By 23991 David Chee (RMC 2008)
There are vacations, and then there are road trips. In a typical vacation, the journey is short, and lacks spontaneity. Elements of challenge and adventure are absent. The path less traveled is not taken, and risks are avoided. A road trip, by contrast, is a journey of uncertainties. It involves leaving your comfort zone and flying by the seat of your pants. It goes against the grain.
This past summer, 24074 John Im (RMC 2008) and I spent the month of July traveling across western North America on what can only be described as the ultimate road trip. As outdoors enthusiasts, we were more interested in exploring the mountains, forests, and deserts of the continent, rather than wandering around the urban sprawl of the cities. We cooked our own food, surfed the ocean, squeezed in Cross-Fit workouts whenever possible, and took the time to enjoy the natural wonders of North America. There was no GPS, and (almost) no hotels. We spent our time in the wilderness camping out underneath the stars, took refuge in the hospitality that was offered to us, and tamed the jungles of Las Vegas (A road trip becomes the ultimate road trip with a stop at Vegas).
The 11,000-km journey extended across two provinces, and seven American states. The trip began in Edmonton, continuing through the Canadian Rockies to Vancouver. We then followed U.S. Route 101 from Seattle, Wash., south along the entire U.S. Pacific Coast. Scaling giant sand dunes in Oregon, to catching waves on the rough and rocky Malibu coast, we definitely had our fill of (mis)adventure. Driving along the Oregon coast is riveting, the curves are tight, the cliffs are steep and deadly, and the ocean is endless. We arrived at our destination just north of Reedsport, Ore., in the evening, with a few hours of daylight to spare. Not knowing much about sand dunes, we drove onto a sandy cliff, and disembarked for dune exploration. Unfortunately, shorts and a t-shirt didn’t offer much protection against the howling 30 knot winds, and we were tamed by the stinging blasts of sand. The next day we stopped at the world’s largest sea lion cave, and returned back to the dunes. This time, we arrived prepared. With sand protection, goggles, and of course a dune buggy, we subsequently tamed the dunes.
The Redwood Forest, near California’s border with Oregon, contains the largest collection of redwood trees in the world. Not only are the trees very old, they are gigantic and surrounded by lush vegetation. The giant ferns, and abundant wildlife make the Redwood Forest seem like it belongs in Jurassic Park. Lt. Im and I quenched our thirst for fitness here, Cross-Fitting on ancient tree stumps for box jumps, tree branches for chin-ups, and running along the meandering forest trails. In this oxygen rich environment, novice athletes will have no trouble, and experienced athletes will feel bulletproof.
We proceeded east to Lassen Volcanic Park, which is peppered with hydrothermal and geothermal features, making it one of the most unique places in North America. From sulfur springs to mud pots, and lava beds, there is no shortage of interesting things to see. We found a good way to experience the park is by running one of the mountain trails. Parking the car at the visitor centre, we laced up a good pair of sneakers, and jogged the trail down to Bumpass Hell. Travel on the trail is actually not recommended; a slip off the side of the cliff could prove fatal. The slippery snow covered trail descends down semi-mountainous terrain, around giant boulders, and snakes through a forest of pine trees, to one of the main highlights of the park – Bumpass Hell. It contains many thermal vents, steaming pools of water, and colourful patches of mineral stained snow.
We left Lassen, Calif., following a winding two lane highway through the ranges of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, towards the Mojave desert. Our next destination was the hottest and lowest point in North America, the Badwater basin of Death Valley. After gassing up at a small outpost in Jawbone Canyon, Calif., we set off to explore some of the 13,628-sq km park. Taking extra gas and a plentiful supply of water, it took two full days. We drove from Panamint Springs, on the western edge of the park, to Stovepipe Wells, via the remote backcountry desert trails. During the day, the sun-scorched terrain of Death Valley is extremely harsh, but it offers a great number of places to explore. We found hidden caves along the Armagosa Mountain range, and walked across superheated salt flats. At night, the park transformed itself into a completely different world. Cottontail rabbits, rattlesnakes, and scorpions are just a few of the many creatures that emerge under the cover of darkness. With not a drop of water left, needless to say, Death Valley kept us busy and exhausted enough to skip the Cross-Fit of the day. Making our way back to Highway 101, we continued to San Diego, Calif., the southern most extent of the road trip. Precluded from crossing the border into Mexico, we turned east, driving across Arizona’s Sonora desert, and through Navajo country in New Mexico. Setting our sights north to Alberta, we traversed the Great Plains in Colorado, and crossed the empty Wyoming countryside on our way back home. At many instances throughout the road trip, I couldn’t help but consider the hardships endured by the early explorers such as Capt. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, during the Corps of Discovery. On their mission of exploration, they, too, at times must have felt insignificant alongside some of the most awe-inspiring places on the continent.
California’s national parks are fantastic places to explore, camp out, and enjoy nature. The Pacific Northwest offers similar opportunities to satisfy the outdoorsman’s hunger for adventure. Next year, if you have difficulty deciding how to spend block leave, consider embarking on a road trip. This means going off the grid. Leave the big city comforts and convenience behind, take a few emergency rations, leave an itinerary in the hands of someone trustworthy, and journey into the rugged, unpredictable, and breathtaking wilderness of North America.
2x Digital Cameras
1x Disposable Camera (MIA)
1x Sea Lion
1x Off-road Tire
1x Cottontail Rabbit
1x Kit Fox
1x Awesome Road Trip