Sunday, October 25, 2015

California Adventure - Red Woods and PCH

This post is about the 2nd part of Ryan and I's great California Adventure.  You can read about the first part HERE, where we backpacked the Pacific Crest Trail with an REI group for 3 days.

Mt Shasta is such a cute town.  It reminded us of Ashville, NC.  Just a little bit smaller, and with bigger mountains.  In the morning we stopped for breakfast at Mt Shasta Pastry.  Ryan had a slice of their pumpkin bread with walnuts, it was pretty tasty.  But the samples of their strawberry coffee cake were even better. Also, I don't normally get excited about potatoes, but their cook made the best breakfast potatoes I've ever had.  He used some kind of seasoning and got them nice and crispy on the outside. If you happen to be visiting the area, you really should stop in here.  Simply because the employees are so friendly!  Not sure if she is the chef's wife, but the woman who took our order and doubles as waitress chatted with us the entire time we were there. So did the locals. One gave us a few tips on where to drink wine in Napa, another two discussed fishing with Ryan.  After drinking our fill of coffee we were off to see the Red Woods.

Bye Bye Mt Shasta!
Our drive took us North into Oregon and then down highway 101 back into California, through the Red Wood forests.  Part of the reason this vacation ever came to be was Ryan's desire to drive 101 from north to south just so he could see the ocean from the right side of the road.

The redwood trees were amazing!  Just Massive! We stopped during our drive to walk along some short trails.
Toppled over tree.
"The Tree was this big..."
Our drive brought us to Crescent city, which is not where I recommend staying, but it's where we had reservations.  It only took us about 4-5 hours to get there from Mt Shasta, and that was only because we stopped to look at trees along the way.  It was lunch time and lets just say the city doesn't have a lot of great dining options. So we stopped at Safe Way and grabbed a sandwich for Ryan and a salad for me; then kept driving south till we found this amazing overlook with picnic tables for lunch.

On the way to our picnic spot we spotted a huge sign and Paul Bunion...The Trees of Mystery.  Of course we had to stop on our way back to Crescent City. This place is straight out of the 50s, it was so much fun, a great place to bring kids. They have a huge gift shop for those of you who need souvenirs, as well as ice cream and homemade fudge (which surprisingly we did not eat).  But we did take the gondola up the mountain ($15 per person) for some spectacular views.  It was pretty neat to see the different types of trees and get a birds eye view of everything.  You have the option to ride the gondola back down or you can can walk the 1+ mile down the mountain.  We chose to walk...when they warn you that it's a steep and slightly treacherous hike down, they are NOT lying.  Ryan and I were holding onto the ropes that line parts of the trail, it's probably a 20% grade at parts going down, with areas where water has created washouts that are slippery and rocky.  It was harder than our hike up Mt Eddy.  
Paul and Babe
In the gondola.
The Cathedral Trees
While there are a fair number of restaurants to choose from in Crescent city, there were not a lot that we actually wanted to eat at.  We settled on 101 Hawaiian BBQ since it got descent reviews on yelp and trip advisor.  Ryan had the teriyaki ribs which were terrific!  I chose the pulled pork which was very tender but without the soy sauce, it was kind of bland.  The pasta salad was also very bland, and a little confusing as a side dish; but maybe that's a 'thing' in Hawaii.  Since there isn't much to do in this small harbor town, Ryan and I settled on doing laundry at the laundro mat to keep our hiking clothes from fermenting in our suitcase.  Even a local who was there doing her laundry complained about how run down the town was, and how there is nothing to do there.

The rest of the evening was spent in our quaint retro motel, Curly Wood Lodge.  Part of the reason I chose this location was based on the fact that all the wood used to build it was from one Red Wood tree.  As far as accommodations go it's a little sparse.  No coffee pot, microwave, mini-fridge, or iron in the room.  But it's a cheap place to sleep at about $60 per night. 
 HOWEVER... there is a fog horn that blows every 10 seconds all day and all night long.  We were tired enough that falling asleep to it was no problem.  But at about 5am neither of us could fall back asleep so we packed up and headed out of town. (After stopping at Starbucks.)

Drive thru Redwood
Heading south on 101 we could see the fog over the ocean as the sun was rising above the mountains.  It was beautiful.  Since we were up so early, taking a short detour to visit one of the drive thru trees was no problem.  Hurray for no lines!  A little further down the highway, we spotted a heard of elk hanging out near a cabin resort.  
Elk grazing
After leaving the Redwood forest we motored on down the road in our Jeep Patriot rental (not what we hoped for), it's rather underpowered when it comes to driving up and down mountains.  Lunch was a quick stop at a Shat's Bakery/Cafe in Ukia.  The baked goods looked so delicious, but Ryan and I stuck with our usual sandwich or salad.  Shat's reminded me of Panera, but less franchise-y.  Which makes sense since they only have 3 locations.

A little over an hour later we were in the Russian River Valley!  Hello wine country!  First stop...Seghesio Winery in Healdsburg which specializes in Italian style reds, Zinfandel in particular. Their basic tasting is $15, which is a very good price for the area.  Most others are $20-25.  This winery was recommended to us by one of my dad's best friends who recently passed away after battling cancer for several years.  Cheers Roger to a life well lived, traveled, and tasted!  We bought a bottle of the 2011 Venom which is now out of stock, obviously it's tasty. The 2012 Pagani Zin was good, but didn't blow us away, so we passed on that as a purchase.  

Just for fun we tried UPTick Vineyard/Winery since we spotted it getting lost on our way to Seghesio.  The tasting room is beautiful; with a massive window behind the bar looking over their vineyard.  While the wines were good, it seemed obvious to us that they were not the owners true passion, more of a dream and hobby; enabled by lots of money.

Sticking with our road-trip theme, we took a few backroads to finish our drive into Napa and ended up at Thomas George.  This was one of our favorite wineries and wines of the trip. The tasting room is in a wine cave and you can see one of their concrete fermentation eggs in the barrel room.  I really enjoyed learning about the different types of aging process' that vintners use.  This was one of the first places that promoted the fact that they don't make the "Typical" california chardonay (big buttery and too oaky).  You know what...theirs was delicious, and I don't typically like Chardonay.  However, after you hear this line, "We don't produce the typical California Chardonay." you start to wonder what typical is?  We did purchase a bottle of the 2012 Baker Ridge Pinot Noir, and a bottle of their 2011 Chardonnay.

By this time we were ready to be off the road, driving to Napa we we hit some traffic, but once there we checked into the Hilton Garden Inn, and found dinner down-town at Taqueria Rosita. This is definitely a place where locals go, it's not just for tourists.  The foods are your basic Mexican American fare, but done well and not slathered in excess cheese.  You won't be disappointed with anything you order.  The exceptionally fast service is a bonus too.  Next up, a few days of wine tasting.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

California Adventure - Hiking the PCT

Ryan and I just got back from what I like to call our great California Adventure.  It was a combination road trip, camping, and dining expedition.  We started by flying into San Francisco and then driving up to the town of Mt Shasta.  It took us 2 HOURS! to drive from the airport to the North West side of Oakland... talk about some crapy traffic, and that was at 2:30 in the afternoon. We both agreed it would have been worth the money to fly into Sacramento.  Towards the end of our 6-7 hour drive (what should have been about 4) we stopped at In and Out Burger.  I was so hungry I drank 95% of a strawberry milk shake by myself, and promptly regretted it.  Ugh... stupid dairy induced post nasal drip and stomach ache. 
We spent the night at Cold Creek Inn where we met with the rest of our REI adventure group the next morning before being driven to the trail head.  Our amazing guides were Lauren and Alissa.  Ryan felt a little out of place because he ended up being the only male on the trip.  Here we all are before hiking off onto the Pacific Crest Trail.  Lauren(guide from WA), Stella (San Fran), Theressa and Alicia (sisters from Texas), Suzette and Tracy (Friends from Tacoma, WA), Chris (California), Alissa (Guide from Dunsmuir, CA).
On our first day we had some great views of Mt Shasta, and beautiful weather for hiking.  Temps were in the 75-80 range with a fairly strong breeze, it was perfect.  In case you are wondering, Ryan and I both use Gregory packs, but most of the other hikers use Osprey.  For the most part I like my pack, it's pretty comfy when you consider you are lugging around 35+ pounds of gear on your back.  But by the end of the second day I had a weird sore on my left hip from the straps rubbing.  I was just going to patch it with a band aid but Stella had some second skin with her and no doubt that worked much better.
I'm ready for adventure!
Our First night was spent at Porcupine Lake.  It was so pretty and surrounded by mountain peaks.  That night for dinner our guides prepared corn chowder and chicken burritos, complete with avocado, fresh cilantro, and hot sauce.  Several of our meals were from Mary Jane, an all organic dehydrated food company.  We were all really impressed with the quality of the meals.  Even Ryan had enough to eat. In the morning Ryan and I woke up early since we were still on Central Time and decided to walk over the ridge and watch the sun rise.  He brought along a chocolate bar for an early morning treat.

A little chocolate while watching the sun rise.
Porcupine Lake
Sun Rise.

During our second day of backpacking we trekked to Dead Falls Lake at the bottom of Mt Eddy.  All three days we hiked about 6 miles, so not too far, and definitely doable for any novice.  Breakfast was oatmeal topped with walnuts and cranberries; and thanks to a Jet Boil, pour over coffee (not instant). Before leaving we packed our lunches of hummus and veggie wraps with avocado slices which we ate later on the trail.  One wouldn't think that dehydrated hummus would be good, but let me tell you; it was excellent.  After setting up camp we had several hours to enjoy the cool sunshine.  Several of us were brave and decided to get into the's about 39 degrees F.  I  lasted 15 seconds.  Dinner on our second night was tomato bisque and couscous with chicken sausage and black beans.  Both nights we made hot tea or hot chocolate after dinner to drink while munching on cookies.  Lauren and Alissa let us in on the secrete of making mint tea and adding some hot chocolate to make a 'thin mint' or 'grass hopper.'  YUM!  The soup and after dinner hot drinks were great way to get re-hydrated without having to drink a lot of plain water.

Dead Falls Lake
Dead Falls Camp Site
On the morning of our third day we woke up early to a breakfast of Blueberry and Flax granola which our guides bought from Berryvale grocery in Mt. Shasta.  Ryan and I visited it later that evening after getting back to town.  It was super tasty, especially when mixed with powdered milk.  Never would have thought of using powdered milk...but that's why our guides were so awesome.  It took about 2 hours to summit Mt Eddy and the views were spectacular.  If you read the REI website description they make the hike up sound really tough.  It's not.
Mt Eddy

Mt Eddy Trail Sign
Mt Eddy Summit
On our decent we stopped for lunch which included the delicious hummus but also tuna, and more AVOCADOS!  I love avocados. I was so excited to see meat I think I ate almost an entire 6oz packet of tuna by myself. I didn't feel too bad since only the guides wanted some as well and we had 4 packets.  After returning to our camp site we packed up our tents and gear, then hiked a little over a mile out to meet the van that drove us back to Mt Shasta.  During this final hike I didn't use my new poles, and I was surprised to realize how much of a difference they really make.  If you are planning on doing any backpacking I definitely recommend getting a pair.  The help keep you from leaning forward from the weight of your pack, and really help with balance.  I bought mine from amazon and unless you are a serious backpacker, there is no need to spend more than $50-75 on them.

Back in Mt Shasta we showered then walked through town to meet our group for one last dinner and a few glasses of wine at the Tree House restaurant/Coopers Bar. It came recommended by our guides. They have a great Burger/Fry/Beer special every night for $11.  That made Ryan a very happy camper.

Theresa, Alicia, Suzette, Tracy, Ryan, Me, Alissa, Stella
We stayed the night back at Cold Creek Inn.  Our only complaint about the place was the train that went by at 9pm, 12am, and somewhere around 4:30am.  I'm not sure if you would hear it from the other hotels in town, but the Inn is right across the street, and the train has no qualms with blowing it's horn several times as it comes into town.