I’ve lived up and down the east coast from New Jersey down to North Carolina, including a few other states in-between. I moved to Oregon in September of last year and I’ve been traveling all over the Pacific North West since then, and in January I made plans with my buddy Jade and drove down to California with plans to camp for a week down Interstate 5 to San Francisco, cut over to the 101 and then north along that route back to home base while still camping throughout the trip. Great! I’m excited! California has sun, palm trees, and gangster rap.
What I didnt realize was that we were going to run into the storm of the decade. So. Much. Snow. And when there wasn’t snow, there was plenty of rain but not enough to wash away the feet high snow stacked everywhere.
I was living in Corvallis, Oregon at the time of this trip and had just moved from Roseburg, Oregon, the town I initially chose when I moved here, and that’s where Jade lives so I head to there to ride with him. It’s roughly 2 hours from a-to-b and the weather isn’t very pleasant but it’s manageable on my part of the drive. After jumping in the car we didn’t make it very far before the problems started happening. The snow starts falling heavier and more frequently, and it’s covering the roads. It looks amazing coming out of a dark sky and seeing the white chunks pierce through and cause a natural mosaic in the sky. I romance the situation but it’s about to get annoying because we have to put chains on, and being from the southeast I’m not used to having to put chains on, except maybe school buses. It’s not that frequent, and the south doesn’t have passes like the Siskiyou Pass.
We pull off at a gas station to throw on the chains and despite him being from around this area he wasn’t too familiar with the process either. He knows we are missing a key piece so he runs into a gas station to purchase it and while he’s inside I ask a truck driver if he can help us put them on since I just saw what I thought was him put on chains on his rig so he certainly should know more than me. It wouldn’t take much. He doesn’t speak English well but he doesn’t seem to understand me enough to agree. Jade brought out the other piece and I told him the situation and we allowed the guy to put the chains on. He spends a few minutes messing around with them and after what seemed like too long for his skill level he said he was done and I thanked him. They were not correct. We had to take them off and figure it out ourselves after having our time wasted by this guy and I’m not entirely sure why he agreed but kudos to him for following through on the situation even though he came into it unprepared.
We get back on the road but at this point it’s near midnight and we are stopped on the highway. Dead stop. We stayed in one place for what felt like an hour, and we ended up moving about 10 miles in 3 hours before they finally forced everyone off the highway for the night. Great start! I’m so excited!
We pulled into a McDonald’s to nap before waking up and trying in the morning. We chose McDonald’s because they have free WiFi, it’s relatively a safe place, and I can get breakfast when we wake up so it’s a convenient location. Shortly into our resting there was a knock on the window and a guy who looked like the love child of the Wet Bandits leaned his head inside and pared at both of us for a second and asked for a cigarette. We told him to get lost and we decided to pull into Wal-Mart instead, as it’s much better lit, actively open and people are coming and going.
We got back on the road shortly before day light and they’re vacant, empty roads. It’s essentially a white out, everything is white. The sky, the mountains, the road, the median, the cocaine. I’m kidding, you could occasionally see parts of the road from the sporadic snow plow. It was something out of an apocalypse movie, in the most beautifully scary way. We’re in a late ’90’s model Honda base model so we’re not in anything big and sturdy, and with chains on a small car you have to drive fairly slow. I mean slower than you would when it’s typically snowing, and it feels like your car is going to break in half. The chains feel like it’s wrong to even have them on even though it’s absolutely necessary.
While going over the Siskiyou Pass we only seen total white all around us, and every now and then an 18 wheeler would pass. Or a Subaru. I made a joke about Subaru’s when I first moved to Oregon, as you know you’re in Oregon when you start seeing Subaru’s all over. I’ve come to learn how great they are and why so many people have them, I even wish I had one.
Mt Shasta is one of the first sights you come upon after you come across the pass. Shasta is a possible active volcano at the southern end of the Cascade Range in Siskiyou County, California. It has an elevation of 14,179 feet, it is the second highest peak in the Cascades, and the fifth highest in California. The other 4 peaks in California are Mount Whitney, Mount Williamson, White Mountain and North Palisade with most of them residing in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
West of Mt Shasta is a little town that sees a lot of tourism just off of their name. They don’t have to have anything there to attract people, they’re already coming. The town is called Weed, and you might think they get their name from the primo natural medicine that they tend to grow in California but actually the town gets its name from the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, who discovered that the area’s strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. Not nearly as exciting. Weird fact, though, that mill had a deal with the city for the last 50 years to allow them to pipe the water from the river that runs through their property for $1 a year, from the Beaughan Spring. As of July 2016, it began charging $97,500 annually. A contract signed this year directs the city to look for alternative sources and leave the local unable to defend themselves outside of protests.
It’s mostly rainfall at this point but the snow isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we make the best of it. I sometimes use an ap on my phone called RoadTrippers to help find reported places to check out while on the road, but I don’t rely on it as I’ve had a history of the program crashing on my phone a lot causing more problems than it solved. On this trip, however, it worked pretty well and took us to some cool places.
One of those places was Hedge Creek Falls. The cataract is about 30-35 foot plunge that pours out of large notch cut through a hanging wall of columnar basalt. It is not a top tier fall but it is very nice. What does set the trail apart from other paths in the area that lead to waterfalls is the route’s passage behind the waterfall. The columnar basalt has collapsed at its base, creating a large cleft through in the rock through which the trail passes. From there it descends downward along Hedge Creek, passing numerous smaller cataracts before finally ending at an observation deck high over the creek’s confluence with the Sacramento River. From here there is a fantastic view of Mount Shasta. This is a great trail to do with small children, just not in the snow, but I have a feeling without all the snow and rain the fall wouldn’t be as exciting as the view I had.
Next stop: Redding, California. This is my first trip into California and I hate that the weather is crap. Every movie, every song, every pop culture reference about California is how they have beautiful weather, beautiful women, and beautiful sights. I’m getting about 10% of any of that. While I tend to enjoy these harsher natural elements more than some, I would still prefer everything just be sunny. We make the best of it, though. We’re headed to Sun Dial Bridge! Even though it’s raining I’m going to take advantage of this situation.
The bridge links the north and south campuses of Turtle Bay Exploration Park and serves as a new downtown entrance for Redding’s extensive Sacramento River Trail system. As the name suggests, it is in fact a working sundial and is one of the largest in the world. The sundial shadow traces such a large arc that it can record only four hours a day, from 11am – 3pm. It is not accurate in winter because the shadow is too far into the arboretum to be seen. The shadow, when visible, moves about one foot per minute, so you can readily see it move. So, I guess it’s not the best working sun dial, but if we suddenly lose all use of clocks and watches then we can try to figure out what time it is with this bridge within about a 240 minute window and 3 seasons out of the year.
We tossed around the idea of going to Reno, Nevada because there’s a turn off on Interstate 5 that goes toward Reno and it would give us an entire section of mountains we could check out as we drive around them, Plumas National Forest. If we went we would be coming back in between them and the El Dorado National Forest. Sounds great, right? I know I’m excited. We check the news and find out Reno is evacuating people because of flooding. Great! No Reno, it’s still raining, the snow has ceased to exist but it’s still gross out there.
I reach out to my friend, Dwayne, in Sacramento and ask if he’s open to us crashing at his place since the storm isn’t letting up and neither of us really wanted to camp in the rain, or in the car again. We got the confirmation so we continue the hours drive to Sac-Town to see what California’s capitol has to offer!
First thing we notice: no rain, palm trees, capitol building, giant darts, and sunshine. This is California! We walked around grabbing pictures exploring the city and killing time til Dwayne gets off work. I noticed there’s a lot fewer surfer types of Californians in Sacramento and more of the business suit all day type. Delivery even stops by 10pm. I can understand that foolishness if I’m in Baker City, Oregon (I love you Baker City) but I’m in Sacramento, California. I’m in the capital of the busiest, highest paid, and highest populated state in the country and yet I can’t get a pizza delivered after 10pm. I have to give the city at least one thumbs down for thumbs that, that is blasphemy. And just ridiculous.
The next day we head west to San Francisco. It’s a beautiful day and I want to see the Bay, home of E-40, Too Short and Tom Hanks – three national treasures. Once we start getting near San Fran, and I feel comfortable enough to call it that now, the weather starts getting gloomy. It doesn’t necessarily mean rain but it’s not promising for a pretty day in the bay. Our first stop is, where else? No. Not the home from Full House. The Golden Gate Bridge! After having just walked across the Sacramento Bridge, I feel like that was built by Tonka Toys in comparison.
President Trump recently said “My fellow Americans, we are the nation that built the Golden Gate Bridge in four years and the Hoover Dam in five.” It’s true, it did take only 4 years to build the bridge although it took several prior to get the plans approved. The bridge’s original design, produced by Joseph Strauss in 1921, was a clunky hybrid of a cantilever and suspension bridge that according to one critic resembled “an upside-down rat trap.” It was functional, but far from elegant. Strauss agreed to scrap the design, and he later brought other engineers onto the project to produce a more graceful design.
Three months after the bridge opened, H.B. Wobber walked passed the span alongside a tourist he had just met on a bus, turned to him and said, “This is where I get off. I’m going to jump.” Despite the tourist’s attempt to stop him, Wobber threw himself over the side. Four seconds later he hit the surface of San Francisco Bay at 75 mph and became the first of more than 1,500 people to commit suicide by jumping. That’s an average of one person less than every three weeks, although more than 30 bridge jumpers actually survived their attempts at self-annihilation. That’s wild.
During our trip none of that happened though and the trip was pretty successful outside of the overcast evening. The views were stunning, there weren’t many people, and I walked all over the hills getting pictures and enjoying the moment, after all I was spending the evening on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay.
We left and went towards the 101 to find some camp sites that I found using http://www.freecampsites.net (I’ve mentioned them before as recently as my camping trip to The Painted Hills) but once we drove that hour in the rain we found the campsite washed out. We turned on the news, called into the state highway broadcasting system and listened for the updates. Come to find out the 101 was ravaged in dozens of parts in California and Oregon, including landslides, rock slides, flooding and road collapses. I’m telling you this storm was ridiculous and I hadn’t even paid any attention to it prior to the trip. It caught us completely off guard. I later found out that California’s biggest redwood tree that you could drive through was knocked down during the heavy storm.
After driving around another hour in the dark trying to find our way back toward Interstate 5 because we had no signal out there and we needed to find camp. While driving we decided to call it a wash, pun fully intended, and head back to Oregon. We set out for adventure and got it but it certainly got the best of us and we had a 10 hour drive ahead of us still on top of being out all day exploring.
California or bust. We busted. It was ahead learning experience and I’m grateful I didn’t have to go at that experience alone. I have a lot of memories and I’m fond of the trip despite some of the negative aspects of it. I will be going back down this summer and I’m glad I know what to expect as far as the driving and scenery goes.
Thanks for reading! I know this article was a long one and I hope you stuck with me. I would love to hear your thoughts and know if you experienced California the same way I did! (I hope not)