I’ve been wanting to experience The Redwood trees for years, I’ve always loved just being in the forest (I mostly love the smells of damp earth). And the increase in wildfires lended some urgency to my trip. My life was also recently upended, as I’m no longer going to be a parent – so this trip was a space for me to find my own feelings and my own way forward.
The train was a great experience. It took about 50 hours to get from Chicago to San Francisco. It was very quiet, calm, and relaxed. Everyone was kind. It was a very relaxed way to travel. I was able to read a lot of books, watch some movies, and just enjoy the views as I travelled across the country.
Once I arrived in San Francisco, I got a rental car and started driving up the coast. Since I got in at 4pm, I camped my first night at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. I was able to get a hike in the first night and meet some wonderful people at the campsite next to me (Andy + Alex)!
My first 3 days were the train (Saturday, Sunday, Monday). I drove 4 hours north to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and drove through the Avenue of The Giants en route. It was amazing! The trees just towered over me and everything else.
It’s really difficult to take pictures of these trees, they are just so huge. Many of them are over 300 feet tall. I did find a trick though, using my iPhone in “Pano” mode, but in portrait orientation – which is difficult because you have to use the rear-facing camera, which means you’re taking a selfie blind – but I got the hang of it (or asked others to take my photo).
I did quite a few hikes around the area, then setup camp for the night at Burlington campsite at Humboldt Redwoods SP – it was a really nice campground, nestled beneath some large Redwoods.
Drove north another hour (stopping by Sue-Meg State Park on the way) and got to Redwood National Park proper (Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park). I hiked the classic Lady Bird Johnson trail, which is short and enjoyable. But even better was the Trillium Falls Trail! The falls where underwhelming, but the trails was beautiful. Hiking through the Redwoods, you get that dark, quiet forest feeling.
It was a rainy day, but honestly is was the most fun. I got a permit to hike the Fern Canyon trail, and to drive to the trail, you have to drive through 2 creeks. The canyon itself is beautiful, but very wet. I think that was part of the fun, I felt like a kid just playing in the rain. I was jumping from log to stone to branch to traverse the canyon.
After Fern Canyon, I drove north to my last park, Jedediah Smith State Park. All of the parks have a slightly different feel, and I really enjoyed each one.
At Jedediah, I hiked the 6 mile Boy Scout Trail and the 3 mile Grove of Titans trail. The Grove of Titans is amazing, it has some trees that are 2,000 years old. They are currently upgrading the trail, and it has lots of information signage (including much about the indigenious people that lived here thousands of years ago).
Took the train back to Chicago
What I Found
I found so much connection with nature: the endless ocean, the deep dark forest, and the barren desert that we passed through on the train.
What I really found though is the solitude to allow space to listen to myself. I found that of the few connections I did make with people, they were all meaningful. Sharing my story with strangers was surprisingly nurturing, they were “honored” to hear my story and I felt like they held me with love.
Meeting so many people from so many different walks of life also reinforced my belief that everyone is so deeply human: nobody knows the answer, everyone is trying, and everyone has their own struggles. I thought San Francisco was gonna be a bunch of rich snobs and traffic was gonna be insane, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everyone was so kind, even strangers in the grocery store joked with me, it felt like I never left the midwest.
I think we sometimes think people are so different, especially when they live on other sides of the country. But really, we are all the same.
With each connection I made with strangers, it felt like I walked away learning more about myself. It made me think of what Valerie Kaur says when she encounters strangers: “You are a part of me that I do not yet know.”