Thursday, July 14, 2016

On the Road Again

My sister, Martha, has a 30' RV named Fifi. She got it when she returned from our gallivanting abroad last year, to live in full time, thereby knocking another item off her bucket list. We were both free of obligations for the first three weeks of July, and I was desperate to escape the heat, so I agreed to join her for some RV adventuring.

There were a few parameters we were trying to work within. Basically, we wanted free spots to camp - known to the camping community as boondocking, and cooler weather. As much as possible, we would like to have a nice environment. Because a lot of free areas are in parking lots of truck stops, Walmarts and other big stores or shopping centers. They would do for a night on the road every now and then, but we wanted to spend as much time as possible in pretty, peaceful places.

Here's how that worked out.

There are many apps, websites, books and articles devoted to boondocking, and Martha is familiar with many of them. So when I mentioned that the mountains near Mammoth Lake might be really nice, she found a fabulous free public camping area. The problem was, we didn't want to be on the road so much over the 4th of July weekend. So I said, what about Big Bear? It was closer, but hopefully still had enough altitude to be at least a little cooler. Sure enough, she turned up another free camping spot, and we enjoyed the drive up. Mostly.

Unfortunately, Google Maps did not cooperate. We went up,
and up, and up the mountains, on squiggly little two lane roads. And right before we reached our destination, Google Maps told us to turn onto private property that was closed off with a sturdy gate. Not a fancy decorative gate, but one that looks like the entrance to a ranch.

Oh, and just a note that some of these photos are taken through our not perfectly clean windshield. Fifi deserves better, and Martha and I both gave it our best shot with a squeegee, but we were thwarted by the curved corners.

We couldn't find any other way of reaching the site we were looking for, and we'd already had to navigate a three point turn on the narrow road - or, rather, Martha had. I just got out and made sure she didn't back Fifi out over a freaking cliff. So, we gave up and headed back to civilization. Which, in this case, was the Indian Casino in Pala CA.

It wasn't bad for a parking lot, and we were pretty comfortable. Until we went to bed with the windows open to a nice breeze and some nut started broadcasting come to Jesus sermons over a loudspeaker from a nearby house around 11 pm. Martha put her earplugs in, and I got my earbuds tuned to some soothing classical music, and we finally managed to fall asleep.

The plan now was to try and get to Oceano Dunes Preserve near Pismo Beach CA, which is well-known to ATV-ers for allowing vehicles and ATVs to ride right on the beach. Camping is allowed for only $10 a night, which Martha and I were more than willing to pay to stay as long as they let us. They were full up all through 4th of July weekend, so we decided to head there slowly and arrive on the 5th.

This included a second Indian Casino parking lot, where we slept without interruption, and a side street next to a Walmart parking lot...which was actually a lot more pleasant than it sounds. We were very happy the next day to stumble across a fabulous Mexican restaurant.

Carmelitas, in Littlerock CA, didn't look like much. But man, it had the best food.

Chips, salsa, nachos, tacos, chorizo, guac, every single thing we ordered was fabulous. Even the hot fudge sundae I finished up with. I would go out of my way to eat there again.

Between the mountains and the beach, we drove through a lot of desert. I didn't realize that there were great swaths of interior California that looked very much like the southwestern states. 

As soon as we crossed the mountains, however, everything immediately became green again. And cresting one last ridge brought our first view of the ocean.

Oceano Dunes was great, a huge beach, and most of the campers had left. Unfortunately, park rangers at both entrances warned us that Fifi was just too big to ride on the sand without getting stuck. 

And even if we could manage the hard packed sand near the water, we would have to park as close to the dunes as possible - in the soft sand - to avoid getting caught by high tide. Both of those possibilities would have extremely expensive consequences. So, once more, we gave up on the dream.

Unlike many cities, there were places outside of Pismo Beach where RVs are allowed to park on the street. So we found a little patch of green in a nice neighborhood and parked Fifi for the night. Next day, Martha had found a new beach location. A book written in 2009 mentioned a little pull out off the highway near Hearst Castle, in San Simeon CA, where RVs were supposedly allowed to stay overnight. We had a lovely drive up the California coast and found it with no difficulty, just before sunset.

There was some fenced land between the pull off and the ocean, with little signs on the fence indicating forbidden behavior, one of which was camping. We assumed the signs were in reference to the land, rather than the pull off, because most public property on the side of public highways have nice big signs stating clearly that camping is prohibited.

It was a beautiful spot, with rolling hills on one side and the sun setting into the ocean on the other. However, I do have to admit that I was a just a little unnerved camping alone right next to the ocean road. We have alarms in the RV, and mace, and yet...we were both relieved to see another camper pull up. And soon after, a sweet young European couple who were just camping in their car.

My daughters didn't agree. We had a mass text that went something like this:

Me: Aaannnd we just got company, bikes on the back, must be a family

D: Uh, be careful. They could be serial killers, even with children.

A: Children could be kidnapped.

D: Kidnapped and Stockholmed!

Me: I trust people with bikes.

A: What kind of logic is that? Quick, back up and get away. Don't trust people with bicycles, murderous hippies. Rob you blind and get away on the bicycles.

D: Bikes don't keep serial killers from murdering people in the desert.

Me: This is not the desert, did you not see the f***ing ocean in that photo I sent?

D: No, all I saw was horizon and serial killers. That could go on a tee shirt.

Me: They seem nice, they are now going to talk to the foreigners.

A: Say goodbye to the foreigners.

At which point, I was laughing too hard to continue. Anyway, they each came and asked us if we thought it was all right to stay overnight, and we said we planned to stay until we got kicked out. We were hoping it would take a few days, but it only took about an hour.

Soon after it was full dark, maybe around 9:15 pm, red flashing lights pull alongside of us. A very nice young man in a uniform told us that we needed to move, there was a campground just a few miles up the road, and the sheriff would probably be along around 3 am to make us leave if we hadn't by then. 

The campground charged $25 and had no electrical hookup, but we were able to fill up the water tanks and dump on the way out, so it wasn't too bad. It's rare to find campgrounds for under $35 a night, and they are usually much more that close to the ocean.

But it was set up weird, no one at the front kiosk, you had to go find a camp site and then come back to put money in a box. Which led to more texting:

Me: Nanny Martha just went off with a strange woman at the campground who left her husband to put money in the box for a campsite. I'm in the RV with the engine running waiting to be carjacked. I was so happy for about half an hour. I took a photo of the license plate, but it was too dark to get the number. Not sure how long to wait before calling the cops that kicked us out the pull off.

D: Yikes.

Me: Oh good, she's back.

D: Yay! Nanny's alive! I'm going to bed.

Up bright and early the next morning, we headed back out toward the mountains. It was green until we went back over the hills...

...then switched back to desert. We were about 8 hours away from where we wanted to be, so we drove for about 5 hours, then spent the night in the parking lot of a country store in the middle of nowhere. The rest area across the street was supposed to allow overnight parking, which is unusual, but it was closed for maintenance work of some kind. Thank God for the country store. A handful of trucks were there, too, so we felt perfectly safe and slept well.

We hit the town of Mammoth about 11 am, and stopped for gas and a few groceries. Gas was about a dollar a gallon more than our last stop and prices were unsurprisingly higher. What actually was surprising was how many people there were in town. The place was packed.

We made it to the campground by 11:30 and found a great spot. Next post will have photos of all the trees and what we've been doing since we got here.

(To Be Continued...)


  1. Great to hear from you again. Please tell Martha to keep her hands on the wheel and her eyes on the road. Have a wonderful time!

    Charlie and Maureen

  2. She's doing great! I can't believe how well she handles this big thing, as well as a car. By the way, looks like I'm headed your way on August 7 or soon after, so see y'all in a few weeks. Can't wait!


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