"The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
- Mark Twain
Any regular reader of this column knows that I preach the importance of flexibility whenever you're on the road, whether vacationing or conducting business.
When things go awry, oftentimes the only grasp on sanity is to "pivot" with the circumstances and work hard to make the best of a bad situation, changing what is changeable, and accepting those things that are not.
My wife and I have had an...interesting...year so far. Multiple hiccups and other challenges have come our way, and we're pivoting rapidly in ways that would endear us to our former peers in the ballroom dance community.
|THE SIERRA NEVADA|
A few weeks ago, a trip to Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park -- to celebrate a recent positive development regarding my wife's health, as well as escaping construction chaos at our home -- turned rapidly, stubbornly and inescapably and into the proverbial Vacation From Hell.
- Our vehicle of choice for extended road trips is my wife's 2013 Hyundai Tucson SUV. It's a comfortable car which has seen us to Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Sedona, and Monument Valley to name just a few. It gets great mileage, has an AC that works well in temp-challenged environments, and -- as noted -- has seats which allow you to sit for extended periods of time without undue pain.
The Tucson unfortunately suffered an important malfunction on the day we were to drive out, necessitating a quick delivery of it to the dealer and the substitution of my little red sports car for the voyage, a Hyundai Genesis Coupe -- which is not suited to long drives (foreshadowing of things to come).
- Day one involved a drive to Lee Vining, a mountain community on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, directly adjacent to Mono Lake. Upon arrival, my wife immediately succumbed to altitude sickness -- Lee Vining is at 6800' -- and felt ill. Not truly "down for the count", but achy and nauseous. Just the sort of thing you want when you're on vacation.
I left her only long enough to drive my little sports car down a gravel road (more foreshadowing) to shoot the limestone tufas the lake is famous for. It's a fascinating area and we'd planned on spending a half day in the area exploring the lake and various tufa stands -- I'm attracted to otherworldly sorts of environments and the lake has been on my extended photography target list for more than a decade.
Knowing, however, that she wouldn't really feel better we elected to head out in search of lower grounds -- or at least keep the physical activity to a minimum until she became accustomed to the mountainous area's thinner air.
- Next day we headed for Lake Tahoe -- periodically pulling off onto gravelly sidings for photographs of the spectacular Sierra Nevada; the occasional stream; or barn; or cow -- and checked into our resort.
We dropped off our luggage and proceeded down the hill to Lake Tahoe, which was seething with tourists. Seething. Went back to the resort, discovering it was a full 1100 feet higher than Tahoe -- and Lee Vining for that matter -- kicking in a second round of her altitude sickness.
(My wife previously could go as high as 7000' without much ado, but her recent bout of Doctorus Encounterie, i.e. "health problems", seems to have lowered that....)
Things compounded from there when her altitude sickness was made all the worse by the discovery that
A) Our resort had no air conditioning (none).
And B), We were on the afternoon-sun side of the building. By 7pm our little room was a balmy 90+ degrees.
Several Front Desk pleas for mercy and one hostage situation later we were moved to a considerably cooler East-facing room, which was fine until 10am the next day when we hit the mid-80s.
(I won't discuss the absolute short-sightedness the original designers must have had by not including AC in the resort's design. Unforgivable for any complex willingly hosting a Summer clientele, regardless of the locale.)
So we decided a nice drive around the lake was in order...which would have been delightful had there been a single -- just one! -- parking space available in any of the large number of potential lake-viewing areas. But, in the more than hourlong circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe, not a one was to be had, and in fact cars were lined up along both sides of the road in multiple locations when parking lots were saturated. Illegally. Tourists. Weekenders from Sacto, Frisco and Reno. Others who imagined a trip to Tahoe was a requisite plan for the weekend.
(Admittedly, it was my error for not considering that the weekend before was a holiday, meaning families might have opted for a vacation in the shortened work week.)
Back to the room, then out to dinner.
At dinner the decision is made -- we being constant and rather experienced travelers -- to change plans, admit defeat and flee Tahoe in search of quieter and more enjoyable demesnes.
To California's famous Gold Country. Wine tasting, country drives, small towns, and a place we'd yet to go. From there we would be just a few hours away from the prize destination of the trip: Yosemite!!!
(I have never been to Yosemite, despite living in California for some forty years. One previous attempt was stillborn as we encountered the last major snow to hit the Sierras in two decades, forcing us to turn back.)
- Checked out, accepting the profuse apologies from the desk staff regarding the AC situation (turns out it's a decade old ski resort which, apparently, hadn't planned on opening outside ski season). Drove steadily downhill as my wife slowly regained her "not nauseous" state of mind..er, stomach.
- Stopped in Placerville for a customary breakfast at a cool little place called the Cozmic Cafe, a neat-o keen little munch place we'd visited on a previous drive up to Lake Tahoe from Sacramento airport.
I had a vegetarian omelette. My wife had a fruit bowl which, from all appearances, had been made by stripping several large farms of their entire blueberry, strawberry, melon and blackberry crops. Christ it was big. A dainty dollop of whipped cream sat atop this flagon of fruit, as if to hide the bushel of produce below.
(The coffee was excellent, just so that little fact is not lost in the conversation.)
As we sat eating I looked over at a wall of local-artisan works. Befitting the Cozmic Cafe, the theme of one artist was indeed "out-of-this-world" in a good way. Really talented, and three of his pieces caught my eye. My wife excused herself at an opportune time to visit the loo, and as she was gone I crept over to the wall, hoping against hope that the cost of one of the littler alien portraits would be within the capacity of my moth-eaten wallet.
Shockingly the sign said "One for $7, two for $10". I splurged, snagging two of the little beasties (sized 5"x5") for an as-yet-to-be-determined wall back home.
In conversation with the cashier as we made good on the bill I found that the artist had actually just been in and just down the street at his gallery. (I had photographed the interior of the Cafe and subsequently discovered the artist was, indeed, in two of the shots.)
Not being on a tight schedule -- or any schedule at all at this point -- we went down to his gallery and visited with him. Again I splurged, purchasing a far more decadent 12" x 36" print for the lofty charge of $45.
(His website: Zac Pangborn)
I'll hop forward a day here, since the only item of interest in the interim was a cute little shop with garden decorations and other tchotchkes owned by a woman who wants to carry Cris' CDs in her shop. Oh, and a cute little ice cream and candy store in Sutter Creek. Well, then the cheese shop. And the wonderful meatballs and spagett...ah, but I digress.
Day two in Sutter Creek I awoke in agony.
The entirety of my lower back -- (insert foreshadowing payoff #1 here) saddled with an uncomfortable sports-car driver's seat endurance test of, at that point, roughly 800 miles PLUS the work of loading and unloading luggage from selfsame automobile's "you wanna put luggage in here???"-sized trunk -- seized up and began a series of spasms which would have the nearby town of San Andreas' fault quaking with envy.
I was, quite literally, unable to do much more than fall out of bed and muscle my way to a standing position using the nightstand, the bed and a groggy wife as my support system. I freebased vicodin, which had zero effect. A couple hours later, down went four Advil (which claims a muscle relaxant). Nada.
After a few frantic calls a local chiropractor agreed to beat upon me for an hour, attaching electrical probes to shoot me full of voltage for twenty minutes along with the bending, stretching and popping of bones -- which enabled me to get carefully back to the car and reach the very unhappy decision that, for the second time around, Yosemite was going to be beyond our reach. Or my pain tolerance, at least.
The rest of that day w drove a little further down the road -- my wife behind the wheel as I desperately tried to keep from using language which would upset even a seasoned sailor every time we encountered a pothole, or turn, or breeze from a hummingbird's wings.
And so we drove the six hours to Long Beach, fighting country roads and Los Angeles freeway traffic.
Finally and uncomfortably home, a day early, we discovered that progress on the remodel had continued unabated, even by weekends, meaning that the wall of our bedroom and also the wall of our kitchen, had been breeched and replaced with an artsy combination of studs and plywood.
In our absence, the person we had watching the house and our dog had little choice but to completely empty the contents of the pantry -- which is being temporarily displaced by the remodel -- onto the dining room table. In the bedroom he was forced to disconnect and move the television in the bedroom onto the floor of the other bedroom. And, finally, act as therapist for a by-now seriously disconcerted Dalmatian dog, who was deeply upset at the chaos around his previously warm and relaxing house and yard.
Therein lies the tale of the vacation from Hell.
What's that? The second portent/foreshadowing mentioned above? Oh, yes. The gravelly roads and sidings. About that.
After visiting my own chiro and finally getting relief from the torture rack my back had become, I dropped my car off at our friendly dealership, retrieving the now perfectly functioning Tucson, and leaving the overburdened coupe for a well-deserved wash, oil change and maintenance work.
A few hours later we receive a phone call from the service manager (who we have unfortunately gotten to know quite well over the last six months) (another story for another time).
He's not wanting to tell me something...never a good sign when it's a mechanic on the phone. He hems and haws, telling me they finished the oil change, replaced this filter and that filter, adjusted something which needed adjusting and....here his voice takes on an "I don't want to tell you this" tone.
It seems that all four of my tires were well past their freshness date. In fact, said he, it looked like some of the damage to the tires looked like something sharp might have shredded them down to the steel on the inside track, which was extraordinarily dangerous.
He mentioned specifically that driving in mountain roads had been much more of a risk than we might have thought. Had I, possibly, been driving on gravel or rocks recently? (Uh, oh!) He paused.
"Yeah, upshot is it's going to cost $1200 to replace all four of them. And it has to be done...these are dangerously unsafe, Mr Barber. Will that be check or credit card?"