« The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, preparation »

Kelli has been saying for a long time that she wanted to go to Yosemite park for one of our road trips. We've done Death Valley a couple times (with passes through the Kern River valley), Joshua Tree, Big Bear area, San Jacinto Forest via the Palm Springs Tram, Salton Sea, and for our honeymoon in late 2004, a run up the California coast to points up near Eureka. On our last Death Valley trip over Thanksgiving 2011, we did make a try at seeing some Sequoia trees in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park but were thwarted by snow.

This time I was more anxious about embarking on a trip since I have lost my unemployment insurance and therefore have no money coming in. Since it was Kelli's birthday weekend last weekend, there was really no way she was going to be dissuaded so she booked the campsite in Yosemite Valley. The housekeeping camp was described to me as being semi-primitive concrete boxes with canvas ceilings but with a store, bathrooms and shower/laundry facilities nearby. To tell the truth, it didn't really matter much because just three weeks before I was up at a campsite near Shaver Lake, not too far south from Yosemite park. I was at a men's spirituality weekend and spent the night outside in the woods with nothing more than a blanket and camping mattress pad and a pillow. As you'd expect, that wasn't comfortable but it did make Yosemite's modest accommodations seem rather plush. I worried the bugs would be a problem as they were at Shaver Lake but it turned out to be a non-issue.

Having a new car was a luxury to us that we haven't enjoyed except once when we rented a PT Cruiser for our honeymoon trip. For all the trips we've made since 2010 when all this California travel kicked off with a vengeance, we've driven my Toyota truck, a rugged little ride with no shell to keep stuff secure, so as we make stops in that ride, we have to move stuff into the cab and then set it back into the bed upon return. With our curious stops at various roadside monuments, trailheads, and other places that draw our attention, that could be an inconvenient thing to do whenever we thought we'd be out of sight of the truck. Now we went like normal people! And to have a CD player was also a first since the honeymoon trip. My truck just has a stock radio in it.

We planned to stay three nights in the Yosemite tents and knew we'd need to put our food into steel bear lockers. We decided to do what is now a fairly common move: escape Southern California the night before the ultimate destination so we don't have to lose at least four hours just getting through the stuff we've already seen and kinda hate to see again. All that stuff from here to Grapevine on the I-5 is just 195 miles of tedium. Kelli booked a room in "Bakersfield" and said she sent me the confirmation notice but I never got it. Being rather prone to distraction and a bit depressed of late, I procrastinated any trip prep until about the day before we left. I usually do some research on what I might like to see, map out the route and all, but took a real casual approach. We found out how casual when we got into the car. But more on that later.

Buber the Dog was ably taken care of by our friend Lois from MHUCC. She was willing to come up and stay for the four days and nights to look after the pup. She had taken care of him before when it was an easy drive across Hillcrest to our house, and when it was something where multiple people could help out in shifts. But now we're kind of far away and no one would just drive up, and it seems like no one is able to take him either, so it went to Lois who was flexible enough to stay here for the weekend.

The food situation was cause for some wonder. We aren't very well equipped for camping, particularly since there are such forceful bear-related demands in Yosemite. I borrowed a trunk of camping cookware and a burner from Lee Van Ham and then we packed up a bunch of the stuff that would make road food so that we wouldn't have to stop at McDogfood's a couple times in each direction. Without a cooler, we did what we could. At least there were some food options in Yosemite, albeit at some elevated expense. We hit the Costco for some road grub but would have to get the fresher stuff as needed. I made a bunch of sandwiches though we found we had no cheese. All was well though; they were made with Dudley's awesome breads like sundried tomato and jalapeno cheddar.

Lois came by at about 7:15 on Friday night and we showed her what she needed to know about and small talked while packing to go. Finally we set out at 8:30, got the gas and were leaving Escondido. There was some indecision about whether to go up the 15 or the 5 (thereby hitting any Friday night LA traffic which I have come to expect would suck). Good thing about the indecision. That's when we found out that Kelli's supposed hotel confirmation email never came to my desk, and therefore we had nothing to work with. Not only that, I had no idea where it was, nor did Kelli! It was in "Bakersfield" and with that, I presumed it was on the CA-99 because B-field doesn't really reach the I-5 which splits off from the 99 a few miles south. So we found we needed to return to get that printout. And then we could start our 3.5 hour drive in earnest.

We tried a new route up north, using the 15 up to the 91 for a few miles over to the 71 and on up to the 210 which then rendezvoused with the 5 again. Kelli had her work phone along so we were able to navigate on the fly as I drove. It was a bit clumsy since she wasn't used to using it for that and of course she was describing a path I had never thought of. We got through the greater LA area, slashing across it diagonally, but upon getting to the 5/14 split, somehow I missed that while blasting some Peter Gabriel and then found it necessary to do the night's second backtrack. As I say though, "I never get lost. I just don't always make the right turn first." Or, another one is like this, "I made a wrong turn by going straight." I never get worked up about such stuff. There are roads enough to work things out. But historically, when I drove for Mike Keneally's tour, Bryan Beller would get in a panic and go nuts about a time or two when I missed a turn. Jeeze. Anyhow, driving the Grapevine was a breeze in this car, made all the more smooth by the tunes that we could pump for the first time since 2004.

So we got closer to Bakersfield and it was time to look up the exit we'd take for the motel. We knew the name, but there was no sign of it on the 99. As I said, I just drove up the 99, not even thinking it might be on the 5. I confirmed it was in Bakersfield, right? That means it's on the 5. Uh... Kelli wasn't sure. She got on the Google map and found it was actually on the 5, now about 20 miles away. So it took a detour or two to get onto the detour we actually needed. This took us across the CA-119, a rural section of road between southern B-field and the 5. Our noses detected it was rural before our eyes did. I mean, does anything signal that like the sudden onset of industrial-grade cow operations? Oh, it was foul, foul, foul! I had to give Kelli credit for this one. She took down the address but not the Google map directions. If we had just taken the 5, we'd have missed this. To add a little more to this bit of navigational nonsense, she got on the phone with the motel and found that since it was just the Vagabond Inn, we could as easily stay in the B-field location, not this other one. But what the hell did it matter now? We were 3/4 there!

We got to the 5 and rode up a short way before we found our exit and then it all made sense and was just a thing to chuckle about. It was 12:30 am now. Kelli was amused beyond belief when she went into the lobby and found a nun at the counter. Upon getting to her room, she resolved to go down and half-snarkily ask if there were morning prayers she might join in on. She signed her name "Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas" and noticed a look on the nun's face, a look of some surprise and bewilderment. As for us, we too were bewildered what in the world a nun was doing running the desk at this two bit motel on the outskirts of Bakersfield, CA.

With the car's trunk it's so much nicer not having to move everything into the motel room. Amen, sister! We didn't have a plan for what time to depart in the morning, so getting to bed at 1:30 am wasn't a problem. We just knew that the next day would be more scenic since the worst of the driving was behind us and we could just get up and sightsee as we went by places. There was some more valley time to do before breaking off toward the hills at Fresno, but the day ahead was to be enjoyed.

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