Friday, August 19, 2005

The MLCotW 2005 NoCal Trek

Can someone please explain how an eight hour day at work can seem to drag on for an eternity, but three days spent visiting family in beautiful, calm, peaceful surroundings (& clean air, to boot) can pass in the blink of an eye? I'd really love to know how that works so that I can maybe find a way to reverse the process.

As was alluded to in a previous post, my sister, The Boy, T & myself trekked up to the northern tippy-top of the state to visit my dad, aunt & uncle & a couple of my cousins. For the most part, it was the vacation that T & I have been needing for awhile - getting out of the grind of SoCal living, the crowds, the nasty air, work, etc. It was one of those vacations that you wanted to last for a little bit longer (I know, I know - what vacation isn't?).


Starting out at 330a to head up to my sister's house made for an exceptionally long day. The trip itself, nonstop, is about ten hours. When you're running on four hours of sleep, though, it feels twice as long. Even trying to sleep in the car along the way didn't make too much of a difference.

Most of the trip was pretty uneventful, as we were driving through farm country & there's only so many times you can look at a passing orchard & try to figure out what's growing there before your brain has had enough. Don't get me wrong - California gets more & more beautiful the further north you go. But, unlike SoCal, the cities in Central & Northern California (along the 99 & 5, at least) are spread far apart. Not as far as they are in Arkansas, mind you. But farther than I'm accustomed to. It's very wide open & a wee bit disorienting, as there aren't a lot of reference points to let you know where you're at.

One of the more disturbing things that we learned on our trip was how turkeys are transported. After seeing the truck in front of us stuffed with turkeys, I will now have reason to think twice the next time I complain about the seating in coach class.

Anyway, we made our way up the 99, passing through Modesto, which kind of gave me the willies thinking about the recent events that happened in that city. Eventually, we made it to Sacramento & took a stroll around the Capitol & the grounds around it. They have a beautiful garden containing flora from all different parts of the state. And about a million squirrels. Literally.

Interesting Tidbit: The California Highway Patrol (CHiPs!) has an equestrian unit that patrols the Capitol grounds - & only the Capitol grounds. You won't find this unit anywhere else in the state.

The Capitol building, inside & out, is gorgeous. The interior of the Dome is gilded with intricate gold designs. As there are in other capitols, I would imagine, there are paintings of the governors from California's past. The weirdest one was Pat Brown's, looking like something a third grader would paint (minus the legs coming directly out of the head). It really, uh...stood out against the other portraits. We toured the Governor's reception area - which consists of a couch, chair, desk & a few pictures & knick knacks.

T'was a wee bit underwhelming.

We also got to see the Senate room, which is every bit as ornate as the Dome, although, the paint scheme looked like Hildie from Trading Spaces got ahold of the place. Gold trim & design, like the Dome, with pinkish-peach colored paint. Bleah! The audience seating is up in a balcony over the Senate floor, so I was more than just a bit dizzy & had to fight the urge to crawl out of the place. Of course, The Boy had to keep leaning over the railings to look below him, which did wonders for me. Much taunting was made at my expense there.

We then went to a gallery there in the Capitol building. Many interesting artifacts were seen & tidbits of information gleaned from the staff.

Interesting Tidbit: California has, among other things, a State Bird (some kind of quail), State Fish (the garibaldi), State Flower (the California Poppy), a State Insect (the dogfaced butterfly) & - believe it or not - a State Dirt (the staff couldn't remember what it was, though). I guess our government is doing something up there.

The Boy & I also toured one of the men's rooms. I now know where some of my tax dollars go, for, not only do the stalls sport fancy schmancy wooden doors with nice locks on them, but they also have cupholders. Yes, cupholders. I suppose the person that left the coffee ring on the urinal that I posted about a while ago could've used one of those.

Freakin'. Cupholders.

Soon we were on the road again. We made a pitstop to refuel in some little town that seemed to be straight out of a Stephen King novel. It was just. That. Weird. Apparently, there was some altercation that took place before we got there, as the local fuzz were hashing something out with some of the yokels. The whole place looked like it'd fallen out of the early 80's. T, The Boy & my sister went inside to use the facilities, & I was about to join them. That was until I got out of the car & approached the store. Do you know how a bathroom at a park smells? That very distinctive, been-peed-in-&-on-by-vagrants scent? Yeah, I could smell it outside the store, coming from inside the store. And I was standing a good twenty feet from the entrance. Everyone came out & suggested that, if I could, I should just hold it.

Sage advice, apparently.

We made one more stop at a rest stop to eat & take care of the business that we were holding off on after the last town. After a bite to eat & a good stretch, we hit the road again.

Only to get behind the turkey truck again. And this time, one of the birds had died, its limp head hanging out of one of the cages. Nothing like having a dead bird staring at you, glassy-eyed, while driving.

So, a couple of naps later, we finally made it to the home stretch. The scenery had turned from the cornfileds, vineyards & orchards of Central California to the beautiful, lush, green forests of Northern California. I hadn't seen that many trees since the last time we flew to Arkansas. Living down in the desert, I'm just not used to it. Soon, we were driving over a bridge spanning Lake Shasta. And let me tell you, Lake Shasta is one big friggin' lake. The road wound its way around hills & mountains &, I swear, we must've crossed over Lake Shasta about three or four times.

About thirty minutes later, we arrived at our motel & then headed over to see everyone. I hadn't seen my dad in eight years. Amazingly, he hadn't changed much. Of course, the last time he saw The Boy, The Boy was three, so he had changed a wee bit. I hadn't seen my aunt & uncle for about ten years & the two of their children that made it down I hadn't seen since I was probably three myself.


On the second day, we spent more time visiting, going over the family history & looking at old pictures (I even got a few paintings done by my dad & uncle & a really cool photo of my great grandparents & the whole gaggle of kids they had). That evening, we went to a fair that was taking place up in Yreka. It was pretty cool, with it's big 4-H displays & science exhibits. The big draw for me, though, was the abundance of carnival rides made to spin you around in every conceivable direction (sometimes at the same time).

Now, I have a cast iron stomach. I don't get seasick/airsick/carsick/whatever-manner-of-conveyancesick. I love rollercoasters. Love 'em. But, that night, my beloved carnival rides turned against me.

The first ride that The Boy & I went on was some octopus-type jobbie with four cars on each of four arms that spun you silly. We made it through the ride with a wee bit of dizzyness, but nothing unmanageable. My stomach, having not been on one of these rides in a looooong time, was only minorly agitated. I figured that I'd take it easy for a few minutes, let the beast settle a bit & all would be right with the world again. And that would've been fine, except...

We went on the Tornado about ten minutes later.

The Tornado is kind of like the mutant lovechild of the Octopus Ride & the Teacup Ride at Disneyland. Four seats on each of four arms that have a wheel in the middle that you use to spin yourself as the ride spins you & tilts you at a fortyfive degree angle.

Interesting Tidbit: Carnival rides apparently have a sensor that gauges when riders are getting queasy - & then causes the ride to go even longer & faster than it normally would.

My sister, The Boy & I gave our ride tikets the the carny (who was sporting the most enormous 'fro I'd ever seen) & boarded the ride. All was fine as the ride started spinning. We all tried spinning the wheel in the middle to amp up the nausea inducing G-forces we were experiencing. B & The Boy tried getting it to spin fast, but couldn't quite get it up to speed. This was when the stupid manly-man part of my brain took over & determined that I could get this thing humming nicely all by myself, thankyouverymuch.

It was after I had us spinning at about nine hundred RPM that my stomach said "I've had enough! Everybody out!" I let go of the wheel & sat back in my seat, fighting every urge that I had to yak all over. The Boy kept chiding me, telling me to let my legs hang down & to put my hands up. As I didn't want to open my mouth any more than necessary, all I could mutter was a very low, monotone "Shut. Up." He didn't look to happy with me, but he would've been even more unhappy if I'd let loose the way stomach wanted me to.

After what seemed like, seriously, about a week on the ride, we finally stopped & I went looking for a trashcan off in a secluded corner. When I couldn't find one that didn't have an audience, I summoned up all of my willpower & forced myself not to do my grey whale immitation in the middle of the fair. For the record, I have yet to actually get sick after riding a carnival ride.

Yay, me.

The rest of the evening was spent nursing a Pepsi & feeling like I'd been slugged in the gut, all while trying to stay within close proximity to the bathrooms. The ride back to the motel was just as lovely, as I spent the whole time testing the theory that there's a pressure point in the wrist that can stop nausea.

Interesting Tidbit: There really is pressure point that will relieve nausea!


Day Three found us heading up to a park called Castle Crags. As you're driving up the 5 through Shasta, you see nothing but green forest & trees. Everywhere. Then you'll notice this gigantic, bald mountain jutting up from the greenery. That is Castle Crags.

After a drive on a road that was seemingly, purposefully designed by some demented CalTrans engineer to be almost vertical - & one lane - we arrived at a picnic area that afforded us the most stunning view of Mt. Shasta, Castle Crags & another mountain that - I think - was called Grey Mountain or Black Mountain or something to that effect. It was quiet & clean & just...awesome.

There was a trail out of the picnic area that lead - at least according to the signpost - to a campground that was about a mile & a quarter away. My sister, one of my cousins, K, & myself decided to go for a hike & follow the trail.

Interesting Tidbit: I am woefully out of shape. This was confirmed about halfway into the hike.

The trail was, initially (i.e. before we were exhausted), a bunch of gradual slopes & descents. I had never wandered around in a forest like that & was trying to take in my surroundings (while trying to not break my ankle & keeping an eye out for bears). It was really nice. Such a welcome change from the usual hustle & bustle of life.

Now, I know that I walk at a speed of about about four miles an hour. I should be able to cover one & a quarter miles in less than half an hour. Since B,K & I were all keeping the same pace, we were probably walking a bit slower, but even with that & the uphill/downhill of the trail, we still should've been able to make the whole course in about fortyfive minutes.

After probably more than an hour, the rest of our party started getting worried.

We walked. And walked. And walked some more. We followed signs that pointed to the campground until we ran out of signs. After a little more walking & then some debate over the wisdom of going further versus going back to the road & trying to catch a ride up the hill, we decided to opt for Plan B & headed back toward the road. All the while, I kept thinking about how we were the hikers that you hear about the the six o'clock news. Y'know - the stupid kind that trek off into the wild with a sixteen ounce bottle of water that get attacked by rabid ground squirrels. I sized up my sister & my cousin, trying to figure out which one I could take down for their water -

" sister's small, but she's a kicker & could do some damage. On the other hand, I don't know my cousin all that well. She may be able to take me on, too. Man, I'm thirsty."

As we were heading back & I was planning out my strategy, we noticed a previously unseen trail. One with a sign obscured by bushes. One that pointed the correct direction to the campground. One that we'd passed about fifteen minutes before.

Stupid sign...

We headed on down the trail & heard voices coming from, what we hoped, was the campground. I yelled to get their attention & was met with The Boy's voice, telling the others that we were there. Apparently, they had gone to the Ranger's office to get some help finding us. I guess the path we were on (which seemed to be an access road of some sort) would've taken us waaaaaay further off course.

I hadn't been so glad to sit down in a loooong time.

That night, we went back to the house & had dinner, visited for awhile longer & then said our goodbyes. The trip home the next day went quicker than going up there did. I've noticed the past few times that T & I have gone on a trip that I'm just really in no hurry to get home. If I could, I'd just find a place wherever we may be & start anew. Especially this last trip. It was just so nice up there. It was the kind of place T & I have been needing to go to recharge our batteries (although, I think we need a longer time somewhere like that).

Dad, Aunt M, Uncle N - I'd just like to say thank you for your hospitality & for having us up. I just hope that we don't go another eight to ten years before our paths cross again.