Test Run: Road Trip to CA and a New Haircut for Nez

Some weeks back, Avy’s brother and his girlfriend relocated to the Monterey Bay area. We happened to be planning a trip to SoCal to get some work done on Nebuchadnezzar anyway, and it seemed like they could use some help with the move, so we decided to follow them up to Monterey before heading back down the coast over a few days. With about 18 hours between when we decided to go and when they were planning to take off, we hurriedly packed some clothes, bedding, vittles, dog and ukulele, and hit the road for California a few hours behind them.

Our dog Cairo, waiting patiently to get the show on the road

Our dog Cairo, waiting patiently to get the show on the road

This trip was to be our first test of actually, like, living in a van for a week. No plumbing yet, no power, no shower, no nada mucho. Needless to say we started out with a little trepidation, but we figured it would be a learning experience. Boy, were we right.

The first day’s driving took us through Southern AZ and over the border to CA. At each pit stop we let the dog out so he could do his business, but apparently he was even less sure of this adventure than we were, because he refused every time. You could tell he needed to go, but man, he was not having any of this. Sniff, whine, sniff, circle, whine, look up at me at with a tilted head as if to say “can we go home already? I really need to use the toilet.” Finally about 11PM, having last peed at our house that morning, he let loose. I have never seen a dog stand in one spot urinating continuously for well over a minute before. Now I have. I was surprised that he hadn’t visibly shrunk by the time he was done.

That hurdle finally crossed, we drove for another hour or two and finally parked for the night at a truck stop outside Palm Springs. Wrung out, we rolled out our bed and passed out to the sound of trucks on I-10.

The next morning arrived sunny and pleasant, and we emerged from our mobile cave surprisingly rested, to the sight of a grassy, well-kept rest stop and a little forest of windmills turning happily on the hills.

Everything is nicer in California, including the rest stops.

Everything is nicer in California, including the rest stops.

Windmills! I love wind power

Windmills! Never understood why some people hate the sight of these things so much. I think they’re handsome. And really, would you rather look at a coal plant?

We made good time past LA and up the central valley, made a brief stop in Paso Robles in the afternoon, and continued on our way to Monterey. Or at least we started to, until a half hour out of town when I glanced down at my left hand. A narrow band of pale skin glistened nakedly on my ring finger. Crap. Turn this thing around! I’ve left my wedding ring! I had, unbelievably stupidly (actually if you know me very well, it’s entirely believable), taken it off and left it on the sink in a public restroom. Crap, crap, triple crap.

A frantic run back to the scene turned up no ring where I knew it should have been. Quadruple crap. Someone took it. Slump-shouldered and preparing myself for the much-deserved verbaI beating I would receive as soon as I returned with the bad news, I passed by a cluster of chatting waiters outside a Mexican restaurant in the same building. Figuring it unlikely that they would have any good news for me–for all I knew one of them had already pawned it!–I asked if they had seen anyone take anything out of the bathroom. I nearly fainted when one of them piped up: “Ah, a man come out from there with a ring just a while ago. I think maybe they already leave, though”. Show me to their table! Perhaps I could still catch them…

The man helpfully led the way to the table, mercifully still occupied with two very large, very bearded, very leathery Biker Dudes and their equally formidable-looking Biker Lady Friends. After a breathless explanation of my plight, they regarded me stonily for a moment, during which time I observed that they were perhaps even larger than they had first appeared. Finally, one of them cracked a very big, very beardy grin and fished in his vest pocket, producing my ring and slapping it into my palm. “You’da been in some trouble there, huh?”

I thanked them each about a dozen times, and as I walked away, left hand a bit heavier, footsteps much jauntier, I thought maybe those Biker Dudes weren’t so scary after all. Actually, they were kind of nice…

Paso Robles: home of hot springs, expensive wine, nice grassy parks, and at least one very nice Biker Dude

Paso Robles: home of hot springs, expensive wine, grassy parks, and at least one very honest Biker Dude

We made it to Monterey that evening in plenty of time to help out with unloading the moving truck and feast on some sushi before it was time to find a place to park for the night. Not having much experience finding stealth camping sites, we ended up driving to Salinas, the next town over, to sleep at the local Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart, along with several other national chain stores, actually encourages travelers to overnight in their parking lots, presumably on the assumption that they will come inside at some point and spend money. We needed a few supplies we hadn’t thought of at home, including the makings for an emergency bucket-toilet and some window screens for privacy, so we didn’t disappoint them). Again, we found that we were suprisingly comfy once we got settled in.

We still had a few days before we needed to be back in LA to get the work done on Nez, so we took the chance to visit with Avy’s sister and our little niece and nephew near Santa Cruz before heading back down the coast. We decided to sleep in the van again, sort of getting into the rhythm now, and spent an interesting night listening to raccoons and deer and who knows what banging around in the woods and garbage cans.


Some sweet peas and fern picked alongside the road make for a nice dashboard bouquet...

Some sweet peas and fern picked alongside the road make for a nice dashboard bouquet…

Getting into the last leg of our journey, we finally got a chance to slow down and enjoy the drive. We took scenic Route 1 down the coast, winding into Big Sur by evening. I won’t bother to summarize the day’s events, but suffice it to say that California had one less standing stop sign at the end of it. Oops. Damn van doesn’t have any rear windows… gotta get a backup camera! At least we got some nice pictures along the coast, though:






That night we only made it about halfway down the twisty party of the coast highway, so we stopped at a convenient roadside pullout. This was the most nerve-wracking night of the trip, somewhat worried that law enforcement might not like us parking there overnight and waking frequently to the noise and lights of cars passing just a few yards away. But nothing untoward befell us, and we were on our way again bright and early.

Still with plenty of time to spare, we headed up into the National Forest nearby for the early part of the day to get some peace and quiet. It’s so tranquil up there, and just gorgeous with the mountains and trees and little peeks of the ocean wherever you pass a gap in the hills… National Forest is one of the best things about this country. You can drive for a half an hour or so and find places where you wouldn’t see a soul for days. Perfect.


Spending more time in places like this is one of the reasons we’re doing this whole thing

A little difficult to see her, but there's a deer up there on the hill

A little difficult to see her, but there’s a deer up there on the hill

Heading back down to the highway, we kept rolling south, getting into the flat lands of the central coast in the afternoon. We stopped for a few sights, including one bizarre one that we nearly missed on our first pass by. We had to loop back around for a photo op:

Hint: it's a zebra! Weird huh?

Just some cattle grazing? Click to take a closer look. Something doesn’t quite fit here…

Also, elephant seals! Pretty cool, and we got to see a little territory battle (video below). Pictures do not give you any idea of how massive these things are. To get an idea, the males can weigh as much as Nebuchadnezzar, 5000 lbs plus. They’re pretty impressive close up.

Elephant seals: as huge as they are lazy

Elephant seals: as huge as they are lazy. Even bigger than Biker Dudes.

(I tried to embed a video of two bulls fighting on the beach but I couldn’t get the silly autoplay feature turned off. Watch it here.)

A little later we got a call from the good folks at Fiberine in Long Beach that our new roof was ready a bit early, and we could get it installed the next day. So we skipped our planned night in Santa Barbara and headed the rest of the way down to LA. An excruciatingly slow crawl through the next morning’s traffic got us to Long Beach, where we dropped Nez off for his makeover and headed down to the seaside to wait for the work to get done. Those guys know what they’re doing, and we didn’t have to wait long to get him back, new and improved.

By now we were about ready to get home. Nez is a good van, but he’s not close to finished and we wanted some running water and a proper bed. So we burned the midnight petroleum to make it home the same night (it only took 3 hours to drive through LA! Practically a new record!), bringing our first vanventure to an end:

Nebuchadnezzar back at his home curb, sporting a new 'do

Nebuchadnezzar back at his home curb, sporting a new ‘do

One thought on “Test Run: Road Trip to CA and a New Haircut for Nez

  1. KB

    Backup camera? It’s amazing what you can do with side mirrors (says the aunt who drove a “roach coach” in college and had to back through metal posts barely wider than the vehicle). 🙂

    This is very cool–and I saw the deer AND the zebra! Looking forward to the continued adventures of A&A (and C&N)!


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