Doran Beach (8)

Doran Beach is always a dependably great weekend.

It was our eighth visit to Doran Beach, but this time we had a birthday girl along with us for the ride. We made reservations six months ago, for the campground and for the nicely nearby Bodega Bay Inn, not knowing whether we would be able to keep them. Happily, vaccinations have occurred for the whole family, and for some of us, both shots. Therefore it was decided that a stay in an inn would be safe and fun way for our daughter spend a birthday weekend.

One thing I must say about Bodega Bay is that it is not very pedestrian or bicycle friendly. Because we were staying close by in the campground, we were able to help her out by bringing her takeout and dropping her off at the beach for some solo contemplative time.

Spring wildflowers on a blanket of green.

Meanwhile Richard did a new bike ride out to Dillon Beach, which neither of us had ever visited before. What a spectacular road Valley Ford Franklin School Road is, especially now, with all the spring greenery and colorful wildflowers. The bucolic narrow road was not very busy at all and meandered up and down pastures all the way to a hard right at Dillon Beach Road. There, you get one small climb and big descent down into the cute little bay town.

Dillon Beach

We discovered a huge private campground there, called Lawson’s Landing, which I must have noted and dismissed a long time ago because it has not been on my radar as a place to reserve. It boasts something like 1000 sites, though many of them are simply slots right next to each other, divided only by a line of paint on the dirt. The sites that weren’t empty were filled with conspicuously large rigs for the most part. This is clearly a popular destination for family hangouts and big groups. It might not be exactly our speed, but there are some nice places near the water (sites in the 6 and 7 hundreds) that would be worth trying out.

Might be nice…

Meanwhile, summer planning has commenced in earnest. It is rather late in the game to be booking sites, so right now we are grabbing anything we can get that is in the general vicinity of where we think we might be. We wouldn’t normally plan a trip that intentionally places us in the southwest in the summer. But Dory2 is already waiting for us in Durango, CO, so we might as well explore some of the area we whizzed past on one of our cross country trips. Last time we were there we melted our real wax LED candles, but we have since replaced those with plastic ones. We’ll see what else we can melt this time. Let’s hope it’s not me.

It was a beautiful windy weekend at the beach for us. Our daughter rates it an “ok” on her meter of places to hang out. She acknowledges the natural beauty, but prefers places where she can walk more. She did note that every place would rate higher without a pandemic happening so that she could actually go into stores and the like. I told her I tried to get her Non Pandemic for her birthday, but Amazon wouldn’t ship it. Maybe for Christmas.

Total miles: 81.1, 13.8 mpg (windy). Site 42 no hookups, great solar, nice views. You no longer have to pay for the dump. And Bodega Dunes dump is still closed.

Brite Lake (2) & San Luis Creek (3)

A windy last night at San Luis Creek.

Thus endeth our spring break. Aaaaaannnnnd cue emotional breakdowns in 3…2…1… This happens every time we start to track home at the end of longer trips. At least we recognize the symptoms now so we don’t read more into it than is really there. The typical pattern plays out this way: 1) low levels of tension begin to increase as we get to our final days, 2) many miles of towing have to be covered to get back home on schedule, 3) Richard starts verbalizing impractical ideas that would result in not getting back on schedule, 4) Alissa becomes exasperated at having to explain why said ideas are crazy. It has become standard operating procedure to pass through this end-of-vacation ritual, but that does not make it any more fun.

We really like being on the road, and we both realize that having had so many planned trips get cancelled this past year has caused us to be more eager than normal to be out there. Plus, we can now plan for our Dory2 pickup for this summer and we’ve got the jitters. Psychologically, I think we’re feeling like any chance we have to go adventuring could be our last. It makes route planning challenging, when just getting reservations anywhere is a hard enough job. The whole world seems to have discovered camping once plane travel became more difficult, so campgrounds are solidly booked far in advance. And all the while, we are just hoping things don’t shut down again.

Highway 395 between 58 and Victorville

So we had to process through all of that on our last two stops, which were necessary journeying days to make tracks back home. It didn’t help that the route we tried on 395 from Lucerne Valley to highway 58 was not so fun. There were about thirty miles of one lane no passing zones, populated by tons of huge trucks wanting to go fast on the straight, and mostly flat, highway. I hereby state, for the record, that I far preferred taking 247 from Barstow and hope to remember that next time.

When we arrived at Brite Lake, there were large groups of campers on either side of our site (I thought that still wasn’t allowed?), making it less relaxing than it had been the first time. But it could also have been our own tension making things seem more crowded. Anyway, we had a lot to discuss, so staying inside was not that bad.

Views from Woodford-Tehachapi Road

Tehachapi is a fun little place, I must say. We drove in through the historical district and there are lot of cute old timey buildings. There is a bicycle century that takes place there and Richard rode out along part of it as we left. It’s a significant descent along Woodford-Tehachapi Road, with steep dropoffs and tight curves. It’s not my favorite towing situation but I was sure glad I had an Alto. Everything handled it just fine, except maybe my nerves. I met Richard at the bottom and we had a nice sandwich before throwing his bike in the back of the car and getting back on 58.

Then it was just two hundred miles of straight, flat interstate to traverse the central valley and get back to San Luis. The wind really kicked up there at the end too, but we made it into the site just on time.

Alto views are the best views

Can you read the mood? Yeah. Vacation is hella fun and this one was awesome. And so, so needed. We are kids wanting more ice cream for dinner, shouting “You’re not the boss of me!” to the world. And we recognize how lucky we are, considering that Canada just went into another lock down.

We’re ok. It’s all ok. Adulting won in the end, but not without a good old pout.

Total miles to Brite Lake from Salton Sea: 243.8, 13.9 mpg, 6 hours 9 min. Site 40 no hookups. LTE for both. You have to punch in a key code at the entrance that they have entered into their system or the gate won’t open. If you have hookups, you will need to get a piece of paper at the entrance with your name.

Total miles to San Luis from Brite Lake: 227.2, 16.0 mpg, 5 hours 52 min. Site 4 hookups. Double site. Water views. LTE for ATT, iffy for Verizon for some reason. Terrible experience at the dump. Worst ever. There is a bar going across the opening of the dump to prevent…?? This keeps dump hoses from going into the dump hole. This was not fun and that’s all I will say about that.

Salton Sea – Mecca Beach

Blue skies and blue water. What’s not to like.

What I knew about the Salton Sea primarily came from my kids’ second grade California cookie project. I needed to volunteer to help with that when it was our daughter’s turn so that everything could be gluten free and Celiac friendly. Thus, through the creation of a ginormous, California shaped dessert, I learned of the sea’s existence by the required placement of a blue jelly bean. (I also learned not all jelly beans are gluten free) Later, we saw a movie called, “Salton Sea” (2019 version) and we became fascinated with the place.

It’s easy to imagine how resorts here became a thing.

A little history that you may know, but I didn’t …. The creation of the sea has been dubbed California’s worst environmental disaster ever. In 1905, a series of poorly executed irrigation plans led to a flood caused by the accidental diversion of water from the Colorado River into the Salton Basin. For a while, in the 50s and 60s, this was heralded as the fortuitous creation of a brand new resort destination. Communities and tourist accommodations popped up all along the banks of the huge water feature. Then things all started to go south when the combination of high salinity and runoff from farming caused massive wildlife die off and all the smells that would naturally go with that. Plus, there was major seasonal flooding that would decimate the newly established vacation sites. Now, it is a striking combination of ghost town, mixed with small rugged communities, surviving in an environment that was never meant to be. It has the feel of an illusion. Even the vast beaches that look like endless stretches of inviting sand turn out to be sharp, jagged salt deposits, exposed and dried out as the water levels slowly recede. If you time your stay unluckily, you might experience choking toxic dust events, or find yourself at ground zero during a “rotten egg” period where the smell can reach all the way to the coast.

Temps in the 80s sent us searching for the aluminet.

Our timing was not unlucky and it was actually quite pleasant. I would go back. Temperatures for us were in the mid 80s and there was only a strange, ‘what is that?’ smell if you stood right next to the water. The campground at Mecca Beach has a couple of hookup sites with great water views that don’t seem to be in very high demand. Every time I’ve looked to reserve a site there, when reservations somewhere else had gone horribly wrong, there always seemed to be availability. To a California camper, that is a concerning sign. And when we first arrived and were the only ones around, it was creepy. But then later, as other normal looking campers started filling in, it was just like any other campground. Except definitely don’t wear flip flops if you want to walk on the “beach.” Ouch.

Richard in his happy place.

Richard had the pleasure of riding up Box Canyon on one of the days. We’d driven through it before and it is just a stunning, E Ticket ride. I’m surprised it is not some kind of state park. And on the other day, we drove through Bombay Beach. This eccentric neighborhood strikes me as the place where people who go to “Burning Man” come home to live. Not that I have ever been to “Burning Man,” that’s just the vibe that I imagine. Some of the lots are filled with abandoned stuff, anywhere from trailers (so many trailers) to just junk. But some are clearly inhabited and have been turned into art projects. Some art projects have a theme, like a collection of painted televisions, or a drive in movie scene, to random collections of things, artistically assembled in someone’s yard. And then there are the big impressive metal sculptures. It’s confusing and fascinating and has enough of a unifying theme that outsiders are easily spotted.

Bombay Beach

One such glaringly out of place tourist group was actually a band, filming a music video. They were putting away their big band instruments when we arrived and were moving on to the individual singer shots, strategically positioned in front of any of the visually interesting structures on the beach. There was enough equipment, expensive looking bus, crew members and a drone, that I figured it must be a band someone had heard of. I took some pictures, planning to post them on Facebook and see who they were. They gave me some nods and waves, as though that would really thrill me. We then just had to ask, to satisfy curiosity. The drone operator said, “Night Ranger,” and when that didn’t seem to have any effect, he added, “an 80s hair band.” Still nothing from us but vague nods, so he went on, “Sister Christian.” We thanked him and googled it. It turns out all my facebook friends knew who this was and we were lame-o in the 80s. That is not news to me.

That’s a pretty nice blue jelly bean at the bottom of the state.

This was a winner of a spring break destination. Of the three reservable state recreation campgrounds, I liked this one. There is another place a few miles further north called the Headquarters Developed campground, but the sites are quite far back from the water, with a huge (empty) parking lot in front. There is a loop there called the New Camp that has a couple of hookup sites amongst the dry sites and that also seemed nice. The one down the road at Corvina beach looked more primitive and doesn’t appear to be reservable online, but also right by the water. There are long freight trains that run right along the shore, but I have the benefit of being mostly deaf when I take out my hearing aids. We used the dump station up at the Headquarters before leaving to track back home. Sigh. Home again, home again, Spring Break is too short.

Total miles from Anza Borrego: 108.5, 14.8 mpg, 3 hours, 5 min. Site 138 hookups, water view. Right by bathroom. Good LTE for both. Great solar. No dump – go a few miles north to Headquarters. Good dump.

Anza Borrego (3)

Choosing the backroads through the desert is a winner.

The drive from Brite Lake was a long day, but I knew that was coming. I made the conscious choice to go way out of the way just to avoid going anywhere near the greater Los Angles area. Been there, done that, let’s try Plan B. This involved taking 58 all the way to Barstow, and then cutting down 247 to the Joshua Tree area. From there we took 62 through Morongo Valley to skirt along the western side of Joshua Tree until we hit 10 at Indio. The entire drive up until 10 was through lonely desert country with few other cars or signs of civilization, which is a decidedly less stressful way to road trip.

Hard to see, but that’s a lot of planes and windmills, and apparently, spaceships.

Just as we came down from the Tehachapi Pass, we saw the Mohave Air and Space Port. Why was I not more aware that we have something literally called a “space port” in California?? I have so many questions. Just seeing that many airplanes and windmills all together in the desert is an interesting enough sight, but do we actually launch and land space things there? I need to know more about this.

Lunch stop at an OHV “oasis.” You could say we looked a bit out of place.

We took a quick lunch break at the soonest spot we could find on Highway 247 to pull over. There were quite a few ATV people gathering around what looked to be a well known eatery. I looked it up and sure enough, Slash X Ranch is listed as an “oasis for OHV activity.” So if that’s your thing, you should definitely go there. There is also a place at the intersection of 247 and 62 in Yucca Valley called Cafe 247 that was hopping. I’m not sure if they have an official theme, but it did seem to attract quite a large flag waving clientele. “Large” in all applications of that adjective. The Confederate flag was definitely in line with the apparent dress code. We passed.

Dropping down into the valley along Highway 62.

Morongo Valley was a striking drive through a rocky valley, and quite the descent into Indio. Once we hit 10, it was an instant parking lot for several miles. This reaffirmed my routing decisions even though we were not able to avoid all of it. Long day of driving, but we arrived in lovely Anza Borrego park with plenty of sunlight remaining in the day.

Richard: Are you sure that’s the trail?

Me: Probably. They did it. Seems legit.

Me in my head: No way am I going back through the slot canyon squeezing by all those maskless people. Just don’t look down. At all.

I do love this park. There is so much to do and it feels adventurous, but with the safety net of LTE and a cute town nearby with all the services you could need, even if you don’t use them. We did a couple of repeat activities, like biking/sagging up Montezuma Valley Road, and hiking the Slot Canyon trail. One key difference with the latter was that I was a lot less happy with the idea of trying to pass anyone in the narrowest parts of the slot. Even though I’ve gotten my second shot and Richard has gotten his first, there are many unmasked people out there on the trails and that is too close for comfort. So…I noticed an indication of a trail on our map app, climbing up to the road on the far side of the canyon. When we got to where our GPS said the trail should be, we saw a couple scrambling up a seriously steep rocky climb. But they made it to the top and didn’t look to be rock climber types any more than I am, so I just went for it. It turned out to be significant and actually could have ended badly. But it didn’t! We made it all the way up without dying, probably because I never looked back or down even for a second. If I had looked just a little farther down the trail, I would have seen a much easier way up. So note to future self: don’t necessarily follow the people on the trail ahead of you. Second note: maybe check a little further ahead before you start climbing crazy pseudotrails.

Maybe not as technical an ascent as our driveway, but at least we got to use Sand Mode.

In addition to the tried and true activities, we tested out a new one, tailor made for Bruce2. There is a trail head to some wind caves that is down a three and a half mile unpaved road, recommended only for vehicles with high clearance and four wheel drive. Check! This was the primary reason we landed on the Passport and Bruce2 did not disappoint. I actually got to use the traction settings for the first time and you know what? That stuff is not just marketing. You could actually feel the wheels distributing power differently and it seemed to work. We straddled large rocks and traversed a whole lot of sand and gravel to get to the end. I was feeling all badass until I saw a minivan out there with us. But for the record, I would not have tried most of that with the Acura.

Richard secretly checking status of hidden cake.

It was during the bumping and vibrating of the off road adventure that Richard remembered he had gotten me a surprise birthday cake the Thursday before we left. He bought it on impulse when we was on a mission for cornstarch and margarita mix, realizing it was going to be my birthday during the trip. There was a nice display of little cakes near the checkout line so he stowed it in his backpack and biked it home. He then had to hide it somewhere I would not find it. There being so few places where that could work, he selected his bike box in the car and didn’t think about it again for four days. Hearing all the contents of the car getting jostled around reminded him. He brought it out the next morning and we had a good laugh. Then we debated in earnest about whether it would be safe to eat. We did. It was great. Good job sweetie!

Found the sea serpent!

On our way out, we stopped and looked for more of the massive sculptures scattered across the desert. The sculptures were created by artist Ricardo Breceda, on commission from Denis Avery, heir to the Avery Labels fortune. The privately owned “Galleta Meadows” stretches across miles of Borrego Springs land. It is a fun activity to try to go find the various horses, scorpions, sea serpents, or what have you.

Perfect Spring Break vibes.

Temperatures were downright hot at times, so this is a great destination for winter or spring break, but not beyond. There was no super bloom this year due to low rainfall, but that sure would be something to see. Perfect destination for a psychic reboot and birthday joy (with cake).

Total Miles: 288.2, 15.9 mpg, 6 hours 38 min. Site 34, then 25, both with full hookups. 34 is a pull through with pretty good spacing between neighbors. 25 is a “pull along” on the outside of the loop, right by the campground road. It had hookups on the “wrong” side, so we ran power cable underneath. Too difficult to do that with sewer, so used dump. Good dump. Fresh potable water there for filling up too. Great LTE for both of us. Great solar but didn’t need it.

Brite Lake – Tehachapi

Definitely a perfect application for the front window views.

This was a good discovery. The town of Tehachapi is strategically located at the top of the Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58 from Bakersfield to Barstow. Finding a nice place to stop at this location means not having to slog all the way to Barstow, which is generally a good thing.

Detour off Highway 1, through citrus orchards.

The trip was uneventful, save a huge backup getting into and out of the gas station area of Kettleman City. This one I should have known better. This is a major refueling stop along Highway 5 with one way in or out. Even though we got stuck waiting for a pump for maybe 15 min, we noticed a line of cars at least a mile long backed up trying to get into town. People go crazy when in those situations so they were cutting in front of us, not letting us turn, all of it. Eventually I gave up on making a left turn out of the gas station and just went the other way down 25th Ave, a little frontage road. That was a life saver. After about 5 miles skirting I5, we were able to get back on. I assume the people waiting for gas are still there.

One of the better set ups for BFW views.

We arrived in pretty good time, enough for Richard to get in an afternoon bike ride along part of the Tehachapi Century Loop. While he was out, I got to blog about the day before, swinging in my new psychedelic blue Nemo chair. The wind kicked up before dinner and it got chilly, which sent me back inside to turn on the Truma. We enjoyed the view out the big front window to watch fish jump and birds swarm low over the water, each competing for post sunset bugs. We are BFW complainers, and often the default view is not the greatest, as it looks back into the campground and at the back of the car. One can always optimize the view by using the Caravan Mover, but that then usually has the effect of diminishing the view out the side windows. Or it might put your door on the wrong side of the site, which matters in a tight spot. There are few situations we’ve encountered where both views are equally worthy of that morning coffee “aaahhh,” but this was one of them. We also prefer having the hitch facing forward so that we could grab it if somehow all systems failed and we were not able to use the CM to spin her. Again, this setup was a winner on that end. Note that this did not stop me from complaining about how sitting down at the table loses the view. It’s ok to visibly roll your eyes at this point. I understand.

Sunset over the tiny little lake.

We will be coming back this way when we head home, and I suspect this will be a future favorite stop along the way as we make tracks for somewhere else. It was quite pleasant, especially right by the water. There are hookups sites further back, but Richard made a good call and switched out. He was in charge of reservations for this one, since they only seem to accept phone calls. If I’d wanted to, I could have put my boat in the water. Maybe another time.

Next destination: the south California desert.

Total Miles: 225, 14.8 mpg, 5 hours 13 min. Site 40 no hookups, by water. Good solar, LTE for both. Didn’t use dump.

San Luis Creek (2)

San Luis Creek – first stopover of Spring Break

Finally! We are out on the road for an extended time. It’s been a long haul without real road trips and this will be Lola’s first long trip with us. Already I can tell you her 4.3 cu ft fridge is winning. We have 5 Blue Apron dinners and 4 frozen dinners, plus 9 days of general food, packed in tight and it all fits. I’m super happy about that. That means that we really don’t need to carry a small cooler or deal with rotating ice packs to keep extra veggies fresh. Funny story about the veggies: as we were leaving, I texted our daughter to say, “Please eat extra veggies.” When she didn’t reply (that usually means she’s annoyed) I realized how that might have sounded, so I clarified: “We bought too much broccoli, green beans, and celery. Please help yourself to those if you are so inclined.” She responded back that she was glad I was not insinuating she needed to get much much healthier. Texting is hard.

Sliding Table Mod

So far, the table slides mod is holding up quite well so I think this may be a keeper. It sure does make it easy to get up and down from my side of the table. We put a couple of baby latches on it to keep in place during travel, thinking we would find a more elegant solution later. But actually, that may be perfectly elegant enough for the likes of us.

Now those are organized shoes (and new binoculars in between)

We finished off some small projects before we left, including redoing the shoe organization. I don’t know why I did not think of the storage nets sooner. They are perfect for shoes and sandals, much better than “shoe organizer” pockets. Those never seem to be large enough for adult sized shoes. We will be going with this solution for Dory2 as well.

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

I got myself a little pre-birthday present too! I love my Nemo Stargazer chair, but the one I got years ago was a floor model and sometimes my butt brushes against the lower crossbar in a way that is not optimally pleasant. But they are conspicuously pricey, so I have not done anything about that. Then I got a very generous gift certificate to REI last xmas and I almost got a new one at the time. I would have purchased one, except the “blue” they had was very subtle light blue trim, hardly worth it. When I looked again to re-ponder, what should I behold but a shocking, psychedelic blue with a reengineered crossbar, designed to avoid butts. Add to cart! Yay.

We’re going to do a couple of one night stands as we track down south. Our original (do-over from Covid cancellations) plans to go to Grand Canyon were put on hold again because temperatures looked to be well below freezing the whole week. For that, we’d need to winterize the water system and that’s when camping stops being fun. We’ll get there some day…

Getting ready for In Person Learning Center!

For now, I’m just thrilled to be on break. It has been such an exhausting year. After we get back, our district gets to open to all students at the same time, given the new guidelines on three feet, rather than six feet, distancing for kids. This means I will, at long last, get to see kiddos in the Learning Center in person! And I can *almost* get rid of Zoom teaching entirely. We are all so done with it. We’ve taped out zones to keep me away from them at six feet, and them away from each other at four feet. It will be wonderful. But…. I really need this break. We all do.

Our first stopover is at San Luis Creek. Water views always win. From here, we make tracks for the desert. So fun to be on the road for a week!!

Total Miles: 105.1, 17.3 mpg, 2 hours 42 min. Site 15 hookups. NO Verizon, good LTE for ATT. Good dump but didn’t use it. Fairly good solar except in morning from trees. Double site with 14. Water views.

Building Dory(2)

I swear they are not paying me to say this, but Safari Condo really does have the best people in the whole world.

Just when I think Safari Condo couldn’t possibly get any better, they go ahead and pull a stunt. Remember when I posted a shot of Dory 2 all completed with the whole factory crew standing in front of her holding a stuffed Dory? Well that was only part of the story, as it turns out. It seems my Canadian Boyfriend Francois was able to pull off a whole coordinated surprise, carefully staged over the course of the entire build process. Somehow, he talked the factory crew into taking pictures with a stuffed fish, placing her in hilarious poses, all through the assembly. I can only imagine how he explained that to them, but they appear to have had fun with it.

Yesterday, he sent us word that Dory2 will be heading out to Durango, CO for pickup at Durango RV. And that was already exciting. Then, ever so casually, he shared a photo album with me.

I have inadequate words, Francois. This is absolutely the best. Well played. You got us good, dude.

I’ve been obsessed with these photos for the past 24 hours and I see that Dory2 will be production number 2143. She looks gorgeous and we will be using every bit of self restraint to wait until summer break to go meet her.

So, here she is, in every stage of the manufacturing process. So freaking cool.

Horseshoe Bend, Lake McClure

Nice campground with a view of the reservoir.

Well here’s one we had not yet been to. I think I reserved a couple of times and it got closed on me, whether for Covid or fire, or both, not sure. There is certainly evidence of a big fire along 120 that looked fresh and still smelled pretty strong, despite the recent rains.

Sierra roads can be tricky.

This one is a long drive for us, no matter how you slice it. Navigation on the Passport suggested taking 120 all the way to 49 and cutting south there. Google said to take 132 through Modesto. We went with taking 120 out of Manteca all the way to 49 and that was a little too exciting for a four hour, pushing darkness, drive. That stretch of 49 is mostly fine except for about two miles where the shoulder disappears and the elevation above the riverbed climbs quickly. There are some blind corners with nothing but little piles of pebbles along the edge as the only form of guard rail. It didn’t help that it was dusk and raining. And the rain at the summit looked suspiciously like frozen rain. I did not like that. But we made it! And the site was easy to back into, and the sound of rain on the roof was lovely.

Playing our game of find the yellow bikey guy.

On Saturday, I hotspotted off Richard for a while to do some figuring, plotting, and planning on how to safely get kids back to in person Learning Center. Eventually, he pulled the plug and took his phone away from me because he wanted to go on a ride. Fine. So I leisurely showered and headed out along his route until I caught up to him. His ride took him through the adorable little town of Coulterville and up Priest Coulterville Road until it hits 120. From there, it’s about fifty more miles of climbing to get to Yosemite, but that was not our destination. Instead, we threw his bike in the back and drove down the really twisty part of 120, back to the intersection with 49. I wanted to do that scary stretch again in the daylight and without a trailer, just to see if I still thought it was daunting. And yeah, it’s not so bad when it’s not dark any rainy, but still, that one stretch gets my heart racing. One of the goals I had in repeating the drive was to have Richard document scary pictures of it. But did we remember? No. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

From Highway 120 looking at Old Priest Grade Road.

We took some shots of one of the craziest roads in California: Old Priest Grade Road. This road clocks in at an average grade of 12%, with peaks at 20%. You don’t want to try this on a bicycle. Or with a trailer. Or with an old VW van with a manual transmission back in the sixties. I have a childhood memory about that that still causes me to cringe at long, steep grades. You have to be careful in the Sierras. Those roads do not mess around and this one is NOT a shortcut to Yosemite.

Super pleasant Highway 132

We had a deliciously lazy rest of the day. Sunday we dumped and stopped for a sandwich before heading back. We decided to try 132 going back and that is hands down an easier drive. Clearly, the big rigs sharing the loop with us must have come that way because I can’t picture them braving the narrow, cliffy 49. The only thing we have not yet tried is taking a cutoff on La Grange Road to cut some miles off and skirt Lake Don Pedro to get from 120 to 132. If you’re not looking at road routes in that area right now, you can skip most of this post.

One last fun thing to mention is that we decided we really did want new binoculars and discovered there was curbside pickup available at a Bass Pro Shop right on our way home. Now we can have binoculars in Bruce and in Lola because you never know when you might need to see something far away.

Water levels are pretty low…

Overall, I’d return to this campground but would take the easier route. If the water levels weren’t so low, it would be a much more impressive water view. But even without much water, it’s got the remote foothills of the Sierras feel and it isn’t too hard to book. Plus hookups and strong cell service for one of us. All wins.

Total miles: 136.2, 4 hours 2 min via 120 to 49, 17.5 mpg. Site G10. Nice. Also nice: G12, G13. Great solar. Nice view of lake. Electric and water hookups. Good dump. NO cell for ATT but pretty good LTE for Verizon.

Westside (2)

Teachers of the Year 2020-21

This is a screen full of dedicated people, working in public education, through a global pandemic, for the sake of kids. Thank you to all who worked to support public schools this year.

So this happened. I was going to be all humble and demur about it, not mentioning this at all. Then I thought, “Oh HELL no!” This has been the craziest and most challenging year of my career. To be nominated by my colleagues for Teacher of the Year, in this year, well that feels … I’m not sure of the right word. Special Education often feels like working through a constant state of emergency, so if I were going to be recognized for any year, this one feels kind of perfect. Any professional educator left standing after the year we’ve endured will be, forever and always, wearing a crown. I’ve got crazy respect for the parents navigating the crisis, while managing to keep what is important at the forefront, and what is not possible in perspective. And to all of the administrators, trying to blaze a trail through the unknown, finding themselves constantly beset from all sides, you are my heroes. My hope, as we begin to come through to the other side, is that we build on the knowledge that the ones who tried their flawed and humble best, those of us who kept failing and getting back up again, and again, the ones who didn’t leave or give up, we were there for each other. We showed up for kids. We crashed and burned, sometimes in spectacular fashion, raw and on display, to parents and caregivers on the other side of that Zoom screen. But at the same time, we shared in the triumphs and ‘ah ha’ moments, and glorious successes, made all the more beautiful because of the obstacles in our way. I hope that, because of this year, we never forget to give each other grace. I hope we remember the positive intent, and the effort, even when things didn’t go the way we wanted. I hope we preserve the connections strengthened by hardship and that we let go the sometimes hurtful words spoken in moments of exhaustion. I hope we continue to understand each other’s limitations. I will always put my full soul into the work of public education, because it is worth the effort. Despite the enormity of the hurdles, public education is still the place where good people show up for all kids and do what they can. And this year we showed up naked on a life raft, in the middle of the ocean, and said, “Well, ok then. Can someone show me how to make a paddle?” Just keep swimming.

This video compilation was put together by my amazing principal. It has Dory in it, so I’m posting it. It also has a lot of Darren, which is fun. We spent a good part of this year doing faculty dance videos. I’m thankful the one of me in the hot dog costume did not make it into this cut. And the one with me in a Dory costume happened one year ago, from the Putah Canyon Campground, right as we entered the shelter in place and began the longest year of our collective lives.

And now, on to our regularly scheduled programming…

Pretty nice site

This was our second visit to Westside Regional Park, but this time we had a sweet site. A bit of backtracking first though: Richard put a lot of effort into two projects during the week. First he reinforced the mounting of the pedestal base for the table and installed much lighter slides. So far, we give it a tentative thumbs up, but we want to travel with it a little more to see if it really will hold up. Next, he figured out how to rig up an audio system that plays straight into my hearing aids, but allows him to hear through the regular speaker. I will not try to describe it because it is way too complicated to understand. But it means I get to have the best big screen movie experience ever and not even worry about whether we are disturbing other campers. Win win!

Could have sworn the calendar said site 35

We pulled into the site at dusk and got all set up and had dinner. Then we realized we were in the wrong site. We did ponder for a while whether we could maybe get away with not moving and offering our reserved site, which was right next door, to the people who might show up. We pondered that all through dinner. Ultimately we decided that we (I) cannot handle that kind of stress and if I were on the other side, I’d want the site I reserved because it is on the end of the row instead of one slot in. So we moved. It wasn’t that bad.

Beautiful dunes and blue skies

Saturday we planned to do some hiking around the Bodega Head trails area, but when we got to the parking lot, it was pretty packed. We aborted at that point and found another trail that was less peopley. We noted on the way that there were numerous and intimidating No Trespassing signs posted all around the Bodega Marine Laboratory lands. We decided that either meant the marine biologists there are super badasses, with vaporizing lasers, ready to take out anyone who missteps and does damage to the ecosystem, or that they are a front for a covert government organization. Either way, it was a more exciting hike than usual.

Sunset cheating

Following afternoon nappy time, we drove back out to the parking lot with the plan of just staying inside the car to watch the sunset. It was super cold and windy out and Richard deems that one the best sunset ever, just based on the comfort factor. Then it was off to pick up a to go order from La Bodeguita and top it off with a margarita and a fully audible big screen viewing of “Rango.”

Bodega Bay – low tide with Egrets

Not much else to report. We mostly watched the tide come in and go out. We also decided we need better binoculars. We made it home just before a big rain, so that wraps up a pretty perfect weekend. Oh and by the way, no one ever showed up for the site we mistakenly pulled into. Oh well. We live secure in the knowledge that we did the right and noble thing.

Total miles: 85.1, 2 hours 28 min, 15.1 mpg. Site 36 (not 35). Great solar and cell for both. No hookups, but water spigots nearby. Bathrooms were open, but we didn’t use them. Dump is $7 cash only, even if you are staying in the campground. Sites by the water get incredible bay views.

Seacliff SB

Really? We can just camp right here?

Coming right off a trip to Pismo, where we thought it was pretty weird to see people camping on a beach, we followed by being people who camp in a parking lot on the beach. We had walked through the Seacliff campground a few years ago, while staying at New Brighton. Our thought at the time was that it seemed really weird and not terribly appealing to be sitting in a parking lot, no matter how nice the view was. And yet, it is among the hardest campgrounds to reserve, so clearly we were in the minority. And at some point, while searching for reservations, I found an open spot and must have figured what the hell. It’s an experience to try.

So weird, but so fun!

I really was not expecting to like it, let alone love it. But yeah, we’d go back any day! It probably helped that the site next to us was closed, perhaps because it was next to the camp host? I did try to imagine whether it would be less fun if there were big rigs on both sides. But we sure did enjoy what we had.

Morning view

It’s not really possible to be closer to the waves than at this place, and I seriously wonder whether campers ever get doused by a big one. Even with my hearing aids out, I could hear the surf and even feel the vibrations through the walls. It’s powerful stuff and ‘awesome’ is the word that captures it best.

And evening view

On the other hand, it was super weird. You are literally right on display for beach goers and walkers using the trail that runs the length of the campground. The only thing keeping people a minimal distance away is the existence of painted white lines on the pavement representing campsite boundaries. And the Alto is such a magnet, people just could not resist the urge to come right up. A lot of the time, this was pretty funny because they can’t really see through the tinted glass windows. So they didn’t know we were sitting right inside as they stood and stared, or took pictures, or made arm gestures to whomever they were with regarding how the roof must go up and down. It would have been fun to have kept a tally. Extra points for approaching the windows with hands around faces to peer inside. When we were sitting outside, we got frequent questions and I passed out several calling cards. This is not the place you want to go if you’re looking to get away from it all. Or if you’re in an ‘I hate people’ kind of mood. It’s party town.

Not too crowded on the beach.

As for safety, we didn’t have any close encounters, but we did notice not everyone out walking was masked. A couple people asked for peeks inside but were understanding when I politely declined. And lots of campers liked to stroll up and down the walkway, striking up conversation as they went. They respected the white lines though and almost all the campers were masked.

One amusing encounter was with a couple whose son owns an Alto. I asked his name, figuring he might be in the facebook group. Sure enough he was! Shout out to the owner of “Riggie Smalls.” Your parents are super nice.

Richard went on a bike ride and I just stared at the waves really. We spotted some dolphins that we were told are actually porpoises. That was fun to see!

You cannot beat the sunset views.

Meanwhile, table mod conversations continue. Richard was disappointed not to have gotten some new particle board fasteners in time to try for this weekend. Our next iteration will be to reinforce the mounting of the pedestal receiver to the wooden base, and lighten the weight of the slide assembly by changing out for less beefy hardware. If that doesn’t work, our next idea is to change out the particle board wooden base for a sandwich of thin metal sheets over a polyurethane cutting board and then use bolts that go all the way through. It is striking how many people are modding the table. There’s the Lagun crowd, of which we were once members, and a downsize-the-table-top crowd, and now there is a remove-the-table-completely crowd. Here’s the thing, I think to have a table that can also be used as a base for the single bed option up front, the table that comes standard is the best all around approach in terms of simplicity, weight, tow-ability, and ease of use. I think for most users, that setup is just fine. But for those of us who like to mod things, there is a holy grail we are chasing in finding a way to facilitate getting in and out of the sitting area, particularly on the driver’s side, while keeping the utility of such a nice, big surface area. I’m still not sure what the optimal approach might be, but I’ll keep you posted on our experiments.

Obligatory reflection shot.

And while we’re talking about that, it seems we are on a roll with breaking things. A side turn signal light lost its cover on the last trip, so that’s a fix it job. Plus, we turned a fasten down knob on the BFW strut too hard and broke that too. Dang. So that got added to an order we placed with Safari Condo that includes pieces of an Alto that we hope will be enough to fix Dory’s butt so that she can seal properly when she moves into our back yard. Exciting things on the horizon! We just have to maybe tone it down on the breaking things for a while.

Total miles: 89.6, 2 hours 20 min with traffic at the end, 16.4 mpg. Site B3 no hookups. Excellent solar because parking lot. Fairly good cell service for both but not enough to upload photos to WordPress. No dump, so go to New Brighton. Bathrooms were open but we didn’t use them.