We made it to the ocean

But first, there was bad coffee.

We rolled into the RV park in West Wendover, Nevada at midnight on Friday night (July, 16th) and rolled out at 6 am Saturday morning. We hadn’t bothered extending the sides of the RV because we knew we were going to wake up and hit the road. We were heading to California.

Whenever anyone asked the girls what they were looking forward to the most about this trip, Hazel would say “the redwoods” and Iris would just say: California. Their answers would hang in the air for a little while everyone nodded their heads in approval. The girls’ eyes would sparkle a little in anticipation.

But in order to get to California, we first had to drive across the salt flats of northern Nevada, which is strange place. Even the gas stations have casinos: Little rooms with no windows, packed with neon-lit gaming machines each with their own large black leather gaming chair. Or sometimes just a random line of gambling machines tucked into a corner of a Dunkin’ Donuts.

On the long, flat roads across the desert we listened to Brandie Carlise read us her audio book, Broken Horses, and sing us songs of heartache and triumph. She’s a fantastic story teller and I sobbed most of my way through Nevada. Apparently, I have tears for miles.

As we approached the western side of Nevada, the sky started to darken from the smoke of the California fires we’d been reading about for weeks. Everything took on a dirty brown-ish hue. But once we got into California, everything changed. The transition from desert hills to tree-studded mountains and streams happened almost as soon as we crossed into California on Rt 80. The skies turned blue, too. No lie.

The fires

Our GPS wanted us to go north on rt 395 to start heading to the northern coast, but the Beckwourth fire was getting too close to that highway, so we stayed on 80 and headed southwest towards Sacramento instead. The Dixie fire was also burning nearby and when we finally turned north and headed up towards Redding, Ca through the Central Valley, we could see the giant smoke plumes from the forest fires off in the distance to our right. We were now on the western side of all the smoke and the fire for the first time on the trip.

Our initial plan was to drive 14-hours straight from West Wendover to Fieldbrook, Ca, where acquaintances of ours had a yurt waiting for us. But as we pushed up the central valley, it was clear we would need to camp for the night so we didn’t end up driving over the mountains in the dark.

We rolled into an RV park in Redding around 9:30. Eric made us some ramen and we ate it out of paper bowls and then settled down for sleep. The next day we would be where the redwoods meet the Pacific Ocean.

Sunday mountain drive

We woke early and Eric made breakfast sandwiches (bacon, eggs, English muffins and sausage). As he has been throughout this trip, Eric had made a friend and I came outside to find a tattooed man sitting at our table drinking coffee and taking about hemp. He had been partying the night before and was on his way to the pool to shake his hangover with a cool dip when he saw the hemp stickers on the back of the RV and smelled the breakfast.

Eric fed him and gave him coffee and he ended up being the first to tell us about a section of coastal highway we were going to encounter on our way to Oregon called Last Chance Grade. It closes twice a day for construction and if you don’t make it there at the right time you can get stuck for hours or even overnight. Noted.

When we finally got on our way it was around 9am. It was my turn to drive.

Apparently, I drive the RV like an ass

We took rt 299 through the mountains of the Shasta/Trinity and Six River National Forests. This was Big Foot country, according to Hazel, and we followed the beautiful trinity river through the forest. If the ocean hadn’t been calling us we would have found a way to dip our feet in that gorgeous water. Some day I hope to.

But once we got to the high mountains, driving Dolly became a full body workout. Some of the switchbacks hung out on cantilevered sections of road that hugged the side of rock faces with frighteningly long drop offs to my right. I was white-knuckle-slow driving up and down mountainsides for what seemed like forever. I did my best to pull over and let the line of cars that inevitably piled up behind me pass me by, but I pissed off at least one California driver who called Eric’s company about “the asshole driving the RV ridiculously slow through rural California.” That was me. I was that asshole.

But, damn. Even my eyes were tired when I finally got through those mountains. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I’d do it again… but in a van. Not a 14k pound 32-foot RV with precious cargo inside.

We got to our friends’ Lisa and Clark’s house in Fieldbrook, Humboldt County, at around 2:00. They knew we wanted to see the ocean, so they showed us the yurt we would be staying in and then gave us directions to a local gem of a spot: park at the end of the lot. Take the path past the trash cans, turn left when you hear the waves.

The pacific

We wandered down the path, navigated some sandy switchbacks and a weathered log staircase, and entered a gorgeous u-shaped cove surrounded by rocky hills and huge trees. The girls ran towards the ocean. Hazel wanted the Hurlock ladies to put our feet into the Pacific all together at the same time. We walked up to the water’s edge and the waves rushed to meet us.

It was no coincidence that we finally made it to the Pacific Ocean on this particular day—the 5th anniversary of my mom’s passing and one of the days I like to call Sing Out Loud Day. I had brought my ukulele. I sat down by the ocean and sang Let It Be out over the waves. The girls splashed in the surf. Eric went for a swim. It was just about perfect.

When we got back to the house, Lisa had made homemade ramen. The best bowl of ramen I’ve ever had.

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