With a relatively short drive back to Oakland that Thursday and a bit of time on our hands with Jessica and Kris at work all day, we elected to visit Tuolumne Grove, one of Yosemite’s three Sequoia groves (the other two are Mariposa and Crane Flat), just past the Tioga Road turnoff. Not as easy to access as Mariposa (closed for restoration) it required a round trip hike of about 3 miles to view.
The trail down is a paved road, a remnant of the original in from the Central Valley that descends 400 feet to the grove itself. As California natives, we’ve visited the big trees here, in Sequoia National Park, on the coast (coastal redwoods are taller and thinner) and at our old stomping grounds, Mountain Home State Forest.
No matter how many times you see them, each new visit brings the same inescapable wonder, multi-thousand-year-old beings whose size is so staggering they cannot be described and certainly not captured with a camera, even with a wide angle lens.
We walked the nature trail loop, humbled by the presence of these giants, and then began the steep ascent back to the car. We returned to Highway 120, our route to the bay area via the same curvy section of highway we’d used to get to Yosemite, and arrived in Oakdale where we stopped to avail ourselves of our once per west coast trip visit to, you guessed it, In-N-Out.
Our plan for the day would be to get to Oakland, relax a bit, and then take BART into the city to attend a Halloween party at Kris’ place of work. Knowing this burger stop would be our main meal of the day meant we could tuck into “Double-Doubles” without an overwhelming amount of guilt. That came when we also split a chocolate shake. The rest of the drive went smoothly (always nice to be driving into the Bay Area ahead of rush hour) and after arriving in Oakland at the apartment, we cleaned up, relaxed a bit, and then made our way via BART into the City.
Both Jessica and Kris work for tech start-ups and at first blush the perks and benefits they receive seem generous. But upon examination they are often offset by less than mature or experienced managers whose decision making process is questionable, job insecurity, and policies like unlimited time off, which sounds good in theory but works just the opposite in practice. How much is too much time? With no clear guidelines (take too much time off and you could be terminated) many employees take little or no time off.
This time around the perks outweighed the downsides and we arrived to a party full of good things to eat and drink, bubbling with the energy that twenty and thirty something’s bring to life in general, and fantastic Harry Potter themed costumes that set the mood for the evening. We met Jessica and Kris’ co-workers, had any number of rewarding conversations, and as the evening darkened, took Jessica up on her suggestion that we use Lyft to get us back to Oakland instead of taking the BART back.
We’d not used Lyft or its rival, Uber, before but had heard good things about the service and best of all the prices. Sure enough, not more than a few minutes after Jessica put in the request from her cell phone our driver pulled up in front in a brand new Honda Accord. We’d opted to share the ride with another passenger to reduce the overall fare, which worked well for all of us. The ride across the bay and over the bridges went quickly as we filled the car with conversation, all for a cost of slightly more than $20. Shortly thereafter we arrived back at the apartment, a world away from the valley at Yosemite we’d left earlier that day.
The next morning, Saturday, dawned bright and clear, a perfect day in the Bay Area, one that would lend to a run of fun activities we’d planned prior to leaving for Yosemite. The highlight would be a visit in the afternoon to Diving Dog Brewhouse, a local establishment where individuals brew their own beer following house recipes and with assistance from the staff, end up with six cases of twelve-twenty-two ounce bottles.
Unfortunately, Kris had picked up a virus the day before and was down for the day, so we cancelled the reservation (we’d return later in the year during holidays) and the three remaining J’s made their way up to Berkeley for one more stop at REI, and then a visit to Fourth Street, one of Berkeley’s better known shopping and eating destinations. We lucked into a parking spot in the lot just off the street, and then walked to Jessica’s recommendation for lunch, Zut!. It’s the type of place you typically associate with the west coast, low slung, wooden beams, large windows open to the out of doors.
We were seated promptly inside and discovered that our table was a duplicate of the new ones we’d sat at during our earlier visit to Rivoli. Equally interesting was that later, when our food came it was served on the same exact plates that Rivoli uses. Both restaurants must have used the same design consultants, a curious coincidence. We started off with Mimosas for Jessica and Joanna and a Trumer Pils for me. Walter introduced me to Trumer a number of years ago and I find it to be a consistently good example of this style of beer. On the way out of the campground we stayed at in Vienna, we found a promotional poster for a bar nearby featuring Trumer. We didn’t stop in while there but it’s always nice to see the brands you like in different locales.
Food was ordered, for Jessica the Open Faced Rock Crab sandwich (Rock Crab with tarragon, chive, radish, arugula, lemon aioli on toasted levain), Joanna the Corned Brisket Hash and a Margherita Pizza (fresh mozzarella, basil, heirloom tomatoes) for myself. It was all quite good, if little pricey as we were beginning to discover that prices here are higher than we’d experienced in prior visits. Perhaps a reflection of Berkley’s increase in the minimum wage to $11 per hour that October, but certainly more than what we are used to back in Charlotte, a reflection on the costs of all goods in a larger metropolitan area.
Sunday, our last day in town would be a quiet one. While Jessica and Joanna worked on some projects at the apartment, Kris and I went up Lydia and Walter’s to watch a bit of NFL football. Walter has one of the football broadcast packages which features every game being played at the time and it is much like watching on steroids, perfect TV for those with attention deficit disorder.
Some snacks and a few beers were consumed and at the end of the day, we all convened on Lydia and Walter’s favorite Japanese restaurant in the East Bay, Temari on San Pablo. It’s a small place run by a family; Mom, Dad and Daughter work front and back of the house. As is often the case in Asian restaurants Lydia ordered for us, a bounteous selection of sushi, tempura and teriyaki. It’s been quite some time since I left a restaurant as full as I was that night, a testimony to our ability to keep on eating when the food is good.
Another West Coast trip had come to an end. These journey’s have become somewhat routine for us, multiple times a year since we moved to Charlotte in 2008, yet the diversity of activities we can engage in while there balanced by the nostalgic visits to places of fond memory make each one unique, even though the itinerary varies little from the trip to trip. Next up would be our return for the holidays at the end of the year. Who knows what new adventures that would include?
Tuolumne Grove: http://www.redwoodhikes.com/YosemiteNP/Tuolumne.html
Mountain Home State Forest: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Home_Grove
Diving Dog Brewhouse: http://www.divingdogbrew.com/
Fourth Street: http://www.fourthstreetshop.com/
Trumer Pils: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trumer_Pils