California Edition 5: Monterey, Big Sur, and the Collector

June 15 – 17, 2021

Lysette likes to say I am a collector of things, to which I disagree. My position is that a serious collector of things would have lots of things, more like Fred Sanford of Sanford & Sons amount of things. A serious collector of things is way more disciplined and organized in approach as to the types of things they collect. I, on the other hand, currently only have a few interesting items from our journey to include a few small unique rocks from various places that I can’t recall, a fish knife found beneath a bush along the banks of the Salmon River in Idaho, a small piece of fossilized wood from a lake in North Dakota, a chunk of drift wood from a beach along the Oregon coast, a deer antler found while riding bikes in southwest Texas, and a rusty old horseshoe I found hanging on a branch in a tree in Utah. These items are scattered about our traveling rig in places ranging from my tool box, the compartment in the door beside the drivers seat, my pocket, behind my seat, in a storage box in the trailer, and on the floor board of the Tacoma.

The relevance to this disagreement began while I was walking Toohey along a dirt road in Cayucos Beach California, a small beach side town we had stopped to have lunch and say goodbye to the Hunt clan after celebrating the nephew’s graduation. I looked down and saw a small plastic toy soldier lying in the grassy weeds, immediately considering it a nice addition to my short list of important artifacts. I noticed as it was lying there that his head was turned to the side and arms straight out extended over his head as if he landed there from a fall. It appeared he had been there for quite some time and based on the position of the arms and hands over his head, I surmised that he was originally accessorized as a toy airborne paratrooper who had lost his parachute. I reached down, picked him up, and carefully turned his head on a swivel back and forth, then slightly moved his arms and legs up and down to make sure everything worked. He was wearing an olive green military issue combat uniform with his pants tucked into his black boots and a red beret hat, which I found a slight contradiction assuming that if he were in fact jumping out of an airplane that he would be wearing a helmet strapped to his head versus a soft red stylish hat. He had a black vest with important stuff secured in attached pouches, binoculars strapped to his chest, and a side arm of unknown caliber tightly holstered to his left hip and tied to his left leg. He wore black gloves and had a tattoo of something that I really couldn’t make out on his left forearm but likely a badge worn proudly from an experience doing something heroic. His face was clean shaven with sharp jaw lines making him appear really fit. I scanned the area around him looking to see any signs of his comrades or other accessories strewn nearby before setting off to finish Toohey’s walk and to rejoin the group. I carefully placed the plastic toy soldier in my pants pocket for security but not nearly giving him the honor and respect he so deserves.

As we strolled the town, I would occasionally make sure he hadn’t militarily crawled out, repelled, or otherwise fallen to another patch of grass. My new association with the plastic toy soldier would conjure up thoughts, stories of his life, the child who had held him previously and who might be searching endlessly for his favorite plastic toy soldier now in my possession. I recalled memories of me as a young boy, staging toy soldier battles all over the floor of my bedroom. I would make gun shot and explosion noises with my voice that sounded as life like as any I had heard on TV or the movies, and as an added benefit, would greatly annoy my older sister. I thought of all the plastic toys I had stepped on with bare feet when my children were young and how in a moment of pain I had tossed many away as junk, now suddenly feeling a sense of guilt. Maybe this was that type of junk to the dad of the boy who had tossed it out of the window. Who knows, but I know it is safe for the moment, the plastic toy soldier tucked into my pocket with all types of stories whirling around in my head. 

Once the clan was in attendance by the pavilion, we moved to a small beach side restaurant called Duckies where we ate lunch at the high top tables equipped with large umbrellas lining the sidewalk. The shade from the umbrellas and tables made a nice place for the dogs to keep cool while we gobbled down our fried cod and potatoes. After lunch, we all slow walked back to the rigs, hugged out a goodbye to the family, and set off. Our plans from here were to caravan with the Helkins up the coast of California for the next few weeks. The first leg being a 120 mile drive north on the 101 into Prunedale, California. To get back to the 101 from the beach, we had to follow the 49 over a low mountain pass and back into the valley. One thing we’d learn about this entire valley area of California is they grow everything here that most of us purchase from the produce department of our local grocery store. We’ve seen kale to artichokes, in fact we drove through Castroville, a small town known as the Artichoke Center of the World then later, Gilroy, known as the Garlic Capital of the World. Needless to say, there is a big agricultural business here but for us it was all eye candy with the various colors of greens in the fields stretching to the horizon and dotted with the colorful clothes of the migrant workers tending to the crops.

We pulled up to our camp site at the KOA, which was AOK. The site sat next to an old trailer and I quickly noticed that it had a few missing accessories and a roof top AC unit with a severely damaged cover, an equally ratted out red jeep parked next to it, and a mother standing outside smoking the last draws of a cigarette stubby while a little boy with buzz cut blonde hair and a really dirty face played about. The mom disappeared inside the trailer as we backed in. As we worked to set up our camp, we would constantly hear a call for Austin (his name has been changed for this story) from the boy’s mother coming from inside the trailer as she would try to keep the curious little boy back in their campsite and out of our way. From then on, Austin spoke to us whenever we passed by, mostly just saying hello. Once he added that they just bought the trailer and another time he was wondering if our dog was nice, short conversations from a curious little guy. At one point we found him squatting next to the camper watching our grey water spill out the pipe beneath our trailer into our red bucket used to collect grey water. We later removed our water hose when we thought he might play with it. He spoke to others who walked by mostly saying hello to them, and as our time here progressed, his happy little face collected more dirt and his pants became more wet suggesting that he valued his curiosity of things outside way more than making it to the toilet inside.

A second lady appeared the next morning, probably his grandmother, and we watched as they played with a bubble machine outside, something he appeared to enjoy as we drove away for our daily adventure. We followed the Helkins for a trek to Monterey to see the main features of The Old Fishermans Wharf and Cannery Row. The place was made famous by John Steinbeck’s book, Cannery Row, and was where our brother-in-law lived while managing a seaside restaurant that served food to local celebrities such as Clint Eastwood. We found it all really interesting, full of all that is touristy, mostly centered on the characters, buildings, and setting. The water off Monterey was once the hub of commercial sardine fishing that brought large fisheries to process the daily catch. The old buildings now range from tourist businesses to concrete slabs and pilings, mere remnants of their industrial legacy. We walked the path between the wharf and Cannery Row seeing harbor seals basking in the sun light in the calm protected waters of the harbor. Our last stop was for lunch at a pub in the small community known as Pacific Grove. All the while, the only thoughts of the plastic toy soldier on this day were triggered by a few funny comments from Lysette that I am becoming a collector of things, to which I disagree.

That night, after returning home, I saw young Austin again with dirt all over his face, his pee stained pants, and the friendly smile followed by hello. As usual, he hung around in front of his new trailer waiting for someone or something to spark his interest. I saw him say hello to a passing couple with a stroller carrying two young children and heard him politely tell them that he liked their babies. He later marched up the steep hill behind our camp where once on top, proudly turned back to look out as if he’d conquered the summit of the highest mountain. Soon after the familiar voice from inside his new trailer would call him back.

Our last day here was the epic drive down the coast towards Big Sur but this time the plastic toy soldier was along for the ride. The scenery was spectacular with ocean blue water as colorful as the sky, a sunny day with a constant mist in the air, and a larger bank of fog sitting over the water off shore. The coastal wildflowers were in peak bloom providing an amazing splatter of color of yellows, purples, reds, rusts, and greens against the sand and rock. I captured a few photos for nostalgia of the plastic toy solider, looking proud and healthy against the coastal scenes of the Big Sur, giving him one last hooyah with us. We finished the southbound drive along Big Sur with a nice lunch with the Helkins on the patio at Nepenthe’s restaurant and stunning views of the coastline.

The next morning I wrote a note with a message to Austin on an old post card that we had picked up in Rachel, Nevada while traveling along the Extraterrestrial Highway. The post card was placed with the plastic toy soldier in a small clear freezer bag. 

I left the package by the utility pole between our trailer sites as we drove off, confidently hoping that Austin’s curiosity will have him happen upon it, thereby repurposing the plastic toy soldier with the mission of bringing happiness to a young boy. Together, the plastic toy soldier and Austin will make a much better team and besides, I am not a collector of things, just stories. 

I know I rambled here but I don’t want you to miss out on the photographs captured by the TWT team while traveling the Monterey and Big Sur.

Update: Sometimes life decisions come easy, as if there were some bigger thing guiding us or maybe just some lucky coincidence in life. I had a text message conversation with an old work friend from Portland while in Kamp Klamath. After briefing him on our plans to sloverland back to Golden when we leave here to fix up and sell the trailer, he texted back that he was interested. After a series of text messages and phone calls to agree on the basics of the deal, a drive to the Portland with a day to empty and clean it, they now own it. Somehow we were also able to squeeze most of what was in the trailer into the already tight space of the Tacoma bed and yes, we are currently homeless until we figure out what we are going to do next. And as of now, our 14 months of camping throughout the USA in the 12-foot hard-sided pop-up has officially come to an end, a material ending to this gap year journey full of amazing memories, but certainly not an ending to our life of adventure. We will travel east over the next few months to visit family and friends, giving pause to the meaning of our experiences, next chapters, and thought to the next blog likely titled, Moochdockingwithtoohey. Please don’t go away as we still have a few blogisodes of our journey to catch you up on.

The next blogisode will feature content on our continued caravan up the northern California coast starting at our interesting Hipcamp on San Pablo Bay and then off to the Redwoods National Park and Klamath, California. Until then…

9 thoughts on “California Edition 5: Monterey, Big Sur, and the Collector

  1. Dear Kemp,
    Loved the story about the toy soldier. I have to admit I knew the minute you mentioned Austin, what was going to happen to the soldier. After only being with you a short while, I discerned your kind, giving spirit. I know it was hard to give up your trailer. It was such an important part of your life for the last 14 months. The 3 of you had an adventure of a lifetime. If you, Lysette and Toohey are ever in the Shreveport area, we would love a visit.

  2. To the KLT trio…

    A journey well done and expertly described along the way. You packed a buttload of fun into 12′ and the Tacoma. So glad we ran into you when we did so that we could live vicariously through your travels. Looking forward to what’s next for you all. Best wishes.

    1. I have been following you guys and enjoying your writing and adventures. I met you guys at the Grover Hot Springs near Markleyville back in June. My wife, Tari and I were in the blue/gray sprinter van and we spoke briefly when you were on your way out. I am still thinking about Baja in 2022! Craig

  3. Thank you soooo much for sharing your adventures, thoroughly enjoyed every “blog”, each in its own way. Although it will be great to see all, I am somewhat saddened the adventure is coming to a close. I know personally, there will be some adjustment in returning to “normal”. As Ted Lasso says “What I can tell you, is with the exception of the wit and wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes, not much lasts forever.”
    Keep me posted as you sweep the roads one last time before Golden, I will be splitting time between CO, AZ, MT, and FL… and points in between.
    Give Toohey a long, but gentle, hug for me.
    Jay and Sophie

  4. Read and enjoyed every word of this post. I’m giving Austin a huge hug in my imagination … and maybe one too for his mom and grandma, who –something tells me — have had a tough go of life. Loved the photos of Toy Soldier in his epic Big Sur landscape (worthy of his courageous feats, I’m pretty sure). Kemp’s colorful writing and Lysette’s lovely photography have made for enjoyable vicarious travel for me. Thank you! Will be great to have you back in Golden — in between your family visits and continuous adventuring. The REAL journey never ends. ~diane

  5. I particularly loved this post. Austin is touching lives across the interwebs with his friendliness and joy. Thanks for sharing this special story.

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