Alex Travels California – Week 4

Alex Travels California – Week 4
Rachel Simpson

Written by Rachel Simpson

Portland to Lake Cushman

We usually don’t stay in RV Parks, because we want to sleep in beautiful and random places, and of course to safe money. However in cities free camping spots are hard to come by and not every city ordinance allows overnight parking at Walmart. This time round we wanted to give the RV Park a chance and managed to secure a spot at one in the north of Portland.
I was very excited to be able to ‘hookup’ the RV, to have full electricity and running water and most importantly fast internet to do work.
Portland 2
So that much bigger was the disappointment, when I tried to connect to the camp WiFi only to find out that it was slower than an average connection at a hostel in Myanmar, and my dream of updating my computer and streaming an episode of Game of Thrones just vanished into thin air. However we made some friends from Arizona in the laundry room and got other things done as well.
Honestly I didn’t get to see much of Portland as I had to take care of work, whilst Fanny, Eugenio and Steffen went out to explore the city. I did manage to stroll around Mississippi and Alberta Street Market to at least see something of Portland.

On our way out of the city we managed to drop by to see a fellow photographer friend in Beaverton over a delicious burger, before making our way to the Olympic National Park. By now we have established a distinction between logistic and sightseeing days and this one was definitely a logistic one. It was nearly dark when we arrived at our camping spot on Lake Cushman to get ready to explore the Olympic National Park.

Lake Cushman to Hoh Rainforest via Ruby Beach

After taking countless photos with the drone, one thing I have learned is that the best light is just before the rays light up parts of the scene. We were driving along a small road leading out from Lake Cushman to get to Ruby Beach on the other side of Olympic National Park, when I asked Fanny to stop. It must have been around 6 or 7am at the time and the lake was only partially lit up by the sun.
“I love the winding road,” I said to Steffen, when we stepped out of the RV whilst Fanny was waiting and Eugenio sleeping in the back. I sent my drone above the road and chanced on some houses dotted along the lake shore. Only the low battery indicator got me to bring the drone back in the end as I could have taken photos of this place all day. We stopped in a couple of places on our way to Hoh Rainforest – a metal bridge, Kurt Cobain’s childhood home, and Ruby Beach.
I had high expectations of Ruby Beach, as it was recommended by many people we met, and it definitely delivered: A grey sand beach, covered in beautiful white driftwood logs with lone rocky stacks towering in the sea. The light was just right and crowds small enough to feel comfortable on the beach. “Look at the yellow canoe!” I yelled out in excitement as I flew the drone over the beach, only to realize that no one was standing next to me.
Ruby Beach seemed to be the perfect place to hang out for an entire day. There were lots of families, dogs and tents, but camping or overnight parking wasn’t allowed here. However we had already found a spot 20 miles inland in the rainforest and headed there as soon as the sun started to set. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a temperate rainforest as the only ones I knew were the tropical kind back in Thailand.
The moss and lichen covered trees, dense forest and damp air lent our camp site an atmosphere that could have come right out of a Jurassic Park movie. We set up for the night and as we were all standing around the campfire overlooking the moonlit river below us, a giant green fireball appeared up above in the sky. “What was that?” Everyone looked at each other bewildered. “I think this calls for a big wish!”

Hoh Rainforest to Port Angeles

“That was a small trail!” Eugenio remarked when we left the ‘Hall of Moss’ nature trail. “Let’s try the proper trail and see where we get to!” I was definitely not so keen on joining in and left the others to hike the rest of the morning whilst I focused on editing photos and working in the RV.
What should have been an hour, turned into one hour and a half, then two. It was when I started to get worried that the others returned.
We pretty much drove straight to Port Angeles with a couple of drone stops in between. We arrived there at the right moment, just in time for sunset, overlooking the man made Harbor. The waves crashing against the big boulders, placed there to protect the port and the ships within it.
We spent the night at a Walmart that seemed to be a very popular spot for campers, as we were surrounded by a dozen RVs and campervans.

Port Angeles to Seattle

Eugenio wasn’t pleased to get up early but we had to get going at 7:30 in order to drop off Steffen. It was the last day for our hitchhiker turned friend, as he had to catch the ferry to Victoria in Canada.
Fanny didn’t take well to the fact that we were losing a member of our crew and you could see it on her face. The port was busy but we found a place to stop. Time was tight and we had to keep our goodbye short. “I can’t believe my baby is gone!” Fanny cried out as Steffen vanished around the corner.
We stuck to driving for the rest of the journey and arrived in Seattle earlier than we expected. It was my second time in Seattle as I stopped here once before on my way from Vancouver to San Francisco and have fond memories of the city. We pulled up below the Aurora bridge to a beautiful view of Lake Union and the countless floating houses dotting its shore.

Seattle to Painted Hills

Two days in Seattle is definitely not enough to get to know the city but we managed to walk big swathes of downtown and Lake Union as well as enjoying a beautiful sunset at the Gasworks Park. The views from here are stunning as you can see the majority of Seattle’s skyline reflected in the lake, whilst small airplanes take off and sailboats meandered in between all the other waterborne crafts.
We had to leave all of this behind to make our way south. Fanny and Eugenio managed to extend their flights, but we once again only have handful of days left. We took the inland route south, past Mount Ranier National Park and Columbia Gorge to head to our main destination: the Painted Hills.
We made quick stops here and there as the smoke from the countless wildfires, most notably from British Columbia, reduced visibility so that we couldn’t see Mount St. Helens, and pushed us to head as far south as possible.
It took us two days to finally arrive at the Painted Hills in the middle of the night, only our headlights hinting of what’s to come the following morning.

Painted Hills to Davis Lake

I barely slept throughout the night. I kept being woken up by strange sounds that turned out to be water sprinklers when I went to check it after sunrise.
Fanny didn’t seem to have a good night’s sleep either, but both of us were wide awake and ready to move the RV from the parking lot to the actual viewpoint within the Painted Hills State Park.
The layers of sediments dissecting the hills do look like they were deliberately brushed on, like watercolors seeping out onto the hillside. We spent most of the day here, hiking up to a viewpoint, walking along the boardwalk and sketching as well as photographing this otherworldly landscape.
It must have been 2pm when we finally hit the road and made our way south towards Bend. The desert slowly transformed into alpine forests and once we passed Bend, pine trees dominated the landscape. This area must have seen extensive volcanic activity as we passed countless lava beds and dormant volcanoes.
It was then that we made the decision to seek out a lakeside camp site that happened to be situated right next to an ancient lava field at Davis Lake. We arrived there right in time for a spectacular sunset that colored the entire landscape in a soft pinkish light. I spotted some fishing boats in the distance before climbing down from the lava bed to prepare dinner.

Davis Lake to Eagle Lake via Crater Lake

In the last week I had missed many sunrises, but I wanted to change that today at Davis Lake. Our camp site must have been one of the most stunning so far and the sunrise here didn’t disappoint. However the drone camera began to act up so I took only a couple of quick shots and flew it back and headed to bed for a couple more hours of sleep.
Davis Lake was a stones throw away from crater lake which Fanny and I were thrilled to see, so the more we were disappointed when we finally arrived. A thick smoke cloud hung across the lake, blocking any view we would have had. Fanny’s heart was broken and you could see the anguish on her face. I barely see her sad or in a bad mood, but she definitely was today.
“Damn you smoke!” she kept yelling as we drove around the lake and left by continuing south. “Lake Tahoe better be good!” She said.

Eagle Lake to Tahoe

Our campsite for the previous night wasn’t the most exciting, which made it easier to leave early and head straight to Tahoe. We passed many small towns, lakes and dry landscapes as we crossed into Nevada.
“Are we going to Reno?” Fanny asked as I was checking the map for the fastest way to get there. “Definitely, and we should stop for a shopping break too somewhere!” I replied. She fumbled a while on her phone and connected it to the radio.”I got just the right song for this moment,” she smiled as Johnny Cash’s ‘I killed a man in Reno’ began to play. All three if us were singing along cheerfully – all the disappointment about crater lake vanished from our minds.
The RV struggled a little on the way up to Tahoe. We made sure to pull over once in a while to let traffic behind us pass. It felt great seeing the other drivers waving and thanking us for being responsible drivers. Overall driving in the States has been a breeze, mainly because how well everyone else was driving as well. Incline was our first stop at Tahoe. From here we followed the road south along the Nevada side of the lake and made a stop at Sand Harbor which had been suggested to us by a lady back at the petrol station near Reno.
It was an odd sight seeing azure blue waters that reminds one more of some tropical beaches than an alpine lake. We spent the entire afternoon here: sunbathing, swimming and chilling on the beach as it should be. We decided to continue exploring the southern part of Tahoe by first going north to Tahoe City and then slowly following the lakeside road south. We were also in need of a dump station to clear our wastewater and made a stop at Sugar Pine State Park, where we got some souvenir shopping done as well.
The last stop on our Tahoe tour was Emerald Bay and Eagle falls, just in time for sunset.

Tahoe to San Francisco via Folsom

It’s been over a month now that me and Fanny started out on our roadtrip together and had Eugenio join halfway through the trip. Today was our last full day together and we definitely wanted to make the most of it by having a good time at Lake Tahoe.
After failing to get a parking spot at Emerald Bay, we went back to Sugar Pine State Park to the delight of the Ranger who remembered our colorful RV decor.
Kayaking was high on our list since we started on the roadtrip, and it was fitting to end our trip with a Kayak trip on Lake Tahoe. Looking down at the crystal clear water and up at the pine forest lining its shores, the lake was definitely showing off its best side. We only rented the Kayak for an hour, but it was good enough for all of us and I could see that Eugenio and Fanny were enjoying this to the fullest.
We left Tahoe in the afternoon and stopped at Eldorado National Forest for a quick hike. The sun was hanging low in the sky as we passed Folsom near Sacramento, when Fanny and Eugenio decided to make a last quick stop at Folsom Prison, made famous by Johnny Cash. The entrance to the prison was anything but welcoming – signs warning us of dangers and that it was illegal to make a turn on Prison Road.
But when we approached the main gate the first thing we saw were three Turkeys and a herd of deer roaming the parking lot of the prison. It was a bizarre sight and once we spotted the prison guard feeding the deer, we knew that this place is different. The guard turned out to be super friendly and chatty and let us go up to the visitor line after hours, to take photos of the prison, whilst telling us stories about the prison and his own life.
“Today is unusual!” He began to speak. “We had two deaths at the prison today, one was ganged up on by fellow inmates and the other gutted from stomach to throat.” We all looked at each other in horror of the image we all must have just played out in our minds. It was just as we were about to leave, when a Swedish guy wearing a Folsom Prison baseball cap and carrying a Ukulele approached the prison. “Can we go there now?” He asked the guard. “I’m afraid you have to sing at the rock for now.”
We curiously waited for what was about to happen – and then he began to sing a medley of four Johnny Cash songs in front of his two friends and the three of us. “How great was that?” I said to Eugenio and Fanny as we walked up to our RV. “I can’t believe the guard owns three guns” Eugenio replied – laughing at the same time.


We left the Walmart at Vallejo around 11am to take the RV back to Cordelia where Aldie, cheerful as usual, was already waiting for us. It was the halfway mark of this trip for me as I still had more than a month to travel with the RV, but it was the end for Fanny and Eugenio. You could see the sadness on their face as we took the Uber back to Oakland to drop my bags off at my friend’s house before heading to San Francisco where they had to catch their flights back.
My friend Steve invited all of us into his beautiful home for a coffee, where we spent the rest of the afternoon recounting our adventures to him. I had to remind everyone of the time as the flight grew ever closer. Steve dropped us off at the BART station before we took the next train to 16th Mission Station for me to alight and them to change to the right one heading to the airport. It was like a scene out of a movie me standing on the platform, giving both a hug and waving goodbye. And just like that… Over trip was over…