The Exodus, Part 3: Giant trees, beer, and bears, oh my!

We were late, again, as though our eight ours of lateness has spilled over from day to day, making it impossible for us to get away from our overnighting locations in a timely manner. Fortunately, the drive from Vegas to Grant’s Village in the Sequoia National Forest is only seven or so hours, instead of nine or ten, making it theoretically possible that I wouldn’t be driving after midnight.

There were a few more hours of driving through the desert, but after we crossed a mountain range and the sun sank towards the horizon the landscape changed to flat fields of agriculture. Low trees in neat rows lined the highways, and the air smelled of chemicals. We stopped for gas in some tiny California town, and decided that even if this land didn’t appear to be the paradise some people consider it, the presence of cold six-point beer in the gas stations made it a step up for sure. There was a restaurant, Planet Burger (or was it Planet Pizza?) across from the gas station, but we allowed as how an open restaurant with nary a car in the lot was probably not a good choice for dinner. We would pick something up before we hit the National Forest.

The roads we were driving on got progressively smaller, less well-traveled, and closer to the fields, until at one point we’re driving on a dinky two-lane track through an orchard that is so close you can practically reach out and touch the trees. It was at this point, as my headlights are the only light for miles, that I begin to reconsider the likelihood that we would find food before reaching our destination. I also began to suspect that our GPS was planning to lead us out into the wilderness, where no one could hear us scream, so that she could murder us and sell our belongings on eBay.

The orchard roads were soon replaced by the tight curves of a narrow mountain road, winding up and up and up. We were forty some odd miles from our destination, and the GPS insisted that it was going to take us almost two hours to cover that distance. Soon, as the curves grew ever tighter and our progress slowed to a 30 mph crawl through the twisting blackness, I began to understand that time estimate.

I am not prone to motion sickness. However, after an hour of the road up into the forest,  I was so dizzy that I had to pull over. Zack, who is prone to motion sickness, had squeezed his eyes closed and was focusing as hard as possible on the audio book and breathing. I got out of the car for a moment, until the rustling in the underbrush reminded me of all the bears and rabid racoons and very lost serial killers that could be hiding in the mountains a million miles from anywhere.

Near the end of the drive we did see a bar and grill at which we might have obtained sustenance, had it not been shuttered for the night. It’s just as well–I doubt that we have comfortably filled our churning stomachs at that point anyway.

We finally arrived in Grant’s Village, which as far as we can tell is at the top of a mountain covered in trees for which I do not have an accurate sense of scale. I tended to look at the trees and think, “Oh, they aren’t so big.” But, as previous experiences with the making of food and preserves have established, I am a terrible judge of volume, which is one of the metrics by which these trees are determined to be giant. I tended to judge them based on circumference, and by circumference a lot of the trees weren’t that huge.

We checked in, where we were given a map to our cabin and a flyer warning us not to leave food in the car, lest the bears rip off our car doors and gorge themselves on our groceries. “So this is the part in the trip,” I asked Zack, “where bears destroy everything we own, isn’t it?” Fortunately for my car, but unfortunately for both us and the bears, we had only sour gummy treats, a snack bag of jalapeno chips, and a six pack of Modelo Especial. We took our meager stores up the path to our cabin. Staggeringly huge pine cones decorated the ground next to the path.

Our cabin was clean and spare. It felt a little like stepping into the 1930s. Two double beds, covered in scratchy quilts, were tucked into the corners on the left side of the room, each under two windows. A clean white  bathroom with a pedestal sink adjoined the room. We opened the windows and Zack opened a couple of beers, the scent of pine, dew, and old house mingling with each sip. We laughed at ourselves and our beer dinner until we fell asleep, beers left unfinished on the nightstand.

Zack woke in the middle of the night to a rustling sound outside that he felt confident was a bear. He closed the windows. I am not sure if that was to keep the bear out, or to convince himself that if he couldn’t hear it, the bear didn’t exist. I am not sure that a closed window would keep out a sufficiently hungry bear, being that they are known to rip apart dumpsters. Whatever the case, I slept right through it.

The first thing we did that morning was seek out the restaurant for breakfast. It was mediocre food made palatable by our beer-dinner induced hunger. They had no jam I was interested in eating on my biscuit–in the little stack of shelf-stable single-serving Smucker’s, there was only grape and things mixed with grape. This lack of strawberry jam is something I have experienced repeatedly, which leads me to believe that strawberry jam is by far the favorite, and that few people like grape or things mixed with grape. When I was in Vegas over spring break, I witnessed several people elbow-deep in a shipping box full of single-serving jam, desperately seeking the strawberry jam hidden among the apple jellies. In ten minutes of searching, I found only one.

After breakfast, we checked out and booked a room in San Francisco–at a Victorian-styled bed and breakfast called the San Francisco Inn. Then We headed off down the mountain to investigate the General Grant tree, which is a national shrine and the second largest tree in the world by mass and volume. (How they estimate the mass of a tree, I don’t know. I hope it involves lasers.) The first largest tree, by the way, is the General Sherman tree.

It was already heating up by that point in the day, and I was wearing a skirt and not interested in hiking, so we elected to leave the hike up to the General Grant tree for another visit, another time, and exited the park, bound for San Francisco.

The Exodus, Part 3: Giant trees, beer, and bears, oh my!