During July of 2017 my mum and I took a trip to visit old friends in Santa Barbara, California, whom my mum knew from working in a lab at the university during her twenties. It was therefore almost inevitable that when their daughter Molly and I were born within three months of each other that we would become friends; and we’ve been exchanging letters for almost a decade. Circumstances worked out so that the only time we could all go and meet up was the day after DofE so, arriving home exhausted from the expedition, we had to spend the evening frantically packing for our early flight the next morning.
Comparatively, the flight was quite relaxing, and I was glad of a long sit down after hiking the previous few days; however, the drive to Santa Barbara was a completely different story – it seemed to take forever, as the traffic was awful – next time I have decided to try the train!
The next day was the 4th of July and after spending the day with Molly cycling and catching up we made our way to the Santa Barbara beach fireworks celebration. Since Molly works during weekends at the local aquarium we attended the party there, and got a pretty special view of the gorgeous fireworks – not to mention the fascinating marine wildlife. The party was what they called a ‘pot-luck’ meaning everybody donated a dish to the table. Therefore, Mum and I taught Molly and her Mum Libby how to make a plum crumble. This was a new pudding for them but I think they enjoyed it.
Our trip to Yosemite National Park began the next day, a six-hour drive with a fantastic stop in a town called Hanford, home to the Superior Dairy (a place that serves delicious ice cream in portions bigger than your head) which was amazing! I had chocolate chip with hot fudge sauce. We then spent 3 days camping and hiking in Yosemite Valley. There were so many beautiful sites to be seen, especially the hikes up to the enormous waterfalls and the bears that roam the forest. I also learned quite a bit of geology whilst we were there, given that all three adults on the trip were geologists, so now I can spot a glacial striation miles away. One my favourite aspects of the trip was our visit to Yosemite village where Molly and I explored the Ansel Adams photography museum and bookshop (I bought a lot of postcards!)
The second part of our camping adventure was the hike up to May Lake, a high Sierra camp that due to snowfall had been closed for the summer. We did however, manage to obtain wilderness passes for the campsite where we stayed for two nights. All around us was snow, and we camped on the bank of a huge frozen lake with pretty much only a marmot – named marmite- for company. When hiking Libby would often bring out some wonderful snacks from her rucksack and whenever we asked, “ooh where did you get that” the answer was always, “Trader Joe’s”. We could only wonder what sort of miraculous emporium Trader Joe’s was! Up here we entertained ourselves by climbing the peaks surrounding the lake and playing endless games of Shanghai Rummy, and this ended up being one of my favourite memories from the trip.
Contrastingly, our next night was spent camping tentless under the stars in the desert at Alabama Hills campsite, one valley west of Death Valley, facing the abrupt slopes of the eastern Sierra Nevada. As the sun set behind the jagged edge of Mt Whitney we bedded down in our sleeping bags and listened out for coyotes, but could only hear the buzzing of obscure insects. It was wonderful but tinged with sadness as we knew we were on our way home.
Finally, on July 9th we headed back to Santa Barbara to spend our last few days at the beach and exploring the town; a great part of those last few days was swimming in the Pacific and soaking up some sun at the beach, as well as exploring some local tourist attractions like The Ronald Reagan and Moxi museums, and of course Trader Joe’s.
Since returning home, California has experienced both terrible forest fires and mudslides, from which over 15 people have lost their lives and many more injured. I am extremely grateful to be able to say that Molly and her family are OK and my heart goes out to anybody who has been involved in the tragedy.