Pacific Coast Highway Day 3 – Monterey to Gualala, CA

Dear Diary,

I planned on navigating San Francisico on a Sunday because I have been there often enough to know that traffic, like any other large city, can be a headache.

I didn’t want any headaches.

What I didn’t plan into this little scenario of mine was Mother’s Day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was reluctant to say good-bye to Monterey. It is a destination unto itself, and although I’ve been here twice before, I feel like I have only scratched the surface. The surface of the water I haven’t even begun to touch yet (Monterey Bay is so special).

I will be back Monterey.

I headed north on Highway 1 going inland once again.

Let me say this about Highway 1, what the rest of the world knows as Pacific Coast Highway. Every county through all three states has renamed highway 1 as if by putting a different name to it they can lay claim to it’s notoriety. But they can’t change the number!PCH SignI still had my convertible top down and although I feel like I might be close to the shore, I can’t see it. This is a pretty unremarkable stretch of highway that widens as it goes through the marsh lands and sand dunes.

This was one of the places I was tempted to take 101 as it would have cut off a considerable amount of travel time, but I stayed true to my plan. I wasn’t in a hurry, and my bucket list said Highway 1, not 101.

I am aware that I am only slightly more than halfway through California, yet if I were on the East Coast I would have already gone through 3 states.

45 miles north of Monterey I reach the other end of Monterey Bay where lies the city of Santa Cruz. I wished I had time to stop and play here. I have never been here before but feel like I have after hearing all about it from friends who attended UC Santa Cruz.

It’s beach, boardwalk, seashore amusement park, pier and other unique qualities make it another destination, but I have an unfamiliar and the longest drive day ahead of me so I wistfully move on. I had the feeling I would be sorry, but as it turned out…I wasn’t.

The tundra between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay (another 50 miles north) is all the same; rolling hills, grasslands, marsh, farmsteads, and brush. At least I got to play peak-a-boo with the Pacific Ocean along the way.

The highway meets up with the sea again and it is glorious between Half Moon Bay and San Francisco. The road isn’t challenging, instead it rather lazily follows the shoreline which affords me the luxury of staring at the water and clouds. It is Mother’s Day, and I see families at all of the local beaches picnicking.

This makes me homesick for the first time since I started my lone trek.

I stopped at a beach and had what had become my daily meal “on-the-go”, a PB&J with trail mix. The weather had turned from sunny to grey. I noticed my mood would change accordingly.

I don’t know what came first, the grey or the homesickness, but they did not compliment each other.

I pressed on to what I both adored and dreaded, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Here would be the last place that would be familiar to me. I have spent time in San Francisco on many occasions, and I love it. I didn’t necessarily leave my heart there, but very close.

Over the last 40 years of my life I have been to Chinatown, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Wax Museum, Pier 39, Golden Gate Park and Bridge, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, Hyde Street and various other absolutely fantastic points, and again there is so much more I have yet to see, but not today.

As I approach the city, what I dreaded the most happened…gridlock. The sky had grown foggy and misty, and I regretted leaving my top down (you KNOW I mean convertible), but I dared not get off of highway 1 lest I not be able to get back on. The traffic would move just enough so that I couldn’t put it up in traffic, but it wasn’t so bad. Much better than entering the city from the 5, and sitting in traffic there.

I finally reach the Golden Gate Bridge, and as fate would have it, I couldn’t see it. It was shrouded in fog, but I still took a photo from where my car top would be if it wasn’t down. Traffic was bad, so I didn’t take my eyes off of the road, so let me apologize in advance for the dicey photos.

This was what the bridge looked like as I reached what I assumed was the midway point.

Golden Gate 1 And another dicey photo taken from over my windshield…

Golden Gate 2

But this is what it looked like when I disembarked…crazy huh? Notice the traffic at the bottom of the photo. Yeesh.

Golden Gate 3

But the fun was not yet over. It took me another hour just to get to where the 1 and 101 parted ways again.

Then came the most challenging part of the highway that I would encounter. From where the 1 and 101 split to Stinson Beach was another 2 hours.

This is the only stretch where I felt road rage welling up. There was a sign before the hair raising turns started that clearly said “NO VEHICLES OVER 23 FEET ALLOWED”.

Pretty straightforward to me. I didn’t know why just yet…but I would take note, if I had a vehicle over 23 feet.

Evidently others do not take note, and let me add if they were in LA, they would have been set straight pretty quickly. Tour busses would get stuck on those hairpin turns and the road would have to clear in order for them to execute the turns. Not just one or two, but what seemed like at least 20 of them.

The lesson here? Patience Prudence, patience. I am not patient, which is why I’m a Mad Baby Boomer, not Patient Baby Boomer. ‘Nuff said.

After Stinson Beach (which looked like an adorable little beach town, but crowded (which is something I had already grown accustomed to NOT seeing in the last 2 days) so I pressed on through.

I was terrified more than a couple of times along this stretch of road, and quite frankly my nerves were frazzled by the time I reached level ground again.

I nearly got out and kissed it. Silly me, I had no idea what was in store for me later in the day.

Oddly, the next 50 miles to Bodega Bay was lonesome. I had very suddenly been abandoned by all of the traffic at Stinson Beach, and in addition to the grey conditions again (Stinson Beach had been awash in sunshine), I felt insecure.

Had I taken a wrong turn like Day 1?

I had no phone coverage to consult my GPS, no hubby to reassure me, and the road signs seemed very far apart. Tomales Bay was grey, desolate, and downright depressing (and seemingly never-ending). I didn’t even feel jealous of the occasional homestead along it’s marshy shores.

Back inland, and after Bodega Bay I got my wish to be back to the seashore, but I didn’t anticipate how challenging this stretch of highway 1 would be. It certainly didn’t look that bad on Google maps!

I was getting tired, I had been driving now for 6 hours, and I was completely off track as far as where I was with regard to my destination…Gualala.

Had I passed it?

Finally! I came upon something I could easily pinpoint on my paper map (like old school) by way of the Russian River. It was still a little grey, but there was no denying the distinction of this waterway. It meandered beneath me on the highway, but it wasn’t until I crested the mountain and caught site of the estuary that I was left breathless.

Russian River

I looked closer at what I initially thought were very tidy logs along the sand bar, but when I looked closer I realized they were more of my friends the elephant seals. Very smart of them. I’m not sure what the big birds are, city girl remember?

Russian River Elephant Seals

After stretching my legs and breathing in the incredible beauty of this place, I moved on with a much lighter heart. I was exhausted though, and I didn’t know it but the most challenging and treacherous part of this day’s road was still ahead of me.

The next 33 miles would take me another hour to navigate, and by the time I saw Ocean Cove General Store, I was nearing tears at the thought that I had passed Gualala and would have to go back through what I had just endured.

I parked my pony and went into the General Store to confer with someone…anyone…where I was with relation to Gualala.

As I entered the store in my near hysterical state, I could tell the four men inside were enjoying a Sunday rhythm that they must practice regularly. They stopped their easy conversation and looked at me. All four faces.

The one behind the counter said, “Can I help you little lady?”

I replied with a dry mouth and even though I tried to control it, my voice was too high and betrayed me., “Have I passed Gualala?”

They all turned around at that point to fully face me and the same gentleman replied, “No ma’am, it’s another 20 or so miles down the road.”

I replied “Oh thank you so much” with such relief, that one of the other gentleman asked, “Are you driving these parts alone?”

“Yes” I said. I added, “I’m traveling highway 1 to Seattle”.

They all walked toward me while the original gentleman (coming out from behind the counter} said, “Well God Almighty, do you know how long it’s been since we seen a lone woman purist along here?”

“No” I said, “I don’t know how long and I don’t know what a purist is…”

“A purist is someone who sticks to highway 1 to get here. It’s been a long time since we seen a lone female do it. You got guts girl!”

With that, they all took turns patting me on the back and high fiving me.

This did more for me than I can adequately express. I will be eternally grateful to those men. They gave to me a renewed sense of pride, strength, and determination. Never underestimate the power of encouragement and a kind word. Thanks boys.

Ocean Cove

I finally made it to Gualala, and this time I enjoyed the scenery. It reminded me of Colorado, if Colorado was on the ocean. In other words…just beautiful.

I checked into my small room (because that’s all they have in Gualala), but the view was breathtaking. In spite of the fact that I still had no phone reception and would spend the only Mother’s Day to date without speaking to my kids or hubby, I could breathe again.

I found peace here.

I cannot end this day without speaking of the most incredible woman (and her husband) I met on this little path outside my window.

Gualala

She was in her 80’s and was a transplant here in Gualala from her home in South Africa. I asked her if she missed her home, and if she was willing could she tell me about it?

She said, “Yes, I miss it every day of my life” and proceeded to paint the picture with both the good and the bad of the world she had to escape to survive so long ago.

What an incredible gift.

Her last words to me were, “Be careful on your travels my dear, you are rather special.”

Thank you God for sending these incredible people my way, and making both the landscape that I see, and the landscape of those who have indelibly touched my life…so special.

Until next time dear diary.

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Pacific Coast Highway Day 1, LA to Pismo Beach

Dear Diary,

Even mid-morning on a Friday, Pacific Coast Highway through LA can be daunting.

But this time was different. Wonderfully different.

I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere.

Normally, road rage will be the death of my soul someday. I am used to LA traffic sadly. We drive angry. Just because we don’t honk (that’s against the law in CA, unless you are trying to avoid an accident, lots of room for interpretation there) like NYC, don’t underestimate the propensity for angry responses in varying degrees of expression.

I traversed Malibu with my normal indifference. A not so subtle reminder of the very wealthy who have bought up Southern California’s beautiful beaches, making them nearly inaccessible to the other 99% of us poor slobs. I suppose it is only fitting, if I lived there I’d just sit and stare at the sun on the water mesmerized by the vista, and worry about how I was going to pay my property taxes.

Wait, I already do that sans the vista. Nevermind.

Where were my ancestors when they moved to Southern California and beach property was still affordable? Not at the beach. I’m still a little mad at them about that.

I digress.

Somehow in Oxnard, I got off of highway 1 and ended up at Port Hueneme. What the heck? I assumed that highway 1 would hug the coast, and like an idiot right out of the gate, I got lost. Damn my old school pony (Mustang). Well, not really. I still love it despite its retro gadget-less-ness.

I stop for gas and put down the convertible top. Bad move.

A homeless man decides he is going to jump in my car and “go with me” as he put it. Before I could even wipe off the look of horror/terror off of my face, the gas station owner came running out and berated him to be on his way.

Whew, that was a close one. Note to myself…DO NOT PUT DOWN CONVERTIBLE TOP WHEN ON A SIDE STREET OF OXNARD AND AN OBVIOUS TRAVELING SOLO FEMALE DRIVER. Check.

I acquiesced to using the GPS on my phone to get back on track. I don’t care for Oxnard. Just sayin’.

North inland to Ventura where the 1/101 again run alongside the beautiful Pacific Coast. I love Ventura, I have spent a few fabulous weekends there. The convertible  top came down again so I didn’t miss this tiny bit of shoreline running alongside the highway. While it is beautiful, I am aware of the fact that I am still on a 4 lane freeway.

On in to Santa Barbara where the 1/101 again veer inland. I love Santa Barbara. It’s like a clean, shiny, Spanish diamond with its white washed walls and tiled roof tops. Even the freeway is beautifully lined with mature Eucalyptus and oak trees. Just passing through this time, but I have spent time in Santa Barbara and only scratched the surface of what secrets this city holds in unparalleled beauty, history, sea life, and being the gateway to the Channel Islands.

I spent a weekend camping and sea cave kayaking on Santa Cruz Island which is one of my most spectacular bucket list accomplishments (especially since my kayak was taking on water which qualifies it for the “value added” bucket list).

I reluctantly leave Santa Barbara and about 10 miles (I’m not good with miles so don’t quote me) out of town we (my pony and me) meet up again with the sea. Highway 1/101 only teases me with a short view of its blue sparkling prize (the mighty Pacific) before we turn sharply back inland. After Gaviota State Park, highway 1 and 101 part ways, with the Pacific Coast Highway 1 continuing to Lompoc.

Despite the fact that it is inland, this is a gorgeous drive through native California flora and fauna. Once PCH splits off from the 101, you are truly now away from the populace that characterizes Southern California. Only those wishing to experience the Pacific Coast Highway are on this 2 lane road. There are no more big wheel trucks, no more manic commuters.

I notice that I can breathe in every sense of the word. I have been through here before, but not like this. Not with the convertible top down where I have a 360 degree view, where my eyes can follow the hawk that is following me.

The view is not the only sensory pleasure afforded by my convertible. The aroma of native California scrubs like Sage, Sage Brush, Lilac, Poppy, Chaparral (all preceded by California in their proper names) create a heady brew that as it excites the olfactory, invites the mind and soul to deeply breathe it in and relax. This is the unique perfume of my home, and I would not trade it for the world.

On to Lompoc where highway 1 turns sharply left and to the right becomes highway 246 North. I had planned on taking a couple of detours for personal site seeing opportunities in Lompoc. La Purisima Mission to the north, and Surf Beach to the south, but I’ll admit it, Oxnard and my near hijack incident had shaken my already fragile courage and I decided to pick just one. I chose Surf Beach. This trip was about the ocean, and while I love California’s old missions, I wanted to see the surfers at Surf Beach.

I turned left and instead of following highway 1 as it sharply turned right (still inland), I continued straight south on what had become 246 south. This road is so lonely and untraveled I began to have misgivings about my choice. Surrounded by farmland on both sides I grew more and more worried that I had taken the wrong road. The 9.5 miles south seemed like 100 miles when double guessing my route the entire way.

The brilliant blue sky started becoming greyer and greyer as I neared the ocean. As I paralleled the lazy Santa Ynez river, it’s green marshy inlets and brown backflows seemed increasingly cold, marshy, and forbidding as the skies became heavier with what is known as the “May Grey” conditions of California springtime coastal weather.

By the time I reached Surf Beach I had nearly turned back a few times. This uncertainty is unique to traveling alone, normally there is another warm body to confer with, and in my case – my fearless hubby would be up for whatever adventure this road would bring, even if it was the wrong one.

I parked the car in the train station/beach parking lot at the end of the road. Evidently this is a train stop for the Pacific Surfliner. I couldn’t possibly think of who would commute to and from here, unless it was a surfer.

I was the only one here.

I don’t know what I thought I expected to see. I suppose serious disciples of the sport (they would have to be since this is in the middle of friggin’ nowhere, at least by crowded So Cali standards where surfers fight to “drop in” a wave). Not a soul in sight.

As I headed down to the dismally grey beach, I think I discovered why it was so deserted. This sign was posted prominently at the gateway over the railroad tracks.

Fatal shark attacks really? Plural?

Then I saw it. A memorial to a fallen brother.

Surf 1

I googled the name after I got home and found the tribute to belong to Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., a 39 year old who was killed by a Great White Shark while surfing in October of 2012. His death was preceded almost exactly to the day in 2010 by Lucas Ransom 19, whose life was ended by another Great White Shark while surfing at this beach.

No wonder the beach was so grey.

Was it still in mourning over the death of two of its native sons?

Surf 3

It was windy and cold as I walked down the beach. The dunes and grass were beautiful, but I didn’t feel peaceful like I usually do when in the presence of crashing waves.  The waters seemed treacherous, with rip tides clearly visible in the surf. I felt very alone, cold, and forlorn. Whatever this beach is to its devoted surfers, it was lost to me on this day.

I left for Lompoc to resume my inland trek on PCH another 53 miles to Pismo Beach, which is one of my favorite beaches in California. After passing the Vandenberg Air Force Base, there are several quaint little towns along the highway, but an old Victorian Home in Oceano piqued my curiosity.

A gorgeous white monolith of a home literally locked in by mobile homes. What? I had to get closer, even if it meant driving through the private mobile home park.

Coffee Rice House

I couldn’t resist sneaking up a driveway to get a shot of the side. Beautiful…but sad from neglect and creepy looking.

Norco to Pismo 009

Once again, God bless google. Once I settled into my hotel in Pismo Beach for the night, I discovered this is the Coffee T. Rice house, built in 1885 by a wealthy businessman from Ohio in anticipation of the railroad coming through the area. Beset by the death of his son and soon after his wife, and in financial ruin from delays by the railroad, Mr. Rice moved out just 10 years later a broken man.

The place was then bought and used as a Sanatorium where many deaths are said to have occurred. Since that time the house has changed hands pretty frequently. There is said to be a large blood stain that despite heavy cleaning over the years, reappears in the same spot. It certainly looks like it would fit the bill for a haunted house.

On to Pismo Beach and the ocean again. Finally.

I arrived earlier than planned, and well before check-in time. Fine with me, I love this place. To me, Pismo Beach embodies all of the qualifications that I envision to qualify as a quintessential California beach. Miles and miles of fine sand, a well kept pier, a town center with surf shops and eclectic eateries, a cloudless sunny sky.

I abandoned my pony n the hotel parking lot and headed for a trek along the beach to the pier. It was a bit of distance, but the sea did it’s work. The sun shining brilliantly on the water, the slight surf just kissing my feet, and sound of waves barely breaking against the shore mixed with laughter from children playing in the distance, brought what I had hoped to find on this trip. Peace. Hope. A kinship with the rhythms of nature.

Pismo 2

But I did feel a slight bit of melancholy from being away from my family. We have such good memories from this place, and being alone was in sharp contrast to what I had ever known previously here. I could see my daughter as a little girl running ahead of me with her sand pail.

I was lost in these thoughts when a voice spoke to me.

It was God, interrupting the usual manic pace of my thoughts.

“You are never alone. I am here with you.”

Me: “You know what I mean Jesus, I feel alone.”

Jesus: “Do you remember when you were little the place you used to hide between the wall and mattress of your bed?”

Me: “I do now. I don’t like to remember those times Jesus.”

Jesus: “You don’t have to think about why you were there, just think about that I was there with you.”

Me: “I remember Jesus, and thank you for that. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would be here now…and my step father never found me when I was hidden there.”

I had to chuckle a little at that. To this day, I may be the only person on Earth that has to fight falling asleep during an MRI because I feel so comfortable and safe in such close quarters. Wouldn’t the doctors be horrified if they knew why? Still makes me laugh. My own secret. Well, mine and Jesus’s.

Jesus: “You see, nothing has changed. I am always here with you and no matter how fractured your heart may be, how scared you might be, or how lost you may feel, I am always the same.”

Me: “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I do feel alone, confused, and afraid of what the future may hold. But better now. Much better now.”

Evidently the single pair of footprints on the Pismo Beach sand were from him carrying me.

I continued my trek into town marveling at how clear I had heard his voice. He was right, revisiting that past did not hold its usual dread. I was left with the warm, safe, peaceful feeling I had fallen asleep to between the mattress and the wall 46 years ago.

I bought my dinner at a little Mexican restaurant just off the pier that I cannot recommend. I walked back in time to check-in to my glorious room. If this was any indication, the rest of my trip would be magical.

Pismo 1

My view was extraordinary. The gleaming sea, palm trees, and the rocky cliffs north of the beach. Such a contrast to Surf Beach.

I spotted whales feeding off the shore. It was surreal.

I met a lovely woman from Canada in the patio next to mine. We spoke for a while as we watched the whales and the sun disappear on the horizon.

I leave you today dear diary  with the glorious Pismo Beach sunset.

Pismo3

Day two is Pismo Beach to Monterey. I hope you stay with me.