day 12 // leaving my heart in [san francisco] california

What a day. 
Woke up mostly packed to quiche, mimosas, and doughnuts that reminded me a little too much of home [Duck Donuts!]
 After putting everything in the car, we headed on our way out of Santa Rosa to SFO. On the way, we found our flight got delayed twice, so we took a detour at the Golden Gate bridge, this time from the other side, cruising up the mountain vista points at Marin. It was breathtaking, even as the fog was acting up. 
We passed the town of Sausolito– apparently it’s all built on water!!

The place was *packed* with people so it took a bit of time to get down off the mountain. I recall walking around for photogenic spots and hearing about 6 different languages enter my conscious. There was even a French guy filming what looked to be a vlog or informational video, which made me think of the unifying nature these places have– people come to see and awe at the same things humans built. It’s hard not to stand next to someone completely different than you and not feel united in humanity as you both stare, mouths agape, at the stunning arches of the red bridge. 
The traffic also made it easy to hop out of the car quickly in the backup and venture a bit down the side of the mountain for more photos:
I may or may not have climbed down part of the mountain for this shot
I love how the lights and rails leading onto and off of the bridge are red themed! ❤

Through the Robin Williams tunnel ❤
in the CITY 😀

Traffic was terrible but we ended up getting to the airport on time. Our flight was delayed again but it was nice to catch our breath, grab some food and also take up the “we’re so sorry your flight got delayed” snacks United was throwing at us. 

SFO from the air train
Take off at sunset ❤

We boarded around 8:15 and left around 8:30pm– it was already a red eye flight but it was now even redder, arrival back in DC to be around 4:00am. I thought I could stay up and stick it out to try to adjust but there was no way. I couldn’t resist and I fell asleep very easily. 
When we finally landed back in VA, my body was very confused, my heart a little saddened. It was a fantastic trip, a thrilling, unforgettable first taste of something I’ve never known. Here I had come from this magical place with rocks, taffy, wildfire, good company, stunning views back to the more familiar, the more mundane… but I have within me some planted seeds… seeds that are sprouting and itching to grow. 
I want to go back to California. I want to walk the length of the Golden Gate, I want to climb the cliffs at Goat Beach and venture out into Bodega Bay. I’d even be down for more complicated hikes and colder paddle boarding at Lake Tahoe. I’m also itching to get a flight to Ireland to see my pen pal for the first time… this might end up as a New Year’s resolution because trips are ON SALE and I’m like dying inside to just go and see EVARYTHING. 
As Moana sings– there’s no telling how far I’ll go. 😛

Until next time, Cali.

day 11 // red woods, goat oceans, and watermelon taffy

Today just might be my favorite day of the whole California excursion. Not only did I not feel sick, we just did some cool things today. 
We woke up mid-morning and we were out the door after eggs, ham, toast, and a shower. We made a pit stop at Target for some meds and snacks. Thankfully, the meds were not for me [I feel worlds better!] but rather, for Jam as I’d kind of majorly depleted her Exedrin supply [oops…¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ]. 
Afterwards we hit the road to Armstrong Woods, a lovely forest chock FULL of magnificent redwoods. The day we landed in Cali, I saw a truck transporting a reddish lumber exposed to the air and it hit me– those are redwoods! It took some skinny windy roads to get to, but we finally got there and it was incredible. If you ever want to feel puny, stand next to one of these trees. 
LOL we joke about this because J’s little brother ironically “gathered some wood” of his own with a splinter… *weak laughter*
Incredibly tall
There was a hole in this tree we could walk through!
A blackened, charred tree ):
putting the RED in REDWOOD 😀 
Along our trail [the Pioneer trail!] we saw giant redwoods, charred redwoods [from somewhat recent wildfires no doubt!], and redwoods hollow enough to stand up fully erect inside [again, due to wildfire but a resilient tree]. 
Oh, and I tried to hug a tree. 
We then hopped in the car and jet-setted to Jam’s neck of the woods–quite literally in the trees–and beyond to the Bodega Bay area. We passed the Russian River, and ended up at Goat Beach– a spot originally named for the wild goats that would climb the rocks. 
Russian River peep some fog!

Moar russian. Moar river. Moar fog. 

The minute we got close to the coast, even by car, a thick fog began to surround and envelope us in a magical, mysterious atmosphere. The water splashing on / off of the rocks was mesmerizing– that’s something I wish we had on the East Coast. I also found out that apparently tsunamis are a thing on these beaches, due to the earthquakes. 
Driftwood dwelling!

The sand is darker and coarser here. 
And then I was there– ocean-side, and feet away from the water, mildly dreading the temperature of the surf based on various testimonies of Pacific water not exactly being the kind of water you “swim” in. But its touch was inevitable, captured by the picture below. 
We then made our way down the beach to find some awesome sand art and–wait for it– A HOST OF SEALS basking in the sun where the Russian River met the Pacific!!!
We had to stay far from them so as not to disturb them!
Gorgeous rocks and ocean spray!
We then headed back to the car as there was this awesome taffy place nearby that we needed to try. We got stopped along the way by the views though, and so, of course, more pictures. This time, we were kind of up over the water, and there was a rock tower nearby that I wanted to climb. Upon climbing [and J snapping pics of me doing so] to the top I looked out at the water and noticed two little heads, two little noses, of seals floating in the surf nearby. J got a picture of my excitement. 
Cool “holy” rock in the distance!
Swallowed by fog

You could actually look at the sun without feeling like you were killing your pupils!
A very excited Stephanie– see if you can see the little seal noses in the bottom left!
After we’d gotten too many pictures, we climbed back into the car and went to one of the most magical, nautical places I’ve been to– Bodega Bay. There we found a quaint little house-hut of pink and white stripes called “Patrick’s of Bodega Bay”, THE spot for taffy. It was located near this broken down, crumbling, very aesthetically pleasing house/pier thing. It’s weird– I’ve seen tons of abandoned houses and fallen-in barns, but never have I seen a structure crumble on its way out to the water. 
The inside of Patrick’s was LINED wall to WALL with taffy upon taffy in clear little [and medium, and large, and XL] bags.J and I are mildly obsessed with the flavor watermelon, so we went for a bag of those to split. Oh, and we took some pics too. 
BEST. WATERMELON FLAVOR. I HAVE TASTED. EVER. 14/10 would 1000% recommend. 
Jam, J, and Me
We left soon after, which meant it was time to say goodbye to Jam as we dropped her off at her legendary forest-y home. Some tears, lots of hugs, but above all– a promise she’d be by our coast in January. 😀
We headed back to the house of J’s relatives and are about to crash from exhaustion. We’re planning one last brunch for tomorrow morning before our early evening flight, which we’ll probably be leaving Santa Rosa early for, considering the drive time to San Fran. 
For now, gonna rest my eyes.
Until next time,

day 10 // adios, tahoe –> sacramento

We woke up early-ish today because we had to be out of our rental house by 10am. We had too much food in the fridge [and totally should have built in a leftover day into the kitchen-king schedule], but it ended up not being that big of an issue as people claimed/ate/left food.
We strategically crammed everything in the car and left the house, stopping for a moment by a mailbox to put some of my post cards [one to my grandmother and one to my Irish pen pal] in the mail. Then we hit the highway towards Sacremento, to drop J’s older brother off at the bus station so he could get to his train.
While we were in Sacramento, we did a bit of sight-seeing, stopping at a Dos Coyotes Cafe with a giant head right in front of it…

Mildly creepy, but there were some golden moments:

We then headed towards Old Town Sacramento, which was a gold mine of cute things. For instance:

A store dedicated to selling the coolest socks ever. 

Super educational!

It’s Mr. Potato Head!

Hopped back in the car and started back towards Santa Rosa but stopped by Davis, CA first for a bite. We stumbled across this cute Boheme wear-it-again store, where Jam and I got matching sunglasses [now I’ve got Cali bona fide UV protection], and we refueled at Burgers and Brew, a cute little mostly outdoor restaurant.

FUN FACT: the folks in the bottom right of this photo had a small dog [a 7 year old Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix!] wandering beneath them and it was so fluffy I had to pet it! His name was Darby [after Darby O’Gill and the Little People] and he was such a sweetheart. Definitely makes me miss my little puppers at home! 
We also stumbled across this AMAZING spray-painted garage that reminded me of a Kandinsky painting. 
We finally got to Santa Rosa where we’re crashing with J’s extended family again before we put in one more round of sight seeing before heading to SFO airport.
Until next time,

day 9 // paddling through the pain

I woke up feverish but slammed the Advil like a druggie because I didn’t want to feel terrible on the one day that paddle boarding was gonna happen. [Okay so that was a bit intense].

No sunrise this time, but I was somehow completely fine with that.

We all got dressed and headed over to the local entrance to Donner Lake, a “marina” that was full of boaters, paddle boarders, and small children.

We got our paddle boards [first time ever doing this for me!] and the guy who was helping us suit up told us that beginners should probably start on your knees. I started on my knees, like a resting yoga pose, but eventually I started to lose circulation in my legs and the rubber on the board was making uncomfortable imprints on my shins. So, slowly but surely, I stood up and it wasn’t bad at all. I had to get used to the balancing, but other than that it got easier!

We paddled out to about the middle of the lake [it’s pretty big! But not at all very deep– maybe 10 feet max? 15? I’ll have to google it] to a big rock that was just sticking up out of the water. We got there and J climbed on while Jam and I floated nearby.

Just as we were heading away from the rock, Jam and I heard fast, loud breathing and a guy struggling to stay afloat. Jam paddled over to help him and he grasped the board like it was all he had in the world.

Something that was mildly funny that Jam relayed to us later was the conversation between the man and herself:

“Are you gonna be okay? Would you like me to paddle you to shore?”

“No, I know how to swim I was just drowning.”


We headed back to the part of the lake where we started and took some pictures.

One of those pictures included me holding a crawdad– I’d always heard of them but never seen one and they really are like little lobsters! Feisty too– I tried to pick up a big one and he did this jerking martial arts thing so I dropped him back into the buckets half full of water and crawdads that these little girls were hoarding.

We left soon after jumping off this pier thing for that basic high school musical jumping photo and dousing ourselves in chilly lake water [though occasional splashes when we were on the paddle boards felt so refreshing!].

We headed back to the house for a couple rounds of pool with Jam, while J lost at Catan, [okay, he was 2nd place]. Later brought a dinner of comfort food: home made mac n cheese and later a game of Five Crowns, followed by an intense binge on chocolate ice cream [because had to use up some food before we checked out of the house, of course… 😉].

I was on and off meds all day and I felt a bit better by early evening.

My body is heavy and I don’t think it will be too hard to fall asleep.

Until next time,

day 8 // sunrises and sickness

So the morning started early, around 4:00am when we left to see the sunrise at Emerald Bay National Park.

My upper body was incredibly sore still from over exertion from zip-lining, I some prickly heat under my arms, cramps, and I was pretty sure I had a fever, but the sunrise was stellar:

After the sun was fully risen, we hit up the Keys Cafe for some much needed caffeine and warmth. It was super cute and small inside, and I have to say their White Mocha was pretty delicious. Their menu was pretty clever, too.

After the coffee, we proceeded on a self-guided tour drive around the entirety of Lake Tahoe, which eventually took us shortly into Nevada! I’ve never been to Nevada and I do have a goal to visit all 50 states [though I don’t know if a short pass through counts as a “visit”…lol]

After a couple hours, we returned back to the house to sleep/relax before dinner. I felt feverish, slept, took medicine, slept, showered, and slept some more. It wasn’t until I felt better with medicine that I got in on a card game with J, Jam, J’s mom, and others called “Five Crowns”, a somewhat fast-paced card game with 11 rounds that relies on some skill and a bit of luck. The goal is to have the least amount of points possible.

Later on we played some billiards, had a delicious meal of fajitas, and J, Jam and I went in the hot tub for our tradition of watching Dr. Horrible in a hot tub. My medicine had started to wear off so I was sitting in 102 degree water feeling cold… What a weird sensation, let me tell you. 
Hopefully tomorrow I’ll feel better [and we can finally go paddle boarding!].
Until next time, 

day 7 // boats and board games

We got off to a slow start this morning, probably because we’d “partied” so hard the night before. [Last night, the rest of our guests showed up so everyone was together and having a great time].
We awoke to awesome fruit smoothies and French toast to fuel us for the day.
Soon after some of us [the house was now loaded at this point, with 16 people] started a game of Catan, which ended up lasting a good 4ish hours. That’s the thing about Catan [Settlers of Catan]– it’s a fun game that mixes some supply and demand with trade deals and trade relationships with everyone trying to casually win. I blame Kyle, one of the guys we were playing with, for his long, complicated, but also entertaining turns [he ended up winning 😆]
With some food breaks in between we finally reached the end and got ready to go out before dinner. As it happens, “out” was to a boat ride on Lake Tahoe in this incredibly quaint riverboat called the “Tahoe Gal”. It had two levels, a nice little bar on the lower level, manned by a nice guy in practically sailor’s attire with dreads who seemed to pass the time juggling lines when e wasn’t mixing drinks. There was seating inside windows and in the open air on the top deck. It felt like a more nautical, smaller, version of a Mississippi River boat. There was even a wheel spinning on the side that you could see from inside the lower level dining area.
The weather and breeze off the water was absolutely brilliant, and J, Jam, and I sat down to enjoy the views, some pictures, and Shirley Temples [lol shout out to being 21 in like 7 more months].
[I may or may not have snagged a couple post cards from a rack to send to my grandmother and Irish pen pal… :P]
We took one lap across the lake and headed back to the docking area, a bit hungry still and wind-blown. We then headed back to the house to chill out until dinner, cooked by J’s mom’s husband, a meal of ribs, ribeye, smoked veggie skewers, corn, and asparagus. I am normally not a big red meat eater but after the entire day, I felt like a carnivore. It was in the evening
 when pain from the zip-lining course set in full fledged– moving my arms is a difficult task and I’m pretty sure I was bitten under my armpits and am having some reaction… :/
We ended the night with some billiard games and sitting down to watch this random show on TLC called “OutDaughtered”, a show about a family who has a daughter plus quintuplets and their day to day stories/struggles. J, Jam, and I determined that the husband was weird. Lol.
Pain aside, it was a great relaxing day and I am all too ready for sleep.
Until next time,

day 6 // sunrise and ziplines

Today started with the sun.

Normally I’m not one to be pulled out of bed at 5 in the morning however I am increasingly willing lately to do so for that golden light streaming from the clouds, the glowing red orb hoisting itself above the mounts and the mist that somehow proclaims God’s majesty and a hope of mankind. 

We left on time to get to the Vista Point [the one we were at before] on time and had 10ish minutes before the sun started peeking out behind the mountains. There was some pretty heavy, chunky cloud cover and we were on the verge of leaving with [still gorgeous!] pictures of fluffy clouds reflecting orange and pink…until we turned around and saw the glowing orb itself make an appearance between the gaps. 
Cameras were all on at that point and I even had to stop because I just wanted to look at it and take it in. There’s something great about immortalizing a sunrise within a square, digital exposure but there’s also so much to be said for sitting on the rock in silent awe, watching the movement of the sun before your eyes. Please enjoy the below pictures of the sun’s steady progression:

We left the rock at the Vista Point shortly after and headed to a small coffee shop called Wild Cherries for some caffeine. I got a white mocha but ended up only taking a couple sips on the ride back… and promptly fell back to sleep once I got back in the house. I finished my coffee with breakfast [at a normal time] later, though. It was really good. 

After a delicious home-cooked breakfast, we hung around the house for a bit until it was ready to leave– we had a reservation for zip-lining at a local zip-lining park called the Treetop Adventure Park and Ropes Course in Granlibakken Tahoe. It was broken up into two sections, one of which was for smaller kids [the “flying squirrel” section] and then the bigger people/adults [“monkey” section]. The Monkey section was comprised of 5 courses, all of which were rated like ski slopes: 1 easy, 3 intermediate, and 1 expert [or “black diamond”]. 

All of them were pretty easy going except for one part of the black diamond course– it was literally a zip-line cable through a sea of hanging hoops on strings that you were supposed to put your feet on and cross that way… I fell after the first couple of rings and had to pull myself across the rest of the way. My biceps hurt a lot after that. But it was loads of fun, and I’d recommend the experience to anyone!
Park entrance/registration hut!
Greeted by a massive climbing wall! 
Struggling to get on a platform 

Look at that form as I zip to my death!
J and I on a platform about to zip!
There was a “snowboard” element to this course. It was kind of slow and not really smooth but still kinda cool!

After we completed all of the courses / our limbs couldn’t take it anymore, we left the park to grab a snack at Gar Woods, which is apparently known for their stiff drinks [and rather suggestive drink menu…?]
But there was a pier right behind the restaurant and the views were PHENOMENAL. I especially LOVED the white fluffy clouds! [LOL couldn’t decide on a fave pic so here’s like, all of them]:

We then headed back to the house to relax a bit before actual dinner– a delicious set of tacos 😀 [my roomie is addicted to these so shout out to her]. 
I don’t think I’ll have a problem sleeping tonight…
One last glimpse at the lake from the car (:
Until next time,

day 5 // kings beach

The morning started off slow with some tasty breakfast burritos– everyone here has a day to claim the kitchen and make breakfast/dinner [and be in charge of cleanup], and since J, Jam and I made breakfast yesterday, it was nice to just sit back and chow down.
After breakfast finished, we piled in the car and made our way to Kings Beach, right on Lake Tahoe. We were a bit starving after the loooong 40 minute journey so we hit up Jason’s Beachside Grille [mildly amusing because it shares namesakes with J] for some loaded burgers. Highlight also was finding a “Jamie’s Silk Pie” on the menu, a shared namesake with Jam as well. [I left my camera at the house so I had to use my phone for pics, bear with me:]
Once we’d filled our bellies with medium rare patties smothered in ketchup, molten cheddar, onions, bacon, lettuce, and tomato, we hit the beach. 
I was not prepared for a number of things: 

  1. The sheer number of people. Though I can’t really blame them, it was a gorgeous day out [apparently it hails a lot there sometimes…?]. The shore to the lake was pretty chock full.
  2. The HEAT of the SAND. Like oh my god. I looked down to see not just brown grains but also some black– I’m wondering if that had a lot to do with heat absorption and all that… When I wanted to leave my towel for the water, I had to SPRINT to the water so as to be on the sand as little as possible. I tried. Later on I saw this poor older woman struggling to get to the parking lot in her bare feet… it was painful to watch. If you’re going there on a sunny day, do wear shoes. You won’t regret it. 
  3. The VIEWS. Sure, there were lots of people on rafts and floaties and pontoons in the way, but the lovely blue-green of the water stretched out into a panorama of snow-capped mountains in the distance. It was also crazy to think “oh, hey, I totally climbed one of those yesterday!”
  4. The water temperature. Jam warned me earlier in the trip that Pacific coast water is nowhere near as warm as Atlantic coast water. So when it came time to me wanting to take a dip in the lake, it was mildly painful. Physically and mentally. I was not ready.
As much as I wanted a really picturesque view, there were so many people– I tried to get a closer shot of the mountains from the moving car but as you can see it was a bit blurry.
After we finished our lake shenanigans and scalded our feet for a third/fourth time, we headed to the car to hit up a shaved ice place along the Tahoe strip before heading back to the house. I smelled of lake, sweat, and sunscreen and really wanted a shower. 
I write this as a clean, mildly sunburned, and exhausted human ready for sleep to claim me.
EDIT: Little did I know while writing this that I’d be persuaded to the hot tub we have on the back deck of this house before slumber. We climbed into 101 degrees and messed with the hot tub lights, finally deciding against them as people were already asleep and we didn’t want to disturb them.
It’s a blessing we left them off– otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see the myriad of twinkling stars above us. The sky was relatively clear and lended itself to stellar views of the galaxy, and included a few glimpses of shooting stars. Four, to be exact. It’s hard not to look up at the sky and wonder just how far apart the stars are from one another. This stemmed a conversation about the relativity of time, how er we humans made our surroundings to fit into our mental spaces, when in reality it’s almost like we have no idea what day it is, how late it is, or if we’re alone underneath those balls of live [or dead] fire. Like walking into an amazing feat of architecture, it’s hard not to look up and kind of gasp inwardly, aware of our being and our place in this moment in the lifeline of the galaxies.

I’m glad I did.

Until next time,


day 4 // donner summit

Today was pretty packed.
We woke up on the early side to get ready for the day. It was J’s mom’s birthday, so we went on a birthday hike to Donner Peak.
We made sure to bring some warm clothing but we didn’t even end up needing it, it was pretty hot. The terrain teetered between being too rocky, sandy, and flat throughout the forest parts. I like to think the trail teased us a bit, starting off all nice and flat with the path lined by nice rocks to show the way, and then quickly shifting to steep rocky climbing. The steep rocky climbing did tease us with a really nice view though.

One interesting thing was, on the way up, seeing some snow on the side of the mountain [we walked passed it and touched it!] when it was 72 degrees out. Definitely some cognitive dissonance there.

There were some pretty awesome scenic spots along the way, and the wildflowers that popped up along our way were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before– some really small, all vibrant

It ended up being around 7 miles round trip and the pathways were very rocky at many different times. However once we got to the top, it was all completely worth it.

We also found a geocaching box at the top of the mountain that’s been there until 2002, and we wrote a note to go along with the other bunch of notes in there… you could take an item from the box if you left something behind. J’s little brother took a cork out, and we left a hair tie behind. I love the idea of geocaching, a little treasure to find and contribute to, only to pass on the mystery to the next traveler-finder. 

 We came back to the house, all of us pretty much exhausted… we chilled until it was about time for the sun to set. We cut it a bit close getting to the Vista Point and we were  on the wrong side of the mountain, but it was still a spectacular view.

Til next time,

day 3 // tahoe! [finally]

So just gonna start off with the fact that the majority of today was spent in a car.

But before that happened, we left J’s cousin’s house and got on the road somewhat early-ish. We stopped for breakfast at this cute little place called the Black Bear Diner in Rohnert Park, CA. It was basically a cabin that sold lumber-jackish diner food and it was great. I ordered these delectable pineapple upside down pancakes– 12/10 would highly recommend! Their menus were made to look like newspapers with news stories on the outside– very clever.


After we were finished, we rolled out and drove. And drove. Traffic was so bad but it was lovely to look out [esp. on this one particular stretch of road] and see wildlife and kind of a marshy-water-on-both-sides-of-the-highway thing.

I drifted in and out of sleep but was awakened by the car hitting some steep inclines later in our journey. I thought San Francisco was bad– we wound up in Colfax, CA after pursuing some “bicentennial gold mining nozzle”. However we didn’t find it right away, and ended up on SUPER steep back roads with super tight and narrow turnarounds.

But we eventually found it [and it was a tad anticlimactic because apparently it was put there in like 1853 which is totally not  a bicentennial nozzle, if you ask me [it’s not 2053 yet].

Oh, and there was a whopping bees nest in the nozzle opening (-:

After “ooh-ing” and “ahhh-ing” at the nozzle, we decided to take a stroll down the cute little town and we stumbled upon bathrooms and ice cream. The ice cream place was called “scoops” and they had a ton of original and interesting flavors– “Maui Waui” sticks out to me as one I remember [I ended up getting it with a scoop of Birthday Cake Batter :P]. But it was delectable, and as we ate we strolled up and down the strip to see small town vendors all set up on the sidewalk to sell drawings, paintings, vegetables… one guy even had a ton of vintage cars on display. We also came across a slew of bird nests that were made out of mud, hiding on the roof of what looked to be a very old [but restored!] railroad building. 

We got back in the car and continued our journey towards Tahoe. What was supposed to be a 3 hour drive turned into 5+ hours with all of the stops and the traffic. But it was also completely worth it once we stopped on the highway to get a view of the gorgeous Donner Lake:

J, Jam, and me

When we finally arrived to our house in Tahoe Donner [Truckee, I believe?], we were locked out for a bit because the lockbox code we were given was mildly incorrect {-: But after a couple phone calls we got it straightened out. We tried to figure out where people would sleep and then took a dinner break at a place called Marg’s Taco Bistro. I had this mahi mahi taco with a pineapple-habanero slaw– good stuff!

Afterwards, J, Jam and I hit up the local Safeway to get groceries for J’s mom’s bday tomorrow and also because we’re on kitchen duty tomorrow. During our store excursion a guy sales associate was helping us find chai tea so we started to call him “Chai Guy”. It was great.

We’re all currently about to pass out because it was a really sneakily full day. Excited for what tomorrow holds, though!!

Until next time,