After having somehow dodged a lethal Arizona heatwave and emerging from the Grand Canyon unscathed despite the Park Service’s ominous warnings of the not unlikely occurrence of death, Mike, Johnny and I rested one night at a campground on the South Rim before beginning the last leg of our trip together. About 8 hours separated us from San Diego and the accompanying promise of civilization, water, sunny beaches and limitless wi-fi. We spent three days there exploring Old-Town, body surfing and playing frisbee on Pacific and Mission beaches while turning varying shades of crispy red and brown, and generally recuperating from the fast-paced journey we’d just undertaken. Sadly Mike is a mature and responsible adult with a job to match, so his tenure with our adventure had to come to an end. In the wee hours of the morning of the fourth day I took him to the San Diego airport and we said our farewells. Johnny and I were on our own for the next mostly unplanned two weeks to find adventures where we would between San Diego and Seattle.

Our imaginations ensnared by tales praising its world-renowned beauty, we headed up the Pacific Coast Highway for a couple hours before getting sick of stop and go traffic in a string of congested resort towns. The towns were cute and all, but we hardly saw the ocean from the road, and after a while the point had been sufficiently driven home. As far as I was concerned from my stationary vantage point beneath yet another traffic light, coastal SoCal, like San Diego, seemed to be comprised of an anomalous but predictably high concentration of beautiful, minimally clothed people braving frustratingly crowded roadways to enjoy nice weather, pretty beaches, and other pretty beachgoers. As we wouldn’t be joining them on the beaches that day, it wasn’t worth the traffic. While eating a lunch of ham and a $1.00/1120 calorie Walmart loaf, we watched some surfers navigate waves crashing against painfully sharp looking rocks below a roadside cliff. I took one last dip in the Pacific at a small inlet nearby, and we ditched the crowds. Maybe it’s the northern portion of the highway that earned it such great renown.

We turned inland toward Sacramento, where we met up with my old AmeriCorps team leader Shane and her friend Shannon for lunch at Taco Bell (which surprisingly enough and despite its reputation has produced the least gastrointestinal distress of any of the fast food joints I’ve visited in recent memory). It was a very short visit but it was great to see her again in the diaspora, like concrete proof that the scattered graduates of AmeriCorps Class 23 do indeed still exist and whose lives testify that AmeriCorps actually happened. The experience was so different from normal life that once removed from the locales and people of which it was comprised, it can seem unreal sometimes.

This second half of our trip was almost entirely unplanned until it was begun, which makes the experience a bit more hectic and requires no small time commitment to find places to go, things to see, and reasonable places to sleep while on the road. But the trade off is that you have nowhere to be at any pre-planned time and so can afford to hit the brakes and pull over for something cool you find on the road. After leaving Sacramento we continued north on the way to our campground that night, and we happened to pass by Whiskeytown Lake. When the sparkling blue water appeared suddenly through a break in the treeline I stomped on the brakes and we stopped for a swim.

We had the place just about to ourselves for an hour or so, wading in the cool, clear water and watching some kind of hawk dive for fish in the afternoon sun. I wish I was a better swimmer, or at least not so afraid of imaginary monsters waiting to lunge out of deep, dark water and chomp off something important from below. It would have been nice to swim out to one of the islands on the lake. But alas, I am a terrestrial creature with terrestrial fears, and I sink like the rocks upon which I usually prefer to roam. We contented ourselves with lounging on some half submerged boulders a little off the shore, tossing rocks deeper into the lake, and watching our hawk plunge in and out of the pristine water glittering with the light of the sinking California sun.

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