June 17 – July 5, 2021
The Northern California coast is remote, rugged, and beautiful. It is visually stunning with its coastal mountain ranges, lush rainforest, and tall trees that all abruptly end in a dramatic scene where they collide with the Pacific Ocean. It is at this point that the ocean sends the force of endless waves of cold water striking the coastal cliffs and beaches. The climate along the coast is moist and cool, the coolest summertime place in the lower 48 states yet, in contrast, just a few miles east it’s damn hot. Bears, mountain lions, elk, deer, eagles, osprey, buzzards, and aquatic mammals from seals to whales feed along the coast supported by large amounts of lush edible foliage, prey, and a healthy sea life. It is the same healthy sea life that supported the first human native tribes that still call this area home. The northern coast of California is a smorgasbord of interesting things supporting our curious sloverlanding lifestyle as we moved over small coastal mountains, dropped into beach front harbors, through small towns, and met unique personalities.
Caravanning up the coast of California with the nomadic Helkins of the Hunt clan added to our experience. It was wonderful traveling with them and their two pooches. As an added benefit to us, these two fulltime wanderers spent years in the restaurant industry learning from and becoming really good chefs and knew how to entertain with food and drink. We blended our experiences of seeing beautiful and interesting places with the adventure of sharing meals, daily stories, and of course, laughter around the picnic table.
But first, a TWT learning opportunity around the theme of food. While traveling and thinking of all the delicious foods we were eating, the question came up, why do we call cow meat, beef? And for that matter, why is pig meat called pork and lamb called mutton? According to our Google search we learned that many of these changes occurred after the Norman’s conquered the Anglo-Saxons of Britain. The Anglo-Saxons were peasant farmers who raised the cows and pigs and served the animal meats to the aristocrats who referred to them by their foreign words of boeuf, porc and mouton, somewhat disassociating them from the dirty animals. And in case you’re wondering, although there are various languages for goat meat, they all simply translate to goat.
San Pablo Bay View
Note: Our first stop north wasn’t really northern California but is included in this blogisode because, well, we wanted to and because it wasn’t big enough to stand on its own. It was a short two night stopover on our journey to the north coast and a work-around of the busy San Francisco and Oakland metro area. A place we really enjoyed as one of our favorite, most unique camps on our journey.
Menu Highlights: Dinner at Black Star BBQ/Locally harvested raw oysters and a low country shrimp boil
The Travel Department of the culinary caravan researched and booked a Hipcamp on a patch of land known as the San Pablo Bay View at Terminal 4. The San Pablo Bay waterway begins where the San Francisco Bay ends as it moves inland delivering just the right climate to the vineyards in Napa. If you look down to the map below you will see a small blob of land that jets into the bay. On it sits a coastal mountain that some might call a steep hill. This land mass separates the industrial refineries of Richmond from the views of an active waterway and our camp experience.
The history of this blob of land suggests that it was at one time the last holdover of whale harvesting industry in the USA, the infrastructure of the leading wine processing area prior to prohibition, and served as a military fueling station for naval operation. We passed much of this old infrastructure as we drove in. Once we got to T-4 we found it fenced and gated. Beyond the key coded controlled gate was an unused old worn out industrial site whose last tenants left railroad tracks, dilapidated buildings, and docks with some still falling into the bay. The place apparently sat for years waiting for something good to happen.
Just outside the entry gate to T-4 was a narrow road to the right leading up a steep grade hill with great views of the bay. Once over the summit you drop down more steep windy roads into the small enclave of San Pablo Harbor. If you stopped to read the small signs on the side of the road before heading up you might choose not to venture up the hill as it appeared to be a private drive. The Helkins on the other hand made the decision to drive it in their 32ft rig and to the surprise of the Helkins and those on the other side, they made it!
The harbor is a small spot of flat land with a marina, houseboats with fulltime liveaboards. The current owners of the land have artsy metal structures around the yard, goats, and the main feature, the Black Star BBQ restaurant on the dock. Most of the area along the hills is treed, hilly, and full of deer. In short, this place is a quiet enclave in the midst of a large metropolitan area.
As we continued through the gates to Terminal 4, we found two campground areas. The A sites, aka San Francisco view, sat along the water with a distant view of the San Francisco skyline. (Note: Take heed of the high winds comments in the reviews if you choose to camp here). We camped in the C sites, aka San Pablo Bay view, which sat around the corner with the hill blocking the wind. (for those trying to logically follow along here, there were no B sites). An unused road and narrow lot with old railroad ties, a few new benches, and a table made from one large piece of wood and two wine barrels sat between us and the large active waterway. Our view from camp included a rusty white ship moored a few hundred yards offshore, passing cargo ships moving through the bay, and pleasure boats enjoying the day but likely not the rough choppy water. We watched both mornings as a US Coast Guard helicopter patrolled the area overhead. If you want manicured typical RV camping then this isn’t the place and if dry camping isn’t your thing then keep driving. But if you want a really cool industrial style campsite with million dollar views for $90 a night and some seclusion, then boom.
When we arrived, the only other camper was a fella named Dennis. Dennis was a young, fit, clean-cut dude who was fulltiming it while going through some life changes. He self reported that he was an attorney by trade but his current passion was flying paragliders long distances, for many hours, a sport he referred to as cross country flying. He sat with us sharing his adventures and mishaps during flights.
Later, the owner of the Hipcamp stopped by to say hello and provided information about the area to include some history. He highly encouraged us to go to the Black Star BBQ restaurant this night as the weekend could bring in several hours of wait time based on its recent popularity. Once he left, we took his advice and made the short drive out of Terminal 4 and back over the hill to the San Pablo Harbor. This little piece of land surrounded by the coastal mountains on three sides and the San Pablo Bay on the other was unique and we were completely thrilled with the experience and food. The ambiance of an open air casual dining on a dock with live music was perfect. After we enjoyed our brisket and beer, we got the dogs from the car and strolled the property, seeing the flotilla of house boats, other live-a-board boats plus many pleasure boats. We walked to the end where the dogs got a bit of a swim before returning back to camp for the sunset and to digest the huge amount of brisket in my belly before bed.
Our only full day here was designed to be a relaxation day around camp followed by a seafood feast. The afternoon started off with raw oysters while playing cornhole. We then took time to walk the railroad track bed with the dogs back to the harbor where we strolled the yard art, watched the goats, and then headed home. The evening included more cornhole, a few cocktails, and a wonderful low country shrimp boil. The only excitement were the new neighbors who came. These two young women, one from San Luis Obispo and the other an American who lives in Italy and works for Backcountry Tours. Dennis apparently had forgotten to reserve the night at the site where the two young girls had reserved which created a frenzy of research for confirmation and calls to the owner for answers. Some light and friendly drama ensued before they worked it out, agreeing to share their site with him which squeezed us in a bit, but was certainly okay.
Use the link below for more information about this unique camping spot and if you are ever in this area looking for either good BBQ in a fun setting or a really unique campsite, then we highly recommend it.
Menu Highlights: Oysters at Gourmet Au Bay/Swordfish steaks/Spud Bay fresh crab and Carol’s World Famous Clam Chowder
We packed up early and set off from the camp heading across the long bridge over the bay and into San Rafael where we picked up the 101 north for about 30 miles. We turned off the 101 heading west through the most charming small backroads that eventually led us to the coast. The drive was mostly blue sky and sunny. However, as we got to the coastal areas, we were blanketed by clouds which remained for the day. The temperatures here were forecasted for the mid 60’s and the place was damp from low coastal fog. The RV park had the feel of an old fish camp as it sat on a small bay with a mixture of old and new docks. Most of the boats docked were working fishing boats and charters. The channel appeared extremely shallow with a long straight series of nautical green and red markers in a perfect line coming into the bay from the Pacific Ocean. There was the steady sound of a fog horn blowing and sea lions barking loudly while following the low moan of boat engines as they returned to harbor with their daily catch.
The other wildlife here included the seagulls, egrets, and herons but thankfully they were not nearly as angry as those characters featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, which was filmed in Bodega Bay. Not much is the same as the movie set other than maybe a few buildings and back ground scenery but an interesting little trivia nonetheless. https://www.bodegabay.com/the-birds/
Our one full day here started off slowly, hanging around the camp as the low clouds set in providing a gray feel to the day. The plan was for a bike ride up to Bodega Bay head which sat at the end of the road and entry to the harbor. The ride was nice, low traffic, with some good bike lanes. We took a right turn at the end of the road and up the hill. The top flattened a bit as we we came to a fork. We first rode down the road to the right which ended at a parking lot to an overlook with high cliffs overlooking the coast being pummeled by large waves. The ice plant which is a succulent ground draping the cliffs like a natural carpet. The plant has a rich, dark green leaf that turns red towards the top then produces a colorful flower. The display intermingles with a variety of other colorful flowers that produce an amazingly spicy array of color along the already dramatic cliffs.
We left this overlook heading back to the fork to follow the other road finding another short trail needing to be hiked. The trail, lined with the most amazing yellow wildflowers, was high up along the harbor entry. The sounds of sea lions barking could be heard as they congregated around a small rock island sitting just off the point. We watched as a rogue wave appeared to mystically rise and break through the low fog in the middle of the ocean. As we stood commenting on this we saw a blow of water shoot up from the surface and the large body of what we’d determine was a humpback whale just below us off the cliff. Money! We moved along the trail watching it as it came to the surface repeatedly, slowly and with purpose. A pretty cool sight indeed.
Along our bike ride home we stopped at Spud Point Crab Company for a late afternoon lunch. We each got a quarter pound of fresh crab with a cup of clam chowder and a loaf of sourdough bread which we all enjoyed as we sat at a picnic table in front of the place and along the road. It was indeed a wonderful moment to be in Bodega Bay.
Bodega Bay was visually pleasing, mostly occupied by day trippers from the metro area to the south and fisherman who enjoyed the harvesting the waters. In fact, our neighbor and his family who trailered their own boat and fished several times during the day kindly shared their catch with camp neighbors. They happily handed us a baggie of their freshly cleaned morning catch of rockfish just as we were packing up camp to leave, something of a prize for us and extremely nice of them, the type of positive humanity that we have found on every turn of our journey.
Menu Highlights: Fresh rockfish caught by our neighbor at Bodega Bay, fresh artichoke cooked using the original Chart House recipe
Our move north up the coast was first to the small, zero traffic light town of Manchester which we passed through before hucking a left off the 1 and into a KOA, which was AOK. We chose adjoining sites to support our karavan and went for a bike ride as soon as kamp was set up. Our bike route first took us to the beach where we went for a short walk through the dunes. The sand was dark, heavy, gritty, and loose, making it tough to walk. The beach wasn’t the rocky coast we’d been enjoying but more typical beach with dunes, coastal sea grasses, old trees, and a good surf break. We enjoyed a few minutes of that space before heading back out to the 1 where we rode back into the small uneventful town of Manchester. We quickly turned back towards camp then hucked a right onto a small farm road where we found some cycling nirvana. The road steadily climbed past the Manchester Community Center, passing a few small older homes, before curving up and through small farms with rolling hills and at some point lush trees. There were wild daisies growing along the road and more wonderful scenery. It was great that we had time to take in all the scenery on the uphill as the decent was fast and fun. The finish line at Kamp was met with a cold beer and cheer.
Dinner was fresh fish and artichoke using the original Chart House recipe. Full disclosure here. I admittedly have never in my 50 something years of life eaten fresh artichoke from the outside leaves inward to the center. We picked the leaves scraping the meat off, tossing most of it into the bowl. The leaves progressively got more meaty and flavorful as we worked our way inward. Once we got to the colorful center, we were warned not to eat the spiny stuff but to remove it and toss it into the bowl. We were finally at the heart of the plant which was more familiar territory. This soft ball sized flower was reduced to a few inches of wonderfully flavored vegetable. It was delicious and followed by an amazing plate of rockfish fillets from our neighbors at Bodega Bay.
Menu Highlights: Scallops, local ling cod, brussel sprouts, blistered shishito peppers
Just before leaving Manchester KOA, we took the dogs to the large dog park for some free time. While there, we spoke to another dog owner who told us he was waiting on a tow truck to haul their 42-foot rig to a repair facility in Sacramento. His story took us on his 8-hour journey as he traveled south the previous day along the 1. He met an uphill switchback with a 10 percent grade where his rear tire left the road resulting in the rig getting stuck. With traffic backing up and nerves high, he made an effort to reverse it out over the bend in the road, his front end drug the asphalt, cracking his front windshield. Once he got to the KOA he called his insurance company to report the claim. Even though the vehicle was still drivable, the insurance adjuster preferred he didn’t and paid for the long distance tow so technicians could properly check for structural issues. Holy Moly! This sketchy section of roadway was the setting of our journey heading north up the 1 following the Helkin’s in their 32 foot rig plus toad, sweaty palms ensuing.
Thankfully the drive wasn’t nearly as eventful for us as we rolled downhill through the accident scene and beyond. This section of the coast had homes sitting cliffside along the Pacific Ocean followed by stretches of pasture with cows grazing who seemed unaware of any view at all. We past a few state parks along the way and mostly the road was rustic beauty. The roads were hilly, curvy, and fun to drive in the right vehicle. The wildflowers were popping adding to the already magnificent scenery. The drive passed in and out of a variety of foliage and fauna representing several different eco zones from rainforest to coastal prairie.
We made it to Caspar Beach RV park which sat in a tight cliff lined sea level ravine with a small beach and rocky harbor just across the street from the entrance. The land locked park can best be described as rain forest with really tight spaces. This place was busy and as much a party scene as any we’ve stayed. The tent camp sites located in the back were the nicest section based on space and natural setting of trees, shrubs, and the largest banana slugs I’ve ever seen.
Mendocino is the town in the area that gets most of the love. It sat to the south of Caspar with its quaint little Victorian artist enclave perched on the coastal prairie overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Fort Bragg, located north of Caspar, is an old lumber town and more blue collar touristy. We explored other places in the area like Russian Gulch State Park, Point Cabrillo, and the best was the small beach at the end of our campground.
We ventured into Fort Bragg which we found interesting and worth some research. We learned that the place started as a military garrison/outpost but turned into a papermill town. The current town exists with all the good oceanside real estate sitting behind chain link fencing where the paper mill use to be just waiting for someone with lots of money to repurpose the land. The Main Street is old and a bit worn out looking. The Skunk Train is the main attraction and still operates as a museum and tourist rail line taking folks into the surrounding Redwood forest. The name Skunk Train, was given as at one point it was more street car than typical train, powered by gasoline with wood burning stoves to warm the cars. The smell was reportedly putrid so locals would say they are like skunks, you’d smell them before you’d see them.
Our time at Caspar included enjoying the dog friendly beach as our pooches splashed through the surf to chase balls, sticks, and rocks, rolled in sand, and were simply happy dogs. In Fort Bragg, we enjoyed a basket of prawns and chips and a cold pint of Pliny the Elder on the dock at Sea Pals which sat on the Noyo River among the commercial fishing operations. We rode bikes through the trails at Point Cabrillo and Russian Gulch State Park where we hiked out to sink holes that have been formed along the coast, some sitting 200 feet inland. We could see waves rolling into the sink hole through caves beneath the ground. Each day was capped off with drink and food at camp, enjoying conversation and local seafood to include scallops and ling cod, all cooked to perfection.
Hell’s Heat: Red Bluff, CA
Menu Highlights: Ribeye steaks with salad wedge/Mexican Shrimp Cocktail, Aguachile, watermelon salad with feta, lime, and basil
Attempts to secure camp sites along the coast for two rigs for the upcoming weekend failed. The travel department worked diligently eventually finding a spot a good day’s drive east over the mountains and into the valley in the town of Red Bluff. It looked promising as it sat along the banks of the Sacramento River and was heavily treed. Only after reserving the sites did we learned that the camp location was under a severe heat warning with temperatures forecasted as high as 113 degrees. Nonetheless, we packed up and left our damp cool coastal experience to beat the weekend crowds and found a spot in… hell. But first, the drive through the Redwood forest was scenic with large pines and fir trees, curvy roads, and lots of California cars. We eventually made it to Sycamore Grove camp in Red Bluff. It was hot, but late in the afternoon so the heat didn’t seem insurmountable. We set up, walked the camp and as the sun fell and the evening began, we assembled at the Helkins for our evening picnic table culinary adventure. They had thawed ribeye cut cow meat which was cooked to perfection on the Blackstone. Sleep was difficult in the A-Liner as it didn’t drop below 90 degrees until well after midnight but we woke to a nice morning. Nice enough for a quick morning run before the heat hit, and the heat hit hard. By early afternoon, while sitting in the shade of a tree, my phone stopped working because of the ambient temperature. I showered outside with cold water, kept Toohey wet, and shaded and by noon, had decided we had to leave.
While we kept wet at camp, Lysette and her sister made a drive to the Target in Reading for an electric fan, inflatable swimming pool, and some other items but mostly they enjoyed the AC in the car and stores. When they returned home, we gathered at the Helkin’s rig where their AC was cold as were the drinks and dinner. They had prepared a cold dinner dish of Mexican shrimp cocktail and Aguachile which were both amazing and perfect for our time in hell. And while in hell and enjoying this dish, I also learned that ceviche isn’t actually a city in Italy but a South American method of preparing fresh seafood by marinating it in citrus juices. In fact, ceviche originated in Peru and has nothing to do with Italy. Stomachs full, we left them for our hot box of a camper and rough night of sleep while the strange campers across the grass held some sort of spiritual dance with lights around their camp fire. Yep.
The morning came and we quickly left for the coast!
Kamp Klamath/Cher’ere Campground – Klamath, CA
Menu Highlights: Chicken breast, peppers/ Cheese burgers and a salad/Halibut, asparagus, scored sweet potatoes/Filet mignon, marinated zucchini, grilled sweet onion, salad/Hot dogs, bacon wrapped stuffed jalapeños
Perspective changes everything and after experiencing hot, we chose our destination to be opposite on the cool California coast with daily highs in the low 70’s and scenery described as heavenly. The TWT & Helkins travel team secured reservations through Friday and we got the heck out of hell before the morning temperature rose above 90. The drive to our climate nirvana was through Redding then up the mountains through Whiskeytown winding all through the hot high country before finally dropping us beneath the coastal marine layer of low cool clouds and back to the 101. We turned left, south for a few miles towards Eureka finding our first overnight stop at Redwood Coast RV Park in Arcata, CA. The park sat behind and old woodyard just off the highway and was in fact an old KOA. Based on what we observed, it was likely kicked out of the franchise based on the lack of upkeep to KOA standards which is a pretty mediocre mark. We played a round of cornhole, walked the park, and enjoyed left over Mexican shrimp cocktail, aquachile, and watermelon for dinner. The next morning we bolted again slightly north on the 101 to Klamath Beach Road and finally Kamp Klamath. Our initial impression was that it was a beautiful. It sat on a patch of land sandwiched between the Redwood National Park and Klamath River. The beach was about a mile and a half down a narrow pot-holed road that was once the old coastal drive. The beach access was from a small roadside pull-off where you first pass through a gate then walk through a flat grassy river front meadow that were Yurok Tribal Ceremonial Grounds. At the far end of this was a small path that emptied onto the beach with views of the inlet. The inlet, with its large boulder feature, was full of everything aquatic hunting and fishing. The fish making their way to the Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean while the dynamics of the break of the ocean against the rivers outgoing waters created a major hydro-disturbance. We spent lots of time down here as this place was remote and remarkable, pure entertainment.
To match remarkable, we spent time at camp while the Helkin’s prepared and cooked a dinner of chicken breast, peppers, and rice on the well seasoned Blackstone. We all sat quietly enjoying the nice temperatures and relaxed vibe of the park placing lots of physical and emotional distance between us and the hot we experienced over the last few days.
Activities that we shared over the next few days included bike rides along the coastal trail and Adler drive, hikes through the redwoods, and stops along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway which is a main Redwood National Park drive. We saw huge herds of coastal elk which are every bit as large as those seen in the rockies. I had a bear sighting while on one of the bike rides that was caught on camera by a bystander on her cell phone. The daily trips to the beach to watch the feasting among aquatic mammals and birds continued to amaze us. Dinners continued to be as wonderful as the campground.
We had to move camp sites on one occasion in order to stay at Kamp Klamath but our luck ran out over the Fourth of July weekend where they had no availability. The result wasn’t terrible as we found several good sites at the Cher’ere Campground, a tribal run operation just two miles up the road. Other campers there were sparse, possibly because they had no web presence, but the sites were large and facilities clean.
There was one other couple in our section of Camp Cher’ere the day we arrived. They had a truck camper which they’d left sitting on its stands while they were gone with their truck. As we left to make our provision run to Crescent City, the owners pulled in and from the look of it, were preparing to leave giving us even more space. We returned a few hours later with four filet mignon steaks, a hearty appetite, and their camper now sitting on the ground. Apparently the legs where they joined the camper had rotted. There were several other men from around the camp working to engineer the heavy camper back up to the truck bed using several boards which they found by disassembling the picnic table, a ratchet strap, and muscle. They were using the two boards as rails to slide the camper up towards the truck bed. Needless to say, safety was not much of a thought with this team. We tentative helped, never getting into any danger zones while offering suggestions not to do things like crawl under it or between it and the truck bed. The idea was finally made to tilt the camper on its rear edge and back the truck under it. Now with about 10 men and the front edge of the camper on the bed of the truck, we lifted the back up gradually until it was about 3 feet off the ground propping it with a large metal propane tank and the metal fire ring. The last move to get it on the bed was using the 10 manpower thrust to push it forward and finally securely on to the bed of the truck. Success with no injuries. The young couple had reportedly just purchased the camper for $5,500 to use for their trip to Alaska and this was their maiden voyage. They left the camp about an hour later after making final efforts to secure the camper to the truck and tacking up some of the siding that had been damaged in the collapse.
As for the team, we enjoyed a nice dinner of filet mignon with zucchini and squash marinated in balsamic, sweet onion, and salad followed by a round of cornhole and a great night sleep.
July Fourth, Independence Day, started with a run out and back along Klamath Beach Road while the Helkins took a drive over to experience the Trees of Mystery. As the afternoon developed and the red, white and blue garb was donned, we started tossing bean bags at the hole in the wood while the progressive food was prepared and delivered. It all started with bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers, followed by hot dogs and burgers. The day was festive with one kids parade while we celebrated our nation’s independence at camp.
The next morning, July 5th was cloudy, misty, and the day the Helkins departed to continue their drive north to Coos Bay, OR and beyond while we opted to remain here in Klamath for most of July. It was hard to see them drive off but with all the memories fresh in our mind and the knowledge we’d see them again soon, all was good… except we now had to cook for ourselves.
Our move was easy, a two mile drive back to Kamp Klamath, and a spot to sit for 15 days, a time in one place which we hadn’t done since Christmas 2020 and something we were both looking forward to. A place to relax in the cool coastal climate and enjoy the quiet quirky feel of the place in what would turn out to be our last camping spot with the trailer.
Update: The time since we last unhooked the trailer from our truck until now has been a blur. We traveled east from Portland to Billings where we spent a few nights then south to Golden where we sat for most of August. We split time rig-sitting for the Helkins in their 30 foot motor home and then the remainder of the month based out of the basement apartment of some really good acquaintances. We traveled to Savannah by way of family in Nebraska and Ohio. September has been with family in Savannah celebrating the wonderful life of my mom who passed away last year and a family wedding. Lysette and I enrolled in 4 coastal kayak trips throughout the month. (Note, if you ever get to Savannah enjoy the historic stuff but get yourself to Little Tybee by boat or kayak. It is one of the most special wild places on earth that thankfully gets little attention).
We miss the sloverlanding lifestyle, the speed and pace where you can slow it all down to fully breath in a place. A pace of life where you can enjoy new places, get to know new people, and take the time to experience it all. All the things you don’t get wile traveling fast or with an agenda. We also miss being more organized as currently life without all our stuff feels quite disorganized.
Lastly, we have signed a lease for a condo in Winter Park, Colorado that will carry us over until May 1, 2022 when we’ll move back into our home in Golden. This will give us a winter to figure stuff out our future, ski, and relax in one place for a while. Toohey doesn’t know it yet but we feel he can’t wait for some stability and he loves snow.