The last time I was in California was a long 10 years ago. After hearing about a friend’s recent trip I made a last minute decision to travel to Northern California, Nor Cal as the locals call it, and part of the Central Cal coast. My plan was to explore places I’ve heard of to get a feel for these areas making the trek as economical as possible. A few days later out came the camping gear, cookware, clothing and necessities. Off I went not knowing where I’d be staying the first night.

Campsite in Santa Rosa, Spring Lake State ParkWaking at 3:30AM to for a 7 o’clock Boston flight was difficult, but landing in San Francisco then driving 2½ hours to Santa Rosa thinking good intentions for a campsite was even more challenging. Luck was on my side with Spring Lake Regional Park campground having a site available for the next three nights. By the time I set camp and finished my last Power Bar I was famished. I must have looked it since a neighbor asked if I was interested in joining him and his wife for a grilled wild salmon dinner. I believe I said Meals on Wheels“Sure!” before he finished asking. Carl and Jan were from Alaska and if anyone is going to know good salmon they would be the ones. This is the kind of friendliness you can find at campgrounds. You do get a fair share of commotion too and that’s what noise cancelling headphones and iPods are for…

Looking south in Bodega BayThe following days were spent investigating Santa Rosa and the surrounding towns of Sebastopal, Petaluma, Sonoma, Windsor and others. Time was taken to see beautiful places including Bodega Bay, Sonoma Coast State Park and Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve. Route 1 passes through Bodega Bay following the coast of Cali to Oregon where the rugged coast is greeted by the dramatic Pacific Ocean. My Northern travel on Route 1 went as far as the mouth of the Russian River to see seals and their pups. Having a kayak would have been ideal, a sport I was introduced to over a year ago.

Sepia of the Mighty RedwoodsArmstrong Redwood Forest was a short drive from Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay. Walking among 1,000 year old, 250 plus foot “standing talls” as the Native Americans call them (and all trees) is inspiring and awesome. Thankfully some are still standing in the preserve after millions were harvested during the early settler timber boom.

Matt the BelayerWith the week coming to an end and 250 miles later I met a fellow climbing enthusiast from Massachusetts near Lake Tahoe, a sacred lake to the Washoe Indian Nation. Matt and his climbing partner were outside of Truckee high above Donner Lake at the most elevated climbing routes I’ve experienced. I slid on a harness and squeezed my feet in climbing shoes to make an easy/moderate 5.8 climb keeping it simple after the tiring drive. Completing a few more climbs the three of us went to Tahoe City for refreshments. Being high season all campgrounds were full and Matt’s belayer recommended an area in the Tahoe National Forest where I could disperse (primitive) camp the next few nights. The area was near the Ellis Peak trailhead which was as remote and quiet as you can get. Mt. Tallac (9,739 ft) was a recommended hike to get a great view of the southern part of the lake.

East Lake TahoeThe next morning I began a 75 mile drive around the 1,645 foot deep Lake Tahoe stopping at the more beautiful and rugged east side in Nevada. Large boulders, quicker dropping depths and graduated deep blue colors of the water made this side more appealing than the west side. I HAD to jump in for a morning swim in the calm clear water since by afternoon waves from the day’s increasing wind and recreational craft caused rough choppy waters. The southern area of the lake was congested with casinos and restaurants which I painstakingly crawled through. Rounding the Lake Tahoe Dam and Troutlower west side was slow until I passed Camp Richardson which looked like a small city with tents upon tents and camper to camper. I was situated in paradise compared to the congested campgrounds. Continuing to Tahoe City I stopped at the only exit of the lake where large trout were swimming in the liquid glass current.

"Good" Ramen Noodles and TunaBack at camp a few hours later cookware was laid out along with the Peaceful Pathfinder staple of Ramen Noodles and tuna! (At least on this trip they were of the organic type.) After finishing the not too interesting dinner and packing away the food I took in the silence and watched the stars before journaling and falling into a deep sleep only to be awoken by some critter outside of the tent. Was it an elk? Deer? Bear? I wasn’t sure and laid quiet. In the morning I looked for signs but with the soft forest floor it was difficult to make distinctive tracks.

On Mt. Talac Trail Time was calling to put my legs to use and I was off to the Mt. Tallac trailhead in Desolation Wilderness in the Eldorado National Forest. The 10+ mile, difficult rated hike has soul touching views of Fallen Leaf Lake, Emerald Bay, Cascade Lake, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Mountains which are currently under siege of forest fires as I write this. The mountain and hiking time were a litmus of how I was going to hold up being a support runner for 30 miles in the Wasatch mountains in Utah early September. I finished in good condition, just depleted. The lake was calling and it was time to rejuvenate with a meal and a swim. This time on the west side. While kicking back relaxing, semi newlyweds married last October asked if I would take a few pictures while they floated on inner tubes. Simple enough. The reward was a gracious gift of a beer. I gladly accepted since a good Belgian style ale after an exhausting hike is like offering candy to a child. A few Morgan and Sergiohours later they drifted back and asked to join them at their campsite for dinner. We pooled our food of grilled naan bread pizza, corn tortillas and fresh avocados. Morgan and Sergio, from San Diego, work for Saucony and run competitively placing or winning varied distance races up to ½ marathon distance. Sergio has won ½ marathons in San Diego so no more needs to be said of his ability. Morgan has an impressive resume herself. After the long day and storytelling around a campfire it was time to return to the peacefulness of my secluded camp.

Time in and around Lake Tahoe was fulfilling and the next day was taken to relax before returning to Santa Rosa continuing on to the central Cal coast for some of the best views and places of the trip.

Up next…The rugged coast of Big Sur and a true place of paradise…

Peace – Greg

“In the depths of stillness all words melt away, clouds disperse and it vividly appears before you.” – John Daido Loori

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