Monterey to Mendocino to Delle

Of all the ways we get around my favorite and ironically least-traveled vehicle is an inflatable kayak. The Tiger is a very close second, but the only problem with these craft is that while they can accommodate two travelers, doing so limits their capacities, not to mention having to leave the dogs at home. That’s been where the Nomad comes in, our purpose-built overlander to take the four of us wherever we want to go. Cavernous capacities by comparison; we can gear up with provisions to last ten days on the road or the trail, except it doesn’t do so well in certain creature comforts like personal hygiene, a good night’s sleep, and protection from the elements, at least more than a rain fly.

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After much research and debate, we decided a base-camp approach would work best, something that would set-up quickly with most of civilization’s accoutrements at hand, something the Nomad couldn’t do beyond a JetBoil, a sleeping pad and a porta potty. This decision lead to a radical reworking of how we travel and has plunged us into a culture I’ve only witnessed with my parents. We bought an RV.

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While this particular RV is of the lightweight variety, it’s too much to tow for the Nomad, so we picked up a pickup to tow it and to stow our recreational equipment. I guess that makes it an RV, too.

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We made this acquisition on the cusp of a trip to Monterey for our daughter’s wedding on the 3rd of August, thinking this would be a great way to break us into the RV life and explore America’s fascination of taking it all with you and sticking it in a KOA pull-through. The irony of the trip is we decided to leave Ginger and Maryann at home since we’d have no place for them during the big wedding day.

We also decided to make a vacation out of the trip, extending beyond Monterey Bay north to Mendocino for the rest of the week.

Years ago I chose the Montero as an overlanding platform because of it’s perfect wheelbase, that distance between the axles that gives solid handling and track off road and stability and comfort on freeways, so it took a bit to get used to nearly another yard between the axles and another 21 feet behind the bumper, but it didn’t take long due to the pairing of the trailer to the truck. They play well together.

And we quickly got used to having our own, easily accessible and secured space for rest-stop lunches and naps. Okay, I could get used to this. Not too, sure about the KOAs, though.

We arrived Thursday evening at the Salinas/Monterey KOA, our first experience in this camping microcosm and had the Viking set up in no time. It’s amazing what a difference 30 amps, water pressure and sewer hookup make. Yes, it wasn’t really camping in this little asphalt jungle, but it provided what we needed for three nights.

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We spent the evening with the nearly newlyweds in Monterey and retired back in the trailer late that night. Adhering to Maslow’s philosophy, we swapped out the standard RV bed with a deep memory foam mattress along with great pillows, having compromised both bodies and heads on lesser surfaces throughout our camping career and as the sandman started the nocturnal slide I was converted; no excruciatingly limited foot room in a mummy bag, no finding that one exact angle on the inflatable pillow that was close to comfortable, no fighting a goddam zipper, no smacking my head on the ceiling of the Montero (yes, I learned and it’s been awhile), and best of all no answering the call of nature out in, um, nature after an amazingly awkward egress from the sleeping platform that is the Nomad.

Friday morning we made breakfast and geared up for the day in Monterey. For Mindy that meant a bike ride from the wharf through Seventeen Mile Drive and back. For me that meant putting in.

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It was amazing to be back on the water, back on the ocean, in this boat. I paddled from the wharf to the Monterey Bay Aquarium under a foggy sky.

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This was where I put in for the first time over fifteen years ago and fell in love with Monterey and this way to make passage.

I made it back to shore long before Mindy finished her ride, which gave me a chance to sort out the kayak and relax in the back of the Silverado. The mounted kayak is Mindy’s. The Advance Elements kayak deflates and packs up into a bag.

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I bought this truck with two considerations, towing and its ability to haul the Tiger, never really thinking that it would be a platform for all our human-powered stuff as well.

Friday evening we had a picnic with most of the wedding party at Lovers’ Point, and got to know new in-laws a bit better.

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Saturday was the big day and we were lucky enough to start it off with the happy couple over breakfast at our favorite spot.

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We spent the rest of the morning shopping for wedding clothes and then spent a remarkable afternoon witnessing the union of these two incredible people at Point Pinos Lighthouse.

The Crown and Anchor hosted our wedding dinner where we enjoyed watching a mashup of cultural proportions.

We enjoyed a bit of an afterparty with the newlyweds, said our goodbyes and crashed back at our base camp for one final night at the Salinas/Monterey KOA.

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Sunday found us weaving forty feet of vehicles up the PCH to The City.

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The PCH turns into the Shoreline Highway where we threaded through Muir and Stinson Beaches and up to Tomales Bay where we stopped at Nick’s for a return to incredible crab cakes and chowder. You’d have to drive Highway 1 to Stinson to appreciate the feat of navigating this combo through there, but I loved it.

We landed at the Manchester KOA just before dusk and listened to the outdoor movie showing of Beetlejuice.

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Monday was Mendocino day, but before we left we thought we’d check out Manchester State Beach just adjacent the KOA. The road ends at a nondescript building with cameras and razor wire on its perimeter, and that’s where we found these guys.

They are Peter Behrbohm and Markus Bühler, two filmmakers traveling the actual internet highway, the data transmission backbone, what they call “a cinematic journey to the world along the infrastructure of the Internet. We just happened to find them shooting a segment at the entrance to this mysterious building, which we discovered was the Manchester Cable Station, built by AT&T in 1954 on the United States’ closest point to the Hawaiian Islands, where the internet backbone starts its journey across the Pacific. Check out The Atlantic’s article on the irony of this.

I wish Peter and Markus’ website detailed their work a bit more, but in chatting with them we found out they’ll have an installation of screens featuring their uncut footage at a film festival in Germany. I’m hoping they’ll update their site with more information on this. Performance art at its finest. (No dogs were injured during their filming.)

We headed north to Mendocino and had lunch at the Mendocino Hotel.

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We both went for the shrimp salad sandwiches and both wished we ordered something else. The beverages were cold and good.

We shopped at Out of This World on Mendocino’s Main Street, picked up a nice pair of binoculars and a couple of games to add to the RV experience, and then spent the rest of our visit walking looping back on Albion Street, shopping and enjoying each other along the way.

Of all the snapshots on this Mendocino afternoon, this is my favorite:

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Green in a blue state.

We made it back to Manchester late afternoon, did a little grocery shopping and played the games we bought that day around our campfire while listening to KOA’s movie of the evening, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, quoting lines.

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She is the fire whisperer. We retired to yet another uninterrupted night of luxurious sleep.

Tuesday was Point Arena day, but my curiosity got the best of me before we left Manchester. One of the internet backbone explorers said that the trunk cable leading from the Manchester Cable Station could actually be seen from the beach. I couldn’t pass that up. We hiked down to the deserted beach and found an amazing number of trunks.

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This wasn’t the least of them, but it wasn’t what I had in mind. A careful examination of the bluff that would be perpendicular to the station lead to finding this:

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They look more like something organic, roots made bare by the failing bluff, but a closer look showed something much more synthetic.

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Well, I’ll be. I have my doubts this is a fiber optic trunk just by its excruciating vulnerability and the fact there were no surveillance devices to be seen (except of the geostationary satellite shooting the top of my head) to secure the site. But, the thought that these lines traveled along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii was awesome, right up there with the Golden Gate Bridge, though not as pretty.

We walked the beach back to the truck and made the quick drive to Point Arena Lighthouse.

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It’s California’s tallest working lighthouse and we took the tour which included mounting the 151 steps to the glass lantern room and catwalk.

The original Fresnel lens was removed years ago and replaced with a dinky, much less romantic, high-tech lamp that’s not much bigger than a Coleman cooler.

We had a great picnic nearby, enjoying San Luis sourdough with cheese, peppered salami, prosciutto di parma, and grapes.

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I’d taken this shot before, but it begs to be captured again and again as the light and tide change.

After lunch we took a little hike along the Point Arena shoreline.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Arena Cove Historic District where we had crab cakes, prawns and clam chowder at the Chowder House and Tap Room.

After a nap back at the KOA we returned to our picnic spot and set up to photograph the lighthouse at sunset.

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She’s such a good sport.

These frames were released while waiting for the sun to get closer to the horizon.

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And then the sun touched the sea.

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Top: iPhone 8. Middle: Fujifilm XT-1 with a Rokinon 135mm f2. Above: the XT-1 with a Fujinon XF16-55mm F2.8 zoom. I need the rest of my life to keep doing this.

It was Karaoke night at the KOA that night.

Wednesday morning I went to Little River where I put in at the Van Damme State Marine Conservation area while Mindy biked the Shoreline Highway to the Point Arena Lighthouse and back.

We met back up mid afternoon where I washed down the inflatable and we both had a nice nap.

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Later in the evening we went back to the ocean, to Greenwood Beach in Elk to say goodbye to the Pacific and California’s incredible shoreline.

Thursday morning we packed up and made our way home thinking that the Mountain View Road would be a good shortcut back to the 101 through Boonville. It was, but the Chevy’s steering wheel is now indelibly shaped with my fingers. We made our way through Napa Valley deciding to skip the 101 and pick up I-80 near Cordelia and then make the straight shot home.

But nothing is ever that easy for us. We stopped in Winnemucca for fuel. Every stop we’d make I’d do a walk-around checking everything out on both truck and trailer and never once detected a hint of trouble.

I overestimated the truck’s fuel range and at 2:00a and 18 hours into our return home decided we better stop for gas about 60 miles outside of Salt Lake City at Delle. Rhymes with hell. It was there where Mindy noticed smoke billowing out from underneath the trailer. I hopped over to her passenger side but couldn’t see where it was coming from. I ran around the back to the trailer thinking to get the fire extinguisher from inside when I saw the source of the smoke, the LH wheel hub. Had we gone any further who knows what the RV fates would have allowed. The hub was white hot and the cap had melted away. I was amazed that the side of the trailer had not ignited.

If you follow Cornering Consciousness, you know this is nothing unusual for us. In fact, not many miles before Delle I was thinking how we actually had a vacation without some sort of catastrophe.

We dropped the trailer there at a Tesoro truck stop and made our way the rest of the longest 60 miles home we’d ever driven, catastrophe averted depending on one’s perspective. This could’ve been much worse and we counted ourselves as very fortunate.

Friday morning and on too few hours of sleep, we got a flatbed tow truck to meet us out in Delle where we offloaded our gear and they up loaded the Viking to take it back to the dealer. Four days later we were informed that the axle was never lubed to begin with. How we made it 1800 miles is no less than miraculous, if you believe in that kind of thing.

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