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Early retirement travels - week 11 California

Trying to stay warm at Lake Tahoe

Anyone who believes California is the land of eternal sun…think again! It’s one of those things that I intellectually know but have trouble putting that knowledge into practice.

Before getting to that, here’s what I have in mind for my two weeks in California, based around meeting up with an old school friend near Sacramento in the middle of the trip. I fly in and out of Los Angeles so figured I’d do one leg of the journey to Sacramento on an inland route and return along the coast to see the different faces of California. These are the highlights in my plan:

  • Heading north, inland from LA towards Sacramento via:

  • Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park

  • Yosemite National Park

  • Lake Tahoe

  • Heading south, back towards LA via:

  • Napa Valley

  • Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco pretty much all the way to LA

I estimate my trip will be around 1,600 miles, almost 2,600 kms. It’s weird thinking how many countries I’d drive through doing similar miles in Europe while here I don’t even get out of the state of California. America is a big place and California is it's third largest state, after Alaska and Texas.

My rental car parked at Lake Tahoe

The distances have already made me change my plan. After visiting the Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks (I wrote about these in last week’s post), I decided to miss Yosemite. Rather than trying to cram too much in, I’d prefer to come back and see it when I have more time and also someone to share it with.

Lake Tahoe is the bit where intellectually knowing something didn’t make it’s way into sensible planning. I know it’s a ski resort, but I also have this inane belief that California should be sunny and warm. After this week, I can confirm that Californian ski resorts do indeed have snow and that the Californian snow is just as cold as snow is anywhere else. I can also confirm that my packing designed around Costa Rica and Colombia was tragically unsuitable for -8°C!

I had 3 days in South Lake Tahoe but the cold and the snow scuppered my ideas of running or hiking by the lake and in the mountains. Instead, I spent time in cafes and shops to keep warm, and watching American football in my hotel room. Lake Tahoe is beautiful, a place to return to with either better planning on the season or my wardrobe.

Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, not the guy I was talking to

While at Lake Tahoe I had my first experience of Thanksgiving. I like the idea of reflecting on what we are thankful for and sparing a thought for others who are finding things more difficult. That said, I suspect commercialism has overtaken much of the idea. I had my Thanksgiving dinner in a near empty bar chatting to a guy called Gator (I'm assuming not the name on his birth certificate), originally from Florida, now living in a camper in Tahoe and looking like he’d come straight off the set of Duck Dynasty. I thought he was an interesting guy, my friends reckoned he was on the run from something – I guess we'll never know🤣

My final Lake Tahoe challenge was finding a gap in the snow storms to get out. All cars required snow chains, which I didn’t have. Eventually the snow chain requirements were lifted long enough for me to get down to the valley before the next snow storm rolled in that night.

Catching up with my old school friend after 24 years!

Twenty-four years after our last meeting, I reconnected with Andy, my old school friend at his home in Orangevale, a little outside of Sacramento. I knew it would be good to see him, but I was still surprised how easy it was to chat and catch up on what we’ve each been up to. Except that the subjects covered the past two and a half decades, we got on as if the 24 year gap hadn’t existed. His wife, Kim, is a wonderful host whose millionaire shortbread is to die for – I’m trusting they were a special diet version given how much I ate.

When my Dad used to visit us in Hong Kong or Dubai he would tell us that he was simply interested to hear what we’d been up to and see how we lived our normal life. Heaven forbid that I’m turning into my father🙄 but that is exactly what I was interested in here, so Andy and Kim showed me around their neighbourhood, introduced me to some of their friends and got on with some of their normal life. We parted knowing that we mustn’t leave it even a small fraction of the time until we catch up again.

This was a tough week for my healthy eating and exercise targets? While the cold and snow at Lake Tahoe made running impossible, I’m impressed that I swapped this for four hotel room HIIT workouts which I found on YouTube. Given how much my muscles ached I reckon I deserve the 8 out of 10 score for exercise. Eating was less good. Less healthy options are too accessible in the US and hotel living and the cold weather seemed to encourage this. I didn’t do great with my eating at Lake Tahoe but fortunately Kim served me with healthy (I'm discounting the millionaire shortbread for this!) and very tasty food for the second half of the week. I’d like to say I can scrape a six but I think 5 out of 10 is more honest.

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I find my blog is a little like keeping a journal and sometimes read back about what I did or what I was thinking six months or a year ago. I always thought that keeping a diary sounded a bit dull, but it turns out it can be kind of fun.

Week 11 - what we've done:

Monday - Sequoia National Park, California. Drive to overnight stop in Stockton

Tuesday – Drive to Lake Tahoe. Watched some football on TV. Café to get our of the snow and keep warm

Wednesday – Lake Tahoe. Wandered around the town, coffee shops to keep warm, reading, blog, TV

Thursday – Lake Tahoe. Walk to the lake. Life admin. American Football on TV. It's Thanksgiving

Friday – Lake Tahoe to Orangevale. Waiting for the snow chain requirements to clear. Evening with Andy & Kim

Saturday – Orangevale. Catching up with my old school friend. He showed me around the neighbourhood.

Sunday – Orangevale. More catching up with my old school friend.

Week 11 - I spent a total of £599 / €671 / $784 for 1 person on:

Accommodation £193 / €216 / $252 4 days in California. Stayed with my friend for 3 days

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £217 / €243 / $285

Transport £178 / €199 / $233 Car rental and fuel

Laundry £4 / €5 / $5

Other £7 / €8 / $9


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