August 9th – Into Stanislaus

A guitar strums from my iPhone, and I awake to silence the alarm. Check-out was in an hour, at ten. I pulled my pants on and shoved a few handfuls of granola in my face. Fortunately, most of our stuff had stayed packed for the one night we’d been here, and it wasn’t too much work to get it all strapped onto the bike again.

Golden gate park is well known for the open air weed market always taking place at the Haight street entrance, so we headed there after checking out of the motel. I’ve always flown into San Francisco on my previous visits, and relied on public transportation. This was my first time actually driving through the city. Let me tell you, those insane hills and narrow streets are not so much fun on a heavily loaded down touring bike with a passenger. Hopefully, I will not be called on to drive through San Francisco too many more times. Conveniently, there was a parking spot open directly across the street from the park entrance. I walked across the street, made eye contact with one of the several people standing at the entrance, and was met with the customary greeting of “You need some bud?” “How much for an eighth?” I asked. “45. Walk with me.” The further north you get in California, the cheaper weed gets, pretty much. Though 45 was quite a bit cheaper than the 60 which is pretty standard in Austin, it was still quite a bit more expensive than normal prices in Humboldt county, up the coast a bit more. I wandered off down a path with the scruffy gentleman perhaps 20 yards. He handed me a bag, I handed him 2 twenties and a five, we shook hands, and walked in opposite directions.

Five minutes after we’d arrived at the park, we were pulling pack into traffic, ready to head east to Yosemite National Park. I had hoped traffic would lighten up by the time we got out of the city limits, but no such luck. We inched along for perhaps an hour or so before I lost patience and decided I would try splitting lanes like everyone else in California. I saw a particularly wide gap in front of me, so I blipped the throttle, and I was through. Hey, that wasn’t so bad. Fuck sitting in traffic. I spent the next hour or so weaving through traffic until finally we were on the other side of the Bay Area traffic jam.

Finally free from the horrendous traffic, we could get a little speed going, which was nice, because this far off the coast it was getting pretty warm. A couple hours into the ride, our butts were getting numb, and the jackets we’d needed in San Francisco were now far too warm. We stopped at a small park in Oakdale to shed a couple layers, eat some food, and smoke a bowl. We were only a couple hours away from Yosemite, and it was still pretty early in the day, so we took a nice leisurely stop here. After an hour of resting and eating, we pulled out gear back on, and hit the road once more.

It wasn’t long before navigation became as easy as following the signs for Yosemite National Park. We had been cruising through mostly flat terrain, but it was time to gain elevation, and the road began an extended series of sharp switchbacks as we ascended into the Sierra Nevada mountains. As we gained elevation, trees became more and more frequent until we were driving through a vibrant mixed forest of mighty sequoias, oaks, and pines. “Welcome to Stanislaus National Forest” said a sign. Before too long we came to a sign directing us to a ranger station, and we followed it. This was the National Forest ranger station, and it looked like we had showed up just after closing. We looked around for some rules about camping and fires, but didn’t find too much. Just as we were turning to leave, a green Subaru Impreza Sport whips around the corner and pulls into the parking lot next to the bike. I did a double-take as a man who looked exactly like Dayglow got out of the vehicle and introduced himself as the ranger, asking if we needed help with anything. Camping was free everywhere as long as you were at least a quarter mile from any of the developed campsites, but you did need a permit for camp fires. Fortunately, they were free, so we got our campfire permit. Dayglow’s doppelganger gave us directions to some nice secluded free camping areas very close to the entrance to the national park.

I swear I saw him spark a joint when he got back in his car, but I didn’t want to investigate further in case I was wrong. We put our helmets back on, and headed to where we’d been directed. We turned off onto the side road the ranger had told us about, and the smell of smoke started to become more noticeable. As we followed the road down a hill, the smoke became thicker, and I had to close the visor to the helmet, as well as the vents in it. A sign across the bridge we were on let us know this was a controlled burn, and not to panic. As we went back up the hill on the other side of the creek, the smell of smoke faded away. We passed a couple good looking spots that had already been taken by car campers, but soon enough we came upon a nice unoccupied pullover with a little trail leading into the woods. There was a clearing closer to the road that had clearly been a campsite, but we followed the trail back to a more secluded one. It did take several trips to get all the luggage from the bike to the site, but it was worth it for how secluded it felt. Once we’d set up both the tent and the hammocks, we rode up the road to find a place to fill the water bottle.

Over the course of the ride there, it became dark, and much colder. No matter, we filled our water jug and headed back to camp. I must admit I passed it the first time, since I was coming from a different direction, and in the dark. We went and cooked up some food before retiring to the hammocks. Though we had warm clothing and our bags were rated to pretty low temperatures, it still was much too cold to sleep well in the hammocks. Sometime in the middle of the night, we both migrated from the hammocks to the tent, where our combined body heat would create a much more comfortable environment.

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