Places to Be: Road Tripping to California

It’s 10 a.m. and we had been at the border for over an hour now. Apparently dual citizen ID cards issued in Ghana aren’t so hot in the United States. Some paperwork and a six dollar processing fee later, we’re back on the road. 

First stop: Walmart. If, like me, you grew up overseas, then you might understand my feelings of sheer amazement, admiration and disgust when I enter a Walmart. The store just has everything: clothes, food, electronics, gardening equipment, bikes and fishing equipment. The list just goes on and on. 

After stocking up on snacks that would make any dietician cringe, we hit the road again. En Route to Portland, we passed through the ring road traffic of Seattle — the land of Starbucks, Seahawks and, of course, Amazon. Sticking to the I5, we made good time, arriving just after sundown. 

Portland

Portland is beautiful. Portland is renowned for its food trucks, so make sure to grab a bite from them if you are passing through. After a good night's rest, we buckle in for the long stretch — Portland, Oregon to Turlock, California in an 11 hour drive. 

The drive is beautiful, and the continuous rock and roll being blasted through our trusty Toyota Matrix sound system eventually fuses with our souls and pushed us through the countryside, along the rolling hills and onwards down the I-5. We agreed not to eat again until we find an In-N-Out Burger and, in our naivety, we fail to realize that most of northern California is comprised of towns like Weed: small, remote and, more importantly, lacking in In-N-Outs. We drove through Stockton, Modesto and an assortment of other cities mentioned in rap.

Upon arriving in Turlock, we are greeted by Steven, our generous host and former UBC student who wasted no time at all driving us to the closest In-N-Out. With our stomachs filled to the brim with Animal Style everything and milkshakes that are just ice cream in a cup, we tucked in for a night of well-deserved sleep before our adventure could truly begin. 

San Francisco 

Phil being Phil
Phil being Phil Photo Jojo Das / The Ubyssey

The city with the bridge. The sun is out and shining brightly in stark contrast to the usual Vancouver forecast. We head over to a charming little establishment to get some breakfast. Steven force feeds us some of the best seafood we’ve ever eaten and we make our way onwards down to the docks. We take a day and tour the city, making sure to see all the sights — the TransAmerica Pyramid, Chinatown, the Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach and, of course, the world famous Golden Gate Bridge. 

Chinatown
Chinatown
Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach

We all fantasized about living in this city until Steven graciously shuts us down by listing some property values. For dinner, Tony’s has consistently been ranked among the top five pizzerias in United Stated and for good reason — each of the pizzas is cooked at a different, custom temperature to achieve the perfect texture and flavour (because science) and the binge eating is completely justified. I mean, have you seen the hills in this city?

Yosemite

The holy grail of national parks and the former home of the legendary John Muir, who was quoted saying, “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite.” The park is visited by 3.3 million people every year, so you if you're on the fence about whether or not you should go, you should probably just get your shit together and go. Yosemite is one of those places that can’t really be exaggerated. The whole feel of the place is surreal. It is everything that it’s cracked up to be. 

A quick Google search on the way there informed us about some of the things we shouldn’t miss. Once a year, in mid to late February, the angle of the earth, sun and the placement of Horsetail Falls all combine to generate an incredible phenomenon — The Firefall. 

The Firefall
The Firefall

As the sun goes down over the horizon, the last rays of sunlight crawl along the cliff face until they catch the water. The falling water refracts the reddish orange sunlight, giving the falls the appearance of being on fire. It was quite a sight to see dozens of photographers with their tripods and cameras set up, all patiently waiting to capture the annual event. But this is by no means the only thing to see in Yosemite. In fact, you would need far more than a day to see everything. Half Dome, El Capitan — one of the largest granite monoliths in the world — Yosemite Falls, and the list goes on.

Sequoia National Forest. 

As the name suggests, this forest contains Sequoiadendrongiganteum, commonly known as the Giant Sequoia. At least three species of tree grow taller and two grow wider. But in terms of volume, the Giant Sequoia is the largest tree in the world. Our plan was to go and see the largest Sequoia, effectively the largest tree in the world. 

Our adventure is quickly foiled by a road closed sign, so we turned back and make for the Widest Sequoia. 

Good enough. (pics of sequoia and person). As a student in the Faculty of Forestry, I'm no stranger to huge trees. The Douglas firs and coastal hemlocks surrounding UBC are no small fry, but the sheer girth of these Sequoias is astounding. After wandering on, off and around the trails for far longer than we should, we make our way back to Turlock.

“I don’t like the look of this place,” said Jojo, rightfully so. Two Dobermans bark and throw themselves at fences as we make our way into a Mexican restaurant, complete with boarded up windows. Let me just say this — California has some seriously delicious Mexican food.

California, it’s been grand. I truly would go back at a moment's notice and I really hope to live there someday. I have just never been to a place with such a high density of microclimates! Taking Turlock as a starting point: if you drive one hour west, you hit the Pacific. If you drive four hours south, you start to hit desert. One hour east, rolling green hills as far as your eye can see. Another hour east, and you hit Yosemite. There’s also the people, the food, the $13.75 1.75L bottles of vodka at Costco and the sunsets. Someday, California, you will be mine. But as of right now, UBC is calling my name and the car rental company is about to be on our ass. Until next time, it’s been a blast!