Redwoods and Golden Gates

Last week, the Voyager made safe passage across a tricky national border, survived a forest fire and lost a race to a Montanan bar. In week three the journey continues South along the Pacific coast through the tallest forest in the world and on towards an iconic American city.

Day 15 – Portland, OR

The start of a new week and we have high hopes for Portland and indeed the state of Oregon as a whole. I am not exactly sure on the basis for our positivity, but the zero percent tax rate throughout the state, one of only two in the whole country – the other being Montana, certainly helps. Time to stock up on petrol, beer and beef jerky.

Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver

We began our day by visiting Fort Vancouver. It was built by the Hudson Bay company in the 19th century to protect its many assets, principally fur, in the Pacific Northwest. I was rather surprised that, even on a very quiet weekday, numerous volunteers were dressed in full costume and acting out rather convincing historical characters. The blacksmith even made us this iron hook – which will be extremely useful in weighing down our car for the next three months.

Fort Vancouver

Powell's Books

In the afternoon we ventured into the city of Portland proper with, in true tourist fashion, a list of locations which we were told we had to visit. The first, Powell’s Books – surely originating from Merthyr – was a spectacular old four-story used book store which took over an entire city block.

On entry, a store map was provided in order to navigate ones way through the myriad of rooms and corridors stacked high with books. As we were rather light on reading material we both picked up a book and moved on to our next recommendation – Voodoo Doughnuts.

Voodoo Doughnut

If the length of queue outside the doughnutery correlated with the quality of doughnut then they would have been delectable, unfortunately it did not. We washed down our sugary repast with a cold beer and a game of darts. Superb.

Day 16 – Portland, OR to Roseburg, OR

If today was a stage of the Tour de France it would be known as a transition day. First task was laundry before leaving Portland and travelling South nearly the whole length of Oregon to camp at a truck stop next to the highway.

If only it was as dull as it sounds. Whilst waiting for laundry to dry I went to grab a book from the Voyager parked outside the laundromat entrance when I was greeted by a hooded man demanding I give him my bag “bro”. Whilst I backtracked inside the building an acquaintance of his stepped in, forced him to move on and then implored me not to call the police.

The man did not appear to be carrying a weapon and was, most likely, just chancing his arm. But it was slightly surprising that it occurred at eleven o’clock in the morning in a pleasant, busy area of the city. Unfortunately, we have already seen examples of the darker side of America, a side full of desperate people willing to go to great lengths to continue their existence.

Day 17 – Roseburg, OR to Orick, CA

A new day, a new state. California would be our home for the next two weeks or so as we kick back, curb the driving and enjoy the countless beaches and boulevards. Seventeen days after leaving the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver we saw its raging, angry self once more. A welcome sight and smell.

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

We followed the coast, through some ‘interesting’ small towns, as far as Redwood National Park, home to the tallest trees in the world. As we arrived too late to pick up a permit to view the largest Pacific Redwoods today we found a simple camp site and sat down to a delectable meal of rice and beans.

As the sun set over the adjacent lagoon, casting pink and purple hues across the panorama, the full moon rose and countless playful winged insects rose out of a nearby tree stump. Apart from the lack of blue-skinned Na’vi, the scene was almost Avatar-like.

Day 18 – Orick, CA to Ukiah, CA

Redwood National Park

With permit in hand we headed towards the section of the park home to the very tallest trees. It involved a fourteen kilometre gravel track drive and a long hike by foot to reach the Tall Tree Grove. The ‘average’ Pacific Redwoods grow to just under one-hundred metres, which were impressive themselves, but then we came across the tall tree.

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park

A one-hundred-and-fifteen metre giant that towered above all else in the forest. It is considered to be the tallest in the world and, despite not being able to see the peak through the branches and leaves, it was a wonder to behold. You could get lost walking around its base. We gave it the standard issue tree-hug and continued our trek through the ancient forest. Post-lunch we continued South on the Redwood Highway until we reached the town of Ukiah, our camping spot for the night.

Redwood National Park

Day 19 – Ukiah, CA to San Francisco, CA

Our next destination had a far nicer ring to it than an Orick or a Ukiah. San Francisco would be our home for the next three days. Despite the Mexican stand-off that Aaron and Jess witnessed by the side of the highway on the way into the city, the drive in was unremarkable until we arrived at a bridge. The Golden Gate Bridge to be exact. It’s red pillars burnished in the Californian sun and stretching towards downtown San Francisco.

The Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Bay

After our crossing we found a picnic spot next to a beach near the waterfront and, with Alcatraz our backdrop, we just sat, ate and enjoyed the fact we didn’t have to drive far for the next few days. After a walk through Fisherman’s Wharf we came across an old arcade on one of the many piers. It was crammed full of old games machines, some of which were from the Victorian era. A few quarters lighter and we decided it best to find a spot we could sleep at. Not an easy task in our largest city yet.

Day 20 – San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is a fantastic architectural amalgamation of classic European-style buildings and modern American apartment blocks and skyscrapers. The integration of these two styles can be seen no where better than at Two Peaks – a viewpoint of the entire downtown area from the top of the tallest hill in the city.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

After a lazy lunch and Frisbee marathon in Golden Gate Park we headed back towards the infamous bridge to watch an even more infamous sunset. With the wind battering us from all angles it felt more like we were out on a oil rig than in sunny sunny San Francisco. A flock of pelicans above were trying, and failing, to fly in to the wind and Aaron and I almost said goodbye to our hats.

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

But when the sun started to hide behind the distant Californian hills we simply enjoyed the beautiful and serene vista. That was until the copious innards of one of said pelicans caught the wind perfectly and bespattered my entire upper torso. Shu, standing next to me, caught the splash-back and, by the time the incessant mocking had ceased, the sun had gone.

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

Day 21 – San Francisco, CA

Russian Hill

Following last nights pelican trauma a thorough wash and shower was required so a morning at a downtown leisure centre was arranged. A drive to the top of yet another famous hill – this time Russian Hill – then followed resulting in another hairy descent down a narrow winding lane that was proving difficult for even the smallest of European city cars, let alone our cumbersome American people carriers.

Russian Hill

IMG_7166

In the afternoon we caught a boat to one of the most famous prisons in American history – Alcatraz. Long disused, and now in desperate need of renovation, the prison claimed to be the most secure in the world when it opened in the 1930’s. Stories of successful spoon-digging escape attempts and bloody prison riots were fascinating but the fact that many families with young children grew up on the same miniature island alongside the most dangerous prisoners in America was staggering.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

After spending some time in solitary confinement, and meeting an ex-Alcatraz convict, we caught the 5:15 ferry back to the ‘free land’ as the inmates called it. With over two million Americans incarcerated – over a quarter of prisoners worldwide – I am not sure as to the truth of that moniker. For our last night in the city we ate a hearty meal, drunk merrily and toasted to three weeks on the road.

Alcatraz

Next week the journey heads temporarily inland to the very heart of California, Yosemite National Park. After a few more days watching our backs for grizzlies we continue heading South to a place known more for bikinis than bears.

Total kilometres: 4,743

J

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