First Annual #SoLeong Road Trip

Our road trip van

Wondering if we would fit everything into the van, we started to stack sleeping bags, duffels and helmets into neat little lego pieces into each other. Trust me, I was damn surprised we fit everything. We all piled into the van and off we went! On the way out of the Bay Area, things got more green and less cell phone service was had. Perfect.

First stop: McCloud Falls.

It had to have been above 90 degrees so we were more than ready to jump into the waterfall. The hike was short and sweet and before we knew it, we all got into the freezing cold water. The waterfall was huge and strong, as we swam to it we tried not to slip on the rocks and moss. The sun would hit certain areas of the rocks and you could sit there in pure happiness. Justin saw someone jump the cliff and it didn’t take very long for him to follow. He scrambled up the side of the cliff of the waterfall, about 40 feet up, took a few deep breaths and in 3, 2, 1… Took the plunge!

Cham wanted to take this trip with all the siblings before we got married. A sort of sibling road trip to join two families into one. A few of his siblings couldn’t make it, but since we’ve decided that this is going to be an annual thing, there’ll be many more to come. “I almost forgot about our 5 hour drive we just had,” said Heny. We drove out of McCloud Falls to Burney Falls, where our first campsite awaited. We learned a few things about everyone this trip, and the one thing we learned about Chhun was that he LOVED fire. We were only supposed to have a fire for one night since the other sites we weren’t going to didn’t allow fires, but somehow he got swindled into buying three sacks of wood. “We’ll use all of it, don’t worry!”

We got into our campsite that was basically a small community and families and their big RVs. This was by far the nicest campsite I’ve ever been to. It had showers, running water and flushing toilets! The minute we start cooking, Chhun started our fire. It was still 80 degrees out with the sun setting!

Nonetheless, we cooked dinner and everyone slowly ate not by the fire. We decided to walk down to Burney Falls since it was a whopping half mile from the entrance of the campground. This waterfall made McCloud look teeny tiny. It got at least 15 degrees colder as we hiked down to the fall and the chilly mist helped cool us from the heat.We walked back to the campsite and built another fire while Heny told a scary story and we all drank wine. That first night, we slept without our tent fly and could see the stars above. It was spectacularly warm.

The next morning, we were able to take a shower in our bougie campsite and packed up. Crater Lake, here we come! It’s a little crazy there, lots of people at the base of the parking lot taking selfies and snapchatting. But once we started up the hike to the top of Crater Lake, it got quieter and more serene. You were able to actually hear yourself breathe.

It’s not too long of a hike, but it’s entirely uphill. Once you get high enough you can see the rolling mountains that lead to Shasta and a view of the entire mountain range. The snow towards the top is still slushy and was perfect conditions to have a snowball fight. I’m pretty sure it was nearly 85 degrees out, so the snow felt pretty amazing. As you get higher, you have to dig your feet in deep enough into the snow so you don’t slip. Once we got to the top, you could see a 360 view of everything around you. We got some photos in our matching road trip shirts and threw some more snow at each other in the heat.

What’s the easiest way to get down? ICE LUGE! Someone decided to start a slide 20 feet from where the snow was steepest, which then created an ice luge! Ice slid down our shorts and damn was it cold, but everyone did it!

Once we realized how late it was, we decided to start driving to Smith Rock State Park before it got dark. Once we got there, we stayed at Skull Hollow versus the Smith Rock Campground. At the state campground, you eat in designated areas near the parking lot and walk about 100 feet to your tent. But you get a shower and running water. At Skull Hollow, you can have a fire, drive up to your campsite and eat and drink to your hearts desire, but no running water or showers. We decided for the latter. Best decision we made.

With the vast open space (versus the tall trees in our last campground), we were able to see the Milky Way, Mars and even Jupiter! The Milky Way cluster of stars painted across the sky was something we’d never forget.​

The actual cooking crew.
The “helpers”.

The next morning, Justin was super giddy about climbing at Smith Rock so we got up really early, made some breakfast and drove out. Four out of the seven of us had never climbed outdoors before, so we were in for a great adventure.

Seeing the sheer walls walking into the park made me giddy! As I flaked the rope and put on my helmet, I got pretty weary of how this was going to turn out. It could go one of two ways, they could absolutely hate it in the first 10 minutes and it would totally deem our visit here a total waste or they could love it and want to do it again in the next trip. It didn’t help that it got hotter during the day and was getting pretty unbearable. It was only 8am.

We set up two top rope routes for everyone. I taught Sally how to do a figure eight, Justin taught Heny how to belay and we all taught Chhun how to climb in Nike’s. (We didn’t have shoes big enough for him.) Seeing the courage in everyone as they took the first 15 feet off the ground was absolutely unforgettable! I am SO proud of how well everyone did! It was so amazing to see everyone absolutely enjoying themselves, even in the heat.

Justin, Fanny and I decided to do a few more climbs while the rest of the group went to the entrance to get water. It was not a good idea to come so unprepared, but Justin was determined to get another climb or two in. And damn was it WELL worth it!

Justin said, and I quote, “Best climb I’ve ever done outdoors.” We climbed a 5.10a called Cosmos. It was SUCH a fun route with little knobs you can totally trust and thankful of how good they are, despite having two fingers on it, I knew I was solid. Except for this one part. There was a section you had to go left a little bit without very great holds. My hands get sweaty just thinking about it. The thing about climbing for me is that I still haven’t gotten over the fear of falling. I mean I’m past 7 bolts, so I’m totally safe. I also trust my brother with my life, so I knew I was safe.

Instead of going left on the less knobby parts, I hesitated on traversing and tried to hit a move, but no-go. There I was, 3–4 feet above the last bolt, I come swinging down and I comically scream, mostly because I’m surprised I didn’t hit that move and that I’m also falling about 10 feet. I know… ten feet isn’t very much, but I’ve never tried to go my limit on lead outdoors yet. The whipper definitely woke me up and I was just laughing at myself. I got to finish the route and I’m so glad I got to take that fall. It was both f*ing terrifying and amazing at the same time.

Asterix Pass was… fun.
Justin is always snapping.

The rest of the day included some sketch scrambling up Asterix Pass which Fanny probably hates me for taking back to the entrance instead of the long way around. I forgot the hummus for our sandwich wraps. And we were all deathly thirsty because of the heat and lack of water. But the day ended in smiles as we cheered Sally to the top of her route, 5.8, Five Gallon Jugs.

It was a little bittersweet going back to our campground because this is the last time we’d be cooking dinner…. correction… this is the last time Heny and Fanny would cook us dinner. (Thanks guys!) This was the last time we would sit around a campfire trying to avoid the smoke in our eyes. But we cheers’ed to an amazing trip with the best family anybody could ask for.

We drove back on the fourth of July evening and it was getting pretty late, but it was the best time to be heading back. We watched fireworks all along the freeway, without any crowds, without any fuss. Just looking out the window, watching the sky illuminate with red and white and blue sparks.

I think it’s safe to say that The First Annual So Leong Road Trip was a success. ​

Originally published on 7/9/16 at