What follows is a lightly edited and mostly stream-of-consciousness travel log of my journey from Florida to California and back again.
20160602 – 20160607
During which time, I lost my driving partner, gained a fiancee, met her family, and said goodbye.
20160608 – Wednesday
I awoke with a goal of spending the night at Spa Palace, in LA, requiring a swoop south before gaining altitude for a northeast route to Colorado. On this return journey to FL, I would be venturing alone, as my partner would be spending the remainder of June and a chunk of July with her family, a bit north of Sacramento.
We drove west with the trusty Toyota Camry, and I am returning solo with the silver steed, while she will break in her recently gifted and ruggedly used crimson Jeep for her trip towards the rising sun.
Leaving was emotional, but necessary. In all my travels, to Egypt and Korea, to college and boot camp, I’ve never had a teary goodbye. This journey west marked a number of firsts: drive over the Mississippi, traverse of the Rockies, sweat in the desert, and a truly difficult departure. I’m writing this a few days later, and it’s tough adjusting to the solo travel.
Before, driving was an activity where I could talk with my partner and banter over the 4,500mi journey.
Now, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks to feel as if I’m with another person.
Before, we drove through winding country roads to experience the landscape.
Now, I drive relatively direct routes to my destinations, swapping the side roads for well-managed interstates.
Before, we could utilize the co-pilot to navigate to various objectives and destinations on the fly, deciding as we traveled.
Now, I have to plan out my next stop before I start the engine.
That is a long winded way of saying that the texture of the road trip has changed and the travel has gone from a couples getaway to a solo quest.
On my way south to LA, I stopped in Napa Valley because of a small, hand-painted sign claiming “Old Faithful Geyser” and an arrow indicating a side road off the minor highway. I had seen this sign on the way north, but we didn’t explore further. This time, I decided to stake my claim on this eastbound adventure by stopping here, at Old Faithful of California.
Old Faithful is a moniker given to geysers renown for their regularity, by the National Geographic Magazine. The one you, and I, were thinking of is in Yellowstone National Park— it’s significantly bigger, but far less developed than its California counterpart. There’s another old faithful in New Zealand, but only three have earned the esteemed title.
I set up shop on a corner of the grounds overlooking the geyser, the whole area feeling like a farm mixed with a low-key festival: cabanas with padded lounging areas, corn hole and bocce arenas, and hula-hoops available for use. All of these things were to keep you relaxed while waiting for the eruption of hot spring water to shoot out of the ground, which happened about every hour.
Around the grounds, I saw these gorgeous little blue eyes strung up and decorating the space: a deep blue glass object, with a white sclera, punctuated by a black pupil. I had seen these charms displayed in a quaint shop in Mendocino: Nazars, or evil eyes. Traditionally Central Asian, I wondered who placed them above the walkways, lining the trees and paths. Also, I wondered how many guests would recognize them, would wonder what they were.
As I set up my slackline and enjoyed the cool valley breeze, I realized the lovely flow to this natural wonder and its surrounding park. After a burst, the geyser quickly quiets down and looks like a pile of rocks in a rust-colored pool. The reddish stain is due to the mineral content of the hot water and the unique blend of heat-adapted micro-critters in the geyser-tea.
The foreplay to the eruptions was long, so I slacked and read a book on the harvesting methods of native California’s tribes, which felt very appropriate given the location. I even recorded the rhythmic clangs and bangs of the property’s impressive flagpole, which sounded like a lovely wind chime. Then, after staring at the pile of rocks for some time, you’d notice that there’s a bit of steam coming out. This is when folks would start to stand up and crowd around, holding up their phones while waiting impatiently.
Then, a perfectly upright jet of water streams from the earth into the sky and creates a glimmering rainbow as the droplets fall to the ground. Oohs and aahs are metered out between photos. The eruption lasted about twenty minutes, only five of which involved an audience other than myself. Most folks left after seeing the initial burst and taking the necessary digital documentation for friends and family.
I found this very curious: waiting up to an hour to see a natural wonder of the world, then leaving before the wonder is fully spent. Regardless, their departure left the small park empty for me to relax and enjoy. I fed some wild greens to the goats penned nearby for petting and entertainment. I slacked and worked on some transitions. I read and laid in the shade, on the grass and enjoying the day by myself.
Around 6p, I packed up and headed further south, trying to get past San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge before the night fell— my goal with this Old Faithful detour was to ride out rush hour traffic.
On the way north, the giant steel structure, a moody beet-red, marked the transition in my mind to northern California, and now marks the true start of my solo journey. Less rolling fog this time meant that I could take in the Bridge and its full evening glory. The San Francisco Bay reflected the twilight while the hills lit up with the rows of neighborhoods packed together.
Realizing that I wouldn’t make it to LA unless I pulled an all-nighter, I began looking for evening accommodations in the San Jose/Silicon Valley area.
I made a dash for the jjimjilbangs in the area, only to find out that they were about to close and not the 24hr sort. At around 11p, I began trawling Airbnb for anyone that would take me in— while I sent out lines and waited for a nibble, I parked myself in a Japanese restaurant to grab to-go sushi.
Eventually, I got a private room reserved in the area and made my way over. I pulled into the driveway around midnight, to a recently-built neighborhood development that had cars parked in every nook and cranny; it seemed like each house had six or seven vehicles attached to it. The Airbnb was no exception.
Cindy oriented me to the house, the communal bathrooms for the eight or so temporary residents. A few people slept in small cots lightly walled off from common areas. It was a bit surreal to see all these people packed into the cute family home.
I passed out after a long day in the room furnished with only a bed and a tall lamp.
20160609 – Thursday
I woke up to barking dogs, realizing later that one of them was staying in the room above mine. Using the kitchen in the morning made coffee a cinch, but the couple sleeping on a mattress behind a paper shade divider was a bit odd, to be sure. I found out that the rooms above were also Airbnb rooms, and that many of the houses in the neighborhood also rented out space to the online community.
By the time I had packed up and started the Toyota, the sun was high and about half of the cars parked on the street were gone— still leaving a good number, but a figure much more appropriate to the typical surburban vista.
I drove south through the California valley, sandwiched between two sturdy mountain ranges to the east and west. It continued like this for a while, so much dry agricultural land with the occasional dammed stream. It was a mostly uneventful drive to Los Angeles, arriving after dark. I stopped at an In-N-Out for a late lunch, and it was delicious.
Stripping down in the jjimjilbang, I enjoyed the hot saunas and cold tubs, and ate a bit of korean food while I wrote and read into the night. Around 1a, my keyboard began to wobble, forcing me to question my state of consciousness, then I realized the whole building was wobbling. A minor, but certainly distressing, earthquake rumbled and I thanked the many engineers that had planned for the shimmy and shake.
Sleeping that night was a bit weird, but much-needed.
Long Form Sundays
- On the road, in CA (or summer travels: Part Five)
- On the road, from UT to CA (or summer travels: Part Four)
- On the road, from CO to UT (or summer travels: Part Three)