LA, Hollywood, San Diego and Beyond...

Los Angeles! To me I had taken LA to mean one city, where choices of where to stay were based on recommendations, reviews and scores, and less so on location. There would be a centre where hostels would try and crowd around and promote as distance scores from main attractions. However, upon planning our stop at this expanse of a region, it soon prevailed that Los Angeles has no core, no main area, and is actually an amalgamation of lots of different cities, towns and areas that make up Greater Los Angeles. Deciding where to stay would be based on what we were after. With no real idea exactly what that would be, we opted to stay at the highly recommended option of a USA Hostel in Hollywood. Was this to be the place of movie stars and chique boutique hotels and shops? Most definitely not – it was something even better. Hollywood turned out to be an electric energy fuelled buzzing area where tourists seem to crowd in as touts shout from streets, beer and food specials fly at you, and costume shops and souvenir stalls line the walkways. Our hostel was located almost in the middle of this, but down a side road that seemed to shelter it from the noise and crowds. We had 2 days at the hostel before two of Han’s friends, Georgie and Amy, were amazingly making their way out from the UK to meet up with us for a 7 day holiday. Being slightly lackadaisical and welcoming some downtime before they came out, recharging after our Grand Canyon run, we took the time to recoupe and just ‘took our time’ around the area. I took a Beverly Hills tour to see some of the grand mansions of...

Vegas and the Grand Canyon

Although I love Vegas, and Han hadn’t been there before, leaving me both intrigued and worried about her reaction to such obvious shows of financial freedom and over-the-top adventures, we also had a secondary aim; a trip to the Grand Canyon to run the Rim-to-Rim (South to North). We had booked ourselves into the aptly named Circus Circus hotel for a few nights, before picking up our hire car and heading to tackle the canyon. The hotel lies at the Northern end of the strip which meant longer walks to and from our hotel, but also no questions on which way to turn out of the doors when we did wake up. Like all first timers to the strip, we wandered up and down the boulevard, through all the major hotels, watched the magical water show at the Bellagio, took the circular escalators at Caesars, and ate monster portions of cheesecake and drinks. We even placed a few bets to some fast losses and slower wins. Han actually pulled out a straight flush on one hand, netting her the fortune of $13 back from her initial 25 cents on the video poker. We danced at the themed bar of Coyote Ugly, drank margaritas at a time of night when sleeping would usually be in order, placed a bet on red for it to come up black, saw an NBA game at the Mandalay Bay, taste tested at the largest candy wall in the world, and generally drank, ate and had a blast as much as we could on our limited backpacker budget. Vegas was all that it promised to be and more, and juxtaposedly sometimes less, and a little surprisingly Han actually enjoyed some of the aspects I was worried she would hate, and hated some of the aspects I thought she would love; who would have thought she would love a $3.50 slushed Margarita at 11pm on our way back to the hotel, or half naked Coyote girls at the Coyote Ugly themed bar? Vegas therefore confused me as much as it always does, and once again had me wanting to come back for more, more and more, yet also had me wondering if I ever need to come back. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery And with such ambiguous paragraphs and thoughts such as the above, I found myself contemplating the city as we chewed up the miles in our hire car heading along the mind numbingly straight Route 15 North and East out of the city on our way to the Grand Canyon. Wanting to run the canyon in a day bought with it some logistical problems; obviously you end up 20 plus miles away from where you started. Not fancying running the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (ie repeat it backwards), we had organised a plan to a) Get picked up by a shuttle bus company from the North rim around 2pm the first day b) With only our running gear, a toothbrush, some money and the energy bars and trail mix we’d need the next day, arrive at the South Rim around dusk c) Stay at a lodge on the South Rim and grab some dinner there d) Wake up around 5:30am, and head out to run back to our car on the North Rim Even with a small issue of a late car pickup we made our shuttle bus in time and found ourselves gorging on ‘chilli in a bread bowl’ in a somewhat error prone meal-before-a-big-run food intake, but which was to prove surprisingly tasty and filling, energy inducing and error-free the next day. Early starts are never easy, but when you wake, put on your running shoes, don your hydration packs and look out over one of the most colossal natural wonders of the world I’ve ever seen, it certainly helps. We had decided to take the slightly longer option of descending down...

Lake Tahoe

With a tent, roll-mat and sleeping bag still crying out to be used again before we were to relieve ourselves of the camping equipment on our journey south to enter the world of Mexico and beyond, and with a spacious boot to carry the load instead of our backs, we planned to head North to camp at Lake Tahoe for a few nights. Situated on the border of California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is America’s second deepest lake covering 191 square miles, and lies 200 miles inland from Cali’s coast, being part of both California and Nevada. We jumped in the car from the Big Sur and made the 6 hour adventure to camp on the Southern shoreline near the imaginatively named town of South Lake Tahoe. We had been told by other adventurous souls that Lake Tahoe has a ‘serious’ temperature difference between night and day. As we rumbled over the passes and down the twisting turning roads to our final destination, with the first glimpses of the largest alpine lake in North America in view whilst the sun was still glittering of its never ending surface, with a car air conditioning conditioning the air, we were not seriously worried or trepiditious about the cold. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery We had booked ourselves into the mildly historic Camp Richardson. With a history that spanned back about as far as it could for the area (circa 150 years) the camp spanned a fairly large area, sitting a mere 100m from the shoreline of the lake and situated within a rustic untouched protected forest that we were warned we were to share with coyotes and bears. We had had our share of dangerous wild North American animals over the past couple of months, but the warming spacious lodge and sprinkling of RV’s close by stemmed any real fears from surfacing as we welcomed the warming showers and bathrooms that our more rustic campsite at Mount Tam, and previously our camping expedition in the Yukon, previously didn’t house. The main attraction of Lake Tahoe, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, was the Lake itself and we made plans to explore some of its more well known coves, shorelines and beaches, once again enjoying the freedom and mobility that our own car gave us. We spent a luxuriously lazy day sitting on the shores of Emerald Cove and wandering around it’s shoreline; reading, juggling, throwing juggling clubs into freezing waters, paddling, snoozing and having to swim after the said club in just boxers (to the delight of the nearby women) …. the usual antics. With the mountainous backdrop, aquamarine shimmering waters, and sun dappled shores, the next day we headed out on a great trail run along a shoreline path, circumnavigating and exploring a couple of beaches and some vertigo inducing drops, before visiting a trickling waterfall and catching some beers and food back at camp. However, the warning and precursors were soon to be realised; when the sun sets the heat sets as well, and as our camp slowly became engulfed in a cold bitter evening, our freezing digits wondering why chopping vegetables numbed and froze them, and washing up involved them scrubbing pans in ice cold running tap water, my mind was confused whether to enjoy the beautiful moon dappled forest with another tea, or climb into the warming, welcoming, sleeping bag lined tent. A little of both was thrown in as we warmed water up into our drinking containers, hugging them like water bottles in the tent, and drifted off to sleep still in trousers, t-shirts, jumpers, hat and scarf. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery With a couple more days in the area however, a little cold at night didn’t stop us from enjoying the area and planning some more trail runs and relaxing days. As the rays of the sun slowly warmed our tent...

The Big Sur

With California being America’s third largest state, and with some world renowned scenery and mother nature peppered around its 250 mile wide and 770 mile long land mass, Han and I had decided to hire a car for 10 days to travel firstly South, to and through the Big Sur, before theoretically over to Yosemite National Park and beyond. The Big Sur is a small area of coastal land around 3 hours South of San Francisco that is generally regarded to be home to one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world, so as we picked up silver economical Hyundai Elantra at the early hours of 9am, we were excited and eager to get moving away from a city that we felt we had expunged enough energy on with so many other places to see. The drive down was uneventful yet strangely liberating, a small freedom of not relying on public transport, and as we hummed and sang along to the advert-ridden American radio, we soon found ourselves looking West over the Pacific Ocean winding round twisting turns and up and over natures natural obstacle course. We wondered when the Big Sur actually begins; a small pullover and a consultation of the travelling bible, chapter 24 verse 5 – the world according to Lonely Planet of California – and we realised that we had actually been driving for around 30 minutes through what people regard as The Big Sur. With nowhere to stay that night we checked out our options and what there was to actually see along this coastal region. After some thoughts, blind finger pointing and knowledgeable discussion we decided to head to a first-come-first-served campsite midway along the region. 30 minutes later and we arrived, found a suitable patch...

Mount Tamalpais

After 5 days in San Fran we were ready for a change. Originally we had planned to visit Yosemite, but after it was closed down we altered our very loose plans and took the buses an hour North to Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. Although relatively close to the hustle and bustle, as soon we headed over Golden Gate bridge we were transported to a place where life was slower, people knew everyone in the village, and bus drivers discussed world events such as if the wooden bridge should be repaired over some non-descript marshland. I liked it. As Jerry our bus driver dropped us off on the early sunny Sunday morning at our campground up in the state park of Mount Tam, we quickly found a spot to call home, got a cup of brew on the go, and set out the map the ranger had given us to plan the next few days events. With no car and being situated around 5km from the nearest civilization, hiking, fresh air, star gazing, some trail running and lazing around were the order of the trip. Luckily for us the trails and paths were not only amazingly well marked and well trod, they went through a diverse range of fauna and geology, with either breath-taking views overlooking hilly golden autumnal slopes, or vista of the Pacific Ocean hazily lazily splashing its waves. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery The first day we headed down to the beach, mindlessly ignoring that it was an hour downhill that had to be traversed later on the day uphill; we were camping at around 7000ft, so everything apart from the mountain tops were downhill, and as Han fell asleep on the warming soft sands, I read and...

San Frantastic

After two rocky days aboard ship, we alighted in the hilly, eccentric, free spirited city of San Francisco. I felt as though we had properly started ‘travelling’; the Alaskan portion of our adventure feeling more of a splurge, a calm before the storm, an expense before the backpacking penny pinching – and we were excited. As we checked into our city centre hostel we soon found out that the US Government had ‘shutdown’ and as such our plans were to change as we couldn’t hit Yosemite National Park unless it opened in time (which it wasn’t to do), giving us 5 nights in San Francisco to explore, navigate and enjoy before deciding to head North by an hour and camp in the state park of Mount Tamalpais. San Francisco was a great energetic city. It boasts to be very liberal with a lot of history in the gay rights movement, and this eclectic and diverse energy and culture seemed to ooze from its pavement pores as we wandered around trying to visit the main tourist sites along with pounding the streets of the more eclectic areas. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery With the US government shutdown an Alcatraz visit was out of the question, but after trekking for a day from our hostel, through the city, over the famous “most photographed bridge in the world” Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito, we caught a ferry back during sunset and drifted slowly past the infamous prison. Even at this relative distance ‘the rock’ intrigued and fascinated me – maybe due to the copious amount of films I’ve seen about it – and it didn’t let down my over zealous imagination as I imagined breakouts and film-esque plotlines playing out within its shores. We had also landed on the eve of a world famous music festival – Strictly Blue Grass – and when checking out the acts saw that one of the bands we both like, First Aid Kit, were playing on the Friday evening at 4pm. The festival that boats 5 big stages over the urban sprawling 1.5mile square Golden Gate Park has been held for the past 10 years after the philanthropist creator of the festival donated millions of dollars when passing away to ensure the festival would run, free, every year for the next 12 years. We headed down to the free 3-day festival and listened to the music, ate from the copious amounts of amazing street food vendors and relaxed on the grass watching the world and all of its eclectic individuals pass by. Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery When I first arrived in San Francisco I put out a message on Facebook to ask for suggestions in this city, and my brother who had visited a couple of years previously suggested checking out Bourbon and Branch, a speak easy where booking is essential and cocktails are the order of the day. After finally getting a table (this place is popular) we had the secret password and location by email and headed down to the bar. Knocking on the non-descript, non-signed door, we were presented with a woman asking if we had the password, where upon giving out the secret information were allowed into an amazing 1920’s speak easy bar. This place almost invented the world cool; 1920’s décor, low level lighting, a set of rules (no phones, no pictures, no asking for a cosmo, and of course, speak easy) and the bartenders and waitresses dressed up accordinly. We stayed there for a couple of hours before dinner having an amazing time, tasting our way through some seriously stupendiously tasty cocktails before wandering back to our hostel, slightly inebriated, way beyond our budget, but thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Throw in a random condimental selection of watching the gawping sea lions at Pier 39, moving to a disgusting hostel for a couple of...