Sunday, June 30, 2024

Higher and drier

I love the coast, despite its dampness. It’s cooler in summer, no bugs have been bothering me, and the people have been pleasant enough for me to rethink my aversion to cities.

But it’s time to head to central Oregon to spend the 4th with friends who’ve said something about me driving one of their art cars in the Independence Day parade.

I took US199 out of Crescent City. The scenery was nice, following the Smith River much of the way. Oh look, kayakers. And, to my delight, slow vehicles — like motorhomes — actually used the pullouts to let others by. 

I stopped at one of the Redwood National and State Forest visitor centers to buy some stickers for my collection. And as I drove through Cave Junction I tried to recall which place I had stopped for lunch the last time I was there.

The boondocking area I was heading for is about ten miles up a mountain on a paved — paved?! — Forest Service road. What, no washboard? I had a little excitement/panic/trauma as I approached the left turn off 199. It was just where a passing lane ended. There was no turn lane, so it meant I had to slow down with several vehicles zooming up behind me trying to use the last bit of the passing lane. And there was traffic coming the opposite direction. Brake, swerve into opposite left lane after a truck passed, drive on the wrong side of the road for a few seconds then — ACK, I’m a little past the turnoff — brake harder and make a crazy half-U-turn onto the forest road. Well, that’ll wake you up. And get other drivers swearing.

My campsite is at a modest 3,500 feet (as compared to 15 feet at the coast) but it’s enough to keep the temperature at a tolerable-to-me 85°.  This site will help me adjust to the higher temperatures in central Oregon. Then it’ll be back through Salem and Tillamook to the coast, northward to the Olympic Peninsula, and a ferry to Vancouver Island. That will be my second ride on an auto ferry and the Rolling Steel Tent’s first. And its first time in Canada.

Oh, and there’s just enough cell signal here to post this.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Where am I?

I was in the Rolling Steel Tent researching possible boondocking spots for the rest of my trip through Oregon and Washington to Vancouver Island. I was so deep into Google Maps, iOverlander, and Adventure Know-How that when I finally looked away from the computer there was a half second of disorientation.

Oh, right, I’m not in a National Forest campsite near Crater Lake, I’m parked by the Pacific in Crescent City. And, oh look, the fog has burned off and it’s a beautiful day out there. Guess I should go out and enjoy some of it.

A similar thing happens when I wake in the middle of the night, particularly — but not limited to — when I’m frequently changing locations. And sometimes the confusion will be caused by a vivid dream I was having. And part of it, I suppose, is from aging. Where am I? What type of place is it? Where will the sun be rising from? At least I haven’t yet woken up wondering who I am.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Last stop in California. If plans don’t change.

Some views from Crescent City on a lucky sunny day.


I think that’s Oregon in the distance

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Is fog evil?

Artist’s/driver’s depiction (hell, I wasn't going to stop and take a photo)

In the northern part of Redwood National & State Park I drove into thick fog on a curvy two-lane section of US101. Really thick fog. On a tricky part of the highway. With no shoulders. With redwoods right at the edge of the pavement. And traffic — including semis and large RVs — coming the other way, with other vehicles riding my ass.

Then, as the road straightened and added additional lanes, the fog disappeared — until the next curvy section. 

This repeated three times. It was as if the fog was sentient and playing a potentially disastrous game with us. But fog is just a soup of water molecules. This fog was simply doing what fog does, with zero awareness of us humans and our inability to see through a wall of wetness. (How does something totally transparent become hard to see through?)

It finally occurred to me why the fog was coming and going like it was. The twisty areas were at a slightly higher elevation than the straight parts. I had been driving up into the fog and down out of it. Ah, my meteorology, geography, and physics lessons for the day.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Through the green maze

Hiller Park in McKinleyville (a town named in honor of the assassinated president) is probably not mentioned in the travel press. It’s mostly ball fields and a dog park. But there’s a network of footpaths through the woodland between the park’s fields and the Mad River. It’s a very nice, calming walk.

The final three miles of the Mad River run parallel to the coastline, separated by a sandbar. The river was named in 1849 in memory of an incident when Dr. Josiah Gregg lost his temper when his exploration party didn’t wait for him at the river’s mouth. I think it’s a little funny that the Mad River empties into the “Peaceful” Ocean, as if the Pacific’s volume is sufficient to dilute away any anger — though the ocean does occasionally send it’s wrath crashing back at us.

The deciduous trees (no redwoods here, alas) and heavy undergrowth feel like walls, or like a hug from Nature. They also deflect most of the ocean wind. The trail is basically a one mile loop, but there are also diversions, shortcuts and “longcuts.“ And there are benches here and there so you can just sit and be. And pet the happy dogs that come by. What more do I need?

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Slow ride, take it easy

It seems to be a near universal pattern. New nomads want to go everywhere and see everything. Constantly. Then that compulsion fades and we start returning to favorite or convenient places with less time and energy spent seeking the new or moving for the sake of moving. Then some percentage of nomads settle into a cycle of two or three seasonal locations. And another percentage leave the road entirely.

After my commitment to Lou and his property was over I was extremely eager to return to wandering. Yay! No longer stuck in one location! Free to roam!

But a shift had taken place. Whereas I used to get antsy to move along after a couple of days at a location, now I’m happy staying a while in nice places. A week here, a week and a half there, having a little more than a superficial experience.

There are only two things on my schedule. The first is to be with friends in Redmond, Oregon, for Independence Day. The other is to be on Vancouver Island “sometime in July” to meet up with Lou’s sailing buddy and take our friend’s ashes out to sea.

Right now I’m a six-hour drive from my Oregon friends with a week and a half to get there. Things are easy and pleasant here in Arcata, California, and though I’m in no hurry to leave part of my old self is urging me onward. “At least go as far as Crescent City for a few days, then to, like, the Crater Lake area until the 3rd. Yeah? Okay?” Eh, maybe. I’ll see how I feel about it maƱana.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Streetdocker jail

When I streetdock in a city I like to change up my overnight locations so people don’t think I’ve come to live in their neighborhood. Therefore last night I parked at the Arcata Sports Complex. I stayed there a few years ago. There are usually a few other vehicle dwellers there.

I had someplace I wanted to be early this morning so I was ready to go a little after 6:00. Then I discovered the gate was closed. 

There was a gate? I hadn’t noticed it coming in. But I hadn’t been looking for one. It hadn’t been an issue the previous time because I didn’t leave until later in the morning.

Exhale. Calm down.

Okay, how long will I need to wait?

About 45 minutes, it turned out. And the gatekeeper acted like it was perfectly normal for some dude in a van to get locked in the parking lot. Well, he wasn’t scowling or anything, so I took that as a good sign.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Whose spot is it?

I checked Google Maps street view and drove around Arcata yesterday until I found a good streetdocking spot. On one side of the street was a self-storage facility, a small house with a box truck parked in front, and some apartments. Opposite was the windowless side of a two story commercial building. And the street ended at a T intersection. 

The street was level lengthwise and the gutter wasn’t much lower, so I wouldn’t be tilting too much. It was quiet until sunrise when people started arriving for work in the big building. But I was ready to get up anyway.

I left this morning to hike in the forest again, and on the way back I stopped to get some hot lunch items — egg rolls and samosas — at a locally owned grocery. That happened to put me on the same street as last night’s parking spot. I was about three blocks away, a little bit on a hill, so I could see the spot and watch as a Class C motorhome pulled into “my” spot.

I didn’t own the spot, of course, but you know how it is. When you find a place that’s not mentioned in one of the several online guides, one you discovered while cruising around, you feel a little bit of ownership.

Of course, it’s possible — maybe likely — I had taken a spot the Class C driver considered his/hers. No tragedy, though. I like to change parking spots after a couple of days. I’m just doing it a day sooner. And there are plenty of options. 

Tonight I’m on a street of warehouses, offices, a health center, and a Montessori school. There’s a mural on the wall next to me. The cross street has been busy but the whole town quiets down at night. This is “my” spot tonight. We’ll see whose it is tomorrow.

Monday, June 17, 2024

More time among the trees and ferns

In 1955 the small city of Arcata, California, started buying up contiguous tracts of redwood forest on the edge of town. What were they going to do with it? Nothing. They wanted to let the forest return to being just forest.

Until logging messed the place up, three creeks running through the forest used to attract spawning salmon and steelhead. They wanted to correct that. And those creeks were the city’s water source at the time.

Today nearly 800 acres of second growth redwoods are Arcata Community Forest with a network of hiking trails. So I went hiking this morning. As I walked I thought about the importance of this being a community forest, a resource benefiting the community rather than enriching a handful of people.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay

Well, standing on the dock, actually. But it is a bay — Humboldt Bay by Eureka CA. 

I only had to pay the gull two french fries to be in the photo. But it wouldn’t sign a model release form, so I’ll probably get sued for posting this.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Back inland again

This morning I woke at about 5:15, peeked outside, and saw I was wrapped in thick fog. “So this is the type of day it will be.” 

I tried to go back to sleep but kept thinking about the drive I was going to make. Away from the ocean and over the mountains on a squiggly road I had been dreading. I had driven it in the other direction nine years ago and I remembered it as a stressful route. Oh well, it had to be done. Put on my big boy pants, stop my whining and Just Do It®. (But I don’t have any Nikes.)

By the time I finished breakfast and put on my big boy pants the sun was above the ridge line and the fog had mostly burned off. “So this is the type of day it will be.” Maybe it was a good sign.

This part of the squiggly road wasn’t as squiggly

And, as I should have learned by now, the drive wasn’t as bad as I feared. There was a lengthy delay because of road resurfacing, but I took the opportunity to relax and think good thoughts. The road was in a lush forest. I was living the life I wanted. And the radio was working again. Aaaaaaaaahhhhh…

I’ve had to stop for roadwork in much worse places

Soon I was back on US101 heading north next to the Eel River in the Humboldt Redwoods State Forest. Such nice scenery. I took the exit for the Avenue of the Giants that runs through the redwoods, then pulled into a trailhead to get a closer, slower look. Although there were more people there than I prefer, it was a delightful walk.

More of this, please

Yesterday I thought I might be so mentally worked up and physically worn down by the squiggly road that I would want to stop driving early. But the walk in the forest rejuvenated me. I continued on to my goal of a small Victorian farm town where the locals are just as cool about streetdocking as Mendocino and Point Reyes Station had been. So now I’m parked next to the Masonic lodge, feeling good about the type of day it turned out to be.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Nice location for van maintenance

I was here in 2015. Why didn’t I return sooner? Other plans, I guess.

The stereo thing AGAIN

In 2020 I wrote about the stereo deciding not to work now and then. I’d need to pull the perfectly good fuse from the main fuse block in the engine bay then reinsert it. Presto, music again. Cutting power to the stereo would reset something. (Like the tech guys say, “Have you tried unplugging it and plugging it back in?”)

I hadn’t had that problem since I whined about it four years ago. Then, “I’m baaaaaack!” There was a difference this time. Previously the stereo would cut off during use. This time it wouldn’t come on when I started the van, even though it had been playing when I parked the night before. I thought the stereo might be dead this time. Hmmmmm.

Getting to that fuse is a dirty and frustrating project. The fuse cover is hard to reach and harder to untangle from other stuff under the hood. So I thought it might work to briefly disconnect the battery instead. That would also cut power to the stereo.

It didn’t work. The fuse hokey-pokey is such a pain in the ass — and fingers — that I decided to just live without music while driving. And I’ve been doing that for a couple of months.

But today I had the hood open to check all the fluids, saw the fuse block, called it a few vile names, and decided to do the fuse routine.

With the engine replacement, shifting of tectonic plates, and a solar eclipse things under the hood must have gotten ever-so-slightly rearranged, because I struggled and struggled more than ever before to get the #/*@$x\* cover off. Then, after pulling the fuse, seeing that it was perfectly fine, and reinserting it, I had to wrestle the cover back into place.

But it’s working again. And none too soon. Without the variety of my playlist I’ve been getting songs I don’t particularly like stuck in my head for days. Yesterday and today it had been “Walk Like a Man” by the Four Seasons. For some reason (youthful ignorance?) I hadn’t realized the peppy, confident ditty was a breakup song with a slightly misogynistic attitude.

Anyway, now I need to clean the greasy engine bay dirt from my hands.

Wash like a man

Washing my hands

Washing away the goo-oo-oo-ooo…

Monday, June 10, 2024

I forgot I had this

The clothes I wear end up on the top of the stacks. Off-season clothes end up on the bottom. Clothes I haven’t been in the mood to wear are at the bottom of the bottom.

My travels the past few months scrambled things up a little. It was hot in southern Arizona so the winter garments got stowed and the summer togs were put into service. Then things got switched back when I ended up in winter again in Flagstaff. Then it was summer again for a week while I was back in Yuma. Then chilly again when I got to the coast.

It’s not wintery here but I still need to wear my warmer clothes. My winter things are a bit overkill, so I’ve been sorting through the stacks for in-between apparel. That’s when I discovered a sweatshirt I had completely forgotten.

Oh! Yeah, that’s perfect! It doesn’t broadcast that I’m less adapted to the climate than the locals, and it’s less lumberjacky than my flannel shirts.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

A supply run and a walk in the park

The very nice Harvest Market at Mendoza’s here in Mendocino didn’t have a couple of things I wanted, so after I had some perfect biscuits & gravy at GoodLife Cafe & Bakery I drove ten miles to the Safeway in Fort Bragg. 

The first time I was ever in Fort Bragg was, oh, 1983. My then-girlfriend and I were in Mendocino for a romantic weekend and decided to ride the historic Skunk Train that runs from Fort Bragg to Willits and back. It was not a great experience for us. The novelty of riding an old train through the forest wore off after a few minutes into the hours long round trip. Also, we picked a lunch spot at random in Willits that served the absolute worst Chinese food I’ve ever tried to eat.

Anyway, the Safeway was just like any Safeway. They had what I wanted and I was on my way back to Mendocino in no time. Early Sunday mornings are not only a good time to skirt large metro areas, but also a good time for grocery shopping.

There are a couple of state parks between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. The first one is the small Jug Handle State Reserve. It’s free, and it was a sunny morning with the fog way off shore, so I pulled in and went for a walk. There’s the ocean, of course, but also a small patch of creepy forest. 

There is also a path down to a sand bar beach. But by the time I came out of the woods I was feeling last night’s lack of sleep. I woke up at 2:23 and, ergh, stayed up. So I napped in the Rolling Steel Tent for, oh my, a couple of hours. The parking lot was busy, and a lot of slamming car doors — and a yapping dog — woke me up.

I was still weary as I got back on the highway, so I skipped hiking in Russian Gulch State Park, found a good parking spot in Mendocino, and slept for another couple of hours. You can do stuff like that when you’re an retired old fart.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Another adjusted plan

It’s a good thing my plans are made of Silly Putty instead of stone, otherwise I’d be roasting in Santa Rosa instead of mellowing in Mendocino.

I wanted to end up in Mendocino eventually, and the most direct route from Point Reyes Station would be to continue up Highway 1. But it’s a narrow squiggly road and the Rolling Steel Tent is a cumbersome beast under those circumstances. It’s tiring. 

So my bright idea was to go inland to Santa Rosa, hang there a couple of days, then take US101 north a bit before cutting back over to the coast. So I followed the Russian River through forested valleys then dropped down into the Sonoma Plain where, yikes, it was 90-something degrees. Well, to hell with that hellishness. 

So, onward to Mendocino, another town where the air is cool and the streetdocking is easy. And the coastline is magnificent.

The sun did come out

So, among other things, I took a walk in the marshlands at that feed Tomales Bay. As I walked I thought about how I was disappointed it wasn’t Tamales Bay. But oysters are the thing here, not tamales. Hmmm... oyster tamales?

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Limited visibility

Yes, it’s June Gloom time. Yes, cold, moisture-laden north Pacific air is sweeping down the West Coast. Yes, it was foggy and a little drizzly when I headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. But it would clear up a little later, right? By the time I got to the lighthouse, right?


But if you want some solitude and a minimum of visual distractions, this is a good place to be at this time.

Sunday, June 2, 2024


The first time I became aware of Soledad was while watching TV or a movie or a movie on TV. Some thug said, “I just got out of Soledad,” which I understood to mean the same as, “I just got out of San Quentin.”  Ever since then Soledad = prison town to me, as if that were the only thing there.

While there is a prison there — or what is now a minimum security training center — Soledad is primarily a farming town, with all the usual amenities. I stopped there because three of the amenities I needed were conveniently clustered within a couple of blocks: groceries, propane, and self-serve car wash.

I usually maintain what I call “a protective layer of grime” on the Rolling Steel Tent. But the road to the ridge top campground was very dusty. The van was like the Peanuts character, Pigpen, with a cloud of dirt trailing behind. Also, the solar panels were coated. So I sprayed down the van with just the rinse setting. No need to go overboard with soap and stuff.

The dusty road, with switchbacks

Whenever I stop mid-travel to do errands there’s a good chance inertia will take over and I won’t want to continue down the road. So even though I hadn’t even had lunch yet I called it a day and parked in one of the streetdocking spots recommended online.

Resting instead of driving gave me more time to think about the next leg of the trip. The Silicon Valley-San Francisco-Marin County corridor was sitting to the north like a tumor. The best way around most of it is Highway 1 along the coast rather than US101 — the clogged aorta through the heart of the beast.  And, oh yeah, it would be Sunday, so I could repeat the tactic I used to get past Los Angeles: start early when traffic is very light.

Surfers are always out early

Things went smoothly, even with patches of fog and all the traffic lights in Santa Cruz. The overcast finally parted and I was lured to stop at one of the beaches. Stop and enjoy, don’t just drive by like I had done many times before because I had someplace I needed to be. And if I couldn’t tear myself away until late in the day, I had some streetdocking spots pinned in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. I could crawl through San Francisco and cross the Golden Gate some other time.

Short rainbow

Pelicans struggling upwind

But after a couple of hours the voice in my head that was saying I needed to keep moving won out and I continued on. Back into the fog and the traffic that had increased while I was staring at the waves. And now there were bicyclists. First solo riders and pairs, then clusters, then a constant stream. Ah-ha, these weren’t just Sunday riders, it was an event. Somewhat luckily for me, most of them were on the opposite shoulder. But we drivers needed to be watchful and slow down.

I’m writing this from a parking lot in Half Moon Bay. The magic low-traffic hours have passed and I’m trying to decide whether I want to go ahead and slog through The City or call it a day again. There will be commute traffic Monday morning but most of it will be going the other way.

On the way out of San Francisco I’ll pass both Alcatraz and San Quentin. Appropriate metaphors for escaping the driving mess of the Bay Area.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate San Francisco. I loved the years I lived there. But living there is a different — and much more enjoyable — experience than driving through it.

Deep breath. Exhale slowly…

Okay, I’ll continue on today. Get it over with, because it’ll only be worse during the work week. But first, lunch.

UPDATE: I went all the way to Point Reyes Station. As expected, traffic absolutely crawled along 19th Avenue/Hwy 1, and there was a major clog in Mill Valley because of people wanting to go to Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais, Stinson Beach and such. After that, the narrow twisting road was busy but flowing well. 

I was surprised when I reached Point Reyes Station. Streets were blocked and parking was almost nonexistent because they were having some sort of western festival. But I found an excellent streetdocking spot. This will be my hub for a few days.