Day 16 – Careful What You Wish For

I woke happy to see my camp from the night before. Such a good spot. I was getting pretty good at my morning routine now, I washed my face, made the bed, stowed my curtains, made breakfast, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, all while listening to a BBC news podcast. I was on the road within forty minutes, not that I was really rushing. Lassen National Park was only a few miles down the road and there was no one at the ranger’s booth when I entered around 8am. I didn’t stop much on my way to Lassen Peak, there is only a couple of things to see on the north side of the park and some of them were closed, I assume because winter is coming. At the peak trailhead, there were only a few scattered cars in the carpark. There were a few young guys getting geared up, one with a massive pack that confused me, they were going to make breakfast at the top they reckoned. I didn’t want to tell them that the wind down at the trailhead probably meant it was blowing a howling gale at the top that would make a cooked breakfast difficult. I packed a bag with down jacket, some snacks, Greg and some water. I donned some warmish clothes to protect me from the wind. Thankfully, all that was above me was a beautiful clear blue sky, so I expected the views from the top to extend to the horizon.

The trail guide said to allow five hours for the hike. At just under 4km and something around 2,000 feet I assumed it must be a brutal climb. Turns out their estimate is way off. I was up and down within two hours and I wasn’t gunning it. It was steep going, but the trail was easy enough, well laid out and steady underneath my feet. The views kept expanding as I rose up the mountain.

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Around halfway up, you switch to a different face of the mountain (east I think) and the wind really picked up here. I could no longer hear the audiobook I was listening to so I gave up and put my earphones away. Not only that, I stumbled a few times from the force of the wind pushing me this way and that. It was blowing straight up the slope which was great while pointing one way on the switchbacks, but after making a turn, it was hold on to your hats and I had to shield my face from the dust and miniscule rocks that stung my cheeks. Absolutely brutal. I soldiered on, as the gravel path turned to larger rocks and tried to keep my head up to look at the view as I climbed.

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There were information signs all the way up which told of Lassen’s eruption only 100 years ago after lying dormant for 27,000 years. Everything on this mountain was formed by volcanic explosion. Rocks scattered everywhere, large divots in the ground where boulders had fallen and dry rivers where lava had pushed its way through the earth. I found it all very interesting because of my lack of volcanic knowledge. At the top, there is a false summit dome with some more information signs that overlook the crater of the peak. It’s not a perfect inverse dome, instead a mess of solid rock and loose boulder that form a divot near the peak. There was snow on the top that had long ago turned to ice but was avoided by the path to the summit.

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Fearing the worst of the wind at the peak, it actually wasn’t so bad. I figured that the wind was blowing so fiercely up the surface of the mountain that at the peak it blew right over my head. I spent a while up at the top admiring the landscape around me. I could see Mount Shasta in the distance, very prominent against the comparatively flat landscape. I awed at the destruction that Lassen’s eruption had caused, the multiple lakes and drive river beds that resulted from it. I could also see other, lesser peaks all around, each of them with the characteristics of a mountain that once blew its top. Surprisingly, tucked away between some rocks at the summit was two roses. I imagine a romantic man had surprised his girlfriend with them at the summit and lost these two strays to the wind, but they stayed stashed at the peak.

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Admiration of the scenery over, I started my trek down. Much easier going with gravity in my favour, but the wind was still against me. It was almost harder to stay on track going down for some reason, I kept getting thrown off balance and had to tighten the straps of my backpack to stop it getting swung around. There were quite a few people coming up the mountain now (late starters), most of them cheery, but not as much as me since I was heading down, understanding that this would not be a five hour commitment, but less than half of that. I didn’t look much at the views on the way down, just shielded my face from the wind and concentrated on where I was putting my feet. It’s always this way when doing an out-and-back hike. You are in awe the whole time in one direction, then head down on the return trip.

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I could see the carpark from quite high up and pinpointed my van. For a while I was very concerned that my bike had been stolen. I could see the Astro, but there was no way I could see my bike. I was deceived, I thought for sure, even at this distance, I should be able to see my bike, surely! I worried away, partly wishing I hadn’t noticed that it was missing, even asked a few people who were heading up if they’d seen a van with a bike on the roof. No one could give me a definitive answer. I was almost in a fit of rage near the bottom because I was so sure that the bike was gone and I’d started ranting in my head about society and who would do such a thing. In the end, it was just paranoia, my Giant was there, where I’d left it, locked to the roofracks. Sorry society.

I warned a few hikers about to head up the mountain about the wind, then had morning tea at the car before heading off out of the park. I stopped at the Sulphur Works on the way out and watched a very active mudpool, bubble, hiss and carry on perpetually. There was a lot more to Lassen to explore, but doing the Peak was a good overview considered my time restrictions.

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Just outside of the park, I got my audiobook going and settled in for the long drive back to the bay area. Not long outside of the park, I had a very big “oh shit” moment when a car coming the other way was overtaking and had half of his massive truck in my lane. This is on a corner as well. I swerved off the road to avoid him and put two wheels on the gravel shoulder, I backed off as I did so. I couldn’t believe how close we’d come, had I not swerved, we would have collided. It was a solid reminder that anything can happen, any time. No one stopped and when I looked in my mirror the other car had returned to his lane. I hope he felt the same fear as me though. I took a few deep breaths and got over it.

As the elevation dropped, the temperature started to rise. I had been looking forward to this, but I felt as though it was going to be a very hot drive back. I was not wrong. As I approached Oakland, the temperature in the car was over 48oC! Heading south, I took highway 89 and then highway 70 through Feather Creek Canyon. It was a very pretty drive along a river the whole way. There were hundreds of people with kayaks on their roofs making the most of the hot weather and the gentle rapids of the river. I would have liked to join them! I stopped on the side of the road for some lunch and in doing so a train came along on the other side of the river. With it came a welcome cool breeze, but it didn’t last long.

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I marvelled at all of the different bridges I crossed along the road. Many of them were draw bridges, which I would have liked to see in action, but I made do with driving over them. It surprises me that there are no two bridges that are identical in the world, they all seem to be complete redesigns, which I find strange. I suppose no two bridges are built at the same time, therefore technology has moved on by the time the second bridge is built, which makes it different from the first.

I finished my audiobook so switched to music to pass the miles. Once I got off highway 70, I was back into familiar territory heading back to my old home. I was glad I’d spent so much time off the highways, I didn’t like being back on them. Still, I went into cruise control, just following the flow of traffic for three hours until I came upon Kimberly’s door. Kimberly and her boyfriend Anthony had been away for the weekend at a wedding and they’d only just go home, so were a bit frazzled by my arrival, but nothing too stressful I hope. I stashed my bike, got my fridge plugged in, had a very nice cold shower, then Kimberly and I walked to downtown Sunnyvale for dinner. We met V at Firehouse Grill and I had a cold Stella in my hand quicksmart. It was such a nice warm evening that we sat outside. We talked all things travel, boyfriends and Tesla like typical girls and our food was second priority to our chatting. We even got to speak to Kaila when she called partway through dinner. It was great to catch up with these guys, I’d missed them!

I finished Vanessa’s dinner after I’d downed my own (never turn down free food when you have no income) and had another beer, after which I was stuffed. It was a school night for the working girls so we parted ways, V back to her car, Kimberly and I walking back to her apartment. Anthony was busying himself at his computer so Kimberly and I carried on chatting, mostly about Tesla this time. Eventually around midnight, we called it, going to bed yawning.

This will be my last entry for a few weeks, I’m in the bay area now until October 21st, when I fly over to Austin for the Formula 1 grand prix, when I’ll start up again. In the mean time, I plan to catch up with as many people as possible, get to work on the car and do all of the organisation I didn’t have time to do before I left the first time.

Thanks for reading thus far!

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