In less than the time required to catch up on a few Game of Thrones episodes, I went from my house to the location in the photo above. Sadly, this is the first time I've ever been there. Here are my thoughts on why it's worth getting off the couch and onto the road (or trail).
I live in San Francisco and I work in the tech industry. 8-5 schedules and sub-300 email days are non-existent. There is no off switch. My brain and attention are engaged constantly and, I realistically look at some form of lcd screen for 14+ hours a day. This is not sustainable without some method of decompressing.
Lately my attempts to decompress have become more "anti-work" than anything else. Binge watching Netflix, laying in bed until noon, swiping aimlessly on Tinder, etc. Basically, anything that involved no real thought or engagement. Fun wasn't really a firm criteria.
Recently I turned 29 and, like many facing the reality of entering the next phase of their life, I did some thinking. I realized that doing nothing as method of relaxing accomplished just that: nothing. This somewhat obvious realization finally clicked in my brain. Exploring new places, activities or events, regardless of the physical or mental intensity, revive and refresh me far better than any lethargic weekend at home.
With that in mind, I've decided to make the change. Go more. Do More.
I've been around 4x4's and offroad trails since I was kid, but I've never been an "offroader". Three of my more recent cars were a Lotus Elise, '67 Camaro and 328i coupe. Not exactly rock crawlers. In December, I decided to change things up. As a frequent visitor to Tahoe, I wanted a vehicle that could get me and my gear up to the mountain regardless of weather. For me, a 4wd 4Runner was the easy choice. I've loved and owned (2wd) 4runners before and in my opinion they are a perfect balance of size, reliability, and affordability.
I found a 2012 SR5 with 54,000 miles on it and my adventure machine was purchased. Completely stock and cleaner than Betty White's rap sheet, she was perfect. Now, after 5 months of ownership, I finally put her to good use.
175 miles north of San Francisco there is a small state park named "Sinkyone Wilderness State Park". Funny name, awesome place. I discovered it in Guide to California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails (on Amazon). Beyond the north edge of Sinkyone is another beautiful place, King Range National Conservation Area. Continue back inland and you will arrive at the famous Humboldt Redwood State Park. I spent 26 amazing hours driving through these three places and learned a few lessons along the way.
Lesson 1: Weather is Unpredictable
I love the outdoors, but I am not an Eagle Scout. My camping experience in general is limited, and my California beach camping experience is zero. However, I've always wanted to camp on the beach and the protected cove at Usal Beach looked like the perfect opportunity. It almost was.
My arrival was just in time to set up camp, build a fire, and start dinner before the sunset. I watched the sun disappear to a soundtrack of crashing waves and crackling wood. Incredible. As the elk fed in the creek delta behind me, I realized I hadn't looked at my phone in hours.
Night fell and this city dweller remembered that stars do exist (in mind-boggling quantities). After watching the planets, gas giants, and NSA satellites soar overhead for a while, I decided to turn in for the night. Before I could even zip into my sleeping bag cocoon, I began to hear the wind rush more quickly past the tent. Within an hour 15+mph steady winds with the occasionally 35 mph gust had settled in for the evening. I laid pondering the structural integrity of aluminum tent poles until sleep took over.
Lesson 2: "No Service" is a Beautiful Thing
The next morning, I awoke and performed my morning ritual: roll over and check my phone. Nothing. No messages, no email, and no service. It was strange being totally disconnected. Sipping my coffee, I realized that by unplugging entirely (and accidentally) I was able to quell the nagging stress of work. I couldn't respond to my boss, close that open action item from Friday's meeting, or see what new problem had popped up.
Because I couldn't access or address them, I was able to momentarily forget them and just enjoy the beauty and peacefulness of the nature around me. Even if you hate the outdoors, find somewhere you can power-down and escape your technology for a while. It's an amazingly freeing feeling.
Lesson 3: You Don't Need 35's to Go Offroad
This is what the trail looked like for most of my 40+ miles through the woods. A mix of ruts, hard-packed clay, and the occasional muddy spot. It was the just the right amount of challenge for a beginner. Some of the ruts were deep enough that approach angle and line chosen mattered. The mud puddles were substantially deep and long so that you had to carry speed properly or end up very dirty. For those that are new to asphalt-free driving, here are a few reminders:
- Unless you want 1/4" of dust on everything, keep your windows up.
- In mud, point straight and carry speed. You don't need to enter at 30mph, but you don't want to come to a complete stop in the middle.
- If you don't know how deep the water is, assume it's too deep or check it first.
- 99% of the time 4wd isn't needed. The other 1% makes it worth it.
- Stay on the trail. Don't ruin things for the rest of us.
- You aren't Colin McRae or Ken Block. Go slow, be safe, and enjoy the ride.
After meandering through miles of dirt trails and a few small creek crossings, I ended up on paved roads. My completely stock truck had performed admirably. It wasn't the Rubicon or Moab, but it was fun,engaging, and way better than any day spent in my cubicle. My trip ended with an awe-inspiring drive through Humboldt Redwood State Park. Among the towering trees, I realized I experienced all of this by simply asking myself "Why not?" and getting off that damned couch.
For me, there will be many more trips. This trip was like an further enticing preface to a book you already know is going to be great. I'm very fortunate to live relatively close to an incredibly variety of trails and parks and can't wait to explore them all. Hopefully, this was a moderately entertaining read for someone and will encourage you to see what adventures your area has to offer.
"What about me?", you ask. Well, whether you own Defender 90 or a Toyota Camry, there are places you can go to explore, see, and do. Trust me, when the weekend is over you won't remember the extra hour or two of driving or regret missing who got voted off Dancing with the Stars. You will, however, want to do it again.
Here's are few sites to get you started:
I'm new to this, so I welcome your comments and feedback. Love it? Hate it? Want more Betty White references? Let me know.