My 3-week adventure begins!! The plan was for me to take 2 weeks to drive down to Santa Cruz on my own, see places I’ve never seen before, then I would pick David up at the San Jose airport, we’d spend the weekend at his family reunion in Santa Cruz, and then take a week to drive back home together. A LOT of preparation went into this trip. I had to hire someone to clean my guesthouse, and this person would need to be available for situations that would arise for the guesthouse while I was gone. Fall is an extremely busy time for bookings, so she would be pretty busy while I was gone. As a matter of fact, there were only 2 days of vacancy while I was gone, with most bookings only being 2 days, AND my main house was to be rented every weekend. I’ve never left my guesthouse in someone else’s care before either, so I was slightly nervous. I also somehow got 3 weeks off from my job at the hospital, where I do payroll. I job share there, and while my job share partner was able to take care of things during my absence, neither one of us has ever take that long of a vacation before, so I was feeling quite fortunate to have been able to do it.
PART 1 OF 9 / FIRST ADVENTURE OF THE TRIP…CRATER LAKE
I left Friday right after work. It would have been a lot easier to have left Saturday morning, but I had my main house rented that weekend, which I occasionally do for extra money during big special event weekends, so I couldn’t stay in my house. I managed to get out of town by 6 pm but felt like I could’ve used a few more hours before leaving. Quite the busy week leading up to this trip, let me tell you. But I knew it would be worth it once I was on the road.
That night, I got as far as Dayton, Washington before it got late enough that I knew I better find a place to sleep. I stayed at Lewis & Clark Trail State Park, which I was lucky to have gotten the last camp spot there for the night. I have no idea why it was crowded, because it was freezing and not that nice of a campground from what little I saw of it. All I can think of is that it’s right off the highway, so people may have been using it as just a place to sleep while traveling. It was very challenging backing up into my spot and getting it leveled in the dark by myself. I learned a very valuable lesson that night. Keep a headlight in the truck, not the travel trailer, and try to always get a camp spot before dark.
My first challenge was under my belt, and I took off the next morning and headed to Crater Lake. Passing through Bend in mid-afternoon, I discovered Shevlin Park, where there’s a 10-mile bike path going through a canyon with a campground at the end of it. I definitely need to go back there sometime and do that. I also noticed that Smith Rock is just north of Bend and looks like a pretty cool place that is most definitely worthy of exploration.
There was no time to dawdle in order to get to Mazuma campground at Crater before dark. I entered Crater from the north, which ended up being a bit out of the way for me with my destination being the campground, but that was ok. I got to drive around Crater Lake, something I hope to never do again while pulling a travel trailer. There’s no shoulder on that road, and there is a sheer drop off on most of it. It was a pretty treacherous drive but beautiful. I eventually arrived at the campground and got one of the last choices of campsites available. While I had reservations there, it was first-come, first-serve in regards to which spot you get when you arrive. I’d never seen it done like that before. Sort of interesting. The campground was surprisingly packed for it being after Labor Day, but I guess its proximity to Bend and Portland and the fact that it was a Saturday night made it so. The next night, Sunday, it emptied out and got a lot quieter thankfully.
I had signed up for the last boat tour of the season to Wizard Island, the volcanic cinder cone at the west end of Crater Lake. It took about 45 minutes for me to drive from the campground on Sunday morning to the parking lot where I was to then hike down to the boat, which was recommended that I allow another 45 minutes or so to do. I hiked down the trail chatting with a very nice woman from the east coast.
We boarded the boat after quite some time and took a nice informative boat ride around the lake. We had a ranger telling us all about the geology of the place, and we had ample time for picture taking. Unfortunately, when we docked at Wizard Island, I dropped my camera and it broke, so I have no pictures of Wizard Island, which is a real shame, because it was pretty cool.
We were given an hour to spend on Wizard island. A couple of kids had brought their fishing poles and hung out on the dock fishing and swimming, much to everyone’s shock because that water is extremely cold. But most everyone else hiked up to the top of the island. At the top was another crater, called Witches Cauldron, which you could walk down into. That was where I had lunch, chatting with another hiker from San Francisco. Getting back on the boat, we boated around the rest of the lake and saw Phantom Ship, a smaller island, while learning more about geology. It would’ve been nice to have gotten pictures of the crater on top of Wizard Island and of Phantom Ship. I was immediately thinking I needed to buy a new camera soon before I missed other awesome picture-taking opportunities.
That night I made a campfire and enjoyed the solitude of the campground.
PART 2 / TUBE EXPLORING AT LAVA BEDS
Today I drove into California from Oregon. Very monumental let me tell you. Now I was really feeling adventurous.
After my hot shower at the campground at Crater Lake, I headed south. Incidentally, I had been quite concerned about the scarcity of showers on my journey, and my plan was to find a gym if necessary and pay a day fee to use their shower if needed. I was figuring I would go 2 days before desperate measures would need to be taken and I would need to seek out soap and water. I had the impression that there would be no showers at most, if not all, of the campgrounds in California because of the drought from what I was seeing on the internet on the California State Parks website. I was happily surprised to find that wasn’t the case. While the showers at Crater and all the places I stayed in California were different to me in that they require quarters, the water had not been shut off. What a relief that was.
After my most excellent shower, I continued south. It wasn’t long before I got lost. You might wonder how one can get lost these days with smart phones. Well, my car charger for my smart phone stopped working. And because I own a smart phone, I hadn’t brought a good map with me. I did have a map of the entire western US, but it didn’t have the detail I needed. I did end up finding my way, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve taken more direct routes. Oh well, my goal was to explore, so that was ok. I could’ve even bought a new car charger, but I was being stubborn and figured I didn’t need it. It was actually way more fun using a good old fashioned map instead of my phone. In hindsight, I think I should’ve bought a good, detailed, northern California map. Next trip, I shall invest in a good map.
My second destination after Crater Lake was Lava Beds National Monument. Both of those spots were recommended to me from a coworker. So glad he told me about Lava Beds. I’d never even heard of it before he mentioned it. But as I was driving into the park, I could see that it was something very special. Lava rocks were scattered throughout, and the area was surrounded by cinder cones, creating a very surreal landscape.
I drove right to Indian Wells campground, the only option for camping at Lava Tubes, and I couldn’t believe how incredibly cool it was. It was fairly empty too, so I had my choices of spots. I set up camp, made some dinner, and made some quick phone calls thanks to a quick charge from the outlet in the bathroom. It was a little unfortunate that no campfires were allowed while I was there due to wildfires in Oregon and California, because this had a pretty significant effect on the camping experience. I realize now how important campfires are to camping. Instead of hanging out around a campfire, I hung out in the travel trailer and did a little reading on lava tubes, planning my tube adventures for the next day.
The next day, my only full day to be spent at Lava Tubes, was also my birthday. After coffee, I went up to the visitor’s center to borrow a flashlight that the National Park Service loans to tube explorers, and I chatted with the visitor center employee about the safety of exploring the tubes alone. The very unique thing about Lava Tubes National Monument is that it’s completely self-guided. There are a variety of tubes to explore, 23 caves total, and they are rated least challenging, moderately challenging and most challenging. The visitors center employee said that I would be completely fine going by myself. So off I went. My goal was to do all of the moderately challenging tubes first and maybe move on to the most challenging ones if there was time.
The first one was Sunshine Cave. I felt a little silly walking from the truck to the cave wearing my bike helmet, but helmets are recommended and I was trying to do the right thing. I also had on my winter coat, gloves, and 3 sets of lights for inside the cave. I headed down the ladder into the cave and was instantly amazed by how incredible it was. Not sure if this might even be the best cave there, or maybe it was because it was my first, but I really did like this one the best. I walked all the way into it, until I couldn’t go any further and turned around. No one else was in there but me. I liked Sunshine because there was an opening at the end that let sunshine in…hence the name. It was beautiful. I was glad I’d worn my helmet, because I did hit my head on the ceiling, and I’m pretty sure it would’ve hurt pretty badly without it, since the ceiling and everything in the caves was quite sharp and hard.
For my second cave, I went to Golden Dome. This one was confusing from the very beginning. I headed down the ladder into the dark. At the bottom of the ladder, there were 2 ways to go. I chose the wrong way. The ceiling kept getting lower and lower, and after a bit of time scrambling over rocks, and hitting my head on the ceiling, I decided there would be no way they’d call this one a moderately challenging cave if this was the direction they meant for me to take. So I made my way back to the ladder and instead of climbing out of there, like I should have, I passed the ladder and went the other way. I walked for awhile and at some point, I started looking behind me thinking that I should be making sure I knew how to get back in case I get lost. There were a lot of divergent paths in this cave. And it wasn’t obvious which path to take. As I started realizing that I could potentially get lost, panic started setting in. I eventually came to the conclusion that I was lost, and while I considered staying put and waiting for someone to pass me, I was seriously concerned that it could take awhile for someone to discover me down there, since there was no one else around. And then what if I’d wandered into some part of the cave that I shouldn’t have, and they never found me. Lots of crazy things started running through my mind. I decided to keep walking. I was trying really hard not to think about the batteries in my flashlights going out and leaving me in the dark. It was pretty terrifying. I don’t know how long I was in that cave, but I’m guessing it was 20-30 minutes even though it felt like days. Such relief when I eventually found the ladder again.
Given a new chance to live, I decided to take it easy. My original goal to visit all the moderately challenging caves was modified to include only the least challenging caves. I went to Mushpot. I knew I wouldn’t need a helmet for this one. This cave is the one that’s lit up and has interpretive signs to read as you walk through. It was very nice. I got some confidence back. I thought that maybe I was feeling up again for another moderate cave, but this time I’d make sure I was looking behind me to find my way back, and the second I felt uncomfortable, I would get out.
I went across the way to Indian Well Cave. I didn’t wear my helmet into this one either, nor did I wear it for the rest of day, which was just fine.
Interestingly I only hit my head in the first 2, which I wore the helmet into. I would recommend wearing head gear into the moderately challenging caves, but you probably don’t need it for the least challenging ones. Another side note…you need to drive to most of the caves, but some are close together and you can walk from one to another. After my Golden Dome experience though, if you’re exploring that one, I recommend parking by the entrance in case you can’t find the exit, so the rangers know where you are.
So back to Indian Well Cave. This cave didn’t have a ladder but was a more natural entrance. Entering the cave, it got dark quickly, and I got spooked. I turned around and left.
I was tempted to stop exploring the tubes altogether but decided to see one more. I don’t remember what it was called, but it’s the one that way back when, people used to actually go ice skating in it. I walked all the way to the end without getting lost or panicked.
I decided to stop caving on a good note, and opted for an above-ground hike. I drove out to Captain Jack’s Stronghold. This was a very cool hike. It’s rattlesnake country, but I didn’t see any. I was definitely looking though, believe me. I was really beginning to miss having a hiking partner, because there seemed to be a lot of dangers here. Luckily for me, as I was on my hike, someone else had shown up, by themselves no less, and he was still hiking the trail as I finished. I hung out at a picnic table awaiting his return, feeling a little bit like a stalker and hoping he might be someone that I felt comfortable asking to explore caves with.
I didn’t have to wait long for his return, and much to my relief, he looked approachable and quite normal. I asked if he wanted a hiking partner for the caves. He hadn’t even known there were caves to explore. Martin was a German traveler on a 3-month, multi-state, epic adventure and was just passing through on his rented motorcycle. I told him that if he wanted to meet me at Skull Cave after he went to the visitors center, that was the one I was going to do next. I didn’t think he’d meet me, since he didn’t seem real committed to it, so I took my time getting to Skull Cave. I did a couple more short hikes on the way to give him time and also to muster up the courage to go into another cave by myself if that’s how it was to be.
When I got to Skull Cave, I saw Martin’s motorcycle parked right out front, much to my surprise and relief. I hiked into the cave and found him inside. It was so much better not being all alone in there. We explored 3 more caves, all of which were the least scary and impossible to get lost in ironically. He must’ve thought I was a total weirdo for not wanting to do them alone. It was nice though because, not only did we both have someone to talk to, which can be pretty nice when you’re traveling alone, but it was also a fairly long walk through rattlesnake country between the caves and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a great idea to be alone out there.
Martin and I parted ways after our third cave, and I hiked 2 more short trails on the way back to the campground. The Black Crater hike was pretty great, and the Chimneys were worth a trip to see too. When I got back to my camp spot, I grabbed my electronics and hiked up to the visitors center, which I’d learned earlier had wifi. Charging electronics was becoming the real challenge to the trip as it turns out…not showering. I got about 30 minutes of charging and e-mailing done before the visitors center closed.
Such an amazing birthday. I could’ve done without getting lost in Golden Dome, but that was just part of the adventure I suppose. I found it quite interesting that when I returned the flashlight to the same employee who’d told me it would be no problem caving alone, and I told her about my Golden Dome experience, she commented that people get lost in there often, and as a matter of fact, one couple was lost in there for 2 hours. Too bad she hadn’t shared that little tidbit with me that morning.
PART 3 / BIKING THE BIZZ JOHNSON TRAIL
Continuing my journey south, I chose Susanville as my next 2-night stop, because I’d read about the Bizz Johnson Trail, a rails to trails bike route, and thought it was worth checking out, plus it was sort of on my way.
I took the scenic route from Lava Tubes, driving around Eagle Lake just north of Susanville, hoping to find a camp spot on it. It was at Eagle Lake that I had my first glimpse of how serious the drought was in California.
There were campsites around the lake, and they seemed really nice, but they felt lonely. And the near-dry lake had me feeling somewhat depressed. So I kept going and drove into Susanville. Unfortunately the only place I found to camp there was a Good Sam, which was basically a parking lot full of RVs…not exactly my favorite camp setting. But strangely, I was happy with my decision, because that feeling of loneliness was gone. The campground, if you can call it that, also had wifi, electric, water, and really nice showers.
Since Susanville is a relatively small town, the rv park was biking distance to everything for the most part. I did a little trail research and learned how to do the shuttle to the start in Westwood. I also biked to Walmart, which was right across the road from the campground and ran into a couple that I’d seen earlier at Eagle Lake who’d actually told me about the Good Sam campground. After getting a Subway sandwich and some groceries, I biked back and enjoyed my sandwich while catching up on e-mails. I went to visit the couple I’d seen in Walmart, upon their invite, and had a very nice visit that evening. It was just what I needed.
The next day, I found the only bike store in town, which by the way, was no easy feat. They’ve had a few bike stores come and go over the last couple years apparently. I was also getting a bit of mixed information about the Bizz Johnson Trail, so it was nice to get the information straightened out at the bike shop. The very nice owner of the bike shop gave me her phone number to text her when I got back, so that she knew I made it back ok. She knew I was biking it alone, and while she didn’t think I’d have a problem, we both felt it was better to be safe than sorry. She put slime in my tires, since the trail is known for its goat heads. This was my biggest worry, since I’m not the most experienced at fixing bike flats. I figured I could do it in an emergency situation, but I sure was hoping I wouldn’t need to.
There are only 3 bus options that will take you to Westwood, which is the best place to start biking the Bizz Johnson Trail. One is early in the morning, one is midday, and the other is in the late afternoon. I opted for the midday bus, so it wouldn’t be that cold biking. It was fairly cold in the morning, as we were at about 4,000 ft elevation, and it was late September. So I biked over to the Walmart where the bus was to pick me up. The bus took me and my bike to a gas station in Westwood, and because the driver knew I was there to bike the trail, he told me where my stop was and instructed me to bike down the intersecting road for a few miles until I saw the sign to the Bizz Johnson Trail.
As the bus pulled away, I was left feeling a little scared and vulnerable. Why do I keep hearing people in Idaho say that California is crowded?! This place sure wasn’t. I headed the way the driver instructed. This was not how I pictured it. But I shoved aside my fear and went on. I was getting slightly annoyed with myself for once again putting myself very far outside my comfort zone.
After a few miles, I came to the sign. I biked in the direction the sign instructed, but at one point I wasn’t 100% sure which way to go, because I still wasn’t on the actual trail. Luckily a truck passed me at that point. The only truck I saw since getting off the bus and at just the right time. He confirmed that I was going the right way. I eventually found myself on the trail.
It was pretty amazing. This felt like the wild west. The trail used to be an old logging train rail bed and meanders through a canyon alongside the Susan River in the middle of nowhere. True to my nature, as I continued biking, I started thinking about wild animals. I must’ve spent the entire first 10 miles of the ride scanning the area for cougars and bears. Once I hit the halfway point, or what I thought was the halfway point, I stopped dwelling on it, figuring that there was no use in worrying anymore. It was an easy decision to keep going forward at that point because going back would’ve been longer, plus it would’ve been uphill. The trail has a 3% downhill grade the entire way, from Westwood to Susanville. But FYI, it isn’t paved, so you still have to work a little even going downhill.
As soon as I stopped worrying, it got really fun. I got into a rhythm, and my legs felt great. I biked over trestles and through tunnels and had to go through many cattle gates. I didn’t see anyone until about 3 miles out of Susanville. From the bus stop at Westwood to Lassen Ale Works in Susanville, my total distance was 29 miles. At Lassen Ale Works I rewarded myself with a Bizz Johnson Blonde Ale. I sent a text to the bike store owner to let her know I made it ok, and she told me I should head over to Lassen Ale Works to reward myself with a microbrew. Great minds think alike. It had taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes to bike the trail. After my celebratory beer, I biked another 3 miles to the campground/parking lot which was also downhill.
That evening, since the Good Sam parking lot didn’t have fire pits, I made my second dinner this trip inside the travel trailer. Aside from a minor propane mishap that actually could’ve been quite deadly, all went well and I made a pretty yummy orzo meal. I was getting the hang of this camping thing and learning a lot in the meantime about my travel trailer. It felt good. Tomorrow I would head to Chico.
PART 4 / BIKING AROUND CHICO
At the north end of Lake Almanor, I drove south to highway 89, which then connected to the Feather River Highway. Where it got phenomenal was the Feather River Highway. I felt like I was in a wild west train set. Very historical setting, but also very dry.
Coming down the mountains around Lake Orville was very cool. It was a little smoggy or maybe just smokey from the fires. Once I hit the highway, it wasn’t long until I arrived at the Chico exits. The campground that I assumed I’d stay at was north of Chico, but I was still hoping that I’d find a place to stay in Chico so that I could bike around right from the campground. I got off and explored. I found Almond Tree RV Park, which requires you to have a black and grey water system in your rv, which I did not, so I couldn’t stay there. Then I found the fairgrounds, which I was advised against, because there was a rodeo that night and there might be safety issues.
As I expected to do, I drove north and found a nice spot at Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area. It was a very beautiful spot, but it was at this campground that I saw the biggest spider in the wild of my life. Terrifying. I will never go back. There were also a lot of ticks. Maybe it was the time of year. I wore my hat the entire time. One other side note. While I’ve experienced my fair share of noisy camping neighbors, this was the worst experience I’ve ever had. The offending group consisted of 3 couples, and they could care less about anybody else there. At 2 am both mornings, I went to their campspot and asked them to quiet down. They did Friday night, but by Saturday night, they did not. I did enjoy a hike around the campground and cooling off in the river, but between the spiders, ticks, and noisy people, it wasn’t the best experience.
But Chico was a different story. I love Chico! I could totally live there. The next morning, I unhitched my truck from my travel trailer and drove into town. I brought my bike with me of course, so I wasted no time exploring. What a bikeable town! I biked all day through Bidwell Park, campus, downtown, and many residential streets. I even went to an open house, which I sort of wanted to buy, and I even went to a couple yard sales, where I bought a new puffy. I have been wanting a North Face puffy for years but couldn’t bring myself to buy one for the price they were asking. I found one for $25 at a yard sale in Chico, California. Go figure! I even bought some nifty little accessories for the travel trailer. Yard sales are the best.
The day gets even better. Chico is home to Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, so I had to do a tour. Having arrived there at around lunchtime and not having made reservations, I discovered that the next tour was full and I’d have to wait an hour to even find out if I’d get into the next one. I opted to wait since I needed lunch anyway, and there was a pub attached to the factory. After my lunch, I went back to the tour area, and what do you know, I got in, because they had 1 spot available. One advantage to being a solo traveler. So let me just tell you that this is a very cool tour. And Sierra Nevada is a very cool company. The company has really made an effort to go green. They compost their paper towels. They have solar panels covering their parking lot.
Next stop: Davis. Can’t wait!
PART 5 / IKEA, DAVIS & LAKE SOLANO CAMPGROUND
I left my noisy neighbors along with the ticks and huge spider and headed south to Davis. It was to be a short drive, but I left as soon as I’d drank my coffee and showered. I did not linger there any longer than I had to. Much to my delight, as I was bypassing Sacramento, I discovered an IKEA…right off the highway! Yay for me! After a couple hours in IKEA, I hopped back in the truck, a couple hundred dollars poorer, and continued my drive south.
It wasn’t long before I hit the exit to Davis. I was so looking forward to seeing this town. At least 4 people I have met, have said that Moscow, Idaho (my current town) is what Davis, California used to be 20 years ago. Plus I’d heard biking was big there, and I was looking forward to getting out and exploring more like I’d done in Chico the day before.
Davis was a lot better than I’d even imagined, but it was also very congested. Biking is still huge there, and from what I could tell, there would be no reason to own a car in this town except for trips out of Davis. I really liked what I saw of Davis, but unfortunately, I didn’t stay as long as I would’ve liked.
I walked around Davis for only about an hour, mostly inquiring where I might camp and not even enjoying Davis for the amazing town it is. I’ll just have to go back sometime. This was the second time this trip that it occurred to me that my next travel trailer would have a toilet in it and won’t be a pop-up. I could’ve parked right on the street in Davis and no one would’ve even known that I was sleeping inside.
I took a back road going west and drove through a small town called Winters, which was rather cute but closing down for the day. A restaurant owner told me about a nice campground close by called Lake Solano County Park right. So glad she did. So peaceful and quiet! Quite the change from the night before. Not only did the campground have showers and cheap hookups, but it also had one of those little free libraries.
The drive getting there had been quite beautiful too, and I could tell it would be more of the same as I drove toward Napa, which I was interested in finally seeing. While I’d been pretty disappointed that I hadn’t gotten to see as much of Davis as I’d wanted today, it was a nice end to a busy day. I made a pretty tasty meal in the Chalet and slept well.
PART 6 / SANTA CRUZ BIKING, HIKING & REUNION
Soon after leaving my sweet little camp spot at Lake Solano Campground the next day, it wasn’t long before I was in the bustling metropolis of Napa, way bigger than I’d imagined it, and then soon I was barreling down the highway along with millions of other vehicles. It was quite the adventure pulling the travel trailer in San Francisco traffic trying to navigate myself through all the various highways while being passed on both sides by large trucks going 80 miles an hour. But I survived and even managed to avoid entering San Francisco city limits.
I connected to Pacific Coast Highway at Half Moon Bay. I’d hoped to camp here, and even though it was only mid-day and mid-week, all the spots were taken. What a disappointment that was, because the campground looked amazing as did the town. I would soon discover that there was nowhere to camp anywhere until I got to Santa Cruz, a 1 hour drive south of Half Moon Bay. It was a beautiful drive, and I would’ve liked to have taken my time camping along the way, but that was not to be.
I had reservations at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park beginning on Wednesday, but it was only Monday. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t find a place to stay Monday and Tuesday after what I’d discovered on my drive down. But luckily, the campground had quite a few available spots. I have no idea why. It was just as amazing as the ones on the ocean. It may have even been better, because the campgrounds on the ocean were cold and windy.
While backing my travel trailer into my teeny tiny, extremely sloped parking spot, I had the misfortune of crossing paths with a grumpy old man who did not appreciate having to wait for me to back in and unhitch. It was hard enough trying to get my travel trailer situated in such a challenging site, and I certainly didn’t need any more complications. This day was becoming exhausting.
Once I had the travel trailer parked and leveled, I explored the campground a bit. It was a very nice campground. One of my favorites actually. I couldn’t believe I was right outside of Santa Cruz. I was surrounded by redwoods. My site, and a lot of them actually, offered quite a bit of privacy. I was happy to have a home for 5 nights and to not have to pack up again like I had been every other day. Things were most definitely looking up.
The next day after my coffee, I set out for a hike in the state park right from the campground. It was great. I was happy to run into the occasional hiker/runner, because there weren’t many. I was still having a hard time believing that I was so close to Santa Cruz and the ocean, because it sure felt remote. After my hike, I decided to check out Santa Cruz, only a 10 minute drive from the campground. Unfortunately it didn’t seem safe to bike from the campground to the town, because it’s a pretty narrow, busy road and would’ve been steep coming back, but it’s an easy drive.
Santa Cruz is a pretty amazing town. I really like the bikeableness of it. One day I biked from the pier to New Brighton State Beach Park and back. What an amazing bike path this was. That ride was most definitely my favorite day spent in Santa Cruz. The rest of my time spent in Santa Cruz pre-family reunion included more hikes in the state park, an interesting laundromat experience involving druggies, and working on my laptop in hip restaurants and microbreweries. The town was full of interesting people, and I really liked the laid back feeling of the town.
On Thursday evening, I picked up David at the airport. I was so happy to pick him up, because I was just starting to feel a bit lonely. The very next day, we drove over to the vrbo rental house that the family was staying in. They’d all just started arriving the day before, so we were right on time. It was a great family reunion, with about 15 of us in all. We hung out, went for walks, went out to eat, and of course rode the rides at the Boardwalk. The end of the family reunion came much too fast. Before we knew it, it was time for David and me to depart and start our trip back north up to Idaho. I love Santa Cruz. I would definitely like to come back again. If it wasn’t so expensive, I’d want to move there.
PART 7 / SANTA CRUZ TO BODEGA BAY VIA PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
We left Santa Cruz with no itinerary. The original idea was for us to drive up to Eureka fairly quickly and hike the Lost Trail. But the weather and tide were not cooperating. As we drove north bypassing San Francisco city limits once again, we realized we could take the Pacific Coast Highway and get home that way. How cool would that be, right?
We connected with PCH just north of San Francisco and soon realized this might be a slow drive. Beautiful, but slow. Good thing we had almost an entire week to get back home. It took us half a day before we came across Doran State Beach at Bodega Bay. Such a unique place. The campground was all sand. To one side was a bay (must’ve been called Bodega) and the other side was the ocean. We had our campfire while laying on a blanket on sand surrounded by water. Wow. Loved it. Would’ve loved it more had it not been for the obnoxious camping party across the way from us with stereos, lights, and a loud generator, but I digress.
We only stayed here 1 night, since we didn’t know our itinerary and weren’t sure how long it would actually take to get home by way of PCH. Before we packed up, we walked down the rock jetty where some people were crabbing and fishing. It was pretty slippery from the bird poop especially as you got out to the end. A very different kind of hike and a very cool place. This drive home was off to a good start.
PART 8 / BODEGA BAY TO ANCHOR BAY VIA PCH
Continuing on north from Bodega Bay, it wasn’t long before we found a really cool place to stop…Cafe Aquatica in Jenner. It was only 15 miles into our drive actually. We were not making very good time. But this place was too good to pass up, plus it was lunch time. We were quite thrilled when we spotted this cute little structure/building/shack located on the ocean side of the highway with a nice little grassy eating area with chairs. It also happened to have good, healthy food. I cannot praise this place enough. We had a nice chat with a woman while waiting for our meal, and I especially love any place whose set up facilitates conversations between patrons.
After our most wonderful lunch at Cafe Aquatica, upon recommendation from the very nice woman we chatted with, we drove back south just a little ways to check out where the Russian River meets the Pacific and where the baby seals are usually to be found. We turned at Goat Rock Road just south of Jenner to get to the beach. We didn’t see any baby seals, but it was a pretty amazing place. We spent a bit of time running down and crawling up the sandy beach hills and looking for the seals, and finally decided it was time to be on our way.
Driving north another 45 miles, we found Anchor Bay. We almost didn’t pull into it, because it looked like a permanent type of rv park, where people live there all year round. But as the passenger, I was able to catch a glimpse of the ocean from the rv park, and asked David to turn around and drive into it so we could check it out. What little I saw of the view as we passed looked amazing. We were quite skeptical as most trailer parks where permanent residents reside usually aren’t a place you want to “camp”, but this was very different.
This place was phenomenal. Our campsite was only steps from the beach with million dollar views. We were parked right next to our neighbor, but we weren’t there to hang out in the travel trailer anyway. There was a stairway leading up from the rv park to the town of Anchor Bay, I believe it was called. It really wasn’t much of a town actually. Gualala was only a few miles south, which was really the town, but it was nice to be able to walk to what might’ve been a happenin’ spot had it not all been closed. We explored the beach quite a bit, and I pushed to stay an extra night here, but we opted not to, since we still didn’t know how long it would take to get back home.
LAST PART / ANCHOR BAY TO OREGON CAVES THEN HOME
It was hard leaving Anchor Bay. We delayed it as long as we could by having many cups of coffee on the beach in a little cubby that we’d found in the rock.
We found our next camping spot at MacKerricher State Park after only driving an hour and a half north. We got settled in and immediately walked down to the beach. The beach had such interesting rock formations on it. There were people riding horseback on the beach, but other than them, we were the only ones out there. It was extremely windy and was chilly enough for a light jacket, but we were comfortable, especially knowing how much chillier it was in Idaho at the time.
David was still very bummed that we hadn’t hiked the Lost Trail and was wanting to go to Shelter Cove, which was 2 1/2 hours from MacKerricher. Shelter Cover is the approximate middle of the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast covers 24 miles and is supposed to be a pretty amazing backpacking trip on the coast. Shelter Cove is a community that lies at the midpoint, and you can also drive to it. Word had it was that it was a challenging road to get there pulling a travel trailer, so I wasn’t so interested. We stopped in Garberville for some lunch, which we were hard pressed to find. What a strange town that was. Could’ve been because it was pot harvest season, and there were tons of young hippies congregating in town hoping to get some work helping with the harvest. What a scene that was. The pot culture is fairly noticeable in this part of California. One thing I credit Garberville for though is that I bought a copy of the Da Vinci Code at a used book store there, which was a fantastic book. One other thing I remember so distinctly about Garberville is that we actually got plastic bags at the grocery store there. So this might seem really strange, but we were pretty excited to get these bags, let me tell you. California has banned plastic bags…I thought anyway…but Garberville hadn’t gotten word. We hadn’t broken down and bought any trash bags yet, so Garberville solved our trash problems. And yes, if you’re curious, I do feel somewhat ashamed that I use plastic bags. I do need to wean myself of that, but I just haven’t figure out a way to seal up my trash and not have it blow out of the garbage truck without the use of those darn plastic bags.
Back to the drive to Shelter Cove. David talked me into driving there, and man, what a long, steep, and windy road. Let me just say that my brake pads needed to be replaced after this little excursion. Shelter Cove was not at all what I’d expected. It was actually a big community with lots of paved roads and nice houses. We stayed at a campground, which was a grassy parking lot type place that overlooked an airport. Just a little strange. Don’t think I’d ever come back here either, but I’m glad I saw it.
After repeating our long, windy, steep road out of Shelter Cove, we continued on to Patrick’s Point, which is 2 1/2 hours north. We stopped in Eureka to meet up with David’s brother, Mike, and Mike’s wife, Jen. Mike has lived in Eureka for a few years, but Jen had just left Spokane, where she was great friends with David, so it was pretty great seeing them. We had dinner at Six Rivers Brewery in McKinleyville. Afterward, we drove to our campground unfortunately in the dark, which is never very fun, but we managed. Patrick’s Point was a pretty nice campground. The hike down to the beach and the beach itself were spectacular. I would come back here.
The next day we drove through the Redwoods Parks. I would’ve liked to have planned out a better trail to hike in the Redwoods, but we hadn’t planned for any of this trip after Santa Cruz, so we ended up hiking a marked trail right from the road. It was a very pleasant hike, but I have a feeling there were a lot better hikes.
We had our lunch after our hike and kept driving north. By the way, the Redwoods are a little confusing. There’s a Redwoods State Park and a Redwoods National Park. I would love to go back there and spend a whole week hiking in them.
In less than 3 hours of driving time, we arrived at Oregon Caves. The camping options were a bit unexpected. Not many places to camp this time of year. Luckily there was still 1 campground open…Grayback Campground. And what a campground it was. I think it was the best campground I’ve ever seen. May have had something to do with not having to share it with anyone. But it really was phenomenal. There was a creek right by, it was heavily treed, and it was just plain gorgeous. Even the fire pit was worthy of comment. The coolest fire pit I’ve ever seen. Wrought iron hooks hung from a bar above the fire pit possibly to hang a dutch oven that can swing off the pit when not in use.
The next day, we hopped in the truck and made our way up to the visitors center for a tour of the caves. The lodge was already closed for the season, and the crowds were gone, so it was a small group. What a great tour. Loved it!!
We drove back by way of Bend and stayed at McMenamin’s St. Francis School and soaked in their hot tub. Perfect end to a perfect trip. I’d always wanted to soak in that Turkish-style soaking pool, and while $200/night to do so seemed extravagant, I felt like I’d earned it after camping for 20 days. Yeah, I know. I’d been in a travel trailer, so I wasn’t exactly roughing it, but I was dirty and it is a very small trailer.
I loved this trip. I loved everything about it.