For those of you who came here in search of sweeping adventures of Matt in wild Asian settings, climbing mountains and visiting ancient temples, you have come to the wrong page. Wait! Wait! Wait! I implore you; before you go, give this new segment a chance because it will continue to be interwoven in the travel blog that you have so lovingly begun to support. I cannot thank you enough by the way for reading. You are all the best. This segment is titled “This is My Culture; This is My home” and is dedicated to many of my more localized adventures from the home front. Now when I say ‘home front’ do not think that you will never leave the comfortable confines of Southern California. I include most and all of my American travels. Classic road trips and awe-inspiring visual settings will excite and entertain just as sure as the foreign landscapes of Asia that you have chosen to walk alongside of me. Now trust me, let me take the wheel of your imagination once again. Let me paint more pictures, ones that are ever so slightly more accessible to those of you readers who live near me. And more importantly, let me inspire those of you from far away to come visit my neck of the woods.
Anyway, if I have not swayed you to stick around for this post (which is and will continue to be just as exciting as “And Now Life Changes…Forever!”) you are looking for an entirely different segment of this blog to be found here.
For those of you who have chosen to stay…be prepared.
Part 1 Hidden Roadways of Northern California
It was a pleasant spring afternoon and I was parked on the side of a mountain road sipping a cold beer with a man named George.
I know that is not what you are used to hearing in the beginning of a tale; usually there is some exciting statement or description of an overly hot summer’s day or a crispy winter’s evening. While these statements tend to paint a picture of extreme discomfort or loneliness that foretell potentially life changing events or some frightening hidden mystery thus gaining the reader’s full and undivided attention, I have found that most great stories happen in fairly normal conditions. The hottest of summer days, to me, are reserved for a calm trip to a pool where I sip cold drinks and lounge the heat away; nothing too exciting there. Similarly, you will find me curled up in bed under of heap of blankets reading whatever novel has managed to capture my attention on those coldest of winter nights. But a spring afternoon? With pleasant weather? That makes for an exciting backdrop. This is something I can work with.
Unfortunately I am realizing that I jumped ahead too far. We must head back to that very morning; before I even knew a man named George existed.
I awoke in my car to the blaring cacophony of a passing freight train. A beam of sunlight, sharpened by the sun’s extreme angle, pierced my eyes and my morning stretch routine was making my muscles, cramped from sleeping like a contortionist in my truck, sing.
I had one rule in those days: the sun was up so I was hitting the road.
I had travelled long miles to make it this far North. I had spent long days with cramped legs, leaving my truck for only the necessities. What I have failed to indicate thus far, and will honestly only give the briefest of mentions now, is how and why I was waking up in a truck on the side of a railroad in Eureka, California.
Simply and concisely put I was in college at the time. I went to a school in Long Beach, far down the Californian coast near Los Angeles and, in the long-held wisdom of collegiate spring, I was given a week-long break to recharge and refresh my young energetic mind. Some people hit the beach during such vacations, truth be told I am usually one of them, and some people fly to Mexico, Florida or Vegas for some well-earned freedom from reason and responsibility. In lieu of a week-long obstacle course for my liver and knowing that I had an entire summer ahead of me to spend on the beaches, I chose to instead steal a truck and drive up the coast from my home near Los Angeles all the way up to Seattle. We are now catching up to me after long miles and longer days on the coastal highways going through tunnels and over bridges, all the while looking to my left for the endless sweeping ocean vistas continuously passing me by.
Awake with me in the Northern reaches of the arguably greatest state in the union of these United States.
After a good long stretch I managed to open a door into the frigid Northern California morning. The smells of salt, blown in from the Pacific just across the tracks, and the accompanying smell of rust mingled in the air to assault my nose.
Warmth spread through my muscles as the early morning jog around the block, passed some unbelievably gorgeous houses, woke them up. That is freedom.
If you have been paying attention thus far you will recognize that these are the small moments in my life that I live for: strange awakenings far from home.
There are many times in life when the destination is far more important that the journey to get there, times when time itself is fragile and comes in a limited supply. This was not one of those times. This trip was all about the journey; the destination of Seattle was more a direction and a turnaround point than it was a true end point.
I got back to my car, re-energized by motion, and was itching to climb in and get the wheels spinning; and because there was no one with me and all the decisions rested in my hands, that is exactly what I did. I hit the pavement traveling up highway 101 stopping only to top of the tank and the belly so that I had no reason to do so again for quite some time. The trek through town, like most treks through towns, was slow going but I made it without too much fuss.
With green on either side of the two lane highway I approached a deviating path that suggested to me that the 299 highway runs from Eureka to Redding on the other side of the Pacific Coastal Mountain Ranges. Now there I sat with a decision approaching at a brisk 70 miles per hour.
Do I stick to my current course of coastal vistas or do I instead make the slow crawl up and over the snow-capped peaks.
Mountains hold for me the same as the ocean does: a sense of power that draws the open-minded and the willing. These wild places seem to scream “Come explore the quiet serenity of my majesty.”
And seeing as I spent the last few days on the coast I figured it was time to explore the bounty of my other natural love. I took the 299 up into the mountains.
Deviations from the rough plan I begin with are frequent occurrences on a journey such as this. I had a map and a full tank of gas and I was ready for just about anything.
I rolled around soft curves through the lush green lowlands before beginning my ascent.
My ears popped as I start to gain altitude. Not too quickly for the road follows the river valley.
Evergreen giants, not so giant compared to the Redwoods of the day before but still giant in their own right, start to litter the hillsides.
Sweeping green vistas mingle with the winding blue waters of Willow Creek as I approach the next great decision of the day. The crisp morning air still lingers as the sun still sits well below its zenith when I pull into the small valley town at the junction of the 299 and the 96 highways: Willow Creek.
Once again I am faced with a choice of roads to take. On one hand there was the wide 299 Highway that continues to follow the Trinity River down to Redding in the South East. On the other I had the 96 highway which snakes up the Trinity River towards Yreka in the North East.
I chose the 96 for no other reason than it had a path on the map with more twists and turns and, while it is not always true, I have found that more often than not the curvier the road, the more enchanting the views.
Follow me North to Somes Bar and the Salmon River Road.