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The Tecklenburgs - Itinerary

I picked the Jimmy and Eunice Tecklenburg up at Oakland International Airport, for what would become a thrill ride adventure that would end up completely different than it had started out, and ultimately lead me to turn Quintessential Tours into what it is today.

Originally, we had simply designed a tour for the farming couple from South Africa, and had contracted with another company to provide them with a driver. We were not in the guiding business at the time, but had run a successful vacation planning business for several years. Due to some last minute changes to their itinerary, there was an unresolvable conflict with the driver, so I offered, as a personal favor, to meet their flight in Oakland, and take them around for the day. The plan was to drop them off in Monterey, where they would spend a day exploring on their own, before their driver met them two days later.

It didn't take long for the plan to change. What had started as a routine vacation planning effort would ultimately turn into a several thousand mile oddysey, the impact of which would change the course of my business and life for good.

Day 1: Oakland - San Francisco - Monterey
I picked Jimmy and Eunice up in Oaland in the morning, and quickly found out that this would not be a normal day. Jimmy was distraut, and wanted to stop at the nearest restaurant to sit down and discuss things. It turns out that there had been a misunderstanding in some last minute conversation (I had originally set the trip up through a friend of theirs, with whom they had been visiting in Southern California), and Jimmy thought that he was going to be charged twice what he was actually paying. After some tense minutes at a local Denny's in Oakland, the matter was quickly cleared up, and we enjoyed breakfast together.

They wanted to spend a couple hours seeing San Francisco as a start, so I took them to some of the iconic destinations (Lombard Street, Fisherman's Wharf, Coit Tower, and across the Golden Gate Bridge). They very much enjoyed the sights, and we headed towards Monterey, 2 and a half hours to the south, via the coastal road. En route, as we got to know each other, what appeared to be a unique day became more interesting, as I went over the itinerary that his friend had planned out with me.

It turns out that Jimmy and Eunice had some different ideas about what they wanted to accomplish with their trip than their friend, and it started with wanting to skip the following day in Monterey and set a course for regions remote and full of natural beauty. He wanted to erase the existing itinerary, start with a clean slate, and have me advise him where I thought would be best to go.

This was an exciting prospect for me, as I loved more than anything, to introduce my clients to areas off the beaten track. However, there were some complications. Firstly, there was the driver to consider. It wasn't going to be possible for him to meet the Tecklenburgs the following day (it was Labor Day Weekend). Since they didn't want to drive, their plan lacked one immediate, and obvious component. Jimmy wasn't deterred.

"You drive us!" he offered exuberantly.

This caught me a bit off guard, but I think he could sense my own growing excitement at the prospect of getting to show these two uniquely charming people around my state. This was the kind of excitement I had imagined when I first started Quintessential Tours, but that had been lacking during my several years now of making other people's dreams happen, while watching from a sedentary position at my desk.

I offered some token resistance. There was, of course, my wife to consider: how would she react to me taking off for 9 days with no notice. Jimmy wasn't hearing of it, and offered to let her join us. Unaware of what the next few days would bring, I tentatively agreed to be the Tecklenburgs' guide for their trip (pending Tess's approval).

As we passed through Santa Cruz, we picked Tess up, and brought her with us to Monterey. En route, Jimmy and Eunice put the question to her, and pleaded with her to join us. As I drove them through 17-mile Drive, Tess, after overcoming the initial shock of the prospect, gave her blessing for the endeavor (although she wouldn't be able to join us, due to her own work). We had lift-off. I dropped Jimmy and Eunice off at their Monterey hotel, agreed to meet them in the morning, and returned home to spend a last evening with my wife.

Day 2: Monterey - Salinas Valley - Mendocino - Garberville
The second day would be no less exciting than the first. The Tecklenburgs told me that they wanted to see as much of the natural beauty of California as I could give them. They weren't interested in hiking or rigorous activities; they wanted to drive around the state, and see as much as they could. The only stop that was semi-planned would be a visit to some relations in Chico to visit their farm. They also wanted to be sure and see some of the state's vast farmland. I told them about the redwoods in the north part of the state, and the remote Trinity Alps. My description sounded good to them, and they put their trust in me to guide them to places they would enjoy.

As we set out up the Salinas Valley, Jimmy asked me to drive him out into one of the lettuce farms, where some hands were harvesting. We drove straight out into the fields, where he got out of the car, and talked shop with one of the foremen. The couple were considering the prospect of purchasing farmland in the United States, and Jimmy was interested in local farming techniques.

Moving on from the agricultural "salad bowl" of California, we bypassed the City, and cut over to the Sonoma Coast north of the Bay. We spend the bulk of the day wending our way up the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts along Pacific Coast Highway. The weather was spectacular for us, and the day full of scenic wonder. As the afternoon drew long, we reconnected with Highway 101, and found ourselves at the start of the Redwood Highway. The Tecklenburgs had heard of drive-thru trees, and this must-do activity was quickly realized outside the town of Leggett.

A long day under our wheels, we stopped for the night near the southern end of the Avenue of the Giants in the town of Garberville. Dinner at a small Italian restaurant capped off an exciting start to our adventure.

One extra notable from this day was a comment that Jimmy made regarding their plans to fly to Houston after they returned to Orange County from our trip together. The two were enjoying their drive with me, and Jimmy started to think out loud about whether it would be possible to continue on with me after Las Vegas, and drive to Houston (rather than fly). I didn't take it seriously at the time... It wouldn't take me long to realize that he was entirely serious.

Day 3: Garberville - Avenue of the Giants - Trinity Alps
As farmers, the Tecklenburgs have an abiding love for things that grow. I'd see this expressed at many points during the trip; none so much as our day amidst the coastal redwoods. We took our time driving up the Avenue of the Giants, stopping for small walks and shopping for mementos. The two were awestruck at the size and grandeur of these ancient trees.

We spent so much time in the redwoods that we altered our route slightly, shortening it a bit, and heading straight east into the Trinity Alps. We would arrive at the ranch my family ranch in the early afternoon, and have plenty of time to enjoy some quiet time in paradise.

Over dinner, Jimmy once again raised the prospect of continuing our trip together to Houston. I gave him my best estimates on what we'd be talking in terms of driving times and distances and told him that, if he was serious, I'd make it happen for him.

Day 4: Trinity Alps - Chico - Lake Tahoe
Maintaining our ambitious pace, Jimmy, Eunice and I set off early for California 's Central Valley , arriving in Chico a few hours later, where we would meet up with some family friends of the Tecklenburgs. While there, Jimmy invited me to join him as his friend gave us a tour of his almond orchards. After spending a full afternoon in Chico , we continued our trek southeast, driving to the southern shores of Lake Tahoe , where Jimmy and Eunice would stay at Caesar's Tahoe.

During dinner, we concluded that Houston was a "go", and Jimmy asked me to take care of changing flights and other arrangements to make it a reality. In a brief span of time, I'd gone from making vacation arrangements while sitting at my desk in Santa Cruz, to guiding a farming couple from a remote area in South Africa on a wild adventure that would ultimately land us half way across the country in the state of Texas. I was stoked!

Day 5: Lake Tahoe
We eased up on the accelerator a bit for this day, and spent the day enjoying one of the Sierras' crown jewels: Lake Tahoe . Jimmy and Eunice started off the day with a leisurely cruise on the lake, taking a sternwheeler to Emerald Bay and back. After returning, we drove the circumference of the lake, before going shopping for a new camera in Carson City .

We finished the day with dinner in the casino's buffet, and looked forward to setting off again in the morning.

Day 6: Lake Tahoe - Bodie - Yosemite National Park
Back on the road, we temporarily left the higher peaks for Highway 395 and the arid eastern shoulder of the Sierra Nevada range. Making good time, we decided on taking the quick detour to the old mining ghost town of Bodie, where we spent a good hour and a half.

Further south, we stopped off briefly at the Mono Lake visitor's center, and then turned back to the west where we climbed rapidly towards Tioga Pass 's nearly 10,000 foot elevation, and the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park .

We spent the next several hours slowly driving through Yosemite 's high country, where both Jimmy and Eunice were thrilled by the granite formations, and soaring vistas. Finally, we continued on to the southern end of the park, where Jimmy and Eunice would stay for the next 2 nights.

Day 7: Yosemite National Park
This day was spent at Yosemite 's lower elevations, beginning with the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (sequoia giganteum). These cousins of the coastal redwood (sequoia sempervirens) proved no less of a fascination for Jimmy, whose love of things that grow had him staring in amazement at the largest living things on Earth.

After the visit to the Mariposa Grove, we drove north to Yosemite 's incomparable valley, where the Tecklenburgs would spend the rest of the day, visiting waterfalls, enjoying wildlife and learning about the natural history of the area. This was a truly spectacular day.

Day 8: Yosemite National Park - Mammoth - Lone Pine
One more chance to take in Yosemite 's wonders, as we once again traveled the length of the park en route to destinations to the south and east. Before leaving, we took in one more highlight, Glacier Point, where Jimmy and Eunice narrowly missed seeing a mother bear and cubs, that were seen by several others nearby.

Once again, peaking out over Tioga Pass , we left Yosemite behind, and headed south on 395. We took our time on this day, taking detours up to Mammoth and June Lake , and stopping to watch a herd of Elk that were just beginning the fall rut.

Final stop of the day found us in Lone Pine, located near the base of Mount Whitney , the tallest point in the 48 contiguous United States , and serving as the gateway to Death Valley , the lowest point in North America .

Day 9: Lone Pine - Death Valley - Las Vegas
Down, down, down we went on this day, ultimately bottoming out in Death Valley 's depths. We spent several hours exploring, and ultimately had to depart via a route to the north of the regular route due to some recent flooding.

Las Vegas was to be our stop for the next two nights; at their friend's request, we'd booked them into the Venetian for their stay. It wasn't long before we all realized that neither the Venetian nor Las Vegas would make the Tecklenburg's favorite places list. After a few hours in Vegas, Jimmy asked me to cancel their second night there, so that we could make more time for the long road between Las Vegas and ultimately Houston. Everyone made an early night of it.

Day 10: Las Vegas - Hoover Dam - Grand Canyon - Las Vegas - Mesquite, Nevada
Day ten would be a busy and rewarding one for Jimmy and Eunice. We set off early in the a.m., for a drive out to Hoover Dam, where the couple took the tour through the visitor's center, viewing the inner workings of the dam up close. Jimmy was thoroughly amazed at the feat of engineering, and felt that he could have spent an entire day there. Alas, there was more wonder to be taken in.

From Hoover Dam, we drove to the North Las Vegas air terminal, where the they would set off for a flightseeing and boat tour of the Grand Canyon. They returned after several hours, stunned at the grandeur of the canyon. This day had been one of the highlights of the trip.

Keeping with our goal of getting out of town, we grabbed a quick sandwich, and headed north, towards the Utah border. Our stop for the night was the unremarkable border town of Mesquite, Nevada, about an hour away.

Day 11: Mesquite - Zion National Park - Eagle, Colorado
As we began our trek to Houston in earnest, we began with some time in Zion National Park. The colorful rock formations, flora and wildlife made for a great first half to the day, after which we drove a significant distance on back roads, as we headed north to hook up with Interstate 70.

Highlights of the day included bison, big-horned sheep and pronghorned antelope. The landscapes of Utah alolng the interstate are vast and stunning. Jimmy and Eunice were amazed that such an expanse could be so infertile. They were pleased to leave the desert behind them as we began climbing the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains late in the day. Our eventual stop for the night was Eagle, Colorado.

Day 12: Eagle, Colorado - Pike's Peak - Hays, Kansas
An autumny crispness was tangible in the morning mountain air as we started off from Eagle. As we headed eastward, we talked about options for the day. Signs for Pike's Peak beckoned, so after crossing the heart of the Rockies, we diverted our course from Denver, to experience this renowned high altitude destination.

Pike's Peak was a new experience for all of us. The long, steep, unrailed road to the top was thrilling, and the experience once we arrived at the summit was a dizzying... literally so. Jimmy was really feeling the effects of the 14,115 foot altitude, so we took our pictures, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then descended to the thicker atmosphere below.

From Pike's Peak, we continued westward, seeking to make it to the lush farmlands of Kansas before dark. We ultimately called a small town named Hays home for the night.

Day 13: Hays, Kansas - Denison, Texas
This final full day of the trip would be spent exploring the fertile plains of Kansas. The Tecklenburgs were quite serious in their quest to find a viable location for them to start a new farm, away from South Africa. While Kansas may be Interstate country for many others who drive through it, it was a highlight destination for the Tecklenburgs. We took backroads, and stopped frequently to look at various crops and livestock. Compared to the desolate auburn formations of Utah, the waving grains of Kansas were a welcome sight.

As the afternoon came upon us, we got back on the Interstate (I-35 this time) in Wichita, and headed south for Oklahoma and Texas. I had a treat in store for the Tecklenburgs tonight, surprising them with a visit to my dad's place in Denison. Barbara, cooked up a classic Texas brisket and barbecued beans, and we all enjoyed a sultry Texas night on the back patio, listening to the cicadia and enjoying the evening light on the oaky hills.

Day 14: Denison, Texas - Houston, Texas
The final day would be a bit of a melancholy one. Meeting the Tecklenburgs had opened a window for me, pointing my business in a new direction, into which I couldn't wait to sink my teeth. Using my accumulated travel knowledge, I was able to bring Jimmy and Eunice to some wonderful spots, and to share many of their experiences with them. Additionally, over 14 days together, we had grown close. It was going to be a sad good-bye.

The drive to Houston was quick, and unremarkable. We stopped at a Denny's for a final lunch together. I brought my laptop, and put the pictures they had taken onto a CD for them. We talked about my hope that I would be able to visit them in Komatipoort some day. Then I dropped them off at their friends' house, and headed for the airport to catch my flight home.

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