 and 93 through California and Nevada were some of the prettiest roads either of us had ever been on. Not good places to break down, but check out those clouds!
We hit I-80 in Wendover, UT. Blasting eastward on flat, flat, highway, we passed through the Bonneville Salt Flats. That’s where those madmen in their rocket cars set world land-speed records.
That sucker Anthony Hopkins ain’t got nothin’ on Terry the Subaru though!
The rest stop had a big viewing platform upon which one was invited to climb and observe the salt in all its flatness.
For almost the entire length of the flats, we noticed that people had written their names in the salt using the stones that had been piled up to build the roadway. I kinda wanted to stop and do it to, but I couldn’t imagine being able to pull over on the side of I-80 for long enough to do it free of highway patrol hassle.
Maybe all the names we saw were only abbreviations--whatever was spelled out before smokey shooed the vandals away. Maybe, in other words, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and his girlfriend Sue-Bob Loretta Jenkins got chased off before they could finish.
Wyoming’s a pretty state. Just don’t try to get a beer and a burger after 9:00 PM.
It’s flatter than Nevada and Utah, but still has some pretty steep hills. Fortunately, all of the uphill portions have signs instructing slow traffic to the right. Our policy was to find a particularly slow truck and just hide behind it so nobody would harass us for poking along with our trailer. (Turns out every driver in the states between New York and California is pretty friendly anyway.)
More than once it was an onion truck that sheltered us.
We couldn’t get the whole thing in one shot, but this was actually a double rainbow all the way. (That Youtube guy would be stoked!) At certain points, the angle of the road was such that the rainbows made a big gate right over the middle of I-80.
We took a lot of pictures of clouds. Turns out the ol’ US of A has some pretty good ones.
We saw a lot of these weird fences in Wyoming and spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out what they could be there for. My best guess is that they keep the snow drifts from accumulating on the road.
Hold on, I’ll see if I can find the answer...
Confirmed. Googling "i-80 wyoming fences" revealed that I am right.
A truck entering the window zone.
You know how sometimes roadside attractions will start advertising themselves hundreds of miles ahead of time on the interstate so that any little kids in the car will get more and more excited and start screaming at their tired, driving parents to pull over? The Little America truckstop/resort/golf course does that. We found out, for example, that they have $0.50 ice cream cones hours before this picture was taken.
To save a bit of dough (and for an adventure), we camped out at Ft. Kearny State Recreation Area in Nebraska. It was a pretty nice park, but incredibly muggy.
Guess what we found in Nebraska...
This is the lake by which we camped. Pretty nice for a man-made lake! That is until...
...until you realized how much goddamn corn there actually is in Nebraska.
One of the things that attracted us to the Ft. Kearny campground was the historic fort nearby. We stopped in before getting back on the interstate the next morning. It was pretty nice and apparantly very well preserved.
That is, until you read the signs and find out that everything was built in the last couple of decades.
The actual fort. (Which, if we were to believe the reproductions of sketches of the original, was more reflective of what the park administrators thought a fort oughtta look like than any historical reality.)
It’s hard to find anything to eat on I-80 other than burgers and taco bell. Those are fine, for a while. Then you start feeling like a fat piece of shit. Sniffing out a Subway is usually the only way to avoid this.
We spotted one about 40 miles into Iowa and pulled over to grab some lunch. As fate would have it, however, we went in the wrong door and found ourselves in the neighboring CJ’s BBQ Sandwiches.
This was a fortunate turn of events.
The sandwiches were AMAZING! The owner came over and talked to us the whole time (and gave us free refills), telling us his story of coming down from the mountains of Colorado to open this BBQ joint on the side of I-80. Most of his business, it seems, is from people thinking they're about to get a Subway sandwich. I told CJ that he oughtta open up shop next to every Subway across the country. Then the bigger sandwich chain would be toast! (So to speak.)
The only other notable lunchtime experience involved a brief detour to Toledo, OH.
I’d been hyping Five Guys to Sarah ever since a coworker (Skitch) took me to one in Orlando. We decided: enough small talk, and went several miles out of our way to grab a couple burgers.
I was a little nervous after talking it up so much, but Sarah says the burger totally lived up to its reputation.
Fat and shiny with bellies full of burgers, we made one last stop in Oberlin, OH so Sarah could show off the ol’ Alma Mater. This futuristic cathedral is where they herd all the music majors!
Sarah got an ice coffee at a place behind the conservatory where she used to do her best procrastinating.
And then, after one more night in an overpriced motel, they were there!
Here’s the view out our new bedroom window. The gentle gurgling of the St. Regis River’s west branch lulls us to sleep every night. (That is to say, it will for another week. After that, the horrifying winter that all of our neighbors have warned us about will unleash its fury, freeze our river, and prevent us from opening our windows!)
I’m gonna live it up until then.
A: cranky aging hippy town
B: mosquito zone
C: clowns and miner zombies
D: town that shuts down at 9PM on a Saturday
E: more corn than you can shake a stick of butter at
F: cheap motel and tasty/greasy Chinese food
G: Five Guys, Andre/Sarah, Two Burgers
H: Oh, Berlin...
I: one last (notso) cheap motel
J: home sweet (new) home
miles driven: 3,002 (+ futzing about)
smoking car parts: 2 (clutch & brakes)
mosquito bites sustained: in the hundreds
microbreweries dined at during their posted business hours: 0
new house: sweet