Part 2: California

May 7- 14

As much as we toiled through the chilly rains of coastal Oregon, California had been parched for years. It took a long pull on Earth’s canteen this winter, and we’d have the pleasure of hanging out with the well-hydrated monster of a state for the next week.

We left Harris Beach and bid adieu to Oregon as we crossed into Northern California along US-101. I stand by my belief that the first couple hundred miles of California should belong to Oregon. A continuation of old growth forests and rugged coastlines greeted us.

Towering redwoods loomed above us, and we went for a run among them at Jedidiah Smith State Park. Charley isn’t allowed on any of the trails in the parks, but forest roads weave among the trees. We took the roads down to the Smith River, its rocky shores quiet save for the gentle current and bubbling of eddies. No surface in the forest was spared from the ferns and mosses. The soft earth and massive redwoods enveloped us in an eery, lovely silence.

We stopped in at a familiar place for lunch. Seaquake Brewery in Crescent City serves up gluttonous American fare and excellent beer and kombucha pairings. It was our 4th time at the brewery- always a stop as we pass through the drab coastal town.

As I’ve said before, this was a trip of revisits, but only the hits of the past. Ferndale is a quaint, historical Victorian town we’d visited when heading north to Seattle a couple years back. Situated at the foothills of the coastal mountains and the headwaters of the Eel River, we stopped in for a walk around town.

“Have you been up to the cemetery on the hill? Head down this street, or the next one there. You’ll see the cemetery. Climb to the top and there’s a wonderful view back out over the town and you can see the ocean in the distance.” A kind lady, who seemed to be guiding a tour group around town, gave us the instructions. She handed me a copy of The Ferndale Enterprise periodical and off we went. Perched above the town, we looked over the Victorian buildings and church steeples, the river delta in the distance. It was a good stop-off in Ferndale.

US-101 took us snaking along the Eel River from Ferndale, to our destination for the night at the Standish Hickey campground. “Fluffy” forests and hills swaddled us in blankets of happy green. We made dinner at camp and turned in early after a campfire and a few blows on the harmonica. It’ll take some practice.

We slept terribly. Rain. And not a gentle, soothing type. The campground was vacant save for one other twosome of bikepackers a few sites down. We’d stayed at Standish-Hickey before. Could’ve done without this spooky revisit. We felt a bit defeated in the morning, throwing on our raingear and having breakfast in silence before packing up camp in the driest possible manner.

US-101 and Highway 1 split just a few miles south of our camp. We’d been along both routes. 101 would take us inland, toward arid wine country on the east side of the coastal mountains. We opted to head toward the coast, riding highway 1. The highway’s initial climb up and over the mountains had Arch popping into 2nd gear quite a bit, saving the brakes from the relentless swings down switchbacks, til we spit out of the forest onto the coast. Skies cleared and blue shone through. Our spirits lifted as sun bathed us for the first time since Bend, it seemed.

Wildflowers popped. Frothy blue waves pounded the cliffs below. We passed a handful of coastal hamlets, all of them charmingly appearing to be stuck in the 60’s. We stopped into Fort Bragg in the afternoon to restock our fridge and pantry. Rains returned. “Larry”, a gentleman we met in the parking lot, said it’d clear in an hour. Good on ya Larry, he was spot on.

We joined the sunshine out at Cabrillo Lighthouse, walking the headlands paths among tall grasses to the Light Station, sitting atop a bluff with a coupe seals playing and bathing in the cove below.

Checking in at Russian Gulch campground, we spotted one of the last sites and claimed it. Muddy and untidy, it wasn’t chosen for its aesthetic. But it gave us a good jumping off point for some trails and, really, we didn’t have many other options. We walked along the bluffs beside the gulch’s outlet into the sea, pointing out black oyster catchers yelping as they located feeding holes along the outcrops. Jamie made dinner at a nearby picnic bench- caprese sandwiches and salads. A light but tasty fare.

May 9th was a good day. If we had to rank the days, it’d earn the top spot thus far. We woke in the morning and unzipped the Nest, peering up at blue skies and morning sun filtering through the green canopy above us, creek gurgling softly behind our site. We made breakfast, simple oatmeal and fruit with coffee. I spotted Gary hanging onto the driver’s side door of Archie. An ugly snail, Gary seemed to be a bit confused, mistaking our white truck for the dirt and mud he’s used to slugging through. We returned him to his home, before setting out on our own adventure through the woods.

Stunning, serene, perfect, soul-filling run along the Fern trail to a couple waterfalls. 7 miles of beautiful trails, lined with redwoods and along happy creeks. After we stretched our legs, a quick shower and change got us ready to move along.

It was a sublime day in Mendocino after that. A village caught in someone’s nostalgic recollection of the perfect past. Frozen in time, but bustling with residents and passers-thru alike. Old homes and storefronts preserved along the north coast.

We walked through town and stopped into a coffee shop to do some work on the blog and take it slow for a moment. We chatted with some folks that’d lived there for 40 years. What a place to call home.

After a walk along the Mendocino headlands, we climbed back in Arch and set our heading inland a bit, along the Navarro river. For their size, redwoods do a wonderful job hiding from the elements. You won’t find them right along the coast- too windy. They use coastal trees as a buffer from the harsh seaside conditions, instead growing inland just a bit. They still reap the benefits of ample moisture and just the right amount of sunlight.

Navarro vineyard was closing soon, so we stopped in for a quick tasting with Alibar, who was happy to talk all-things-wine with us til close. Jamie and I nodded intelligently, but we hadn’t the slightest idea what he was talking about. The wine tasted good, though.

We settled into Indian Creek campground, about a mile down the road. We were spoiled. A small campground beside the creek, we were the only ones there. And an absolute giant of a redwood shot up from the earth right next to our picnic table. I made a fire, and we listened to some music as dusk melted away.

We kept cookin south the next morning. Winding, undulated backroads pulled us out into Sonoma county. We picked up the 101 southbound into Santa Rosa and stopped off at Taylor Mountain Open Space Preserve to get some exercise. It was dry, sunny, warm. Not to complain, though. Can’t be upset with sun after complaining about the rains for the better part of a week.

We ran up the hill, Charley panting quickly in the warm and arid clime. Cows grazed everywhere, including on the trails. Charley behaved, as did the beefers. Seas of tall grass blew like waves in the breeze. It was beautiful, but it set off our allergies something fierce.

After a good sweat, it was time to drive to and through San Francisco. We have nothing against the city- its surroundings are stunning, and the city has so much to offer. But with Arch loaded up with all our gear, we are apprehensive about stopping into any city. Crossing the Golden Gate and sliding through the SF street-hills, we made our way into Palo Alto.

Our friends we met in SB, Loran and Rebecca (and Louie, Bailey, and Puppy), just arrived there for Rebecca’s travel contract at Stanford as a Speech therapist. We caught up on life over the past year since we’d last seen them, and moseyed through the stunning campus. I’ve never seen a property like that before. Meticulous landscaping and awe-inspiring architecture at every turn. Impossibly beautiful.

We got dinner at Coconut’s Caribbean restaurant in Palo Alto, swapping stories from past travel assignments and road trips. We’re so grateful to have met them. Getting to know folks along the way makes the experiences more textured. And being able to meet up when we’re on the road is such a treat.

After dinner, it was a late pull-in to Henry Cowell Redwoods state park after dark, about an hour south of Palo Alto. 

Descending out of the redwoods into Santa Cruz the next morning, we grabbed some rocket fuel at the 11th hour Cafe before taking the hot and dry US-101 through inland California to San Luis Obispo. A college-town nestled on the hills not far from the ocean, SLO has always warranted a stop. We reserved a campsite at El Chorro campground and headed into town for the evening. It was the night of the first farmers and craft market of the year, and downtown was loaded with patrons. A cocktail at Sidecar cocktail bar got us away from the chaos for a bit.

Our friend Sara from Boston was passing through SLO on her way from San Diego to her next travel contract in Seattle with her Mom Sharon and dog Gracie. We met up at Luna Red in town for shared plates and drinks amidst the Thursday evening bustle. How bizarre, to meet up with old friends from the other side of the country in a random soCal town.

A dry, warm morning run up to Eagle rock in SLO got our day started on the 12th. The residual effects of the winter rains persisted. Wildflowers and tall green grass lined the trail as we took in views toward Morro Bay to the northwest from the trail’s end.

Continuing southbound on 101, Jamie and I were both a bit preoccupied with the concern of “where we gonna sleep tonight?” Weekends are tough on these long road trips. We can’t plan ahead too much due to the nature of our travels. And we’ve had many difficult times finding an open campsite in these busier outdoor areas.

We pulled into Cachuma Lake campground. Two signs greeted us at the entrance to the grounds, where a few hundred campsites are situated: “CAMPGROUND FULL.” It was a Friday afternoon. We weren’t shocked, but a bit disappointed. I inquired at the booth anyway- we’ve had luck with cancellations in the past.

We secured one of the last two campsites available. A sigh of relief as we rolled past the booth, found our spot and had lunch.

Hopping back in Arch after we filled up, the three of us headed into Los Olivos, an historic wine-town in the arid valley. We’d been to the village during our past contracts in Santa Barbara, and it made the list for a revisit. A walk around town and stop into Four Brother’s winery fit the bill as we tried to hide from the high sun.

We had dinner back at camp- chicken alfredo. Being a Friday night, and this being a lively, large campground, live music boomed from the dockside bar and grill by the lake, and we enjoyed it from our site as we relaxed and planned for our return to SB the next morning.

After a shower and breakfast at camp the following morning, we climbed the San Marcos pass over the Santa Ynez ridge, and descended into Santa Barbara, hidden beneath the blanket of the marine layer. We did another loop of errands before enjoying ourselves. Jamie got the groceries while me and Charley drove over to the laundromat. Divide and conquer.

Our friends Connor and Nicole are still living in Ventura, and we met up with them for lunch and a walk with their new puppy Lucy. 

Again plagued by the weekend campsite debacle, we booked a site in Ojai, about 30 minutes from Ventura, inland. A beautiful valley beneath towering, crumbling mountains spotted with desert evergreen, we had a nice overlook from the campground. It was a quiet evening as Jamie whipped up turkey melts for supper.

May 14th was designated as our “very Santa Barbara day.” We left Ojai in the morning, driving 45 minutes over Casitas pass to Santa Barbara. Casitas Lake was full, a sight to see. I don’t believe it’s been full in many years. Sharp green shrubs, grasses and trees lined the highway as we rode over the pass. 

A foot-tour of our old home was in order, so the three of us got our running gear all set near the Santa Barbara Mission and set out through the Riviera, a hillside neighborhood overlooking downtown SB. I split off when we got back to the Mission, meeting Jamie and Charley and Arch down by the beach at Shoreline Park. We popped the trunk and made a quick lunch before revisiting Hendry’s Beach, one of Charley’s favorite. Dogs run all about, and we walked the beach for a mile or so, seeking a few moments of solitude further down, away from the Mother’s day gatherings near the beach entrance.

More walking after that, as we strolled down Lower State Street to the waterfront, noting all the shops that had closed since we left, and the new ones that took their place. The city has kept the street pedestrian-only since after Covid, and it was bustling with throngs of folks heading to Mother’s Day brunch. Dinner at Los Agaves, a classic stop when we lived in town, and Mission Street Ice cream, had our bellies full.

Climbing San Marcos Pass again after dinner, we sought a boondocking campsite in the national forest. The weekend was over, so we were optimistic of our chances in finding a good spot. Pulling out on a dirt stop-off along the mountain ridge, we made camp with fog-laden SB to our south, and Cachuma lake, inland in the Santa Ynez Valley, to the north. Silence and only a light breeze offered up a lovely evening, as we reminisced about our days in SB and watched the sunset wane, falling beneath the lake in the distance.

Don’t long for times passed; the only thing that’s real and that matters is the present. Time waits for no one.

Swapping out the coast for the desert, it was time to head east, into Arizona and the American Southwest. Giddy up!

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