My Travel Book - Shortcuts - Part II

Early June 2017, Swee’Pea flew from Boston to San Francisco to meet us there. We were to spend the next two weeks together in California.

You see, I always had this dream of driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the famous Route 1. SP had done it several times while he was living in California. I remember experiencing a disagreeable feeling of jealousy (to call things by their rightful name) while he was showing me his pictures. He wanted to share moments of beauty and happiness with me. But still it was hard on me. At the time, I did feel like I’d never be traveling again and all I was wishing for was to be able to move further and further away from the hospital.

Sometimes dreams come true. We did drive down Route 1, at least down the part that was still open because a few areas had been closed due to landslides. Which meant that we had to alter a few plans, all for the best.

Instead of driving down directly to L.A., we went to Lake Tahoe, another of my dreams. I had spent long evenings watching famous wakeboarders on Lake Tahoe when SP and his friends were trying to master the art of wakeboarding in Brittany. So, yes. Lake Tahoe was a great idea.

By the way, we spent two days there without even seeing one single wakeboarder on the lake. Spring had been very snowy. The lake was way too freezing cold and wakeboarders were still snowboarding on the mountains slopes above Lake Tahoe. 

From Lake Tahoe, we drove down to Yosemite National Park along Highway 88, most of the time that is, because the scenery was breathtaking. So many lakes and so much snow along the road. So many stops and so many pictures.

Highway 88 was splendid. Perfectly dry under the sun. And cars were very scarce.  Oohs and ahs of happpiness. We’d stop every few miles. The ice was breaking up over the lakes (Caples Lake, Silver Lake, Red Lake, I can’t name them all). And there was still tons of snow along the road.

Actually we were getting very close to the gateway to California Gold Fields which is called the Mormon-Carson Pass Emigrant Trail.

I don’t know why but I had the feeling that Swee’Pea was getting fidgety, sort of. He was the main driver and he had been driving for a long time… Oh oh, should we get ready for a shortcut? A road that would break the monotonousness… Some trail maybe…

There was a road on the right that would supposedly spare us at least two or three miles of that boring highway, he said. And off we turned to the right. 

Popeye and I were so shell-shocked that we kept silent. Silent? Speechless is the right term. That’s it. We totally lost the power of speech. I guess that even though SP was probably enjoying himself tremendously, he did not dare utter one single word. You see, there was this set of parents in the car and this road (was it a road?) was awfully narrow and cramped and endless and, and, and… 

Well, the road was not endless after all. In a way it could be, if you felt like walking to Route 88 on a snowy trail. Because the snowplow had obviously given up in the middle of nowhere. There was no network available but it was obvious that we were still quite far away from the exit on Highway 88.

"Shortcut", he said...

I bet you have no idea how they called this road or this whatsoever… “Tragedy Sorings Road” is its name and I am not even kidding. “Springs” because there is a spring somewhere deep below that thick layer of snow and “Tragedy” because three members of the Mormon Bataillon were found killed there in 1848.

We told Swee’Pea that he’d better get us out of there or… Or what? Sometimes one ends up feeling very dumb. So we found a way. The snowplow men had made sure there would be enough room for a car to turn around. There must be quite a few people like Swee'Pea after all! We did not have to push the car because it did not get stuck which did worry us for a while (the getting stuck, of course!). Trust a Kia! It took a few long minutes but the car ended up facing the right way to go back to civilization and to freedom and away from Tragedy Springs!

Swee’Pea was outrageously jubilant! “I knew it’d be fun!” So annoying not to be able to tell him curtly to get back in the car, “you stupid kid”! Because he’s not at all stupid and he’s no longer a kid either. Maybe mad as a hatter from time to time but also a lot of fun. 

I decided to walk for a while because you seldom get to walk between two high walls of snow, especially not in Brittany! And especially not on such a sunny and warm day!

And my preferred "shortcutter" kept on having fun until we got back onto Highway 88.

Once there, he finally set his mind on getting as soon as possible to this very improbable place called Ahwhanee, our door to Yosemite National Park.

There were no more shortcuts during this trip but a lot of driving around the landslides which probably made up for missed opportunities to drive off the beaten track.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*


My Travel Book - Shortcuts - Part I

Swee’Pea, you remember Swee’Pea? My son Swee’Pea? It’s been a while since I have written about him. Ahem. Quite a while since I have written at all.

Well, Swee’Pea is a wonderful travelling companion. Even-tempered, patient, uncomplaining and (almost) always in a smiling mood. Filled with enthusiasm and endless curiosity about everything. Talkative and yet a good listener. And the icing on the cake, willing to embark on long road trips with me…

But… (because there is always a but, isn’t there?) Swee’Pea loves shortcuts. And thank you "Google Maps”! The only time I never heard him mention the word “shortcut” was in South Africa, because of safety reasons, of course.

The interesting point though is that his shortcuts always end up being fun and hilarious… if you like adventure that is and being on the wild side of the road(trip)!

Our road trip from London to London (almost 4.000 kms in three weeks) was filled with shortcuts. Most of them while we were travelling through Brecon Beacons Park, Snowdonia and the Lake District. Most of the time we ended up driving through fields (yes, Google maps trails and tracks and paths of all sorts) and finding ourselves hopelessly stuck in the middle of nowhere in front of a cattle gate. Which entailed backing up for at least a couple of miles on very winding and hilly pathways.  And then learning from locals much later on that unless strictly forbidden, one opens the gate and then drives away after carefully closing the gate until the next one.

(Do you read Welsh? We don’t! And so we kept backing up. Until the next shortcut.)

One of my best memories, shortcut wise, happened on our way back to London. Driving from Edinburgh to Durham. From the very beginning of the trip, we had agreed upon travelling through the countryside as much as possible, thus avoiding big cities and congested road networks. Thus probably getting to know Great Britain better.

We decided to avoid driving through Berwick-upon-Tweed, quite a huge town - population : 13.000 people! Google indicated that there would be a shortcut that would take us right to the coast and Bamburgh Castle with its Armstrong and Aviation Artefacts Museum.

Google Maps also indicated that we had to turn right away and drive across a golf course…

I was truly shocked when Swee’Pea, laughing his heart out, took the weediest and narrowest lane on the left or was it the right… and there we were… going through a golf course where actual people were playing and you could hear golf balls whizzing by.

I was so shocked that I probably closed my eyes for a few minutes or maybe a century. I never took any pictures of the going through! But I found a very explicit picture on the web.


 The crossing was short. Thank you. But the shortcut kept getting worse. You see, it had been raining a lot in the area and the lane that was supposed to get us safely to the seaside look more like a shelled battle area than a leisure countryside whatever. The water holes were very, very deep and even wider. The few hikers on the way looked rather amazed that a car would make it through.

Well, we did. The mood in the car was not at its best. Mine at least. Swee’Pea was thoroughly enjoying himself and the car was obviously built to last. (I got my fun a few hours later watching SP getting rid of the caked mud in a very ancient carwash while I was munching away at a bag of M&M’s!)

And there again - a gate! I knew it! Except that this one would be a little bit more dangerous to handle than the cattle gates. My mood was getting from bad to worse. I had to manoeuvre the gates, of course since I don’t drive. It all was a matter of being cautious and fast at the same time.

Take a big breath!
Open both gates. Check! Breathe!

Cross the double-track line with the car. Check! Breathe!

Walk back to the first gate to close it. Check! Breathe!
Walk back across the railway line. Check! Breathe!
Close the second gate. Check! Breathe!

We had done it. Safely. (I didn’t trust much the green light in such a forlorn place! This was the railway track from London to Edinburgh after all. Fast trains!)

I hopped back in the car. We were not very far from the small road to Bamburgh. And the countryside was pastoral and colourful. And peaceful. My mood went up to feeling good. This had been quite an experience after all.

A few minutes later, some Northumberland witches decided to use every trick in their power to kill the fun.

There we were with no way to do a U-turn. 

One weak bridge… mentioning “road vehicles” and not “trucks”. We had driven over quite a few “weak” bridges in Wales because they were prohibited to lorries but not cars. But this one in the middle of nowhere was clearly stating that no vehicles were allowed on it, not even cars.

We decided that being stuck there wouldn’t help and that it would be better to go check the bridge before making any impulsive decision.

While we were pondering the pros and cons, a train whizzed past us on its way to Edinburgh. At top speed. We had the same question: “Was the “green light"
still on or had it turned “red” a few minutes ago? We’ll never know because we definitely decided to drive forward and check the bridge.

All those fields around would need to be harvested. And harvest means harvester and tractors and trucks… Maybe the bridge was not this weak after all. Except that all those vehicles and contraptions could be driven through the fields and never use the bridge because it really was “weak”.

We breathed in and out. At least I did. And we drove forward. We had set one rule while being on this road trip : let’s not vent our feelings (the negative ones, of course) while in the car. Not enough space for a fight. So I probably kept quiet, trying not to fly off the handle.

Once close to the bridge, it was time to play it like in South Africa. Rangers in Kruger Park are always checking animal tracks on the trails. Very useful. And there they were. Tractor tracks all over the bridge. We could not be heavier than a tractor, could we? 

Hopefully we wouldn’t be the last straw that would break the camel’s back. And we were not. Or I wouldn’t be telling the story, would I?

For those who are still looking for thrills, we had to drive quite a few miles off the beaten track. On a very grassy path that took us straight to a very small asphalted road.

To Bamburgh Castle, at last!