Stillwater Cove (2)

Site 9 is maybe the best site

Our final stay of the break was somewhat marred by getting into BIG TROUBLE with the campground host. I’m getting flushed even typing this, because we love campground hosts, and try our best not to get into trouble with them. They are the ones keeping things safe and not too rowdy for all of us passers through, so we appreciate them. But boy oh boy, did we piss this one off.

Highway 1 near Elk

Let’s set the scene by giving some context. It was our last full day, and we had the plan to try again on the Pygmy Forest trail in Salt Point State Park. We’d attempted this trail many months back, but it was closed, so we instead took a long way around, creating a heart shaped path in our defeated little wake. Having a Do Over here, would not only feel satisfying in terms of closure, but would also achieve the coveted Pygmy Forest Trifecta. That would be three whole Pygmies on one trip! So we were excited and got hitched and rolling early so we could have enough time to achieve our stunted forest dream.

Goal of the day

All was going our way and we arrived around 12:30. To our dismay, the people in our site had not yet vacated. Usually, check out time is noon, but we have been known to push just a bit past that deadline ourselves. Check in time is 2pm, so we had no moral high ground here. We were in the wrong, but we still wanted to get set up in our site as soon as we could. Richard is always a little tense at the tail end of trips too, so in retrospect, he was not in the best place to go chat with the campground host.

Passing by Van Damme

He doesn’t remember exactly what he said, but according to the campground host, he “had attitude.” In any case, Richard came back and reported the host said we could try hanging out in the ADA site, or in the Day Use area, if we wanted to wait. Neither one of us thought anything was going awry at that point. Since the loop was kind of tight, and the ADA site was rather small and would cause Dory to stick out a little into the road, we both figured it would be equally ok to temporarily park in a site nearby. We could see when the current occupants of our site were leaving, and pull out if we needed to move. So, I backed into #3, which also had solar and hookups, and I went inside Dory to have lunch. Here’s where things probably crossed the line. Richard figured, why not plug in while we were waiting, to make use of the time. The campground host did not like that one bit. He immediately came over and yelled at us both, saying now we were going to have to leave the park and not come back until 2. We were both totally shocked, but just said ok, and started getting ready to leave.

Gerstle Cove at Salt Point

I don’t usually get in trouble, you guys. I’m more of the insufferable teacher’s pet type. So I went over to try to apologize, and basically started crying. I think that startled him and he backed down, just reiterating that we could ONLY wait in the ADA site. So we did that, but were both extremely rattled. Richard went to walk it off and I waited until I got full and clear permission to pull into our reserved site. At that point, it was around 1:30. We still had time in the day, but it was looking pretty shot.

Made it eventually

Somehow, we were both able to pull ourselves together and shake it off enough to head out to the trail. We walked and talked and processed all the things that had broken down there, so that maybe we could avoid similar situations in the future. I think it was just maybe the perfect storm of us trying a little too hard to eke out every little bit of fun on our last day, coming face to face with a highly triggerable campground host, who admitted to having a short temper. He assumed we were disrespecting his authority, when in reality we were just trying to be efficient and stay out of everyone’s way.

The raw power of the ocean

And so it was that we were able to achieve the Pygmy Trifecta, but in a way that was totally unsatisfying. At least, by the time we’d gotten back to the car, we had wrung out all the angst. We were then able to enjoy a walk on the bluffs at Salt Point. As if to soothe our bruised spirits, Mother Nature gave us a show with the crashing of King Tide waves against the rocky shore. It was like the universe was saying, “It’s ok. Conflict happens. It’s natural. Let it go.” We then spotted a whale way out in the distance as he/she slowly made their way past the setting sun. As it disappeared into the horizon, I could hear it call back, “It’s all good, man. Just keep swimming.” Good thing I speak whale.

Sunset and whale spout just catching the light

Heading home on Sunday, we were reminded never to underestimate “The Rollercoaster.” This is the section of Highway 1 between Fort Ross and Jenner, and it contains ten of the most exciting miles of the entire coastal drive. When I say exciting, I also mean terrifying if you are not used to steep drop offs, narrow sharp turns, and a whole lot of no guard rails. I will say, they have installed more and more guard rails every year, but it’s not enough. We had been trying to figure out some way Richard could get in one last bike ride, and there were all sorts of crazy ideas being considered. One of them involved me traversing the Rollercoaster three times so that I could pick him up, return with him to hitch up, and then tow back down it. hahahahaha Note to future self: that would not ever be a good idea.

Section of the Rollercoaster when it’s not too scary to ask Richard to take pictures

So, home we are again. It was a great week, despite campground host confrontations. We had the best apple pie in the world, hiked two fern valleys, saw THREE pygmy forests, and went to Cowlick’s three times. Lots to be thankful for!

Total miles from MacKerricher: 85.1, 16.0 mpg, 2 hours 41 min. Site 9. Great site with hookups. No cell for ATT but a little bit for Verizon. Dump, but it was closed, and it costs $7. No potable water in campground.

MacKerricher (4)

Hanging out in the Day Use area while Richard rides up from Van Damme

This is why we camp so much. Having an entire week to explore somewhere different always leads to new discoveries and a taste of that extended camping rhythm. We spent five nights in this park, just outside of Fort Bragg, and the only hard part was wrapping it up to head home.

Pygmy Forest #2

We found different things to do each day, including a continuation of both the Fern Valley, and the Pygmy Forest themes. If you drive just a bit south, you can park at the trailhead of Jug Handle State Natural Reserve and take a five mile round trip hike called the “Ecological Staircase.” The first part takes you right under Highway 1 and down a steep flight of wooden stairs down to a creek. You climb back up the other side and continue inland, rising gently until you come to a series of plateaus. Each terrace has its own unique ecology. The last step on the trail contains a Pygmy Forest, with Bonzai looking ancient trees. If you have time and energy after that, you can go the extra short descent down to a beautiful cove beach, under the shadow of the highway.

Bike path goes on for miles, right by the beach

We spent another day just biking around together. There are miles of bike trails along the coast and through the outskirts of Fort Bragg. After we had gone to the end of the trail, we headed into town for some window shopping and ice cream at Cowlicks. Between Mocha Almond Fudge and Black Forest, with Bing cherries and fudgy chocolate chunks, I can’t say which was my favorite. Richard sampled the Mushroom ice cream and said it was not bad, and definitely not mushroomy. Richard got a flat, but was able to get right into Fort Bragg Cyclery where they fixed him up quick.

Another Fern Valley

And on Thanksgiving Day, we went just a bit further south and hiked another Fern Valley trail in Russian Gulch State Park. We hiked a full loop up to the Fern Canyon Waterfall. Both Fern Valleys we have hiked so far have been incredibly beautiful. This one didn’t have any bridges out, so you can do the whole trail. The trails were a bit wider and the only dodgy part was coming down a steep passage to get to the bottom of the falls.

“So Jesse, I want these steps, except totally safe, but natural looking, but not slippery, or too narrow, but nice and irregular looking, except there should be a good wide landing so no one falls….”

Everyone take a moment to appreciate the patience of Jesse the concrete guy.

As we have been away from home, we heard tell that we finally got a nice solid front pathway and stairs put in. I had told Jesse, the concrete guy, that I wanted something that looked very natural, and yet totally safe. Somehow he managed to make sense of my insane requests and came up with an entryway that is both beautiful, and not deadly. The steps on the trail were what I had in mind, but that’s why you pay professionals to do things sanely. Anyway, we loved the hike and I love our stairs.

I mean, he pretty much knocked that out of the park, right?

For our last full day, we hiked along Ten Mile Beach skirting Inglenook Fen. This is the only remaining coastal fen in California, and is undergoing major habitat restoration. There are signs posted everywhere, even painted on the path, that no dogs are allowed in this area. Nevertheless, people walk right past those with their dogs, and we are always rather confused. There were some good explanations posted for how dogs negatively impact fragile wildlife, but that doesn’t seem to deter lots of people. It also seems to be a completely unenforced rule.

Ten Mile Beach (which is really, like four)

On a serious note, we discovered a newish looking speed boat, completely destroyed and upside down on the beach. That turned out to be from an accident the week before. Two people lost their lives after their boat capsized in the waves. Later that day, we saw an emergency rescue operation, as crews tried to save a man and an unknown number of family members whose boat had also capsized just off shore. These events are common in these little norther coastal towns. Whether unsuspecting tourists, or seasoned mariners who figured they could handle the waves, dozens of people lose their lives to the ocean every year. It was sobering and sad, and a good reminder to never underestimate water.

Life is good

Another Thanksgiving trip, another year to be extremely grateful to be able to get out there. It will be nice to eventually have a nice home to come home to, but nothing will replace the thrill of traveling in our own little 90 sq ft traveling mansion. We do so love our Dory time.

Total miles from Van Damme: 18.6, 13.9 mpg, 35 min. Site 72. No hookups, no solar. Better cell for ATT than Verizon, but pretty good 5g for ATT. Good dump, but water is on the wrong side, so you have to do a turn around maneuver in the dump loop. Generators allowed.

Van Damme SP

Nice site, with trees as a block from the coastal wind

We left a rainy Hendy Woods and made our way to the coast and to a new campground. The rain messed up Richard’s desire to bike from campground to campground, but at least it was a pleasant drive. Even towing in the rain, this stretch of Highway 128 is stunning. The curves are calm, and it takes you right through the redwood forests before opening up to the ocean at Navarro Beach. From there, it’s all the glory of California Highway 1, and not too much of the scary stuff.

Mendocino is super fun

We pulled in with plenty of daylight left, so we drove over to check out the town of Mendocino. I’ve driven past this place plenty of times, but have never really stopped to take a look. It is small, but super cute. Our first stop was in the historic Ford House. Here, we learned all about the local history and admired the tiny reproductions of how the town looked back in the Gold Rush.

Miniature recreation of the town, back in the day

We then did a walking tour of the couple of blocks you could call the “downtown,” sampled some chocolate at Mendocino Chocolate Company, and got an afternoon slice of pizza snack at Frankie’s.

Pygmy Forest

The next day, we treated ourselves to an amazing hike through Fern Canyon. This trail normally runs from the campground, up the valley for almost five miles, and ends at a Pygmy Forest. One of the many bridges has washed out though, so we instead drove up to the Pygmy Forest parking area and walked down, intending to do a loop. We learned what pygmy forests are all about along a short loop trail with a boardwalk and plenty of informational kiosks. Apparently, when there is a flat terrace with shallow hard pan, there can be extremely harsh and acidic soil conditions. This makes it hard for the normally thriving trees and shrubs to grow. They can be hundreds of years old and still look like saplings.

Spectacular Fern Valley Trail

From that terrace, the trail descends to the Little River valley and follows it all the way to the coast. The trail closure meant we would not make it the whole way, but there is a logging road you can take back to the parking area in order to make a loop. Once the trail reaches the canyon, it becomes pretty dramatic, and you realize how the valley has earned its name.

Dangerous looking mushroom

The Fern Valley trail is really one of the most beautiful we’ve ever been on. It is dark and cool under the cover of the redwoods, but the ferns grow everywhere. There are something like twenty little wooden bridges that cross back and forth over the river, revealing fairy-like tiny waterfalls and occasional little pools. Mushrooms grow bountifully along the side of the trail, or atop fallen tree trunks. They all looked toxic to us, but we have never known much about mushrooms.

“Hmm… worth risking it?”

Once we got to the place where we needed to cross the river and catch the logging road, we ran into a river crossing that is probably not usually so wet. There were some logs and big stumps placed as a way to get across, but at this was the day after a nice rain, the little river was big enough to make us go, “nah.” We maybe could have done it without falling in the water, but chances were high enough that one of us was going in, we decided to just turn around there and go back the way we came. It was certainly a lovely trail, so the thought of repeating was more appealing than the likelihood of walking back to the car with wet pants.

Formerly known as Bridge #4

We drove back to the campground and tried the trail going the other direction. You can get all the way to the broken bridge, assuming you are willing to walk around the fence and all the signs saying the trail is closed for repair. Another guy ahead of us led the way and knew all about the status of the trail. We discussed the relative morality of rule breaking as we proceeded up the closed trail.

Beautiful sunset

We wrapped up our stay with a glorious sunset at the beach. The campground is right next to a gorgeous cove beach, making sunset viewing easy peasy.

Moon over sunset scene

We really enjoyed this campground and would come again. It is nicely located a short distance from Hendy Woods and Mendocino. Plus, you’ve got a spectacular trail and a beautiful beach right by your site. A lot of the loops and sites seemed to be closed, maybe for the season or maybe due to storm damage, so there aren’t many to choose from. I think we got this site as a cancellation, but so many people were no shows in the rain, there were empty sites even on a Saturday.

“So few Richards, so many dicks” – true dat

Onward and up the coast!

Total miles from Hendy Woods: 29.9, 16.2 mpg, 1 hour 31 min. Site 6 no hookups, no solar. Curby dump, so skipped and dumped at MacKerricher. Upper loop closed.

Hendy Woods (5)

Deep redwoods forest campground

Thanksgiving Week Break is under way. It is becoming a tradition for us to head to Hendy Woods and pick up an apple pie at Gowan’s Oak Tree, so we have been looking forward to that all week. I took Friday off so we could leave in the morning and arrive in daylight. Note to future self: ALWAYS do that.

Happy birthday Sweetie!

Friday also happened to be Richard’s birthday, so the pie was really a birthday pie. We had the fridge crammed to the gills with Blue Apron recipes veggies, and I really did not have to do that. We could have easily shopped in Fort Bragg somewhere in the middle of the week. Once we were on the way, thinking about pie, Richard brought up the question of how we were going to store it. They come precooked and frozen, so it would be ok out for a while, but not overnight. We made a quick switcheroo on dinner plans and I cooked the recipe with the most bulky vegetables. Then I rearranged some things, removed some of the canned waters, and just managed to fit the pie in on the top shelf. For the record, we carried five Blue Apron recipes, three frozen pan dinners, and a fancy frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu for Thanksgiving. And birthday apple pie. We also got a couple of apples from Gowan’s, but those were consumed on the spot.

Fallen giant

We spent the afternoon doing the Little Hendy and Big Hendy loop trails. That earned me enough calories for the Blue Apron and dessert. There was a part of the trail that was closed, due to a gigantic tree fall. It’s hard to capture the magnitude and breathtaking size of these huge redwoods. Looking up at them, you have to crane your head all the way back and still can’t quite see the tops. When they fall, their massive trunks stretch out across the forest floor for hundreds of feet. Two giants appear to have fallen at the same time, in opposite directions. Even if no one was in the forest, I’ll bet someone heard that.

Real picture. There are full hookups over there, and excellent drainage under the decomposed Mojave granite

Before leaving on Friday morning, we had a chance to check in with the landscapers. We are finally at a super exciting stage in this project. Things are looking close to how I envisioned it all. Keep in mind, the crash was in November of 2020, we didn’t find the design/build contractors until after the next summer, and construction did not begin until last November. We’ve been working on this in one way or another for three years. When Richard texted me the picture of the back yard with decomposed granite on it, I could hardly contain my excitement. Yes, there are some more things to be done, but I am really, really, really excited about all of this coming to a close and finally getting Dory1 back home to her retirement campground.

Fake picture. This makes me literally laugh out loud every time I look at it.

Meanwhile, we have a week to enjoy Dory2 and the coastal loop we have come to love. Maybe some day we will be willing to stay home for Thanksgiving, but that day is not yet. When we have the opportunity to stay out for a whole week, we’re gonna take it.

Life is good

Total miles: 136.6, 19.0 mpg, 4 hours 12 min. Site 11 no hookups, no solar, no ATT, but some limited Verizon. Good dump. Potable water.

Skyline Wilderness (2)

Future retirement campsite for Dory1, with full hookups and magic desert dust from Mojave soon to come

Wow. I totally forgot to take a picture of Dory2 in her site. That doesn’t happen too often. Instead I will show you a picture of Dory1’s future site! A lot happened this week, and this was the good part. Tons of work finally got done on the outside home project and I am giddy with excitement. I can actually start to visualize an end to all of this and, after all is done and dusted, I think it’s going to be AWESOME. The massive retaining wall is finished, drained, permitted, and signed off. The next step is to put the ground cover on. I’m psyched that the “DG” (decomposed granite) we’re getting was quarried in the Mojave desert, and will have that distinctive gold color of the desert floor. I’m super excited.

Really good to have this guy still around

Now for the very dramatic, and not at all good part of the week: Richard got hit by a car while biking. He’s ok. His bike is ok. He got some bad road rash, but nothing broken and no head injuries. Just very painful and absolutely terrifying. He got side swiped by a car that was coming from an off ramp onto a surface street, and crossed right through the bike lane. It knocked Richard onto the ground in front of oncoming traffic, but there was an angel looking out for him, who stopped traffic immediately and stayed with him the entire time. Richard called me right away and I could tell before I answered that something bad had happened. He tried to urge me not to worry, which was silly, and I dropped everything at school and got there as fast as I could. Another angel, Jennifer, called me to say she was with him and that he was ok, just very shaken. She assured me he was being well taken care of, and tried to tell me not to cry.

Pretty views of Napa to take the edge off the narrative

By the time I got to the scene, there were four police cars, paramedics, and the two angel bystanders. Plus, the driver who hit him, who is undocumented, and therefore had no license or insurance. I want to just point out the fact that this guy came back to check on Richard. He must have known how bad that would be for him, so it showed a lot of courage to do the right thing. Richard was scraped up and trembling all over, but coherent and able to walk and talk. He assured the paramedics he did not need to be taken away by ambulance, and they did not insist. He had to wait for a long time as the police conducted their investigation. Meanwhile, Jennifer and I kept trying to help by putting disinfectant on him or putting his bike in my car. We were screwing up the evidence collection though, so we were ordered to go stand “over there.”

Richard later told me about a funny story that happened as the paramedics were checking him out.

  • Richard: “Where’s my bike?”
  • Paramedic: “Over there, leaning against the pole.”
  • Richard: “Ok”
  • Paramedic: “What year is it?”
  • Richard: “2000.”
  • Paramedic, pausing: .. “What year is it?”
  • Richard, insistently: “2000.”

The paramedics then brought out the equipment. They checked his glucose, shone lights in his eyes, asked him all kinds of questions, like who the president was. He got annoyed and asked, “Why are you asking me all these questions?” The paramedic answered it was because he had said the year was 2000. Richard, somewhat exasperated, explained, “No! My bike! My bike is 2000.” Jeez. Does no one understand the priorities of a bikie? To Richard’s credit: his grammar was correct here.

Another scenic shot

Anyway, he is ok. We bandaged him up at home, and he has even gotten back on his bike so he doesn’t get the heebie jeebies. We are both extremely grateful it wasn’t any worse, and that made him all the more determined to go out this weekend as planned. He had been promised a nice dinner, “on the house,” by his boss, and he meant to use that. And what better place to get a nice free dinner than Napa? As Friday was a Veteran’s Day holiday, we got to leave early. That put our arrival at around noon, and we were able to get in a nice hike before dinner. The hike was kind of recovery therapy for him because it worked out all the stress and kinks in his muscles.

Little mysterious passageway hand carved into the rock wall

From the Skyline Wilderness campground, there are miles and miles of trails that go off into the hills. We took the Skyline Trail up to Lake Marie, and then followed Lake Marie Road all the way back down. There are some really nice views of the northern boundary of San Fransisco Bay from up there. The “lake” itself is kind of more an algae pond right now, so this was about the journey, not the destination.

A bit of a macabre leftover structure

We did notice some odd structures in the rocky sides of the hills, which we later looked up. They seemed like once inhabited structures, which was true for one of them, but not so much the other. Yes, during the Gold Rush era, there were some people who lived out in the hills and chiseled out a sort of sheltered space in the rock. The other structure though, with the old rusted out oven and chimney, turns out to be a crematorium, where they took deceased patients from the nearby Napa State Hospital. It was originally called the Napa Insane Asylum and was built to deal with the overcrowding from the Stockton Asylum. Kind of a bleak history there, but interesting too.

Why one comes to Napa

On Saturday, we drove down to Kennedy Park and walked two miles along the Napa River Trail until we got to town. We split a Cajun fried chicken sandwich at the Dutch Door, stopped and got some chocolate truffles at Anette’s, and then just walked up and down the streets. At around 2, we were tired and sat down at the Bounty Hunter, for a flight of Cabernet tasting for me. And before dinner, we had just enough time to go across the river to check out Oxbow Public Market.

Not usually a restaurant food photographer, but, I mean, come ON.

At last, we got to the highlight of the weekend: dinner at Torc. This is for sure one of the best meals I have ever tasted. For an appetizer, we split: farm fresh DEVILED EGGS, pickled onions, bacon, which seemed to have some kind of avocado magic happening in the filling. For dinner we shared a pasta dish of: house-made CAMPANELLE, sonoma coast porcini mushroom bolognese, parmigiano-reggiano, sylvetta, along side a meat entree: prime black angus BEEF FILET, beef short rib ragoût, matsutake mushrooms, satsumaimo sweet potato, beef jus. It was just incredible. For dessert, we eschewed the fancy offerings on the menu, and instead went next door to Ben & Jerry’s.

Torc next to Ben & Jerry’s

After that, it was dark and time to head back. We had thought ahead and brought our headlamps, and the walk back on the River Trail was entirely pleasant. All told, Strava calculated 11 miles of walking for me (while only 9 for Richard?? I guess my short legs go farther than his do).

Hard to beat a three day weekend in Napa

All in all, it was a weekend for being grateful. Gratitude for Richard being alive of course, but also gratitude for so much of the good stuff in life. When the world seems so very full of suffering, it can be hard to stop and hold tight to the good things. But you really have to, any possible chance you get, because you just never know.

Total miles: 38.5, 17.0 mpg, 1 hour 47 min. Site 1 hookups. Not good service for ATT but good for Verizon. Dump is ok, but there was a huge line waiting at check out time.

Bothe Napa (10)

Lovely Bothe Napa State Park

Never have I ever been on the tour of Castello di Amorosa before, and it was amazing. This is a mere mile up the road from Bothe Napa State Park campground, where we have been, many times. It’s confusing that we would not have taken the tour before, but at least we know now! This place reminded us of a modern day Hearst Castle, but with a more unified theme. It is a recent addition to the Napa Valley, as wineries go. Built between 1994 and 2007, it was intended to capture the authenticity of a medieval Tuscan castle. The owner, Dario Sattui, is the great grandson of Vittorio Sattui, who founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in 1885. Dario later founded V. Sattui Winery, which provided him with enough financial success that he was able to launch this dream.

Castello di Amorosa

According to the tour guide, and the literature about the castle, much of the structure is made from items imported from Italy. They say the builders tried to remain true to building techniques from the middle ages, although how they got that permitted, I do not know. It certainly does have the look and feel of a genuine Italian castle though. Of the 121,000 square feet of space, much of it is devoted to the actual production of the wine.

If we had the money, it is guaranteed we would have a torture chamber cave built into our hillside.

Since it is so close to the campground, we were able to walk there right from Dory. It is just over a mile and we got there in plenty of time for our tour to start. Along the way, we enjoyed the vibrant fall colors on all of the grape vines. Once on the tour, we even got to see some late season harvesting in action, and the odor of the fresh pressed grapes was intoxicating, even before the fermentation process had begun. The tour brings you through areas used for wine making, but also through the underground parts, with some purely thematic touches. For example, there is a “torture chamber” room, with artifacts ranging from antique weaponry, to a genuine imported iron maiden. You can take virtual tours on their website, but you do miss out on the highlight: the wine tasting.

You gotta give it up for the workmanship. It really does look and feel authentic.

Our tour guide let us in on a “secret,” which is that supposedly, the grapes harvested in the Fall of 2022 are producing some exceptional wines. We got to sample a Cabernet Sauvignon directly from the barrel, even though it is still a few years away from being ready. It was absolutely delicious, so I can only imagine how good it will be when it comes of age. If you want a good investment in wine, buy Cabernets from 2022 as soon as they’re ready.

I really need this

We got a wine tasting package, which works exceptionally well for me, since Richard does not drink. For each of the five rounds, you are given a choice of 2-4 bottles. No need for me to choose. I got to have a dandy time, while Richard enjoyed a “chocolate tasting.” Really, that just meant he got a box of three really nice chocolates. He’s such a good date though, he even let me taste one of them, so I could experience the full flavor depth of their Merlot.

Nothing beats Napa Valley in the Fall

I left able to walk, but really glad I wasn’t driving. We were able to see the construction of the new Napa Vine Trail, which is going to stretch all the way from Vallejo to Calistoga eventually. What a fabulous idea! That will hopefully get many of the wine drinkers out of their cars and onto their feet or bikes. The trail goes directly to Bothe Napa, and it not only earned me the wine calories, but helped me walk it off before dinner. It was a gorgeous fall day in Napa Valley and I can’t imagine a better way to spend the time.

Being touristy

Richard rode a part of the Franz Valley Road loop before he flatted and called for help. Many of the roads up there are pretty beat up. Plus, he was not looking forward to riding back on Highway 29, considering how many drunk drivers there might be out there.

There is even a drawbridge

Sunday we woke to rain and an extra hour. For the record, we are not fans of Pacific Standard Time, since it means more campground arrivals in the darkness. But honestly, if they would just stop changing it back and forth, that would be a big improvement.

Funny story: the artist who painted this was visiting from abroad and got stuck when the borders closed during COVID. So he painted this wall fresco. Some people made sourdough, he replicated the Gates of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. I mean, what are ya gonna do?

I love our new hobby of taking winery tours in Napa and look forward to the next one. I highly recommend this tour if you are visiting Napa. I don’t see how you could be disappointed, unless you are working really hard at being grumpy. Now we want to grow grapes. Maybe when the construction is over we can plant like five grape vines on our hillside and make one glass of wine a year. I wonder if they sell tiny French oak barrels that cost less than $1500 for two uses. Wine is fun. Camping is fun. Camping with wine is super fun.

Total miles: 63.3, 16.0 mpg, 2 hours 33 min. Site 7. No solar, no hookups. Sparse cell for ATT, but a little better for Verizon. No dump.

New Brighton (6)

Unexpected site at New Brighton, fully appreciated as a weekend saver

“Well, at least this will make a good blog post.”

This is at least part of the reason I keep up the blog. When things do not go according to plan, we always know, sometimes in the midst of intense problem solving, that at least there will be a decent story here. That’s how this weekend started out: a future recountable story.

I had reservations for Fremont Peak. The calendar showed Fremont Peak, site 7, one of the very few sites where you can actually fit a trailer. We had plans for how we were going to spend Saturday, and tried to get an early start Friday afternoon so we wouldn’t have to arrive in the dark. For context, getting up to the campground is one of the more exciting roads we ever take. I’ve done it enough that I know I can, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The ten mile climb ascends over two thousand feet and includes a handful of narrow, cliffy, sharp corners, where the guard rails look so beat up, you wonder how they were able to keep someone from falling off the edge. There is also a section of maybe a quarter mile where the dropoffs are on both sides of you. And then you get to the campground, whose tiny road is so narrow, you’re not sure you’re supposed to drive there, let alone bring a trailer. For pictures and a description of the road, see this post.

View of the Fremont Peak road in the daylight

Sadly, we did not beat the setting of the sun, and arrived after the last remnants of dusk had given way to darkness. I just took it super slowly, all the way up, and then down into the Valley View loop. I proceeded down the steep slope to the site, where you can’t see the road at all and just have to have faith it’s there. As we pulled up, we could clearly see a car parked in our spot. I’m figuring it’s just someone from another group stashing their car in hopes no one will come. Richard got out to ask them to move. He found the party fully set up around the fire pit, flames blazing and chairs set up all around. Hmm. He talked to the people as I pulled up the reservation email confirmation to show them as proof. Huh. “Checking out Tuesday?” I notice. “Did I get an extra couple of nights and forgot to modify?” That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but then my eye landed on the arrival date. Sunday. Oh shit.

Site 7, in the daylight, and properly reserved

Richard had just finished pointing out to the party that our names were on the reservation post. But then he also noticed that next to our names, and under the reservation tags of other names, were the dates for Sunday and Monday nights. Oh shit.

You have to understand, this campground has maybe two, perhaps three sites total that can fit a trailer. With the one I thought I’d reserved definitely taken, the only thing I could think of was to drive up to the other loop and see if the one we’d looked at before as a potential alternative was free. This meant navigating the rest of the tiny loop road in the dark, but we were in full panic mode now and I was wide awake. I pulled Dory into the day use area and just parked. I needed to regroup here. I did walk over to the site I had in mind as a possible landing for the night, but it had reservation notices posted for the whole weekend. It was dark and cold, we were hungry, and no good options were presenting themselves.

We figured we’d better have dinner so we could think better. I had Dory as far off to the side of the parking area as I could, and I was at that point planning to just camp there overnight and figure out the rest in the morning. We raised the roof and Richard heated up a frozen pan dinner while I surveyed every possible campground in the area through our Allstays app. All the sites, trailer friendly or not, were reserved in Fremont Peak. I called the private place at the bottom of the hill, but did not get an answer. I called the huge RV park off Highway 101, but they did not answer. I checked online reservations of all the state and county parks anywhere in the vicinity and they all said 0 sites available. We discussed what might happen if we stayed put, and tried to guess whether a ranger might pound on the door in the middle of the night and make me do that drive down the mountain at 3am. We talked about just giving up and driving the 2-3 hours back home, arriving around 10pm. We even looked up the Walmart in Gilroy to see if it allowed overnights (reviews say no). Things were pretty bad.

Then Richard thought to call New Brighton State Park directly. I never thought anyone would answer at 8:30pm, but shockingly, the ranger at the kiosk picked up. Richard explained our situation and asked if there was an empty site we could stay in for the night. The ranger said yes, there was, but they weren’t going to be in the kiosk to check us in for much longer. I pulled up directions to get there and Google said it would take about an hour. The ranger said they could wait an hour.

Even more fun going down in the dark, and in a hurry

And so we high tailed it down that mountain, as fast as I dared go. Around the hairpin deathy corners, in the dark, with nothing but adrenaline to keep me lucid. I do not usually drive highway speeds, but once we got to the bottom and onto the 65 mph highway stretch, I was right there matching it, making sure navigation’s arrival time did not slip. The ranger called a little after 9pm and we gave our location and the predicted arrival of 9:36. They said they were going to leave at 9:40. We pulled up to the kiosk at exactly 9:34 and thanked the ranger for longer than they probably wanted.

We pulled in to our site, relieved and deliriously happy that any of that had worked. Now we could safely unhitch, Richard could shower, and I could have some well earned Chardonnay. We slept like rocks that night.

Crossing fingers as we wait for sites to be released

The next morning, my plan was to get on the waiting list to get into a site so we could stay. I wanted Richard to be able to get in a good ride, since I had a lot of reservation guilt and wanted to do penance. I was so appreciative of the fact that he never once laid into me for the reservation screw up. It’s really not at all like me to make that kind of mistake, so he was more confused than angry, but still, that could have gone all kinds of bad. I got our names on the list, and the ranger seemed to think it was very likely we’d get a released site at 2pm. So Richard headed off to Gayle’s Bakery and brought me back an eclair. We had to vacate the temporary overnight site at noon, but were allowed to hang out in the day use parking area. Promptly at 1:45, Richard showed up at the kiosk to await the daily site releases. He scored a nice spot, with hookups no less, that was even available Sunday night as well. I did some quick analysis of how bad it would be to take Monday off, and the answer was: not too bad at all. When the universe hands you something like that, you don’t think about it; you make it happen.

Photo friendly Capitola

We spent Saturday walking around picturesque Capitola. The charming beach town got thoroughly pounded during the storms that wiped out nearby Seacliff State Park. Much of it has already been repaired, but there are signs remaining that some of the structures might never recover. It is a very touristy town, but earns it’s keep with an array of nice little shops and restaurants. The colorful vacation rentals sitting right on the beach set the place apart, even if they are sort of like movie set pieces. It’s a fun place. After dinner, we walked over to the beach to catch the sunset. All plans had been set in motion for a Monday off, so Sunday was ours for the taking.

E ticket ride

Richard got in his big ride. Instead of going down, then back up, Fremont Peak, as planned, he did a Jay’s Essential Ride up Bean Creek Road, to Mountain Charlie Road. He said it was a “best of the best,” and didn’t even get lost. Meanwhile, I drove down to Elkhorn Slough to go paddling with otters of the sea. I note that, if I had a hard sided, rather than inflatable kayak, I would not have taken it with me for the weekend. It’s really nice to always have it in the roof box, just in case we end up somewhere with unexpected boating. We actually had an extra dinner with us because I thought there was a chance I’d be up for cooking on Friday night. Since that was nowhere near what transpired, we got to use the ingredients for our “extra” night on Sunday.

E ticket paddle

After dinner, we went over and chatted with an Altoiste couple we spotted with their 2114 across the way. They told us a harrowing tale of getting trapped at the top of Henry Coe during a sudden snow. They had to stay an extra two nights before it was safe to go back down. We told them our Fremont Peak story, and since they knew the place, they appreciated how not fun that must have been. Nice couple!

Sunsets did not disappoint

The cherry on top of the saved weekend was to walk over to Marianne’s for ice cream. We walked along the beach and watched the waves and the sunset. We noted that the million dollar houses all along that strip have mostly gotten repaired. Seacliff Campground, on the other hand, is still very much gone. The debris has been cleaned up, and they are allowing parking in an area that used to be campsites. But there are no signs of rebuilding the campground. I wonder if they even will. It’s sad, but understandable.

Still sad to see it all gone

And finally, on Monday, after lazing around for most of the morning, we drove home via Highway 1 along the coast, catching a lunch time stop in wonderful Pescadero. I will never not want to stop at Arcangeli Grocery, any time I’m in the area. We picked up a hot sandwich for lunch, and got deli salads and cherry pie for dinner. Richard snuck in a quick ride up to see the closed section of Stage Road, and then we endured highway traffic to get back home.

Very closed Stage Road

It was a glorious save of a weekend, one that started out pretty badly. We are now routinely verifying reservation confirmations prior to leaving. I don’t know what happened there, but honestly, it turned out to be a fabulous weekend regardless.

“Just keep traveling…”

Oh! I need to mention that my little face got into a Safari Condo commercial! A bunch of owners spent the summer sending in photos and videos for Safari Condo’s new promotional materials. I was surprised and deeply honored to see a quick thumbs up facie shot make it into the cut. That was super nice. 🙂 This little trailer sure does fill our lives with adventure. And sometimes eclairs.

Total miles: 144.0 with a side trip to have dinner at the top of Fremont Peak, 16.9 mpg, 3 hours 28 minutes to get to the site I did not have reserved, an hour to panic and grasp for backup plans, and another hour to race downhill to New Brighton. Site 18 overnight, then site 53 with hookups. Good solar. Good cell service. Great dump. Really nice rangers.