Even though I planned an entire day of the road trip around California's majestic redwoods and sequoias, I had a secret: I felt really guilty because I wasn't sure if I'd be too impressed by them.
Like most things in my life, I blame this on growing up in Connecticut. It's hard when you grow up in a forresty area to muster the same amazement for tall trees. Your formative years are spent taking them for granted because they're all around you. Plus, you're a tiny human then, so even Connecticut's comparatively short pine trees seem enormous.
But when I confessed this to someone before the trip, they assured me that I had nothing to worry about, that it was impossible to not stand in awe of these giants.
They were right.
After we snapped our last pics at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, we made a quick stop for Jack in the Box and then started the 6.5 hour drive to Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park up in the Klamath National Forrest... our last stop in the Golden State.
And since the next 24 hours were entirely dedicated to the appreciation of tall trees, what better way to kick off a day of exploring redwoods than by driving through one?
There are at least several trees you can drive through in Northern California, but I picked one directly off the 101: the Chandelier Tree in Drive-Thru Tree Park. We exited the highway, drove about a mile to the entrance, paid our $5 entry fee and headed down the grove-enclosed road to the line of cars.
Approaching this giant sequoia tree was weird because I just kept thinking it was too small and there was no way that we would fit my new compact SUV through it. Nevertheless, we inched our way through and came out on the other side where the gift shop and a peaceful little pond were waiting for us.
Ryan signed the guest log, we picked up a few souvenirs and then headed to the next stop on our redwoods journey: the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
The Avenue of the Giants is a 31-mile long drive parallel to the 101 and home to the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world. We drove about 28 of the 31 gorgeous miles, stopping at the various groves and the visitor center along the way.
After seeing a massive trunk at the visitor's center with the world's historical timeline tacked up to coordinate with the rings inside the tree, I finally started to get a sense of just how old these giant trees really are.
The next two and a half hours of driving towards our campground near Crescent City were some of the most magical miles I have ever ridden through. Between the rolling hills, the trees rising up higher and higher on each side of us, the wildlife, the fog and the sunset, I had never been on a stretch of highway so breathtaking before.
We made it to Jedediah in the dark and backed into our campsite, Site #103. I lucked out a couple of weeks before the trip and scored the absolute last site in this campground for this night, so road trippers beware: this gorgeous campground does sell out in the summer.
The next day I woke up with the sun and decided to take a little stroll around the campground to find a trail map and see what the amenities looked like.
Their impressive outdoor theater
Of all the campgrounds that we stayed at on this roadtrip, this was by far the nicest and most family-friendly. Drive up sites were interspersed with cabins, the bathrooms were huge and clean and modern, the visitor's center had a mini museum and gift shop (with actual gifts - not a lot of camping goods or food that I could find), and there was a sweet outdoor theater to boot.
I asked the lady working the gift shop counter for a map of the trails and then headed back to the car to wake Ryan up for our hike.
The trail that I'd heard the most about was Stout Grove, an easy half mile walk across the Smith River and through one of the most beautiful groves I've ever seen.
Before I could even get to the trees, I was immediately impressed by the river itself. Smith River is like a lazy river from a summer daydream: crystal clear water over smooth river rocks, moving at a snail's pace. Later, when the water had warmed up a bit, we found kids playing and floating around in it and I couldn't help but think that this campground would be a perfect place for reunion gatherings and multi-family summer vacations.
The obligatory hugging of trees
We spent about an hour and a half roaming the trail, getting lost, marveling at the trees, and soaking it all up before heading back to take showers and pack.
Now, looking back, the words that keep coming to mind whenever I try to describe these trees are wisdom, strength and serenity. It's hard not to feel surrounded by deep, profound wisdom when you are in the presence of living organisms that are 2200 years older than you are. Sometimes it feels hard to have gotten through 30 years on this crazy planet, let alone over 2,000!
As we drove away, I tried to absorb whatever wisdom, strength and serenity I could from my tall friends and carry it on to the next adventure: the great state of Oregon!