Biking and Dinner with Branwen

After our great dinner the night before and some exploring by the wharf — and with everyone having the luxury of their own bed — the kids slept in until 10am! The weather was much better, and with sunny skies and warm temperatures we headed over to Blazing Saddles to rent bikes for the day. Contrary to our bike-riding experience at Curry Village we got bikes with handbrakes and 15 gears. Biking in hills of San Fran definitely takes more than one gear. We started by Fisherman’s Wharf and rode along the shore by the marinas and then to the Presidio. We had a great view across the bay. After 3 miles or so we came to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a long, hard climb to get up to the bridge entrance. The bridge, as always, was shrouded in fog. They only had one side of the bridge open so people were walking and biking in both directions. Avoiding collisions on the bridge was the hardest part of the ride. Roby did have a bit of crash when he was hit by a mountain biker going too fast under the circumstances. He barked at Roby “geez kids, watch out”. All who saw the incident agreed that it was the mountain bikers fault. The good news was that Roby and the other guy were OK. It was exciting to be on the bridge, but stressful at the same time. We were happy to finally make it to the other end.

The next segment of the ride was downhill — very steep downhill — into Sausalito. Once again, exhillating for the kids but stressful for parents who kept imagining some kind of wipe out. We all made it safely to the bustling town of Sausalito. We poked around the shops for a bit and then rode further along the road to see the houseboats. We ended up having a great lunch near the docks.

Instead of riding home, we took the ferry from Sausalito back to Fisherman’s Wharf. We brought the bikes back to the hotel for a pit stop. Cal and Sue rode a few miles more later before turning in the bikes at 7pm.

We took a quick swim and hot tub and then got ready to meet one of Roby’s friends from preschool, Branwen Defren, whose family now lives outside of San Francisco. She, yes, “she” is someone who was good friends with Roby when they were four years old and they still talk about each other. Their whole family made the effort to come into the city. Unfortunately they had a flat tire on the highway along the way and had to wait an hour for AAA to come fix it. So we started dinner a bit late. At first Roby was shy when he saw Branwen, but they started chatting more over dinner. The whole group had a good time. The highlight of the night was dessert at Ghirardelli Square. We had a huge platter called “The Earthquake” with 8 types of ice cream, whip cream, nuts, hot chocolate, and other wonderful things.

After dessert the kids played in the fountain (when they ran out of coins they showed their resourcefulness — or tackiness — by picking other people’s coins out of the fountains to throw at the mermaid statues). To end the evening, we walked to Starbucks for a coffee just as they were closing. We ended up saying good bye to Branwen and her family around 11:30 and finally fell asleep after midnight.

Alcatraz and Angel Island

We’re still having trouble catching up with the journal. We’ll need to fill in the blanks for previous days when we get a bit more time. Be sure to read back a few days, we’ll be posting entries for the 29th and 30th soon (we hope). It’s turning out to be harder to juggle travel logistics and business e-mail and activities all at once. So, the entries may be brief until we get some “quality” time on the road.

As for today: we took a boat to Alcatraz for the the morning tour and then took the “Island Hopper” to Angel Island. Angel Island wouldn’t have been on our itinerary but it was the only way we could get a reservation. We figured it would be fun. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for an extended day on the bay — it’s was very windy and foggy. The fog eventually burned off by early afternoon, but the wind made it feel very cold.

The kids enjoyed the Alcatraz tour — especially the stories of the 1962 breakout (as featured in the movie “Escape from Alcatraz”) and the riot in which several prisoners took guards hostage.

Angel Island was pretty, but cold and the visit was too long. We took a tram around the island and listened to headsets with a narration of the sites.

We made it back to Fisherman’s Wharf by 3:30. After taking care of some logistics, we drove up through Japantown, Haight Ashbury and then had dinner just north of Union Square. We had great Sushi and Japanese soup.

The evening ended with Sue, Ryan, and Roby visiting the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum. They loved it. Tomorrow night will be our last night in the Hyatt with two rooms — a real luxury. Then we plan to head up to a hotel near Eureka (not sure where yet) and then camp up near the redwoods on Sunday July 4th. Then we hope to camp near the Dunes national park on Monday and Tuesday and head up to Seattle for a business meeting on the afternoon of the 8th.

We’ve been lucky so far with accommodations. We’re hoping that out luck will continue as we head north.

Pleasanton to San Francisco

We had a great sleep at Candlewood Suites. Ryan was a trooper and slept in a rather cramped space in a sleeping bag (each boy is taking his turn), but for the rest of us, it was quite nice. After Curry Village, it was such a luxury to have two rooms, two TVs, a large desk and kitchen area. Of course, the big bonus was the free laundry, which we completed in the morning. Once we were all clean and organized, we headed out to the local mall to do shopping and exchanging at Barnes & Noble. We spent a relaxing time listening to music and choosing CDs for the upcoming long drives up the coast. We had hoped to get another funny book on CD but we only came up with Garrison Keillor, so we’ll see how that goes.

After a quick lunch we drove to San Francisco. We took a gamble and Rusty used to find us a hotel in San Francisco. He couldn’t figure out how to request a suite so we decided to take a shot at two inexpensive rooms. He set a price of $75 in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, gave our credit card number, and hit the button. Much to our surprise, we got two fabulous rooms at the Hyatt. Ryan and Cal shared one, and we were in the other with Roby. Our luxurious feeling just stepped up a notch. Our drive from Pleasanton took about 40 minutes. It was exciting and beautiful to come into the city from Oakland, over the bridge. We had a clear view of Alcatraz, the skyline, the Golden Gate and Marin County.

After getting settled in our rooms, checking out the pool (always a must), and fitness center, we decided to walk around the area and get dinner. Our hotel is conveniently located two blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf and it turned out to be a great spot. We started off heading away from the water, hoping to ride a cable car. The line was a 45 minute wait so we grabbed a bus instead. We got off in Chinatown and walked through peering in all the windows and shops. The grossest (is that a word?) thing we saw was a cooked chicken with the head still on. (You can just hear the “ewwww”) Moving on from there we walked up Nob Hill to Top of the Mark for a panoramic view of the city. The grade of the hills really made an impression on the kids. We had a few minutes to kill before Top of the Mark opened so we walked around the square and the boys enjoyed looking at all the fancy cars parked at the Fairmont Hotel. We relaxed at Top of the Mark with drinks and took in the expansive view. It was a little hazy but very cool just the same. During the walk home we passed the Cable Car museum and dropped in for a quick visit. It was really amazing (but loud).

Having worked up a big appetite we decided to eat in our neighborhood. We all were in the mood for seafood and knew we had a good chance of finding something. We lucked out and ate at Cioppinos, a wonderful restaurant right on Jefferson Street (along the water). We had a cheerful waiter who took our picture as we were full of anticipation. All the food was great but the highlights were Rusty’s Cioppino and Roby’s crab. He got a 2 lb. Dungeness crab, which took up his whole plate. He had a grin from ear to ear. Still giddy from that experience he later said, “San Francisco is the best city I’ve ever been to.”

Walking home was great entertainment. Fisherman’s Wharf is packed with tourist shops and restaurants and makes for great people watching. We topped off the night with a visit to The Candy Barrell and let the kids pick out some treats. Calvin’s nirvana. I have to admit I was up for a sampling of some Ghiradelli chocolate so everyone was happy. We still had time to relax a little in our rooms before bed, but we were scheduled for an early ferry for Alcatraz in the morning so it didn’t last too long.

Glacier Point to Pleasanton

Our last morning at Curry Village got off to an unexpectedly early start (and unappreciated). A group of about 30 people gather right behind our tent at 5:30 to set out for a hike. It would have been OK if they had been reasonably quiet but they seemed to assume since they were up everyone in the campsite must have been up. They were talking at the top of their voices and clanging the bear lockers open and close. To add to this noice we enjoyed overhearing a fight between mother and daughter in a tent just across the path from us. The girl was in crying, screaming and somehow despondent over the fact that she was expected to go for a hike. Her mother stayed calm with very subdued responses but never once said “shhh, do you realize many people are still sleeping” Of course we weren’t. You might think that this girl was 4 or 5 years old, but she was actually more like 14 or 15. Very strange.

The next people to depart at 6am was a Japanese couple in the tent right next to us. They weren’t quite as loud but seemed to enjoy telling jokes to each other in Japanese as they got set to go. Intermittent bursts of Japanese laughter kept us from falling back to sleep (yes, for some reason laughter in Japanese sounds different). Luckily the kids only caught a few moments of both these incidents and fell back asleep quickly.

We had breakfast at the general store at Curry Village and then packed up to move on from our beloved tent. We proposed another hike in the valley, but the kids were in a mellow mood and opted for a drive to Glacier Point instead.

Glacier Point is famous for the view it provides of the whole valley. The interesting thing is after a 45 minute drive we ended up at the top of the cliff just above Curry Village. It really was beautiful. You can see the river running through the valley up to Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. From that distance and height it looked like it would be an easy hike to see the two. Nevada falls is nearly twice as high as Vernal falls and we were a bit disappointed we didn’t plan a day do do the full hike. Of course it would have been a big deal for the kids (and us) because it’s about 7 mile round trip and a lot more uphill climbing.

The edge of Glacier Point looks about 2000 feet down a sheer cliff to the valley. Ryan was tempted to test out what would happen if you dropped rock or soda can down the side. It have probably ended up on top of someone’s tent at Curry Village, but we dissuaded him from testing it out.

From Glacier Point we packed up for the long drive out of Yosemite and north to San Francisco. We took route 120 out of the park and the first real town we arrived at about 90 minutes later was Groveland (which doesn’t even appear on our map). We had hotdogs for lunched and forged on. We finally got to civilization around 5pm and decided to take a break to watch a movie. We chose “Dodgeball” because it stars Ben Stiller and it looked very funny. What a mistake. The movie was crude, unfunny, and just plain stupid. Even the kids agreed.

We thought about going all the way to San Francisco Airport but about 9pm we pulled off the road and found a nice suite hotel called Candlewood Inn in Pleasanton. The best thing is it had FREE laundry. We did about 5 loads of laundry removing most traces of the Yosemite dust and Curry Village grime. That was a great feeling.

Then we fell asleep in a real bed without people talking or coughing in the next tent — that was a REAL luxury.

Biking and Vernal Falls

Work up early at Curry Village and had a quick breakfast from the general store. We rented bikes to explore the paved trails in the canyon. We had a good laugh with the goofy bikes that were available — just one gear and pedal brakes (the kind that work when you pedal backwards). But it was a lot of fun and incredible scenery.

Even with the junky equipment we completed the 12 mile loop in under two hours. Along the way we visited Mirror Lake, saw a rock cave, and got up close to a deer feeding on an apple tree. We also found the trailhead for Vernal Falls. This trail had been recommended to us by several people so we grabbed a quick lunch and then took a shuttle bus back to the beginning of the trail.

The hike up to the falls is just over 2 miles in and starts with a steep incline. Roby was expecially unenthusiastic about expending more energy, but once the waterfall came in sight, he transformed into the bionic kid and took the stairs two at a time (well, sort of). To get to the top of the falls we had to climb very steep, wet granite stairs but the mist from the waterfall spray cooled us off. It was a great feeling. The sound of the cascading water was so loud and getting close enough to feel it was amazing. Every time we felt tired, we just thought of the several people we passed who were carrying fully loaded backpacks up with them. Wow.

The all felt a surge of accomplishment and renewed energy when we reached the top and could view the waterfall looking down. It was quite a sight. The railing went RIGHT to the edge so it wasn’t for the faint of heart. We took a quick family photo to prove our efforts and went on to enjoy the refreshing pools that formed just before the waterfall–perfect for dunking heads, wading and relaxing among the huge rocks.

Our descent took about 1 hour. Having been denied the opportunity to swim the day before, we joked all day that we were going to be sure to fit it in today. Knowing the pool closed at 5:00 we felt pleased with our timing of catching the 3:15 shuttle back to Curry Village. This would give us an adequate one hour to relax, cool off, clean up (it’s very dusty at Yosemite) and be ready for the evening. At least we wouldn’t have to fight the crowds and stand in line for a shower. Guess what? Just as we were walking to our tent cabin to change into our suits we heard a roll of thunder. You can picture us running to make it but in keeping with our overall Curry Village experience, the pool closed just as we arrived. We were able to shower, write postcards, update our journal and had a nice dinner buffet at the lodge. We ended the night laughing and playing cards in our tent cabin. Ryan taught us a new game and Roby learned the art of trying to keep a poker face with Old Maid.

Hiking in Tuolumne Meadows

In the morning we made a fire with pinecones and small sticks. We got it big enough to warm us up for the day ahead.

We packed up the camping equipment and continued further out Tiogo Road — another 20 miles which takes almost an hour with all of the switchbacks in the road. We were ambitious and set the goal of seeing some waterfalls on a 9 mile hike. It didn’t take too long to realize that we may have been overly ambitious. Although the scenery was beautiful around us the trail was rather non descript and very sandy. It was hard to walk. The decision whether to continue on or turn around was made for us as Roby misjudged his jumping ability while trying to cross a stream and sunk his whole foot into the river. After some reprimanding and snitty comments back and forth, we decided to bail out and set a new objective: a huge rock just off the path was sure to give a great view of the valley, and fun to climb at the same time. After climbing that rock we another, bigger rock just beyond which we quickly set as new objective. The mood quickly turned better as we reached the summit of the huge rock and soaked in our private 360 degree vista of Tuolumne Meadows. We had our backpack lunch of bread, cheese, and turkey. We noticed some people hiking through the meadows and decided that would be a more interesting route back home. Our misfortune back at the river was rewarded with a great hike through short grass and then wading in the very cold, crystal clear river. We were a bit tentative about the route home, but heading back up into the woods we quickly reconnected with the main path.

On the way back form Tuolumne Meadows we stopped at Tuolumne Grove — one of two groves of giant Sequoias. The walk down from the road is just over a mile. Although it’s pretty, there wasn’t too much to get excited about. Then we arrived at the grove. It was really amazing to see a 270 foot tree with an 80 foot circumference. There is even an old burned out Sequoia that has a “bridge” cut through it and even more fun for the kids is an old tree the fell down and has a long tunnel running through its center that they walked through. It was impressive that the kids were up for the visit to the grove after our long hike and they were excited to see such huge trees. Ryan even took a bunch of pictures with his PDA.

We arrived at Curry Village — the one place where we have reservations on this whole trip — and were immediately discouraged to find a parking lot full of cars and huge line of people waiting to check in. It was such a dramatic contrast to a solo hike and swim in the meadow, that it was hard not to be disappointed. Curry Village sounds so quaint in the travel brochures, but in reality the crowds are more like a theme park than a national park. We were especially disappointed when we tried to go for a swim after checking in only to find out that the pool is open from 11am to 5pm (and it was 6:15). What self-respecting pool at a summer resort would close at 5pm? That prompted a new round of grumpiness that continued into our cardboard pizza dinner.

We thought a “tent cabin” would be a big step up from the hard ground, but in reality it wasn’t much. They’re packed about 3 feet apart from each other. We could hear conversation from all around and it seems that there are a lot of people with health conditions that cause odd, and disconcerting sounds of hacking and gacking. And then there are teenagers and other oddballs who like to whistle and scream in the parking lot right outside our tent. Ryan particularly liked the loud clinking of the metal plate in the parking lot as every car circled to find a space. The noise settled down around 10:30 and we enjoyed a reasonably restful night sleep. The kids crashed quickly and I think were spared exposure to the unique summer sounds of Curry Village. Even though this sounds negative, it’s impossible to adequately describe the gorgeous scenery that surrounds this village. It’s truly amazing and the weather has been perfect! We have enjoyed having something to laugh about so Curry Village it is.

Sleeping at 8000 feet

[after four days in Yosemite with NO cell phone or computer connection, we’re posting these entries on our way to San Francisco; we hope our friends and family weren’t too worried when we disappeared]

We left the beautiful Comfort Inn in Delano, California as quickly as we could get our bearings. There wasn’t much reason to hang out in Delano. There wasn’t much of a town and as far as we could tell the only reason that you’d ever go there is if you work on a farm or are otherwise being punished for some misbehavior. We had a quick breakfast at Burger King (there was no other choice) and picked up some camping supplies at K-Mart — flashlights, gatorade, and water. Our next objective was Yosemite Valley. Even though we didn’t have reservations and people have told us that summer is nearly impossible to get a spot inside the park we decided to give it a shot. Our first stop along the way was a farm stand called Valley Farms. We picked up a five pound bag of pistacchios, trail mix, some pickled okra and some dried apricots (a combination that would eventually add a unique aroma to our car travel and camping experiences).

The scenery wasn’t too exciting so we decided to brush up on vocabulary for a while with a CD. That lasted a while then we turned to more entertaining listening and put in Ellen DeGenneres’s audio CD, And the Funny Things Is…” Around noon we arrived at Oakhurst – the last town of any significant size before getting into Yosemite. We had lunch and got some cash and gas. We entered Yosemite through the southwest via Route 41. The first thing that we realized is that we significantly underestimated the size of the Park. It took another 40 minutes to get from the gate to the first view of the valley. But it was worth the wait. The view of the valley — Yosemite Falls and El Capitan in the distance was amazing. The cliffs were breathtaking, shooting up toward a clear blue sky with lush green meadows below. The landscape was so beautiful it seemed fake.

We drove a quick loop to the Yosemite lodge with the hope of getting a spot at a campsite. That didn’t pan out, but we took the opportunity to take a quick swim in the Yosemite river. It was untra cold, but a great way to punctuate our arrival. Yosemite is a very popular place for rock climbers so it added to the drama when we saw two miniscule figures clinging to the face of a high high cliff.

Eventually we had to get back to the task of figuring out where to stay. Our first attempt was to drive down route 140. We drove for nearly an hour and realized after looking at the map and the landscape that we had little or no chance of finding a spot along that route. We turned around and headed back into the park. The ranger at the entrance told us that there were several campsites that still had openings, but they are all along the north Tioga road. The trip up Tioga is beautiful and we passed the time by listening to more of Ellen. On the way up we were excited to see a bear feeding in a small meadow.

As night time approached and we were venturing further up the winding road we finally found a spot at a campground called White Wolf. This was especially lucky because we had no food and White Wolf has a small, excellent restaurant. We had a late dinner after pitching our tents. The kids had burgers and we ate rainbow trout.

The campsite was nice, but the ground was hard. We were excited to use our new camping equipment. Sue, Roby, and Cal stayed in one tent and Ryan and Rusty were in the other. As Sue was reading Stormbreaker to Roby in the tent, Roby said, “I feel like I’m dreaming.” When Sue asked why, he said, “because this is so much fun.”

At 8000 feet the night was beautiful but turned very cold just as we were falling asleep. It probably got down into the 40s at night but our down sleeping bags kept us warm.

California Adventure

Rusty had a day of appointments in Century City and Santa Monica so Sue took the boys to Disneyland. We started our day with breakfast at the hotel. Roby said “I love hotel food…you can just go and get whatever you want.” The buffet was nice and everyone was hungry after a long sleep. No jet lag as we expected. Then they wanted to try out the pool. They had a quick swim and hot tub and we got ready for the 9:30 shuttle to Disneyland.

The original Disneyland is a smaller version of what we had experienced in Florida and Space Mountain wasn’t working. We decided to spend the day at the adjoining California Adventure Park instead, which seemed to have more to offer kids their age. It worked out great: The weather was ideal, the crowds manageable and we had time to repeat the few rides we liked the best. The favorite attractions were Grizzly River Run (boy did we get soaked!) and California Screamin’, a roller coaster that Ryan, Roby and I loved but it wasn’t for Cal. He was a good sport and agreed to try Hollywood Tower of Terror (dramtic elevator drops) and the Sun Wheel (a freaky ferris wheel ride over the water). We packed in a lot of fun and caught the 7:00 shuttle back to the hotel.l We were so cold and wet from the River Run we jumped in the hot tub and soon Rusty met up with us. Poor guy, he spent two hours in LA traffic trying to get back to the hotel.

The day was capped with a great meal at a local Chinese restaurant and mellowing out in the room.

Welcome to LA!


The flight was really long. We watched the movie “Miracle”, avoided the bad beef lunch — with creamed spinach! We enjoyed a short nap with mom’s newly purchased spongy pillows (thank you GranJan).

After arriving at the airport we headed to Hertz for our rental car. We debated for while about getting a Cadillac Escalade — at a special rate — but it turned out to be too small. We ended up with a Expedition with a GPS navigation system.

On the way from the airport to the highway we just happened to see West Coast Customs a shop famous for souping up cars. The kids were thrilled. We stopped to see 50 Cent’s Hummer H2 and Tony Gywen’s light blue Cadillac Escalade. We got to meet the owner, “Q” and he was really nice. He posed for this picture with the kids and autographed a brochure of rims.

We settled into Embassy Suites in Buena Park and had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Now it’s time for bed!