The penultimate day

The last full day of our holiday. It was a relaxing one: a lie in (until 9am), a leisurely morning, then caught a bus to Union Square – downtown San Francisco and the main shopping area. We were suddenly startled by an extremely loud air-raid style siren! Was it an earthquake warning? Fortunately an announcement followed saying it was just a test! Apparently they sound the sirens at 12noon every Tuesday. They serve as a reminder to the locals that they should have provisions stored to provide for themselves for at least 72 hours, in case of earthquake or terrorist attack. 

Mooched about, went to China Town, then visited the Cheesecake Factory at Macy’s, as recommended by Abbi. The place was packed, it was a long wait for a table, so we got a portion each to take out. Sat in Union Square, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying our cheesecake.  

  

  

  

  

  

  

 We decided to have a ride on one of the famous trams. The queue at the terminal was really long, so we waited just 2 stops further along the route. The tram was quite full when it arrived but we squeezed on. It was brilliant and we stayed on all the way to the bay. I’m quite relieved that we were inside and not hanging on outside! 

  

  

  I now know where the expression “stand on the brakes” comes from – watching the driver standing on the brake pedal, his whole weight on it, pulling back on a lever with all his strength as we went down the steep SF hills!  

 
This evening has been spent packing and finishing off the food and wine, before heading home late tomorrow afternoon. 

The pictures from our half marathon are on the website – found these of us: 
     

  

  
It’s been a fabulous holiday. We’ve done so much, seen so much. Driven nearly 900 miles in the RV exploring the Canyons, then another 2000 miles in the car from Las Vegas to San Francisco. Over 1500 photos to sort out (and a new camera to buy after it got dropped yesterday!) and 90 minutes of video. Highlights? Probably seeing the bears and rattlesnakes, but every bit has been special in it’s own way. It’s been a holiday full of wows! 

And now for the Matthews family tradition – spend the long 10 hour flight home discussing where to go next! 

Alcatraz & Sunset cruise

There had been thick fog overnight and the foghorn was sounding most of the night. Luckily it had cleared by the time we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf to collect our tickets for Alcatraz, and it looked like it was going to be a hot day. We were booked on the 1pm ferry so had to kill some time. We mooched around Pier 39, very touristsy, but the seals were entertaining. There were loads of spare pontoons but they insisted on squashing onto one or two. A large male did his best to push the others off – the pontoon almost tipped over! There were lovely views of the SF skyline.  

   
   

 We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Alcatraz, the audio tour was very informative and interesting. The views across the bay to SF were amazing – you could see the steep streets clearly. For once, the bridge wasn’t shrouded in fog.  

    
 
    

Saw the famous trams on our way back – massive queue to get on though. 

 Our tour included a sunset cruise, so we were back at the wharf again at 7pm to board another, bigger boat. We cruised round the bay  and saw lots of Pelicans diving into the sea.

    We went past Alcatraz and Angel Island, then Belvedere, one of the more affluent areas of the city. The sun was setting behind Sausalito and there was a finger of fog rolling down the hill.  

  

 A massive container ship was heading for the bridge at the same time as us – it looked like it was too big to go under it!  

  

  

  

  

  

We paused before heading back to the wharf- everyone was enjoying the views. It was a lovely evening, a most enjoyable cruise with a free drink and generous buffet. We were so lucky that the weather held out. The foghorn is sounding now though!  

 

San Francisco

We were tucked up in bed and fast asleep by 8.30 last night. We were so tired after the early start and the half marathon. We left San Jose in glorious sunshine with the thermometer starting to climb. It was just an hour’s drive to San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf, where we were dropping off the hire car. As we reached the city limits we could see the band of fog that SF is famous for hanging over the horizon.  

 The satnav got us safely round the city and we set off to walk the short mile to our Airbnb apartment. The route on the map hadn’t shown the hills – another thing SF is famous for! We dragged our cases up the steep streets, passing Lombard Street on the way. 

  

 Having got to the top of the hill, we turned right onto our street, only to go downhill just as steeply! Reckon we could have found an easier route! The apartment is lovely, quite old with period features,and a view of the Golden Gate Bridge – when it’s not shrouded in fog! 

We had a quick cuppa, then caught a bus to take us over the bridge. The traffic was awful and we were glad we’d got rid of the car. We walked the mile or so back over the bridge. The fog was patchy and there was just a small amount obstructing the views. 

  

 We walked back along the side of SF Bay, as recommended by Abbi. It was a long way, but we had good views of Alcatraz, saw Pelicans flying past and some pretty houses. A group of tourists on Segways shot past us!  

  

  

  

 A coffee stop, supermarket stop and the final pull uphill got us back to our apartment- another 5.5 mile walk! Pete’s feet are not happy, neither are my thighs after yesterday’s exertions! 

Race Day

Up at 5am, obligatory porridge eaten, and set off for Sanborn County Park, up in the hills, venue for our half marathon. Pete was walking it, so he set off with the other hikers at 7am.  

 I was running it, so set off an hour later. Within a few minutes of the start, we met the climb. It got steeper and steeper, completely unrunnable and everyone was walking. It was rough underfoot and several people tripped and fell. Not a nice place to fall, as the path was very narrow in places with a steep drop. People warned me about the Poison Oak, which seems to grow at ankle and shin height – not nice when wearing shorts. Apparently it packs a nasty punch and symptoms last for 3 weeks. 

I had talked Pete into doing the race with the promise of 1500 feet up for the first 3 miles, then undulating for the out and back sections before a nice descent to the finish. How wrong can you be? I suppose it levelled out a bit, but it was far from undulating with many of the ups so long and steep that I just had to walk them. The runnable downs were few and far between – watching out for roots and rocks was essential. The route wasn’t marshalled, other than at the aid stations, where there was water, coke, fruit, sweets, crisps – all sorts. At times, there wasn’t anyone in sight and I relied on the occasional red marker tied to the trees to indicate the right way. 

It was nice to pass Pete on the out and back sections – at 8 miles he looked fresh as a daisy! The final 3 miles were downhill, but so steep! My legs were really complaining by now. With just a few miles to go I realised I could come in just under 3 hours so despite a nasty little up, I pushed on and crossed the line in 2:57. It wasn’t long until Pete arrived, finishing in 4:15.  

 There was plenty of food at the finish – fresh fruit, bagels, pastries, sweets and ice cream sandwiches – a chocolate covered sandwich of oaty biscuits filled with ice cream. It was really tasty. Checking the results I got another medal for coming second in my age group! It was such a tough race – my GPS watch showed we had climbed 3408 feet – no wonder we felt tired.  

   Back to the condo and into the pool to relax – lovely. 

Decided to walk up to the shopping centre to buy ourselves a little reward: 

 

San Jose

Just a short drive again today. Continued along Highway 1 to Santa Cruz. Took the scenic coast road. Came across loads of surfers, not a lot of waves though, then spotted the Pelicans that we had come to see. Sadly they weren’t diving into the sea as we had hoped, but we did see several fly overhead, in grey skies, and lots were perched on rocks with the cormorants. 

   

  

 Drove to Campbell, a pleasant suburb near San Jose, where we are staying in a very nice Airbnb for the next 2 nights. Collected our race numbers ready for tomorrow then made a bee-line for the pool! Nice and warm! After the grey skies and chill of the coast, it’s good to be back in the heat! 

    Sussed out the route to the start of the race, no probs, but getting back was not so easy. Very confusing interchanges on the freeway meant we went round in circles for a while! Got back in the end! Early night – up at 5am! 

Highway 1 – Pacific Coast Road

Pulled our warmer clothes out of the depths of the suitcase this morning as the temperature on the coast is considerably cooler. First stop was an Elephant Seal colony. They have been laid up on the beach for the last month whilst they are moulting. The males were noisy and argumentative whilst the females just slept.  

    Quick coffee stop a bit further on at Whale Watch cafe. We didn’t see any! 

The road hugged the coast and climbed high above the sea. Views weren’t great as it was a bit misty. We did spot vultures though.  

 Stopped in Carmel. A very swish area, full of boutique style shops, antique shops and expensive art galleries. A quick peep in the estate agents window showed properties at well over $1.5 million! We did find a very nice cafe selling very nice cakes… 

    Our hotel was just 10 minutes away in Monterey. Bit of a contrast, nice beach but the usual tacky touristy stuff. Had fish and chips for tea in a London pub! Tomorrow we drive to San Jose and prepare for Saturday’s half marathon. There hasn’t been much running done recently so looks like it will be a slow one! 

Pacific Coast

Full table at breakfast this morning. We thought it strange at first, everyone sitting down at the same time – a bit regimented for a holiday, but it was actually very nice. Everyone shared stories about where they’d been, who’d seen bears and other wildlife. Mary Kay had been making a different cooked breakfast each day but accepted our request for more of her tasty pancakes! 

It was a 200 mile drive to the coast today, and after a couple of hours we were looking out for a driver change and coffee stop. Towns/villages were few and far between. We pulled into one. The centre of the road had a newly built library and fire station but the supermarket and houses either side were old and run down, not the sort of place we wanted to stop. The next place was just the same – new library, run down area. Fortunately we came across a freeway intersection and there was the usual selection of MacDonalds, Denny’s and Starbucks. It was a bit of a Wild West lookalike place! 

   As we got nearer to the coast we entered serious vineyard country. Miles upon miles of vines, with affluent ranches on hilltops. We passed numerous signs offering tours and tastings. 

We arrived at the coast – what a contrast in temperature! Had to put a jumper on, the wind was straight off the sea. Had a short walk along the coastal path and saw some seals on the rocks.  

    Nice hotel, lovely room, sea view, and a gas fire! 

    Found a fantastic restaurant for our meal – pan fried duck, delicious. Chocolate mousse torte for pud, and I forgot to photograph it!!

Glacier Point

Our last day in Yosemite. Drove to Glacier Point – at over 7200 feet it afforded amazing views over Yosemite. It was fantastic to see Vernal and Nevada waterfalls that we had hiked to on Sunday. The 3000 feet sheer drop into Yosemite Valley was amazing.  

  

  

  

We walked to Sentinal Dome and climbed the granite sides to the top.  

 360 deg views! We had lunch and spent ages chatting to a couple from Bristol.  

      We then walked through forest trails to Taft Point. A couple of deer were grazing right next to the track and weren’t bothered by us approaching at all. 

Being Spring, there were lots of wild flowers. I had seen some strange red flowers on the roadside, only a few, they were Snow Plants and apparently only grow in a few areas in Yosemite. I spotted one on our walk:

We had another stop along the trail to chat to another couple from Barnsley. They were considering renting an RV for a trip to New Zealand so were happily picking our brains. 

Taft Point was another fantastic viewpoint. We stood on the edge of the sheer drop and just soaked up the scenery.  

  

  

Yep, we’re right on the edge – it’s a long way down!

 Not a long walk by any means, but over 1600 feet of ascent in the thin air was pretty tiring. 

The car needed fuel, urgently, so we drove the 35 miles down to the nearest town and filled the car, then ourselves. Found a lovely steakhouse! 

Back to the B and B, polish off the wine, then pack. Heading west to the coast tomorrow. 

Tioga Pass area

Today we decided to drive along the Tioga Road to the Tuolumne Meadows, climbing to over 9000 feet, still lots of snow lying.  

First stop was a short walk to May Lake. There was a small pond near the car park and we were lucky enough to spot a water snake swimming across it. The walk to the lake was across huge slabs of granite. The scenery was amazing – masses of granite with pine trees growing amongst it. We saw one other couple coming down as we were on the way up – we really were alone. Our senses were heightened, as this is bear country and I suppose we did feel a little vulnerable. The lake was beautiful, snow capped mountains all around us. 

  

  I was enjoying the silence when I heard what I thought was a workman tapping away, possibly erecting a tent as this was a seasonal campsite. We walked near the tent, and realised it wasn’t a workman – something was inside, trying to get out. It sounded like sharp claws scratching at wood, and we could see a snout shape pushing against the tent walls. We backed off a bit, just in case. I turned and saw something brown run through the rocks. It was a marmot! There were quite a few. I looked back at the tent and one was on the roof! His friend was obviously inside! Not a bear! Phew! We watched him for a while. They were gnawing at the wooden roof which they had exposed by ripping the tent canvas. He decided to climb back up to the top of the roof, but slid down the slope and fell off! It was so funny! He looked very embarrassed and shot into a hole that they had made in the tent wall.  

 We climbed up onto some rocks and enjoyed the amazing views before walking back to the car. We continued along the road and the scenery changed to stark granite mountains. It was beautiful, like we had gone to a completely different area.  

  

  

The previous photo is of Clouds Rest, the largest face of Granite in the world. It is a mecca for climbers and we spotted several on this granite outcrop: 

 We reached the area known as Tuolumne Meadows. It was like being in the Alps, lush meadows, rivers, snowcapped mountains. We saw lots of mule deer, then watched a coyote casually stroll across the meadow into the woods.

  

We continued along the road to the Tioga Pass Resort, 110 years old, lovely and rustic. We had a meal there before making the long trip back. The evening sun was enhancing the beauty of the lakes and mountains.  

 We drove slowly back along the stretch of road where we had seen the bears yesterday but they had obviously gone to bed! 

What a day! If only we’d known how fantastic the Tioga area was we would have spent a night up there- so many walking trails to explore. Next time…

Yosemite waterfalls walk

The ranger in the visitor centre said this was a nice walk, it didn’t look too long, so we thought we’d do it in the morning and explore elsewhere afterwards. It was called the Mist Trail, up to Vernal Falls. It was a tough walk up rocky paths and it certainly lived up to it’s name. By the time we reached the top we were pretty wet, but wow! That’s what I call a waterfall!  

  

  

 We decided to continue on up the trail to Nevada Falls. A long steep climb, but again, absolutely fantastic views at the top. The power of the water had to be seen to be believed.  

  

  

  

 We had climbed over 2000 feet, my watch said 5 miles, but the Trail signs said a lot less. Our legs said my watch was right! What goes up has to come down, and it was a long way. We took the John Muir trail, which was less rocky, but steep none the less. 

We had a quick look round the somewhat uninspiring Yosemite Village, had a bite to eat, then set off back. Stopped at a viewpoint to take a photo of Half Dome – Abbi climbed it a few years ago. 

  

On our way back we came across this little beauty:  

 Did I mention we also saw this? 

    We’ve had a fantastic day, and achieved our dream of seeing truly wild bears and rattle snakes. The photos on the camera are brilliant, much better but at least I did get some on the iPhone too.