gratuitously long California trip post

The long-delayed update on my and Steven’s trip to California with his family:

Dennis and mileage sign on I-10

Here’s Dennis, Intrepid Adventurer, in front of the I-10 mileage sign that I’d been meaning to stop and snap a picture of for five years now, every time I made the drive from Baton Rouge to Austin. I consider it a reassuring sign (ha! …ahem) that someone in the interstate highway bureaucracy has a sense of humor.

And, what’s better is that we actually did all 857 miles of it (with a detour through Austin), and then some. On our first day we drove from Baton Rouge, LA, to Las Cruces, NM—roughly 1100 miles. I was sooooo tired of being in a car in Texas. We did, however, take time to let Dennis say hi to Paisano Pete in Fort Stockton:

Dennis and Paisano Pete

Then, onward:

view from Steven's grandparents' house

We spent the second night in Rainbow, (southern) California, at Steven’s grandparents’ house, which is on top of a hill surrounded by avocado groves and grapevines. They have two wonderfully fat dogs who are so completely obese because they waddle around and eat fallen avocados.

Then we drove up to the Bay Area to drop Jono off at Acrima’s (But not before we all ate at In-N-Out Burger—yes, I had a burger. It was underwhelming.) and go see Leslie and Bryan in their new apartment.

Leslie at Bonny Doon

Leslie and I went strawberry-eating, wine-tasting, and window-shopping before cooking a very good dinner and creating art in coloring books. Leslie also washed her car with a gas station squeegee. We spent a night in the city with Steven’s friend Christine, had dinner with three of Steven’s dad’s four brothers (and their assorted families), and then headed through Yosemite to Bishop, CA, near the trailhead where our backpacking began.

Sights along the way:


Quite possibly one of the best license plates ever.

Dennis in Yosemite Valley

Dennis in Yosemite Valley, one of the most beautiful—and most over-crowded—places I’ve been out West. That’s El Capitan behind him.

On Hwy 395

We drove from Yosemite to Bishop on Hwy 395, which, naturally, has equally amazing scenery.

On the trail, past the pass

Then we set off for a planned five days of backpacking—we were in the John Muir Wilderness, which is gorgeous despite being horribly crowded. The terrain was very different from what I associate with backpacking in Colorado; we were above 10,000 feet almost the entire time, and everything was much drier, rockier, and dustier than the pine forests and marshy meadows I’ve hiked through in the Rockies.


Our campsite was idyllic (though over-used, and overrun by mosquitos at dusk), with a view of Golden Trout Lake and mountains in all directions. We scrambled up to the top of the hill next to us for 360 degree sunset views:

Clare and Steven at sunset

Dennis and sunset mountain

We ended up hiking out a day early—one of Larry’s boots lost its sole, Steven was feeling sick, and I had blisters beyond description on both heels. I gimped most of the way out before changing from my (clearly insufficiently broken-in) boots to Chacos just so I wouldn’t sit down on the side of the trail and start crying. It was still a beautiful hike out, though of course we got hailed on.

We drove back to Austin in two veeery long days: Bishop to Phoenix and then Phoenix home. Again, sights along the way:

Terrorist hunting permit

Including this winner—naturally, on a bigass SUV with other appropriate stickers.


I’d like to dedicate this one to Maryann. I sadly didn’t get a picture of the “GRLZ” themselves, who were about 14 years old, predictably orange, in predictably short skirts, and had predictably tubby parents driving them around in this monstrosity. We saw it in the parking lot of yet another (spectacularly crowded) In-N-Out Burger, which Jono has a bit of a fetish for.

Hwy 95 with mud

It was pouring rain as we approached Arizona, which in the desert means that you take what looks like a convenient shortcut between major interstates and all of a sudden you’re on a flooded, mud-covered, rock-strewn “road” that you get to drive twice since you get about 20 miles out and then have to turn around because it’s entirely flooded at a low point, which no one driving back in the opposite direction bothered to signal to you. It was significantly less than fun. Both times.

The rest of the drive involved high winds and tumbleweeds at 10pm outside of Phoenix, me kinda coasting through a border patrol checkpoint when I think the guard expected me to stop (he looked a bit surprised, but I kept going and no one chased us down), and an interminable nighttime drive into Austin, arriving about 1am.

Jetta loaded up

The next week was spent moving Steven into his new apartment. That trusty Jetta TDI took us more places, got more 700-mile tanks, and hauled more of our crap around than any car should have to in its first seven months of life. I think we broke 16,000 on the drive back.

All in all, one of the better summers on record.

2 replies on “gratuitously long California trip post”

It’s all well and good that you took pictures of OC plates, but you didn’t actually go there?! For shame!

I guess I should finish that update, huh?

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