Kyle Kotajarvi

Day 9: Northern California

Today was the highlight of the trip thus far.  We woke up in the car.  None of us were very rested, but the perks of sleeping in the car meant we could get going immediately.  We made a very quick stop into Safeway to get some snacks and go to the bathroom, then stopped at Dutch Brothers for coffee, then we headed out to the Del Norte Redwoods.  My goal was for us to find the Damnation Creek trail along mile 16 and then take that down to the ocean, so we found the trailhead and began walking.  The previous day, the group and I had planned to watch the sunrise in the Redwoods and listen to Circle of Life from the Lion King, which was exactly what we did.  Dustin has one of those Bluetooth speakers, so as we began walking into the forest, we blasted the song.  It was incredible.  But that feeling was short lived as the trail we thought we were on quickly disappeared into thickly covered, uphill climb.  We quickly became disoriented and worried that we would completely lose sense of direction if we didn’t turn back, so reversed course and headed back to the car.  The failed excursion took 30 minutes, but wasn’t negative in the least.  It was our first physical encounter with the redwoods.  Right when I got out of the car for the first time I hugged the first tree I saw. Wow what an experience. 

After our failed hike we decided that we would head 15 minutes south to the Trees of Mystery.  We had heard the Trees of Mystery were cool, but we our expectations were utterly wrong.  We arrived at a disgustingly decorated building decked in Christmas attire fronted with huge Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues at about 8:50.  We all looked at each other and just said “what the fuck.”  The Trees of Mystery were definitely a tourist trap. To the right of the gift shop (yes they had a gift shop), was the entrance to the park.  We sat in the car for 10 minutes until the gates opened and rushed towards the entrance, eager to see more redwoods.  To our surprise (maybe naive surprise) there was an entrance fee. That’s right, an entrance fee, to see part of a national forest…  We were baffled.  We debated whether or not we wanted to pay the $15 per person to get in, and decided that since we were there, we should do it.  The park was fine, not extraordinary, but still very cool.  There were big trees, we were just thrown off by how contrived the park felt.  We spent a little over an hour in the Trees of Mystery. 

About 30 minutes into our drive down 101, we saw signs for Prairie Creek Redwoods, which sounded interesting, so we pulled off 101.  PC Redwoods was infinitely better than Trees of Mystery.  It was free, without silly signage, and natural.  The first thing we did once we got into the park was pull off onto a very tiny dirt road to take some photos.

We then drove farther down the main road to look at the scenery before turning around and heading towards a little turnoff titled “Big Tree”.  Fortunately, the tree was gigantic, so it was well worth it.  We departed Prairie Creek Redwoods very happy and continued our adventure down 101.  The drive to San Francisco was very long, but we were lucky enough to have tons of scenery to see and stop at along the way.  We also stopped at Burger King in Eureka, California to eat lunch. 

One thing I didn’t realize about northern California was how mountainous it is there. The drive was gorgeous.  We pulled off at least 5 separate times to take photos.  One of the most memorable times we pulled off was just north of Wine Country where we stayed on the side of the road for at least 20 minutes and danced to some Kesha and Katy Perry.  It was so much fun.  Cars honked, we laughed.  Earlier in the day we had decided that we were going to attempt to witness the sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge, but as it got later in the day, we realized there was no way that it was going to happen, so we decided we were going to catch it somewhere else.  One of our last pit stops before sunset was near Sausalito, California atop a huge hill looking out over a sea of rolling hills.  It was quite incredible. 

We pulled out and not five minutes later, we saw a road down in the valley that looked perfect for sunset.  The gravel road wound for a mile or two through vineyards and across a wooden bridge before we found a spot we deemed acceptable.  The sunset was perfect.  Probably the best sunset I’ve ever seen.  We were all pretty speechless about it. 

Though the sunset was incredible, we still had a long way to go to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Still on 101, we wound past vast fields of grape plants for about another hour and a half until we came along Petaluma.  We were all starving and all of us, with exception of Clancy are infatuated with In-N-Out, so once we saw one on the map, we immediately pulled off.  In-N-Out was incredible.  It was Clancy’s first experience and I think she really enjoyed it.  I had a double-double, with fries and a Coke.  Soon, we are on our way to the Bridge. 

It was short drive from Petaluma.  Maybe only a little over an hour.  We headed towards the Battery Spencer overlook on the north end of the bridge.  We arrived at about 7:15 and began to briskly walk up the stairs towards the overlook.  We had a caught a glimpse of the bridge while coming down the hill to the city, but nothing could have prepared us for how amazing the view was. The stairway up to the viewpoint was very dark, when we arrived to the top we were greeted by a breathtaking view of the bridge and the city.  I couldn’t even describe the view.  We spent about 25 minutes up at the viewpoint. 

We were a bit rushed to complete the rest of our drive to Yosemite, but 25 minutes was enough.  We walked back to the car and made the drive across the bridge to downtown San Francisco.  It was really weird being around people again.  Our previous 48 hours were spent in the wilderness and suddenly we were thrust into the middle of a bustling city.  It was almost like culture shock.  We listened to some classic Disney soundtrack sounds while going through downtown.  At one point during Can You Feel the Love Tonight? we rolled down the windows and sang to the car next to us.  Super hilarious.  The craziest thing happened not 5 minutes later though.  We witnessed a car accident between a Prius and a black SUV.  I actually had to call 911.  We didn’t stop because there were already people on the scene, but it was scary.  We proceeded to make the drive over the bridge to Oakland and then onwards to our place to stay in Soulsbyville.  I was so incredibly tired that I don’t remember the last 45 minutes of the drive.  I barely remember any of the night.  We carried our stuff into the house (a family friend of Kassidy’s), talked with them for about 20 minutes, imported photos from the day, and then crashed.