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Tegan & Ingrid's world adventure

A journey home.

USA | Friday, 1 June 2012 | Views [328]

Nice bloke we met hiking admiring the view

Nice bloke we met hiking admiring the view

Well here we are. The home straight. The final frontier. Our last stop and our last blog for our round the world adventure: California.

Arriving in California we had already planned (for a change) pretty much everything we wanted to see before we landed. Having already booked car hire, camping sites and even scouted the best places to buy camping gear, our time in California went like clockwork. Perfect to end our epic journey with.

So after picking up our sexy ride, who we aptly named ‘Natalia’, from Enterprise Rentals (seriously great car rental company – everyone travelling to the States should consider them), we had no time to lose. With only 8 days in California and almost 1500 miles to be covered, we had to get moving.
Our first stop was Walmart, for those who don’t know - a big department store chain in America. While doing her research on camping gear, Ingrid had found that it would actually be a lot cheaper to buy all our camping gear new rather than hiring it for a week. So we decided that after the week was over we would donate it all to Good Will. I gotta say, Walmart did not disappoint. We picked up a tent, two sleeping mats, two pillows, a full comforter and sheet set, a gas stove with fuel, a cooler box, a fry-pan, a pot, plates, cups, cutlery and cooking utensils, two camping chairs, a California street directory and close to a week’s worth of food, all for under $300! Incredible.

Then it was time to hit the open road. However, it wasn’t the first time we had driven the Californian highways. Three years ago we had road tripped the US south west with our good friends from Denmark, Jill and Jesper. It was an amazing experience with only one real disappointment; the California State Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, the famous stretch of which pretty much spans from LA to San Fran. While it is one of the premier drives in the world, it unfortunately is also subject to some pretty serious fog – which we encountered. So, we always said if we were to return to California we would drive it again, and that’s what we were gonna do!

This time around the weather just couldn’t make up its mind. It was overcast, then clear, then overcast, then clear. As we approached the beginning of the Highway we started to get a bit excited because it was staying clear. But wouldn’t you know it, as soon as we got within about 10 miles of the coast the fog set in and it was in no hurry to leave. DAMN! Given our limited time we couldn’t wait it out. The Pacific Coastal Highway would have to wait yet again.

We headed inland and north through some incredible scenery. It changed so quickly too, from amazing rolling hills to vineyards as far as you could see and then to vast farmland, looking increasingly like a scene from Superman’s hometown ‘Smallville’.  Having used up a lot of our day shopping and detouring courtesy of the fog on the coast we didn’t quite make it to our destination. But it worked out quite well because it was much better arriving in the morning to be greeted by such a vibrant morning sun. We both admitted to having butterflies as we drove into Yosemite National Park.

Known as one of the first wilderness parks in the US, Yosemite is a true wonder to behold. Entering the park from the south gave us a chance to get what people call the ‘wow factor’. Winding our way through about 40 miles of forest we suddenly found ourselves in a long, carved out tunnel. But once we exited on the other side both of our jaws immediately dropped. Tunnel View is perhaps one of, if not the most breathtaking sight of my life. I felt like a blind man seeing the world for the first time, realising that ‘oh, this is what the world is supposed to look like!’ Now, I’m not a religious man, but I have to admit at one stage while gazing upon this wonder I had a quick nod to the heavens saying “Nice one, mate”.

We continued down into the Park with quick stops at Bridalveil Falls and Mariposa Grove – home of the giant Sequoias. Mariposa Grove was actually used as one of the original promoted tourist attractions at Yosemite. In the early 1900’s a large hole was cut out of the base of one of these giant trees, large enough for an automobile to fit through. A terrible thing to do to such a beauty of nature and in no way or form would this be allowed now a days, however in retrospect it kind of had a positive effect of the Park. Not only did it increase the number of visitors to the park dramatically, but over the years it has been pivotal in educating millions of visitors in respecting nature. What I found most incredible about this tree is that not only did the tree (somehow) survive this mutilation, but over the last century you can see the outer bark layers have been creeping inwards through the tunnel trying to protect itself from the elements. In fact, the Park itself has been built for longevity. When you consider that some of these trees are upwards of 2000 years old, and the park has had a major fire sweep through once every 4 years on average, that’s a bloody lot of fires to survive.

We arrived at our campsite, Lower Pines, in the middle of Yosemite Park. A perfect location on the banks of the Merced River, and within walking distance of most of the trails and attractions. After setting up all our newly bought Walmart camping gear we wondered over to the local store for some essentials: Firewood, Jerky and Smores! Smores are so typically American and simply delicious. What you do is shove an oversized Marshmallow on a stick and slow roast it over the campfire (so it’s nice a gooey inside and not too burnt on the outside) then take a thick wafer-like biscuit and place a thin layer of chocolate on it, then add the hot Marshmallow and squish it all in with another biscuit. Sensational after dinner activity in such a sensational location. We were really pinching ourselves wondering whether this was all real.

Over the next couple of days we wandered through the amazing wilderness along the trails of Yosemite. We passed picturesque waterfall after waterfall including the highest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls. We gazed upon monolithic rock formations such as El Capitan, 900 meter vertical granite face and one of the world’s favourite challenges for rock climbers. (We actually managed to spot a few climbers half way up the face just chilling in their suspended harnesses. Crazy.) But perhaps the most extraordinary moment of our stay at Yosemite occurred when we didn’t expect it. We were walking along a trail on our way back to camp when up ahead we saw a couple of girls in shock, almost hyperventilating. We asked them what was wrong and all they could manage was “Oh my god, it literally just walked out in front of us! We were totally not expecting it!” Before I had a chance to question what “it” was, Ingrid had spotted a beautiful Black Bear, only 5 or so meters away from us slowly walking away into the woods! It was so incredible, to see a wild Black Bear in Yosemite, just walking around totally OK with human presence.

Once it was time to leave Yosemite, we had planned to drive over the mountain plain and down the east side of the park before driving south to Death Valley National Park. However, the high road was still under 8ft of snow and impassable. We therefore needed to backtrack the same way we had driven into Yosemite and cross the mountain range at the next possible point, about 400 miles away. It didn’t turn out so bad, the detour. We got to spend the night in the very pretty lake side town of Lake Isabela before continuing to Death Valley. After crossing the mountain range you emerge on the other side into a vast flat desert similar to the landscape which surrounds Las Vegas. We travelled through this towards another, yet lower mountain range with marked the entrance to the Valley.

Death Valley, while quite arid and void of life in parts, was not totally what I was expecting. In fact there was loads of life everywhere. Flora and Fauna was abundant all over and of course, it was pretty damn hot there too. Up until a few years ago Death Valley NP was known for the highest recorded temperature on Earth, and we immediately could feel why. Though not even summer yet the temperature was already reaching 40 degrees or so while we were there!

There are some incredible sights to see in Death Valley. Badwater Basin is the lowest point on the North American Continent at an elevation of 85 meters below sea level. This vast bed of salt seems to stretch forever, especially when you spot some crazy dude trying to cross it. Scotty’s Castle was a ‘different’ kind of attraction. The story goes Walter Scott born in 1872, started his career as a cowboy on a Nevada ranch, before ‘striking it rich’ with gold prospecting. He never really found any gold, but convinced magnate Albert Johnson to build a huge mansion which became a popular hotel during the Depression. These days the mansion is pretty empty except for guided tours and rangers. Ubehebe Crater is a great example of the volcanic activity ever active in the valley. Even some cool little ghost towns are littered across the valley – remnants of the old gold rush days.

After a few days seeing as much of Death Valley as we could in our limited time it was time to make our way back towards civilisation (and a much needed sleep on a real bed).  Arriving back in LA one day before we were to fly home (oh my god, sounds so weird to say that) we spent the day checking out Long Beach in the south of LA. A pretty groovy area on the waterfront, similar to that of Melbourne’s Docklands, we finished the day going to visit the Queen Mary cruise ship which has been permanently retired at Long Beach but now functions as a world class hotel. We were only there for a visit but we thought, what the hell, it’s our last night on our adventure, let’s spend it in style. So once again Ingrid was able to work her wily travel consultant ways and managed to get us a nice discount on one of the best suites onboard. We spent the end of our journey in opulence and stark contrast to some of the lesser forms of accommodation that we had experienced in the 11 months prior. Wouldn’t you know it, just as we thought our adventure had finished up, the world threw us one last curve ball in the form of not one but two fire alarm evacuations off the ship during the night! We weren’t annoyed though, it was a fitting end to an adventure of epic proportions that’s for sure.

So the next day, after donating all our camping gear to Good Will, and returning Natalia to her dealership home it was onto our Qantas flight back to Oz. It was so nice to hear all the familiar accents on board, which was something I didn’t expect – finding them nice that is. (Whenever we had heard them on our travels it was usually a bit like “Oh no, do we really sound that nasally?”)

We stepped off the plane in Tulla Airport, collected our bags, went through customs and even shopped a bit in duty free all the while not even really registering that we were back! I guess we had been through that many airports over the past year, it was kind of second nature. But once we walked through the arrivals door and saw our parents, that was when my heart lurched a bit and it hit me. As happy as I was to see them all, a part of me wanted to turn right around and just keep on going. After embracing everyone and starting to walk back towards the car, I had to have a little moment to myself before a stepped through the door of the airport and back onto Aus ground. It was over, for now.

 

I think in a way I had been putting off writing this blog just because it would make the reality that we are back home and that our epic journey has concluded seem more real. The steady weight of responsibility is starting to press ever so slightly on my shoulders once again. Part of me wants just yell “NO! Not ready for this yet! I’m hitting the road again.” While another is welcoming the sense of normalcy and the prospect of finally having some sort of routine to fall comfortably into. Either way, Ingrid and I are glad to be home for many reasons, most of which is to see family and friends again. But other things we missed in a big way as well, such as not constantly having the feeling that you need to pack up all you stuff and move on within a few days, or having a fully functional kitchen that you can actually cook something half decent in (hostel kitchens just don’t cut it in my book).

All in all, this has truly been a life changing experience for the both of us. We both feel as though we’ve come so far, learnt so much and that our attitudes towards life in general have also changed. Travelling in countries like Bolivia, where the people are so desperate and poor that they risk their very lives every time they clock in for work, or in India, where a man can slave away at a sewing machine for 12 hours in order to earn as little as $5, has taught us not to take our own lives for granted, and to embrace every opportunity that comes our way. Meanwhile, travelling through more established countries such as Iceland or Denmark, where for decades they have been practically running their entire countries on Hydro, Wind and/or Geo thermal power, has taught us that it is quite possible for a society to live comfortably while respecting this Earth that we have been blessed with.

I personally feel that a life has not truly lived until it has experienced what it is to live in someone else’s shoes. To see and experience other cultures, other ways of life, and to laugh, cry, smile, stress, eat, drink, envelop and embrace all the wondrous things this world has to offer along the way. I truly hope that all of you reading this may someday be so lucky.

As far as ‘what next’ is concerned… I don’t think we’re quite done with our globetrotting. But I’m quite sure we won’t be heading off again anytime soon. Peace to you all.

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