I took two short lunches and an hour of vacation time to leave work at 3:00 pm. My hope was to catch a 3:11 Dublin train and have Eric meet me at Castro Valley. This should have allowed us to get past the dreaded El Charro exit (about 14 miles away) before rush hour started at 4:00 pm. BART was running behind, so I took a Fremont train and had Eric meet me at Bay Fair instead. We got onto I-580 about 3:45 pm, which I thought would have been OK. Fourteen miles, how long could that take?
It could take a long, long time. We did not beat traffic. We proceeded through the East Bay at about 10 mph (~16 kph). I kept coming up with progressively more pessimistic guesses as to when we would pass a particular exit, all of which turned out to be overly optimistic.
Well, surely we can get to the 680 interchange by 4:00, and El Charro (4 miles further) by 4:15.
OK, then, surely we can get to the 680 interchange by 4:15, and El Charro by 4:30.
No such luck. We got to 680 at 4:30 and El Charro at 5:00, spending my precious vacation hour sitting on 580.
Eric did not believe the traffic would clear up after El Charro, but it always does, and it did.
“I just don’t understand why,” he muttered.
“It’s because El Charro is sitting on top of a hellmouth,” I explained. “As a matter of fact, ‘charro’ is Spanish for ‘hellmouth.’”
We drove through the Central Valley, the great basin in the low part of central California between the Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada. It’s remarkable how suddenly the mountains rise up from the valley. Two prominent foothills suddenly rose out of the flat land before us. I was able to identify them using Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California.
Jesse Morrow Mountain
Just beyond these hills, the massive Sierra Nevada rose out of the ground. We were approaching the park at last.
Recently, while in Big Sur, I innocently drove up to a gas pump and began dispensing the smelly liquid into my not entirely empty gas tank. Only after I had pumped 10 gallons did I look at the figure following the dollar sign and was shocked to see the first digit roll over from a 3 to a 4. The station, all by itself with no other gas stations around for miles, did not post a monument sign with the price, and I can see why. $4.00 a gallon? After that experience, I was determined that Eric and I should fill the tank before we got too far off into the wilderness.
Eric wanted to buy gas in Fresno, but as Fresno was still more than 80 miles from the park, I wanted to fill the tank closer to the park. I wanted to be sure we could do all the driving we wanted within the park, and still get back to a relatively inexpensive gas station. I hadn’t wanted to wait until Squaw Valley, the last town before the park, but we saw no gas stations at all between Fresno and Squaw Valley. Squaw Valley had two gas stations. The first was selling gas for about $3.10/gallon, not too bad. The other one said they were hoping to have some more gas in stock by Wednesday. Wow. I had read that there was no gas available in the park, but it turned out that part of the road was outside the park boundary. So we did see another gas station on the road, selling the precious liquid for $3.70/gallon. Good thing we bought gas in Squaw Valley! All this only serves to demonstrate our complete and utter dependence on this toxic and explosive substance.
While at the Squaw Valley gas station, we were reminded of yet another one of our helpless dependencies: the internet. Eric had downloaded the coordinates for the geocaches we hoped to find into his GPS, but had forgotten to download the listings into his phone app. It’s quite difficult to find a cache using only the coordinates. I had thought it was just too late and we weren’t going to find any caches, but, amazingly, the out-of-gas gas station featured a prominent sign saying, “Free Wi-Fi.” Problem solved.
We finally arrived at the park around 10:00 pm, despite having eaten Subway sandwiches in the car for dinner. By the time we drove from the park entrance to the campsite, set up our equipment, washed up for bed and lay down to sleep, it was 11:30 pm, about an hour and a half after my target time. Stupid hellmouth, I tell you.