We had plenty of time to get to Sacramento and had a few places on our list that we wanted to explore, Death Valley and Bishop, California were at the top of the list. So, off we went to Death Valley National Park where we had perfect weather to explore without Mira (most National Parks don’t allow dogs on the trails). We spent 24 hours there, just enough time to scratch the surface and to know that we want to return someday and spend more time on the trails. We met a couple, Debbie and Joe, who planted a seed about visiting another National Park in California, Pinnacles NP. Debbie and Joe are part time van-lifers, who live on the coast of California. We chatted for quite some time about life on the road and amazing places to visit. We have come to realize that every time we meet someone who travels, it just adds more and more locations to our bucket list of places to visit.
After 2 nights in Death Valley we headed to Bishop, California. David has wanted to visit Bishop for a long time and was happy to finally make the trip there. Visiting in the summer or early fall would have been ideal but it was now mid-November and the weather was starting to turn a bit colder. We pulled into Bishop and there was a chill in the air and snow in the forecast. We walked around town a bit and then ventured off to the outskirts of town to find a place to call home for a few days. We awoke to snow in the peaks and cold temps which meant we would be staying in the lower elvation for the duration of our stay. We were a little disappointed that we couldn’t get up into the mountains and the road to Sabrina Lake had just closed. We did some exploring close to town and ran along the canal but decided to venture up to Sabrina Lake despite the snow. We parked along the road and made the 4 mile hike to the lake. It was sunny, cold and crisp and worth every step. We checked out the local climbing area (just hiking, no climbing) and when the forecast was calling for a major snow storm, we hit the road!!
Our plan was to go north and drive through Lake Tahoe to get to Sacramento, but that quickly changed with the weather forecast. So we headed west to the coast before heading north and back east to Sacramento. On our way to the coast we made a brief stop at Red Rock Canyon State Park. The park is located where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converge with the El Paso Range. It features scenic desert cliffs, buttes and spectacular rock formations. We had enough time for a short run up one of the washes before dark.
We camped close by and the next day made it to the coast, specifically Morro Bay. We would ultimately spend 5 days in Morro Bay, including Thanksgiving. We ran along the water and out to Morro Rock numerous times, spent a lot of time just watching the sea otters and sea lions, hiked some local trails, ran the San Luis Obispo Gobble Wobble 5K and spent Thanksgiving at the community center for a meal and volunteering with clean-up. The weather was far from ideal (they had more rain in those few days then all year) but we made the most of our time there.
We left Morro Bay and made our way up the coast, stopping along the way at big vistas, the Elephant Seal Rookery and the most famous bridge on the California coast, the Bixby Canyon Bridge. We still had plenty of time to make it to Sacramento so we decided to take a little detour inland to Pinnacles National Park. A park that we had never heard of prior to meeting Debbie and Joe in Death Valley and some place that was never on our radar. They had told us about amazing hikes and huge caves, so we thought, why not. The weather on the coast had been monsoon like all week and wasn’t any better at Pinnacles. We decided to venture out anyway (you can’t let the weather stop a great adventure) and were not disappointed. We explored Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave and had an experience in the caves that most people don’t get to experience, water flowing from above and below with no one else around. These caves are actually made from very large boulders falling from erosion over time (read all about it on the website) not your typical lava tube cave. This means there are plenty of openings in the “roof” of the cave allowing light and water to enter. Some of these boulders are the size of a house or larger and lay precariously above the trail as you make your way through. This was a bit outside my comfort zone but so worth it. It was an unforgettable experience, one that we would have never had if it weren’t for that conversation with Debbie and Joe. This brings us back to a recurrent theme of this journey, the people we meet!! (No photos from Pinnacles but we have a really cool video at Instagram.com/david_amy_mira)
From Pinnacles NP we made our way to Napa to visit David’s old diving buddy, Jason. We had visited Jason when we first left on our vanlife journey and we were excited that we could swing back through Napa for another visit. This time we were able to visit his tasting room (Rebel Vintners) and enjoy some Uncharted wine. If you are ever in the area you should definitely check them out.
We finally made it to Sacramento where we would meet up with friends from all different chapters of our life. We got to spend some time with Linda and her husband, Mike. We have known Linda for 10 years but have never met her husband and have never seen her outside of Kona. We both met Linda at the Ironman Medical Conference and continued to meet up year after year for the conference and to volunteer at the Ironman World Championship. It has been 2 years since David and I have been to Kona , so it was really nice seeing her, catching up and finally meeting Mike. We also met up with a friend, Kurt, we met at the coaching class we took in Portland in January 2019. He took us on a tour of some of the local trails and we talked about training, racing and running. The last visit we had before heading back to Seattle was with Bonnie and Jerry. We got to know them during our Rim to Rim to Rim adventure and were happy to spend a little more time with them. They were so welcoming to us and unfortunately we all forgot to get a photo before leaving. It is such an perplexing thought, that all of these people live within 10 minutes of each other, they are all runners/hikers and they don’t know each other, but we know all of them.
Our primary reason for being in Sacramento was for the California International Marathon.We were there to work the expo and support the Powered by Hyland’s team. This company and team is near and dear to my heart, so whenever we can meet up with them, we jump at the chance. We spent time with some “old” teammates and met so many new ones. We were there on the race course and at the finish line to cheer and support our team. We always come away from these events with more friends than when we arrived and memories to last a lifetime.
While we were there, it happened to be the lottery drawing for the Western States 100. If you are not familiar with WS 100, it is the grand daddy of 100 mile trail races and almost impossible to get into. It is by lottery only, a somewhat complicated lottery system, and David and I, along with one of our Hyland’s teammates each had 1 ticket in the drawing. If you show up to the lottery and your name is already in the mix, you get a second chance at getting a coveted spot. So, of course , we went. There were 27,000+ tickets in the lottery for only 369 spots, so needless to say, none of us walked away a “winner”. It didn’t matter as it was an experience just being there. While we were in Auburn, we got to visit the famous Auburn Aid Station and No Hands Bridge, mile 96.8 of the race.
It was now mid-December and we were heading to Seattle to see family and friends. We would ultimately spend 1 month there, visiting, training and racing before venturing off on what will likely be our last year as vanlifers.