California! For me, just hearing the name has always evoked images of big redwood trees, long LONG stretches of arid coastline, incredibly open, eclectic and friendly people, and for some reason, a scene from the 2nd Austin Powers movie (where there’s a car chase along highway 1 on Pacific).
And so far, Northern California has certainly delivered, and then some.
Our mission south started at 5am in Portland. To our surprise, we didn’t even bother to dose ourselves with coffee before we started driving – the cold air at 5am in Oregon is more than enough to wake you up! And wake up we did, when we remembered that we had committed ourselves to a 14 hour drive all the way to Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco. Heading down highway 5 was our fastest route, but nevertheless the scenery in Oregon was stunning, with rolling green hills and douglas fur forests the whole way down to the border with California.
And then something very interesting happens when you cross the border – the landscape quite dramatically changes. But not before you’re asked to declare your fruit and vegetables at the border checkpoint. We told them we had some mandarins and a few brown bananas on us, and the friendly border guard needed to check what brand they were. Thankfully they were a California brand, so no need to go to jail this time around. Anyhow, back to the landscape – it seemed as though the landscape design between the two states was pre determined, as crossing into california we lost the endless array of green coloured trees and found ourselves driving through arid hills and mountains with redwood forests interspersed along the way.
By about 1pm, we had already discussed the pressing issues of the day, like “should I shave my beard off”, “why the roads in California are a different colour (help with this one please folks)”, and “the smell from Paul’s hiking boots are more offensive than mine”, so subject matter was running thin. This wee problem was definitely solved upon our first glimpse of Mt Shasta – a volcano of 14,180 feet that sticks out like a sore thumb as you approach from the north. It’s an impressive sight! At the other end of the spectrum, we were humbled at the sight of Lake Shasta and its alarmingly low water levels, bringing home to us the serious issues that California faces when it comes to water resources.
As we made it further south, the landscape flattened out and we found ourselves not too far north of Sacremento, where we turned westward to Point Reyes, arriving into the groovy little town of Point Reyes Station. An early sleep was all that was needed to recharge the batteries and get us all set for our hike to Tomales Point the next morning. We weren’t really sure how many Active Adventures alumni would turn up for the hike. We expected maybe 15 people to show up, but after 5 minutes in the parking lot we were amazed to see 29 people, made up of folks who had been on one of our trips, as well as some who are soon to join us. Awesome! With such a great bunch of people, there was a burning question on my mind – how many people we could fit into the RV? The answer: 29. And I reckon we could go higher. Watch this space…
We knew this was going to be a great day, and great it was. The Tomales Point Trail weaves its way along the wide open peninsula, with expansive views out to the wild Pacific ocean, and to the inner Tomales Bay, which is also the San Andres fault line. Such exposure also means wind, and it sure did deliver! But I wouldn’t have had it any other way – nothing like eating lunch and trying to make sure the bread in your sandwich doesn’t fly away. After our hike we met for a Lagunitas IPA (one of our favourites) at the aptly named “Old Western Saloon”, where out past alumni shared stories, photos and memories of their Active Adventures trips with people keen to join us in the future. Great times, good people.
Our day hadn’t finished though – we immediately drove south, over the golden gate bridge (tick that off the bucket list), and into the heart of San Francisco, which, I might add is rather daunting in a 30 foot RV. But I do like a challenge, and driving up and over the steep streets of this super cool city is quite thrilling. Our destination for the evening was the Candlestick RV Park, which is located directly opposite the apocalyptic-looking Candlestick Park, the former home of the San Francisco 49ers – quite an eerie sight, and fitting for this part of town, which is not the safest area in the city. That certainly didn’t deter us though, and we were soon settled in for the night.
The following day we were downtown bound, where we met with the folks at the Sierra Club where we discussed future trip possibilities, and learnt a little more about the great work they do in the United States. San Francisco is an incredible city where the phrase “anything is possible” constantly springs to mind. A quick eves drop on many conversations from passing people on the sidewalk revealed discussions around all things tech – I can see why this place attracts some of the smartest people in the world! But wider open spaces and the ocean was a greater attraction for us at this point, so late in the day we headed south towards the surf town of Santa Cruz, arriving in the dark, and spending half the night looking for an RV park. This is where we learnt 1 new thing about one another:
Paul hates driving around in the dark, and having to reverse a 30 foot RV onto a busy street – numerous times.
Phil gets very, very grumpy if he doesn’t get to eat earlier on in the evening.
We don’t talk about it anymore. It’s just too soon. Lets leave it at that.
We eventually found a state park on the coast, and woke to the sound of the ocean in the morning. Without hesitation we continued south, along the Big Sur highway 1 – an unforgettable iconic road that weaves its way high above the Pacific. The photos can do the talking for this one I think…
Our Northern California experience was punctuated and summed up by our visit to the elephant seal colony at San Simeon – everyone jostling for their place, some acting crazy, sleeping, arguing, sticking together and generally making order of the crazy chaos in a beautiful place. Northern Cali – there’s nothing like it.