Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adventuring: Day 1ish

For the past few years, Paul and I have been taking a long trip out West at the end of the summer. Each time, we rent a car, pencil in a loop on our worn-in atlas, and aim for that ultimate road trip balance: a mix of city sights, roadside curiosities, and reprieves from it all in the great outdoors. 

This year, prompted by our friends' wedding in Vegas, we chose central California as our point of exploration. But this time we went about it a little differently. Aside from traveling together, we also each went our separate way for awhile to do some of the things that mattered most to us each. This added a whole new layer to the journey, allowing us to discover things that are only revealed to the solo traveler, unfettered and attentive, greeting the world face-to-face and foot-to-earth. With the wedding date the same as my 30th birthday, such a deep and rewarding adventure couldn't have been more perfectly timed.

We arrived in central California via Las Vegas via San Francisco. That's what a cheap flight gets you: the opportunity to look down from the airplane and wave hello as you pass your destination. I figure not everyone gets that experience. At least Paul can now say he, too, has been to San Francisco (more on that later). Between the plane and car rental and a full 24 hour day of sleepless travel, a cheap 90 degree motel room never looked so good.

So we'll just skip ahead and say our first real day of vacation technically began on day two. We woke up in the Barstow Days Inn about half an hour before checkout, showered, and repacked the car for the remainder of our road trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Time to prepare ourselves to live out of the car for the next two weeks.

We had driven through pitch black the night before to get from Vegas to Barstow, as far as we could manage to drag ourselves down the highway. It was dark in the desert, with no hint of landscape, and only the blaring headlights of fellow travelers to lend light.

The daytime drive from Barstow, southwest and back up again, was much more revealing. Again, our route felt illogical. This time we had to bypass the high, rocky Sierras and rely upon the interstate and highways to take us across flatter ground and back north. And our drive took us through a heaping handful of California landscapes.

Coming out of Barstow, we passed farmland that looked curiously desert-like. (This is something I noticed last year in Arizona and still do not understand: how, and more importantly why, turn desert into farmland? Does that seem like a bad idea to anyone but me?) Soon the landscape turned more natural, with strange and shaggy Joshua Trees standing solitary among stubby sagebrush and dusty-looking mountains in the distance. There were fields and mountainsides covered in windmills, then fields and mountainsides covered in brilliantly golden grasses and wise, bowing oaks. The desert reappeared, this time with oil drills keeping perfect time as they tipped their foreheads to the dirt. Eventually, this arid yet fertile land gave way to the agricultural abundance of the San Joaquin Valley. This was one part of the drive I was looking forward to the most - to see this giant farmland, the source of so much of our country's sustenance.

To shop and eat locally back home in North Carolina requires more than little effort, seeking out the farmers' markets, being mindful of the seasons, and constantly questioning sellers and servers. But think about how many things come from California that we see on our supermarket shelves. While we were away, we shopped at major grocery chains three or four times, and the produce section was always dominated by local California products. Local avocados! Local olives! Strawberries picked right down the road at the end of September. Those damn lucky Californians.

By the end of the trip, we must have driven through hundreds of miles of fruit orchards and vegetable fields, abundant and green. We stopped at one roadside farm stand to peruse the produce, and left with an assortment of the most delicious plums. The tiny green ones I had never seen before and they were the best - the juiciest and the sweetest.

After a day of eating the things we had packed from home and had picked up along the way - quinoa-spinach bars, string cheese, nuts and some of the fresh plums, we were starving and craving something hot. I flipped through one of the guidebooks I had checked out from the library (I always travel with a stack of library guidebooks and a themed reading selection.) and found a recommendation not far down the road - Brewbaker's Brewing Company. Food and beer. Yes. Wait.... And homemade soda. Well, there was certainly no way we weren't going, even though it was ever so slightly out of the way.

Brewbaker's was a great place in tiny little Visalia, California. We ordered two rounds of food and a flight that included not only all the beers of the season but all the house sodas too - creme, orange creme, and root beer. Some of the beers had a fruity twist too, incorporating some of the local offerings. Everyone was friendly and wanted to know where we were from and where we were headed. And everything tasted delicious. It was the break from the road we needed and just the thing to get us through the gates of Sequoia National Park as dusk began to set on sunny California.

More soon, friends!
Amanda Aileen

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