This is the second in a series of posts on a summer trip; see the first here.
In the afternoon we were off, driving up the west coast without any real plans; we knew we wanted to be in Seattle in four or five days, but that intervening time period was ours to spend as we wished. From a quick glance at the map, we thought that Point Reyes, a national coastline a few hours north of the bay area,would be a good place to set up camp for the night. We took the west fork of the highway as we neared the Point and drove most of its northern length; a thick fog, however, not uncommon where the warm air from the East meets the colder air of the Pacific coast, blanketed everything so that we saw little of the coastline or surrounding environs from the car. There were a surprising number of hilly, historic ranches we could make out along the road, though. Eventually we came to a parking lot with a few trail-heads. A bit further along, the road basically ran out. We were all a bit queasy from the ups and downs of the drive, so despite the pea-soup fog and the cold, drizzly atmosphere, we decided to stop and see if we could find a way to hike to the beach for a look at the Pacific ocean. Moreover, we reckoned that it wouldn’t be bad to scout out possible beach campsites.
We ended up taking the McClures Beach trail, an easy three-quarter mile hike to the beach. As we lost elevation on the gently sloping trail, we left behind the fog, revealed to be low-lying clouds hanging a few hundred feet over the coastline. McClures beach is one of the roughest patches of water on the Point; the surf is incredibly strong, and harbors sleeper waves, rip currents, undertows, hidden rocks, and many other hazards. Shortly after arriving we saw a sea lion bowling through the water, but it quickly disappeared, not to be seen again. We perked up when we saw jagged rocks jutting into the air farther down the coast. These looked intriguing, so we walked about a mile up the coast to investigate them. There turned out to be dozens of incredible rock scrambles up the slopes; the sharp promontories provided an awesome view of the ocean’s incredible power. Waves pounded against the sharp rocks and up the steep channels, throwing white foam and blue spray ten or fifteen feet into the air. The boiling white water looked completely unmanageable, booming and surging against the pitted rock surfaces. Small, sheltered pools of water looked like they might prove to be incredible tidal biomes, but we couldn’t find an easy way down to investigate them without risking our necks. Assuredly, a fall from the top of the rocks would mean death. We were all cautious, and after thoroughly exploring the amazing environment, we hoofed it back to the car. Unfortunately, we hadn’t found any suitable campgrounds; the beach was far too wooly and, in any case, off limits to camping. See a few more McClures Beach photos here and here.
Somewhat disappointed with our luck, we resolved to drive south, back down along the length of the Point. Following the tent signs that always indicate campgrounds, we came to the visitor center to inquire about camping on the Point. As was our lot, the visitor’s center was closed, and had been closed for a few hours (it was about 7:30PM at this point). What’s more, all signs forbade impromptu check-ins and warned stern punishments for violators. We briefly considered hiking into the woods and pitching the tent, but literally dozens of signs warning against such action dissuaded us pretty quickly. Checking the map, we saw many more miles of national forest and coastland further north along the Pacific Coast, so we resolved to try these campgrounds—surely we could find something open.
To make a long, improbable story short, I’ll just say we literally found no housing on the coast for the next couple hundred miles. Every single campground was full; and, in many cases, the sign indicating no vacancy was bolted on as if this were a permanent feature of the parks!
Growing desperate around midnight, we began calling motels along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Just like the campgrounds, all of the motels reported back in as absolutely full. Even though we intended to drive north along the coast, we hatched a plan at this point to drive inland for about an hour to Santa Rosa, thinking we might find better luck there. After driving in that direction for a half hour, Nick had the idea of calling ahead and checking vacancies. When we learned that no motels even an hour from the PCH had vacancy, we threw up our hands in despair and decided to spend the night in the car. Since we were passing through a small town by the name of Sebastopol at that time, we figured it would be as good a place as any for trying to catch a few hours of sleep.
Looking up this town on Wikipedia now, I see that it is apparently “known for its liberal politics and small-town charm;” we were able to experience neither of these virtues at one o’clock in the morning. We parked street-side in a semi-residential area. Quickly discovering that it is exceedingly difficult for four large males to sleep in an old Nissan, Nick and I grabbed our sleeping bags and scouted out a very small, very well lit local park. We ended up tossing our sleeping bags down between a bush and a chain link fence, grabbing a few fitful hours of sleep as the occasional car lights strafed our supine bodies. I was awake at 4:00AM with a wretched crick in my neck, and woke Nick as well. Within a few minutes, we were on the road again, resolved to make the best of our three-hour doze and drive north towards Fort Bragg. Note to those traveling the PCH: make a lodging reservation well in advance. Although the crowds ease up farther north, much of the highway is jam-packed with tenants during the summer months.
(Next post, more PCH, Black Sands Beach, Lost Coast, California and on!)