Dan and Hannah, the Delta Variant, and the Wildfires in California – September 2021

Yesterday morning (September 1, 2021) Hannah and I were preparing for our Saturday departure to LAX for two weeks of friends and hiking in California.  I’d just set up pickleball with our Santa Barbara friends, Bill and Claudia, while the confirmation of our Air B&B lodging in Mariposa, at the gateway to Yosemite National Park, had arrived.

Yesterday afternoon everything changed.  The straws of not traveling to California became too many.  (Sort of straw vote!)  The Delta Variant of Covid and the wildfires outweighed the excitement of our Golden State fortnight adventure.

Straw One, so much had changed since I made our Delta Airlines reservations in March of 2021.  The vaccine was readily available and returning to our active lives, sooner than later, seemed like a given.  First the Delta Variant, and then the wildfires.

Straw Two, Tuesday we learned that all national forests were to be closed in California so that meant hiking into the Santa Ynez Mountains above Santa Barbara was out.

Straw Three, already the Caldor Fire blocked our drive from Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe; ten thousand people have been evacuated from the area.

Straw Four, with the wildfires still out of control, we were looking at the possibility of Yosemite closing, having to hike with masks, and breathing intolerable smoke.

Yosemite NP is to the south of the Caldor Fire

Straw Five, the realization that getting to the McArthur Burney Falls in northern California may be impossible and if we did, we’d likely see a trickle of water due to the historic twenty year drought in the West.

Straw Six, vaccinated folks like us are getting Covid, which was an unknown development this past March. 

There was just too much hanging over our heads to make it the 75th birthday national parks vacation that I was hoping for.  True, I’m just 73, but you get the point. Covid has made many of us wanting to travel now before the next pandemic or climate catastrophe.  Yes, climate change is real.

So how much money did we lose?

We don’t pay for our 15-day $1276 Enterprise rental car until we actually get the car.  Cancelled with no charge.

All the motels we signed up for allow us to cancel until the last day or two.  No charge.

The $315 two-night Air B&B in Mariposa for our September 9 and 10 stay had a full refund policy if we cancelled by September 4.  No charge.

Delta gave us e-credit for our plane tickets that we can use on another Delta flight if we make reservations by December 31, 2022.

Money was never the issue, the possibility of hiking with masks, breathing nasty wildfire smoke and closed trails were ultimately the key straws that has us postpone our two weeks in California.

California, we are not giving up on you!  Winter 2022!

Eureka! Dan’s California Memory for the Los Angeles Times is Published (Part 2 of 2)

Holey Moley! As I do each day, I read the highlights from the Los Angeles Times daily online newsletter, Essential California. All of a sudden as I scroll to the bottom, I see my 100 words with my name spelled correctly!

Los Angeles Times
Essential California Newsletter

June 9, 2021

CALIFORNIA ALMANAC Los Angeles: Cloudy, 75. San Diego: Cloudy, 71. San Francisco: Cloudy, 62. San Jose: Clear skies, 67. Fresno: Sunny, 78. Sacramento: Clear skies, 74.


AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Dan Rothermel:

As a Jersey boy and 1970 graduate in education at Arizona State University, I interviewed for teaching jobs in California. At my interview for the Anaheim City Schools, innocently I asked the administrator if there was smog in Anaheim. Looking me straight in the eye, he said, “No.” Wanting to move to Southern California, I took the job. Once there, I had nothing but low-lying smog day after day for the first six weeks until the first Santa Ana winds blew through. When I saw the same administrator later, he smiled and said, “I never thought you’d really believe me.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.
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Dan’s California Memory – Anaheim 1970 for the Los Angeles Times (Part 1 of 2)

Dan’s California Memory – Anaheim 1970

The Los Angeles Times has a daily online newsletter, Essential California, that deals with the news of the day pertinent to the Golden State.  Thank you, Scott Mercer, for giving me that heads-up. The newsletter concludes with a memory from a reader that is no more than 100 words.  Here’s the California memory I submitted to Los Angeles Times on May 28, 2021.

As a Jersey boy and 1970 graduate in education at Arizona State University, I interviewed for teaching jobs in California.  At my interview for the Anaheim City Schools, innocently I asked the administrator if there was smog in Anaheim.  Looking me straight in the eye, he said, No. 

Wanting to move to southern California, I took the job.  Once there, I had nothing but low-lying smog day after day for the first six weeks until the first Santa Ana winds blew through.  When I saw the same administrator later, he smiled and said, I never thought you’d really believe me.

Words – exactly 100

I will publish Part 2 of 2 when I get word that the LA Times published my 100 word memory.

Dan and His Fascination with California!  The Getaway Part 2 of 2

In part 1, readers learned of the backstory of why it’s California, not Arizona and Florida, in winter for Hannah and me.  Part 2 lets you in on our getaway.

Flying is Hannah’s least favorite way to travel.  On the other hand, I am no fan of cross country road trips; you see, I can do the math.  Planes allow us to get from coast to coast in six hours; it’s five days of mind-numbing tedium to cross the good ole US of A by car.

Leaving home in York, Maine mid-Friday afternoon during first week of January, Hannah and I spend the night before we fly out of Logan Airport with Molly’s family in Massachusetts.  Playing Uno, then Legos with our grandsons, Owen (7) and Max (5), we read to the boys before bedtime.  While Tip is out with his buddies digging Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker for the night, Hannah and I settle down with Molly for evening wine and then Wegman’s subs that Molly provides for us all.  Hannah and I know how fortunate we are to have Molly in our lives; she’s a daughter who is a friend, who thinks of us regularly, who is as just as active as we are so hiking together works really well; and she is just damn good company night in and night out.

I recently found this quote that spoke to me.  It’s not enough that you love them, they must know that you love them.  – St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier.  I’ll check in this weekend to see how I am doing on that score with her.

Getaway 1A window seat

At 515A, Molly drives us to Logan in the pre-flight dark.  Since Hannah and I know when we are going to California each year, we are able to purchase tickets seven months in advance when the prices are at their lowest.  How sweet is $378 each non-stop, round-trip Boston to LA!  As such, you might think Jet Blue might value us as customers.  But noooooo.

Getaway 1B from window seat

Hannah is exiled to seat 12F by the window while I am ostracized in 12A by the opposite window.  Jet Blue punishes us for our timely purchase even though they have had the use of our money for seven months.  They rightfully have earned a 2 of 5 rating!

We suck it up, watch the excellent Downton Abbey movie while the pilots work their magic.  In a move that defies physics, the pilots take us to LA by way of the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Arriving 45 minutes early at 1120A Pacific Time, we take the LAX shuttle bus to Enterprise Rent-A-Car.  Literally in 20 minutes, we are heading north on The 405 to Carpinteria 85 miles away.  Travel tip, it’s so worth the extra dollars to rent from a brand name company like Enterprise; we get such good service and personal attention.

Getaway map of lax to carp

Soon we are on The 101 through Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura and by 2P arrive in Carpinteria.

Getaway 2 on the beach at Carp

Within a half hour, we are walking the sandy beach by Carpinteria State Park in shorts and tee-shirts in January!  Our getaway is complete; our escape has begun.

Carp Sunset 1

Carpinteria sunset

Dan, Kobe, Gianna, and Seven Others

Coming home from church at Unity this last Sunday in January, I flip on ESPN2 to stunning learn that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna have died two hours ago in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA, 55 miles from where we are in Carpinteria for the winter.

Carp to calabasas

Throughout the day, Kobe is celebrated for his role as a father and husband, what a curious mind he had, and his uber-successful basketball career.  Many colleagues and former players say that he was so much more than a basketball player including being an Academy Award winner for best animated short film in 2018.

Checking back in this morning after, I get a sobering reminder from Nicole Briscoe, an ESPN Sports Center anchor.  First, seven others died in the crash and their families mourn and ache for their loss.  And second (paraphrased), let’s stop waiting to celebrate people in death, but let them know how much they mean to us while they are alive.

Message received, thank you Nicole.

Dan and His Fascination with California! The Back Story Part 1 of 2

Carp Sunset 1

Carpinteria sunset 2020

At this moment, Hannah and I are flying over Iowa on our Jet Blue flight from Logan Airport in Boston to LAX in southern California.  For the seventh winter running, we have come to the Golden State to take a big bite out of the Maine winter.

boston to la map

So, why California and not Florida or your home for ten years, Arizona? you ask.  There’s something about California that has had a hold on me since my teenage years.  Here’s the back story.

Carp FLHS

During the mid-1960s in suburban north Jersey, I was buried on the depth chart in the pecking order at Fair Lawn High School.  Neither a Rah-rah (class leaders, athletes, the good looking, and/or cheerleaders) nor a Bopper (a hood with a black leather jacket), I did have my core of close friends.  Truth be told, we were all two or three orbits out from the In-Crowd.  (Somewhere beyond Uranus – that’s always funny.)

You see, my dad was the principal at FLHS when I was a student there.  Of course, that’s not his fault, but I was unable to break out of the expectations of how a principal’s son should behave.  I was not about to go Footloose on anyone.  And to compound the challenge, as a first child, I was born with the double obedience gene.

Carp Mamas Papas

With a transistor radio pressed to my ear, I listened to Cousin Brucie and Big Dan Ingram on WABC as I connected with the Beach Boys and the Mamas and Papas.  My head filled with what life might be like on the Left Coast.  You see, California seemed to be everything New Jersey was not.  Sunshine, palm trees, surfing, and especially surfer girls!

John Philips of the aforementioned Mamas and Papas spoke to me.  Go where you wanna go and do what you wanna do.  Pretty seductive to a dreamer like me.

Carp Sunset 2

Carpinteria sunset 2020

So the fascination with California comes from my desire to escape a teenage life of daily expectations and impossible standards, self-imposed and otherwise.  Escape from being the good boy, the dutiful one who was flexible to a fault.

As a college senior, I got 85% of the way to California by transferring to Arizona State University.  Upon graduation, I jumped at the chance to teach at Patrick Henry Elementary School in Anaheim, California (25 miles south of Los Angeles).  Though my teaching career ended before it began four months later due to complications with the draft during the Viet Nam War, California continued to have a hold on me.  Though Maine is home, my heart strings pull me to California each winter.

Carp Sunset 3

Carpinteria sunset 2020

And today landing at LAX, I am already California Dreamin’.  (You see, the Mamas and Papas were kind of life coaches for me.)

Dan and Hannah and the September Snowstorm at Donner Pass, California

Over wine poolside this late September Wednesday evening (70F!), Hannah and I wonder if we should roll the dice to squeeze in just one more hike in Yosemite National Park?  The weather forecast for Thursday is not promising.  Is just one more hike on the Taft and Sentinel Dome Trails off Glacier Point in the central Sierras too much to ask?

Y 3AA four on trail

Wayne, Hannah, Mary Lynne, and Dan with the Vernal Falls in the background

Moteled in Oakhurst, California, 16 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, we struck hiking gold yesterday with our longtime friends from York, Wayne and Mary Lynne Boardman, climbing to the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls, on a golden day in the mid-60s.  Click here for the link to that blog.

Waking Thursday morning, we look out our motel window to see heavy gray clouds, smothering the nearby mountains.  The forecast hasn’t changed, but we have.

At 40F here in 2200′ Oakhurst, CA, we know it’s not likely that we’ll be hiking at 7000’ Glacier Point.  If we did drive into the park to hike, our plan was to continue to the 9945’ Tioga Pass to South Lake Tahoe.  Any precipitation today will likely be snow.  If the pass is closed, we will have to backtrack on winding park roads that will make our travel day a travel day and night-mare.

DP central valley map

Choosing not to roll the dice on the Glacier Point trails, we do the Columbus thing.  No, not wipe out the indigenous population, but go west to reach the east.   Driving west to Merced in the Central Valley, then north on the four-lane route 99 to Sacramento, we have the clouds parting and the sun emerging.  Though stormy in the Sierras, it’s 70s here in the valley.

Texting us as we drive east, Wayne confirms our suspicions about the weather in the Sierras; he lets us know that Glacier Point Road has been closed due to snow.  In Sacramento, I take over the driving with a sweet 100 miles of four lane Interstate all the way to Reno, Nevada.

DP dp map in california

In short order, ominous clouds are covering the mountains to the east where we will summit at the 7000’ Donner Pass.  Passing signs saying 1000’ of elevation, then at 2000’ and 3000’, we have threatening gray/black clouds blocking the sun.  Driving by pull offs for putting chains on tires, we are rolling along on this last day in summer.

DP sleet out front window

Hannah riding shotgun doubles as snow photographer

Clearly, if there were to be weather issues at the Donner Pass, the California Highway Department would close the highway.  They haven’t, and we motor on.  But now the car thermometer has dropped from 73F in Sacramento to 40F and the first rain drops spot the windshield.  Soon, heavy wet snowflakes bombard the windshield as the car thermometer keeps dropping, now to 37F.

As a major east/west truck route, the big boys are exiting the highway.  Clueless, I don’t make the connection to their leaving the highway and the increasingly nasty weather.  Cautiously driving at 40 mph, we are still climbing into the Sierras.  Only later do we learn of the forecast of 3 to 6 inches of snow along Interstate 80 above 7,000 feet!   That’s Donner Pass country, cowgirls and cowboys!

DP cbs snow

CBS News photograph

On the opposite side of I-80, we see a car off the road; for ten miles, as we head east, we see little movement in the trucks and cars heading west.  Later we learn that the slick roadway caused a chain reaction crash involving 16 vehicles with at least one fatality.  Click here for CBS News report

DP car passing by

SUV leaving me in the dust (snow dust that is)

Having travel issues on our side of I-80 as well as we climb to Donner Pass with low snow clouds, we crawl at a snail’s pace as two lanes merge into one.  Relentlessly, the snow comes down in large flakes as the wiper whips them away; we hear thunder and see flashes of lightning as the snow begins to accumulate.  Over 45 minutes, we stop, we crawl, we creep, we inch, but we mostly stop.

DP donner summit

Seeing signs for Donner Pass State Park, I notice another sign that warns us of a 7% grade descent over the next five miles.  On one hand, that’s good news that we are getting off the summit; on the other, we’ll be picking up speed going down the mountain on these slick roads.

DP donner party

And all the while the ominous history of the Donner Pass comes to mind.  Led by George Donner and James Reed, pioneers in the mid-19th century found snow blocking this very pass through the mountains.  Forced to spend the winter in the Sierras, only 45 of 81 settlers survived.  Reportedly some of the 45 resorted to cannibalism.  Clearly, Hannah and I hope the snows don’t cause any such historical reenactment.

Even though I am the slowest one on the road, I never feel the rental car slide or shimmy on the wet, snowy highway, despite it being a little Hyundai Accent nothing.  With few 18 wheelers on the road, we are trending well as we pass through Truckee at 6000’; the snow lightens and begins mixing with rain.

Soon the car thermometer rises to 35F, then 37F and the changeover to rain is complete.  Nevada’s warmth beckons.  Once in Reno at 4500’, 15 miles to the east of the California border, we are home free.

Tonight, at our Quality Inn, there are no news reports of cannibalism on I-80; Hannah and I celebrate with a gluten-filled mushroom pizza.

Click here for news link of this late summer storm.

One month later on Halloween, an early fall storm is on the horizon.  Forecasters said Monday that gusty winds and 1 to 2 feet of snow are likely Saturday and Sunday along California’s main mountain passes, including Donner Pass near Lake Tahoe, Tioga Pass at Yosemite, Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass, with perhaps a foot along the shoreline of Lake Tahoe this weekend.  “There’s a potential for chain requirements, travel delays and possible road closures.” said Chris Hintz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. 

 

Dan and Hannah Come to California for a 70th Birthday Road Trip

As Hannah (February 2018) and Dan (December 2017) approach our 70th birthdays, we each came up with an idea how we wanted to celebrate 70 Big Ones!

Int Dan at Hunter's Creek

Hannah’s idea will be reported in the spring of 2018, but I wanted to go to California during the off-season to visit five national parks and play pickleball along the way.  Three of the national parks (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite) we had never been to and two (Lassen Volcanic and Redwood) we visited in the mid-1990s when our kids were young.

Crowds and traffic, traffic and crowds.  In the past when we traveled to California, we’ve avoided Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite because of either the crowds and traffic or the cold (i.e. winter).  September seemed like an ideal month for this adventure; kids are back in school and the weather is still warm in California.  We hadn’t realized that Europeans and Asians love to come to the parks in September and October.

Int wild fire aftermath

Wildfire aftermath on route 41 on the way to Yosemite National Park

To prepare for the trail, I would daily check each park’s website to see if there were any road closures, most likely due to the wildfires in the West.  As it turns out, where we had motel reservations in Oakhurst, CA, at the southern gateway to Yosemite, route 41 to the park closed.  Fortunately, a week before we were to arrive, that highway reopened.

Living in Maine, we fly non-stop from Boston to San Francisco for this central and northern California road trip.  Our 725A ET Virgin America flight has us arriving in San Francisco at 1030A PT; that’s early enough for us to drive the 250 miles to Three Rivers, CA, the gateway to Sequoia National Park.

Int Virgin A

Virgin America in San Francisco

Get this!  All that Virgin America offers for no charge are a round of soft drinks, coffee, or water; no pretzels, cookies, or chips.  They do sell prepackaged meals that you order and pay for online.  Wise to their games, we pack sandwiches and fruit for the trip.  Whining aside, I still would choose their low $367 non-stop, roundtrip ticket over any snacks.

Int Pitch

Flying against the prevailing westerlies across the United States from East to West takes six hours!  We have a plan to survive that, too.  One, we always get aisle seats across from each other so we can get up whenever we want.  Two, we bring our iPhone earbuds, since Virgin America offers free movies, free cable TV, classic shows, even podcasts.  Today, we hit gold with three 45-minute episodes of Pitch, the fictional story of the first female baseball player in the major leagues.  Damn, it’s good!

Int Hyundai Accent

2017 Hyundai Accent

Once at SFO, we search out our Enterprise rental car.  For $440 for two weeks, we opt for the manager’s special, which means they can give us any vehicle they have, from a truck to an SUV to an economy car.  Frugalistas that we are, we always choose the high gas mileage economy or compact cars; but if we end up with an SUV today, so be it.  It turns out, we get the choice of a Toyota Corolla or a Hyundai Accent, both with excellent mpg ratings.  Unfortunately, we blow it.  I’ll explain below under Do’s and Don’ts’s.

Driving southeast from San Francisco through Modesto, Madera, and Fresno, we are stunned by the dry, straw-colored hillsides that are parched despite the drought-busting rains and snow of the previous winter.

Int Sequoia NP sign

Arriving at the gateway to the Sequoia National Park, we learn that the little town of Three Rivers is mom and pop small.  There’s a market, one third of which is for beer and wine, a Pizza Factory, and a Subway; one chain hotel, Comfort Inn and Suites, where we stay.  Not much more.  But what the hey, we just need a king bed, a morning breakfast, and a poolside to sit by with a beverage, since 80s are forecasted this mid-September Saturday.

Ready to rock and roll among the giant Sequoias of the high Sierras manana, I have a few Do’s and one Don’t for travel preparations.

Do speak up with your spouse when deciding on a rental car.  We didn’t and ended up with a Hyundai Accent, good on gas mileage, but with no cruise control.  That’s not ideal for the 1700 miles of driving that we have ahead of us on our road trip.

Do check daily online the travel conditions within the national parks; wild fires and road closures happen suddenly.

Do get a nonstop flight, whenever possible.

Do get aisle seats across from each other so you can stretch your legs into the aisle as well as to allow yourself easy access to walk up and down the aisle itself.

Int Comfort Inn 3 rivers

Comfort Inn and Suites in Three Rivers, California

Do stay at a motel that provides breakfast so as to save time in order to get early starts, especially for the uber-populaire national parks like Sequoia and Yosemite.

Do check to see if your motel room has a refrigerator and microwave; we don’t go out for meals when we travel so a place for leftover pizza or subs is crucial.  As you might have guessed, we had no fridge or microwave for three nights at Three Rivers.

Don’t over plan.  It turned out we stayed an extra day in the Sequoias to hike a suggested waterfalls trail by a fellow hiker, skipped South Lake Tahoe, CA entirely for Reno, NV because of snow in the mountain passes, and stayed an extra day in Eureka because Santa Rosa (our next stop) temperatures were to be in the 90s.

Dan and Hannah Get the Weekend Off and Are Blown Away

The Big Bad Dude

The Big Bad Dude

Having successfully hiked each day for the last six along the coast of California while storminess threatened, we have indeed taken a scrumptious bite out of our Maine winter this January.   But our debt to El Nino is coming due.   He wants his pound of flesh and he wants it this weekend.  But he is not why we are blown away.

As we wake this Saturday morning, we meditate and then steal a morning walk through the neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, a town of 60,000 before the rains come.  Spanish for Holy Cross, Santa Cruz has its origins dating back to the 1800s and the Catholic Mission System.

From Santa Cruz to San Francisco

From Santa Cruz to San Francisco

After breakfast at our Comfort Inn here 70 miles south of San Francisco, we drive in light rain on route 17 out of town bracing for one of California’s triumvirate: wine tasting, earthquakes, and today traffic.  None yet, but within 20 minutes we are on I-280’s ten lanes of highway heading to the 19th Avenue stretch of San Francisco to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Nov Golden GB

In fog, the Golden Gate Bridge is still majestic.  Really, we two country mice from Maine can hardly believe that we are tooling across one of the Seven Wonders of the World!  With 35 miles to our Quality Inn in Petaluma, CA, we have a date with the Chiefs of Kansas City who are coming to New England to play our beloved Patriots.

Nov Patriots

Today with a full complement of players, the Patriots score early and often and have the game in hand so we celebrate in the motel hot tub as light rain falls in Petaluma, the site of American Graffiti (1973).  After hiking the coast of California, our feet and knees appreciate the R and R.

Nov spiritual

The Sunday forecast is steady rain by noon, but we’ve had plans for weeks to attend the service at the Unity in Marin (Novato, CA) spiritual center.  Our “religion” comes from an eclectic mix of pretty regular attendance at Unity on the River 30 miles south of home in Amesbury, MA, reading the Daily Word and Unity Magazine, and living a life of gratitude, forgiveness, and love.  It’s further augmented by seeking out Unity services when we hit the road.

Today we travel 16 miles south from Petaluma, CA for the service at Unity in Marin.  Unity minister’s give “talks,” not sermons.  Today, Rev. Bill Englehart’s talk is entitled WTF…aith about having choices no matter the circumstances.  We each have the power to choose our response to life’s challenges.  Do we see ourselves as victims or do we choose another way.  Instead of asking why me?  Ask why not me?

Unity in Marin

Unity in Marin

And then he tells the story of his sister whose 18 year old son, Bill’s nephew, died in car accident when his teenage buddy crashed the car they were both in.  His sister’s son died immediately while the teenage friend driver wearing a seatbelt lived.

What would you do if you were Bill’s sister in her profound grief?  I’m guessing a past me would be crushed by the sorrow and immobilized.  But in time, I hope I’d follow his sister’s lead.

Nov forgiveness

What she did is call the young man to ask him if she could come over and would he be sure to have his parents there?

Once together, she forgave him.  She told him not to lose his life in regret.  She had a choice and she forgave him when he needed her most.  She had a choice and she chose not let the poison of not being able to forgive him ruin her life.  At the lowest low, she forgave him.

In my mind, I don’t think of Bill’s sister as a hero.  I believe the truly heroic are embarrassed by being put on such a pedestal for just doing the right thing.  For me, she is an inspiration and a reminder I have choices, even when they are not this dramatic.

Nov 3 Sign of bay trail

Duly inspired and with only mist in the area a little before 11A, Hannah and I find a neighborhood to walk in before the deluge.  Within minutes we are at the northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay (San Pablo Bay) at the Hamilton Wetlands Preserve.   As we walk on the gravelly trail that winds between the former air base and the bay for nearly three miles, the rain holds off for 70 minutes on this 59F midday.   This is held up as a “disappointing” day in California.  I’ll take such “disappointment.”

Bay Trail

Bay Trail

The pelting rain arrives by 1P and we return to the hot tub at our Quality Inn in Petaluma.  With rain splashing our faces and heads, we thank El Nino for one fine weekend, still blown away by Bill’s sister.

Dan and Hannah are Taking a Bite Out of Winter in California

Are you looking for the bathroom? the young flight attendant asks me.  It is just the kind of question that I could expect on any airline, but I quickly gather her subtext.

FD VA plane

Let me back up.  For a third January in a row, Hannah and I are taking to the airways for California to escape Maine’s single digit morning lows, the dark that comes with 415P sunsets, and the snow without end Amen.

Flying from Logan Airport in Boston, we have a six hour non-stop flight to LAX (Los Angeles) for our nearly two weeks in the Golden State.  Packed into a tight space on our Virgin America flight, we are in the air for about the time it will take to play today’s two NFL wild card games.

FD inflight bathroom

Before we take off, the head flight attendant informs us that the front bathroom is for first class (two rows with eight people total) and the two back bathrooms are for those in coach (eighteen rows x six across equaling 108 people).  A crimson velvet theater rope protects first class passengers from the unwashed behind them.

From seat 18C

From seat 18C

Some people wear compression stockings to improve their circulation when flying cross-country.  Others pay the $100 extra for seats with more leg room.  Hannah and I always get aisle seats across from each other so we can stretch out our legs.  Another cost saving, leg saving measure is that I walk the aisles of the plane each hour.  Hence it is during one such walk heading towards first class that the flight attendant discreetly and sweetly asks her question.

Oh no, I’m just walking the aisle, I say as a relieved expression comes to her face.  Whoa.  I just think how important it is to maintain the sanctity of first class on Richard Branson’s Virgin America Airlines. That said, they are paying $610 per flight more than we are!

BOS to LAX

BOS to LAX

When we fly cross country from East to West we like to leave early in the morning so we land before noon Pacific Time and have the afternoon in the Golden State’s sunshine.  That way, non-larcenously, we steal an afternoon of vacation on this travel day.  To do all this, we awoke at 230A for our 720A flight from Boston, a 62 mile drive to our south.  My friend Bill emails that that “sounds awful.”   Maybe so, but what sounds awful to us is driving 3000 miles in winter to get to California from the East Coast.

Hannah's loft sign in snow

On this still very dark Saturday, light snow falls as we head out Chases Pond Road.

Arriving at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere, MA, three miles from the airport we park my Hyundai Elantra and wait, and then wait some more for their shuttle to the airport.  One couple grows restless as 5A turns into 525A and no shuttle appears for their 615A flight to the Caribbean.  Hannah and I still have two hours to our Virgin America flight but do wonder where the shuttle is.

FD park ride and fly

Among the ten of us waiting, a thirty-something professional woman says, I’m getting a Uber ride if anyone wants to join me.  I jump at the chance and think I’ve got to get with it and get my Uber on.  While we wait for her Uber the eleven person shuttle arrives with its driver, a wise-cracking combination Matt Damon/Ben Affleck (think Good Will Hunting) Southie driver.  He takes nothing personally about the delays, encourages us all, and good-naturedly jokes.  Though we had to wait, I tip him enthusiastically in my little effort to support the joyful among us.

FD D and H with DD

With two hours til flight time, Hannah and I celebrate in the predawn Terminal B thanks to Molly and Tip and our friend Mandy.  You see Molly and Tip bought us a $5 Dunkin’ Donuts gift card while Mandy dropped off morning glory muffins from Beach Pea in Kittery, Maine.  In the predawn dark we munch and sip regally.

FD VA tv

Once seated in row 18, I have a first world problem.  No ESPN on the seat back TV.  A true soldier of the sky, I somehow survive.  We love us our non-stop flights.   In the past, we have “saved” money flying flights with connections and ended up in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for hours!  Though drinks are all they offer for free, my orange juice goes well with my homemade peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches.

I settle into flipping between MSNBC, CNN, and TBS with Seinfeld reruns.  Two hours into our flight I check the video map of the flight.  We are flying at 450 mph over Michigan at 36,000’ at -78 degrees.  Thanks to the prevailing Westerlies, we will fly 582 mph when coming from West to East at the end of our trip.

Heading to southern California, we will have 50 more minutes of daylight than we do on a comparable winter day in Maine.

At the local Summerland, CA gas station

At the local Summerland, CA gas station

Our plan once we arrive at LAX near 11A PT is to get our Fox Rent-A-Car and drive 100 miles north on the coast on the 101 to our first night’s lodging at the Quality Inn in Santa Barbara.  Immediately we notice the difference in gas prices from the East Coast.  This morning in Maine gas cost $1.97/gallon.  With gas prices often a dollar more in California we learn that the refinery in California that produces the less polluting gas California requires is working at less than full capacity.  Hence the higher prices.  You go California!

Jasmine Cottage 200 yards above the Pacific Ocean

The VRBO Jasmine Cottage 200 yards above the Pacific Ocean in Summerland, CA

But there is more than bluff hiking and winter escaping on our minds.  We are looking to see if renting a house through VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) in nearby Summerland, CA (four miles south of Santa Barbara) for the month of February in 2017 is in the cards.  Our plan is to rent a home so family and friends can visit for a long weekend or a school vacation week.

After two previous January trips to California, we are hooked on its bluff trails, its mountains, and its sunshine as we start a fortnight of California Dreamin’.