Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day 3: Big Things

Today's Distance: 375
Total Distance: 1190
Today's Destinations: Redwood National and State Parks, Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco

pretty much the best moment ever.

Today was a big day.  By that I mean, it was long, it was full, and it was full of Big Things.

We got a bit of a later start due to not going to bed very early and not having the best sleep.  We got a great rate for our hotel, but well, sometimes you get what you pay for.  So before we left I did research to find a good hotel (and it's one we get points for - after one more stay in a Choice hotel we get a $50 gift card [I don't get paid for saying this; I just think it's good to know that you can get rewards points for hotel stays, and there are a lot of chains that do this - we signed up with Choice but Wyndam Hotels is another that has a rewards program).

Anyway, so it turns out that the redwood forest, like the Great Wall of China, is not one continuous forest but many forests in northern California.  Follow Highway 101 south from Oregon and you'll pretty much follow the redwood forests as far down as they go.  We got a quick peek at the ocean before getting on the highway.

We drove straight through the remainder of the forest we saw yesterday, then had a bit of a stretch before reaching the main stretch of forests.  There are other attractions besides the trees - elk sightings, bike and hiking trails, and a memorial lighthouse in Trinidad (population 311).  This memorial is for all the people who have been lost or buried at sea.  Beautiful, but sobering.

On to the redwoods.  Parallel to Highway 101 is a scenic drive called Avenue of the Giants, and it is well named.  The redwoods are HUGE!  You can just drive through it, I suppose, but why look when you can touch?!

inside a tree with a cleft
I love redwoods!

I don't know if there are words to describe my experience in the old growth forest.  The experience itself almost defies words.  I barely spoke until we had been in the forest for some time.  Maybe I'm making more of this than most people do, but when I touched a redwood for the first time, it was like reaching back in time. It almost felt wrong, like this place was too sacred, these trees too magnificent to be touched by human hands.

It was, if I may use the word, holy.

This is what happens to the sky when a tree falls.

Seeing the redwoods yesterday made me almost giddy - it was the fulfillment of a dream I've had for over two decades. Today, it was a very quiet experience - humbling and a little somber. These trees are impressive.  Some of them have withstood multiple fires and lived to continue on.

inside a burned - but living - tree
this is a single tree, still living despite being burned clean through

And yet, even these giants are not invincible.  I feel like I've never seen so many downed trees in a forest before - maybe I just never noticed.

Because the trees are so big, they take way longer to decompose than smaller trees.  But decompose they do, becoming a source of life for countless other plant and animal species.

I started wondering if the very ground on which I was walking was once a redwood or some other kind of tree, thousands and thousands of years ago.

Imagine counting all those rings

Walking through the redwoods, I kept thinking of the final passage of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, an existential epic describing the journey of a man and his son through post-apocalyptic America.  In this harrowing depiction of the future (or allegory of the present, if you choose to take it that way), life has basically come to an end; there are no more animals and barely any people left alive.  Yet the book ends, surprisingly, with a beautiful description of trout swimming in the streams in prehistoric times:

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

There is something special about the redwoods. Being among them reminded me that there are things on this earth bigger and older than human civilization itself, things that if we're not careful, could be lost to us forever. The choices we make can preserve the world for future generations, or destroy it.

My "Pocahontas" moment 

We drove through a tree!!! 

On our way out of the Avenue of the Giants, we stopped at the Chimney Tree Grill, so named because it's next to a "chimney tree" - a redwood that was burned in such a way that you can not only go inside it, but see up through the top. So that was pretty cool. Anyway, the chicken strips here are amazing. You have no idea how good chicken strips can be until you've had them here. Try them.

Inside the Chimney Tree 
As we continued south, we both had a hard time staying awake. We switched drivers a few times, cranked up the radio, read to each other, and pulled over for breaks. Finally we were within 60 miles of San Francisco with me driving. (And I found that eating helped wake me up.)

the 1000-mile mark 

Oregon drivers are mellow. California drivers are just plain fast. You learn to ignore the speedometer when you're on the highway if you want to avoid being run over by a bus. That really woke me up.

Our hotel is in Oakland, but we plotted the route to go over the Golden Gate Bridge. We kept looking for it, but it was pretty foggy over the bay despite the sunny sky. Finally, we drove through a tunnel, and there it was!

Pictures cannot capture the scale of this bridge. It is BIG. Really, really, REALLY big. The ultimate fun bridge (that's an inside joke for my family).

So because we made our route go over the Golden Gate, we had to go through town to get on the highway to take us across the Bay Bridge to Oakland. This means that I was driving through downtown San Francisco at 6:30 pm. It was pretty cool actually. We enjoyed seeing street names we were familiar with and the signature architecture of San Francisco. Traffic did come to a halt for a good 20 minutes right before we got to the highway, but at least we didn't miss any turns!

Finally, the Golden Gate Bridge is big, but the Bay Bridge is vast. When you enter it, it has walls on either side of the five lanes (one way) with little openings to see out, but they're so high you can't see down to the water. Plus there's a ceiling - I think maybe westbound traffic is on top of eastbound? - so all you can see is the road ahead of you, and little pieces of sky on either side. It's a little freaky, like the road is just suspended in the air and you have no conception of where the ground is. For three miles. Then it finally opens out, you can see sky, and you think you've made it to the land - only to realize that you are just now getting over the middle of the bay. This is a long freaking bridge.

Finally, finally, FINALLY we made it to our hotel, the aptly named Comfort Inn. And to round out our day of big things, we were able to book a room with a king sized bed for the same price as a room with a queen.

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