Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Zion, I never want to leave you!

Here we are on the second half of our trip, and boy has it been delivering!First was Grand Canyon, where my family met up with us. That place could never get old (although it is ancient, with the youngest rocks being 270 million year old). If I lived at the park and visited the rim everyday, it would still blow my mind every time. We didn't do any major hiking here, mostly just went to the rim and stared. It was wonderful to see my family, too, and my mom gave us a giant bucket filled with dehydrated and canned foods from her farm, including peach sauce (like apple sauce but with peaches), gourmet tasting zucchini pickles and tons and tons of dehydrated zucchinis to make our ramen more bearable. As John mentioned in his last post, we also had a night where we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the campfire while eating my mom's popcorn, under the Grand Canyon desert stars. One of my favorite memories ever. On our last night there John and I went to watch the sunset, and it was definitely the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen. I think I took about 40 pictures of it, but the photos could never tell you.

The next stop was Lake Powell, where we cooled off and Seymour went swimming for the first time. My goodness, that was one of the cutest things you could ever see, if you like that sort of thing. It was here that I started getting tired of the lack of privacy. I love cooking at epic scenes, it's such a fortunate opportunity that we have. However, "what's for dinner?! Haha!" from watching strangers is getting very, very old.
The next place we went was Zion National Park. About four years ago I went on a Green Tortoise tour of the "Canyons of the West," and so I've seen most of these places before. That doesn't make them less epic, nor do the other beautiful pieces of land we've been seeing. Zion looks like a desert version of Yosemite, with similar high rock faces, only where Yosemite is in shades of grey, Zion is shades of burnt reds.
When I came to Zion before, the driver of the Green Tortiose had given us a run-down on some of the hikes of the park. She stated that Angel's Landing was one of her favorite hikes in the entire world. Now, this woman has hiked all over the entire world and drives an adventure tour bus, so if she says it's great, I must do it. She warned us that it was encredibly difficult and dangerous, so don't do it unless we're in shape and have no fear of heights. It was our first stop on the Tortoise, I hate heat (it had been 110 degrees or more at this time) and I was terribly out of shape, but I thought I could do it.
Well. Angels Landing, which is about 1 mile of hiking with a chain, is gotten to by about 4.5 miles of very steep uphill switchbacks. I failed this trail miserably on that summer day in 2007. Lisa, the friend I had been hiking with, was fine and continued on without me, while I hiked a little bit down the Narrows. I realized later that I wasn't just being a baby, I had been suffering some heat exhaustion. Anyways, Lisa came down to the camp raving that it was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen, showing me photos that of course could never do it justice. I've kicked myself ever since for now finishing the hike.
(my miserable face 4 years ago, right before I turned back.)

So here I am, about 25 pound lighter than I had been then. I've been living in my car for the last 2 months, by night sleeping on highway shoulders, by day hiking in different landscapes in the heat. This is the most bad-ass and in shape I've ever been, if I can't conquer this Angel's landing trail now, when else will I be able to? So of course I go to this one on our first day in Zion.
If you've never hiked this trail, let me tell you-it is a challenge to your body, your breath and your gut. After the 4.5 miles of steep switchbacks I mentioned, there is about a mile of steep up hill on a cliff sometimes only 10 feet wide, with thousand foot drops on either side and your only safety net is an old chain attached to the rock. This hike is epic and terrifying. But also amazingly beautiful. When you look down, if you can brave it, at first it makes you want to pee yourself. Once you get over that, you realize how beautiful it is and you feel like you're on the top of the world. Now, of course I made it to the top this time! With hardly needing any breaks, I might add. It felt amazing. When you get to the top you can understand why they called it Angel's Landing. If I were an Angel I would totally fly there as often as possible. (Also because if I could fly I wouldn't have to brave the trail.)
(Part of the Angel's Landing hike. Yeah, you hike along that ridge there, all the way up.)

(the view from Angel's Landing, of course being overwhelmed 360 degrees by it is much more amazing.)
(I made it, I made it!! (yeah, pale belly. I also have a silly tan line straight across my chest from a strapless dress.))

And so then after a little hike to the Weeping Rock and I got a drizzle of water on my head, I went back to John and Seymour with magic in my eyes again. We also happened to be here while the Zion Music Festival was going on. We showered for the first time in 9 days and went on a splurging date, buying delicious cheeseburgers and local beer. The bands were fun folky, jazzy, funky things, and the final band of the night got a lot of people dancing. I am proud to say that my boyfriend got more down on the dance floor than any other man there. :)
My second hike day I went down the Narrows, further than I had gone on that hot day long long ago. The Narrows is a hike where the trail is the Virgin river. At this time of year, the water doesn't get past chest deep, and then only for a short bit. The hike is difficult because you're wading against the current, but it is just as beautiful as the Angel's Landing, with huge, towering cliffs on either side of you, making it shady, with the river echoing off the canyon walls. I'll let John tell you more about that one.
(note the little people. Man was this gorgeous.)

Zion also has a charming little desert tourist town attached to the outside of it, Springdale. I love this town. It hasn't been overwhelmed by tourism in a gross way. Everyone is friendly and has that tanned, mystical face that people who live near Zion should have. If this were a different kind of trip, the kind where I was alone and taking my time, I would try to find a job here and stay for a couple months. Although our next stop is Bryce, which on the Green Tortoise had been my favorite, I am reluctant to leave. Don't tell John, but I've fallen madly in love.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The change in the trip

So, as you may know, this road trip was intended to be a Great American Road Trip. After I lost my waitressing job I wasn't able to save as much money, followed soon after by an emergency root canal taking 1/5th of the money we had saved. Because of this, we had cut off all of New England before heading out. We suspected in the back of our heads that that would not be the end of our cuts, but we set off anyways with high hopes. In our detailed planning we'd done for a year or so, we had estimated the mileage for each "leg". Leg One was Seattle to Los Angeles, and we had estimated it at 1,700 (plus 30-40% for wiggle and such).
Well, in our time in Los Angeles, we assessed the money we had spent and the miles we had done. We were at over 3,000 miles, and though we had spent less on gas than estimated and we were right on track with food and recreation spending, we found out that we were at the halfway point in our journey. And so, now the trip is expected to be ended around the first week of November (as opposed to the first week of January) and we won't make it east of New Mexico. So we planned out the last 6-8 weeks and re-worked our budget. We will do loops of the beauty Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have to offer, and then head back up to Seattle.
Surprisingly, we aren't sad about it. Right as the trip started I realized the trip I had spent a year+ dreaming about and planning was a completely different thing than the actual trip we were on. The trip turned itself into more of a "Wilderness and National Parks of the West" trip. We'll be in Chicago and Florida in the next year for weddings, and someday maybe we'll take a train down the east coast. Eastern USA is probably not best seen with an old van and a dog anyways. I am a little bummed I won't be reading Huck Finn as we drive down the Mississppi, but hell, this trip is epic wicked sweet anyways! So just a little "bummer" on the loss of the second half of the trip.
Now, onward to the second half of the trip!!

Catching up for John

Alrighty, I know it's been a long times since I've written anything, so I'll try not to leave anything too important out.  Amber has done a nice job of covering most of the stuff, so if my story seems disjointed, please read the previous post. 

I last left y'all at the Redwoods, which now seem like a long time ago.  Since then, we have seen towering rock faces, the largest living face in the world and many friendly faces, not to mention the enormous inverted face of the Grand Canyon.  We'll start with the rock faces.


Yosemite, like Amber said is a seriously crowded place, especially during the end of summer when everyone is trying to get in their last second summer kicks before their kids have to go off to school.  Nevertheless, it is stunning.  Even before you enter the park proper there is a very senic drive on which you see a gorgeous river winding to your right and many view points that overlook smaller valleys.  However, there is nothing like the blast to the eyes you get from that first view of the Yosemite Valley.  All around you are enourmous monoliths looming in grandeur.  At any time of day some of these are bathed in light in a most splendid way.  Of course, in the valley are vast multitudes of people swarming everywhere, but if you keep your eyes up it is easy to forget this in the sheer beauty that captures you.

My favorite spot in the valley was the Yosemite Fall.  It is the largest waterfall in North America and truely wonderous to behold.  The waterfall itself is divided into two sections by a large cliff.  The lower fall is accessible from the valley and there are many rocks to climb all over to get to the base.  That part was really fun.  Often Amber has commented to me that she wishes there were adult playgrounds, and the climb to the base of the waterfall is pretty much just that.  At the base of the Lower Fall, there is a nice pool of crystal clear water where a few daring people can be seen swimming (it is icey cold).  On my hike day I took a trail to a view of the Upper Fall.  Although it is best seen in springtime when the water gushes spectacularly, the view of it in the summer is nonetheless quite breathtaking. 

The Lower Yosemite Falls
Our second stop in Yosemite was Hetch Hetchy Lake.  Because of my great experience with the waterfalls in the valley, I decided to take a trail that took me past a couple of them near the lake.  On my map I could see that there were two not to far off and decided to see them, taking more time to rest than walk.  Off I started walking, across the dam and through a tunnel, over the rock face that lines the coast of the lake to my first waterfall.  This was was quite nice.  It split into a few waterfalls where the trail crossed with a view of the big one from beneath the smaller offshoots.  An easy climb from the trail brought me right next to them and I was even able to catch a view from the backside of one.  My spirits raised by such a sight, I set off for the second waterfall, which I believed to be only a mere 2 miles walk.  However, despite my map and my sense of where I was, I walked and walked and walked, up and down, up and down, up and down, for what seemed like many miles through forest and desert before I reached my second waterfall.  This one was very wide and shallow, running across a great flat stone.  I soaked my feet for a while and found a nice shady spot to rest and began to head back.  After much walking again, up and down, up and down, I finally reached the first waterfall again only to realize that it was named the name of the second waterfall on my map.  Suddenly I realized that the first waterfall I thought I would see had dried up and that instead of the 6 mile round trip hike I had intended, I had walked a 13 mile round trip hike to the Rancheria Falls!  Oh well, I said to myself and with sore feet I made my way back to the van where Amber was cooking up some yummies for me!  Yay!

The last stop in Yosemite was the Mariposa Grove of the giant Sequoia trees.  We spent just and afternoon here, mostly to see the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world.  All I can really say about this tree is that is incredibly huge.  Apparently it grows enough new wood every year to constitute a normal size adult tree of other varieties.  The sequoias in general are a marvel in that they are some of the oldest living beings on the planet.  Their superior bark and chemical makeup essentially makes them immortal.  The only weakness they have is a shallow root system which makes them vulnerable to toppling over.  But, honestly, I'd like to see someone just try to push over one of these behemoths!

Sequoia Camping

After Yosemite and San Francisco, we decided we had had enough of people and went for some actual camping for a change.  We chose the Lodgepole campground within the Sequoia National Forest.  It was just what we needed.  Our campsite was relatively reserved, right next to a trail that followed a nearby river.  The most exciting part were the bears we saw.  As we were sitting next to the river I commented to Amber, "You know, we've been in bear country for a long time and still haven't seen a single bear." No sooner had a said this than we looked behind us and saw not to far away a mamma bear with her cubs.  Now you must realize that in our imaginations we had projected bears to be ferocious bloodthirsty beasts ready to clobber us to death in an instant.  This was not what we saw.  Instead the animal we beheld was much more like Baloo fromt the Jungle Book. "Bear necessities, the simple bear necessities."  Nevertheless, we excersised due caution and kept our distance.  Later in our stay we saw another two mamma bears with their cubs crossing the trail in front of us.  The scariest sighting, however, happened just after we had finished making dinner one night.  It was just after dusk and the rocks to the north of our camp were just shadows.  We were finishing eating when suddening Seymour started barking and growling.  Looking to the north we saw a mamma and her cub casually strolling down the hill to our campsite!  Luckily, with a few claps and loud sasquach like "Whoops!" the bear diverted course and wandered back into the woods.

Amber's Family and Southern California

From our nice long time camping we then headed to the city areas to be spoiled by Amber's family and then mine.  Our first stop was to Bill and Liz's place, Amber's uncle and aunt.  They set us up with a nice spare room, treated us to enormous amounts of delicious food and we let our brains turn to mush watching Hoarders on TLC all night.  After that we headed to Lompoc, where Amber grew up, saw the flower fields, tasted the local coffee and got some work done on the car.  We were also treated to the wonder of the kindness of strangers by a couple named Dave and Bonnie.  After Lompoc, we spent a night and morning with Amber's cousin Rich, who with his many cats and welcoming home offered us a relaxing night of conversation and tacos.  For a more thorough telling of this part of the story, please see Amber's post.   

Los Angeles

Me and my Dad at the adult playground
From Amber's clan we went to my clan in Monrovia, CA just north of Los Angeles.  We had somewhat been dreading the experience of L.A. since the bad taste San Francisco had left in our mouths.  But to our surprise, it ended up being a joy.  I hadn't seen my dad for about three years and it was a very happy moment to see his smiling face when we rolled in.  Determined to spoil us while we were there he paid to put us up in a hotel room for a week!  What a treat that was!  We had a bed to sleep in every night and stove and a refrigerator and TV.  Quite luxurious I must say.  Beyond the hotel room, he took us out to Venice Beach where walk for the day down to Santa Monica Peer.  Venice Beach was very fun, with Medical Marijuana and head shops everywhere and a crazy guy jumping on glass.  We also found another adult sized playground and I even swang on a swing for the first time in who knows how long.

After Venice Beach we checked out the USC Science Center, which was very interesting.  There were many interactive displays and sections ranging from Middle Eastern science in the "Dark Ages" to ecological systems, to basic technology, and even a few of the landing pods used by NASA during the space race.  We topped off the day with a visit to the little Mexico near the Union Station where we had some excellent food and were even treated live performance of Rancho Grande by an itinerant musician. 

After USC and the Mexican food, we drove out to see my brother Michael.  His house was a little hard to find being that on his street all the streets are named the same thing (I don't know who came up with that genius idea).  But once we were there, we were treated to sandwiches and beer.  Michael's house was also quite nice.  He has worked in construction and loved projects since he was a youngster and his house definitely showcases this.  Even as we were there he as busy casually completing some frames for his daughter's bedroom as well as some metal panelling for his garage.  It was very nice to see him again and to meet his wife and kids.  Hopefully we can make more of a habit of it.

Griffin Observatory
The following day, we went to the Observatory just outside Hollywood, which was just as interesting as I remember.  With exibits showing everything from the movement of celestial bodies, to the intricacies of the Sun's activity, to the passage of cosmic particles through a special device that could detect them (and there are more of them than you think) I was very pleased to visit again this temple of the sky.  After the observatory we went down into Hollywood, to Graumin's Chinese Theater and the Walk of Fame.  We had a good time pointing out the names that we recognized and my dad had a good time gasping at the fact I knew so few of them.  Capping that off with some In-N-Out and some good reminiscing, it was a great day! The next night we went out to dinner and karaoke with Amber's friend Tanna, who most generously treated us to everything.  Along with her came her friend Udi, a genuine pro at karaoke, featured on America's Got Talent. 

Our last night in L.A. was spent having dinner with my dad and grandma at their place.  I got to play for them some of my songs on guitar and we had a nice quiet night chatting until way past their bedtimes ;).  In the morning we packed up our things and said our goodbyes, which are always a bit sad, but agreed that we'd be back the next year for grandma's ninetieth birthday.  Hopefully I can drag my brother Mark down too.

On the Road Again

From there we set off for the road once more.  Heavily fattened up and ready for adventure we drove for a staggering 7 hours.  And I must say that Arizona roads are by far the best roads we have encountered in this trip.  However, the great roads were offset by the fact that pretty much every rest area we drove past was closed, including the one we had planned to sleep at that night.  Luckily enough, just after it was a Pilot Station just after it, which turned out to be better than a rest area in that it had many amenities and we didn't have to deal with semi-trucks zooming past us all night. 

Grand Canyon

The following morning we arrived at the Grand Canyon Desert View.  Being that I wanted my first sight of this wonder of the natural world to be as breathtaking as it could be, I kept my eyes to the ground as we approached.  When I looked up, I truely did see a wonder.  In fact, I felt so overwhelmed by it that my mind just stopped.  Amber made a few comments about how this was just a small part of the canyon and ask what I was thinking, to which I could only say "shhhh".  Once I recovered from my giant "slicer" (a term used in my friend group to mean "I forgot what I was thinking about") we set up camp and awaited the arrival of Amber's mom and siblings.  When they arrived, we were immediately gifted many dried and fresh yummies from Julie's (Amber's mom) farm.  She had even brought the firewood we had forgotten!  After some fun setting up the "easy" tent they had brought, we enjoyed delicious calzones Julie had prepared next to an open fire.  It was a very nice start to our stay.

The next day was spent down at the Grand Canyon Village, a 25 mile drive west of where we were staying.  There we walked along the edge of the canyon for a few miles, taking time at many of the vistas to absorb the magnitude of what was before us.  Once again, my mind was totally slicered by what I saw and together with the heat, I was as empty as the canyon itself by the time we got back to camp.  That night we set up another fire and this time Amber's sister Hannah prepared a soup for us to eat.  After that the popcorn.  The thing you must realize about Amber's family is that they are all totally in love with popcorn.  From Bill, who inhales it jealously even if nobody else wants some, to Amber who would make it every night if she could, to now her mother and siblings who had brought a special heirloom pan to hold this precious yellow snack, the love affair this family has with popcorn runs deep.  After enough had been made to feed a small army, we sat down by the fire, set up the laptop and watched Monty Python's Holy Grail (a favorite of Hannah and Aidan) while chatting up a storm.

The next day we all took turns visiting various parts of the canyon while the others watched Seymour dog.  On the shuttle bus, the driver commented that some people ask, "What's the best view of the canyon?"  He went on further to say that "best" in that respect is regarded as a four letter word to those who know and love the canyon.  There is no "best" view.  Each is spectacular and breathtaking.  And that's the truth.  I could spend all day looking at that canyon.  After everyone was done looking, Julie, Aidan, Lila and Hannah had to go home to get the kids back to school.  While it was a sad parting, it was not so bad, because we know we will see them  again on the tail end of the trip. 

The next day we spent simply sitting with the canyon.  On the way to the Watchtower, we were told of a more secluded trail and view point not very far out of our way.  We decided to take it and were not sorry.  To our left and ahead of us was the canyon, great and glorious.  To the right was an endless expanse of desert marked by hills and mesas.  There we sat for much of the day, trying to even out our now starkly contrasting tan lines and absorbing as much as we could of this natural wonder.  After we had enough of the sun, we went back to the shade of our van until sunset when we headed back to the Watchtower.  We were in for one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.  As the sun set beyond the canyon a tower of purple shot up above the orange and greens which lined the rim.  To the left of the tower of purple was a greenish blue which extended into the northern sky.  Along it ran high altitude clouds which, taking the purple color, created a layered effect which was both awe inspiring as well as calming.  That night we started reading the Hobbit in our tent and fell asleep to the thoughts of dwarves and wizards and seed cakes. 

The next morning we made sure to get up early to watch the sunrise which, not as spectacular as the sunset the night before, was nonetheless very beautiful.  As the sun crept over the horizon of the desert, it lit up various parts of the canyon and gave a view to what we had been looking at that was clear and subdued.  After we had our fill, we took down the campsite and hit the road.  We are now in the town of Page, which boarders the magnificent Lake Powell.  I have been sitting writing now for a good two hours on my second refill of coffee in a local coffeehouse.  Hopefully I'll be more regular in my posts in the future.  Until then, I'll be thinking of you all!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yosemite, Sequoia, Family in Southern California

Oh boy it's been awhile! 6 days in Yosemite, 3 days in Sequoia, and now we've been in Central and Southern California for about a week. Unfortunately we've been mostly camera-less the entire time. I've taken some cell phone pictures, but without internet on my phone, I can't seem to figure out how to transfer them to a computer. There is much to tell about...

our first camp spot, right before Yosemite, was a view point called "The Rim of the World"

Yosemite is swarming with tourists-and with good reason, it’s amazingly beautiful and incredibly unique. We’ve only been on this See-America journey for a month, but I sure haven’t seen anything at all like it before. I think you could stare up all day long and not get sick of it, because the light shines on each rock face in vastly different ways during different times of the day and different seasons.

On the Mount Rainier trails we took, we only saw a few people during the day, and the trails were occasionally overgrown and hard to see. In the Redwoods we only saw a couple people more, and the improved trails were still just dirt and stone paths, with narrow, steep and winding parts. In Yosemite, nature feels a bit like a spectacle, it's like an amusement park of nature. The paths are paved and big enough for cars to go down and there are tourists and parking spaces every way you turn. Now, you may be thinking “But, Amber, you say ‘tourist’ like it’s a dirty word-you’re a tourist, too!” and you would be right. We are tourists, but I’m still using that word with a sour face a little bit. There seem to be 2 different types of tourists at Yosemite-those that are there to explore and experience the beautiful nature…And those that are there to do that, but go on trails in full makeup, perfume, and fancy clothes. They only take their ear buds out or set their iPhone down for a moment to take a picture, blast their music in the peaceful picnic areas, feed Cheetos to squirrels, trample across meadows instead of using the paved paths, make rude commentary about the Natives that had this land stolen from them to create the park, and litter their trash wherever they please. During our stay there I saw all of these things and more multiple times. There is definitely a reason why every 10 feet you see a sign warning of the $5000 fine if you’re caught feeding an animal, a list of reasons why NOT to feed an animal, a sign saying “Give nature a chance! Please keep off!” or the reason trashcans are everywhere. I was picking up litter everywhere I went. I talked with a little kid, who said his favorite parts about his trip was that he got to watch Wipeout in the hotel at night, and he loved feeding the squirrels. They got caught and almost fined, so he was trying to feed Seymour instead.

Anyways, I despise crowds and heat, so I got a little cranky-but still Yosemite’s beauty prevailed and made it an amazing experience. For my hike day I took a short hike to Bridalveil Falls and fell in love. I climbed the rocks and laid down, looking up at the falls for a few hours while I watched the sun come up from behind it. Bridalveil is a misty waterfall, and moves around down a sheer rock, changing direction according to the wind. At the point where the water starts to fall down, there are misty swirls dancing around, and with the sun shining in behind it, I had no choice but to sit and stare, enjoying the mist blowing across me.

Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in North American, and our favorite ride-eh-attraction at the park

When the weekend came, we decided to hit up a less popular area-Hetch Hetchy lake/reservoir. Years ago it was dammed up to be used for the San Francisco area’s water and hydro-electric power. It had been a big, long battle between John Muir and other nature conservationists and the people of San Francisco. After the great earthquake and fire that they suffered, it became obvious that the people needed this water source, and John Muir lost. Well, I don’t know what Hetch Hetchy looked like before the dam, but I am inclined to think that it is even more protected now as a reservoir than if it had stayed public access. There is no swimming or boating on the lake and fishing is regulated. As a result, you have a less frequented part of the park, with a beautiful vast, untainted view of the water (except for the dam, but that’s not on the more beautiful side of it. When it was my turn to hike, I hiked to the big waterfall and sat and stared for 5 hours. Pictures can never do justice for the beautiful things we’re seeing, even if I was taking pictures with something better than a camera phone.

On our 6th day in Yosemite we went to the Mariposa Grove to see the Sequoia trees. We each did a 0.3 mile hike, reconvened at the van and realized we were just sick to death of tourists, moving around, hiking, and sleeping on the sides of roads. We were terribly home-sick and missed having a roof over our heads, a fridge and most importantly, our friends. We decided to search for a hotel that night, but our budget of $60 (which is a big splurge considering our weekly budget is $75 plus gas money) didn’t hold up, so we ended up at a rest area that was disgustingly hot after the sun went down, and had hundreds of semis driving on one side of us, and a busy train track on the other. Thank goodness we’ve just learned about Valerian Root’s sleepy powers, otherwise we never would have slept.

The next day we found a campsite at the Sequoia National Forest and didn't move for 4 days and 3 nights. It was a magical mental and emotional battery re-charge, I'll let John tell you about all the bears we saw.

So after 10 or so nights in the Yosemite/Sequoia area, we emerged from popular nature and came down to the Central Coast, in the Lompoc area where I grew up. We got spoiled rotten by my Aunt and Uncle Bill and Liz in Santa Maria. We basically spent another 2 nights not moving, but this time had a mattress, TV and cold milk to drink. It was wonderful to see family I don't get to see often!

We didn't have a working camera in Lompoc, but this is what a lot of it looked like when I grew up there; flower fields

Then we went down to Lompoc, and I gave John a tour of the town-which probably took about 40 minutes. We sat in the grass at the park, drove around, and went to the 99 cent store. After all the winding and steep hills we'd been going up and down, Luna the Car was starting to have brake problems. First she was getting shaky coming down hills, then she started screaching at us when we braked. So, we took her in and got the back brakes replaced. Definitely could have been worse!

We got spoiled yet again in Lompoc when a big crew of my family met us at Mi Amore, the best Italian food in Lompoc. Bill and Liz spoiled us yet again, and John got to meet and fall in love with my late Grandpa's girlfriend Peggy. We filled up like we wouldn't eat again in a month and said our see-ya-laters.

Our first night in Lompoc we slept on a side street. The second night, we had our first big experience of kind strangers. We had tried to go to the beach near town, but it was closed down for an endangered animal that nested there. We were sitting in the parking lot, when a guy came to lock the gate and kick us out. He asked us if we needed a place to sleep, and ended up directing us to another park just outside of town that he lived on. He locked the gate behind us and assured us the cops wouldn't come knocking. This was a glorious treat of a place to sleep! It was dark, quiet, safe, legal, and in the morning light we saw that it was beautiful, too. In the morning Dave and Bonnie, the couple that live in a bus at this park, made us a huge delicious breakfast while Bonnie chatted our ear off about everything from their battles against cancer to her husband's impotence. I'm happy to say that this kindness from these strangers happened in my old hometown. We said our thank yous and good-byes and headed on our way.

I got this pic from Rich. John, me and Rich in front of Luna. Yay!

That day we tried to be tourists in Solvang, but it ended up being too hot to move. We sat still in some shade until we felt brave enough to venture into the farmers market. We stuffed our faces with fruit, then headed on our way to Santa Ynez to see my cousin Rich. (Hi Rich!) We have never met as adults, and so it was great and a little odd to see each other. We got spoiled yet again, this time with homemade tacos, beer, garden fresh tomatoes, and many adorable cats and kittens. They let us sleep in their quiet driveway under the stars. It was very great to hang out and see what kinds of people we've become in adulthood, and getting to touch on early childhood memories with someone I haven't seen in such a long time, so he had a different set of them.

The next morning we headed out early for LA-John's dad lives in Monrovia, on the Northern edge of the sprawl. It looks like we aren't done being spoiled! We had been dreading LA, but it looks like it'll actually be a great experience.