Rain, rain, go away!

It was raining the day I arrived in San Francisco, and it was raining when I left two days later. So, after all that rain and the winding canyon roads, I was ready to leave that city.

After driving that harrowing 25 miles to Dunsmuir, CA the night before, it was beautiful the day I left for Portland. It was cold but the sun was shining, and Mt. Shasta had a fresh blanket of snow.

With my cameras on the front seat, I took off for Portland. I’d seen pictures of its beaches on Star’s Facebook page a year or two before and added it to my list of places to visit. At that time, a cross-country road trip wasn’t even an idea. I’d been wanting to “travel light” as Wayne Dyer talked about in his ‘The Essence of Being’ and for me, that meant getting rid of “stuff” and anything else that was keeping me tied to a life that just wasn’t working for me anymore.

I’d been wanting to leave my job, too, and was trying to figure out a way to make it happen. Then, after resolving some deep-rooted fear that I’d held for many years, I was finally able to trust God enough to let it go and let it go I did! Once my decision was made and I’d submitted my resignation, God went to work and made my cross-country road trip possible. The idea formulated while I was ridding my life of “stuff”; what an exciting time that was! My trip was delayed a few times so I ended up leaving in the dead of winter but experiencing spring- and summer-like weather the entire trip except for a few days in Oklahoma and Fort Smith, AR.

So, there I was on the road from Dunsmuir to Oregon enjoying the snow-covered Mt. Shasta and Black Butte Summit; the farmhouses and barns; the cows, goats and sheep grazing on the hillside; the covered bridges; and the mountain crags and streams running along the freeway, all while pulling off the road to take pictures.

The funny thing, though, is that I’m often disappointed when I view the pictures, feeling that I didn’t adequately capture what I’d seen, which reminds me of one picture in particular. I’d just left San Simeon, CA and was driving the 22 miles on an especially scenic highway to the 101 freeway. I was stopping every half mile or so, and it took me over two hours to drive the 38 miles from San Simeon to Paso Robles!

Anyway, just before reaching the freeway, I stopped at one of the many vista points so graciously provided to us travelers. It was a breathtaking view of a valley with a backdrop of mountains and cloud cover. What I didn’t realize until after taking several shots was that the mountains had their own backdrop. There, backdropping the mountains, was the Pacific Ocean I don’t know how many miles away! It was incredible! Despite my efforts, though, the pictures didn’t show what I saw in sufficient detail. But maybe that’s simply the difference between live and Memorex, huh? I hope viewers will think otherwise and are as deeply moved as I was.

But back to the rain. I arrived in Portland on Saturday, and it’s been raining ever since. Except today maybe but it’s still early. It’s even snowed a couple of times, most heavily night before last. Turns out Star is in town, too, so Bonnie and I went to visit her and Jane in Seaside yesterday.

On the drive there, we drove through snow, then rain, then no snow or rain. We were trying to catch the sun that was out when Star called but being over an hour away, we missed it. That was ok, though; just being out of the rain was wonderful! It was a fantastic day spent catching up with friends old and new, commiserating about Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, and walking on the beach.

As I type this, the sun is streaming through my window! It doesn’t get much better than this, but I’ve learned on this trip that it always does.

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Nerves and California’s winding roads

I think I just drove the longest 25 miles of my life, and my nerves are shot!!

Yesterday I was driving the winding roads of Redwood Canyon to and from Muir Beach, CA and today, I came winding down the California mountains on the I-5 freeway heading north to Portland. But not only was I winding down canyons and mountain roads, I was doing it in the rain and in the fog.

It all started yesterday after I followed sightseeing suggestions I took from Delores while at the laundromat. First, I headed to Muir Beach which was less than five miles away, until, that is, I missed the turn onto the CA-1 highway. At that precise moment, I was plunged into the thickest fog I’d seen in years. After taking a deep curve, I had to make a left turn on Muir Woods Road and oh-my-God! Not only was I in fog but I had to drive for eight miles on a road so narrow at times that I could literally reach out and touch the canyon.

On the way to the beach, I was driving along the edge of the cliff so it’s probably a good thing that the fog hung over the cliffs and that the narrow winding roads were forcing me to keep my eyes on the road. Otherwise, my nerves would’ve been shot by the time I reached the beach and I’d have had to sit in the car to calm them like I did after I made it to the Golden Gate Bridge. On the way to the bridge, I dealt with San Francisco’s rainy lunch hour traffic and hilly streets, witnessed an accident directly in front of me, and almost hydroplaned out of control after hitting a huge puddle. After 30 minutes or so, I took pictures in the rain, arranged my lodging and went straight there.

But back to Muir Woods. I was hoping I could show you an aerial view of the route I took down the canyon but could only find a YouTube video of it. Keep in mind, though, that the video is at 3.5 times normal speed, and I was hardly driving that fast. There were curves on Muir Woods Road that were actually sharp enough to be turns; in fact, the GPS did consider a few of them turns. There were points, too, on the way up where I had to stop on a curve to allow another car to pass and vice versa.

Incidentally, it was my intention to drive the San Francisco Bay Bridge before leaving this morning but I ended up missing it somehow. By the time I realized it, the bridge was 10 miles behind me and as much as I was tempted, I didn’t go back; I was much too ready to get out of that rainy city. I did, however, drive both the lower and upper decks of the four-mile long Richmond Bridge, which some say is scarier because its side rails don’t block the view of the water.

I don’t know what it is with me needing to cross these “super bridges” lately. Not many months ago, I was terrified of them and would start panicking at the mere sight of one. It’d be all I could do to make it across without stopping the car and screaming. I decided during my trip to Jekyll Island last June, though, that I had to overcome that fear and spent some time reading about it before talking and praying myself out of it. When I arrived in Jekyll, I crossed the bridge driving 30 mph instead of 55, looking neither left nor right, and trying not to stop. On my way off of the island Monday, though, I crossed it at speed limit while on the phone and admiring the scenery on both sides. What a moment that was!!! Ever since then, whenever I see a bridge, I have a need to cross it, maybe just to see if I’ll feel anxious, huh?

But back to the I-5. It was very windy when I stopped in Orland, CA for a weak-up break and started raining shortly after I got back on the road. By that time, there were mountain ranges on one side and rivers and valleys on the other. Then the fog descends, it’s so windy I can feel the car swaying, the road is wet, and there are transfer trucks everywhere. I’m feeling uneasy now but still moving but as soon as it started raining harder, I panicked and actually exited the freeway intending to wait it out. I’m about 25 miles from my hotel at this point and while sitting at the stop sign deciding what to do, it occurs to me that it might not stop and that it’ll be getting dark soon. So, I took a few breaths, said a prayer and got back on the road.

The speed limit down that winding freeway was 65 but I only drove 53. I’d planned to have a shot of that rum I’ve been carrying in my bag since that weekend on Jekyll last year but I left that bag in the car.

Skywalking

To paraphrase Julius Caesar, “I went, I saw, I walked”…the Grand Canyon West Skywalk, that is. When a friend suggested a few weeks ago that I check it out, I pulled up a few pictures and my response was, “Oh, hell no!” You see, I’ve had a fear of heights for years that I’ve learned to manage but a few remnants still remain. The Skywalk protrudes 70 feet from the canyon wall and is 4,000 feet above the Colorado River, so no, I was NOT walking it! After toying with the idea for a few days, though, and refusing to allow fear to stop me, I decided to give it a try. If you haven’t seen it, check out the pictures here.

On my way to the Canyon, I stopped off in Dolan Springs, AZ, for a bottle of water and ended up talking with an honorary sister of the Hualapai, on whose reservation Grand Canyon West is located, and her version of the Skywalk’s history was quite different from what I’d read. After listening to her story, I was very conflicted about buying the $32 Skywalk ticket. Then, to make my decision even more difficult, I learned that I wouldn’t be allowed to take my camera on the Skywalk.

I purchased a ticket for the Grand Canyon but not the Skywalk. After taking pictures of the canyon, however, seeing the Skywalk up close and personal, and not wanting to be chicken, I bought my ticket, locked my purse and camera in one of the complimentary lockers, put on my shoe covers, and headed to the Skywalk.

“Oh, I got this,” I thought as I approached the entrance, right before my knees started knocking. I paused a moment, looked out, and stepped across the threshold anyway. I walked along the rail initially but finally managed to walk across, then along, the clear glass walkway. “Yay, me, I did it! I’m skywalking!!”

Photographers were out there, too, of course, and were taking pictures of everyone, except me. I don’t know why they ignored me; maybe I didn’t fit the profile, or maybe I did. Or maybe it was that I didn’t look interested, and I really wasn’t but that’s beside the point. So, not to be ignored, I went back for my photo session.

I was happy to learn this morning that the Hualapai Tribal Council reinstated its eminent domain law yesterday and voted to ban the Skywalk developer from the reservation. But the developer is already planning his appeal.

When I returned to Vegas from the Grand Canyon, it was dark so I had the chance to see the city that never sleeps in full attire; from the freeway, the entire valley was illuminated. And the buildings, they’re something out of a fantasy!

I’d planned to stay at one of the big casino hotels but when I arrived, I changed my mind when I had trouble finding a place to park. So, I consulted my phone apps and found a smaller hotel with a smaller “gambling hall.” I didn’t do all things Vegas while there but I did play my slots, got a long-overdue massage at Desert Sanctuary, visited Indian Springs (where I played more slots), and experienced Grand Canyon West and the Skywalk.

My original plan was to leave the driving to one of the Grand Canyon tours but I was having such a hard time purchasing the ticket the day before that I never did. Good thing I didn’t because it was very windy and unusually cold for Las Vegas the day of the tour, and I wouldn’t have gone. Since I was scheduled to leave the next day, I figured I’d missed my chance but after being depressed about it all evening, I decided to stay in Vegas another night and drive to the Canyon myself, which was better because I’d be on my schedule. The tour would’ve left at 6:30 a.m., stopped at Hoover Dam, and returned to Vegas at 6:30 p.m. Twelve hours is much too long to be held hostage by a bus tour, and visiting places you’ve already seen!

It was a great day and a fabulous visit but if you’re planning to drive to Grand Canyon West, be prepared for the roughest stretch of dirt road I have ever driven in my life, and I grew up driving dirt roads!