We planned a 10 day trip to California with Katie, Tom, and Rachel for Fall, 2007. The predicted highlights of the trip were to be an ascent of Half Dome by Katie, Tom, and Bill and a bike ride on the Pacific Coast Highway by Tom. The trip was undertaken from September 7 to 17.
Day 1 (Friday, 9/07/07)
We arose at 3:30 AM and were on the road by 4:00 AM, heading for the Philadelphia airport. We arrived at our valet parking service, Winners, at around 5:40 AM. Subsequently, we had curbside check-in of 3 bags and were through security at around 6:10 AM. We had a leisurely breakfast at a coffee shop near our gate. Later on, Katie, Tom, and Rachel appeared at the gate. We boarded the plane and had an easy flight to San Francisco. Rachel was a doll on the plane. After we picked up our luggage, Bill took the Air Train to Hertz and picked up our minivan. When Bill asked for directions back into the airport to meet the other folks, the lady at the gate simply said "Left, right, left, left." These directions were not sufficient, but Bill had already figured out the probable route back in. We loaded the minivan and Bill installed the GPS that we usually use in our RV. Tom was equipped with maps to help guide us also. We arrived at the Andrews Hotel with little difficulty around 1:00 PM, but Katie commented on Bill's driving: "People don't expect an aggressive driver in a minivan." After settling in for a few minutes, we left on foot and ate lunch at a creperie nearby. The lunch was delicious. We walked up and down San Francisco's notorious hills toward Fisherman's Wharf. It was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy the beauty of the city. We also had a chance to see the sea lions who have taken over part of a marina near Pier 39. Cathy bought Rachel a stuffed "Sammy" the sea lion as a souvenir. We walked back via Telegraph Hill and Chinatown. It was a very pleasant, long walk. Rachel walked quite a bit of the way. We ate an early dinner at the hotel's restaurant, Fino. The meal was wonderful. We all figured on getting to bed as early as practical.
Day 2 (Saturday, 9/08/07)
We suffered a bit from jet lag overnight and Bill finally got up at 5:00 AM to work on the Red Cross website. Continental breakfast was served out in our hallway at a bit before 7:00 AM. We enjoyed a quick breakfast and then walked to Powell Street to take a cable car to Ghirardelli Square, one of the places that Cathy wanted to visit during our 1984 family cross-country trip and didn't get the chance. We were able to appreciate the awesome hills more while riding than walking and passed by the top of the "curvy road" from Bill's youth, Lombard Street. We were there too early to eat any chocolate, but we stopped at a nearby Starbucks to shake off the morning chill. We saw some swimmers without wetsuits in the chilly water. We took a cable car back partway to our hotel. Something was wrong with the cable on Powell Street, so we had a shorter trip, but didn't get a discount. We returned to the hotel and quickly checked-out and packed the minivan. We drove to REI to pick up an order that Bill had placed a couple of weeks earlier. Bill presented Rachel with one of the items: a bear bell with a magnetic silencer. Bill also bought some power bars for the hiking to come. We drove to the coastal road, California 1 at Daly City. We drove down the coast, stopping occasionally to take photos. The scenery was gorgeous. There were lots of surfers at many beaches all along the coast. Bill snapped a shot at a distant breaking wave at Mavericks, just north of Half Moon Bay. We were really impressed with the sand cliffs and the rocks in the surf. We stopped in the tacky boardwalk area of Santa Cruz and ate a simple lunch in a Mexican restaurant there. Then we drove to Monterey and got in a big traffic jam which contained some vintage cars from an ongoing antique auto show. We stopped so that Tom could pick up his rental bicycle for riding on the coastal highway the next day. We drove the remaining 5.5 miles to the Carmel Village Motel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a pretentious little village somewhat like downtown Naples, Florida. We walked down to the beach where Bill, Katie, and Rachel walked barefoot down the dune to the water's edge which was littered with kelp. We walked back up the main street and ate a great dinner at a cute little French restaurant, Patisserie Boissiere. Bill and Rachel walked around outside toward the end of the meal, which dragged on a bit at its conclusion. We enjoyed watching the score of the Penn State/Notre Dame game as the Nittany Lions clobbered the Fighting Irish, who seemed to have lost their punch. We returned to our motel after dinner.
Day 3 (Sunday, 9/09/07)
This was our Big Sur day and we did it right. Bill awoke at 5:00 AM and a bit later headed down to the beach on a leisurely walk. He saw a group of fire academy trainees beginning a long day of training at water's edge. He knew they were in for a long day when, in addition to their drillmasters yelling at them, he saw them rolling tractor tires down the sand dune. Bill walked back to the room via a coffee shop for his first cappuccino of the day and as the first customer at a market where he bought a NY Times for Cathy. Meanwhile, Tom had been preparing his rental bike and himself for a 54 mile ride down California Highway 1 along the stretch of coast between Carmel and San Simeon known as Big Sur. We all ate a free breakfast at 7:30 AM. Then, Tom left on his bike and the rest of us packed the minivan and started to drive south on the same route. We would drive 211 total miles on that curvy, hilly, scenic road before the sun went down. We stopped many times for photo ops. The day was beautiful and the scenery was fabulous (pics: 1,2,3). We saw sea otters and elephant seals during the day. We took a short hike to Partington Cove. Bill and Katie got out their hiking poles just to get back into practice. Rachel rode in the backpack. Next, we pulled into Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and took the short McWay Falls trail. The goal is a small waterfall that splashes down on a sandy beach. Then, we walked a bit of the Ewoldsen trail into a grove of redwood trees. When we left the state park, we chased down Tom and caught him after he had gone 54 miles. It was about noon, so we loaded Tom and his bike in the minivan and drove north to Lucia, where we had a good, but pricey, lunch with an awesome view. After lunch, we drove back to Cannery Row in Monterey to drop off Tom's rental bike. We lingered for some coffee, served with glacial speed. We also did a very quick tour of the area. Then, we filled the minivan's gas tank and headed south on Route 1 again. This time, we drove all the way to San Simeon. On the way, Katie took hundreds of photos. Every look was picturesque. We arrived at the Cavalier Motel just before sunset, which we enjoyed at water's edge, accompanied by the crashing Pacific surf. The motel had an amazing amount of features, including fireplaces in the rooms and fireplaces out near the water. We had a long wait for a table at the motel's restaurant, but then we enjoyed a good meal. We lit fires in both rooms. Bill and Cathy enjoyed the first episode of the new season of "Curb your Enthusiasm" on HBO as they sat by the fire.
Day 4 (Monday, 9/10/07)
Bill got up at 5:00 AM to work on the computer and process photos. Tom had a morning phone conference for work, so the rest of the group went to the motel restaurant for a hearty breakfast with an ocean view. Afterward, we drove to the next town, Cambria, to do some shopping for supplies. By the time we got back, packed, and loaded the minivan, we just made the checkout time of 11:00 AM. We drove through hot, dusty valleys toward Yosemite. At times we moved along well, but there was plenty of road construction with one lane stretches and flaggers to slow us down. We stopped at a Subway for lunch. The last 90 miles was in the foothills of the Sierras on small, winding roads. One section of road along the Merced River was completely covered with a rockslide. A detour consisting of two temporary bridges and one paved lane over a Jeep path led around the rubble. About this time, a crazy driver was tailgating us and a couple of other cars as she futilely tried to make better time than the rest of us. Bill accidentally exposed Rachel to some new words. We finally arrived at the Yosemite View Lodge and our rooms right on the Merced River at about 4:30 PM. We moved in and then drove into Yosemite Valley. We were happy to find that Bill's Golden Age Pass gave us free admission. We soon had awesome views of El Capitan and Half Dome as we drove toward Yosemite Village. We parked and entered the Visitors Center 3 minutes before close. We asked about parking for the Half Dome trail. Then, Bill purchased a book of John Muir writings at the close of the bookstore. We shopped for provisions in the village store. On the way out of the park, we stopped at a meadow to view a dozen or so climbers up on the face of El Capitan. The setting sun was painting the walls of the valley with color. We drove back to our motel and ate takeout pizza on Katie and Tom's patio. A family of raccoons interrupted us at the end of the meal and chased us indoors.
Day 5 (Tuesday, 9/11/07)
We ate breakfast in our respective rooms at around 6:30 AM. Then we headed into Yosemite. We went to Yosemite Village for a bathroom stop. We saw deer in the parking lot. We continued with a nice hike to Inspiration Point. We were wearing bear bells and Bill was carrying his bear spray. We saw only a couple of people on the trail, but there were many at the parking lot trailhead. The views from the top were classic scenes down Yosemite Valley. When we returned to the minivan, we drove the surprisingly long way to Glacier Point. From here we could see part of the way we would be hiking on the Half Dome trail the next day. With binoculars, we could see some people up on Half Dome. Also, we could see the only two working waterfalls in the valley, Vernal and Nevada falls. We ate a typical trail lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. Cathy opted for an ice cream sandwich from the gift shop. Bill remembered being there as a kid and watching the "Fire Fall", which was an amazing spectacle. Next, we drove to the trailhead and hiked to Sentinel Dome. This was another pleasant hike which gave some more good views from atop the windy dome. The weather remained beautiful for the whole day's activities. We drove back to our lodge, cleaned up, and went to the lodge's restaurant for a mediocre dinner. We spent the rest of the evening preparing gear for the big hike the next day.
Day 6 (Wednesday, 9/12/07)
Bill got up at 4:00 AM to make final preparations. He ate a breakfast consisting of a banana, a power bar, and a packet of chocolate goo, washed down with a Red Bull. He and Katie and Tom left the lodge just past 5:00 AM. Cathy joined Rachel in her room for a few hours more rest before spending a long day of activities together. The three hikers parked at the Trailhead Parking lot and were off toward the Happy Isles trailhead at 6:02 AM wearing headlights. The Half Dome hike is a classic day hike that is very well described in books and on various websites. The first part consists of the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada falls. We hikers were carrying 2 gallons each of water, Gatorade, and Cytomax. As the sun rose, the most beautiful blue sky emerged, framing every view. We gained a lot of altitude quickly on the Mist Trail which consists largely of stone steps. Throughout the day we encountered many other hikers on the same mission. We traversed Little Yosemite Valley on a trail of sand which made for difficult hiking. The flatness of that section was welcomed, however. Then we started ascending the Subdome where the trail became steeper and steeper. The penultimate section of trail consisted of the very steep switchbacks of steps of the Subdome. By this time the altitude was getting to Bill making him huff and puff. He was reminded of his out-of-breath hiking on Loveland Pass in Colorado the summer before. Finally there were the cables. We did powerbars and goo to fortify ourselves. We packed up our hiking poles and donned our gloves. The cable section was incredibly steep and very hard work on both arms and legs, but at the same time it was uniquely exhilarating. We reached the top and congratulated each other. We sat and enjoyed a trail lunch and posed for pictures before starting back down. The steep cables going down with us facing outward should have been very scary, but the view was so spectacular and we were so grateful for our being there, it was more fun than frightful. Now we began to hike the long way back. We had a great time finishing the 16 mile hike. We got back to our parking lot at 6:02 PM. We were happy but filthy. On the drive back to the lodge, we saw our only bear of the day running along the side of the road and then climbing a tree. Tom took a last photo of Half Dome for the day. We found Cathy and Rachel eating pizza out on the patio. After showers, the rest of us also enjoyed a pizza dinner.
Day 7 (Thursday, 9/13/07)
Bill slept-in until 6:00 AM and worked on the computer until Cathy got up around 7:00 AM. We all ate breakfast in our respective rooms. Bill went down the road to buy gas. Then, we got our gear together and drove to Tuolomne Meadows, 69 miles away via the Tioga Road. We stopped at a valley overlook and could see the track on Half Dome that Bill, Katie, and Tom had climbed the previous day. We went to the Visitors Center and then ate lunch below some beginning climbers getting instruction on Lembert Dome. Bill remembered eating lunch in the same spot in August 1984 when Katie was 10 years old. As we ate lunch, a Steller Jay looked on hungrily. After lunch, Bill decided to walk up the steep rock face to get close to the climbers. Soon he was joined by Tom and Rachel, who started using one of Bill's hiking poles and was very proud of herself. The three didn't want to embarrass the climbers by getting too close, so they stopped and sat to enjoy the panoramic view. Then, Katie walked up the face to get the key to the minivan. When they came down off of the rock, Cathy took a walk in the meadow and the rest of the group hiked 2 miles to Dog Lake which has an altitude of 9100 feet. Rachel enjoyed a snack and Bill, Katie, and Tom relaxed at water's edge for a while. The trail went through some pretty terrain. They saw two marmots on the trail. Rachel was happy on the trail once again. When we all got back together at the parking lot, Cathy recounted seeing a car with broken out window. She had asked a ranger whether it was safe for her to walk in the meadow and was told that bears had broken into 3 cars that morning. We drove the long way back to our lodge and cleaned up. Tom babysat while Bill, Cathy, and Katie drove into Yosemite Village to visit the Ahwahne Hotel, built in 1927. On the way, Cathy took a wonderful photo of Half Dome in the fading light of day. At the hotel, they checked in with the host of the dining room and he promised that if they came back in an hour, he'd find a way to get them a table for dinner. They explored the outside of the hotel, where Half Dome was still visible (pics: 1,2). Then, they got drinks from the bar and explored the public rooms of the hotel. When they reported back to the host, he was very busy with people trying for tables, but seated them after a few minutes. The dining room was massive, with a dramatic 34 foot ceiling. Their dinner was very good, if a bit slow paced. They drove home on the dark roads, watching carefully for any animals that might be on the road.
Day 8 (Friday, 9/14/07)
Bill slept in until 6:00 AM again. We had a lot of packing to do after eating breakfast in our respective rooms. We finally got underway around mid-morning and drove into Yosemite Village for the last time. On the road in, we saw a bear behind a tree with a lot of people taking pictures of it. We visited the Village Store for some souvenir shopping. Bill bought superglue to fix the GPS unit, which had a broken button. The traffic was already building for the weekend as we headed out of the park on the typically winding, hilly route 41 south. It took quite a while to clear the park. We stopped at a Subway in Oakhurst for lunch and ate on the patio. We talked with Alex while still at the restaurant. We drove into the hot, dry valley to Fresno and then headed east toward the mountains. As we ascended the Sierras again, we were mostly alone on the road. It was a long way into Sequoia National Park. We noticed that the picnic areas and many campgrounds were already closed for the season. We finally arrived at the Wuksachi Lodge, elevation 7200 feet, at around 3:30 PM. We made dinner reservations for our two night stay as we registered. The day was beautiful, but the air was somewhat chilly as we moved our luggage into Stewart Building, near the main lodge. We ate dinner in the spacious, rustic dining room. The meal was very good with somewhat slow service once again. We splurged on a couple of Chocolate Decadence desserts at the conclusion of the meal. Rachel punctuated the dinner by falling backwards off of her chair. She was mollified by getting a bear bell and a flashlight to play with as we went back to the minivan. We looked over some plans for Saturday and turned in fairly early.
Day 9 (Saturday, 9/15/07)
Bill slept until 6:00 AM again and worked on the computer. All of us went to breakfast in the main lodge at around 7:30 AM and had a continental breakfast buffet. Afterward, we got our gear together and headed out for the day. We started with a stop at Lodgepole Village for a bit of shopping. Then, we drove a few miles to the Congress Trail and the General Sherman tree which is the largest living thing on earth and is about 2500 years old. We did a figure 8 with the 2 mile Congress Trail and the 5.2 mile Trail of the Sierras. We took a few wrong turns and ended up walking around 10 miles through the Giant Forest. The sequoias were really awesome. Many of the trees showed evidence of fire damage. We ate a trail lunch on a bench on the Congress Trail. The Trail of the Sierras had an altitude change of 1200 feet, but the climbing made it feel like more. We saw meadows and a hollowed out log turned into a summer dwelling by a man named Tharp. At our highest point, we saw a line of high peaks to the east. We finally got off of the trail at around 5:00 PM and headed back to our rooms. This was a real good last hike for the trip. We had dinner at 6:45 PM after lots of showers. Our meals were very good once again. In general, we were very happy with the amenities at Wuksachi Lodge.
Day 10 (Sunday, 9/16/07)
This was a travel day as we had a long drive back to the San Francisco area. We arrived at our hotel near the airport at around 4:00 PM. After we settled into our rooms, Tom worked on emails while the rest of us walked along the San Francisco Bay for a while. We ate the early bird special at the hotel restaurant. We enjoyed our meals and headed back to the rooms for repacking.
Day 11 (Monday, 9/17/07)
Tom stayed in the room to participate in a conference call and work on emails. The rest of us had continental breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We packed the minivan and headed for the airport at around 8:30 AM. Bill and Cathy checked bags at curbside while Katie and Tom emptied the minivan. Bill returned the minivan and met everyone else in the security line. Our flight was delayed by about an hour and a half and didn't arrive in Philadelphia until close to 9:00 PM. Many others on our flight were trying to connect to flights for Europe and some missed their flights. We had no problem getting our luggage and our cars arrived via valet drivers in a timely manner. We said our goodbyes and headed for our respective homes. Bill and Cathy arrived home around 11:00 PM. It was a great trip!
Bill and Cathy McArthur