Sometimes when I think of California I’m reminded of this part from the movie “Pumping Iron”. It’s a documentary about bodybuidlers from back when Arnold was in his prime. One of the bodybuilders – Franco Columbu – grew up in Italy, and lived in Los Angeles (as did many of the top bodybuilders). He explained that in Italy, people use the expression “Go to California”, a bit like people say “go to hell”, but less insulting. They considered California to be a dreamy/magic place that no one actually goes to. So he explained that when he goes back to Italy to visit, and people as him where he lives, and he tells them California, they’re not sure if he’s serious or if he’s just fucking with them.
Map of Travels
This map shows September and October (but not the trip to Toronto). I drove down to LA from southwest Utah in one day, because it was so damn hot everywhere around here except right on the coast.
Since then, I’ve floated around the area, spending most of my time in Santa Barbara and Encinitas. I spent a lot of time at the beach in both towns. After a few weeks in hot and dry parts of Utah, my first few swims in the ocean felt incredibly refreshing.
The van is so awesome to have at the beach. I can drive there in the morning, make coffee and stroll around on the beach drinking it, then go have breakfast, then come back to the beach for a while, then back for lunch and doing stuff on the computer, and so on.
Personal Photography Projects
So, taking pictures of the van can get pretty repetitive. Particularly when I’m editing them. Stuff like the interior van pictures can really get to feeling like I’m doing the same thing over and over again. I notice this particularly when I’m editing. I have started editing less/quicker, which helps quite a lot with that.
I’d like to challenge myself to get more creative with what/how I shoot the van pictures, but that would usually require more setting a tripod and everything for shots that include me. And I just don’t get too excited about doing that often.
When I switched camera systems, I more lenses that I can use to shoot in ways I couldn’t before with my small set. Most of them are really cheap and old lenses, but they still work very well in most situations.
Once I got the new camera and old lenses, I wanted to practice shooting with them, so I went out on the beach in Santa Barbara that allows dogs. More recently I’ve been shooting surfers. I want to start approaching these kind of things more as projects, which means sorting and culling the pictures into a complimentary group, shooting regularly until I feel I have some good stuff, and then having an end of that project. (which, of course doesn’t mean I would totally stop shooting that kind of thing). I think this will be good practice for me to get better at photography. And it’s fun.
I’ll be doing more of these kind of projects. I’d like if some of them here and there are things I can either make money from, share with the people (or owners of what) I’m shooting, or share in some other way besides just here and on Instagram.
Doggies at the beach
To test out how well I could manually focus with the brand new camera and the lenses as old as my dad, I shot some dogs running around on the beach. It worked fairly well, but it’s pretty tricky and I deleted a LOT of pictures. These dogs running around in pretty close proximity are probably as fast as anything I’d ever shoot.
I’ve decided to start doing some personal photography projects, so you may see posts like this every now and then here. I’ll still do the regular travel posts as well 🙂
So far, my favorite town along the California coast has been Santa Barbara. When I came back to Southern California to get out of the heat wave in Utah, I went back to Santa Barbara. Well, actually, I thought I’d give Los Angeles another try, and I lasted about 16 hours there before heading out.
Santa Barbara has a couple nice beaches. One of them is called Hendry’s Beach. I’d just gotten a new camera and some new (but actually really old) lenses. I wanted to test them out – particularly to test focusing manually with the new camera and lesnes. I found good subject matter for this on the beach and decided to make a little personal photo project out of it.
On part of Hendry’s Beach, dogs are allowed off-leash. It’s essentially a dog park and beach combined. The dogs love it here. They run around, splash and play in the water, socialize, and play lots and lots of fetch.
I shot a whole bunch of photos of the dogs out there, over about 7 different days. My daily routine looked something like this:
7am – wake up. Drive over to the beach (about 1 mile from the area I’d sleep in)
8am – have breakfast
9am – make coffee (Lattes made with real Espresso!)
10am – meander out to the beach. Take pictures of some of the dogs there. Alternate the photo shooting with sitting around on the beach, a times practicing Spanish words that I’m learning and have written in a notebook that I bring along.
11am – back to hang out in the van
Rest of the day – repeat cycles of walking around on the beach, taking dog pictures, sitting down on the beach and practicing Spanish, going back to the van to eat, sort the pictures, etc.
Yes, that is a WOLF. I initially thought it was a coyote, but it’s a puppy wolf.
It’s a pet, or… is sort of. A guy brought it to the beach most days and one day I talked to him about the wolf. It’s just a puppy and has another 100lbs to grow. The guy said that he’s taking it to a sanctuary in Hawaii and is waiting for the quarantine period to end before flying it out. I asked how he came to have the dog, and he said he breeds them. I don’t understand why he’d breed a dog and then take it to a sanctuary, but I didn’t want to keep asking a lot more questions.
The wolf was nice to all the other dogs, and was very submissive. When some people tried to pet it, it was shy and backed away. It had no interest in fetching. It just ran around the beach, went in the water, and socialized with dogs.
This post is a bit of background for some upcoming posts about Exploring Arizona. Arizona holds a special place in my heart and my imagination. In 2014 and 2015, I went on three vehicle camping test trips to help me decide whether or not I wanted to live in a van, two of which were in Arizona. I also took long scenic drives on backroads between Phoenix and Flagstaff a few times.
At around age 29 I decided to ramp up the amount of my income I saved. This would allow me to retire much earlier than most people. At first, I expected to be able to retire by age 40. Then I reduced my spending further and thus saved more each year while also reducing my net worth retirement target. I ended up retiring at age 34.
I expect that over the rest of my life, I’ll spend my time in different phases that last 2-10 years each. Some of the phases I’ve had in mind are below Some phases could happen concurrently.
Living in a van and traveling around the western US
Living in other countries (Southeast Asia, and/or Latin America)
Living in a shack/cabin in a remote area with access to some kind of nice terrain (Mountains, coast, etc.)
Bicycling a ton
Living in a small town for a while
Living in a big expensive city by means of some uniquely cheap housing (like living in someone’s guesthouse in exchange for a bit or work or just so they have another person around)
Living on a sort of homestead/compound
Doing some entrepreneurial projects
Working some fun jobs
Improving the world in some way
Very deep/serious romantic relationship(s)
Slow travel internationally
…. and others
As I approached retirement, I wanted to decide which to do first. I’ll share in another post all the details about the various reasons I decided to live in a van. For this post, I want to describe the test trips I went on to get a feel for what it would be like to live in a vehicle.
Test Trip #1: Sequoia National Park
Starting in 2013, I traveled a lot for work. I went to different factories. Many of them were in small towns surrounded by thousands of square miles of farms. Or in medium/large cities that are also surround by thousands of square miles of farms. But sometimes I went to more interesting places. In the fall of 2014 I went to a factory near Fresco, CA. That’s close to Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. So I made that my first test trip.
I worked there during one week. Tuesday through Thursday. Instead of going home after the factory visit on Thursday or Friday like usual, and flying to the next location the following Monday, I stayed out in California the whole weekend and on Monday flew straight to the next work location. This gave me 3.5 days to go do my own thing. I brought along my camping and outdoors gear. I found a first-come-first serve campsite fairly high up in King’s Canyon that would have open spots when I could get there.
I had a wonderful time. Just driving through these National Parks is a treat – let alone camping and hiking there. Camping among 200 foot tall sequoia trees was wonderful. A hiking trail passed near the campsite and I explored it in both directions. I saw a bear while hiking. And more while driving. I was really cold when the temperature dipped near freezing overnight. The last day I went for a hike at lower elevation and drove through Sequoia NP again – through dropping temperatures and freezing rain. I had a splendid time.
Test Trip #2: Coconino National Forest – Near Sedona, AZ
In 2015 I started going to Flagstaff, AZ for work. I’d fly into Phoenix and drive up to Flagstaff for a few days. Some of my trips there were with another person, in which case we’d ride together from Phoenix to Flagstaff, and I couldn’t go do my own thing. My first trip there by myself was in April, so I made that my second test trip.
I drove up to Sedona, went to the National Forest Visitors Center, and learned about dispersed camping. I camped out on the Forest Service roads ~5 miles northwest of Sedona. Again, I had a wonderful time.
I bought my van a few weeks after this second test trip.
After my work week, I went to the same area near Sedona as the first trip, but it was cold this time. I went over into Tonto N.F. where I could go a bit further south and to lower elevation. I camped in a little valley south of Payson, I believe right here. That hiking trail up the road (Barnhardt) is pretty good.
When my days were up and I needed to head back to Phoenix, I drove over to check out Roosevelt lake, and saw the old native dwellings there
By chance, I drove the Apache Trail to get back to Phoenix. I was just looking for a fairly direct route, and that’s the one. I was blown away on the drive! The Apache TrailI follows the Salt River from what is now Roosevelt Lake to Apache Junction (what is now a far east suburb of Phoenix). I assume the original real Apache Trail followed the river all the way. The road now goes over a pass that’s 500 or 1000 feet up above the river. I stopped many times on to take in the view, and to imagine myself back there, retired, camping, soaking in the area and letting days pass as they come with no schedule forcing me to push through the area in just one afternoon.
I made another trip or two to Flagstaff by myself in 2015. I was already busy building the van, so I went home to work on it rather than spend extra days in AZ. I drove the Apache trail again:
Result of Test Trips:
I could’ve easily done test trips in my car somewhere near my home. Since I was already traveling for work, I took the opportunity to do them in beautiful places. These three test trips all went very well and cemented my decision to build and live in the van as my first post-retirement phase of life.
About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, probably many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around the U.S. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.
I’m writing this post from Fountain Hills, AZ, which is a Suburb in the far northeast corner of Phoenix. I’ve made two trips out of Phoenix so far. I’ll tell you about them soon. Can you guess where the first trip was?
After leaving San Diego, I camped for a few days a the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. It was wonderful to get out of the city again and slow down.
These were really simple days. I didn’t do a whole lot and I don’t have much to say about it. I have some pictures to share though.
It’s super easy to camp right by the South entrance of Joshua Tree. I believe it’s BLM land. There are many camping spots. I imagine it may get busy there during other parts of the year. It smelled funny where I camped. Not exactly bad. Just weird. Maybe this was from Mesquite trees?
I went for a hike on Christmas Eve Day, to Lost Palms Canyon. It is an oasis containing over 70 palm trees. Wow!The hike was extra interesting because it had rained overnight. The trail followed some creek beds. In some, there was flowing water (usually about 1/2” deep). I wondered what kind of rain it takes to fill the whole width of those creeks. Probably a ton. I can’t imagine that happening often, but obviously it has at some point(s) in the past.
Most of the action in Joshua Tree (hiking trails and such) seems to be in the north half of the park. The guy at the visitor station said this is because it gets hotter in the south half and they don’t want people dying out there in the summer.
There are much more interesting plants in Joshua tree than what I’ve seen in most desert areas. I didn’t see any full size Joshua trees. Just tiny little baby ones that were half dead. I guess there are more in other parts of the park. The park consists of an area where two separate deserts meet each other. One on the south side of the park, and the other on the north.
I went on a bike ride one day. The road into the park has a very nice gradual climb, but also an annoyingly rough surface. It was so foggy I in certain spits that I turned back early. It was still a wonderful ride.
Next up, I’ll go camp near Ehrenberg with some people, and then on to the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous.
I spent six weeks in San Diego in late 2016. As I mentioned in a previous post, I met few new people and most of my social interactions were with people I already knew. One was an old friend of a friend. Another was a guy I only knew from the internet before. Turns out, him and his wife are the most interesting people in San Diego. It’s kind of funny. I only really met about 10 people around San Diego. And most of them are really interesting. Yeah, It’s absurd to declare I know the most interesting people in San Diego when I only know 10 of them. But hey, some “how to blog” thing I read said to make compelling titles. And I may still be right anyways. I’ll tell you about a good deal of those 10 people here.
Craig – the Video Guy
Craig is an old friend of some of my other close friends. We never lived in the same city but we saw each other once or twice a year for many years. He’s a videographer and has had a number of interesting jobs in the field. He also made this short film called A Server Life a few years ago which you particularly enjoy if you’ve worked in the service industry. Or if you prefer the more real/natural world, here’s this video he recorded of when a huge whale carcass washed up on the coast near where he lives.
His current day job is recording what I understand to be court depositions. He gets to listen in on witness accounts of what happened in a variety of cases. A pervious job was a private eye. Yeah, a private detective. Like the guys who tail somebody recording their whereabouts and filming them. He had some really funny stories from that. One was about a mentally unstable and violent guy he was supposed to follow. He asked the company he got worked for some questions to get a better idea what he was getting into (like, “hey, is this guy going to try to kill me if he notices me?”) and if I can remember right, they just said “ahhh, I don’t know.. just go ahead and do it, you’ll probably be fine”
Because of the subject’s mental instability, he was already super paranoid about being followed and monitored (even before Craig started monitoring him). He’d do crazy stuff like leave his house at 5am to go to a 10am doctor’s appointment that’s only a 15 minute drive away. So of course, since he was so paranoid about it, the guy eventually noticed Craig monitoring him. Craig survived though.
When I got to town, Craig said “Let’s meet and [have a drink], I want to talk business”. That “business” was making a video about me living in the van. So we spent a few days working on that, shooting various clips of driving the van, doing stuff inside it, and some interview parts with me talking. I felt like I was being way too boring, so I hope he’ll be able to make me and the video look cool with editing magic.
Funny moments with Craig – free stuff just appearing!
On our first day out shooting, we went to a little area of dirt overlooking a beach and sort of a swamp. While Craig was setting up his camera and the shots, I walked around to move trash that was probably in the shots. One of those trash Items happened to be a 6 pack of tall beer cans, with four unopened cans remaining. The cans were undamaged so I took the 6-pack over to Craig to see if he wanted it. He did, and said that it’s a fancy beer. $15 for a 6 pack.
The third location we went to was near a Library. We found a parking spot in the Library and started walking over. As we walked past the front entrance, there was a rack of books and magazines with a “free” sign on it. One book stood out to me right away. It was about serial killers. We had just been discussing them last night because Craig’s girlfriend has a sort of fascination with them. So I grabbed that book to give to her. We took another book, and about 10 magazines that my Craig likes. Score!
Funny Moments with Craig – Trash Endemic of the Rich
Ok, this one’s not exactly funny. One evening we did some shooting near the beach pictures above. While driving back towards my Craig’s house, we went down a road with beachfront houses. Craig noticed some trash cans out on the street and said “oh yeah, this street is a dumpster diving goldmine”. He listed a number of nice things he’s found here left out for trash by their owners. Furniture, electronics, etc. After passing 10 or so houses, a trend was apparent. These people throw a lot away. Every house had multiple cans out. Some had SIX or SEVEN! I thought maybe this trash pickup is infrequent. Surely, with this much trash, it must only be collected once a month. Or every other week? I asked Craig. He said it’s picked up twice per week. TWICE PER WEEK!
By my quick calculations, these households are throwing away somewhere between one and four THOUSAND pounds per month.
Craig’s cousin – Angela – The Hiker
Craig’s cousin is cool. He made about her hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. We went on a couple hikes with her.
We went on a short hike to “Mushroom Caves” one day:
We snaked through some really narrow paths. Extra narrow, at one point, because we took a wrong turn. The picture below is shot from inside the “Mushroom Cave”. I don’t know whether the entire cave was carved out, or if some/most of it was natural. Now there’s all kinds of stuff people have carved into it. The carvings are pretty ugly, but someone did at least carve out some nice seats in there.
Jared – The Podcast Guy
I was out with Craig one night. We met some of his friends at a bar to hang out and watch UFC fights. While there, Craig told a guy (Jared) about me being retired, living in the van, and traveling. Earlier, I’d overheard Jared telling another guy about a project he was working on. Some stuff about how people don’t go after their dreams because they let their fear of failure get in the way. Jared talked to me a bit and asked me if I’d be on his podcast. Sure, what the hell. I’m keeping this brief because I’ll likely make a full blog post about it. Hint: there’s already a link the podcast near the bottom of my front page.
Rich and Amanda – The Most Interesting People in San Diego
I knew Rich from a forum on the Internet. This was the first time we met in person. Rich and his Wife Amanda met me for tea/coffee in Balboa Park – in the same area pictured below. They brought a thermos with hot water, cups, etc. We had some great discussion. I showed them the van. Rich showed me the building they manage, which has a secret lair. Seriously.
Rich and his wife have designed an interesting life. Starting 20 or so years ago, they saved up some money, quit their jobs and went on a HUGE adventure. Then they came back to San Diego, got new jobs, and saved up again. Then, another HUGE adventure. And again. They take partial retirements every few years. And they’re also building up for a full retirement later.
Their travels and adventures are extensive. Their first trip, essentially their honeymoon, was taking a VW Bus (a camper), south into Mexico. And further south through Central America. And all the way to the southern tip of South America. Then back up through Brazil. Then they shipped the Bus over to Africa or Europe and continued! They wrote a book about this big first trip. If you like this kind of travel, or big adventures shared by daring, optimistic, and funny people, read it. I promise you’ll like it.
That was just their first trip. They also went bicycle touring through Southeast Asia, rode a motorcycle through India, went to Mt. Everest, and more! Their lives are so inspiring that an insurance company made a commercial about them:
(After their commercial, another commercial with a different guy starts at1:50. I was confused by that the first time I watched it)
It felt like a privilege talking to a guy who has spent much of his life doing awesome things and learning about life and people instead of learning about TPS reports. He has friends who are super rich, and friends from Tijuana who are probably quite poor.He is really really good at identifying interesting people, and at getting them (and normal people) to tell him their interesting stories. He asks them another question as soon as they finish answering the last, and doesn’t leave pauses where the conversation can lull or stop. And is very interested in the person / their story.
Amanda grew up in Mexico. She came across the border every day to go to College in San Diego. Crossing the boarder into the U.S. is crazy. There’s a ton of traffic and it can take hours to get through. She waited in that line every day to go to school. You have to really want something to be willing to do that.
Their book tells about a discussion they had one evening. (forgive my poor telling of this from memory, It’s told much better in the book). They were both having a “there’s got to be more to life than this” realization. They sort of decided to do something adventurous but didn’t have any clear decisions made. The next day Amanda came home from work with a stack of papers. She started rattling off things. Ok, we’re gonna need [this] and we’re gonna need [that], and it will probably take about [this many] weeks to get [such and such]. Rich was like “huh? whoah. what? What’s all this?”. And she says. “Mexico. We need to go to Mexico! On an adventure. I started planning today.”
Pretty soon they’d saved up money, quit their jobs, outfitted a Volkswagen with clothes food, and a bunch of random spare parts. They crossed the border to kick off a honeymoon that lasted years.
I went along with Rich to a swap meet. I bought three pairs of really nice wool socks for $2.00, and some hiking pants for a few dollars. Rich bought about 16 things. One of his hobbies is buying outdoor gear cheaply at places like this (places where the goods are just one short step away from a landfill) and selling them to people who will make good use of them. The flow of goods is interesting:
People donate to Goodwill, and companies offload excess products.
Goodwill takes excess stuff to sell in lots in Mexico
Those Mexicans come back across the border to sell that stuff at the swap meets
Rich buys the good outdoor gear from them
He knows many of them. They set aside stuff for him because he pays a little extra
Rich re-sells the stuff, mostly on Ebay, to people who are likely to make good use of it.
(There are other material sources than Goodwill. Like garage sales where at the end the seller just wants everything gone. And companies that get rid of excess inventory (new/unused items))
We went for three bike rides together. The first one, we rode to and took the ferry to Coronado Island. Coronado is a small island just barely off the coast. About half the island is used by the military. The other half is nice houses and fancy places. We worked out at a park that had the appropriate structures. The second bike ride we went on was in Balboa park on some mountain bike single track. It’s good riding in there. I crashed! And got a flat. And another flat later. oh, man! Our third ride was over to Mission Bay Park. There was a steep, long hill on the way back. Rich lead up the hill and went fast. I could just barely keep up. At a couple points, I didn’t think I’d be able to hang on with him. But I did, and as we got to the crest of the hill, I rode up alongside him and said “That’s a nice hill. Good warm up. Can we go back down and come up again, and go fast this time?” 😀
I was in and near San Diego from November 5th to December 21st. Here are some observations and thoughts on the city.
Overall – About the city
San Diego is a cool city. It’s nice because it’s not so big and spread out. The farthest I’d drive at once was about ten miles. The weather there is amazing. Balboa park is wonderful; it’s a big park in the middle of the city with nice plants, trails, old buildings, museums, and a cool ‘town square’ area in the middle.The Libraries I went to in S.D. sucked. They were small and had too many smelly people.
I spent a lot of time in Encinitas because my friend lives there. Encinitas is also wonderful. It’s small, so you don’t have to drive much. Parking is easy. The Encinitas library is awesome. It’s probably the nicest Library I’ve ever been to.
I think I had strange timing because I was there right after the election. Dating went really poorly. Most of the time I spent interacting with other people was with those I already knew before getting here.
Coronado: Nice beaches. Not many people when I was there. Reminded me of the Baywatch beach (which is very foggy in my memory, so I’m not sure the comparison is accurate). Fun fact I learned from a Coronado beach insider: one time a lifeguard, while driving one of those Lifeguard trucks on the beach, put the truck in reverse to back up and ran over someone. After that, reverse was not allowed.
Ocean Beach – This area is nice. It’s also strange. In the residential parts, the people seem really cool. There are many around my age. And younger people. They seem to have their shit together. And they’re out and about – walking around a lot. In the commercial area (the streets near the beach with restaurants and stores) there was sort of a douchebag, almost white trash vibe on the weekend. On the beach there were a lot of surfers, as usual. And families, and groups of friends, as usual. But the defining Ocean Beach folks were sort of crusty looking vagrants/vagabonds/runaways. The kind of of folks who also live in vans, but there are 6 people in one van. One of them reads a book while the rest seem to just sit around and do nothing all day. A friend explained to me that Interstate 8 ends in Ocean Beach, so hitchhikers (and also ‘runaways’) who were traveling along I-10 and I-8 just end up there because it’s literally the end of the road.
I spent thanksgiving parked in this nice little lot right by the beach.
Ocean Beach has a really long pier. People surf right by the pier so you can walk out on it to watch and take pictures.
Blacks beach It’s a ‘Clothing optional’ beach. There were 80% old leathery guys with dark orange tanned dicks, and 20% students from the nearby University of California San Diego (most of them were clothed)
Getting down to Black’s Beach is a bit of a hike. I like that. Only people who really want to are going down there.
Encinitas Beaches These were nice too. The thing is, tons of the beaches around here are nice. I hung out here a few days:
San Diego Neighborhoods
Balboa Park: It’s a big park in the middle of the city. Seems old. Has cool buildings and plants and trails. Lots of museums but they are not free. Good single track biking/running trails.
Hillcrest: It’s the “gay neighborhood”. Someone told me that it is a bit less gay than before. His reasoning was that maybe since gay marriage became nationally legal, gay folks feel more accepted by society and less of a reason to live together in a specific ‘gay’ community. Anyways, while I was walking around one day, I saw a building under construction.
Ok. Nothing special. As they often do, the company making the building had a sign on it advertising themselves. Well, this company has a pretty interesting sign:
You know what else is special about Hillcreast? The Goodwill store! It’s a small store. It’s a Boutique Goodwill. Seriously. It’s an absolute goldmine for small swimsuits. I had been looking for a small swimsuit like this for years:
(but not specifically for a reversable one.. just one that fits that way)
Granted, I wasn’t looking very hard. A couple times when I was traveling for work and had an afternoon to kill, I went to try to buy swimsuit. But all I could find are big ones. I started seeing some guys this summer in small ones. I’d usually go ask them where they got it. The answer was usually some fancy boutique store that has mostly gay customers. And the little swimsuit cost $70. Well, I didn’t want one that bad.
I was walking to the Grocery store in Hillcrest and saw a Goodwill. I went in thinking I might find a T shirt or two. But I found a entire rack full of little gay type swimsuits. New ones with tags. For $7 a piece. I found a good one. YEEEEAH BUDDY!
Other Neighborhoods: A lot of the other neighborhoods I spent time in were pretty similar. I mean ons north of Balboa Park. North Park. Northern Heights. University Heights. Nice places, all with a strip of businesses on sort of a “main street”. One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be fewer parks than in other cities. Maybe that’s because of the vicinity to Balboa Park?
I could see myself spending a month at a time in San Diego. Or more. It’s not a ideal as Santa Barbara. But the people in San Diego are ‘better’. In the next post, I need to talk about some of them – because I met the most interesting people in San Diego.
I’ve been traveling down the California coast for the last few months and have spent a few weeks in San Diego. The coast is wonderful. But it’s not very good for (free) camping. Especially right when I passed through, with the entire National Forest area at Big Sur closed due to a fire. So even though I’ve been driving down that coast and seeing wonderful places, I spent every single night in a city. Curtains up. Peeing in a bottle and dumping it out on people’s lawns. Driving multiple times each day. These are slightly annoying details of a way of living that is still very easy. But being in cities so much fed a longing to get the hell out of the city, go camp/hike/bicycle, and stay parked in one place for days at a time. So I found a nice place to go camping near San Diego.
I was in San Diego. There are numerous options. Extremely nice ones if you’re willing to drive a few hours. But I wasn’t. I looked at the big chunk of Cleveland National Forest that is directly east of San Diego. It looks nice, but the places that look good to camp are at a fairly high altitude (~3,500′) and in December would be colder than I like. There is a smaller part of Cleveland National forest to the north of San Diego (and a bit east) – just directly north of Ramona. It’s at lower altitude and looked promising on the maps.
I went just a few miles north of Ramona, and then up a hill. There is a Forest Road, or as they call it here, a “Truck Trail” that follows the top of a ridgeline. This meant I got nice views in at least two direction. WOO HOOOO!
Here is the first spot I camped:
What do you do up there? Do you get bored?
Here’s what I did over 6 or 7 days.
Hiked a couple times
Bicycled on three or four days
Took a lot of pictures
Recorded video of driving the van along the ridge top, and of bicycling (For my friend to use in a video that he’s making)
Watched a football game (Yep, I had internet up there)
Wrote a bunch of blog posts (to get caught up on my travels to date)
Played a computer game
Read a book
Read and watched stuff on the internet
Nope, not bored.
After a few days, I moved to another spot where I could walk just a little ways to take really nice pictures and fairly good video to give to my friend.
If you want to go here:
The coordinates are 33.123648,-116.879194. This was the first places I went in the part of the National Forest, so for all I know, there could be way better places to go.
Great views from the ridge
Great Verizon signal (for 3G at least)
Good hiking/biking along these truck trails
Not very far from San Diego
Fairly low elevation (less than 2,000′), so it’s not all that cold
This area used to be designated for gun shooting. There are casings and shells all over the ground in many places. And a lot of broken glass. There are signs warning about high lead content. Don’t lick the ground here!
This really doesn’t do the view justice, but here you go
On my way south, before getting to Santa Barbara, I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a few days. The big news here was that the plants in people’s yards started looking wonderful. And they smelled good! Really fragrant! Wow! Just walking around a block I’d walk by 4 or 5 different wonderful scents from these plants. This was the first city on my way down the coast that smelled this good. Maybe it just seems this way because I’ve spent little time here and haven’t seen these kind of plants, but the plants people have in their yards here seem so much more beautiful and varied that what I’m used to from the midwest.
After that I went down to Santa Barbara. There are some national forests around there, so I went into the forest to camp for a while. I went to the Santa Barbara district which is – big surprise – right by Santa Barbara. Turns out they are worried about fires right now and don’t allow you to do much of anything. You want to camp? Ok sure, yeah, you have to go into one of the 2-3 campgrounds right next to each other (basically a parking lot). Oh and you have to pay $20 per night. No fires anywhere in the Santa Barbara ranger district. No No No. NO!
So I went down into Santa Barbara. I’d spend the next 15 days there. Santa Barbara is really freakin’ nice.
(Shopping area, just off State Street)
Santa Barbara in a few paragraphs
First thing’s first: the best beach there is Hendry’s. It’s way better than the others. The second best beach is over by the 4 seasons resort, which has free wifi. Santa Barbara was the first place on my journey down the California coast where the water was warm enough to swim in relative comfort. It’s still pretty cold, but you can go in it without wanting to get right out. And it’s not cold enough to painful. The weather was absolutely perfect while I was there. The highs ranged from 70-85 and the lows were around 50-60. I spent 6 days at the beaches – at least a few hours each time laying on the beach, reading, and going in the ocean.
The main road in downtown is State Street. It’s really nice. They’re doing shopping right. No mall. Lots of stores along a downtown street. There are pianos sitting on most corners along State Street. Each time I walked the length of the street (about a mile), I’d pass 4 or 5 people playing a piano very well. I never knew that so many people who are just walking around in public can sit down at a random (and I’d guess, pretty crappy) piano and play wonderful music. I bet there are very few cities where you could get music of this quality by placing communal pianos downtown and letting whoever wants play them. Maybe something to do with how much money people spend? (including piano lessons for kids)
This is a great city for road cycling, as long as you like going up hills. The city is on a pretty narrow stretch of flat land between the coast and hills/mountains. There are a number of different paved roads going up those hills. I rode up San Marcos St. 4 or 5 times. The views from that road are wonderful. Others (Gibraltar) are probably as good or better.
House prices in Santa Barbara are insane. I checked Zillow and put an upper limit of $500,000. No results. NO RESULTS. There are some small and crappy houses here but there’s not one for sale for less than half a million. People here seem to spend a LOT of money.
The age demographics here are odd. There are a ton of old people. There are a lot of college kids. There’s not many people in between. Except for in the Mexican parts of town. They have all the normal age ranges.
How about a History Lesson?
There is some interesting history here. I know very little of it, and It’s now been a few weeks since I read about this so I forget the names and the details are cloudy, but I’ll share it anyways
There was a guy – an American – a decorated guy who had some fame for bravery, exploration, and other successes. He was in charge of the American military in the area at the moment when the U.S. decided California was too awesome to let Mexico keep having it. This awesome guy lead the U.S. Army (or whatever) over the nearby mountains to storm into Santa Barbara for a battle.
Backing up a little – the Spanish had set up a fort in Santa Barbara. It was a few acres in size. It was some buildings and hallways that made an outer square, with most of the middle open (although there were also houses and other buildings added to the middle at some point). 200 people lived in there, and 50 or so were soldiers. Now, I guess, this fort and the land were a part of Mexico.
So the brave Americans come running down the hill over the mountains. It was snowing and cold and everything up there. Windy as hell. Slippery. Treacherous! A bunch of their horses and mules died. But no soldiers. They came charging down the hill towards Santa Barbara, foaming at the mouth, ready to crush these little Spaniards/Mexicans into oblivion.
The Mexicans in the fort saw them coming and were appropriately worried. A nice old lady in the fort convinced the leadership that it wasn’t worth fighting. When as the Americans charged in, the Mexicans said “nah, we don’t want to fight”. So they didn’t fight. I don’t know exactly what happened next. But pretty soon all of California belonged to the United States.
Vandwelling in Santa Barbara
Parking is generally easy. In the suburbs to the west, there are plenty of neighborhoods with room to park. In Santa Barbara itself, it’s more congested, but still pretty easy to find spots. The tricky part is the street cleaning schedule. They have a very specific rotation and each street has a 2 hour “No Parking” window every week when the street sweeper comes through. The schedule is all spread out, so one street may be closed 8-10am Monday, and the next 1-3pm Tuesday, and so on, with the cleaners appearing to work full days all weekdays. Well, one time I parked and forgot to check the sign, and I happened to pick the wrong street at the wrong time and caused a little bit of the street to not be cleaned and got a ticket for $50.
I found some good areas to park east of State Street, over where a lot of Mexicans live. It’s also very easy to park in the western suburbs.
At the beach – the one by the four seasons
When I was taking the pictures above, a guy walked by and talked a bit. Then I saw him a little ways down the beach and we spoke more – for about an hour. He’s probably in his 50’s. When I told him about my van and traveling, he told me a bunch of stories of his own – how he’s had two different Volkswagen vans that he either lived or traveled in. How he went to Yosemite a TON of times and would camp there against the rules, hidden in plain site in his van (and would just not respond to the knocks of rangers, which would quickly move on) or hidden out in the park, at times in a sleeping bag on a tarp, out in the open with no tent, just nestled in some prairie. He said there are groups of climbers and other sorts of people who know a bunch of tricks for free camping in Yosemite.
On the way down to San Diego:
What’s next? I’ll be in and around San Diego for the next month or more. (I drove through the entire Los Angeles area quickly. I wasn’t in the mood for LA. I did have an In N Out Cheeseburger. mmmmmmmm, yeah buddy!)
If you ever go through Cambria, there is a nice park along the coast. It’s called Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The preserve occupies about 1 square mile. It’s mostly just grass and hills next to the coastline. Along the coast there is a walking trail and a bench every now and then. There are also trails going all over the park. Ok trails for walking. Wonderful trails for bicycling (on a cross or mountain bike). I wanted to record video on my Go-Pro, bug I never remembered to move the videos from the memory card in theGo Pro to my computer. I only thought about it while riding.
I drove all the way through Big Sur in one day. From Carmel to Cambria. There is a national forest stretching about 50 miles along the coast. There was a big fire this year and that entire district is closed. Normally, it seems like it’d be a wonderful place to camp. I stopped at the information center to ask them about it. This Forest has very few roads. There is no MVUM. They don’t allow dispersed camping like most NF districts do. Only camping in designated areas. I’ve seen this kind of setup referred to as “designated dispersed camping areas”. They change them around to limit impact, and it looks like they have 5-6 areas open at one time. You can get a map from them showing the current camping areas.
This stretch of coast is very beautiful. There are many other beautiful spots along the entire California coast, andthe views in Big Sur aren’t any more special. But in Big Sur, there are a lot of those wonderful views packed consistently in a short distance. Other than going up in to the National Forest, there’s not really anywhere to stop and camp. That’s why I drove the whole thing in one day. I got some fairly good pictures, but often it was overcast which isn’t good for taking pictures of big open views.
This is the Big Sur bridge that you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures and videos of. It’s at the north end of Big Sur.
This is McWay Falls, in McWay Cove. It’s that famous spot you’ve probably seen a bunch of pictures of. There is a pretty good story about this spot. The two main people in the story are women. I forget the details. One of them was a sort of poor/normal person. I think she lived right around here first. The other was, I believe, an orphan but she also inherited a bunch of money. The second Lady also came and lived here. I think she is the one that built a house overlooking this cove. When they first made the house, there wasn’t a beach here. It was just cliffs or hill all the way down to the water. The waterfall dropped into the ocean. Then there was a landslide a bit to the north. A bunch of that landslide ended up in the cove and made the beach.