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USA 2016

Overview

One Saturday in May 2016 I was leaving my parents' home and getting ready to drive back to my apartment in Giv'atayim. As I mounted my smartphone into its stand in the car, I got an email from Riot Fest announcing that two special reunion shows of the original Misfits — with Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only and Doyle — will be held in September in Denver and Chicago. It was a shocking announcement, seeing as how the band broke up in 1983 and due to the troublesome relationship between Danzig and Only. I'm a big Misfits fan and without hesitation I immediately purchased tickets for the festival, in the hopes that maybe I'd end up in the US in 2016 as well. I decided to buy tickets for the Denver festival, which I've never been to, reasoning that the Denver grounds are less likely to suffer from the same mud problem as Chicago. Also, as the Denver show was the first one, I viewed it as increasing my chances of actually seeing the Misfits, just in case the band members throw a fit and cancel the second show.

In the beginning of 2016 I moved to a different job, working for a new startup company, so I had a more demanding job and did not really expect to be able to get 3-4 weeks of vacation like in my previous company. But a month or so after I purchased the festival tickets, the company allowed me to take a 2 week vacation in September. My plan was to fly to Denver for the festival, and from there fly to Sacramento, where I'd rent a car and drive between the national parks of the Sierra Nevada. I wanted to take advantage of the fact that one-way car rentals in California do not incur a significant drop-off fee, and decided to return the car in Los Angeles and fly back home from there.

Just a week before my flight from Israel to Denver, my company thought it would be beneficial to send me to some potential customers in San Francisco, and so with less than two days notice I flew to the US a week earlier than planned and gained another week, albeit (mostly) for business purposes.

Trip Route

  • [08/26] Giv'atayim, Israel
  • [08/27] Newark, NJ
  • [08/27] San Francisco, CA
  • [09/01] Denver, CO
  • [09/05] Sacramento, CA
  • [09/05] Priest, CA
  • [09/06] Yosemite National Park, CA
  • [09/08] Fresno, CA
  • [09/09] Kings Canyon National Park, CA
  • [09/09] Visalia, CA
  • [09/11] Sequoia National Park, CA
  • [09/11] Los Banos, CA
  • [09/12] Pinnacles National Park, CA
  • [09/12] Pismo Beach, CA
  • [09/13] Ventura, CA
  • [09/14] Santa Cruz Island, CA
  • [09/15] Los Angeles, CA
  • [09/16] Newark, NJ
  • [09/17] Tel Aviv, IL

Total Kilometers Driven: 1509

08/27-09/01: San Francisco, CA

Panorama of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge

I left Israel on a Friday night, which turned out to be pretty great as the airport was basically empty. I reached San Francisco after two not particularly memorable flights and checked into the hotel my company arranged, located right next to Union Square. It was the weekend so I had some time to explore the city before I had to start visiting potential customers. I walked to the pier, checked out Fisherman's Wharf and nearby locations, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot. I've already seen most of these places on my first US trip in 2012, but I only spent one day in San Francisco back then, and the weather was pretty bad and very cold. This time it was clear and warm, and the Golden Gate Bridge was not shrouded in a cloud of fog.

Staying in Union Square, I quickly found it to be a lively location with lots of tourists and amazing street bands. Now, it's not uncommon to see street performers in touristic locations, but these were not just one performer but complete bands! There was one band that played every evening on the sidewalk just below my hotel, with two singers (male and female), two keyboard players, bassist, guitarist and a trumpeter. They played jazz, blues and rock songs, drawing lots of people to crowd around and dance in the street.

During the week I started each day by walking to the pier, where the offices of one of the companies I visited were located. They had great views of the bay and the Oakland Bay Bridge. In the evenings I walked back to the hotel, watched and listened to the band playing, trained in the hotel fitness center, and then went out looking for interesting places to eat.

One day during the week my company's west-coast sales guy invited me to take the ferry with him from the pier to Sausalito for dinner. This turned out to be pretty awesome, because the ferry afforded me some great views, including the city's three bridges, Alcatraz Island, and San Quentin State Prison, which I had no idea we would cross so close to. With my colleague acting as a tour guide, it turned out to be a great way to explore the area. And the fondue restaurant where we had dinner was pretty great too, and a new experience for me - I've never been to such a restaurant before. On my way back to the city, again on the ferry, the sun was just setting, and the sky was painted a deep orange, giving the Golden Gate Bridge a magnificent background.

I was in San Francisco for almost a week, and had a great time. I was happy to be there during the summer, when it's still warm and clear.

09/01-05: Denver, CO

On the first of September I flew from SF to Denver and was glad to find the city quite hot (but not humid). My choice of going to Riot Fest in Denver rather than Chicago seemed like it was going to pay off weather-wise. I arrived late at night and checked into a hotel. This was my last day on the company dime, and they arranged a pretty cool hotel for me. I spent the night training in the hotel's fitness center, which was conveniently located on the hotel's last floor, and had an amazing view of the nearby high rise towers, which were all lighted. I felt like I was in the last scene of Fight Club. After that I walked to a nearby bar/pizza place and had one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten.

The next day I moved to an AirBNB apartment (where one of the host's cats was waiting on the bed for me) in a residential neighborhood that looked exactly like those you see in the movies, with each house having a front-garden and a garage. After checking in I immediately walked to the festival grounds. The Denver festival is quite different than its Chicago counterpart, mostly because the location is not a city park, but rather the surroundings of the National Western Complex, and one of the stages was inside a roofed stadium. I watched Lagwagon, NOFX and the greatest band of all time - the Descendents. I've seen all these bands before, and actually seen them all in California less than a year before. The Descendents set was absolutely amazing and I had a hell of a good time in the pit.

The next day I decided to skip the festival, and took the bus downtown to join a guided brewery tour. I've had myself some sort of a self guided brewery tour in Denver one night in 2014, but I thought it would be fun to join a group (I've had a great time on a guided brewery tour in Berlin on December 2015). The group was fairly big and made up of only Americans, with the exception of myself of course. We walked between several breweries such as Rock Bottom and Wynkoop and had some good beers. The tour ended at the Falling Rock Tap House, and it took me a little while to remember that it was also the last stop on my improvised tour from two years before, only this time I wasn't as drunk. It's amazing how many breweries are located right there in a fairly small area.

Later that night I returned downtown to see Lagwagon again, playing at the Summit Music Hall (which, coincidentally, is right opposite the Falling Rock Tap House). A baseball match just ended at the Coors Field and hordes of people walked the streets. The place was also full of bars, mostly on the rooftops, and there were lots and lots of people; guess Denver is a party town.

The final day of the festival I finally got to see Me First and the Gimme Gimmes live, which was great, and at the end of the day the original Misfits played their first show since 1983. The crowd was huge, thousands and thousands of people, and while at first I was very close to the stage, it got too hectic and congested for me when the show began, so I moved to the side and watched the show with the calmer fans. This show definitely rates right up there in the list of things I never thought I would get to see or do. I've been a huge Misfits fan for years, and to be able to see them live is unbelievable.

The next morning I left Denver and flew back to California.

09/05-15: California Road Trip

Yosemite National Park

On the morning of September 5 I landed in Sacramento, and as I usually do, I picked up a rental car at the airport, got some supplies for the road, and immediately left the city, driving south-east towards the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and my first target - Yosemite National Park.

After a day of driving I reached the Priest Station Cafe, located 50 miles from Yosemite Valley, and nearby the small town of Groveland. The family-owned cafe is located on a hill overlooking Highway 120, with nothing else around it. It also has a small number of cabins, and I had booked myself two nights in one of them. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of my cabin, which was very comfortable and tidy. Apart from the main queen-size bed, the cabin had a smaller room with a single bed, that also had a TV with a VCR/DVD player, and a large basket full of video tapes and DVDs. I had so much fun watching movies in that small room that I did not bother sleeping in the larger bed. I also enjoyed sitting on the cabin's balcony at night reading a book, and looking at the clear night sky full of stars.

The next day I drove to Yosemite National Park. The road leading into Yosemite Valley is long and winding, and at one point you get a first glimpse of the valley, with Half Dome and El Capitan, and it's like getting punched in the face, if getting punched in the face could ever be a positive experience. It was just an extremely powerful view.

My legs were pretty tired from the festival so I resigned myself to mostly drive around the park that day and reserve the hiking to the following day. My first stop was a short walk to a viewpoint right below El Capitan, where I noticed a small group of people standing with their cameras looking and pointing at the massive, near vertical rock. I asked them what they were looking at, and they showed me through their telescopic lense a small group of rock climbers on El Capitan. Looked scary as hell.

Directly across the road where I parked for the El Capitan walk, the Merced River wound its way near the road. There were many people there enjoying the water and just sitting around taking it easy, and a bunch of ducks were swimming lazily next to the human visitors.

After getting some more great views of the valley, I made a quick stop at the somewhat-still-flowing Bridalveil Fall, and drove to Tunnel View, where many people were lined up to take pictures of the valley from the famous viewpoint. From there I decided to drive the Tioga Pass Road up to Tenaya Lake, where I spent some time before driving back to Priest.

On September 7 I woke up early and drove back to the valley, hoping to catch the tour bus to Glacier Point, so that I can hike the Panorama Trail back down to the valley, where I left my car parked in the Half Dome Village parking lot. Unfortunately, the bus was full, so I decided to hike the trail from the valley up to Glacier Point, which makes it a bottom-to-top trail with a considerable altitude gain. At around 9 miles, this was the longest day hike I've ever made. It was very, very difficult, especially as the first hike of the trip, but definitely an amazing trail, with views of Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Illilouette Fall, and finally Glacier Point. Panorama Point should be there too, but it is unmarked and I did not find it. By the time I finished the trail, my legs were cramped like hell and my water was gone. Thankfully, Glacier Point had a gift shop with plenty of liquids.

The distance between Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley is about four miles as the crow files, but the road between the two points is about 30 miles, making it an hour drive. To get back to my car I had no choice but to hitch a ride, and I quickly found a ride with a very nice American man from California. On the one hour drive I learned that he was retired, and liked to visit national parks to take pictures. We talked a lot about the different parks and my plans for the rest of the trip. After he dropped me off in Half Dome Village, I drove all the way to Fresno, where I spent the next day doing absolutely nothing and letting my legs recover from the hike. I did pick up a pair of binoculars I had ordered ahead of time, mostly for stargazing purposes.

Kings Canyon National Park

On Friday I drove to Kings Canyon National Park, and saw the many farms and farmers' markets of Central Valley. On the way to the park I stumbled upon a sign for a place called Cat Haven and decided to check it out. I was happy to find a sanctuary for wild cats, and took a tour showcasing the sanctuary's jaguars, cheetahs, bobcats, tigers, lions, etc.. An awesome surprise stop not unlike the grizzly sanctuary I stumbled upon a year before in Montana.

Once in the park, I entered the visitor center in General Grant Grove to consult with the park rangers. On a fluke, I mentioned my new binoculars to the park ranger, asking if he thinks there are good locations for stargazing in the park, and he told me that he himself was leading a stargazing tour later that night and invited me to join.

From the visitor center, I drove to the short trail leading to the General Grant tree, the second largest tree in the world (by volume). I then drove to Panoramic Point for a view of the Sierra Nevada range, taking my binoculars with me. I was surprised to see how much smug shrouded the entire area, and later learned it was air pollution coming down from the San Francisco Bay Area.

From Panoramic Point I drove all the way to the second part of the park, Cedar Grove. The two parts are separated by a long stretch of the Sequoia National Forest, which is pretty unique for a national park to be separated into two individual units. I stopped several times on the way for views of the eponymous Kings Canyon. In Cedar Grove I took several short hiking trails, including the Roaring River Falls and Zumwalt Meadow trails. Driving back to Grant Grove, I made it back just in time for the stargazing tour. The park ranger took us to a helipad near Panoramic Point, where we could see many stars, but the moon was out in full force, preventing clearer skies. With my binoculars though I could see a lot more stars, distinguish the binary star of the Ursa Major constellation, and watch the craters of the moon.

After that I drove to Visalia, taking one of the longest winding roads in the world (or so it felt). Man, it was a tough one. But I made it all the way to Visalia, and checked in to the Lamp Liter Inn. The motel was so good, and its gardens and pool were so beautiful that instead of checking out the next day, I extended my stay another night, and spent the entire extra day swimming in the pool, reading in the gardens, and watching a movie downtown.

Sequoia National Park

On September 11 I drove to Sequoia National Park, visiting the park's Giant Forest section. Instead of hiking one front-and-back trail, I decided to take advantage of the fact it was the last day the park's shuttle bus was active, and create my own one way trail, made up of several different trails. I started my hike on the trail to the General Sherman tree - the largest tree in the world, where people were lined up to take pictures of themselves at the foot of the tree. From there I walked through the Giant Forest, seeing more giant sequoia trees on the way, and also Crescent Meadow and a bunch of marmots. The last part of the trail was the short but difficult hike to the top of Moro Rock, where the views would have been much better were it not for the air pollution.

From Moro Rock I took the shuttle back to the Sherman tree parking lot, and was (not so) surprised to find the bus full of Israelis traveling in a group.

Pinnacles National Park

Panoramic View of Pinnacles National Park

Originally, I had figured that after Sequoia I would continue south-east and see if I could make my way to Death Valley National Park, or if time was short - Joshua Tree National Park. At the last second, however, I changed my mind and decided to drive north-west instead, to visit Pinnacles National Park, which was only upgraded to national park status in 2013. I spent the night in Los Banos.

The next day I drove to the park, and was not surprised to find it much less crowded than the parks I visited in the Sierra Nevada. In fact, I've encountered only a handful of people. I chose to hike the High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop trail. The park is very interesting and different than the ones I had visited previously during the trip. The main feature are the weird rock formations that are leftovers of an ancient volcano, but the trail also gave great views of the surrounding hills, valleys and mountains. The trail reaches the Bear Gulch reservoir before looping back.

From the park I drove south, and stopped for the night in Pismo Beach, where I spent a night in 2012 as well. I checked in to a beautiful hotel right on the beach. For dinner, I drove to the local Denny's restaurant, and as I was leaving it I suddenly had a feeling of déjà vu, and I remembered that I had already eaten at that restaurant in 2012. I quickly found the booth where I sat down back then, and imagined myself sitting there, on my first ever trip of the US, and tried to remember what was going through my mind as I was sitting there eating my dinner. Was I expecting to ever be back there?

Channel Islands National Park

Back in the hotel, I realised that I had enough time to do something I had not planned - taking a ferry to one of the Channel Islands of California, whom five of them collectively make up Channel Islands National Park. Therefore, the next day I drove to Ventura, from which the ferry leaves. Since the ferry sets off rather early in the morning, I booked a trip for the day after. To make things easy, I decided to visit Santa Cruz Island, the largest and closest of the islands.

I had almost an entire day to spend in Ventura, and I used that time to go to the national park's visitor center, located right on the harbor. After that I went for a long walk on the beach, and finished the day at a local cinema.

I woke up early on September 14 and drove to the harbor. I had no idea how many people to expect on the ferry, and found it to be completely full. The cruise took one hour to reach the island, and on the way we saw a lot of seals, birds, seagulls, and dolphins. The dolphins were a nice surprise for me, and they kept swimming right in front the bow of the boat, every once in the while jumping out of the water and into the air. I'm pretty sure this was the first time I've ever really seen dolphins.

The harbor on the island was damaged during the winter, so the ferry could not land on the island and instead we were transferred to the beach on rubber boats in groups. On the island, I was surprised to find plenty more people, mostly groups of school children and a big bunch of campers. I immediately set off on a hike to Cavern Point, which gave great coastal views, and continued from there to a point overlooking Potato Harbor, where I saw a group of kayakers. There I met a fellow hiker, and together we improvised a way back to the beach, going down through the campground. The man was also a national park enthusiast, and we spent a while comparing hikes we've made in the various parks and talked about the parks I hadn't visited yet. We parted ways when we reached the campground, and I found a nice spot below some trees where I spent some time reading my book. While reading, I had finally spotted the famous Island fox which is endemic to the islands. He was very small, the size of a housecat, and even though the ferry staff warned us that they are known to come right up to people begging for food, he was afraid of me and ran off when I tried to get close for a better picture. This turned out to be quite the good luck for me, as I was basically the only one on the ferry who got to see one.

Before sundown, the ferry sailed back to Ventura, and after eating dinner I drove south to Los Angeles and checked in to a motel.

Los Angeles

September 15 was my last full day of the trip. I decided to visit the famous beaches of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, starting with Santa Monica, where I also visited Pacific Park, an amusement park located right on the beach. I continued south on the beaches, through Venice Beach, Manhattan Beach, and down to Hermosa Beach, birthplace of my favorite band the Descendents. Funnily enough, I was wearing a Descendents shirt that I bought at the festival that day, and people kept telling me they liked my shirt the whole day.

I spent the rest of the day preparing for the flights back home, and ended the night at a movie theater. The next morning I drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car, and once again said goodbye to the US, 'till next time at least.

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