First we go south, then we head north
Our last week at home flew by. The final days at work were long and somewhat stressful for us both, and of course included a midnight surgery. We squeezed in bits of time with friends where we could. We spent one full day (and much of that night) packing up the rest of our house, meeting with our construction team, and finalizing all of the many details required to head out and nearly off-the-grid for 4+ months. We gave away the food from our pantry and fridge, took our rings to the safe deposit box, sent our cat Nigel to “camp”, left our passports & keys with a friend, and parked both cars in different host driveways. It felt incredibly strange to lock the front door of our empty home and leave, knowing that our lives would soon change dramatically and even the house itself would look completely different when we return. We’ve decided to take a big leap in more ways than one, and our emotions that night were a complex mix of excitement, trepidation, and nostalgia.
July 1 marked the first day of our new reality, beginning with a road trip. For reasons that we won’t go into here, we decided to start our journey in southern CA. The early plans morphed several times and ultimately we ended up needing a ride from SF to Riverside. To the surprise of no one who knows her, our amazing friend Cynthia stepped right up and insisted on driving us (last year about this time she “dropped us off” in Elko, NV for another epic backpacking trip). After a hectic week and late night we all enjoyed a somewhat leisurely breakfast before loading her car with a shocking amount of stuff and heading out, hoping to hit a sweet spot between waves of holiday traffic. California’s I-5 provides the most efficient route but is hot, dry, and not terribly scenic. We caught up on an old Sunday NYT crossword or two, handled all of her work voicemail, and bemoaned the lack of anyplace decent to eat. While it sounds mundane, our collective mood swung between wistful and giddy and the time passed quickly. When we reached the grapevine, all of the freeways in the greater LA area were already marked in red – nothing says LA like terrible traffic. We headed east towards Lancaster to avoid that mess, and enjoyed the high desert scenery as thunderheads built up towards the southeast. There were a few slowdowns on the primarily 2-lane road but we still pulled into Julie’s place before 5pm. Cynthia had thought about staying for dinner and the night, but felt anxious to get home and decided to turn around and head right back to SF (did I mention she is a ridiculously good friend??).
We spent just shy of 36 hrs in SoCal, plenty of time to transition completely into vacation mode. 10-year-old niece Annie was visiting from Kansas so it was a full house with her, the two of us, and Julie & Jeff with their 3 dogs. The weather was impossibly hot by our standards, but allegedly not too bad for locals used to the heat. We enjoyed plenty of fresh produce knowing we won’t have access much longer. Avocado toast! Plums from their neighbor’s tree! Watermelon! Grilled corn! Annie showcased her attention to detail by decorating a chocolate cake with hundreds of pink pig sprinkles, all facing the same direction (except a single one, which none of us noticed but her).
We studied the North Cascades map and recent trail condition reports and adjusted our early itinerary yet again, then divvied up the food for that first section into our backpacks. We stayed up late playing Uno on the patio, losing soundly to a certain 5th grader. Buddy schooled us in the best neighborhood dog-walking route while Julie & Annie took the other two dogs on a more leisurely stroll. We snuck in one final date-run, up to the top of Mt. Rubidoux and back, in what felt like 100-degree weather but was probably only 85. We all spent a lazy afternoon on the sand at Crystal Cove peering at tidepool crabs, collecting shells, wading in the surf, and trying not to get too sunburned. Before we knew it the alarm went off at 5am this morning. Our wake-up call was for the train that is taking us to Seattle, while Julie and Annie will drive north to meet the rest of Annie’s family here for their annual California visit. Jeff will have a few days of peace & quiet, drums, and dogs.
Our initial plan called for catching the train at an attended station, where we would check the bag containing resupply food for Rainy, Stevens, and White passes in WA along with our microspikes (in case we want to switch out from crampons before we get past the snow entirely). We also have a bag with 4 pairs of shoes, one filled with fuel canisters and other spare gear, food & beer for the train, and a duffel containing our clothes & toiletries for the next few days along with all of our tech. This in addition to our full hiking packs with ice axes, snow poles, and crampons strapped to the back. Riverside is an unstaffed station, with no checked baggage services. Our train would arrive on the far set of tracks, accessed only by an overhead walkway. I’ve never been so happy to see an elevator! We managed to lug all of our gear in one trip and still had time to recover, since in classic Amtrak style the train was delayed by 30 minutes. The attendant referred to us as “you, with the mondo bag” but was patient as we loaded everything and found us space in the unreserved coach car for every last bit.
Despite the delay we arrived to LA’s Union Station half an hour ahead of schedule (?!) and slowly made our way past 12 tracks to the lobby and ticketing area. At the baggage window we discovered that a.) mondo bag weighed 79#, b.) Amtrak has a strict weight limit of 50# per checked bag, and c.) food is not allowed in checked luggage. Crap. We learned about c.) when we took out the clear plastic dry bag containing the Stevens Pass resupply in an attempt to meet the weight limit, thinking we could check it separately. Not only did the weight drop just to 59#, but the station agent saw the dry bag was full of food and wouldn’t accept it. We clearly couldn’t let on that the rest of the duffel was also filled with food, or we’d be stuck with all of our sh*t all the way to Seattle. Fortunately the other two resupplies were taped up in boxes labeled only with their location, and we mumbled that they contained “gear.” We took out one of the boxes, dropping the duffel’s weight to 39# which seemed a waste. Since we couldn’t check the dry bag we filled the empty space in our huge duffel with the bag of shoes, and added both ice axes and pairs of crampons (44#). Fair enough. We checked the box of “gear” and the duffel bag, and practically skipped up to the first class lounge (oh yeah!) to chill for a few hours until our long-distance train was ready to depart. The lounge attendant gave us a small once-over and asked if we had sleeper car tickets, but to his credit didn’t actually ask us to prove it.
We are now on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, headed north all the way to Seattle (along with Garrison Keillor who just gave his final show at the Hollywood Bowl, for all of you NPR fanatics). It feels like a million years ago that we left home. Our minds are focused forward, on the trail.