July 15, 1998

The time has come to begin the third leg of my journey. Of course, it comes one day later than expected, as I had to stay an extra night to repair an oil leak and replace my canvas bag's strap which broke on my original departure day. The trip up I-5 is cool and pleasant, as it hugs the coast until Los Angeles. Twenty miles outside of LA I begin to notice an unpleasant odor. It gets worse the closer I get to LA. The city stinks. I can't put it more nicely. I notice a change in attitudes as well. Where in San Diego the drivers are courteous, in LA you're in the way. The roads are also even worse than they are elsewhere in California (the roads really aren't too good - only Louisana had worse roads). I stop for gas in LA, and I'm glad I pass through here during the day.

Outside of LA on I-5 I run into heat. I mean HEAT. At the base of the Saugus Canyon it is close to desert and I am reminded abruptly that the rest of the country, LA included, is still having a sumer, in contrast to the perpetual spring of San Diego (I really liked SD). The Saugus Mountains are smooth ripples on the surface of the earth, like a giant slumbering under a blanket. It is cooler in the mountains, but on the other side I enter what is known as Central Valley. Somehow it escaped my knowledge that the center region of California is a huge desert. Perhaps it is the images of Sequoia and Yosemite and the Northern California forest ranges, or maybe the perpetual pleasantness of the weather along the coast, but the real California is a harsh, merciless desert. It is also the most fertile area in the entire country. Long ago, the government invested in a massive canal and reservoir project (watch "Cadillac City" on PBS the next time you can) that has paid off hundreds of times over. The ground is grey, even black, and this layer extends several inches deep (I couldn't see anything below it in the ditches). The canals provide the water, and the soil provides the nutrients. Together, in the middle of an expansive desert that will melt your skin, they combine to form a multi-billion dollar produce industry.

I couldn't help but realize that this is the real California. Los Angeles is nothing more than La-La Land, completely removed from the realities of the rest of the state. The rest of California is not surfer dudes, boob jobs, and enema shops. It is hard working, good natured people. It is too bad that the flamboyance and substanceless existence (or substance abuse) of La-La Land is what most people outside of this great state believe.

I also couldn't help but realize that it is hot as hell out here. The vast green farmlands generate tremendous amounts of humidity, in spite of the desert, and the sun can really turn up the wick from time to time. I pass through Bakersfield and it is a 105F. I try not to stop too often becuase as soon as I do the solar microwave over my head begins to fry my skin. Even with regular application of spf 15 suntan lotion I am seeing small bumps rising on my skin.

Tulare really isn't much, but I thought I'd mention that the tradition of American Graffitti and hot rodding is still alive here. It is exciting to see the lowered coupes and tricked out trucks that drive through the town. If you go to Sequoia, and enjoy a slammed and cammed ride, make sure you come through here.

Ah, Sequoia. The climb into the Forest brings the temperature down to comfortable levels. Just past the entrance to the south end of the park, I look up and see towering mountain peaks with grey-white tops. Snow? No way. It's the middle of July. Well, I'll see soon enough and I begin the slow but steady road up into the heart of the Forest.

I must say that my first sight of a Giant Sequoia stunned me. These aren't trees, they're God's toothpicks. They are clearly the kings of this majestic growth. I have always enjoyed the regality of a vast magical forest, from the ones in literature so well described by J. R. R. Tolkien in "The Hobbit" and "The Lord Of The Rings" and Stephen Donaldson in "The Ill-Earth War" book from the "Chronicles Of Thomas Covenent" series to the ones in music like "The Trees" by Rush. Sequoia National Forest brings the imagery to life, and equals the best of our imaginations. They are grand trees, towering over their minion pines and firs. They have nooks and crannies in them that a grown person can stand in with ease. Fires have left some scars, but what is death to ordinary trees is a mere inconvenience to a Giant Sequoia.

I climb higher into the park, and find something really surprising. No, the peaks I saw are not snow and ice (they are actually huge stones), but above 7,000 ft there are large chunks of snow and ice underneath trees and in ditches and gulleys. and occasionally alongside creeks which they feed with their melting (and are bitterly cold to pass over). I have to stop and put on my blue jean jacket because as the sun sinks it is growing quite cold. The first several campsites are full, so I have no choice but to press on. I end up doing most of the journey through the Forest before stopping, but it is worth it. Deer, rabbits, hawks and others are present for my viewing pleasure. The Forest is spectacular, with a Giant for every 20 or 30 ordinary trees. I pass General Sherman tree, but I refuse to stop (I am, after all, a Southern Gentleman). I finally stop at Stony Creek and set up for the night. I talk to the campsite host, who tells me he'll take my money in the morning because today is his day off. It begins to get down right cold as the sun sets behind the mountains and daylight fades.

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