Days 9, 10, & 11: Tahoe

When I first got it in my head that I could drive Lyft after I resigned from my job and before I headed out on my travels, I dismissed it quickly.  Then, the very next morning, I got an e-mail (as a previous rider) alerting me to a new driver’s bonus program…and I figured that was my sign.  I had no idea what the Universe had in mind when she introduced me to the experience, but I believe now she intended to connect me with special people (and places).

One Sunday morning, I picked up a couple from a hotel in downtown Portland; they were in town for a family wedding.  In the course of our twenty minute ride to their destination on the east side, I told Kent and Betsy of my upcoming travels, and they were both excited and concerned.  “Aren’t you afraid to travel alone?” Betsy asked.  “Not really…but maybe kinda; I’ve made lots of preparations,” I replied, accustomed to the question and also still thoughtful about it.

Before she left the car, she said, “We have a house at Lake Tahoe; would you like to come stay with us?”  Well, yes, yes I would.  That sounds lovely.  And she gave me her contact information.  As her husband got out of the car to meet family, I could only imagine what he would say to them: “Betsy is inviting a random person to our house…!”  And that’s the first thing I said when I showed up a few weeks later, “Has anyone else considered the fact that I’m showing up here a nearly complete stranger!?”  Indeed, they admitted they’d thought about that…everyone but Betsy, that is.

I had envisioned sleeping in my Snail Space in their driveway, maybe having a couple of meals with them, but instead, they were so kind and generous they gave me my own room and welcomed me to immerse myself in their comings and goings for the long weekend, which I happily did…and it was an experience I’ll never forget.  Lake Tahoe is beautiful, but new friendship is even more beautiful.

To make a long story short, I had the most wonderful three and a half days with Kent, Betsy, and her funny, sarcastic brother Marty (whom I came to introduce as my uncle).  We ate, we drank; (I spilled milk and BBQ sauce, and no one cried); we hiked, we boated; we shared stories, laughed, and I even shed a few tears (telling them of Gma and her moon); we journeyed quickly from strangers to friends.

It’s a beautiful thing, meeting someone and just knowing you’ve found a kindred spirit.  For me and Betsy, that’s what happened.  She talked of the next time I visit them, and I have no doubt we’ll meet again.  DailyOM’s e-mail topic of the day yesterday was walking through doors: When a door opens, walk through it. Trust that the door has opened for a reason and you have been guided to it.  I believe that to be the theme of so much of what’s going on in my life right now – and what’s been happening for the last six months – and I couldn’t be more grateful and excited to continue stepping into new spaces, meeting new people, and creating new opportunities for a full life.

Day 8: Mr. Sly

Today was my last day at Mill Creek Campground, and – it’s funny – I felt a little sad leaving it behind.  It’s the first place I’ve kind of “settled in.”  Otherwise, I’ve stayed one night here, one night there, another night someplace else.  I’ve rocked the “wandering,” but at Mill Creek I actually took my “snail’s pace,” and it was lovely.

At breakfast one morning (I was spoiled by cheesy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon cooked-up by the hosts in the general store), I was cozied-up to the bar reading in front of the “Live by the sun, love by the moon” sign when an old guy in overalls sat down beside me.  Of course, he had me at Carhart.  I set aside my book when he said “I like my coffee black, just like my women” (completely inappropriately, I’m sure).  The conversation came easily, just like back home, and I took the time to talk and really listen to him.

Mr. Sly and his wife and children then grandchildren have “come up from the valley” to summer in their Mill Creek cabin for 45 years, after Mr. Sly spent summers next door as a child.  According to our camp host Joe, Mr. Sly’s wife Elva is a “deer-whisperer.”  Sometimes the deer line-up 8 or 10 deep outside the Sly house waiting to eat from her hand before napping in the shade of their trees.  And, as it turns out, one of Elva’s deer has a cough…and was likely the source of the mid-night snorts around my campsite.  It wasn’t a bear afterall!

On my journey from Mill Creek to Tahoe, I stopped for an oil change and got to talk with a couple of other folks from the older generation.  One man and another woman were natives of the Quincy area and told me all about the Feather River Valley and the big music festival bringing 15,000 people to town for the holiday week.  Again, they reminded me of home, and it felt quintessential somehow sitting outside the automotive shop chatting with them.

I expected to spend my journey solo in nature, thinking about my next steps in life.  Instead, I’m spending a lot of time connecting and listening and learning.  Perhaps, instead of fretting about the future, I’m supposed to be learning from the Mr. Slys of the world that life is best lived in the moment.

Day 7: Stones

Neil Diamond says, Some days are diamonds; some days are stones.  My day was stones.

I got woken up in the night by something wandering around my site.  I don’t suspect it was a human, but I wasn’t super concerned until it…huffed.  It let out a loud-ish snort-ish noise, and I didn’t like that at all!!!  My first instinct was to put on my glasses…cuz, you know, if you’re gonna be devoured by a wild animal, you wanna see it coming.  The “protocol” for bears (my concern here) is to make lots of noise.  Instead, I froze. Quiet as possible.  Glasses on.  Petrified.  Of course I didn’t sleep well after that.  Then  I woke up late.  And groggy.

To top it off, I had car “trouble” en route to my hike, probably from taking my Civic on rocky mountain roads meant for higher-clearance vehicles (if I could manifest a Subaru, I would).  Then everything just sort of went haywire from there.  All is well (or will be), but it was just a frustrating and…sort of fruitless day.  Probably meant to teach me some sort of lesson, I imagine.  [eye roll]

I never made it on my hike…but I did treat myself to dinner at an adorable Italian restaurant not far from the car shop, and my waitress was delightful (and let me sit and soak up their WiFi for some time).  She was definitely the bright spot in my day – and the Bolognese sauce, which was delicious.  Then the clouds (which I’ve hardly seen in the bright blue skies here!) just floating softly above the mountain tops… So idyllic.  Hard to imagine all the devastation that’s come from those peaks in the past – and surely will again someday.  At least my day just felt like stones.  I guess I should consider myself lucky none were spewed at me from the top of those volcanos!  😉

Tomorrow will be diamonds.  I’ll make it so.

Day 6: Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee

I gotta be honest: I was “meh” about coming to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  I’ve always planned to visit as many national parks as possible on my trip (and California has a host of them!), but driving east for Lassen felt a little like going through the motions to cross something off my list…and then I saw the park.  And. Oh. My. Goodness.  It’s amazing!!!!

I came in from the northwest and had reservations to camp south of the park so I “accidentally” drove the full length of it Monday night, and at every turn I was truly in awe.  Where I was expecting volcanic destruction, I found massive pines.  Where I was expecting rocks and outer-space-ish-ness, I found lush meadows and streams.  Still, even the geological and biological evidence of the 1915 eruption blows my mind.  I’ve never been a sign-reader (brings back memories of childhood “vacations” to museums), but I’ve soaked up every bit of information I can.  I even watched the introduction film in the Visitor’s Center, from which I learned that the area’s native tribe – the Mountain Maidu – called the peak Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee, which means “Snow Mountain.”  Naturally, it’s been renamed after a white guy [eye roll], but I’m determined to remember its original name.

Tuesday, I hiked Mill Creek Falls (the scenery was like something out of a Pixar film, proving Mother Nature to be the greatest animator of all), Lake Mazanita (flat, boring hike with an iconic view of the peak), and the “Devastation Area” (a site three miles from the explosion where many of the rocks settled after the blow) and drove through the expanse of the park twice more.  That night I decided a day in the park wasn’t enough!

And then there’s my accomodations.  I’m staying at a “resort” (with cabins as well as camping sites) operated by the loveliest couple, close my age.  In their “general store,” they serve amazing hand-scooped milkshakes…and I’ve heard the hamburgers are delicious as well.  There are coin-operated showers, a washer and dryer, and pit toilets (I feel spoiled!!), and a rushing creek runs through the middle.  My experience has been so lovely that I can’t leave it behind just yet.  For just a little longer, I’m going to settle in.


Day 5: Purpose

I’ve found myself wondering What is the purpose of this trip?  What do I hope to gain from it? 

I’m not obsessing about it, but the questions have rattled around in my head every day.

When I shared this with a wise friend today, she said: “I would encourage you to set those thoughts aside.”  She went on to observe that the purpose may not be revealed to me until long after the trip…and to encourage me to “Stay open” (that’s her favorite advice) to whatever may come, trying not get hung up in the whys of it.  She made a good point when she said the worst that can come from it is that I’ll see lots of pretty places.  I like that mindset…and I’m gonna do my best to adopt it.  Don’t worry. Don’t wonder. Just be.

(Really, though, I could get eaten by a bear, and that would be worse.  Just sayin’.) 

Moved on from Shasta today, but not before chasing down a waterfall.  This one was way off the beaten path.  I actually had to call a ranger from a backroad because I couldn’t figure out where the thing was!  Then, I swear he told me “take the path to the right,” which I did, but he should have told me (or I should have heard!) “take the path to the left…”  I almost gave up and moved on, but I stuck with it, and when I found Faery Falls, I was so glad I had.  It was lovely and quiet, with no signs marking its site and no crowds scrambling for pictures.  There was a couple playing in the water in their underwear, and they asked me to take their picture. 

Drove east in the direction of Lassen Volcanic National Park, taking my time and stopping a couple of times along the way.  When I arrived here, at a place just south of the park called Mill Creek, I was greeted by the loveliest hosts and loveliest river-side campsite.  And also by Asher and Koah, who became my favorite memory (and lesson) of the day. 

As I was setting up camp, I heard voices and realized there were two little boys playing right down the hill from my spot.  I hollered “hello,” and they came right up and started telling me stories and asking me questions, like little kids do when they’re not shy.  I asked where they were staying, found out it was up the road a ways, and figured I was gonna have to fit them in my packed car to return them “home” before dark… Fortunately, though, their parents weren’t far behind (with a third little one in tow).  We chatted for probably 30 minutes – about my tent, our travels, this, that, and the other – and I really listened, even to the boys (maybe especially to them).  They were 8 and 4, and in my “real life” (former life?), I might have been annoyed by their chattering and stories and questions…but in those moments, there was no place I’d rather have been and no company I’d rather have kept.  They moved on after while, to explore the rest of the campground, and I went up into my Snail Space to take refuge from the mosquitoes.  Probably a half hour later, I heard “Goodnight, Elizabeth!” sing-songing from the path, and when I peaked out my window, they announced “We saw a reindeer!” then the older of the two raced up the ladder of my tent to show off a seed pod he’d found…and I loved it!  They made my night, and I smiled when they said “We’ll see you in the morning,” even though I knew I’d be up and out and on the road before them. 

Indeed, I didn’t see them this morning, but I thought of them and smiled throughout the day.  Maybe, just maybe, moments and memories like those are the purpose of my trip. 

Day 4: Crickets, Ants, & Bears (Oh my!)

I’ve never been a morning person, but I find myself waking up early to start my days. 

Got my first sunburn of the journey/summer, so I guess I can check that off my list…! 

It felt good, though, basking in the sun on a tough hike up the side of Mount Shasta.  I read that the area east of the mountain (accessible by way of the Brewer’s Creek Trailhead) was one of John Muir’s favorites, so I had to check it out since he’s my new (er, old and dead) homeboy.  The drive in was a bit daunting (I don’t just want a Subaru; now, I really kinda need one!).  It was so washed out and rocky that I sometimes couldn’t drive more than 2 miles per hour.  (I guess that’s a snail’s pace indeed!)  Because of this and the difficulty of the trail, there were probably only 10 cars at the trailhead, and this is ideal.  I like to hike in nature, not in crowds, so difficult and hard-to-reach trails are where it’s at for me.  The folks I met (5 total in 3 hours) had hiked to the summit and camped.  They were legit, packing ski gear on their backs for the high elevations.  Someday, I’d love to come back and make it to the top.  I won’t do that solo, though, even though John would have (and did).  As it were, I took my time on the way up, reminding myself each time I felt too slow that my pilgrimage isn’t about a destination; it’s about the journey.  I stopped and rested a few times in the shade of the alpines and rocks, and once some ants literally crawled in my pants…but I didn’t much care.  I was too tired and aware that I was, after all, invading their space, not the other way around.

Speaking of insects…to prepare for the day, I ate cricket chips for breakfast!  You heard me right – cricket chips – chips (crunchy, salty) made from cricket flour instead of wheat flower and thus packed with protein.  They are yummy, and I definitely recommend checking them out.  They seem very California crunchy to me.  When in Rome…

I’ve never hiked with bear spray until today.  Hopefully I’ll never have to use it, but it’s apparently a useful defense against both bears and creepy people.  So I’m sleeping with it tonight too, just in case.  I’m camping in the Shasta National Forest.  As I write, I’m looking out my screen “door” at the mountain beyond the trees, and it is nothing short of spectacular.  There are no other humans in sight, and the only noises I hear are from nature.  It’s glorious.  This is what I pictured in my heart when I planned my trip.  I didn’t have too many other expectations, just that I’d spend my days in the wild.  Tonight is my first “wild night.”  It’s both exciting and a little scary.  But I’m channeling my inner Muir and trusting that nature is the best space for me and my soul.