Saturday, February 22, 2014

Out of the Woods

I had slept through the night without even noticing the cold outside, my tent and sleeping bag doing a marvelous job of allowing me to get a full nights rest. When I exited my tent I noticed something covering the top. “Ice!” I said out loud, the pack of five male elks the only ones around to hear me. My tent was covered in ice, as was my car, the picnic table and most of the ground. It had evidently gotten much colder outside then I had anticipated. I was thankful I had slept through the chilly night undisturbed. 

The Elk spent the morning mulling about as I sat and made breakfast at the picnic table. The ice had melted almost instantly once the sun had made it’s way above the tree line, it’s warm rays basking the prairie is a soft morning glow. There was no fog on this morning, which came as somewhat of a surprise given how persistent the fog seemed to be along the coast. 

As I sat enjoy my breakfast two of the elk began to lock antlers and battle, it wasn’t an epic mating battle, like one sees in a nature documentary, but more like a feud between friends fighting over who got to graze on some particularly inviting clump of grass. As I sat the group made their way over towards me, eventually the closest being maybe five yards away from me. A park ranger who had just pulled in to check up on the campsite pulled over and told me I shouldn't get so close, as if I had intentionally moved them towards myself. He was only trying to keep me from being charged at, but i still took issue with the comment, maybe all this time away from people was turning me into a crazy hermit who screams profanities in the woods at quarter to five in the morning. “probably not,” I thought to myself as I packed up my stuff. 

I really didn't have a plan for the day, having spent the last few in the wood utterly unaware of the goings on in the world outside of Redwood Forests, and I hit the road with no particular destination. I decided to take the scenic parkway, a road lined by towering Coastal Redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. The roadway had been closed for the past few days due to a fallen redwood tree, which had taken crews 4 days to remove, just in time for me to take a quick drive along the breathtaking route. 

The trees once again towered overhead, dwarfing myself and the car, the gigantic trunks of the trees sat inches from the road, some were wider than the length of my car. The road was empty, as it was still early in the morning and I putzed along at a leisurely pace, enjoying the view more than paying attention to the road. As I exited the forest I felt a piece of me left behind, it was hard not to turn around and drive through another time, or ten. I drove to Eureka a little sad that I would be leaving the Redwoods behind. 

I never made it to Eureka, instead pulling over for lunch just north of it, in some town whose name I never bothered to look up. I had noticed the prior day in Crescent City, that there was an astoundingly large population of homeless, or at least homeless looking people. But in this particular place the numbers were shocking. Every sidewalk had a man or woman begging for change, the restaurant was a revolving door of people who had scrounged up enough change to get some food. I sat and finished typing, feeling increasingly more uncomfortable with my own lot in life.

All of the small towns in the upper end of Northern California seem to be overrun with homeless people, a problem I found disturbing and eye opening. I can make assumptions as to why they are attracted to such a place, good weather, lax vagrancy laws, a long standing drug culture, but these are all unfounded theories left to be explored a different day. Either way everyone left me be and as I eaves dropped on their unbelievable conversations.

At the restaurant I had done some research and found a hostel in Sacramento, about a four and a half hour drive away, but really the only place that wouldn't have been simply backtracking. I needed to shower desperately, I could hardly stand to drive with the car windows down, long days of hiking and a lack of bathing had caught up with me. Luckily the air outside as I headed east warmed significantly and I drove with the wind blowing through my hair, and more importantly providing fresh air. 

I was on route 299, a stretch of road I had never heard a word about in my life. Not surprisingly given it’s remoteness and it’s location thousands of miles from anywhere I had called home. It started off straight and boring, passing farmland and not much else, leaving me with a sense that I was about to be on one long boring drive. The suddenly the world rose up, I was in Six Rivers National Forest, another place I had never heard of, but all around me were mountains lined with trees, the road steep and winding, forcing me to down shift repeatedly just to get up to the summits. At the summits the world stretched out for miles, in the distance snow capped peaks dominated the horizon. 

I believe the mountains I was looking at were part of The Trinity Alps Wilderness, although once again this is a place I have never heard of until looking at the map for this particular sentence. The decent may have been steeper than the ascent, sending me flying down the mountain gripping tightly through hairpin turns. I made it to the valley floor alive, and the world laid out in front of me couldn't have been more worth the risk. A raging blue river tore through the valley, the sparsely vegetated mountains showing off their rocky underbellies. in front of me rose up a distant snow caped peak. The road hugged the rivers edge, the white rapids standing out in the royal blue water. 

I drove on in amazement, this wonderland of nature was just sitting here unbeknownst to most of the world, as far as I knew. A paradise that had been overlooked by those craving the coast. Eventually the Six Rivers National Forest gives way to the Shasta National Forest, which intern becomes Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Route 299 cuts and curves it’s way up and down mountain as it makes it’s way through the National Forests before opening up to what can only be called “postcard beauty” at Whiskeytown. A Pristine Blue lake sits blissfully, flanked by deep green evergreen forest climbing mountains all around it. An picturesque oasis surrounded by intangible beauty. 

Eventually route 299 meets up with Interstate 5, the same one that took me out of San Diego what felt like months ago, I left behind me an unexplored wilderness that I will not soon forget, and which I whole heartedly intend on venturing into. (side note, apparently this is where bigfoot lives, because all the businesses were called “Bigfoot something or other,” even the visitor center was called The Bigfoot Visitor Center, maybe that’s why people don't go here.) Interstate 5 was like most interstate highways, boring and plain. Soon even the mountain ranges on the horizon faded and unadulterated farmland stretched in all four directions. One could simple have put me down on that road and I would have been surprised I was in Arkansas, a sea of nothingness surrounding me. That is California, and the west coast in a nutshell, within meer miles the landscape can change dramatically, even the weather can change drastically from one place to the next. I drove on bored, watching the multitude of bugs splatter on my windshield, craving a hot shower and a soft bed. 

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