So in typical Jon fashion I didn't do any planning for the trip. I keep coding right up till 6 pm and then stuffed a bunch of clothes in a bag and headed out the door. My plan was to drive towards Fresno till I get tired, find a hotel, and then get up early the next day and drive the rest of the way to Sequoia.
I messed around with the car quite a bit. Finally found a good driving position. The seat is still too high, and the cup holder situation is a little silly. You have to lean way forward to use it. I'm tempted to look into aftermarket alternatives for that. Shouldn't someone in testing have noticed comments such as, "The position of the cup holder makes it dangerous to use while the car is in motion."?
The directional vents are a bit strange as well. In theory you can swivel them to change the direction of the air flow, but in practise they always blow exactly the same height. So you can point them up at the roof and they blow in your face. You can point them at your legs and they blow in your face. Slightly annoying since I prefer vents blowing at my chest.
These are all minor quibbles though. I love the car. Nice stereo too. On the first leg of the drive I was in a "Shapeshifter" mood:
"Everyone's cryin. they're caught up in games
Me I'm as happy as I've ever been"
Pulling into the ZippyMart (or whatever it's called) I actually saw a raccoon scampering off into the high tech park. When I'd worked across the highway by the Spectrum I remember seeing little bunnies sometimes. In my religion these are very good things. I always get a good feeling about Irvine. Although I have trouble reconciling this with the racist, conservative, greed mentality that pervades the place. Whatever.
I continued through Orange County / LA. The drive wasn't bad. I was enjoying the stereo very much. I'd grabbed a bunch of CDs of the way out the door and LA ended up being "Hair of the Dog":
"Talking jiving poison ivy
You ain't gonna cling to me"
"It's a way of life!"
But there isn't anywhere else to stop out there. Santa Clarita isn't far enough, and places like Wasco are inadvisable unless you want to experience some sort of Bate's Motel scenario. So..... Bakersfield..... Christ.....
The first thing you notice about Bakersfield is the smell. Since it's at the ass end of the San Jauquin Valley where most of the produce in this country comes from, you get a rather nasty accumulation of pesticides, fertilizer, and overly processed dirt lingering in the air. and since it has never rained in Bakersfield the stuff just hangs there. Smelling like a combination of rotting vegetables, excrement and poison. It's not good. In fact it's vile.
Dry... Dead.... Desiccated...
I could go on for hours about this crap. Bakersfield is just a bad, bad place (except for Kym and Dave who are very cool and deserve better). I always imagined low slung demons prowling the outskirts of town, waiting to pounce on me and suck out my juices.
Dry... Dead.... Desiccated....
Somehow the whole place is one step beyond just being a desert. You can actually feel the water being wisked from your body. You step out of the car and think, "Water. I need water. I'll die without it."
I stopped at a Motel 6 and got a room. I noticed across the street they had put up a new Barnes and Noble. I can't imagine that thing staying in business. Anyway..... At this point I realized I had left my pack at home. You know..... The pack that has all the stuff I might need on a trip? Which means I was going to a picturesque national park without my binoculars or tripod. Bummer. Panoramas would have been great up there.
Heading out the next day I noticed this sign. For me it captures the mind-numbed nature of the place. Not just BBQ! But BBQ to go! Wow.... Man.... what culinary wonders will they come up with next? Bakersfield is also known as a place with lots of Basque restaurants. Basque food consists of various dishes made from cow tongue and potatoes. I'm not making this up.
Dry... Dead.... Desiccated....
I fled the area at a high rate of speed.
The rest of the drive to the park was uneventful. Any trip through central California is filled with an endless rendition of the game "What fruit/vegetable/nut do you think that tree/bush/stalk is?" Since I was alone on the trip I got tired of this very quickly.
Here's a tip: Always stop and get gas before the park. If you are near one of the guides or rangers you'll notice that they are asked "Where can I get gas?" more than all other questions combined. This is despite that fact that every sign leading to the park says, in huge red letters, "NO GAS IN THE PARK." Which I take to mean "There's no gas in the park." Some tourists seem to think such signs are not to be taken in the literal sense, and they should merrily proceed past the gas stations that line the entrance for no apparent reason.
I wanted to get there early so that I could have the roads mostly to myself. If you want to test the handling characteristics of a new car there aren't many places better than Sequoia. But only if you don't have to deal with the 21,000 SUVs and 3,700 trailers that enter the park each day (I made that up). From the entrance I got in 200 yards of gleeful zooming through turns before I ended up behind a car that was inconsiderately only driving 5 MPH over the posted speed limit.
I compensated by putting in Beethoven's 5th, cranky the stereo all the way up, slowing to 10 MPH until he was several turns ahead and then flooring it until I was right on his ass. I hope I was causing a conversation that went something like, "Martha, that son of a bitch is totally insane." But it was probably something like, "Martha, when we stop remind me to beat the crap out of that asshole." Oh well. My bad.
The first stop inside the park was Moro Rock. It's a very good idea to get here early, otherwise (like me) you will find yourself in a quandary over the tourists who climb the 100 yards of stairs to the top. As you're coming down, they won't be able to resist the urge to ask, "Is it much farther?", and you will have to resist the urge to say, "Shouldn't you be in a Barcolounger somewhere?"
I don't mind this question from senior citizens or people on crutches or whatever, but when it's some Oprah watching smoker in yellow spandex the rational for being polite to strangers starts to become elusive.
I needed to drive all the way back to San Diego that night, so I figured I wouldn't end up getting to much stuff done. I was doing it mainly for the drive anyway. I figured I'd try going to Crystal Cave though. I hadn't been there before. I really should get over to King's Canyon also, but I didn't think I'd have time.
But I had to take some pictures of big trees of course. It's hard to get pictures of these things. You keep walking back further and further trying to get the whole tree in the picture. Of course you're in a forest. So as you back up you get more and more other trees blocking the view. And then you finally do get a clear shot and you realize that in the picture the giant Sequoia looks just like any other pine tree. So you park you car in front of one. That works better. Big tree. Big.
Here's another big group of Sequoias. In this case the cars are a little deceptive. Instead of looking at the cars check out the guy standing in the middle of the grove there. One of the odd things about Sequoia is that there is no parking. So people usually either drive off the road into the forest (which can't be good) or just stop in the middle of the road. Real cool. More parking and some paths would probably go a long way towards preserving things.
This tree was very odd. I walked around the far side of it and saw this huge burn mark. But then when I went to take a picture I noticed that the entire middle was burned out of it. It was still growing though. A lot of these trees are over 2000 years old, so I guess they've all caught on fire a few times. Wild.
Then it was over to the Sherman tree. They have a sign by the tree that says it is the largest living thing on earth. But I've read that there are huge underground fungal growths and some aspen clones that are much bigger. This tree is pretty big though. One of the weird things is that it doesn't have many branches. It's really wide all the way up and then it just sort of stops and there are a bunch of branches. It's not even all that tall.
They have this display which a cross section of one of the big trees. But when you go up to it to look at the rings you find there really aren't any. They wanted the thing to look really impressive so they cut it from the base where it's all knarled and burned. I want to see rings damn it. What's the deal? If they'd cut it a few feet higher it would have been much more interesting. It is cool to see how it's grow over all of the burned parts though.
Okay. So I'd seen a bunch of trees and gotten in a few moments of very fun driving, but I still wanted to push the car in the turns. I could actually hear the car saying to me, "What? Is that suppose to be hard? Yer a wimp. The pedal on the right - Step on the damn thing. Let's go. DO IT!", it would whisper to me. I finally got my chance after buying my ticket and heading down from Lodgepole to the Crystal Cave area.
The road was clear and everyone seemed to decide to pull over when they saw me coming. Wow. That car is nice. I just kept pushing it harder and it didn't start losing grip until I got way beyond anything sensible. It's like the thing is on rails. I bought it largely due to the great reviews it got for handling, but I wasn't prepared for how well it handled fast curvy downhills.
The caves were cool.
I felt sort of rushed to see everything, but I guees they have a lot of tours to give. There was a guy who went through on crutches. I didn'y hear him whining about "How far is it?" either. Pretty impressive actually. The trail to the cave mouth was fairly steep.
The drive back was a marathon. Road trips are easier in Montana where there isn't as much traffic. Spending eight hours dealing with bumper to bumper traffic, all going 80 MPH, is very stressful.
The next big trip is to Monterey. I've wanted to drive up there for way too long.