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. 

 

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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’.

Dan and Hannah and the Elephant Seals on the Pacific Coast Highway

es coastal cali map 3

After finding a bluff hiking jewel at Montana De Oro State Park near San Luis Obispo (See over60hiker blog for March 15, 2014), we drive north on the four lane route 101 from Pismo Beach.  We are in search of one more coastal bluff trail somewhere near Big Sur.

pch map 1

There are three popular routes to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  I-5 lies in the center of the state and makes for an express ride north or south.  Between the coast and I-5 is the quite direct 101 highway with a little more curves and a little less traffic.  Today we leave Pismo Beach on the 101, but once we hit Morro Bay we will take the third option, Route One, the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), north.

pch 6 farmland

It’s mid-January and the PCH passes through farmland on the way to Cambria.  Athletic couples bike the road which at this point has ample shoulder for comfortable riding.  Seems like a rite-of-passage kind of bike ride.  Something you always said you would do.  Some twenty miles later the PCH turns into a winding, harrowing, plunging and rising trek with shoulders a thing of the past.

Hannah on the Pacific coast

Hannah on the Pacific coast

Once at Cambria, some 250 miles south of San Francisco, the PCH becomes a two lane road, but we encounter little traffic on this Saturday morning.  We pass right by the entrance to the Hearst Castle since it is outdoor exercise in warm weather that is at the top of our agenda.  (We just don’t exercise outside in the winter in Maine because of our dis-affinity for the cold).  We see signs for the elephant seals rookery at Piedras Blancas, which is free to the public.

Elephant seals aplenty

Elephant seals aplenty

Rolling into a parking lot with forty cars and room for more at 10A, we discover the breeding grounds of up to 20,000 elephant seals.  Come late November adult male seals come to this part of the coast of California to establish who’s Da Man for the upcoming breeding season.  Eventually an Alpha male, often weighing 5000 pounds and up to 16’ long, emerges through battle and becomes Papa.  There is a subset of small “a” alphas that also play a role in the breeding season.

ES 5 seals and seashore vista

While most females are still out to sea after carrying their pregnant young for some ten months, they return in mid-December and form harems around the alphas.  Delivering their 70 pound pups, the moms nurse their young for four weeks.  During the fourth week, the females mate a few times, abruptly wean their pups who have quadrupled in size, and then it’s see you later alligator for the Mamas; they hit the road, or in this case the open sea, and family life is over.

(My cameraman is in fact an intern.  Hence the finger in the picture.)

ES 3 people watching seals

Fortuitously arriving during the mid-January breeding season, we take to the viewing platform some 300 yards long.  Basically the large seals lie around all day, flip sand on their backs, flop here and there, and get one helluva tan.  On this 75 degree day, the grunting noise from the competing seals punctuates the landscape.

es 7 lounging seals

Only since 1990 have seals been coming to Piedras Blancas.  One pup was born in 1992; twenty years later 5000 were born.  Heavily hunted in the 18th and 19th centuries for the oil in their blubber, the elephant seals saw their number drop to 50.  Today they number  approximately 175,000.

PCH 1A gorda sign

Thirty minutes of big, floppy seals is quite enough, for it is exercise that is at the core of our being.  So it’s north on the Pacific Coast Highway, a road that requires patience and a gentle California state of mind.  Fact is, it’s just slow going.  Climbing the serpentine roads of the coastal facing mountains of the Los Padres National Forest, we arrive at Gorda; fortunately we need no gas.

Look closely at the price per gallon of regular

Look closely at the price per gallon of regular

Earlier in the day gas at Pismo Beach was $3.79 per gallon.  Our WAZE GPS no longer works and, please, cell phones become useless electronic appendages.

California's Pacific Coast Highway

California’s Pacific Coast Highway

In many places the highway has such hairpins that we make turns at 20 mph or less.  The driver has little chance to enjoy the scenery while keeping in line on the narrow road.  But to paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, the Pacific Coast Highway is real and it’s spectacular.  Crashing surf and shoreline vistas impress us to the west.  Being mid-January the traffic is light and we are usually the slowest one on the road anyway.  And then we are dead stopped for 25 minutes.

Waiting in line on the Pacific Coast Highway

Waiting in line on the Pacific Coast Highway

Once the Monterey County sheriff’s department sends us through on one lane, we see a jazzy sports car literally resting half over the cliff, 2oo feet above the rocky shore.  Fortunately, driving north we are always on the mountain side of the road and away from the sheer cliffs.

Later in our trip north of San Francisco. we will return to the PCH at Jenner, CA and our GPS will tell us that it’s 71 miles and it will take two hours.  In disbelief, we scoff.  Oh, but it does.  The twists and the turns make it turtle-like slow going.

PCH 5 ocean view

In the future we would only travel 100 miles per day on the PCH (and that’s still three to four plus hours of driving).  We’d take more time to hike its trails and explore its beaches so we are not car-bound for hours on end.

All the signs are pointing to a return to California.  And soon!

pch sign

Dan and Hannah Fly West to do some California Dreamin’

ah california dreamin mamas and papas

The winter of 2013-2014 in New England has been a nasty cold one, specifically on the coast of Maine.  We’ve shoveled more snow and endured more days with wind chills below zero than we would choose.  You got to be thinking, For crying out loud, you live in Maine, Mr. and Mrs. Wimp!  True, but…

Our backyard in York, Maine

Our backyard in York, Maine

One cold December morning while I am having coffee and a bran muffin at the Crumb, our local cafe, with our friends Scott and Tree, they mention that they are leaving town for three months.  Wanting to be outside more than they can be in the frozen tundra of York, Maine, they are renting a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) house on the northern coast of California; they ask Hannah and me to be their guests.

With the seed planted, I start exploring the solar system of cost.  I find that Jet Blue has little penalty for flying from Boston to Los Angeles and then home from San Francisco to Boston.  In fact, we two can go non-stop cross country for around $630.  You must notice that the planets are beginning to align.

planets 2

Then Venus steps into view when I learn that Fox Rent-A-Car charges one third what every other national chain charges.  Can you believe we can rent a compact car for $136 with unlimited miles for nine days to drive the coast of California!

Finally Mars appears as we can park Hannah’s Honda Civic at the Park, Ride, and Fly lot in Revere, MA, just three miles from Logan Airport for just $100 for nine days.    The round trip from Portsmouth to Boston and back on a C and J Trailways bus costs $46 for each of us!

Awake at 4A on Tuesday, off to the airport by 5A, we are ready for our six hour flight to Los Angeles that, with the time change, will make ours a 27 hour day.

plane at logan

Jet Blue is my airline of choice because of the mini-TVs that face each seat.  As an insufferable channel surfer, I get six hours of The Dan Patrick Show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  TV Dan is flying high!

The Dan Patrick Show

The Dan Patrick Show

Do you know what the modern airline gives you to eat for a six hour flight in 2014?  Not much.  Some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and about eight mini-chocolate chip cookies.  C’est toute.  Knowing this we bring half of last night’s Subway subs for our lunch.  I eat mine at 830A!

dunkin coffee and cookies

It’s cramped; it’s long; but for $315 Hannah and I will be in Los Angeles before noon.  Our friends Scott and Tree rocked a road trip for six days to cross the country.

Noontime temperature in the City of Angels

Noontime temperature in the City of Angels

We are Saturning it (stick with me with the planets are aligned metaphor) at LAX.  The shuttle for the Fox Rent A Car arrives as we approach.  At Fox, there are six attendants and we get a Toyota Corolla in ten minutes!  Heading 30 miles north on I-405 to The 101 for Agoura Hills, we are two hours before the 3P rush hour begins.  If the planets are not aligned and this isn’t the Age of Aquarius, I don’t know what is!

LA traffic

With, for California, manageable traffic, we arrive at Rose and Mike’s by 115P.  You do the math.  We leave York in the predawn on the East coast and in the early afternoon we are ready to hike in the hills near Los Angeles.

Not ten miles from their place, off The 101  Rose and Mike take us on an hour hike in the drought ravaged hills in the LA basin.  This winter the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada is just 12% of normal.  Trouble with a capital T lies ahead.

D and H at Cheeseboro trail sign

Pairing off in twos, we hike on the Cheeseboro Palo Canyon Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area that we share with mountain bikers.

cheese trail 1

Rose goes back 20 years with Hannah when they worked together for the Visiting Nurses Association in Portsmouth, NH.  For two years, they laughed together, cried together, and had the best time any employees could have.  They pick up like old friends, like sisters would.

Hannah and Rose leading the way

Hannah and Rose leading the way

The steady climb of the Cheeseboro Trail

The steady climb of the Cheeseboro Palo Canyon Trail

The face of drought in California

The face of drought in California

Back at their place at the end of the day, we look over the canyon from their deck with a glass of wine.  I swear I see Jupiter rising above the horizon!

canyon view

I have known Rose as Hannah’s friend, but until hiking today I never had really spent any time just talking to Mike.  Married later in life, Rose and Mike have to come to California and made a fine life for themselves.  But today I get the underlying reason why Rose digs Mike.

Mike and Rose

Mike and Rose

Though Mike is energetic and passionate in everything that he does…  Though he has a childlike joy of life and an adventurous spirit…  Today I see that it is his kindness and his genuine caring of her that carries the day.

The planets truly are aligning.