Having been ‘forced’ into our luxury cabin because of the closure of all the Bass Lake campgrounds, we meandered up slowly and rather dragged ouselves away at about 10am – somewhat later than usual and with the result that the heat of the day hit us pretty early.
The first few miles along the lake were flattish and gave glorious views over the water. At the dam at the south end the road turned away from the Lake towards North Fork. The landscape was immediately more arid and it was getting hot. The route took us along very quiet roads and we then had a steep descent to the San Joaquin river along ‘Power House Road’, which we both remembered from the last trip. The road dropped down to 750 ft which was the lowest we had been on the trip since Hood River. A steep descent into a river valley is inevitably followed by a steep ascent out of the valley on the other side.
We plodded slowly (although a little quicker when attracting the attention of a dog who felt threatened by our presence) and eventually reached the town of Auberry, Nothing very scenic at Auberry but it had a reasonable food and general store with coffee, run by a nice Sikh chap whose wife came from Bradford. Inevitably he had a son in medical school, of whom he was understndably proud. This seems to be a pattern of achievement we first came across at King George Station in Vancouver on our very first day of this trip and is somehow symbolic of the opportunities that America gives rise to. However the Sikh store owner then lambasted some Americans for their cultural insensitivity, complaining that Sikhs were targets of racial hatred after 9/11 (which given the tensions between Sikhs and Muslims in India appeared to have a special intensity for him). He perhaps had an idea of the depth of cultural knowledge of the average person in England which might be too optimistic!
But we chatted away for a while feeling we could both sympathise and gently challenge, and then found a library with internet access with a shady garden where we ate our picnic.
The afternoon took us along the picturesque Burrough Valley road. The last part could almost have been a back road in Shropshire with high dome shaped hills and a creek lined by oak trees – except that the grass was yellow and the creek was dry. We were running out of water in the hot afternoon but luckily came across a little spring where we could fill up. We were glad we had invested in a water bottle with a filter that allows us to drink from a dirty puddle if necessary (not that we want to try). The afternoon sun was beginning to lengthen but it was still hot as we had a steep climb out of the valley and over to Pine Flat Lake – a large reservoir.
We had not seen a car for hours and it was earily quiet as we cycled the road high above the lake. 2 campsites were marked on our map but neither seemed to exist. Eventually I spotted a chap in his yard – the first person we had seen for ages – and waved to him and asked it there was anywhere to camp.
The lake has been closed, he told us, due to the government shut down, (it is run by the US Army Corps). We said we would press on to the next town, Piedra, but he was dubiious that anything wojuld be open there. As we were about to push off and try our luck anyway he hesitently asked if we had everything with us and said we could camp on a flat peice of his land. It was 5pm so we readily accepted and in doing so met Wayne and his wife Cheryl and Cheryl’s sister Suzie.
Within minutes Wayne had offered us his little camper van to sleep in. As a Tarantula scuttled across the yard and talk of rattle snakes (Wayne had only killed 2 so far that year but his neighbour had killed over 50!) I was very grateful we were not pitching the tent!!
Wayne rang his wife Cheryl, who was a couple of minutes away with her sister. “You better come” he said ” we have some people staying from England”. Trying to interpret one side of a phone conversaatoin I was concerned that Cheryl may not have been very enamoured with 2 complete strangers suddenly staying with them; but as soon as she arrived our fears were allayed.
She said that Wayne is such a joker she wasn’t sure she believed him! Soon we had iced water, chairs had been brought out and we were given delicious cold barbecued chicken. It felt as if the red carpet had been laid down for us. Cheryl’s sister Suzie came over and we had a delightful evening chatting and laughing and showing them our photos.
The sunset was beautiful and the sliver of moon and stars incredibly bright as we settled into the little camper van. We felt rescued – once again – and the recipients of wonderful and imprompu US hospitality. This appreciation of impromptu hospitality wil be one of our best and most lingering memories of this trip.