Auburn, CA > Oroville, CA > Garberville, CA

Auburn, CA

Last we left Tahoe en route to Auburn to get more RV repairs done. It’s always something.

This time we booked a pet-friendly AirBnB ahead of time for two nights. We had some little interior things that needed fixing (shower door, leaky toilet pieces, a siphon vent under the bathroom sink that we couldn’t replace due to the geometry of said sink) as well as the rear back corner on the outside, which just straight up separated. Sigh.

That turned out to be a bigger job that would take 40 hours and at least $4,000 (and a month to wait around for them to schedule it in; it’s high season for RV repair), so we told them to just tape it up and send us on our way.

Auburn is a funky little place that feels like a small town but still manages to be fully populated, like much of California. Those Cali-style bungalows are here and there; but overall we weren’t there long enough to get a good sense of the place. We caught a showing of Oceans 8 and enjoyed the short but visceral experience of living in a real house for 2 days.

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Monkey enjoyed herself, too.

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Look at this REAL porch!

Berry’s Rancheria, Oroville, CA

Our next stop was Oroville, CA at the Berry Creek Rancheria RV Park at the Gold Country Casino. As we’re headed to Crescent City, we decided to break the drive up into a couple smaller chunks.

While I still have little to no understanding about what exactly is appealing about casinos themselves, the RV parks so far are always clean, orderly, and easy to get around.

This park is newer; all the trees are saplings (so, no shade for you in that 90-degree summer heat!) and the facilities were in great shape — especially the swimming pool! As noobs to the site, we were given 2 free $10 cards with which to hit the slot machines and gamble.

Grateful for the A/C more than anything, we took our $10 cards and stumbled around the casino floor, also happy that there was more division between smoking and non-smoking areas than the last one we stayed at.

I had more fun looking at all the different slot machine names and themes than actually playing them; I decided to gamble my free money on the machines with the best names, so I obviously started with this one:

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Long story short, we walked away with $5.74 in cash outs from our free $20. We took it straight to the all you can eat buffet and each housed all the brown fried foods and sweet desserts we could handle for $8.50 per person. Cha-chinggggg!

We took an afternoon excursion up to Paradise, too, which was the place that inspired our desire to explore the west a bit more. Travis started randomly looking for houses for sale in Paradise, CA while we were living in Brooklyn, mainly because of the name.

Turns out you can buy some pretty lovely mountain homes with porches and wood burning fireplaces there; the flip side is there’s not a lot going on there. We enjoyed our afternoon, including a stop at the Gold Nugget Museum, but probably won’t be continuing our Craigslist property searches.

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For dinner we drove to nearby Chico and ate ate the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company — what a bitchin’ facility. It’s a massive compound; we stuck to the brew pub and sat on the patio with the misters, eating Vampire Fries (read: fries with a f**kload of garlic) and drinking IPA. Shibby!

Richardson’s Grove, Garberville, CA

And with that, we left Oroville for Humboldt County. At Richardson’s Grove RV Park — directly across from Grandfather Tree and the One Log House, we got a massive swath of lawn under a tree to park our rig. Yes, we could see the gas station and traffic passing by but we’re in a damn Redwood Grove, who cares? PS apparently this entire RV park and lot is for sale on Zillow for a cool 3 mil, in case anyone was thinking about nabbing it.

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This section of the 101 follows the south fork of the Eel River for a while. Water levels aren’t that high at the moment, so all the stretches of river are blue, clear, shallow, and look perfect for sitting next to or fishing on.

We rolled in on a Friday afternoon and after setting up immediately walked across the street to Grandfather Tree and the One Log House and the newly opened dispensary. Apparently legalization of marijuana in the state has not been great for a lot of people in Humboldt County. Doesn’t surprise me that the black market for pot was a better deal for growers in this area.

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Grandfather Tree!

Afterward, we drove to Confusion Hill. Like the Winchester Mystery House and the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot, it features a house built with the steep slope of a hill so that you experience seemingly wacky things with gravity — water running uphill, walking on walls, hanging sideways from a metal bar, optical illusions with height. But add in a bunch of Sasquatch memorabilia and some insanely tall Redwood trees.

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Confusion Hill…and Doug’s Dog House!

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Confused?

After Confusion Hill we continued to the “World’s Famous Tree House.” It’s a small room inside the base of a Redwood tree right off the side of the road, with, of course, an attached gift shop.

The tree was hit by lightning, which burned out the interior of the base of the tree while the tree has kept growing (most Redwoods and Sequoias have lived through fires of some kind — oftentimes this is why they have no branches on the bottom half).

From there we motored over to the swimming hole at Standish Hickey State Park. We hadn’t planned on going but decided to check it out but hunger pangs hadn’t quite set in yet. The walk down to the river was steep but worthwhile.

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The swimming hole at Standish Hickey State Park.

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A view of the glorious Eel River.

Dinner was at the Peg House, a lovely open air patio (covered with an old parachute to block the sun) with amazing cheeseburgers. PS the Humboldt County Dry Cider is outstanding, too.

Saturday we hiked half of the Bull Creek trail in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Once again, we were slack jawed the entire time by the trees. These are some of the oldest growing trees in the world and we loved feeling tiny and insignificant in their presence.

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A fallen tree base.

The trail follows a stream the entire way but, I have to say, this is the first time we had a really poor experience with signage.

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This Redwood branch isn’t a branch, it’s a FREAKIN TREE

We started from the Rockefeller Loop trail; a short, easy circle (though not marked from the road. At all. We got specific directions from the visitor’s center.). The first sign we saw shows an arrow for Bull Creek trailhead .5 miles. After that, you see a fork — the sign says Burlington and has an arrow to the right. Well, we weren’t going to Burlington but never saw another labeled trail that made sense. So we looped around again, turned right to go to Burlington and saw, two signs later, a sign for the Bull Creek trail. :/

According to the State Park’s website, there’s a trailhead for Bull Creek South at the Blue Slide Day Use area, and a seasonal footbridge that takes you across the river and back down south on the same trail.

We couldn’t find the trailhead or footbridge to save our lives — the day use main sign mentions the trailhead but it’s not labeled anywhere by signage. You’d think a foot bridge would be easy to spot but guess again. We spent enough time missing our mark due to poorly or non-existent trail markings that we ended up hitching a ride back (with a couple who also was lost because of the lack of signage) to where we started so as not to waste any more of our day; walking back the same way would have been fine but we still had Eureka to see!

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And so, on to Eureka we went to walk about the historic side of town and piddle around the shops and waterfront. We snagged a bite to eat at the Cafe Waterfront before heading back to camp.

Sunday we drove to Shelter Cove, a somewhat harrowing, steep drive up and down the mountain to the coast. There’s only one way in and out if you’re driving and it’s no joke. We were engine braking in 1st gear most the way down. We stopped at the General Store on the way in and met a fellow with a twin engine Cessna and vacation home there; dude just flies in and out with his wife when he comes to visit. NBD.

We hit up Black Sands Beach first, which was mostly made up of black pebbles with white striations of all sizes. There’s plenty of signage about NOT getting near the water. The impression that is given is that if you get near the water you’ll probably die.

There’s extremely strong rip tides and intermittent wave patterns here; we were told every year people get swept out to sea. Fortunately the tide was well out when we got there; we had plenty of space to safely boob around, collect rocks and driftwood, and watch the surf from a distance.

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Black Sands Beach

Then, we drove to the Cape Mendocino lighthouse and putzed around the tide pools – one of my all time favorite activities. Thanks to the awesome new binoculars my lovely husband got for me I could also easily see all the harbor seals and sea lions basking in the sun like the whiskered, floppy, blubbery bags of muscle fiber that they are.

We spent our afternoon derping around the river skipping rocks and basking in the sun.

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An afternoon on the Eel River

Next up: Crescent City!

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Mammoth Lakes, CA

From Sanger we planned perfectly for an early drive to Mammoth Lakes. But as we all know by now, plans oftentimes don’t go the way you want them to!

Getting There

We hit the road early (pre-7 am!) since we knew we had about a 6 hour drive ahead of us. We went north to take 180 over Sonora pass, got all the way to the top, only to discover a massive warning sign:

Steep grade warning, Sonora Pass near Yosemite

Well f**k. Source: Take That Vacation

Sigh.

We pulled into a campground, not sure what to do. We’d already come so far! How bad could it be? We could make it, right? For the record, our 5th wheel is 32 feet, not including the added length of the truck.

We knew we had to turn around, especially after asking some locals what they thought. The resounding consensus was NOPE. Added to the fact that there’s no cell signal (no AAA rescues!), if something were to happen, we would be in quite the pickle. No thanks.

With heavy hearts (but a desire to stay alive), we went back down the mountain and drove north at Sonora through Placerville. We booked a last-minute site at American River Resort in Coloma, which is an absolutely beautiful spot.

Also, just before we turned into the campground, our truck’s rear brakes started smoking and the acrid smell of burning brake pads filled the air.

We didn’t fit too well in the site; I’m not sure if they just didn’t hear me when I said we had 3 slideouts but there wasn’t a great spot to be situated without being too close to the trees on either side and reaching all the hookups. But since it was one evening we didn’t care. Plus we had to figure out what to do about our burning brake situation.

Ultimately we used our best judgement and top notch phone support from my dad, a mechanic in a former life and veteran car junkie, to decide that the brakes had likely overheated from such a long day going down mountains and a lack of engine braking.

Rather than lose another day by going to a mechanic, and considering the braking still felt fine on the truck, we hit the road again super early and made for Mammoth Lakes, this time via I-80 through Reno. It was a long detour, but we arrived safely without further ado.

RV Park

We stayed at Mammoth Mountain RV Park, a sizeable compound right across from the Visitor’s Center. The grounds are nestled among pine trees; we were in the part of the park that is a massive parking lot enclosed by pine trees.

Pros? They have a hot tub (yaaaay) and great facilities. It’s not that far from the road, but road noise was never an issue, and we were fortunate in that we never had any neighbors next to our front door side save the last day of our stay. It’s quiet and peaceful, so sleeping at night was a piece of cake.

Cons? The paved parking lot didn’t do much to make it feel like we were in a real campsite…the painted yellow lines only added to the sensation that we were in some weird tailgate lot. We could have moved to a premium full hookup site after the first few days, but they actually seemed more cramped despite the more rustic (read: no paved surface) environs. But we decided we liked having fewer neighbors more than we needed to be hooked up to sewer.

The Hikes

Almost every hike around Mammoth includes a lake along the way or at the end, and there’s no shortage of them. We were in heaven. Fortunately the snow pack wasn’t an issue like it was last year (this time last year many trails were impassable due to the unmelted snow). In fact, the warm weather made for plenty of snowmelt, which means bonus streams and water features everywhere.

Sherwin Lakes

I hiked to Sherwin Lakes on my own on a Saturday (Travis had work to catch up on thanks to our driving detour getting into town) and it was hands down the best smelling hike I’ve been on maybe ever. All that pine and sap and early season flowers. I think it’s one of my top five favorite smells of all time. I’m not sure what the other four are, I’ll get back to you on that. It was a short, 4.5 mile in-and-back but I spent plenty of time exploring as far around the lakes as I could before plopping down ashore to enjoy the view.

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Alpine lake glory.

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No lake visit is complete without dunking your feet.

Heart Lake

This 2.5-mile in and back was a great hike to squeeze in afterwork. We saw lots of forget-me-nots (my favorite flower!), Lamb’s-ear, and Indian Paintbrush. We walked the entirety of the lake itself and enjoyed the views of the valley from the upper side.

McLeoud Lake

Another post-work shortie hike for me. This one featured a decent amount of snowpack around one side of the lake but thanks to pre-existing footsteps and a hardened top layer, traversing it wasn’t an issue.

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Just another terrible lake view.

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That’s about 4 feet of snow right thar!

Emerald Lake / Skelton Lake

Our last day we did this shortie (also this was the day after our longer Yosemite Hike), which was about a four-mile loop. We had a later start and so saw more people on the trail being that it was Sunday. We had streams to follow up almost the entire way and saw, of course, another spectacular lake at the top.

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All these terrible lakes!

Layton Springs

Less a hike and more a stop, I hit up this cool spring when the temps were hitting the ’80s last week. This shallow, cool spring is ground fed and so is always a consistent temperature. It’s small and there were probably about 15-20 people there already when I rolled up but it felt amazing to pop into the water to cool off after reading in the sunshine for a bit.

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What a terrible place to cool off on a hot day, amirite?

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Nope, no perfectly crystal clear water to see here, folks.

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The worst.

The Hot Springs: Crab Cooker & Hilltop Tub

Mammoth Lakes is an area with a lot of volcanic and geothermic activity. The town lies along the edge of a caldera (a volcanic crater), which is where a lot of the area’s natural hot springs are found.

Our pals over at Away We Winnebago recommended Crab Cooker, so we drove through the flat, rocky dirt roads in search of this random ass tub. And it is just that: a tiny, man-made tub in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately the valve that lets you control the flow of hot water was broken, so the tub was more tepid than anything else. Fortunately, it was a pretty hot day in the low ’80s so a tepid tub turned out to be perfect.

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Crab Cookin’

I motored over to the Hilltop Tub one afternoon on my own while Travis was still working. I knew it was one of the more popular tubs due to its easy, right-off-the-road accessibility, but as it was a Tuesday at 3:30 I figured I’d give it a shot anyway.

After stopping by the Hot Creek Geologic Site, I drove the dusty dirt roads across to the Hilltop Tub. By the by, this tub, like Crab Cooker, is tiny and wouldn’t fit more than 5 people at once. It’s a good 3 to 4 minute walk from the parking area to the tub, and I could see two people were there but leaving. I had the whole thing to myself for a blissful 15 minutes or so before another couple showed up, followed immediately behind by a family of five. I left once I saw them heading my way.

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Hilltop Tub on a Tuesday afternoon.

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Well this sucks.

Fly Fishing

I’ve been talking about taking fly fishing lessons for about 5 years now. Finally pulled the trigger.

We booked a half-day lesson with Mike Villemaire through the Troutfitter. We spent the first hour and a half learning about the different types of flies and larvae you can cast with (holy biology lesson, Batman!) then practiced casting in the park across the street. Mike was a great teacher and a stickler for form, which I appreciate.

We learned a basic overhead cast and roll cast. We went over how to mend a line and to soften the landing of the fly on the water. We practiced “setting” our rods, ie, what to do once you hook a fish, and the proper way to handle and release them. Respect the fish.

Afterward, we drove over to Hot Creek to put our lessons to good use. My park casts had been baller but as soon as the light breeze was factored in, and the fact that I was casting much shorter than what we had practiced, it took me a minute to get the hang of it. Travis was a respectable distance downstream, while Mike went back and forth checking on us, re-dusting our flies with whatever magic dust makes them float better and giving us tips.

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Our guide and all around cool dude Mike Villemaire.

By the end of the lesson, which went by far too quickly, we had each reeled in 3 or 4 fish and hooked 6 or 7! Mike made sure we knew this was not typical noob experience; we had definitely hit the creek on a great day and time…but also apparently we’re not hopeless when it comes to fly fishing.

After casting with a 9-foot reel rod, I switched to a 12-foot Tenkara just for funsies. I loved it and can’t wait to try one again.

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Go Fish: Hot Creek!

The Town

Mammoth Lakes is like old-school Snowmass Village and Boulder, CO had a baby in California. It’s very laid back and not fancy (unlike the Snowmass Village and other high end mountain resorts of today) and most of the housing in the town proper consists of condos. Lots of that ’70s and ’80s vibe with painted brown wood exteriors and angler-friendly establishments with neon Coors signs in the windows.

Eats

Our first weekend in town we found CJ’s Grill and decided to grab dinner there. Turns out it was the restaurant’s last two nights in business (new owners bought it and will be revamping the place) and since they decided not to renew the liquor license, all the booze was free. We ordered a couple beers on tap, assuming they had kegs to kick, which was true. What we didn’t realize until the following night, when we went back for the best fried chicken sandwiches of all time, was that ALL the alcohol was up for grabs, including bottles of wine. We drank a lot of free wine. Pro tip: if you ever get restaurant freebies, always tip on what the total would have been.

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Free wine? Just awful.

We also ate at Ramenya, a cozy A-frame space a bit tucked away off the main road and perfect for a cool evening after long day of hiking in Yosemite. The Breakfast Club had delicious pancakes and knows what the f**k they are doing when you ask for crispy bacon. Roberto’s Cafe, a Mexican joint, makes duck enchiladas and I’m really glad I got them. I wasn’t sure at first how duck would meld with Mexican fare, but turns out my rich, fatty spirit animal is the perfect enchilada filling.

Mammoth Museum at the Hayden Cabin

This former high-end fishing lodge was built in 1928 and sits right on Mammoth Creek. The suggested donation is $5 per person; they also sell postcards, local art, t-shirts, and other goods. It’s entirely volunteer-run but proceeds from donations are put back into maintaining the cabin. The kitchen is still equipped with an old stove and an icebox that was kept cool all summer thanks to chunks of ice that were hand cut and hauled down from Lake Mary. The rooms are appointed with old maps, photos, and artwork while Native American hand-woven baskets, old cameras, and other memorabilia rest on tables and under glass cases.

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Hayden Cabin Museum

I had fun nosing around the rooms but more fun chatting with a few of the volunteers, a couple of whom gave me great hiking recommendations.

Yosemite National Park

Our second Saturday was devoted to Yosemite. We actually skipped Yosemite Valley (for shame, I know) but this was for two reasons: one, it was a 2.5 hour drive to get there from Mammoth. We’re a bit wary of overly long drives given our life at the moment. Two, it was a Saturday, which meant if any part of the park was going to be packed, it would be there.

We opted to do the Mono Pass hike, one of the highest elevation day hikes in the park. It’s about 8 miles round trip and was only a 45-minute drive from Mammoth.

Turns out traffic advisories are already in effect for Yosemite Valley. The newsletter we were given at the gate said to be prepared for 2 to 3 hour delays on top of regular travel times. I’m sad we missed it, but also not sad we skipped that madness.

Thanks to an early start, we hit the trail by 9am. Early starts are always worth it; the only humans we saw going up were at the near top of the trail. Going down we saw 6 or 8 which isn’t too many for Yosemite standards.

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King’s Quest: Do you go up, down, left, or right?

The entire hike was scenery from King’s Quest. Pine forests with streams that opened to meadows. Oh, also waterfalls in the distance. Lather, rinse, repeat. Thanks to the early season snow melt, I had to take my shoes off to cross a couple of the streams.

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So many lakes, streams, and open meadows!

We hiked to 10,599 feet and then went a bit further into the canyon to get a view of Mono Lake from up top. The winds had kicked into high gear by the time we got up top but funnily enough, whatever frogs live up in those lakes were croaking their little hearts out. I’m not used to hearing a symphony of frogs in the middle of the day like that…is that normal?!

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Mono Pass: Elevation 10,599 feet

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The view of Mono Lake in the distance from the top of the pass.

Next stop: Yuba Pass/Emigrant Gap outside of Lake Tahoe!

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is one of my favorite places on earth. As of now, Sequoia and Carlsbad Caverns are my two top contenders for best National Park.

We posted up at Riverbend RV Park about 30 minutes east of Fresno in Sanger, CA. Our back picture window faces a stream that eventually runs into the Kings River, which comes from snowmelt out of Kings Canyon National Park. This park is great — it’s quiet and all the frogs and crickets came out at night to sing us to sleep. The back of the park has a little trail that takes you to Kings River — it’s not really an area where you can swim, since the river itself is too wide and fast in this particular spot to be safe for swimming.

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Our backyard for the week.

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A short walk to Kings River

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THIS is what I’ve been waiting for since we started RVing!

In any case, the scenery here reminds me quite a lot of where I grew up in Idaho. The smells of the trees, cheatgrass, and dirt transported me back in time to being barefoot and climbing trees until sundown. As you might expect, I loved it here and spent as much time outside as possible.

After crushing our work week, we got up early Saturday morning to drive to Sequoia National Park in order to do the Marble Falls hike from the Potwisha campground: a 7-mile in-and-back trek up to the aptly named waterfalls surrounded by white marble rock fall. This area wasn’t in the Giant Forest that contains the massive sequoia trees, but our plan was to hike first, then hit the tree-laden part of the park.

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Low lying cloud cover over the foothills en route to Sequoia National Park.

It was a great time of year to hike. The weather was overcast, but perfect for huffing uphill through the valley. It was extra beautiful to see the clouds hanging low over the top of the ridges. We saw tons of yucca in bloom, as well as madia, pink globe lilies, Indian paintbrush, dogwood, and some gorgeous yellow flowering trees that I don’t know the name of.

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Yucca in bloom…and me, pointing at it.

Once at the falls, we stopped to eat lunch then wasted no time getting back downhill so that we could continue through the park. We wanted to visit the General Sherman tree, the largest tree on earth (though I recently learned there are other trees that have broken this record…we’ll let you know when we go find them, which we will), and the Giant Forest Museum assuming we had time.

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White marble is everywhere at the top!

While both of these things were only 4 or 5 miles as the crow flies, it was an additional 45-minutes driving thanks to those windy mountain roads. And, that cloud cover we saw on our hike earlier at a lower elevation was still hanging low. So low, in fact, that by the time we passed the sign that said we were entering the Giant Forest, a full on fog had settled in at the higher altitude. So full, in fact, that we couldn’t really see farther than 25 feet out on either side of us.

But what we did see was incredible. These sequoia trees are so massive that it’s hard to express how amazing it is to see them in words. With the fog it felt like we were in some mystical land before time where a Diplodocus was surely just nearby.

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Yeah, that’s right. I said Diplodocus. Look at this f’ing tree!

The downside, though, was that we couldn’t see anything much past the side of the road. The other problem was that by 1 or 2 o’clock on a holiday weekend, the crowds were at their max. All the parking lots and roadside areas were full, rangers kept waving us past. Our best bet was to go past everything, park at a lodge, then take a free shuttle back, and fight said crowds to get back on the shuttle to return. Can you guess what we said? That’s right, we said f**k that, we’ll come back tomorrow.

So Sunday morning we did the same thing and drove back into the park to see what we had missed the day before and we’re so happy we did. It was sunny, clear, and warm. We saw General Sherman, walked the Big Trees trail, and stopped to picnic on the way home.

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Dogwoods in bloom.

Giant sequoias can live to be up to 3,000 years old and don’t die of old age. They usually die from falling over due to their shallow root systems, which, if cut or disturbed, can mean their massive trunks just fall the f**k over. Also, most sequoias have survived fires; most tree cross sections reveal fire scars that have healed over. These badass sons a bitches have super thick bark (up to 3 feet! How thick is YOUR skin, son?) without a ton of sap, making them more fire proof than your average bear tree. There are trees that grow taller than sequoias (like the coastal redwoods, which they’re often confused with), but none rival their girth. 😏 Their branches alone can have a diameter of up to 8 feet, which means basically THEIR BRANCHES ARE TREES. Woof. These trees grow at an elevations between between 5,000 and 7,000 feet.

General Sherman is the largest tree on earth (allegedly) by virtue of the volume of its trunk. While other trees are taller or even bigger around, no other tree has more wood in its trunk than this here tree. The top of the tree is dead, so it doesn’t get taller, but it does continue to get wider. Basically another “good-sized” tree’s worth each year. It’s 109 feet around at the ground. Looking up at this tree is the equivalent of a mouse looking up at a six-foot tall human. It weighs 1,385 tons and is 2,200 years old. Tell me about YOUR tree.

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This is the Cartman of Sequoias. Also it’s tree branches are 7-8 feet in diameter!

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So glad I had a GoPro with me that could fit the whole thing into a single frame!

After ogling General Sherman, we ogled all the other sequoias around the Big Trees walk, a short 1-mile loop from the Giant Forest Museum. I’ll let the photos do the talking, but the shots of the meadow are interesting because it shows where these trees will grow. The meadow is too damp, while the border around it is perfect for growth.

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Fun with panorama!

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Ed by Ned. Two trees that grew into one another.

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Travis in between two giant sequoias.

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Another scene from King’s Quest. Also that’s not a bear in the middle of the frame, just a shadow.

After a full weekend of Sequoia, we spent our Memorial Day swimming at Winton Park about 10 minutes drive from here. It was in the high 90s but as I mentioned earlier, that river is snow melt straight from the motherf**king mountains! It was freezing! Both Travis and I managed to submerge ourselves fully but it took me two tries.

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Preparing to dip. 95 degree day!

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Hot out here, freezing in there.

I also managed to finish a DIY project and recover our dinette cushions because I couldn’t deal with the ugly anymore. I looked up a couple tutorials on no-sew drawstring cushions and ordered some soft, inexpensive sheets from Target.com. I have zero interest in hand stitching and knew the seams would be on the back anyway, so I just used permanent fabric tape. I wanted something that could potentially be removed easily. I think the results turned out pretty decent all things considered!

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Before…

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…and after! If only I could put drawstring cushions around that wallpaper, too.

Unfortunately shiny new cushion coverings mean nothing to Monkey, who’s already shredded the corner on one of them. BAD KITTY.

Next stop: Mammoth Lakes, CA!

 

 

Vista, CA > Sydney, AUS > Ventura, CA

WHOA. We’ve been busy! And I’ve been terrible at blogging.

Our exodus from Baja Mexico was followed by a 4-day stay in Vista, California with my Aunt Nancy. Nancy was kind enough to let us park our RV at her place while we took a 2-week diversion to Australia. More on that in a minute.

For years, my dad’s side of the family always congregated to Studio City, CA for family get togethers because that’s where my grandparents lived. Sadly they are no longer with us and the home was sold. The point of this is that I have several family members in this area, Nancy included, who I’d never been to visit.

Her home is immaculate and super cozy. She has a large living room space that’s not overwhelmed with furniture and I found myself going straight to the middle of this big, empty area and working on my computer or starfish-ing because I could. It’s been so long since I’ve lived somewhere with that kind of extra floor space, ha!

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Aunt Nancy also has a very bitchin’ backyard.

We spent a lovely four days working from various cafe’s and coffee shops, and took an excursion to the Carlsbad Flower Fields (a commercial flower farm) with my cousin Amy and her husband, Jim.

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The Flower Fields in Carlsbad!

Sydney, Australia

So quick backstory: my dad went Oprah for Christmas this year and gifted Travis and I a trip to Sydney to visit my older brother and his family. He and his wife Stacey have three kids; two of whom I had never met, the eldest I met when he was 18 months old. He’s 7 now.

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Beach walk from Bondi to Bronte with John Boy.

They live in the northern ‘burbs of Sydney; we stayed at a self-contained apartment 5 minutes from their house. Our singular goal was to spend as much time with them and the kids as possible, as well as the extended Aussie family. Beyond that, seeing a kangaroo and the Sydney Opera House were about all else we wanted to check off the list.

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SPOTTED. Check!

Our days were spent working (well, Travis was working, I decidedly was not), drinking flat whites, going on bush walks, playing with the kids and going on family outings to the park and Inflatable World, taking the ferry from Manly into Sydney Harbour, biking around the park, many meat pies, lots of walking and exploring, and one excessively long extremely important executive business lunch (think: 10 hours of drinking wine with one Adam Ritter).

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Ok all you see is 3 adults playing with toys, but srsly we’re playing with 3 kids, too.

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John and Ella May

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Ferry from Manly to Sydney Harbour! Travis and I with Liam and Ella.

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John, Stace, and I

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EXECUTIVE BUSINESS LUNCH

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Inflatable World!

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Thank you Adam Ritter for sharing this shitty, shitty skyline with us.

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Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach

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Palm Beach, ahhh.

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The Ritters! 😀

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Attack of the Adorbo-Zach!

Sometimes (okay many times) I get verklempt thinking about how far away this side of my family is and how little I get to see them and spent quality in person time together. My dad is just the best human for sending us to see them and I just couldn’t be happier. Which is making me a little verklempt right now. Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic. The chick pea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss! There I feel better.

Ventura, CA

After returning from Sydney, we spent a few more days in Vista to shake off the jet lag before heading north to Ventura to stay with my cousin Amy and her husband Jim and their 2 cats.

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This is Kuro. He’s in a basket. Cause he fitz in it.

What a treat to work from a full size home for a week! Aunt Nancy didn’t have WiFi so we were hitting up coffee shops every day. What’s more, they have an in-home gym so workouts happened every. Single. Day. Amazing!

We showed up the day of their monthly poker night; it was great fun re-greasing the Texas Hold ‘Em wheels. My wheels need more grease though, because I lost 50% of my buy in.

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Amy and Jim live in one of the neighborhoods that got thrashed by the Thomas Fire last December. It was amazing to see so many empty lots where homes once stood. We couldn’t get over how 2 and 3 and 4 homes all next to one another were razed, while the next one was perfectly fine. One street was literally empty of homes save one smack dab in the middle of all the empty lots.

We took field trips up to wine country in Santa Ynez to visit a few wineries and soak up the beautiful countryside.

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Rusack Vineyard

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Rusack Vineyard

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Look at this fucking bird of prey!

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We hiked Arroyo Verde park amidst the blooming wildflowers – mustard and something purple I can’t identify because I’m terrible at knowing these things. We visited Amy and Jim’s friends who lost their entire home in the fire. They are renting the neighbor’s house in front of their lot while they rebuild; we had a blast meeting their kids and Travis played piano for everyone.

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Note those burnt trunks!

We went to the Ventura Pier and Leashless Brewing and Barrelhouse 101 (which has a baller beer menu, btw).

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How to Beer.

We also spent a day in Santa Monica with my friend Pete and his sister Amanda, riding electric Bird scooters (srsly, best thing ever) around in between lunch at Stout and a ride on the Santa Monica Pier’s West Coaster. Then, dinner in Studio City with a friend of Travis’s from school and a walk to where my grandparents’ house once stood. It’s since been torn to the ground and an unfinished monstrous monstrosity now sits in its place.

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Venice, baby!

We rode our bikes through Ojai, where Jim grew up, and visited Topa Mountain Winery followed by pizza and strawberry shortcake at Boccali’s.

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Bike Squad: GO!

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Bike Squad: GOING!

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Look at this shitty place!

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It even has cornhole, it’s so shitty! Sarcasm, obvs.

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Famous Strawberry Shortcake at Boccali’s

We went hiking in Malibu with Pete and co followed by a visit to El Matador Beach; then an amazing sendoff dinner at Lure Fish House with Amy and Jim.

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Moments before destroying this seafood dinner. To. Die. Fah. Kid.

Also, thanks to Amy for taking ALL the photos! Amy is a boss machine when it comes to getting the snaps – as you can probably tell, this post has more photos than most thanks to her!

Next stop: Sanger, CA outside of Sequoia National Park!

8 Challenges of #RVLife

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Jump for joy…mostly

I thought it’d be interesting to put together a list of things that have been challenging about RV life so far. Let me preface this by saying that none of these are inherently bad, they are what they are.

  1. Water damage. My one piece of advice to anyone thinking about buying a rig is to check for water damage first. This is the worst kind of damage you can have, and to say it’s stressful once you find out you have it is an understatement. We found out part of our roof has rotted away under the seal and the guys who did the initial inspection and work on Murphy (nee Benjamin Franklin) never mentioned it. I guess they didn’t think this was important information. 😡
  2. Personal space. You don’t get that much of it. This in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal, but Travis and I have always believed that part of having a successful marriage is making time to do your own thing, with your own friends or on your own. We manage to make time to do things on our own, but the friends bit is tricky. Because we have none — that is, most places we go we don’t know people – so hopping off for games with the guys or drinks with the ladies isn’t happening anymore. We miss that.
  3. It’s always something. I guess this is what owning a home is like — there’s always something going on you’re not quite sure about. Last week it was the inescapable smell of propane. This week we’re not sure if our water pipes will freeze overnight when it gets below 32 degrees out. Also what do you do if things DO freeze? (Answer: bring a hair dryer) Flash flood warnings? Better head outta town. Oh and don’t forget the Thing that died in our closet.
  4. Meal planning is harder. I’m not sure about you guys, but generally speaking when I travel, be it for vacation or otherwise, I eat out more. And since we’ve been traveling for coming up on two months now, we realized the reason we spent all our money as I mentioned earlier was because we’re eating out ALL the time. This is partially because when we’re driving we don’t always eat breakfast first or we’re often on the road for 5+ hours at a time, which means at some point, we stop for food. And Toto, we’re not in New England anymore — so easy access to healthy options both for eating out and grocery shopping is getting harder. I bought Bok Choy at Wal-Mart the other day and had some pretty major mixed feelings. First world woes, I know!
  5. Work discipline is difficult. Totally worth the price of admission to make RV living possible — but that doesn’t make it easy. Letting go of the idea that we have to see everything is hard, but necessary. We go somewhere new every week — and 70% of that time we’re working. I’m not complaining about this, but it is a challenge.
  6. Having a pet. I wouldn’t give up Monkey for the world, but it makes RV life more challenging — essentially it means we have to be home every morning and evening, no matter what, which isn’t always what you want to do on a travel adventure. Cats are pretty low maintenance for sure, and Monkey is way low on the low maintenance scale, but it also changes how we are living this adventure! PS major thanks to all the friends and family who have let us in with the cat.
  7. Decision fatigue. Always traveling means always making decisions – something I’m historically terrible at. Choosing destinations, RV parks, what to eat, what to see – it can be exhausting. There’s always more to see and more to do — but at some point you just have to turn it all off and accept that you WILL miss things and you WON’T be able to do it all.
  8. Reliance on WiFi. I love having a remote job, but it does limit where we can actually stay. Fortunately most RV parks are really up front and honest about how well their WiFi works. We do have a JetPack that we use as a hot spot, but cell signals can get spotty too. Between that and calling places ahead of time to ask about their WiFi, we have what we need 90% of the time which is pretty good. I won’t lie though, always worrying about WiFi and cell signals is another challenge that comes with the territory. It also means that boondocking in super cool, remote locations may not be a realistic option for us for more than a couple of days.
  9. Services. Finding a dentist, doctor, mechanic, hairstylist, etc can be a challenge, not to mention time consuming. The internet isn’t always helpful — online reviews can be exhausting and wildly varied. We had a slow tire leak on the truck and took it to a Ford Dealer near El Paso, Texas. Instead of figuring out that the valve stem was the source of the leak (which took all of 5 minutes and $6 in Baja where the problem was finally solved), they sold us an entirely brand new tire. All of this is just to say all of these things take up time and energy you wouldn’t normally spend when you live somewhere full time.

What challenges do you face with RV living? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to know what other people find challenging!

San Felipe: RV Repairs, Off Road Races, and I Was Right About the Dead Mouse

Travis flew off to New York City to play a gig at Carnegie Hall; I stayed in San Felipe, hit the beach as much as possible and am handling our RV repairs, plus get to experience the San Felipe 250 road race.

San Felipe 250

The road race was Saturday and about what I expected: tons of spectators and vendors down at the Malecón, tons of dust flying through the air, and lots of people dicking around on the sand dunes next door to our RV park. We watched the trophy trucks at the starting line (fun, but a 30mph speed zone) then followed their path to the end of the speed zone where they really start ripping through the dust. Fun! But after 4 or 5 go by, I definitely got the idea and went back to camp to cool down because it was a hot motherfucker of a day.

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Behold the massive dust cloud in the background!

To be honest I didn’t follow much of the coverage; though two spectators did die, sadly. They were hit by a trophy truck driven by Ed Herbst; there’s actually very little information regarding the circumstances. It’s unclear if the spectators were standing too close or if the truck lost control on the straightaway, or perhaps both. The race was broadcast live on YouTube, what little coverage I saw wasn’t extremely engaging. The few spots where I did see trucks crossing at the roads or under bridges was pretty cool, though. Those trucks are BANANAS.

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VROOOOOOOOM

We went to a group dinner at a nearby restaurant (by nearby I am talking a 4-minute drive) and due to the insane post-race traffic it took us 25 minutes of sitting on a tiny stretch of road while police did their best to direct traffic. Imagine two lanes each direction, creating two lanes out of your single lane, meanwhile anyone with an ORV or all-wheel drive simply drove onto the shoulder and cut ahead at the front of the line. Face palm. But totally worth it to be the only people in the restaurant the entire evening.

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Dinner at La Galeria!

After dropping a friend off at a nearby restaurant with live music on the Malecón, (and maybe after a tequila shot or two), we walked back from the madness to the relative peace of the RV park. The craziness had died down, the race crowd was turning in. I discovered I had no running water because some crazy woman drove over the water pipe with her ATV earlier in the day and broke the (overground!) PVC water pipe that our rig is connected to. 🙄

RV Repair Update

As far as the RV repairs go, the process of getting repairs done took a bit longer than one who lives in the U.S. might expect. Showing up at an appointed time isn’t the norm here; running late isn’t a big deal.

That being said, it’s also been a good lesson in my least present virtue: patience. My only concern has been that the work is completed by April 16th, because once we leave here we go to visit my brother in Australia and ain’t nothin’ gonna screw up that plan, come hell or high water. I don’t necessarily mind tardiness, what I do mind is when someone says they’ll be back in two hours and never shows up.

Originally, the contractor and carpenter were going to remove the fiberglass front cap of the RV to assess the damage (we had some water damage, if you’ll recall), buy the proper materials, and fix it up. I was more than nervous about how they would put the damn thing back together. “Shouldn’t a seasoned RV professional do that kinda thing,” my brain asked, pointedly. “Maybe RVs just aren’t as complicated as a seasoned RV professional would lead you to believe,” my brain shot back, also pointedly.

The carpenter showed up on Wednesday of last week and promptly stated that they would do all the work from inside, without removing the front end, much to my relief. I was grateful they were honest about thinking that it wasn’t a good idea for them to take it off, because they weren’t sure they’d be able to get it back on properly.

By Friday at 6:30, they had ripped out and replaced our closet and did a great job to boot. I am impressed that four dudes were able to get it done in a relatively tight space in two days. They replaced a good amount of the wood framing, added extra support, put in all new insulation, and added brand spanking new walls and lovely edging. And sure enough I was right about there being a dead mouse in there. I suspect it wiggled up there when we were parked in West Virginia for a month without moving. Poor little guy. Glad he’s outta there now, though.

After that, the contractor added reinforced tape and plastic mesh for structure underneath a layers of waterproof sealant on our roof. All of that was then topped with 3 layers of another sealant.

The good news? We save a ton of money by getting repairs done here. The bad news? The repairs done on the roof ultimately were not the proper repairs we needed and did not stay sealed as the contractor swore up and down it would. They basically fixed the problem by covering the entire problem with more stuff, rather than fixing the underlying issue first.

Truth be told I knew it wasn’t the right fix, but I lost the steam to try to communicate why what they were doing was wrong, and I felt the contractor assumed that because I was a woman, I probably was overconcerned and didn’t know what I was talking about. Trust me when I say I’m not happy about being right; just disappointed I didn’t trust my own instincts more.

Other Stuff

We’ve enjoyed many a meal, margarita, beer, and adventure with lots of great people here.

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John and Blair!

Thanks to the restaurant manager here, Victoria, I got to ride an ATV again! We rode through town, through the hills, to a private rocky beach at sundown then stopped for ice cream on the way back. YAS.

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ATV is the life for me

I also ventured to San Felipe Brewery with the kids from Away We Winnebago and a few other pals, ate many a shrimp taco at Adriana’s taco stand on the Malecón (thanks for showing us the way, Uncle Blair!), and got to experience the hot springs that bubble up through the sand at uber low tide around the rocky point at the end of the Malecón. Thank you to Victor, Jr. and Victoria for taking me there!

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This is me sitting in a pool of thermal water in the sand.

Travis made it back from New York, but not before losing his wallet on his last night there. He thought it had been stolen; turns out kid dropped it on the streets of Manhattan and an extremely kind person found it, looked him up on Facebook, and sent him a message to return it.

Travis, not being a Facebook checker, never saw the message. After flying from NYC to San Diego, running to the post office to send in our taxes (that’s right), making the bus to the border with minutes to spare, taking a second bus from the border to San Felipe, and settling in the following day, this kind soul looked ME up on Facebook and sent a message saying he had found the wallet and hopefully I would see the message.

The wallet contained all the cards and cash it originally did and this amazing human sent it back to us.

Also just to make things a little more complicated before leaving I found what seemed to be a lost or abandoned cat in the RV park the day before we left. As a person who loves kitties, I gave her food and tried to find her a place to go in the hours before heading to a birthday celebration for the RV parks owner, Victor and his family. Long story short, I found someone who would take care of her, thanks to Facebook. So two points for Facebook this week.

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Little lady is safe.

Wednesday morning we packed up and hit the road again after 5 weeks of sitting still. We said goodbyes to our RV park friends and sat at the border crossing for two hours, but made it none worse for the wear.

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We will miss you, San Felipe!

Next stop: Vista, CA and Sydney, Australia! 😀

 

San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

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Yessss, we made it! Travis nailed the parking job, too!

We have posted up in the small beach town of San Felipe in Baja, Mexico for a about a month now! My apologies for being awful about posting; the internet here isn’t the best so I have been reserving it for work.

We originally planned on staying here for 3 weeks, but 3 has turned into 5. You’ll have to keep reading if you want to know why.

San Felipe is the first beach town you’ll get to if you take the Federal Highway 5 south from Mexicali on the Gulf coast side.

We’re staying at Victor’s RV Park & Seaside Hotel on the southern end of town. I called ahead of time and spoke my best Spanish to ask about sites, amenities, and other details. After connecting with Lili, the park’s manager, via email we were offered a site closest to the office for the best wi-fi connection. This site was closer to the road than the beach though, so we opted for a spot just behind a trailer-turned-bungalow on the beach.

Figuring out which spot we would reserve is tricky, because we were getting emails that said “If your RV fits here, you can have this spot.” While they were super helpful in sending lots of photos of each site, I did my best to explain that we needed them to tell us if the RV would fit because I had no way to know that ahead of time. We ended up parking crooked in our site (#22) but I actually think it turned out better that way.

The only downside is that the sewer connection is pretty high off the ground, so emptying the tanks involves a lot of hose wrangling. But we can see the gulf outside our side window and are positioned to get a lovely moving breeze of the water when it warms up, which we definitely wouldn’t get if we were positioned straight in the site.

The park has a really nice beach front palapa (a traditional Mexican shelter roofed with palm leaves or branches) in front of a dining room/bar/salon that keeps odd hours. Though they were open for all of Semana Santa (spring break) and the San Felipe 250 off road race.

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Sunrises here are always in beast mode.

Sunrises are hands down the most stunning thing about this place. I’ve seen more sunrises in the last couple weeks than I have in my entire life (not a morning person) and each one is colorful and amazing to watch.

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Morning view from the Palapa.

The beach view is outstanding and the bay is shallow and has a sandy bottom. When the tide is out you can walk quite far into the tidal flats and find a shell here and there. The smell of sulfur is quite strong when the tide goes out, too.

When the tide is in, you can see tons of little fish jumping out of the water, dolphins, and sea lions will also swim by. The sand is pale and dry and lovely, but I won’t lie: there’s definitely dog poop and broken glass in the sand here. The beachfront in front of Victor’s is always clean, but as you walk in either direction, you gotta watch where you step.

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This hammock = prime siesta real estate.

As I mentioned, the internet here isn’t the best, unfortunately. This park has a main router in the office with 3 extenders, none of which work that well. I’ve found it works really well super early in the morning and as the day goes on (presumably as more people use it), it gets worse and worse. I am able to get my work done, eventually, but it’s a little like working in a tub of molasses. And do note that I’m not using video streaming or anything fancy, just regular old apps in my internet browser(s).

Perhaps not surprisingly there are a lot of Americans here. Perhaps even less surprising is that there are a lot of Americans who spend a LOT of time here and speak zero Spanish. I’ve loved being able to speak Spanish every day; I’ve gone into nearly every tchotchke shop just to strike up a conversation with whoever works there. The people here are very warm and friendly and willing to talk to you in Spanish if you try. Most will greet you initially with the phrase “Good price, good price.” I can’t imagine living somewhere for half or the full year and not even trying to learn the language. Face palm.

That being said we’ve met a lot of great folks staying here in the RV park. We’re posted up across from Away We Winnebago, who have been more than generous with their martini and piña colada supply. Thanks guys! We’ve met Blair aka “Bozo” from Canada, Jon from Alabama via Los Angeles, and Ron & Sharon who live in the house we’re behind – Chicagoans who spend half the year here to escape the winter. Ron and Sharon have been coming to San Felipe for 9 or 10 years and are basically the Den Mothers for anyone who comes to stay here.

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This is a typical afternoon for us. 🙂

Our days here basically see us up by 6 am to start working East coast hours; at 2:30 I wrap up and talk a walk down to the Malecón and back to get my legs working again. If it’s hot enough I’ll hop into the water; but mostly we read or hang out with our RV park pals and make or go out to dinner. While I’m said I can’t crush through the latest season of Love on Netflix, I am truly grateful to not have the option to watch anything. Instead I’m crushing through John Irving’s 800-page tome, Until I Find You that I snapped up at the massive book swap at Club de Pesca’s Tienda Limón next door.

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A rare shot of the San Felipe sign without anyone hanging on it.

Puertecitos Day Trip

IMG_2694There’s not a whole lot nearby in either direction – desert, mostly….! We took a Saturday day trip to nearby Puertecitos to check out the Hot Springs there. You have to time it with the tide as the springs themselves, located within a bunch of rock formations, are covered at high tide.

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No sea water means TOO HOT to get in!

Pro tip: The best time to get there is when high tide just starts to recede, because you can start by hopping in the springs near the top. As the tide goes out, the water level goes down, and the cold water eventually drains from the source. As the springs get hotter, you move down into each pool below that still contains a good mix of hot and cold water.

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Baby bear’s pool is just right!

We had to pay $15 to get in; Puertecitos is a very small, seemingly barren place but there’s someone who will collect the fee once you turn left to head toward the water. We got there when the tide was already pretty low, but found the Goldilocks spot near the bottom where the water temperature was just right and soaked ourselves for a couple of hours before heading back to San Felipe.

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Can’t beat this view.

Originally our plan was to leave San Felipe on April 1, just before the huge San Felipe 250 off road race that happens here every year and draws in thousands of people (mostly Americans) and kicks up a whole shitload of dust.

But we decided to get our roof and closet repaired while we were down here. It’s hot and dry (perfect kind of weather) and costs are much less than what they would be in the U.S., particularly California, which is the next state we’ll be spending time in.

Up next (natch): the San Felipe 250 and an update on our RV repairs!