Wright’s Beach (3 & 4)

IMG_0883This is the second time I will be making a combo, 2-weekends-in-a-row post. It’s not the sign of a new trend, but rather the result of being overly excited when I saw a cancellation for a premium site at Wright’s and booked before I realized I had previously made reservations for the following weekend six months ago. I remember saying to Richard, “I hope you like the beach as much as I do.” and he found that to be a very strange question.

IMG_0872I think I can officially state that this is my all time favorite campground. We got site 9 the first weekend and site 3 the next. As long as you get 1-10 (but not 2 because it is an accessible site) (and maybe not 4 because the bushes obscure the view of the ocean), you are going to have an unsurpassed view of the ocean. My all time favorite thing to do in life is to grill dinner while watching the sunset over the ocean. Richard still insists on donning solar glasses for sunset viewing and he’ll probably have the last laugh when I go sunset blind.

53998911587__84AB36AB-1231-4F43-9046-56BB1ACF0106Both weekends, he got to do a ride up Bay Hill Road and along “Boho” (that’s what the cool kids call the Bohemian Highway). The second weekend, he unexpectedly joined up with a big organized ride called “The Grasshopper.”

IMG_0913While he was out biking on the second weekend, I got a huge treat. Two of my workplace BFFs came and hung out with me on the beach and I got to do some Dory entertaining. This was a new thing for me, so I bought and made a ton more food than was necessary. But one of the BFFs is expecting, and the other one has been good for far too long, so I felt it was important to overfeed them. Enthusiastic thumbs up for using the TJs muffin mix to make a blueberry coffee cake. Also, I got a tiny cast iron skillet that I used to cook up some mushrooms and bell peppers that were used to make grilled Naan pizzas. YUM.

IMG_0929We spotted three T@Bs this weekend, which is unusual, and one of them belonged to an Altoiste, so that was fun to meet her in person. We also gave lots of Dory tours and one of them scored us a bottle of privately produced Napa wine. Can I somehow turn camping into a career?

IMG_0836The latest in kitchen tweaking is that I got two acrylic display shelves and used them as brackets to suspend cutting boards. You’d be surprised what a difference a tiny thing like this can make, and also, how many times it is possible in one weekend to comment on how much better the gadget organization is. Last thing to note is that we have decided the solar panels only work when you have a generator. And by that I mean that, if you carry a generator with you, the sun will shine and you will not need to use it.

It does not get better than this in my book. Great weekends, both.

Total miles: 88.5, 2 hours 40 min, 15.5 mpg. Only occasional Verizon down at the beach, no ATT until you get closer to Bodega Bay.

Spring Lake (1 & 2)

IMG_0785This post will be doing double duty for two weekends in a row. Last weekend, we also went to Spring Lake. However, it was a pretty work heavy Saturday for me, so I didn’t get to really unwind and enjoy the park. Then, because of the federal government shut down, our reservations for this weekend at a BLM campground got cancelled. Since there seemed to be plenty of availability at Spring Lake, we decided on a do over. Good call.

IMG_0820The whole area around Sonoma and Santa Rosa was hit hard by fires in the Fall. Spring Lake was one of the lucky state parks to survive it. Sugarloaf Ridge was not so lucky and is closed for the foreseeable future. I must say, we are both fans of Spring Lake now. It is a lovely little spot, not very far from neighborhoods and restaurants, but tucked away enough that it feels nature-y, with boating, hiking, and copious biking options all around. The lake itself is pretty and peaceful. And even though its proximity to town equals lots of company on the trails, the campground itself was practically empty both weekends. There is a camp host and a ranger on duty, though she told me they were running on a skeleton crew. One thing you don’t think of after an area has been devastated by fires is the decrease in public funding due to loss of property tax revenue. Oh, right.

IMG_0802Both weekends were plenty chilly and we were being silly the first weekend about not running the propane heater enough to be comfortable. On our do over weekend, we rectified this and brought the generator along even though we never needed it, just to be sure we wouldn’t feel like skimping on comfort. There was a good deal of condensation, which always happens when nighttime temps get into the 30s. We remembered that it helps to run the 12v Caframo fan rather than the overhead fan, because it keeps the heat inside a little better. And I got a little squeegee to clear off the windows in the morning. If you just run the fan and heater a bit, it clears off.

One thing notable: our site was positioned right at the entrance to the hiking/biking trail down to the lake. That made for lots of traffic coming and going immediately next to Dory. Lots of people stopped and stared into the windows, not realizing I was inside, and could totally see them. Once, I was inside going to the bathroom as a couple walked up and stared into the windows. If they saw anything inappropriate (I don’t think they did), that’s on them.

IMG_0816On the culinary front, we discovered that if you use Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Sugar Muffin Mix, and add blueberries, which you then pour into silicone muffin liners, you end up with awesomeness for breakfast. We also tried out Yeti for outstanding Indian food in town. The Chicken Curry is tender and delicious and the Prawn Tandoori is just the right spiciness.

Richard went on two bike rides – one where he rode half way up Lichau Road. It’s a “Gravity Hill.” Google it. It’s interesting. The other was up Lawndale, then Warm Springs Rd. to Sonoma Mt. Rd. IMG_0808He did get some views of fire damage, but now that the grass has started to grow back in, some of the most striking images are of open plots of land where it takes a while to realize there used to be houses once standing there. In some cases, what is left is a gate, or a swimming pool. On the surrounding hillsides, you can see the black of charred trees. And all along the road, you notice houses untouched, standing right along side scorched forest or footprints of neighboring estates, that no longer exist. Very sobering.

Total miles: 73.8, 2 hours 16 min, 15.3 mpg first time, then 14.2. Something was up, but we’re not sure what. Sites: 5 is a nice pull through but WAY too close to the hiking and mountain biking trail. 8 is nice, also 26. Good cell service. Water spigots, nice bathrooms, dump.


Coyote Lake

IMG_0709This was a weekend about how thoughts create reality. I’ve never made a mistake in site reservations, or at least I don’t recall any. So we set off Friday, as per usual, arriving after dark, and merrily set up in our site. Well,… ok, maybe not “merrily” per se. On this particular trip, we learned that the phrase: “straight back” has become a trigger for me (especially when yelled or repeated multiple times) that could potentially result in property damage and/or bodily harm. But besides discussing verbal backing direction alternatives while eating dinner, we progressed with the evening fairly normally. Hookups meant we could microwave Chinese food and watch movies on our projector with the new screen that has not been melted by an iron. All good.

IMG_0710In the morning, the park ranger came by. When we arrived the night before, the check in kiosk was closed, which is normal when arriving after hours, so we knew we’d need to get our registration tags the next day. According to the ranger however, there was no record of us having reserved. Huh. Figuring it must be their error, I searched for the confirmation email in the mailbox I always use to file them. Turns out, in July of last year, I made a reservation for the 5th-7th like I was supposed to, except it was for the 5th-7th of July. Of last year. I have no idea how that happened, but it was pretty clear I’d screwed up. Luckily, there were plenty of available sites, just not the one we were in. So we had to pack up and move one site over. But here’s the thing: we had no idea we were driving to a campground with no reservations on a Friday night. Had we known this, we would surely have been super stressed the entire time. Not having any idea made the drive down and the night spent squatting in an unreserved site fine and dandy. This is what I mean by how our thoughts create our reality. I’d like to see if I can increase the amount of time I spend in blissful ignorance of my mistakes.

IMG_0714Saturday (after moving sites) we went on a modest hike. Richard was still recovering from the lethal version of the cold I’d had the week earlier. It was touch and go there for a while. He’s learned that it is important to consume calories, even when you think you’re dying from the virus that didn’t stop your wife from going to work. We now have a specialized shopping list labeled “Sick” to be used the next time he is not well.

Coyote Lake is a nice spot with sites for both hookups and non hookups. There is a reservoir there that is currently closed to all boating because of an invasive species of mussels, but it looks like it would be fun if it ever reopens. There are lots of hikes and bike rides in the area and it’s not that far a drive for us. We’d like to return. With reservations.

IMG_0722One last thing to note – it turns out that it’s important to check the little tiny screws that hold the pull out drawer under the table on its track.

Total miles: 85.0, 2 hours 58 minutes with really bad traffic, 16.3 mpg. Site: 8, then site 10. Both were nice, along the outer part of the hookup loop. The Lakeview loop has no hookups, but some sites have a view of the lake. Nice ones there: 34, 35. Sites 31, 32, 40, 41 do NOT have solar. Water spigots, but there was a notice posted that they had failed their water inspection, so carrying water is a good idea. Very occasional cell service for both ATT & Verizon. Nice dump.

Big Basin Redwoods (2)

IMG_0637Happy New Year! We spent our weekend at the same site in Huckleberry Campground we had before (lucky!). This is a really beautiful campground. And site 63 is nicely set apart from others, making for a serene and peaceful outing. Well, to us anyway. We ran our brand new generator this weekend to try it out, but kept very much on top of the time so we wouldn’t exceed approved hours of operation (10-8). We knew there would be no solar in these woods and it was cold enough that we wanted to run things for sure.

IMG_0629While we ran the generator to recharge the battery in the evening, we got to play with our other new toy: the movie projector!! This is super fun. Besides the annoying crease lines in the shower curtain, the picture was pretty good. We watched “The Force Awakens” the first night and that is really the optimal way to view any “Star Wars” movie: in a tiny camper with curtains closed, sitting under the covers, while running the heater with wild abandon. We watched some episodes of “Red Dwarf” and “Westworld” the following nights and the supreme joy level remained the same.

IMG_0642Richard got to go out on a bike ride one of the days before succumbing to the virus that has been going around, and that claimed me a couple of weeks back. Sunday we ventured a little hike along an interpretive nature trail, but we kept it pretty low key. Monday was New Year’s and Richard was full blown sick at that point. Hopefully this will not be an indication of how the year will go.

IMG_0670Dinners this trip included one grilled, one Blue Apron, and one experimental Omnia no boil lasagna. That worked better than expected! It is probably very important to let it sit 30 min after assembly before cooking and we did that. Cook time was 3 min just base on high, 1 min with oven on base on high, 40 min on the lower side of Medium, rest 10.

The redwoods are very damp and cold (for us!) at this time of year and we had a lot of condensation this trip. I discovered that using a squeegee works pretty well on the windows and I’m assuming the water going into the frame is coming out at the outside corners because I did see drip lines in places outside that made logical sense to me. Beyond that, we needed to run the fan a lot and left her in the driveway for a while to air out before putting her in the garage.

IMG_0676We are overall very pleased with the generator, in a “why didn’t we do this before??” kind of way. It is not that huge or heavy, and can fit behind the passenger seat on the floor of the car. It’s audible for sure, but not terrible. Like, I walked from our site to the bathroom and couldn’t hear it (I might not be the best judge though). From inside Dory, we can hear it, but not when a movie is playing. It charged the battery quite quickly, bumping it from around 75% to almost full capacity in under three hours. This, while we were recharging other things at the same time, and running the projector for part of the time. Richard is working on a battery based system for the projector, but it sure was fun to play with, and since we were using the generator anyway…. IMG_0678Normally, we wouldn’t be able to use it without electric hookups. The generator almost works the same, except we wouldn’t be able to run heavy duty items like the air conditioner, for example. But we have some battery based options we can look at for weekend movie viewing that would be quieter. The best part of this is that we can look at long weekends in places that don’t have great solar and we won’t need to rough it. …. What?? Listen, we never claimed to be doing anything more than “camping” in the first place. We wake up to lattes in the woods and ice cubes for my protein shake. Now it turns out we need big screen entertainment.

Life is short. Happy New Year. 🙂

IMG_0687*Note to Future Self: Ok, I get it. There are TWO ways to take Highway 17 to 9 to 236 to get to Big Basin. Take the one that brings you to the Northern junction, but then continue, until you get to the Southern junction. Hopefully that will make sense to me in the future. Whatever you do, Future Self, don’t keep taking Bear Creek Road. It won’t get any easier the more times you try it. However, so many pieces of it seem to have fallen off, it may not even be an option much of the time.

Total miles: 88.4, 15.7 mpg, 2 hours 38 min. Site 63 Huckleberry. Very nice and private with space between sites. No cell service until about 3 miles out of the park. There is CA Parks Wifi at the Visitor Center and store. Nice bathrooms, water spigots a plenty, and a dump in the Huckleberry campground.

Sonoma Coast – Wright’s & Doran Beach

IMG_0502Happy winter holidays! Because this, the darkest week of the year, is the season of joy, reflection, and gratitude, we headed to the Sonoma coast to celebrate California in all its splendor. Wright’s Beach remains at the top of the list for spectacular campgrounds. I was lucky enough to score one of the primo, ocean side sites, but as there is no dump there, I knew our time would be limited to no more than three nights. I decided to combine the trip with a follow up just to the south at Doran Beach, figuring we could dump tanks when we moved. IMG_0555Neither place has electric hookups, but both sites have excellent solar. Still, this was the longest stretch of boondocking we’ve done yet, and I knew we’d be possibly pushing the limits. Before we left, we joked that we’d either be fine, or would get divorced. People would be shocked and would ask, “After 24 years?! You seemed so happy! What on earth could have caused this?!” We’d reply dryly, “Battery issues.” And those who know, would fully understand.

IMG_0525There’s not much to say about Wright’s Beach beyond just posting the pictures. It is spectacular. I got to enjoy grilling dinner to a beautiful sunset backdrop each night, and both fall asleep and wake up to the glorious sound of the surf. We did a couple of hikes while there and explored tide pools. I recommend the Kortum Trail from Shell Beach to the lookout above Goat Rock. IMG_0529We were treated along the way to a couple of very talented musicians who were just out for the day, making beautiful music, perched on one of the large rock formations. It was kind of surreal and blissfully uplifting. On a sad note, after we returned to Dory, we saw rescue helicopters circling over the water for a long time, plus we saw Coast Guard boats out to the north. Then, they just suddenly turned and departed southward, which we knew was either good news or bad news. We heard from the park ranger that two kids had gone in the water at Goat’s Rock and one didn’t make it. If any of you ever visit the coast, please take the warning signs very seriously. If they say not to go in the water, they mean it. So sad. *Update: it looks like the kids had no intention of going in the water, but were swept away by a sudden wave. The father passed away as well, trying to save them. 😦

IMG_0599After shifting to Doran, we dove into serious discussions about generators (again). Since we have the Trimetric battery monitor, we are cringingly aware of everything that goes on in terms of usage and replenishment of the Alto battery. We know, for example, that the 12V fridge draws by far the most power, around 3 amps out when the compressor is cycling, and that if we turn it off at night when it’s cold outside, we can save a lot right there. We also know that when the sun is low in the sky, the solar panels bring in up to 5 amps when unobstructed by anything (like clouds). Compare this to summer when we can get up to 10 amps in with the sun directly overhead. Combine this with the fact that it is light for far less time when you’re camping with the Solstice. So every day, we’d bounce the battery back just a little less than the day before, and every morning we’d wake up just a little lower. Yes, we can reduce our usage of lots of amp sucking things, up to a point. And that point came on one of the particularly cold mornings when we were reluctant to run the heater due to the energy draw from the fan. That is precisely the moment when I start to question what we’re doing, because it is no longer fun. I’ll skip past the discussion and cut to the chase: if the Home Depot in Santa Rosa had had a Honda 2000w generator, we would now be its proud owners. As a sign from the Universe, however, they were out of stock. So instead, we drove into Sebastopol and bought a good jumper cable, in case we needed to recharge the battery directly from the car. We also put in an order for a smaller, lighter, unit, a Yamaha 1000w, which we anticipate we might need the next outing because we will be fully immersed in a sunless redwood forest for three nights. I shall no doubt be reviewing this unit in detail with the next post. Meanwhile, we enjoyed a delicious dinner in Sebastopol at Ramen Gaijin and ran the damn heater when we got back. Hooray!

IMG_0596Bodega Bay is a super fun place to visit. Besides the beach, there are restaurants and beautiful beachy hikes to enjoy. One of them took us to a massive bird convention. Among the primary factions were those birds from the Pixar short movie, and they were every bit as adorable as you’d hope.

Last thing to partially report on: Dory got an early Xmas present! But we only got to play with it a little bit. After an Altoiste posted a photo of a movie being projected on the back wall of the Alto, that was all I needed. Dory now has a mini movie projector. What we still need to figure out is how to power it (YES, this DID factor into the generator discussions). We have some ideas, and a shower curtain screen. Before our next outing, we have some research to do and a shower curtain to iron. Projects are important.IMG_0621

Happy Holidays to all!!

Wright’s Beach – site 7. Sites 5-10 are amazing and incredibly hard to reserve. Nice bathrooms, water spigots, no power or dump. Doran Beach – our favorite, site 76. Dump station is now pay per use $7. No electric, water spigots plentiful, nice bathrooms. Be aware there is a fog horn that goes off regularly and the Coast Guard station is right there and routinely makes weird loud speaker announcements, with “awoogah” horns and bells and such. I kind of like it, but can imagine someone who would not.

New Brighton (3)

IMG_0411This was a special weekend out because we got to hang out with fellow Altoiste, Annie Wynn. It was also special because I had managed, six months prior, at precisely 8:00 am, to snag a premium site at one of the most popular campgrounds in California. It was much appreciated by me that a) the area was not on fire, and b) it was beautiful and sunny and in the low 70s outside.

IMG_0439Friday Annie came over while I whipped up a Blue Apron curry dish. She brought wine and we spent a wonderful evening catching up. Saturday we split up, with Richard tackling a bike ride around Elkhorn Slough, and me going for a paddle. The remarkable thing about this outing was that the water was filled with jellyfish. Actually, I guess the water was filled with Brown Sea Nettles, and had been for the past couple of months. It was impossible to paddle without coming into contact with at least one of them, but I figured that must be ok. I concentrated really hard on staying in the boat, though I did see another kayaker flip over.

IMG_0448Saturday night we enjoyed a nice sunset, met back up with Annie, and went to Manuel’s Restaurant in town. I recommend the Saturday special: Camarones de Diego, which are prawns wrapped in bacon, stuffed with cheese, dipped in cocktail sauce, and served in a crispy tortilla bowl filled with rice. Uh YES please! After, we hit Mariannes ice cream across the street. Pretty nice night! Then it was back to our respective Altos and we finished the evening by catching up on the last episode of Game of Thrones. Now I don’t have to worry about seeing spoilers on Facebook.

Sunday we chatted a little, baked cinnamon rolls, and headed home around noon. A couple of things that got us thinking this weekend: we need to re-investigate some possible leaks because we saw water on the ground under the hot water heater and again under the shower. We thought we had that one fixed. The water heater looks like it’s coming from the sacrificial anode and it’s probably time to replace that anyway, though that wouldn’t explain the leak. Also, the coffee battery does not seem to be holding a charge as well and we’re about to head into a week of no hookups. This has us concerned. It could be that it is not getting a full charge at home because the charger cuts out when it reaches 13.6 V. There may be a trick to make it trickle charge, or the battery may need replacing. In general, we did not get a lot of solar this weekend because the sun was so low in the sky that it was obstructed most of the day by a row of strategically placed, sun blocking trees. So that reduced the amount of charge going to the coffee battery. Still, it used to be able to last just fine with NO sun for at least two nights. The dreaded “just get a generator” conversation happened again, along with a repeat of the “just get a standalone solar panel” conversation. It’s fun to repeat these discussions every few months and wind up making the same decisions. For now, we are investigating better home charging and will take it from there. Richard’s assignment for the week is to identify all possible locations in the vicinity of Bodega Bay where a generator could be purchased if we run into problems next week. In any case, I’m not that worried about the leaks, and we do have a backup system in place for coffee if need be. And Bodega Bay does have decent coffee places (we checked), so I’m hopeful we will survive.

IMG_0445IMG_0465Nice weekend and I got an adorable pair of otter socks to boot! Thanks Annie, it was great to see you again!

I didn’t note mileage data this time, but it took around 3 hours to get there Friday (traffic) versus around 2 to get home midday Sunday. Site 82 – would have had great solar if it weren’t winter. Good LTE for both of us. No hookups, but there’s a good dump station there.

Del Valle (2)

IMG_0356I think it’s just the time of year, but we both feel like we’re barely making it to the weekend these days. Thankfully, Del Valle State Recreation Area is a very short drive from home. Our site was really nice, with a beautiful view out the windows, full hookups, and no cell service. Normally, that last item would be listed as a downside. This weekend, it was just what we needed to unplug and do a hard reboot.

Richard was super sweet and offered to do all the cooking after we pulled in. I sat in the back with the LED candles on, lights off, and stared at the moonrise. I pulled the little-used blackout privacy curtain closed and turned on music. This had the effect of creating two distinct rooms. His was the well lit, dinner making, Happy Room; while mine was obviously the dark, wine drinking, “it’ll be ok” music playing, Sad Room. Sad Rooms are very therapeutic. After 5 songs and a half a glass, I was all better.

IMG_0363Saturday was a bit too brisk for bike riding or kayaking for us, so we went on a hike instead. The lake is very low right now and we found out that is because they flooded three times last year and have aggressively diverted the water this year to get ready for winter. This place is clearly set up for tons of people in the summer. They have boat rentals and snack shacks and lots of reservable group picnic areas.

IMG_0388On our drive in, I had noticed a whole lot of goats fenced in around the hillside and figured they were there to do some thinning of the grass and underbrush. It was my goal to see if I could spot them while on our hike. Mission definitely accomplished there! We got to walk right through the herd/flock/tribe/trip and even said hello to the very friendly herding dog. I took more pictures than necessary because I was pretty excited and I like goats.

IMG_0396When we got back, we gave tours, and then experimented with making pumpkin pie in the Omnia oven. We were really just guessing at the bake times, but used a normal recipe and a store bought, pre-rolled pie crust. I laid the crust over the top of the oven and cut an X in the middle. Then I folded the dough over and the rest naturally drooped and fell into place inside the oven. Using the silicone liner is very important. We heated the base on the large burner on high for 3 minutes, as per usual. Then we put the oven with the lid on and pie inside, onto the burner and baked on high for 10 minutes. IMG_0399We then turned it down to “medium” enough that the flame was clearly lower, erring for too low rather than too high. We let it bake there for 35 min. Then we turned off the heat and let it sit, still covered, on the base for another 10 min. The smell as it was baking was intoxicating and it really could not have come out better. The crust was nice and browned, without being burned, and the filling was fully cooked. The only trick was how to get it out. We didn’t want to try to lift it out and also didn’t want to ruin the silicone liner, so we just jabbed at it with hard edged silicone spatulas until we’d made enough of a “cut” that we could pull out a piece. We “cut” up the remainder to put into a plastic storage container for cold pie for breakfast. YUM.

IMG_0352I loved this site and would like to return. I imagine it gets really hot there in the summer, but with hookups and AC, it might be fine. There are nice bathrooms there, and there is a sewer hookup as well, though we chose to use the dump station instead because the inlet at the site is rather high. It’s not close enough to the water to put in from the campground, but it would be a short drive to the day use area where there are docks and launch ramps. Very nice place.

Total miles: 41.9, 1 hour 19 min, 16.2 mpg. Site 32*. Sites along the stream have no hookups and shorter paved pads, but some would be ok: 38, 36, 34, 42, 44. All have partial solar. The lower loop is nicer than the upper loop. No cell service.