Having finally got Porkchop back on the road thanks to a great pair of mechanics at Struck Oil, one of whose father helped us out at Shelter Cove California,(a faulty radiator that was new with the engine in Montana, and aptly failed right out the front of BJ’s cocktail lounge), we spent out last night relaxing at Circus Circus hotel. Not having enough of the Vegas antics we took the bus down the strip to New York New York to ride the rollercoaster. Having finished this Sarah commented on how awesome the night view was from the rollercoaster, to which Matt commented ‘Yeh, was it?’ as he was too busy packing himself from the tight twists and turns. Opting to walk up the strip from here, we grabbed a few $2 taco’s each from DJ Taco Bar, across the road from the Aria, and with a 99c Pabst Blue Ribbon in hand, we made our way to Stage Door dive bar, just by the Flamingo. We stopped quite a few times for the friendly locals to talk to Matt about his hair, whilst handing us the odd ‘escort’ card.
From here it was time for some old school fun on Fremont Street. Being the original neon signed street in Las Vegas, it went through some hard times though is now back and better than every. It has an awesome zipline straight down the middle of the street, that for four block is covered with an LCD display arch that would make you think it was day light. All this, as well as the Chippendale buffed touts and a Kiwi bloke with a massive penis (Matt got acquainted with them on his bucks/stag/bachelor do), who needs The Strip?
Finally recovered from the mayhem of the wedding after a couple of days chilling out at Circus Circus on the cheap (USD 40 a night on booking.com, though if you’re looking to get drunk on the merry-go-round from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, sadly we found you cannot drink there anymore), with a nice pool and reasonable priced buffet breakfast, it was time to retrace our steps back to California and time for a different type of death.
Being the lowest point in the USA, Death Valley’s Badwater basin lies at -282ft Below sea level. Be sure if you’re driving that you hit this up early as it’s a scorcher when the sun blasts over the hill range adjacent. Like us you can easily sleep on the side of the road in Death Valley Junction to ensure an early start. With this and a quick stop at Zabriskie Point done, and not much else to see that took our interest, we headed out past Scotty’s Castle (a two story mansion dedicated to the Roaring ’20s and Depression ’30s and also part hide out) onward to Yosemite National Park. Staying at Junction Campground close to the summit and with our third wedding present thanks to Dennis at the camp site across the road (free fire wood!), it was fire roaring and marshmallow roasting time.
The morning broke to the still smoldering log’s smoke rising in the crisp morning mountain environment, with our first experience of ice on the windshield, that was soon to be a longing memory once the trek to Upper Yosemite Falls commenced. Tipping over Tioga Pass reaching 9,945ft, it was double high fives all round as we had reached out highest point yet and Porkchop was still alive. Missing out on permits to climb Half Dome (book mega early as people arrange their annual holiday around the dates they acquire), we’d had to find an alternative hike.
At 6,526 feet (1,989 meters) high, Yosemite Falls only generally flows during the spring or early summer, as by August it has all but dried up. Knowing this, and with the knowledge that it was one of the most challenging hikes in the Park, if not State, at 7.6 miles (12 km) round trip, we attempted it anyway…in the middle of the day. It wasn’t long into the first series of switch backs, with sweat soaked clothes, that we realize that this was gonna be one ball breaking trek. From here on in the sun blasted us for the rest of the hike, as thoughts turned to the realisation that we’d wished we’d started this first thing in the morning. Reaching the view point, a huge sense of relief prevailed that there are many shaded areas to plonk yourself down, catch your breath and have a bite to eat. Again we had our staple of tuna, tomatoes, avocado and onions in a tortilla.
Relaxing in the midday heat under the shade of the trees and enjoying the vista laid before our eyes, we were also entertained by this guy, a Stellar Jay.
You could eat up a week no worries in Yosemite, with its numerous walking trails, campsites, swimming areas around the Visitors Center loop and wildlife watching. We would have loved to of done so, though the USA visa days were running out and we needed to pick up where we left the Pacific Coast previously.
Making it as far as the next carpark in Merced we rolled up just in time for the tail end of a Hispanic kids party, pinata and full sound system in the park and all! After the festivities had concluded and the party goers had cleared out, we relaxed with dinner and observed the next random event for the evening.
So a car pulls up and a lady and son get out. They drop the tail gate of the car and start reaching in an out moving things about. Slowly people start to accumulate around the vehicle like some kind of regular drug dealing event is going down. We wonder what the hell is going on and if we need to get the f’’*k outta here. No sooner had we scoffed dinner and were about to get the show on the road, when the sound of soft drink bottles starts shhhsssing into the night. Oh, they’re feeding the homeless. When she’s finished handing out meals and drinks (so nice that people still care) she yells over to our travelling-bum-looking-selves if we’re hungry. Matt being the all consumer had to think twice before sadly declining as we’d just eaten.
Gunning the next morning to the Pacific Coast Highway just below our leaving point a couple of weeks back of San Francisco, we had the time to take it at our leisure, so we dropped into another brewery. The Highway 1 Brewing Company in Pescadero is idyllically located across from the beach and entices with it views back onto the ocean. Opting for Pepper in the Rye and Pug Mug we took to outside to enjoy the windy yet sunny afternoon with the soundtrack of an Irish folk band. Shame the highway patrol kept using the carpark as a suitable place to pull people over, so with the other soundtrack of a police intercom in the background, we didn’t stick around for a second.
Departing with highway patrol were busy with somebody else, we’d been recommended by a friend to stop in Santa Cruz the night, home of the Skate Company known as ‘Surf City’ and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk which has been in continual operation since 1907. Both leaning towards the surfie, hippy (Sarah can speak for herself), bum scene since we’ve left on this road trip, Santa Cruz was a cracking little stop. Leaving Porkchop (the van) and starting at Pergolesi café (the oldest in Santa Cruz) to get some blogging done, Matt was soon deep in conversation with an older hippy local about the usual travel, vans, politics and such. Moving around the corner to the Lupulo Craft Beer House, we again found ourselves hanging out with the locals, and some guy that thought he was an actor with a convincing Scottish accent, until he slipped up and called it ‘Edin-berg’ instead of Edin-borough’. Busted. He kept up the charade, trying to convince us this was how it’s actually pronounced, so after promptly reminding him that we’d been in the UK for 8 years and had actually been to Edin-borough and not heard it once pronounced Edin-berg, he gave up the game admitting his mistake. Kudos to him though, as he’d been using it to get the ladies in the sack for some time now. We like to think that we’ve enhanced his chances to pull successfully.
Waking early the next morning we took to the water after strolling along an all but empty esplanade. Leaving Santa Cruz we couldn’t help but pop back into Pacific Grove for another dip in Lovers Cove and revisiting Book Works for their fantastic caffeine hits. This obtained, we drove the rest of the Pacific Coast Highway as the sun began to fade and paint the dramatically jagged coast.
Settling for the night just of the highway at Gaviota State Park we had a view to arrive early in Solvang, a quaint Danish town idyllically set in the Santa Ynez Valley. Solvang has to be hands down the most picturesque town in California, if not the States. Arrive at sunrise to beat the crowds and enjoy the morning rays draping the medieval-esque architecture that is lovingly kept as purely Danish as possible. Luckily(?) being there too early in the morning to enjoy the Slovang Brewery, we drifted through the square and streets, complete with Danish bakeries and windmills.
Taking off from here it was back to the coast at Ventura for Matt’s first paddle of the trip. It was good to take the bodyboard (NOT a boogie board) and slip the fins (flippers) on. Paddling out the back of Ventura beach, the stresses of the last few months with the car issues, being sat out the back even though it was about 3ft max, Matt’s realised it was far too long in between sessions. Unfortunately there are not any of photos of Matt shredding so here’s a couple of shots of some guys down the beach.
Moving on down the coast through Malibu (dull and uninspiring town center) and waving to Mr Matthew McConaughey as we cruised past on the way to Santa Monica, we parked up on the back streets and took the bikes for a trundle down to Venice Beach to show the posers how to pump iron. Passing through the throngs of hustlers, vendors and homeless we stopped by the skate bowl to watch this grommet tear it apart.
Deciding to chill out on the beach with a brew to watch the sunset, walking back to the bikes we bumped into a lady and bloke in the carpark. He was traveling in a similar van to us and after a few minutes we were taken back to the beach for a session of wind dancing with Alorah and her silk scarf.
Riding down to Alorah’s house we started to question what the f&^k we’d got ourselves into. There was every possibility this woman was going to lead us down a path of some goddess Mary J fuelled orgy, so we started to plan how we would escape, should the need arise. Locking up the bikes we headed upstairs into a captivating living area, with ceilings draped with silk, comfortable cushions and a small spiral staircase leading into the unknown. As promised, Alana made green smoothies for everybody (though not the kind of ‘green’ you’d expect from a pro marijuana advocate), sipped from wine glasses as we made ourselves at home, or tried to.
The next couple of hours were interesting to say the least. We went from looking at a round painting on the wall, then covering one eye to see which eye your brain sees with the most (left, right, we were both left), putting our foreheads together, staring into each others third eye and then breathing into each other (one person breaths in while the other breathes out then swap…hard to find a rhythm…not recommended if you’ve been eating garlic), before Alorah suggested we move to the bedroom. Alarm bells were ringing! But we needed have worried, as again she made us feel at home while showing us her goddess temple where she teaches her alternative classes. The walls and ceilings were again covered in silk fabric, and she had a great story about the wall hangings, with their hand painted Roman pillars (which actually really did make the place look like a goddess temple). They’d once been part of a backdrop for a play she was in, which then disappeared for like 15 years before somebody randomly turned up in her life and offered them to her. Maybe she is a goddess after all??
After some interesting lessons in (clothes on) tantric (I know, again, what the f*&k had we got ourselves into), we were finally invited to take the spiral staircase upstairs. Never sure what was around the corner here, our curiosity got the better of us and so we ascended into the unexpected. The staircase opened up onto an open rooftop, with several walls with wide open windows perfectly framing the almost full moon, a covered area shaded a day bed with silk spread and cushions scattered across it and more comfortable seating was scattered around. This place was seriously enchanting, from outside on the back streets of Venice Beach it’s actually hard to believe it even exists.
Having made it through the night orgy free we departed with some interesting thoughts and lessons running through our heads, one of which should have been (but wasn’t) ‘don’t ride down Venice Beach at night’. This is a totally different place when the sun goes down, with homeless people everywhere, and we mean EVERYWHERE. Some seem harmless enough, but others look like they’d kill you and steal your bike given the chance. So we didn’t give them the chance, stopping only when we’d reached the Santa Monica pier and the end of Route 66 after 2 months on the road.
The night was spent in the van cooking up dinner and reflecting on the randomness, again, of the night (again parked for free in the street off Venice Beach).