September 12, 2010

Summer Road Trip - Driving to San Francisco

I am weary. I was about to say I am weary of driving, but that is not true. I am not weary of traveling either. The fact is, I have no idea what I am weary "of". Now, this kind of disturbs me, because I think I may be on to something here, this unknown weary "of". I have felt this weary, many, many times, it is so familiar, like feeling hungry, only I know what to do to not feel hungry anymore, or tired. I think I may be weary of being "out there", which is to say, I am tired of pushing myself to do strange and new things. And it is a push, its almost always a push. Even though I love traveling and road trip driving and going out on mini-adventures it is always a push for me to get "out there". Even though I would not even consider not doing something, I really want to go, I am excited to go, I still have to push myself out the door. Paul, likes to go out at night, to bars or to restaurants or movies. He is not a big party-goer by any means, but he does like to go out a lot more than I do. I like to go out too... sometimes and only for a certain amount of time. Then, I must go home. I may not be tired, but I am weary. I tried to explain what this feels like, I told him, going out, even when it is fun, is always stressful. Maybe more like excited stress, a more pleasant stress, but it is stress nonetheless and it makes me weary. Why? Good question. Maybe it is because I feel small and vulnerable and uncomfortable. Maybe it is because I soak so much around me in, that I, energetically, can not sponge up one more drop. I can tell you that when I have had my fill, I am done very quickly and may abruptly want to go home, really, need to go home.
So, now I have had my fill. I have traveled for much longer than this before, but not alone. This is probably the point where I should take the shortest route back to San Francisco, but this is not what I do either. I guess, because, there is one last shred of something pulling at me to get the most out of this trip. To go "out there" and see if the world can't surprise me one more time, with something marvelous. So, that is how I decided that I would take the long way home and drive through Yosemite.
Road out of Las Vegas
I left Las Vegas very early, on the road by 6:15am. The air was still a pleasant temperature, but that didn't last long. I started so early because I wanted to finish driving through Death Valley before the temperatures got unbearable. I made several wrong turns in an attempt to get on the right road and then again to get coffee and gas and then again when I got back on the highway. But eventually, I found it. The road was relatively empty but there was a bunch of those orange and white barrels set up, closing down one lane, for non-existent road construction. I obeyed the speed limit, even speeding a little bit but people kept passing me on the shoulder, they must be locals. I think when you drive out of Las Vegas it feels kind of like you are driving out into a vast void. Can a void even be vast?
Heading toward the mountains
I reached the heart of Death Valley around 9am. The pleasant temperature was definitely gone and I turned on my air conditioning. I looked at all the people touring around this national park. They must be crazy or uninformed. Who wants to visit Death Valley in the summer? It is not really fit for human habitation in the summer and a lot of things close. I pass the sand dunes and start heading up the first range of mountains. Oh yes, I had done this drive several times this past March. I had to turn my air conditioning off because the road climbs the mountains forever. 
The valley between the two mountain ranges
Of course, once you get to the top, you have to go back down the mountain, into another valley, whose floor is covered in a thick band of desert sand. Then, of course, you immediately have to go back up another range of mountains and it really makes all the work your car just did to go up the first mountains range seem like it was for nothing. I pass Panamint Springs, where Paul and I had stayed last March and continued up the mountains, again with my air conditioning turned off. This set of mountains seems much steeper and it actually gets kind of chilly out at 9,000 feet. There are hairpin turns and cliffs and slowpokes in cars. But eventually I descend again into a new valley and this time the mountains I see to the west are the eastern side of Sierras.
Eastern side of the Sierras
The road dumps me off near Lone Pine, another place I have come to be very fond of. This is another place Paul and I had stayed last March, but it is also the place, almost a year ago to the day that two of my sisters and their husbands and I started our backpacking trip into the Sierras. That trip was a lot of fun, minus the altitude sickness and that one day where we stayed in our tents all day long while it poured and poured rain.  In Lone Pine, I head north, towards the eastern side of Yosemite. Here, I start to see pine trees and I get excited, a proper tree! I like seeing the landscape change like this, I guess that is part of the amazing American road trip. I don't hurry and I really soak in the views. It is beautiful and mountainous, but still very, very dry. I am starting to get low on gas, but I figure I have plenty to get me to Lee Vining, the major town on the east side of Yosemite, except that, I forgot I would have to negotiate some major elevation gain along the highway. My watch nervously as my gas gauge dips to Empty. Then I start to panic. Here I am far from the nearest town and I am going to run out of gas. I have never run out of gas. Then, the road stars to descend and the gas gauge goes back up. I still get off at the next exit for gas, which turns out to be the exit for Mammoth Ski area. It seems bustling with the outdoors type, their cars and SUVs loaded up with mountain bikes and kayaks. Someday I would like to come back here and camp and maybe, in the winter, ski.
So I get my gas and head toward Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Then I head up the road toward Yosemite. Now, if you ever get a chance to take this road, do it, because it climbs up the dry mountains forever, along this edge and the views are amazing. The landscape changes into pines and alpine meadows and lakes and streams and rounded boulder and wildflowers. But it is far to dangerous to take photographs and there is no place to stop along the way. But it is a magnificent drive. Now, the whole reason I wanted to drive through Yosemite, the long way home, was that I heard the wildflowers, at high elevation, were supposed to amazing and they were. But they only place I really saw them was along the road where you absolutely could not stop your car. So I enjoyed them from my car and that was it. But I did stop at Tolumne Meadows, one of my favorite places. When I had been here in late June it was still kind of cold and there were tons of mosquitoes. This was no longer the case. The meadows were calm and peaceful although there were too many other people there for my taste. But that's ok.
Tolumne Meadows
After my short jaunt in the meadows I get back in my car and stop at Tenaya Lake where there were quite a few people enjoying their day along the shores, swimming and kayaking and rafting. There were even some wildflowers blooming. I don't stick around long. I am a bit disappointed about the wildflower bloom and now I just want to get home. So, I continue on as the road takes you down into the valley and I had already decided I was not stopping if there was a bear sighting. I drive through pine forests and get stuck behind slow moving RVs. I do notice a couple of meadows full of yellow flowers, but not in time to pull off the road. I make my exit quickly and then follow the long line of other cars going home from their weekend in Yosemite. Eventually I hit the rolling golden hills dotted with oak trees. I love those oak trees, their gnarled twisting branches reaching out in whimsical, wise directions. Then the road flattens and I drive through Central Valley towns finally, to the interstate. I manage okay for a long time until I get close to the Bay Area where I hit a shocking amount of traffic outside of Livermore. Apparently there was a big accident. Oh, I am reminded of what is in store for me in "normal" life where traffic like this is a regular, daily occurrence.  I am not looking forward to my commute to work tomorrow. Oh my gosh, I am going to work tomorrow, that seems a little insane.
The traffic really has me upset. I want to get home so bad I can barely stand it. I am not used to traffic. Other than a little bit of traffic in Salt Lake City I have not been in traffic in two weeks. I am restless, checking my maps to see if there is some way around this mess. There is not. Not without going a crazy distance out of the way. But eventually I make it through and I am on my way to San Francisco. Crossing the Bay Bridge is my last milestone. But there is a lot of traffic here too. Ah, welcome to the Bay Area. The sun is going down as I race impatiently through the city. But then, I am home. Paul comes out to welcome me. I am so glad to see him. It is weird to be in my house again. Foreign and familiar at the same time. I walk through the house, amazed at it. Amazed at being home and how different it feels and looks and smells. This is why I travel, this is why we have to get away. We need to come home and appreciate it. We need to get some perspective on how life can be different. We can feel what it is to relax and adventure and discover. This way, it makes "normal" life seem more bearable and even nice. When we get stuck in a rut or a routine that isn't working for us, then we need to get away and hit the reset button. Then we can come back and decide to do it differently, even if the routine is the same, the perspective can be different. We can be refreshed and excited to do the things, the small things, that make up the bulk of our life. This is how we live, day to day, most of our life. We should like it, we should love it, we should accept it, find peace with it and if it no longer suits us, then we can better see, how we need to change.
So, my trip had some disappointments. I did not go on even one of my planned hikes. I didn't get to see the Grand Tetons or visit Yellowstone properly. I never once even opened up my tent. But, I got to see my sister in New York and I got to visit Idaho with Rose and I got to see Becki in Utah and those were the highlights. But I think I learned a lot about disappointment and maybe how expectations can make us unhappy. I think I was reminded again on how important it is to go with the flow, change plans, adapt, improvise, if you can do this then you can always find a way to peace. I'm sure it will be hard to go back to work. I'm sure I will again slip into a state of discontentment. I'm sure I will again set unrealistically high expectations for others but especially for myself. But maybe this time I won't slip so low, maybe this time I will have better tools to cope. And if it gets to bad, then I know, it will be time for another adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kathleen. This is a great journal of your trip. Thank you for putting it out there/here. Hope you are well. Agree wtih you on the expectations. Being free of them would be bliss.