Venture west to experience the allure of the California Coast

By James O’Donoghue, Staff Writer

It might feel like trying to pull an anchor up by hand, but it still needs to be done.

Once the last tick of the clock hits on your last class Friday, you need to be ready. No matter the shape your mind has been made into, you need to find a few sparks in there to plan ahead for Fall Break. Check the weather, bring the “10 essentials,” especially if you plan to spend your time in the wilderness, pack your car, leave your books, tuck this issue of The Daily Utah Chronicle under your arm and follow the setting sun. Go west. Your daily grind is on hold and you can finally relax.

Our last stop is the Pacific Ocean, but to get there you have to take a deadly drive through the Great Basin Desert along Interstate Highway 80. This is not a place to break down.

Your first watering hole will be on the left. It’s one of the deepest in the world8212;Lake Tahoe. A sapphire among the Sierra Nevada range, you will be standing among the many conifers brought to the shore by a living Calypso. It’s about an eight-and-a-half hour drive from Salt Lake City to Lake Tahoe, Nev.

You can fill the whole break in this one area. There’s camping all around the lake, but most of the campgrounds are huddled in the southwest corner. That’s where Desolation Wilderness is if you want to get lost. It offers wilderness camping with a reservation and fee.

The Pacific Crest trail crosses I-80 west of Truckee and skirts the rim of Lake Tahoe. After you’ve climbed, kayaked and hiked, check out Donner Memorial State Park. The statue’s base is how deep the snow got that winter the emigrants tried to live in it.

If you feel dirty and want to take a plunge, remember Scuba diving is a little more dangerous here8212;there is an increased risk of decompression sickness because of the altitude. Also, for a sip of the town, it’s Oktoberfest on Saturday at the Cobblestone Center in Tahoe city.

If you decide eternity in Tahoe is not for you, hop back onto I-80, pass through California’s state capital, Sacramento, and head for the coastline.

Once you hit the coast, the Golden State makes you feel as if you’re in a foreign land. There’s the strange food: Avocado sandwiches? They have their own version of personal space, and handshakes are looked at like a bowl of cold soup. Californians ignore the rest of the union like the United States ignores the world.

Head along I-80, and San Francisco is a straight shot from Lake Tahoe and Salt Lake City.

From San Francisco to Santa Cruz, there are around 18 surf spots along this front. Santa Cruz is a nice college town with a rich feel to it about four-and-a-half hours from Lake Tahoe. There are two beach camping sites along this same stretch of beach. The first is at Half Moon Bay State Beach, which is closer to San Francisco, and the second is Manresa State Beach, which is south of Santa Cruz. Reservations are needed, of course. If these are full, there are several campgrounds north of Santa Cruz.

Mavericks8212;home to some of the biggest waves and big surf competitions in the world8212;is a half-mile from Half Moon Bay. Waves during this season regularly reach beyond 25 feet, with several days topping out at the 50-foot range.

The home of Mavericks is the Pacific Ocean, but for us it is our Penelope. You should feel deprived if you never see this ocean. If people are born and raised beside such a natural deity as an ocean or a mountain, the natural landscape becomes a part of who they are.

Call a place for surf lessons, which should also be able to rent wet suits and boards. Just wearing the wet suit and carrying a board along the beach will give you the feeling of having cool points to spare. You will need them for the cold water and the brine you’re sure to gurgle a few times.

Your lesson will most likely begin on the beach, where you’ll practice popping up8212;going from lying on your board to standing. You might get a description of what you’re actually seeing. The wave has three parts: spread by wind, carried by water and birthed by land. The shape of the swell is determined by these three elements.

Paddling out takes a lot of effort, and being pounded by the white water will make you confident that Poseidon has a chip on his shoulder. The first few times you ride a wave, it will be lying down to get a feel for the speed of the ocean and the control of the board. After that, you’ll be ready for the real thing.

For a while you might simply feel ridiculous, like a bobber among the lake chop, but if you’re lucky, you’ll get the hang of it by the end of the first day. People are marked, in a way, by the piece of earth on which they learn to walk. Yet even someone partial to the Midwest prairie and its oak forests will respect the Pacific for the feeling of being taken by its waters. There is nothing more peaceful than using the ocean as your source of struggle and enjoyment.

For a taste of the land, Pinnacles National Monument is an hour-and-a-half south of Santa Cruz. Spindles balance on the sky in this rocky underworld where vultures look down on you, and tarantulas await a misplaced hand. The vultures are California Condors and you can identify them by the white daubs on their wings. You might have seen them in Zion or the Grand Canyon, the only two places outside California they inhabit.

For an alternate adventure with the same drive time from Santa Cruz, visit Los Padres National Forest, better known as Big Sur, with some trails through the Redwoods and ocean views. Thousands of acres were burned in the California fires, so there are fire restrictions there.

Civilization is rarely synonymous with nature, but visit the Academy of Sciences building inside Golden Gate Park. Committed to a green design, the building has been recently praised in the press. It is another marker of cities dipping their toes into responsible design. San Francisco is a great city and worth a visit before you turn back and head east.

Back to the fickle life under math, science and English, where you will be tossed here and there by assignments. To be moored to port will be torture for the soul, but hopefully your Fall Break will give you something you’ll always remember. Travel can make you appreciate how large and diverse this country is.

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Chris Kamrani

The Bay Bridge is the finish line of the 735-mile trek from Salt Lake to the San Francisco.