I’m still trying to process yesterday. It’s now in the afternoon on my third full day here and I haven’t left my Airbnb. I have a bit of a migraine, and I slept in until 1PM. Let’s rewind, shall we?
Yesterday, I woke up with two and a half hours of sleep at most. When last we talked, I had raved about the Dutch Bros Coffee drink. Let it be known that I consumed the delicious Kicker drink at 9pm at night. Did I mention it was a large? Well, it was. As such, I was unable to sleep until 3 AM. I spent the night updating my travel journal, doing some research on the area, and tossing and turning. Then I woke up at 5:30 AM and decided it was a great idea to go through my cell phone pictures from the past couple of years and do some cleanup. I went from 5,400 pictures to 2,500 pictures.
And then I rolled out of bed, showered, and made my way to the Lake Shasta Caverns. Well, first I stopped at Dutch Bros Coffee and grabbed an iced Amaretto Latte. It was perfect and needed as I began my 20 minute drive toward my spelunking adventure.
This goes without saying, but I will never get over the sights as I drive through Northern California. I have to remind myself to watch the road as I drive through lush mountainsides, pass glittering bodies of water, and revere the powerful Mt. Shasta that looms over it all. The trip to the Lake Shasta Caverns led me through scary winding roads (again!) where I had to stop the car at one point to allow baby deer to scatter safely. They did not desire to be photographed. Also, I wasn’t risking photographs on such narrow roads.
Upon arrival to the Lake Shasta Caverns, I was filled with awe. Between jagged mountains of green was the mighty Lake Shasta, sparkling in the radiating sunlight. I purchased my ticket, the first of the tour, and eventually walked down a long path to dock onto a boat.
Yes, a boat.
Here’s the thing. The cave I was about to explore is only reachable by boating across Lake Shasta. There’s absolutely no other way there. I was greeted by the driver of the boat who was impressed that I’d come all the way from PA. Remember how I said I was going to work on being better at telling people I was here due to writing a book?
Yeah. I failed. I also didn’t feel particularly social on this day–I blame lack of sleep. I was shortly joined by 8 other people: a young solo woman, a son with his elderly mother, three local sisters, and a traveling RV couple from NYC. We were a motley bunch, unlikely that we would ever be seen together in a different setting. I wish I’d known their names, but that’s one thing I never got, despite having broken conversations with these people here and there. Maybe that’s part of the adventure though. Nine people riding across an entrancing lake together where we would soon enter the depths of a cave–yet no names were given. Our tour guide, a young man named Austin, was eccentric and knowledgable as he explained elements about the area.
The journey across the lake was not even ten minutes, but it was glorious. We traveled across piercing green waters that ranged from 400-600 feet deep. The water levels were higher than normal due to a recent increase in rainy weather in the area. All around the lake you could see red shores–iron oxide–closely embraced by green trees. Ducks and their spawn flitted on the surface of the lake. It was tranquil, despite the roaring boat engine and the rippling, white waves.
We docked on the other side of the lake and then had to board a small bus. Here’s where it got really interesting. The bus was to drive us up a narrow, dirt path 800 feet up the mountain. No, you didn’t read that wrong. This is exactly how we would get to the cave.
The sights on the way up were dazzling, but looking out the windows and seeing that the tires of the bus were literally inches away from sliding down the green and rocky mountainside? Terrifying. Our entire trust was placed in the hands of our experienced bus driver who navigates this path multiple times a day.
Once we made it to the top, and breathed a sigh of relief for our survival, we entered the depths of the Lake Shasta Caverns. I tried to jot down all the details Austin gave us as we entered the cool confines of the caves. If my information recording was correct, the cave was discovered in 1877 by a native of the Wintu tribe. Recall that the Wintu tribe is also known for their deep reverence of Mt. Shasta. Sensing a pattern here!
However, the credit of the cave’s discovery actually went to a white explorer named James A. Richardson who wrote his name on the cavern walls on November 11, 1878. What’s interesting is that I cannot find the name of the young Wintu man who discovered the tribe online, even though Austin told us his name was Charles M (I didn’t catch the last name). All the credit goes to a white explorer, but none that I can find credits the Indian man who discovered it first. Perhaps I misheard our tour guide, but given the history of a nation that places Whites above all other races time and time again, I took it as another sign of oppression. That was unfortunate and I don’t feel James Richardson deserves the praise and fame when it should go to the Wintu native. Just another sliver of evidence that shows how systemic racism is in the USA. But, alas, enough of my political soapbox.
The caves were made by water, the rocky formations made up of limestone. It is said that the caves can be dated back to 200 million years ago. There are still rooms being discovered in the caverns today. It was certainly a sight to behold. The nine of us, plus our tour guide, traveled up and down narrow stairs, saw a bat or two, and entered various rooms such as The Crystal Room and the Cathedral Room. It was beautiful, claustrophobic, and mystifying all at once. We were even introduced to Phil, a lone piece of green somehow growing in the depths of the cave. How that is possible, I have no idea.
Exiting the cavern, we had to journey down 250 septs on the exotic mountainside. The views stole my breath yet again. Honestly, I’m going to need an oxygen mask for the rest of this trip if my breath keeps being snatched away by these sights.
On our journey down I met a lizard named Alexander. He may or may not have agreed to his name and I may or may not have assumed his gender. But… no big deal.
We journeyed back down the deathly mountain, boated across the lake, and the tour was over. I said goodbye to the young mother who was having her own adventure as she journeyed along the coast to pick up her daughter in Southern California. I parted ways with the older couple and a former teacher from NYC who started RV-ing across the country in 2008–and are still doing it. Honestly, I think I have a new goal in life. I waved to the three spunky sisters. And I gave a “goodbye” smile and nod to the man with his 83 year-old mom who was a total beast as she conquered all the stairs we had to climb in the caverns.
I don’t know their names, any of their names, but we were unified in a great adventure.
As I drove back towards Redding, I decided upon a little pit stop to see the Shasta Dam, a wonder in and of itself. The Shasta Dam embraces the monstrous Lake Shasta and it provides power for hundreds and hundreds of miles in California. In fact, the Shasta Dam (which stands at 602 feet high and the 8th tallest in the USA) is third on the terrorist watch list. I discovered this by talking to a security guard after I walked across the damn. He explained to me that if this massive damn ever broke, the entire city of Redding would be wiped off the map. Nearby towns would suffer the same fate and power would be lost to a major chunk of California.
Naturally, this gave me an idea for a dramatic event in my book. There will be a grand monster fight and/or threat to the Shasta Dam in my novel. I made sure to explain to the security guard that my probes into the damage the dam would cause was due to my superhero book idea. Thankfully, he didn’t call in a SWAT team or anything, finding it cool that I was writing a book set in this area. Two fun facts from the security guard:
- Mountain lions were very active in this area. The other night he watched a large mountain lion kill a deer and drag the body to its den. He pointed the rough location of the den out to me. With some binoculars, I tried to locate it from the safety of the top of the damn. Alas, I couldn’t find it. Plus, they aren’t as active during the day.
- He says that while he has never seen the rattlesnakes, he’s heard stories and says that are absolutely nasty creatures. I mean, he didn’t have to convince me of that, but it made me a little more nervous about hiking alone.
Since my camera was about dead, due to taking distant pictures of Mt. Shasta looming over the lake, I decided to head back to my Airbnb. I was very exhausted. Also? I was burned. Despite having bought sunscreen, I didn’t apply it. I have a great tan line now, as you could probably guess from the shirt I’m wearing in the picture above.
I managed to grab a two hour nap before I journeyed out to NorCal Trail Rides where I was destined to meet my horse pal and take a ride through the wilderness along with our fearless guide, Alicia.
I met my horse, Reggie, and we became fast friends. We had a connection. You cannot tell me otherwise. Reggie was the man. I was last in the line of horses, a mother and daughter ahead of me, and a mother and son ahead of them. Alicia led us along the trails, her rescue dogs roaming the wilderness around us and guiding the way.
For somebody who doesn’t ride horses, I found it relaxing to adapt. I leaned back when we went downhill and leaned forward when going uphill, per Alicia’s instructions. Every so often Reggie would whip his head down to the ground and tear a greedy amount of plants and grass up, happily munching on the snack as he carried me through thick foliage and open plains. A few times, in order to stay with the group, I denied his attempts at grabbing plants. He would dramatically neigh, but oblige. Once or twice he decided to surprise me with a quick trot. I tugged on the reigns and squeaked out, “Whoa!” It’s like I could almost sense Reggie’s amusement as he snorted and slowed his trot down, happy to give me some adventure.
Every so often, I’d reach down and pat the side of his neck while we traipsed along the trail. I really enjoyed Reggie. After we got back, I dismounted him and held his rope while Alicia boarded the other horses. I used the time to snap quick selfies of Reggie and myself. At one point, Reggie turned his head toward me and tried to nuzzle against my chest. I’m not sure what such an action meant from a majestic beast, but I’d like to believe it meant he liked me. Staring into his big brown eyes was like staring into the eyes of a wise, loyal creature. I felt connected and was was truly sad to say goodbye to Reggie. I know I’ll probably never meet him again, but I have a deep respect for horses after my time with Reggie.
It was a great time. Beyond that, Alicia was an amazing person. She and her wife own a farm with lots of horses, a few dogs, and some chickens that I could see. Alicia is a teacher who trains students in horseback riding, but she gives tours as well. I got to talk to her a little more in depth as I rode with her, six horses in tow in a trailer, to our riding spot three miles from the farm. Alicia thought it was great that I was a teacher and we talked about my solo adventure, gun reform, and her career. She was down to earth and just a really cool person. I wish I’d gotten to know her and her wife, who is from Venezuela, better. I had a chance to. After the ride, she invited me to stick around and have a beer. At the time I didn’t understand the context of the offer, but it was after I politely declined the offer wherein I learned she had a wife.
I’ll be honest. My entire ride back home, I was beating myself up. Alicia had understood I was on a solo adventure. She respected that and admired it. Besides giving me great recommendations on things to do, she offered me an olive branch to spend my adventure getting to know herself and her wife. This whole trip for me has been about doing what I normally may not do. Stepping outside my comfort zone. This would’ve been a great chance to do that. I should’ve said yes. I really, really should have. It was a friendly gesture and I admired that she had a wife. If I had accepted the chance to grab a beer with them, she and her wife would’ve found we all had something in common in terms of sexuality. It would’ve been cool to get an idea on what our community was like in this area. Oh well. Live and learn, right? I’ll try to be better about this in the future. Really bummed I missed that chance last night.
I wish I could tell you that the rest of my night was exciting. It wasn’t. I came home, showered, grabbed some food at a local taco place, and elected to try the Eclipse (Passion Fruit and Peach) lemonade from Dutch Bros Coffee.
Back at my Airbnb, I watched the first episode of The Boys while I ate before climbing into bed where I spent the night having super weird dreams about Mt. Shasta. I mean super weird. I’m talking people in white robes chanting, and strange lights, and crystals… probably just my creative mind at work.
At the time of this posting, I have done nothing exciting to date. I woke up at nine this morning super exhausted and with a migraine. I slept until 1PM, ate leftovers, and decided to update my blog. I feel like I’ve wasted my day here. But I’ve been so exhausted. Maybe it’s good I took today to be lazy. Maybe I wasted the chance at adventure. Again. I hope not.
I tell myself I’m on vacation, so it’s okay to not always be running about. That it’s okay to relax. Alas, I’m feeling a little down from both last night and that I’ve done nothing all day except write this post. Gotta bounce back!
So, I’m not sure what the rest of the day holds for me. I think I might visit The Dip, a local brewery tonight. I plan to get another drink at Dutch Bros Coffee. Per a suggestion from Emma on my last post, I’m going to try Dragon Slayer and make sure real dragon blood isn’t in the mix as she suspects!
Beyond that, I don’t know. Tomorrow (Saturday) I plan to explore Mt. Shasta. I’m ready to embrace the geography that drew me here, to bask in its presence. Hopefully, though, the mountain doesn’t claim me like it is rumored to have done to others.
On that uplifting note, I’m signing off for now.
Next time on Caliventure Chronicles…. well, I don’t know. Consider it suspense. Hopefully, the rest of the day offers something blog-post worthy!