L – The first week of October we rolled out of our summer home in Montana to begin a road trip down to Baja Mexico, via the coast. The trip would take us first to Astoria Oregon to visit Jon’s Aunt and Uncle and drop off our truck for the winter. They run Noble Ridge Christmas Tree Farm in Olney, where you can cut your own beautiful noble fir for the holidays. The property is beautiful, and I always feel so comfortable there. After getting our truck safely put to bed for the winter and spending some time in great company, we were ready to roll again. We spent our first night at a fish hatchery campground near Marion Forks, OR. It was a great little campground, though the skies opened and poured on us all night. We got our tarpology all dialed in, and enjoyed a nice dinner under shelter as we listened to the rain fall.
The next day we struck out for Crater Lake National Park. Neither of us had seen it before, and on our December to Remember road trip, we kept to the coast, so we didn’t hit any of the parks in the southern Cascades. The lake was breathtakingly blue, and we had to see it up close, so we opted for a short but steep hike down to the shore where we dunked (me) or swam (Jon). We camped that evening at Annie’s Creek snow park just outside the southern border of the park, which was right next to a burbling creek and cost us nothing, score!
The next day we headed for Lava Beds National Monument, which we nearly bypassed in favor of more time down at Lassen Volcanic. Boy am I glad we didn’t, because the place was spectacular! We stopped by the VC and got help picking out which caves to see, it always feels a bit funny to be on the other side of the desk asking the questions instead of answering them. We spent the day driving through the park, then traveling through the various subterranean lava tube caves. One had an ice floor, and another was covered in a golden bacteria.
J – During one of the longer cave routes, Leigh and I got a little separated and both had a moment of panic. It was near the end; we had passed by a couple of possible exits but were in search of the one that put us back at the road. I climbed out of one to have a look around from the surface, I thought this is what it must feel like to be a ground squirrel as I explored around always keeping my burrow in sight. I eventually found the main exit from the top and signaled back to Leigh who was back at the ground squirrel hole.
I tried to tell her to head back down and meet me over at this exit. We were about 40-50 yards apart but that was enough to confuse communication and Leigh ended up heading back up the cave towards an exit we had previously passed. Meanwhile I’m back in the lava tube looking for Leigh as I head back. When I reached the hole I had climbed out of and didn’t pass by Leigh, my heart dropped. I ran back overland to the main exit and retraced the route, shouting Leigh’s name into the darkness and again arrived at her point last seen. I quickly repeated the route once again now in a little bit of a panic. When I arrived back again I decided to trace the entire cave back the way we came. Luckily as I rounded the next corner I heard and then quickly saw Leigh also shouting my name. Our first reaction was of finger pointing and squabbling over the 5 – 10 minutes of panicked separation. The squabbling faded quickly into a hug of relief and laughter. Our situation was never by any means dire, but the emotions were amplified by being in a dark hole underground. Come to find out later Leigh had stopped short while back tracking to the previous exit and hid with her lights off in the dark intending to scare me as I came by. After several minutes passed without me going by, she too panicked! Karma.
L – We left the park via a dirt backroad route, which gave us our first chance to romp the trailer aka the Baja Box and see how it did. The new axle we put on it performed nicely, but the backdoor swung on its hinges, which was good to know. That night we camped at Hat Creek Campground in Lassen National Forest, and had the good fortune to catch it on the final day it was open for the season.
We rolled into Lassen and drove through the majority of the park in the morning, stopping to hike to the top of its namesake peak, Lassen Volcano. It just so happened we were hiking it during its centennial– it’s last eruption being in 1915.
We again found a great free campsite on Forest Service land, and prepared ourselves for the drive across major civilization – cutting out to the coast to see Santa Cruz and Big Sur, which we had skipped due to bad weather on our previous coastal road trip. It was fun to take a hit of nostalgia and see my old stomping grounds, but the amount of humanity and the high cost of camping kept us moving at a pretty good pace through there.
We stopped for a paddle around Elkhorn Slough, a great spot for seeing sea otters and seals, as well as a plethora of shore birds. It was great to get out and stretch our paddling muscles. Afterward, we stopped in to Phil’s Fish Market for oysters and a local brew. We spent a rainy night at Pfiffer Big Sur State Park, and had a brush with disaster as a huge redwood limb fell not 10 feet from where we were eating breakfast!
We pushed south toward my folk’s house at Long Beach where we planned to stop for a visit, to run errands, and to do some modifications to the Baja Box before crossing the border. Unfortunately we got snarled in the worst crush of traffic imaginable as the 5 freeway had been rerouted to the 101 due to landslides. We crawled along going a few miles in 4+ hours. My dreams of eating at our favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese place in Thousand Oaks, Szechuan Place, were dashed as hours ticked by and we remained in Santa Barbara. While our consolation prize was a great local pizza joint, and an exhausted night’s sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Oxnard, I was less than thrilled. The next day it was great to finally arrive home to see my folks and prep for the next leg of our adventure.