Being on the road means you never know what twists and turns will come your way. This one was no different. Our first true outing with Adeline, our popup trailer, yielded some rookie mistakes, underestimates, and other unpredictable results – and we still had a grand time.
Day 2 – Santa Cruz – nostalgia on many levels
Day 2 for us was an easy drive, with dear friends waiting on the other end in downtown Santa Cruz. It was a wonderful visit. While we knew we would be staying the night with them, what we didn’t know is that we would be put up in a 143 year old well-preserved Victorian house. It’s not often that I get to see such ornate architecture, but to savor every corner, every detail, over the course of almost 24 hours was a real treat. The house is officially a historical landmark, and while it’s situated on a private property and not on any tourbooks, does get rented out from time to time for weddings and other special events. Our friends live in the guest cottage on the property, so my husband and I had the full run of the place. The grand tour was full of oohs and aahhs, and then the following morning, prior to convening for breakfast, I set out with the camera to poke around.
The day was filled with reminiscing, as my friend Amy and I have known each other since we were young children; communing with her husband Karl and their family was easy and enjoyable. Stories followed queries until we were all caught up. It was a delight.
Day 3 – Spring Lake (Santa Rosa) – foggy feast with a friend
Day 3 we were headed to Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, but first my husband David gave me the dime tour of Santa Cruz, as he had lived there for a few years around the turn of the century. It’s such a lovely town. We passed by his former residence and stopped at a local eatery, Emily’s Bakery, which had been a staple of his when he lived there. Drivetime was chock full of recounting old stories from those days. Time passed quickly as we drove up the 1, through Half Moon Bay and across the San Mateo bridge, then passed through Oakland, San Rafael, and onward up to our destination for the night.
Once we arrived, there was just enough time to set up camp, dash to the nearby market for supplies, and get ready to receive David’s longtime friend Alicia who lives 20 minutes away. We had arranged to do a potluck dinner and we had plenty of fresh produce to share, as Amy & Karl had given us plenty from their garden. Peaches, tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, pears…so tasty. There’s nothing like organic produce grown with love. Dinner was a delight, between our offerings (fish, salad) and Alicia’s (homemade veggie chili). It was an early bedtime for us, and the next morning I was up bright & early at 6am to see what the place looked like in the morning.
Spring Lake is a manmade reservoir at the edge of a pretty little neighborhood of Santa Rosa, with a mostly-paved path that surrounds the perimeter of the lake which is frequently populated by joggers, walkers and the like. By the time I made it down to the lake (a short 5-minute walk from our campsite) at 7, there were plenty of people out and about, but the fog was incredibly thick which limited the scope of the shots I was hoping to take on the lake. The still air meant the reflections were pretty reliable and so as I made my way around the lake (3.7 miles), I tried to find a few spots where I could actually see something through the fog.
Day 4 + 5 – Lake Mendocino (Ukiah) – disaster & drought
I was looking forward to Day 4 as it would be not only a short drive, but our first destination where we would stay for two nights instead of one. One thing about road trips – when there’s an itinerary and reservations to honor, there isn’t much wiggle room for procrastination. We were making good time packing up and getting ready to head out on the road when disaster struck.
The trailer was all packed up and hitched to the truck, but there must have been a problem with a grounding wire because as soon as David attached the harness that powers the brake & signal lights, a small electrical fire broke out, both at the junction box on the tongue of the trailer and at the deep-cycle battery. Smoke and hot electric smell were enough to make us panic and David did an admirable job of disconnecting things as fast as he could without electrocuting or burning himself. As we surveyed the damage, we could see that practically all the wiring that goes from the harness to the junction box and from there to the battery was melted. Oh, joy. We breathed a sigh of relief, however, as we both realized how fortunate we were that things didn’t get deadlier than they were – the battery could have exploded, the fire could have reached into the wiring in the truck, and so on.
We limped out of there, headed to an RV repair place I’d found on Yelp, without any brake or signal lights on the trailer. Much to our chagrin, the nearest place was closed and every other place we called was booked for 3 weeks. I took a chance and looked up repair places in Ukiah, our next destination, and we had a place to go. The fellow at the repair place, while booked into next month, knew that since we were on the road it was imperative to get the lights fixed so he squeezed us in and made sure we knew his name to mention if we got pulled over (we didn’t). The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting while the apprentice painstakingly replaced all the wiring for the lights. It meant that we would be without power for the rest of our trip (unless we camped somewhere with electrical hookup, which would be few & far between), but since we are used to that it’s not such a tremendous loss.
Once we had that sorted out, it was time to head 15 minutes’ drive down the road to our next destination, Lake Mendocino. I was so very much looking forward to setting up and relaxing after our harrowing day. We had made plans with David’s aunt & uncle who live in Boonville, a half hour drive from us, to join them for brunch the following morning; however when we called & explained what had happened they very graciously offered to meet us in Ukiah somewhere so we didn’t have to get on the road so soon. We met up for lunch and had a lovely, if brief, visit. There were plenty of errands to run in Ukiah related to items we’d forgotten we needed to complete our gear, a visit to the laundromat, a session at a coffeeshop with Internet & power (we had neither at our site), and a grocery run. Ukiah’s an interesting place, where big-name corporate chains sit alongside little mom & pop places, including one we saw which offered hand guns for sale – at a deli. (??)
Lake Mendocino has suffered the drought that has affected much of California and the water levels were at an all-time low. We could see clearly that the boat dock was marooned and much of the foliage was dying out that usually lived underwater. It was a sad state of affairs and I found I wasn’t terribly inspired to take a lot of photos. The lasting imagery of the palpable drought stayed with us, however.
Part of the culture of a road trip camping at campgrounds is meeting people along the way. While we were in Ukiah, we met some folks who had started touring the country in their small RV full-time about 6 months prior. It’s fascinating to talk with people and get a sense for how their own philosophies about being on the road differ and are similar to our own. One adage these folks we met that day has held true for us as a learned lesson from this trip – once you reach critical mass in the stuff you pack both in the car and in the trailer, nothing else can come in unless something else comes out. It’s a mad game of Tetris, one which gets better with more routine and practice.
Day 6 + 7 – Patrick’s Point – our northernmost reach
Day 6 was one of our longest driving days. In most cases the drive would be no more than 3 or so hours a day, but this was a long haul to get to the top tip of our itinerary. A good portion of the journey would take us through the redwoods of Mendocino and Humboldt counties, and through a lot of little towns where there seemed to be a lot of barefoot folks wandering through, hitching rides here and there. The majesty of the redwoods made the long drive worth it, however, and so even though it was a 4+ hour drive, we were in awe most of the way.
We schemed where we would need to stop for ice and produce, and planned to roll through Eureka for these tasks, the last big town before Trinidad, home to Patrick’s Point. Eureka was quite the eyesore, such an industrial town and sadly sporting quite a serious meth and homeless problem. I was curious as we encountered so much of this so I Googled “Eureka homeless problem” and found we were not the only ones noticing this, not by a long shot. I wish the town well in seeking out a tenable solution to what seems to be an unsustainable problem. In the midst of this, however, we found a local natural foods grocer that could have rivaled Whole Foods in its scope, breadth and pricing. Go figure.
20-odd miles north and we were at our destination for the next couple of days – Patrick’s Point in the teeny town of Trinidad. We had a privately owned campground to call home, with power and water hookups (a luxury I’ve come to appreciate, even in the midst of camping). I’d heard about all the beaches in the area so our primary order of business on our full day there was to scope out the local beaches in hopes of finding one that would suit a sunset photography session. I’d seen a greeting card in the store of the campground with a shot someone had taken at Moonstone Beach so that was one of our destinations. It did not disappoint. Many clicks of the camera later, we started our drive back to camp, only taking the scenic way back (a road called Scenic Drive, of course) and came upon even more beauty, and lots of people taking it in. Truly my favorite sunset of the entire trip was here along this coastline.
Day 8 + 9 – Nestled among the redwoods
The stretch of Highway 101 that is called the Redwoods Highway is breathtaking as you wend your way through these centuries-old trees. There were very few pieces of our trip where we backtracked along the same route coming and going, but this one piece was so enjoyable that we didn’t mind doing it once more. Better yet, our next destination was up in the middle of it all, and ended up being our favorite place we stayed on the entire trip.
We’d Yelped all the places we stayed, but the reviews of the Redwoods River Resort were so positive, and about the manager Millie in particular, that we were excited to arrive. Millie was a gem. Born & raised in Manchester England, having worked at RRR for 15 years, she gives the job a personal touch that was so very welcome. Every encounter when we’d go to the front desk – for ice, for firewood, to rent the pool cues and balls – was a treat, and hugs were genuinely exchanged at the end. RRR was at the tail end of their busy season, and thankfully the camp was quiet so we could hear the wind through the trees. A 350 yard hike down a steep hill took you to the shores of the Eel River, which sadly was at about 1/3 its capacity, another sign of the drought affecting our state. I made it down early in the morning to see what the light and reflections were like, and was chagrined to see that the river was a mere shadow of its former self. Still, the water was reflecting against the trees nicely and the hike back up was a serious workout, so all in all a wonderful way to spend the morning.
Day 10 + 11 – Bodega Bay – our anniversary & the top of Hwy 1
By far one of our favorite drives of the entire trip was the drive from the redwoods to the top of Highway 1 and on down the amazing coastline of Northern California. I’ve been through Big Sur many times and am quite familiar with its ragged beauty, but to witness the twists and turns of first the redwoods and then the coast of this section of California was like nothing else I’d ever seen. Granted it was one of the slowest drives we had to do, with the heavy trailer behind us and very little shoulder, but we were gasping with amazement at every turn nonetheless. I was so enamored of the drive (as the passenger) that I started holding my camera steady through the moonroof of the truck and setting the exposure for a second, which lent itself to an eerie quality of motion. For a look at the series of in-motion shots that I took, check out this album on Flickr.
This travel day also happened to be our actual wedding anniversary so we were feeling quite tender and even stopped for a bottle of champagne in a cute little romantic town called Westport (which I hope we can return to) before the roads started getting pretty hairy with twists and turns that gave Big Sur a run for their money in terms of a challenging yet beautiful drive. Clouds turned into fog as we neared our destination, Bodega Bay, so by the time we arrived the visibility was down to only a 100 yards or so.
Our good friend Dan, who lives in LA and was an integral part of our wedding day last year, just so happened to be visiting his kids near Bodega Bay while we were there, so we invited him to come join us at the campfire, and the following day we were treated to a personally guided tour of the surrounding area. It was a real treat to see a new place through the eyes of someone who has spent quite a lot of time there – very different from the rest of our exploring. I’m certain we wouldn’t have found half of the places he took us to if we were on our own. It was a feast for the eyes – the socked in foggy coast, the blazingly hot & sunny mountains nearby, the tiny town of Occidental in the redwoods where his kids live, and the Russian River…all so very diverse and equally as enjoyable.
Day 12 – Time in the big city & extremely social 24 hours
Day 12 was our busiest day, adhering to the schedule of others. No complaints here – we had some wonderful visits with friends and family alike – but the whirlwind pace meant that the camera did not come out at all! The drive from Bodega Bay to San Francisco was another astoundingly beautiful drive – along the Pacific Coast Highway, past Tomales Bay (we are SO coming back!) and up into Mill Valley by way of some seriously hairpin turns. Those turns can be challenging enough in a regular car, but towing our trailer behind meant an extra 2000 pounds of weight and turns are not as easy. Thankfully, David drove the truck like a champ and we made it to Mill Valley in one piece. First up was a visit with David’s cousin Eric, a cheery reunion, while we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a spot in his neighborhood. This gave us enough time to skip across town to East Bay where we were meeting up with our friends Dusti & Craig at their place in Oakland. Dealing with traffic and parking was so very different from the remote areas of coast and forests we’d come from, but handle it we did. After a luxurious shower and some much-needed Internet time to catch up on emails, it was time to meet up with more friends and walk to a delicious sushi & sake dinner in the heart of Oakland. Such a feast! Great company too, but the amazing food had a predictable effect on me and the early riser part of me was in bed and asleep before 11, while our hosts took off to spend the evening watching the lunar eclipse from the comfort of a hot tub. Would that we could have joined them, but we had our own pace to keep and it wasn’t in the cards.
Day 13 + 14 – Big Sur, we love you
The following morning, after gathering some supplies, it was off to brunch with a grade-school chum of David’s, Lisa, at another culinary highlight of a spot in Berkeley. (The foodie in me was well-satiated) After a good deal of reminiscing and storytelling, it was time to bid our fond farewells and hitch up the trailer to head south toward Big Sur, what ended up being our final camping destination. We barely managed to make it through San Jose before the commuter traffic took over, made our way westward via Monterey, and began the familiar drive southward into some of the most iconic and beautiful coastline in all of America. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve driven this stretch of the coastline, but I never tire of it. Our campsite for the following two days was in Plaskett Creek, which is toward the southern part of Big Sur, so we had the enormity of the dramatic cliffs to traverse. As per usual, it did not disappoint, and I took plenty of shots over the next few days.
The reminders about the drought were ever-present, however, as the campground announced everywhere that the water had been shut off at the sinks in all the restrooms in an effort to conserve water. It was a subject of discussion among all the campers there. Of all the places we camped, Plaskett Creek was surely the most populated – not only is Big Sur a draw year-round anyway, there was also the Big Sur Jade Festival that was imminently about to take place, right next door to the campground. The place was abuzz with jade traders and others, and we enjoyed meeting many of our neighbors. One lovely man, there with his 6-year-old son and a monk-like hitchhiker from Italy he’d picked up the day before, became fast friends with us and was even moved to give us a heart-shaped piece of rose quartz crystal as an anniversary gift. The Italian traveler was lovely as well, and will likely be coming to visit sometime in the next few weeks as he makes his way down the California coast. Our home is welcome to him.
Day 15 +16 – coming in for a gentle landing
Our last camping destination was supposed to be San Simeon, but as we emerged from the last of the rugged Big Sur coastline, both David and I had the same thought occur – since we were headed to my parents’ farm (and its relatively luxurious quarters) the following night, what if we forfeited our reservation at San Simeon and kept driving into Santa Ynez, to spend two nights in the comfort of family before descending back into our lives? We laughed about the synchronicity of our thoughts and a quick phone call to Mom confirmed that all was well with us arriving a day ahead of schedule. Our subsequent lunch at an exquisite restaurant in Cambria had us in a relaxed mindset as we knew our travels would be coming to a graceful end shortly. A couple more hours south and we managed to arrive just in time to honor cocktail hour. Hot showers, real beds, and home-cooked meals awaited us and made for the best kind of decompression we could have asked for. It was a perfect end to a quite perfect adventure!