Embarrassing America, Pt. 2: Pacific Coastal Highway and Yosemite National Park

Part One of my road trip was getting from Chicago to LA, which was an adventure. The next part of my trip was even more adventurous, which I didn’t think was possible. Man, I was wrong.

We drove up to northern California via the Pacific Coast Highway, which was GORGEOUS. I thought we were going to die a couple of times (man, those road were narrow, winding, and didn’t have guard rails sometimes,) but we made it. It was breathtaking, seeing the biggest ocean stretching out past the horizon. I felt so small, but that feeling was welcome. I loved every moment.

I also fell asleep after a while. Because it is me, and that’s what I do for some reason?

The PCH was really, really, long. I thought it would never end, but we did get to our goal, which was the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I’ve always wanted to see it, which may be a little silly because it’s a bridge, but still. It was really awesome, and I’m glad the evening was clear and not ruined by the infamous smog.

We were such tourists. It was great.

I think one of the most special things about the PCH was what was waiting at the end of it. After years and years I finally got to see my friend Amanda, who lives in northern California in the middle of nowhere. However, the middle of nowhere still had a Denny’s, and after being in the car for over 15 hours, it was much needed.

Nothing says “desperate road-trippers” quite like a Denny’s. I feel like Denny’s isn’t a place you choose to go. You just kind of end up there with everyone else who is questioning their life choices.

We stayed the night at Amanda’s place, and before we left in the morning I took Amanda’s portrait for a project. We set up a VERY impromptu studio in her bedroom, and while she was getting ready for her close up, I was testing the lights on Sean and Dana. We had a little bit of fun, shenanigans happened, and even though it isn’t the most professional or well done studio portraiture, my heart is warm looking at these goofy picture.

Especially Sean and his coffee mug.

After a heartfelt goodbye and hugs, we set off to Yosemite National Park. I actually stayed awake for this portion of the trip– I really did– and it was worth it. I have hardly seen a place so gorgeous. We got there before dusk and stopped along the road to take photos, because like I mentioned before, we were SUCH tourists, and we got to the camp ground we were planning on staying at, only to find it was full.

Whoopsie daisy.

If there is anything I have learned on my travels, it is to go with the flow. So, even though we couldn’t set up camp, I figured out what we needed to do, which was show up at the campground at 4AM the next day to wait in line for a spot. After we figured that much info out, we needed a place to stay for the night. I figured worse case scenario we’d sleep in the car at some random gas station, but thankfully it didn’t come to that. We camped in an RV park and ate PB&J sandwiches for dinner. We’re the real winners.

We got our camp ground (which was Camp 4, if you’re wondering– one of the few campground in Yosemite where you don’t need to make a reservation like 6 months in advance,) and we did a short, easy hike to Mirror Lake. It was a pretty little hike, and it was nice being under El Capitan. It was a good start to our time, even if I did find a pair of underwear in the middle of the road.

Since we were only there for a couple days, we did two larger hikes. The first one was to Upper Yosemite Falls, and the next day we hiked up to Glacier Point.

Confession: I am grossly out of shape and I am still wondering how on earth I made it up either of those mountains.

Hiking up Upper Yosemite made me hate these words: dozens of switchbacks. I thought my thighs were going to detach themselves from my body and jump off a cliff. I have no idea how we made it up, but I’m glad we did because the views were breathtaking. It was easily one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my entire life.

I even had a moment to sit alone and take it all in. I may have sang a little hymn. It is those moments that I live for.

When we woke up the next morning to hike up to Glacier Point, I didn’t think I was going to make it. My body hurt so bad. I could almost hear my knees whispering “go to hell.” But, through sheer willpower, stubbornness, and lots of breaks, Sean, Dana, and I made it up that damn mountain.

Shout out to Dana for demanding breaks I was being too stubborn to ask for. And shout out to Sean for taking those breaks, even though he was fine.

So Yosemite was the bomb diggity and all that jazz. 10/10 highly recommend. I wanna go back and hike up Half Dome– and next time I go, I will be in much better shape so I can accomplish that.

I think one of the best parts of Yosemite was channeling my inner Ansel Adams and Sierra Club. Shout out to my home boy Ansel.

Then, we went off to Glacier National Park, and man, that was an adventure…

An adventure I’ll write about next time. Until then, safe travels and happy shooting!

Embarrassing America, Pt. 1: From Chicago to LA

I finished my first year of graduate school at 2AM in a Las Vegas hotel room.

But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

For about two years now, some of my friends and I have been talking and planning on a cross country road trip. It finally happened and it was surreal and awesome and wow.

To begin, my friend Sean lives in Virginia, and he drove his ol’ reliable VW Rabbit to Chicago to pick me up. The next leg for him (and the start of the journey for me,) was to voyage across dubious Iowa and the way-too-large-and-empty state of Nebraska, to Denver, Colorado.

Seriously, Nebraska was awful. I’m sorry if you live there. The only redeeming thing about Nebraska was the plethora of bABY COWS. They were the cutest little things with their little legs. Good job, Nebraska, on the cute cows.

The next leg was Denver to Vegas. The mountains in Colorado were gorgeous and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve been to the Rockies before, but those were in July. There was still snow on these mountains. It felt like a dream.

It was so dreamy I fell asleep. But not after Sean and I delivered an excellent rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High”.

I woke up when we were out of the mountains and I did what any reasonable person would do at 9AM: find the nearest Starbucks. I’m glad we found one, because we then got into Utah and I thought we were gonna die. It was some The Hills Have Eyes vibes, man. No gas stations, no food, no people. The day before I had thought Nebraska was the worst. But I was wrong.

Until about halfway through Utah, when we started seeing canyons and such. Then it wasn’t so bad. Good on you, Utah. You’re a useless state until you get to the middle/western side. Then you’re alright, I guess.

I also almost got in a stranger’s vehicle. My bad. #swag

If you’re ever traveling through Utah, fill up your gas tank or you might end up on the side of the road. And, if Utah is a horror movie, you know how badly that might end up.

We eventually got to Vegas, where we checked into our super classy hotel, Circus Circus. I’m telling you, that is one swanky place. But Sean and I walked down the strip and endured the usual Vegas debauchery, were dog tired, and went back to the hotel around midnight. And that is when I finished my graduate school research paper… At two am, in one of the biggest party cities in the world. If that’s not a good way to end your first year of graduate school, I don’t know what is.

We got up in the morning and went to a tacky gift shop, then promptly left for Los Angeles, where we were meeting our friend, Dana. We spent a few days in LA, which were incredible. We went to Mt. Hollywood and checked out the observatory, which I HIGHLY recommend if you’re into space and such. My fellow nerds and I love space, so we spent some time there playing with the telescopes and reading about radio waves and all that jazz.

We also visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was pretty neat and touristy, which is what I like. I am not ashamed to admit how kitschy I am. I embrace it. Which is probably why I enjoyed our other destination, Santa Monica Pier. I LOVED IT. It was everything tacky and more.

On our last day in the LA area, we went to Laguna Beach. Now, I’m from the Midwest, where 70 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t beach weather. It’s just chilly enough to hate yourself. However, in SoCal, it’s fine. I went into the Pacific Ocean, expecting to die of hypothermia, but in two minutes I got used to the water and was having a blast getting slammed by big ocean waves. It was great. Bless you, California.

We went adventuring on the rocks and I got to see tide pools– which made my life. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a child, so seeing tide pools for the first time made me giddy like a child. I thankfully had my waterproof camera with me, so I snapped some photos of the tide pools. The little hermit crabs were AWESOME and I even saw an anemone. It was my favorite part of the trip so far, climbing on rocks with my best friend and experiencing a piece of nature I had only ever read about.

I did have some issues. The camera was a cheap point-and-shoot in a waterproof housing, so the focus was all off. And, for some reason, the film was discolored. I was a little bummed at first, but I think I like the out-of-focus dreamy look some of these have.

Little did I know that my journey was going to continue to impress me, as we drove up the Pacific Coastal Highway, through San Francisco, and onward to Yosemite. I’ll tell you lovely readers all about that part of my adventure in my next blog post!

Until then, safe travels and happy shooting!