A Redwoods Road Trip

As of this week, I am fully moved to Montana! When we left in December, Jacob and I stored our bikes and potted trees at friends’ houses. We didn’t want to damage the bikes by packing them, and it was too cold for the plants to make the trip through the mountains in the winter. My parents were willing to drive out to get the stuff, so we decided to turn the errand into a west coast road trip.

After loading the bikes, lunch at my favorite Indian restaurant, and a few stops by old South Bay haunts, we headed up a winding road to a tent cabin in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. This cabin was a one room structure, with two bed platforms, a table, and a wood stove. My dad stoked the fire throughout the night, so we stayed cozy even in the damp mountain air.

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Tent cabin at Big Basin (source)

We left the cabin before sunrise and the first rays of light filtered through the redwoods as we wound toward the ocean. After a stroll through the San Francisco botanical gardens, and a coffee stop to charge our phones, we picked up my trees, grabbed burritos at a favorite Taqueria, and headed across the bridge before the worst of the evening traffic hit. Looking over our right shoulders we could see San Francisco, still prominent through cables on the bridge, and to the left, the opening of the Pacific, fading into the horizon.

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Heading north across the Golden Gate

Road trips allow the option to leave whenever you want and sightsee when the impulse strikes. With some American interstates over 2,000 miles, speeding along the highway can make you feel both small against the expanse of this giant country and free, with only the open road ahead. Of course, driving out of the bay area just before rush hour, we had to be generous with our definition of “open road.” We had heavy traffic the first two hours of our trip, and arrived at our campsite well after dark. Thanks to electricity in the cabin, this was no problem at all.

Ocean views are a given on the Pacific Coast Highway, but our stops were all about the giant redwoods. Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods is the oldest state park in California. The trees are massive, and according to the park website, some of them are “more than 50 feet around and as tall as the Statue of Liberty.”

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A path at Big Basin (source)

Even more impressive were their ages. The park welcome center displays the cross section of a tree with historical events at their corresponding ring. A few dozen rings from the center, the display notes the passing of the year 570: “Mohammed is born.” Far at the outside–still a few years from the end of the tree’s life, but hundreds of years farther from its beginning–the display lists the establishment of Big Basin Sate Park.

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A very old tree (source)

As is often the way with driving, one of our memorable stops arose out of necessity. An essential part of any trip, we were lucky to need a bathroom break near a rest area with an exhibit on redwood snags. My dad pointed to a snag just outside the restroom–an impressive stump, if you could call it that, at 6 feet in diameter and 20 feet high. An assortment of plants and small trees grew out of the jagged top. Snags, the sign informed us, are an important part of the forest ecosystem. As they decompose they provide nesting for birds, cover for ground creatures, and a fertile soil for other things to grow. Long after their death, the trees feed new generations. 

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My dad rests up for a night of driving

As a kid, my parents often drove through the night for longs trips. Sometimes, the travel spanned two nights, and they would take turns sleeping, trading off in shorter and shorter turns until we finally arrived. After our second night in the Redwoods, we still had 19 hours of driving and no plans to stop for the night. We pulled up some podcasts and playlists and settled in for a few long talks.

So far to go, I thought, but compared to the life of a redwood, it’s not much. Just a drop in the bucket. A fraction of an atom in the ring of an old tree.

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