Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Mount Shasta, as seen from Interstate 5 in Northern California, is resplendent with its heaviest snowpack since 1983.The Sundial Bridge, Redding’s renowned $12 million pedestrian bridge that spans the Sacramento River.

Trains, planes and gas pains

By: 
John Elliott

 

Having put the first big travel weekend of summer 2017 in the rearview mirror, you might have noticed Three Rivers was bursting at the seams with visitors.   Let me be among the first to say welcome to all who visit Kaweah Country this summer, especially the newbies.  
 
The typical tourist will drive more than 200 miles en route to Three Rivers and visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. It certainly is no surprise that gas prices jumped 20 cents a couple of days before millions of Americans climbed behind the wheel and drove way more miles than usual.
 
Frequently this summer, every room, cabin, vacation rental, and hundreds of area campsites will be full most Friday and Saturday nights — and some other nights too so be patient — after all, this is vacation time and tourists couldn’t be in a better place to relax or engage in something a little more strenuous like hiking, mountain biking, trail running, backpacking, peak-bagging (maybe not until the snow melts), kayaking, whitewater rafting, or horseback riding. 
 
Travel is the best teacher— This summer, more than 75 percent of all Americans will take a vacation, up 10 percent from last year. The first wave will be fueled by grads, newlyweds, and families hitting the road as soon as school is out. No matter how you-all travel, here are some observations from a recent trip I took.  
 
I had the unique opportunity of traveling a Thursday to Monday last month via train from Hanford to Oakland; on Friday morning flying from Oakland to Portland, Ore., and then on Sunday-Monday driving the 840 miles home to Three Rivers. I spent Sunday night in Redding, Calif., a few miles more than halfway. 
 
This weekend travel experience was like taking a cruise with multiple ports of call. I’m not sure I remember much about any of the places I was at but one thing is certain in the school of life:  travel teaches practical skills like what stuff you need, how to navigate, and how to tune in to your surroundings, whether for a few days or a few months. 
 
Here are some of the highlights of what I learned that weekend.
 
Amtrak— Of course, working a full day Thursday and clearing the to-do list before departing was a huge challenge. The train was scheduled to depart from Hanford at 5:05 p.m. It was the only option to make the weekend work seamlessly. 
 
I learned it was possible to leave Three Rivers at 4:05 p.m. and still navigate the 50 miles to the train station with 10 minutes to spare. The northbound San Joaquin Flyer is routinely on-time — it’s coming from Bakersfield with no stops.  
 
Everything must line up to catch that train. No traffic delays, and time the two Highway 198 traffic lights green. Making that train in less than 60 minutes was a moot point until a couple of years ago when Caltrans completed the widening of Highway  198 from the 99 west to Hanford. 
 
Our tax dollars at work — thanks, State of California! The trip on Amtrak was uneventful, comfortable, and the reliable Wi-Fi makes it an opportune time to be productive. The five-hour train ride flew by and we de-trained at Jack London Square, end of the line, at 10 p.m., right on schedule.
 
Southwest Airlines: Oakland to Portland— I’m no frequent flier but when I do, I seek out non-stops. Southwest Airlines seemed user friendly and, as one of the flight crew told me, the airline’s approach works better when every seat is full. I learned the key is online check-in precisely 24 hours before departure. 
 
Every passenger is assigned groups A, B, or C all done first-come first served. It makes sense — no assigned seats, simply a boarding group. The boarding announcement said it was full flight.
 
I was group C, which means almost a guaranteed middle seat. As I boarded, most of the 137 seats were taken. It now became a search and grab for a middle seat between two smaller folks that might afford at least some roominess. 
 
I played a hunch and went all the way to the rear of the cabin. A party of five stretched across two rows of six seats who wanted to sit across from each other. 
 
What a score! I was ushered into the last aisle seat on board. The 9 a.m. departure landed in Portland at 10:30 a.m., again right on schedule.
 
My next challenge was how to get the northeast Portland neighborhood where I would be staying the next two nights. I was quoted by an anxious cabbie 30 bucks for a  trip less than five miles away.
 
The cabbie suggested Uber if I didn’t like the fare. We don’t have Uber in Three Rivers yet, but it was easy to download the app to try something new. 
 
Next, I put in the first trip promotion code. The normal Uber fee of $16.80 for a ride to my destination was waived. A receipt was soon in my email for $0.00. 
 
The driver in his Kia Soul was a pleasant 50-something office machine repair person looking to earn a few extra bucks. I guess next time I’ll try Lyft — they have a matching first-trip promotion too. 
 
Goodbye unionized cab companies. It’s the new way of the world. 
 
Driving the I-5— Portland was a non-stop flurry of seeing the sites for two fun-filled days. It’s the craft brewing mecca of the universe, and this trip I discovered Base Camp Brewing Company.
 
The most difficult thing I’ve found about visiting Portland is surrendering to beer pressure. Way too many beers; way too little time. If a brewery concentrates on making beer and chooses not to serve food like Base Camp, the parking lot is ringed with food truck options. 
 
Listen up, Kaweah Country. The first investor who mimics that Base Camp business plan and serves a decent craft beer will have a gold mine.      
 
My purpose of the trip? Spend some quality time with our son, Johnnie, and drive back to Three Rivers in a truck, one of the family vehicles no longer needed in Portland. 
 
I departed at sunrise on Sunday. The drive down I-5 was quite pleasant. I recalled how strange, yet convenient, it is to have an attendant pump gas and clean your windshield.
 
Imagine getting gas at a “service station.” In Oregon, it’s the law.
 
Driving south, the verdant green of the Willamette Valley gave way to a browner, drier landscape. Burn piles in lots of places started near Eugene.
 
The volcanic landscape with snow-capped peaks and buttes where the Cascades begin to transition to the northern Sierra is especially beautiful this year. 
 
Shasta Lake is filled to capacity with 4.25 million acre feet of storage. Compare that to Lake Kaweah when it fills in a couple of weeks at 185,000 acre feet.  
 
The 20-plus-mile trail network called the Sacramento River Trail from Redding to Shasta Dam was loaded with runners, bikers, and dog walkers. Redding’s $12 million pedestrian Sundial Bridge, spanning the Sacramento River, is beautiful beyond compare.
 
But the best thing this trip taught me is how fortunate I am to be a Californian and living and working in Three Rivers. Go outside, take a breath, and enjoy. 
 
We’re in one of the planet’s last best places. If you don’t believe me, travel 800 miles in any direction and then come home.
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