California Road Trip Itinerary; it’s all about the Tioga Pass.

Two days after posting this blog, on the 29th June, the Tioga Pass opened to vehicles

While discussing our forthcoming California road trip with a friend of ours, she told us that she had once spent hours driving up from Las Vegas to Yosemite National Park from the east, only to find that the mountain pass leading down to Yosemite had been shut off by snow. Her only soul-destroying alternative would be to drive for another FIVE hours to enter it from the west. I hadn’t really taken on board the exact significance of this, as we are due to arrive there in August. There can’t possibly be snow there in August, can there? After leaving San Francisco on the morning of 7th August in our rental car, I was envisaging a three hour journey to Yosemite to the west side. Then, after spending a couple of hours there, we expect to be able to drive out of the east side of Yosemite to our hotel at a place called Mammoth Lakes for four nights about an hour further away.

The road exiting from the east is a mountain road called the Tioga Pass. What we didn’t realise is that the annual winter snowfall (it’s a ski resort, too) renders the pass inaccessible until at least mid-spring most years – sometimes even later. Looking back at the records (after we’d already booked our hotel at Mammoth Lakes!), I discovered that it once took until the 3rd of July to clear the pass. This last winter has produced the heaviest snowfall in the region since records began, and the latest news is that the Tioga Pass is closed indefinitely while they clear the snow and make repairs. I think it’s very unlikely that it will still be closed when we arrive in early August, but I also understand that precedents are there to be set, and who knows exactly what challenges they may face?

Tioga Pass

The Tioga Pass

If the Tioga Pass is still shut, it is likely to take a day’s worth of solid travelling to reach our hotel from San Francisco, which will then be FIVE hours from the only entrance into the national park. It’s a serious oversight on my part, but I’m aware that the authorities will do whatever they can to complete the task before the 4th July, Independence Day. I have a feeling that I may be blowing the problem out if proportion.

This is in contrast to the damage to the iconic Highway One Pacific coastal road, which has been severely damaged by storms and landslides in the last few months. Much of this will be out of reach for the best part of a year, at least, presenting us with a minor hiccup and change to our plans for our return to San Francisco for the latter part of our two-week holiday.

After our stay at Mammoth Lakes, we will proceed south to a hotel called The Shady Lady (it used to be a brothel and keeps that same theme as a gimmick – I think!). It is the closest decent (I mean that in the “good reviews” meaning of the word) hotel to Death Valley, where we’ll be spending two nights before improvising our journey west towards what’s left of Highway One and back up to San Francisco. Death Valley is the lowest place in the USA (parts of it are below sea level) and current temperatures are around 50C, so we won’t be expecting to need a coat. Because of the popularity of Yosemite and Death Valley, we have had to book our hotels well in advance. Usually on our road trips, we have a more laissez-faire attitude, finding hotels as we go along. But, if we don’t book in advance for these locations, we simply won’t find anywhere to stay.

Death Valley 1

Death Valley

At San Francisco, we plan to do the usual Alcatraz trip. Sarah wants go on a tram and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge. We intend to find some venues for swing dancing (it’s very popular there) and whatever else we get chance to do. By virtue of the fact that it’s a road trip, we cannot plan too much. Within the parameters of the places we’ve had to book in advance, we’ll see where the journey takes us.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

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Here is the itinerary so far:

August 6th – Depart Manchester Airport around 10am to arrive at San Francisco around 2pm west coast time.

7th – Drive from San Francisco through San Jose (do you know the way?) to hotel at Mammoth Lakes – Tioga Pass permitting.

8th – Stay at Mammoth Lakes

9th – Stay at Mammoth Lakes

10th – Stay at Mammoth Lakes

11th – Drive south to Beatty (just over the border into Nevada and close to Area 51) at the Shady Lady bed and breakfast for Death Valley

12th – Stay at the Shady Lady

13th – Head west towards the Pacific Coast

14th – Explore Pacific Coast

15th – Explore Pacific Coast

16th – San Francisco

17th – San Francisco

18th – San Francisco

19th – San Francisco

20th – Return flight to Manchester around 4pm

We have become US road trippers (and swing dancers, for that matter) as a result of our rather dramatic illnesses. In 2009 I suffered a brain haemorrhage, and four years later Sarah was diagnosed with breast cancer. We have both recovered almost 100%, and have since done Route 66 and a road trip around Florida. I have written a book I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…) by Mark D Pritchard, which is published as a paperback (£7.99 UK) and an e-book (£1.99 UK). It is available in all major currencies throughout the world. Details can be found on our website or directly from

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Forthcoming Radio Wey interview with Jon Andrews

A couple of weeks ago I received a message on Twitter from Jon Andrews, a presenter at Radio Wey. It’s the radio for Ashford and St Peters Hospital NHS Trust, in Surrey. He asked me if I’d like to take part in an interview with him on Radio Wey, and to share our story after I’d survived my brain haemorrhage and my wife, Sarah, had beaten breast cancer. We love sharing our story, and to take this opportunity was a no-brainer (pardon the pun). It’s been a while since my last radio interview, so I was a little out of practice. It wasn’t likely to be a problem though, as I have so much information and fun to share.

We arranged it for yesterday evening (Friday 2nd June), by phone. As his regular slot on Radio Wey is during the daytime, and I work roughly 9 til 5, it had to be a pre-recorded interview. “How long do you want it to last?” I asked Jon, just before we started.  “About ten minutes will be fine,” he said. The poor man had to endure 35 minutes of my story-telling and jokes about my take on slipping into a coma, brain surgery while awake (twice!), Route 66, the impact of our illnesses on our lives plus much more. I suppose if it was that bad, he could have curtailed it one way or another but, instead, he said that he’d probably fill it out with music.

Jon Andrews

Jon Andrews, Radio Wey

Ours is a very serious story, but Sarah and I refuse to treat it as such. Our illnesses have turned out to be the best things to have happened to us. I believe that the interview will be broadcast on Monday (5th June) at about 10am. I’ll confirm this on Twitter @markdpritchard as soon as I know.  You’ll find it at

It was a pleasure to back on air again. If you are unable to tune in, there will be a link to listen to it at a later time. Thank you, Jon.


Please check out our website for more information about our story and book, I’M NEVER ILL (A journey through brain surgery and beyond…).