Northern Coast of California
Heading out of Oregon and into California was a big deal. Borders for us have been both finish lines and starting lines. With Oregon behind us, we started on what will HOPEFULLY be our last US state for a while, and definitely our longest. Our route, with no detours, would have us driving nearly 900 miles from north to south. With that in mind, we started in on California.
Northern California was nearly as beautiful as The Oregon coast, with a few spots that were beyond gorgeous. We took short walks where stopping wouldn't do a view justice, and we paid for camping where we had to. A note to travelers: California camping is expensive! Most state parks are at least $35 a night, and even trashy county parks are $25. Plan and beware.
We took as many coastal detours as we could, mostly because the roads were slower as we got closer to the coast. One of our many side excursions was on the Coastal Drive out of Klamath, CA. Definitely worth it. The road is a winding, one way snake of asphalt that leads to nothing but beautiful views. There is a small day-use park, the High Bluff Overlook picnic area, that is very worth the drive. There are a few view areas at the one bluff, and a 30 minute walk around will load you with Instagram and Facebook fodder.
After driving along the coast for days, we veered inland to visit California's beautiful redwood trees. Go once in your life, because these trees are enormous and they require visiting. Many are hundreds of years old, hundreds of feet high, and eerie, in that they don't really look like any other trees you've seen. The crowns start hundreds of feet in the air, so the forests are wide open on the floor but dark as can be from the thick canopy above. Its fantastic.
There are multiple pockets of redwood forests along the drive, and I do recommend visiting one or all. One morning we made a fantastic breakfast on the road under the emerald canopy thanks to the numerous and very large pull-offs that dot any road going through the forests. The municipalities, the state, and the federal government know that people want to pull over and stop here, so there is room for it to happen.
The redwood forests were punctuated with gorgeous lengths of coastline. Like a spaceship visiting different worlds, we rolled between entirely different ecosystems, one day walking on black beaches next to thunderous surf, and the next in nearly silent , 1000 year old forests.
One of these beaches, just above the Lost Coast, held a special memory for Chelsea, as it was one of the places her family had stopped on their camping trips. We stopped there and played in the tidal pools and climbed some rocks and said a prayer or two for Chelsea's late sister and dad, as they were there decades ago enjoying the beach as a family. We're thousands of miles from anything we've called home, and yet we consistently manage to find glimpses of places that hold familiarity and comfort for us.
We stayed that night in a pull-out on a road that would eventually dump us back into the Redwood State Park. It wasn't ideal, but there wasn't much traffic (and it all seemed to be local anyways) and no one hassled us. We got moving early the next morning and stopped only to make breakfast once we were among the giant redwoods.
As we approached San Francisco we ran out of viable camping options, but luckily with a little asking we could still find spots to "stealth-camp" in relative solitude. We asked a local merchant, the purveyor of fine goods at the Elk Store, in Elk CA, if he knew anywhere to park overnight, and he offered up his store's parking space! What a guy. If you are in Elk, CA, we recommend checking them out for some smoked tuna or salmon jerky.
The next morning we vacated our roadside campsite and headed down to one of California's many lighthouse for breakfast with a view. Our breakfasts rotate between quick and easy oatmeal (plus spices, raisins, almond milk, peanut butter, etc) and banana oatmeal pancakes. The pancakes dirty an extra dish, but the light house view called for extra effort!
Tucked away in a light industrial district of Vallejo California is a purpose built warehouse compound filled to the brim with Pinzgauers, Unimogs, G-Wagons, and all the parts you might need to keep one running. Expedition Imports was our destination since entering California, as we knew we needed spare parts for the most common breakdowns. I planned on buying some small rebuild kits and picking the collective brain of the guys at the shop, but we were in store for much, much more.
Scott, the owner of Expedition Imports, invited us into the compound and listened to enough of our story to know we needed help. Immediately he told us to drive Little Foot up onto his lift, and started in on a full diagnosis of our rig. With help from his mechanic Brian, the identified some weak links in Little Foot's current state, and started putting together a basket of goodies for us to bring on our trip.
The guys noticed that my muffler had a common wear/damage spot, but also recognized that Chelsea and I aren't the expensive-new-muffler kind of people, so Scott hooked us up with a deal. If we could tear the muffler off a parts truck out back, we could have it for a discounted price. Sounds good to us! As the sun set on central California, we grabbed some tools and got to work.
I don't think the guys at Expedition Imports know how much they helped Chelsea and I. I also don't think they need our endorsement, as they run a great business and offer an excellent product, but I would feel remiss if I didn't sing their praises at least a little. If you need parts, or more specifically a parts solution for your weird and awesome rig, call them. They are a wealth of knowledge, they know their vehicles inside and out, and they are very willing to talk you out of a purchase. That, to me, is the hallmark of an honest business man. You may want a truck, and you may be ready to buy one, but Scott and Brian won't sell you one until they have ripped those rose-colored glasses right off your face.
So that's that for the first half of California, next week we'll try to summarize the southern half, because we're getting closer to the border and more excited every day!