A Journey to The States

Quick Facts

  • Status: Completed
  • Dates: 12th May 2018 to 26th May 2018
  • Objective: San Francisco to Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco
  • Route: Inland, mountainous & coastal
  • Approx Distance: 3000 Kilometers
  • Approx Time Driven: 50 Hours
  • Accommodation: 3 Nights Camping/ 5 Nights Car/ 6 Nights Hotel & Home

Insights

  • Camping is expensive
  • Camping has all amenities
  • State taxes, insurance, laws and regulations
  • You meet friends when you least expect it in places where you
  • We are not on this Earth to live or be alone. To be social with one another is core to our existence whether we consider ourselves introverted or otherwise.
  • Tackling your fears head first is the best way to overcome them (Safely ofcourse).
  • It’s more difficult than you think to foresee where you may end up in life, where you might settle and live, how your relationships will turn out and what career you might set your path upon.
  • It’s possible to live life or atleast short bursts of it purely based on spontaneity and trust in your gut feeling.
  • Always, always make time to take the scenic route, miss a turn onto the highway and drive off the beaten path. You’ll be surprised where it takes you.
  • Simply ask the locals what you should do when you get there, they’ll talk of places and things to do that you just can’t find anywhere else. TripAdvisor is one thing, but a true local is another!

Introduction

I guess there was a lot to expect; preconceptions of what it means to be in The States…

But before I get to that, we start at the very beginning. Flying the kangaroo half way across the Earth was absolutely wonderful, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a more comfortable flight. 14 hours was what it took, ten of those were spent sleeping and the other four eating and snacking. There is a certain pride and joy flying with our own airline, even when it is slightly more out of my own pocket, it still kind of feels like home but just at 35,000ft. Imagine that, your home suspended at 35000ft *giggles*. The food is also surprisingly good, in fact for plane food it is even great. I would suggest getting doubles when the scent of the mid-flight hot dog and mini burger arrive while you are dreaming away. I guess in retrospect, I am one of the lucky ones who can sleep on the plane, It’s one of the things I try not to take for granted and I often cite it as one of the greatest transferable skills on my CV. Anyways, I digress…which I do often when speaking of sleep and food.

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Before the landing. The city landscape is pretty on the eyes 🙂

Day 1

It kind of took me about 5 hours to get out of the airport, sort out my rental car, sim card and onto the road, three of which were spent waiting in lines, mostly for my rental car. That was an unexpected hump, already hours late to meet my friend Sabrina for lunch so she could show me around the city. Luckily she is awesome and forgives me for any harm done hehe. It’s the best thing to see a friendly face across the world, especially when you can use them as a free tour guide! hah, but you know I’d do the same for any friend coming to Sydney.

Straight off the bat is lunch at the Panda Express. Now I’m not usually one to talk about food in my blogs but if the food is somewhat iconic or a representation of culture then I should probably run it past. So I didn’t actually know it was a thing until I came back to Sydney and people asked me if I’d been to Panda Express! and so it was a coincidence. Pretty much the epitome of Asian food court delicacies. Yes, Asian food court food and it was actually pretty good, keeping in mind that it was food court food.

Moving on, the first thing to see was the Golden Gate bridge, from every angle it seems. It was nice both walking and driving across the bridge; beautifully draped in its red velvet. All I could think about was how tough it would be to repaint that thing, half true. I was thinking more of its history, it’s construction and engineering marvel. At the same time, the inescapable sad truth that something so beautiful is also known to be a place where so many lives are taken. It was a bittersweet moment but at least one spent in good company.

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Well, this is a pretty typical tourist must take photo
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It’s beautifully draped in red velvet
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Here you can see #KarlTheFog yeah, the San Francisco Fog has a name and Insta!

Lombard Street was our next stop. With the rooftop off we drove down the worlds crookedest road along with so many other tourists. It was actually really fun, the plants and flowers surrounding the area were pretty and with the backdrop of the city, what isn’t there to like.

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Lombard Street – World’s crookedest road

Now to the Fisherman’s Wharf, I was in search of that iconic sign and found it soon enough. A bit of an evening walk and catching up later we found ourselves having a nice warm dinner at a restaurant with live music to our ears. It was there where I found that most nice restaurants serve chowder as their entree, we don’t really have that in Australia or at least we don’t always call it that. Truth is I didn’t know what it was until an age I’m too embarrassed to admit. let’s just say I never really understood the “chowder” reference in The Simpsons.

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Thanks Sabrina! You’re awesome!

To end the first day of my trip we went to have some Asian dessert, wish I’d taken some photos because it was nice but I’m usually too busy getting started on the food…kind of reminds me of Meet Fresh!

Day 2

I took off from San Francisco quite early in the morning to get a good head start on the road as I’d suspected it would take me some time to reach Yosemite; little did I know that I was to stop almost a dozen times before reaching the National Park. From toilet breaks beside the road to country towns and gorgeous lookouts to turning back around after seeing a caravan parked beside a gas station with colours all around it…how could you not be curious right? As I approached the caravan I noticed a lady hanging some really colourful clothing along with some beef jerky. She was so welcoming when she saw me approach. We talked about how she and her husband had escaped the city back in the 80’s and had been living on the road ever since, dyeing shirts all sorts of patterns and colours, selling them to just have enough to keep going. Half an hour later she offers me one of these shirts as a gift, of course I couldn’t accept this without offering a small gesture of my own too. The gift was perfect, now I had something to wear over the EDC weekend!

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An after holiday photo as I was cleaning the closet. Ignore the butt, it’s all about the shirt here.

A few hours later and I’m at the entrance to the National Park. I’d got my hopes up when I saw the entrance, ready and eager to jump right into some hiking trails, too bad it was another hour or two till I actually reached the falls; mostly because again I’d stopped to enjoy the view countless more times. But have a look at that entrance, in spectacular American fashion!

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Entrance to the Yosemite National Park. Love the pine trees in the backdrop, you’ll see plenty more of those.
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Yosemite National Park – At First Glance

*INSERT* – YOSEMITE TIME LAPSE

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Much of the valley is scattered with things to do and see; something for everyone

I took my time to wander around the village once I’d finally managed to find parking. From the gift shops, to restaurants and campsites to their very own convenient store it really was more like a small busy tourist town rather than a remote place out in the mountains, nothing like it is in our peaceful and quiet Blue Mountains.

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I made my way down to my first hike, I thought I’d start with something pretty easy and so it was. Popular with families with young kids and babies in strollers, I should have known this would be a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the Yosemite Lower Falls walk was beautiful. I tend to get off track so I got drenched at the base of the waterfall, all for the selfie as I do.

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Yosemite Lower Falls – Rushing, gushing with all of natures might

*INSERT* – LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS

After my slow, very slow “hike” to the Lower falls it was already the late afternoon! I’d still wanted to hike the upper falls, totally behind schedule 😦 . About an hour up the Upper Falls i passed by a ranger who told me it would still be hours till I’d reach the top, by then it would be cold, dark and by the looks of it, rainy and wet! I’m somewhat glad I didn’t embark on that journey further up because the moment I got back to the base it poured rain like no tomorrow. Meanwhile, I was happily enjoying a pizza all to myself by a nice fireplace inside the restaurant. So warm and cosy!

That night I drove back outside the National Park (because they don’t let you camp just anywhere inside) and pitched my tent down by the river just outside of the Indian Flats campground. Not for the lack of trying, the campground wanted to charge me $60USD to sleep in my own tent inside the campground somewhere. Why do that when there’s a perfectly nice illegal camping spot down by the river…Some would argue with me, but I’m poor, rebellious, daring and a bit spontaneous in that way. So that night I slept with a knife under my pillow just in case a bear did decide to come strolling into my camp. lol.

Day 3 –

I survived my first night camping and it was absolutely freezing cold! I should have known better than to camp at the bottom of the valley where the wind gushes by and the river water flows with all the might of nature…let’s just say that’s a lesson learned. I was up really early just as the sun came up to make the most of the day. I wanted to go on a real nice hike, spend all day up there in the mountains and so I did, it was to be the longest hike I’d ever attempted and completed. It all began here, at the entrance of the Mist Trail.

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And it begins! Entrance to the Mist Trail.
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Squirrels are so cuteeeeee!! ❤
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Chill

It was still early in the morning as I made my way up the trail. It couldn’t have been later than 7am when I came across this view. I think it’s beautiful the way shadows climb up the rocky faces of mountains. In the shadows it drops below 10 degrees but out in the open sun it could be easily triple that, and when making your way up the trail means that you get one or the other for a few minutes at a time you really don’t know what to take off or put on. A chill runs through your spine every time you hide behind the rock face and end up with a view like this.

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You can hear and see it beyond the shadows…
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And here is is, the Vernal Falls
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Behind me, a rainbow perfectly captures the figure. The Mist was just impossible to avoid on my lens…
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And then ofcourse, there’s me awkwardly asking someone to take my picture; turned out pretty okay! 🙂
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Once I got to the top, I realised that the awe had not ended yet! You must see the full panorama! 🙂

Now at the top I thought it would be a good time for lunch. Before I’d even unpacked my sandwiches, fruit and snacks, a squirrel found me, no doubt looking at my fancy trail mix!

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Sadly I’d already eaten my sandwiches before I took this photo
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He’s enjoying the view with me

So that was it, time to leave my newfound friend alone. Next stop, Nevada falls, another 3 kilometres up ahead. It was here where I’d bumped into two sisters who, like me had lost the main path! And who couldn’t with forests like this below. At one point I’d followed a path that led me right back to where I began, talk about Deja Vu! The sisters, from Cleveland (just in case I ever visit) were headed the same way. We would soon bump into each other a dozen times with me nudging them to continue along the Panorama trail and down the 4-mile track! Well worth it and an absolute great company to have met on the hike.

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Massive log in the way? let’s cut our way through it
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Looking down
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The Nevada falls was just ahead…and then the clouds came rolling in…
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Spying on the Nevada Falls…

Much of the next 14 km can be summarised by one photo below. It felt like I was always following a path around the mountain, never being able to see what was just that bit further ahead. What you could see though, was the Half Dome almost throughout the trail, It’s as if no matter how far you walked, the Half Dome and it’s mountains never moved, never shifted away from your sight.

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Panorama Trail…

At the end of the trail was an incredible lookout where most people had not hiked to get up, but instead made their way by car or bus. I could have saved myself 14 km’s of mountainous death if I had taken that option and as I stumbled past all the tourists who took the easy way up, I could see why.

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Apart from the impending weather doom, can you spot the difference?

But the hike had yet ended, as the clouds rolled in I kept my fingers crossed for the 4-mile hike back down. It was quite amazing and just my luck that just as I reached the base the rain poured in like none other.

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Anddddd more squirrels!

So with much relief and good company from the sisters, we were back down on the valley camp. We had dinner at one of lodges where they served a buffet / food court like meal which was pretty simple yet interesting. We said our goodbyes and hoped to visit each other across the world one day.

That evening I continued the journey back outside the National Park and towards the one and only Viva Las Vegas. On my way out I could not help but stop at what would be the last of about a dozen amazing lookouts at my time here in Yosemite and wow was it an absolutely incredible farewell. Farewell Yosemite, but sure not a goodbye ❤

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One last look…
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The way out…

That night I drove into the sunset, swirling and twirling through the mountains and soon found refuge by a lookout and so took up camp. I sat there for such a length of time that I could not tell, but because the view was something that I could not explain. It was with moments like this that make me wonder why I am out here, all on my own and so far from home; moments like this that make me more sure than ever that I am heading in the right direction. Because so often do I feel that I am out of place, that the world is trying to make me someone I am not; it is so often that I feel there exists a place where I belong and i’ts so close, within a hearts reach.

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Night 3 – Sunset Horizon

Day 4

So it was on Day 4 that I continued my way through the mountains. The drive down and back up these mountains was a lot longer than I’d expected, the twists and turns felt like they’d never end and what looks like 20km on google maps is more like 50kms worth of twists and turns. As fun as they were though, it pushed my timetable a bit back and so later on I would miss my chance to see the beauty of Death Valley (hot desert and more hot desert from what I’ve heard).

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The unexpected mountain battles
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The never ending twisty turnies

The drive, however was gorgeous and once again in my good old fashion I can’t help but stop at the many lookouts along the way.

INSERT VIDEO OF SCENELAPSE

INSERT VIDEO OF ME DRIVING

The next stop was Kings Canyon which was supposed to be on my way out of all these national parks but turned out to be a whole day trip. The one thing I really wanted to see was the largest tree in the world known as the “General Sherman”; a giant sequiola. If you’re curious as to what they mean by the largest tree in the world, it’s measured by total volume, so it may not be the tallest or widest, but it’s combination of the two does make it so.

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Entering Kings Canyon – Don’t mind the smudges, they’re just the dozens of bugs that decided to chill on my windscreen
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Onto the valley floor
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Perspective
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Sequioas, giant sequioas everywere
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Backpack vs Sequioa trunk
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And then there was me and the Sherms

To be honest, the tree was big, but not as big as I’d imagined. I’m not sure why but when I think of a big tree I’d like to think I could look up and not see the top, that above me would be something of a stalk into the sky. Now, I know what you’re about to say, this isn’t some Jack in the Beanstalk or Avatar movie, this is real life; well let me tell you, real life is underwhelming sometimes then *sad face*. But nonetherless the trip here was wonderful and the short hike was full of surprises, among some of them was overhearing tourists be in awe of the tree, one of them sounded just like this when they saw it “aauuuuhhh zes zes, zat is big tree”, I couldnt help but giggle. Then you had others who tried taking photos from perspective, trying to hold the trunk between their fingers or leaning against it from an angle that made them look as tall as the tree, this was fun to watch as I sat there admiring the nature around me.

A short drive later and I was met with some construction work up ahead, they were repairing some of the tight bends around the mountains edge that must have collapsed recently. It was quite a long wait, so long that I turned off the car, opened up the roof and had lunch sitting on top of the car whilst everyone watched behind me.

*INSERT VIDEO OF HAVING LUNCH ON TOP OF CAR*

Just like that, I was out of the mountains and the colours of the landscapes changed dramatically.

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Green – One last look
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Yellow – fields of orange plantations

From green to yellow. It was so sudden and to be honest, i hadn’t even noticed the scenery change until i looked twice. Driving is sometime’s like that, especially longer journeys. The landscapes all blend into one long road of ash and pavement and not until you look for a second time do you really notice your surroundings.

Sun was dawning now and a yellow glow in the distance complimented the earth. Driving into it, i was met with machines, hundreds upon hundreds of machines drilling into the earth. It’s hard to explain the sounds and feelings that emcompass you as you sit there watching, watching them turn and twist, like the drinking bird that never stops drinking and sucking from the earth. It’s hard to believe that this is what society is based upon and every ounce of your being tells you that this is somehow not right, that this is very wrong and yet this is how it is.

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The oil rigs

*INSERT VIDEO OF MACHINES*

I stopped by a Denny’s for dinner. Classic American fast food described simpley as large in proportion, cheesy, meaty and fatty!

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Denny’s Diner

That night, i drove into the sunset and took my rest by the side of Highway 15, just hours from the lights of Vegas.

Day 5

The early morning drive was met with a really cool sight. Right in the middle of the Mojave Desert i drove past the Ivanpah solar thermal plant. Couldn’t help but stop by the side and take a few photos of this awesome engineering project, just one of a few i would plan on seeing today!

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The Ivanpah Solar Thermal Plant

Next stop, Walmart! I had to go to atleast one while i was here right? do they really sell guns? is the pharmaceuticals aisle larger than the sweets? nope, but it was pretty big!

Hoover Dam. I was here, now this was truly an incredible marvel of engineering! Sweltering hot outside  though as i made my way from the car park to the tourist centre taking plenty of photo’s, enjoying the view and reading all about the project.

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Sweltering hot!
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My tanned face
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The Hoover Dam ❤ WOW

After a few hours at the dam, it was time to head out towards the Grand Canyon! This was no simple feat, over 4 hours of  driving in the desert, with literally nothing to see and nothing to do inbetween can drive someone crazy! You know those cartoons of the desert landscape where you see the dry round shrubs bounching from one side of the screen to the other? well, that’s real, there really are shrubs bouncing across the road on these desert highways!

I spent a lot of time walking the various tracks of the canyon on my own. It has a certain grandness where you’d just like to be alone in the peace and quiet. There’s not much else to be said about the Grand Canyon as the photos speak for themselves. Absolute wonder.

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Tourists
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Okay, you win, it really is pretty grand
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The photo doesn’t do the red rocks justice

Another 4 hours of driving back into Vegas had me in a dazzle. From sunset to city rise i could see in the same distance as i headed into the city!

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Sunset heading into Vegas
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City lights rise
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Vegas Strip

That night i met up with friends, enjoyed a yummy In-n-out burger and retired the night at The Luxor!

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The Luxor

Sadly, I’d never spent the time to finish this blog post 😥 Plenty of stories and photos to tell of the other half of the time I was out here but maybe they will be told another time.

Thanks for reading my friends ❤

Author: Jason Li

Jason Li (born 17th October 1992) grew up in the big bad city of Sydney. After all these years, he’s still growing up; or at least trying to. Sometimes he writes. Sometimes he gets lucky and writes something good. Most of the time, however, he has no idea where life is taking him, living life just one single day at a time.

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