Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 9: Pacific Coast

Our last episode ended in Morgan Hill, CA, where we visited friends and relatives before heading south along the Pacific coast. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since then.

January 28-30 (Monday-Wednesday): We departed from Morgan Hill, feeling a bit like drowned rats and hoping for a respite from the excessive rain we experienced in the Bay Area. The weather was fairly cooperative, as the sky constantly changed from partly cloudy to heavy overcast to partly sunny and back again. After a bit of freeway driving, we soon found ourselves on the famous Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), officially known as California State Highway 1. We passed through Carmel without making a side trip up the Monterey Peninsula to Pebble Beach – it would have been nice to see the iconic golf links there, but we wanted to get to our next destination before 2 PM. Besides, the fashion police may well have demanded that I put on my new pants just to drive by the course, and I was in no mood for that.

The scenery along the PCH was absolutely stunning. Luckily the traffic was very light, so I didn’t need to pull the RV over too often to let cars pass. We did see signs stating that we were REQUIRED to pull over at various points if there were more than four cars backed up behind us, but that never happened. I had to constantly remind myself that open gawking at the scenery could result in a plunge to a watery grave, so we stopped at a few of the so-called Vista Points to take photos and wait for my head to clear and my hands to stop shaking. My past teasing of Pat for getting queasy on some of the other treacherous roads was forgotten; I was just as nervous as she was. When we passed by the entrance to the infamous Esalen Institute, I briefly considered a quick stop for some new age counseling to calm our nerves, but who knows what might have become of us had we done that.


At any rate, we made it safely to our next destination, Limekiln State Park, located in a steep ravine along the Big Sur coast. The park did not allow RVs greater than 25 ft in length, because the entrance road has a very sharp turn and the 10-12 sites where RVs can stay will only accommodate small rigs. (This was another example of why we are so happy with our 24-foot RV, along with the fact that a longer one would almost certainly have found that watery grave alongside the PCH.) The park consisted of two parts – the inland side was a beautiful redwood forest with crystal clear creeks, and the ocean side opened onto a rocky cove with stunning views of the Pacific, with hundreds of birds soaring in the sky and nestling on the rocks. On Monday afternoon, we hiked along one of the trails through the redwoods to see some 1880’s vintage lime kilns (the source of the park’s name) and then enjoyed the evening sunset over the ocean. There was no cell service in the park and no electricity or water hookups for the RV, so our time there was very relaxing and enjoyable. Except that, after another somewhat decent day on Tuesday that included more hiking in the redwoods and another nice sunset, it started to rain again. With overcast skies on Tuesday afternoon and rain on Wednesday, our solar panels could not keep the RV batteries sufficiently charged, so we needed to run our generator for an hour each evening. Who knew the life of the modern RV camper could be so hard?




January 31-February 2 (Thursday-Saturday): Having thoroughly enjoyed Limekiln, but again feeling very soggy, we motored off on Thursday along the PCH toward San Simeon. This stretch of highway was even rougher and more dramatic than Monday’s drive. Add in the off-and-on rain and heavy overcast conditions and my anxiety level was literally through the roof, to the point where I had to stop the RV at a tiny little town called, very fittingly, Ragged Point. I pulled off the PCH into a parking lot to find, as if heaven-sent, a tiny general store, into which I staggered to purchase a bottle of Dr. Pepper. After retreating to the RV, taking several long slugs of soda pop and many deep breaths, I looked into Pat’s barely focused eyes and promised her that, if we made it to San Simeon, I would never tease her again about being nervous on scary roads. Thankfully, shortly after we departed Ragged Point, the PCH transformed from a ferocious monster to a tame, but still beautiful, kitten. We still had many gorgeous views of the Pacific, but the road was now situated on a wide expanse of flat land between the ocean and the nearby hills, in stark contrast to what felt like a three- or four-foot path carved into the cliffside between Limekiln and Ragged Point. We stopped at a Vista Point along the way to admire the elephant seals lolling about on the beach. The signs there explained that this region of the coast is the largest elephant seal rookery in the world, and that the seals collect there in large numbers in January and February to mate and give birth to their young.



Shortly after the elephant seal area, we stopped the RV at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center just north of San Simeon. Hearst Castle is the name now given to the world-famous estate of William Randolph Hearst, the muckraking journalist and media mogul of the early 20th century. Hearst and his architect, Julia Morgan, built this amazing place over the period from 1919 to 1947. It is on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific to the west and beautiful valleys formed by the mountains to the east. To me, it felt like America’s version of the great castles of Europe. The architecture evokes a Mediterranean village, with a main mansion surrounded by several guest houses. The main house is filled with amazing artworks, including paintings, statuary, even entire Renaissance-era ceilings procured in Spain and transported to California specifically for Hearst’s project. On Thursday we took the so-called Grand Rooms tour, after which we intended to spend some time strolling the grounds, but guess what? By the time our two-hour tour ended, it was pouring rain again. So we took the bus back to the Visitor Center and sat in the RV for an hour (where we were able to get cell signals) until the rain stopped.



Once the rain let up, off we trundled to the Hearst San Simeon State Park, about five miles south of the Castle. We were able to get settled into our camp site, again with no electricity or water hookups and no cell signal, and walk along a very short trail to another beautiful Pacific beach, before it started to rain again. It rained off-and-on all night and into the morning.



On Friday morning, as we drove back to Hearst Castle for another two-hour tour, this one called the Upper Rooms Tour, we saw a sign stating that the PCH was closed to the north due to the excessive rain. This time when we finished our tour it wasn’t raining, though the heavy overcast kept us from enjoying what would normally have been spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. At any rate, we wandered the grounds for another hour or so, then bussed back to the Visitor Center to watch a movie about the building of the Castle before returning to the State Park.



As we were settling the RV back in to our site, a funny thing happened. It started to rain yet again. Within an hour, it was absolutely pouring, and it poured all evening and most of the night. On Saturday morning when I walked over toward the beach, the nearby creek had overflowed its banks and I had to turn back. But by afternoon the creek had receded, and we were able to have a nice walk along the beach. Again, we had to run the generator for cooking supper and to recharge the batteries.

February 3-6 (Sunday-Wednesday): Despite all the rain, we enjoyed our stays at Limekiln and Hearst San Simeon State Parks, but after six days of boondocking we were ready to stay at an RV Park with electricity and laundry facilities while we hoped for a break in the weather. So, we headed inland toward Paso Robles. As we drove along a winding road through the mountains, the fog became so thick that I was only able to go 35-40 mph, causing a backup of about seven cars behind me. Unlike the PCH, the highway had no turnout spots, so I couldn’t pull over to let them by. Naturally, I stressed out about this – seems I can’t drive anywhere without undue anxiety. As we started to descend toward Paso Robles, the fog lifted a bit, and a large pickup decided to pass the entire line of cars – while driving uphill and ignoring the double yellow line on the road. Right after he passed us, there was a stop sign. A hundred yards past that, the impatient truck driver turned off the highway and raced up a long driveway. Did he realize he’d been lucky there were no cars going the other way? Did he care? Who knows. Just before we reached Paso Robles, we saw a lovely rainbow, which I took as a good sign of things to come.


After stopping in town for groceries, we found a nice place to stay, the Wine Country RV Resort. I was surprised to learn that Paso Robles is a well-regarded wine region, with over 300 wineries in the area surrounding the town. In fact, we learned that the RV Park offered a winery tour. That sounded fun, so after spending Sunday afternoon doing laundry, I went to the park office on Monday to sign up for it. It turned out there wasn’t another winery tour until Wednesday, and we were planning on heading back to the coast again on Tuesday. But, wouldn’t you know it, it rained again on Monday and Tuesday, so we decided to extend our stay and go on the Wednesday winery tour. We were rewarded for this decision with a beautiful, sunny day on Wednesday and had a great time on the tour. We were chauffeured by a friendly woman named Kat to four different wineries – Lone Madrone, Whalebone, Treana, and Eberle. At each one, we sampled six or more wines and bought two bottles from among the selections we had tasted (eight bottles in total). The tour included a nice lunch of crackers and cheese after the second winery, and Kat was very informative and entertaining as she ferried us around the area. When we got back to the RV, I was pleased to find I was still upright, but I was definitely not feeling anxious in any way.



February 7-10 (Thursday-Sunday): On Thursday, we drove to Santa Barbara, where we had reserved a site at the Sunrise RV Park, a small park just off the Highway 101 freeway. Once there, I rode my bike to the Santa Barbara harbor to check out the lay of the land and inquire at the Visitor Center about tours of the nearby Channel Islands National Park. My route took me past a lovely golf course, through a bird refuge, and along the Pacific Ocean beachfront.




At the Visitor Center, I learned that the only boats to the Islands sail from Ventura or Oxnard, so we decided to book a Channel Islands Whale Watching cruise out of Ventura for the coming Sunday. On Friday morning, Pat had a business conference call, so I went for a walk around the neighborhood of the RV Park. Once Pat was done with her call and we’d eaten lunch in the RV, we walked the route I’d biked the day before. Our walk included an excursion to Stearns Wharf, an old steamboat pier now sporting several shops and restaurants. I got a waffle cone and Pat had a latte before we walked back to the RV. By this time my feet were complaining loudly, and I told Pat I was sure I’d covered at least 20,000 steps that day. I’ve only been using the step-counting feature on my phone since last July, shortly after my 68th birthday, but my previous high daily total since then was just over 18,000. I’ve walked far more than that in a single day many times during my younger days, before there were such things as step counters, but as a peripheral neuropathy sufferer over the past 15 years or so walking has become somewhat hard on my feet. Now, fishing out my phone, I saw that my step total was 19,800, a modern era personal record. But I’d just claimed to have walked 20,000 steps and was not about to be called a liar, so I headed out for another walk around the RV Park and returned to see that my new total was 20,245 (supposedly 9.63 miles). Take that, you pathetic, complaining feet!


Guess what happened next. It started raining Friday night and rained most of the day on Saturday. It was still sputtering as we drove down to Ventura on Sunday. The rain had stopped, but it was overcast and windy when we arrived at the Island Packers boat dock. Our cruise departed at 9:30 AM, and we encountered brief periods of both sun and rain as we sailed out to and around the Channel Islands. On the way, we encountered humpback whales, gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, pelicans, and gulls – what an absolutely delightful trip it was! I got some good videos of leaping dolphins and whales and am trying to learn how to edit them and make gifs. The images below do not do justice to what we actually saw on the trip. Let me just say that this venture to our seventh National Park was one of the real highlights of our Excellent Adventure.

Whale Video.gif


February 11-12 (Monday-Tuesday): On Monday, we pulled up stakes in Santa Barbara and headed south again along the coast. The weather was quite nice this time as we drove to and beyond Ventura, so we were able to fully enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. That lovely drive gradually turned into a mind-numbing slog as we reached the greater Los Angeles area and traversed from one gigantic freeway to another, often coming to a near stop amidst a sea of cars and trucks. Thank goodness we weren’t traveling during the rush hour. Eventually we emerged from the concrete jungle and once again began to enjoy the Pacific coast as we made our way to Dana Point. We stayed Monday and Tuesday nights at Doheny State Beach, literally a hundred yards from the ocean in a nice campground with no electric or water hookups. We made good use of the bikes both days, exploring the pricey real estate along a local road to the south on Monday and riding into town for a nice lunch on Tuesday (we ate at the Harbor Grill in Dana Point, where I had the best crab cakes I’ve ever eaten). And, yes, it rained again on Monday night. Will it ever end?



Below is a map of our travels since leaving Palm Springs in early January. (Click here for maps of the entire trip so far.) After Doheny State Beach, we headed off toward San Diego. Check back in a couple of weeks for a report on our activities there and wherever else we may have found ourselves by then.

Map 4

Pat and Dave’s Excellent Adventure – PART 8: The Way to San Jose

Our last episode ended in Desert Hot Springs, CA, where I golfed my brains out and we rode on an exciting tram ride into the mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley. Here’s a summary of the subsequent twenty days.

January 9-10 (Wednesday-Thursday): We eventually decided to make our next leg a straight shot up to San Jose with an intermediate pit stop in Bakersfield. (Throughout the trip, I was unable to answer the lyrical question playing in my head: Dionne Warwicke continually asking “Do You Know The Way to San Jose?” Luckily, Google Maps knew.) Our drive to the Shady Haven RV Park in Bakersfield on Wednesday was pleasant and uneventful. We stayed in a nice, quiet spot with full hookups, showers, laundry, cable TV, and non-functional Wi-Fi for two nights ($29.50 per night with our 50% Passport America discount). It was nice to have the distraction of the cable TV since all it did while we were there was rain. The park manager told me the Wi-Fi would be back in service shortly, and that it was really fast – they just needed to replace one part in their router. It did eventually come on – and it actually was really fast, the fastest we’ve had at any of the places we’ve stayed – but not until a couple of hours before we left on Friday. Such is life.

January 11-27 (Friday-Friday-Friday-Sunday): When we left the park in Bakersfield, the fog was so thick I couldn’t see to the end of the block. Luckily, once we’d crept along at a snail’s pace for a half hour or so, the fog lifted, and we had a fine drive the rest of the way to San Jose. We had reserved a rental car at the San Jose airport, since driving the RV in heavy Bay Area traffic and along narrow residential streets as we went to visit our friends and relatives might not have been the best idea. This concept was borne out as we approached San Jose and got sucked into a vortex of frantic California drivers tearing along at lightning speeds, changing lanes with abandon, slamming on brakes in some mystical, whimsical fashion, meanwhile turning me into a quivering mass of jelly. Somehow, I made it to the airport, where Pat jumped out once we sighted the car rental building. I then shakily drove back to the town of Morgan Hill, several miles south of San Jose, and checked into the Coyote Valley RV Resort. Pat joined me there with a nice, new VW Jetta that ended up getting 45 mpg during our stay while the RV sat at the park resting up for the next leg of the journey.

The RV park turned out to be a nice, rather sleepy place with full hookups, showers, laundry, Cable TV, Wi-Fi (abominably slow) – all the usual RV park stuff. However, this being the Bay Area, there were no discounts to be had, no Passport America, no senior citizen deal, no AAA rate, just “gee you’re a nice guy and all, but just pay your bill, please.” One unexpected benefit was the Coyote Creek Golf Course, literally within walking distance from the park. Amazing how this can happen even without planning. (I played there on Saturday the 12th and Saturday the 19th, enjoying good weather the first time but a waterlogged course the second. I apparently left my game somewhere back in the Coachella Valley along with any trace of strength in my right shoulder.)

The stay at Coyote Valley ended up being our second longest in any one place so far, second only to the marathon in Desert Hot Springs. We were originally planning a two week stay, but ended up extending that by three days when we were unable to book a place at the State Park we wanted to visit next. (You’ll have to wait for Part 9 to find out where that is). During our stay, we visited three couples who live in the area:

  • On Sunday the 13th, we went to see Chris and Ali, Pat’s sister’s son and his wife, who are living in Palo Alto until Chris finishes his Ph.D. in Materials Science at Stanford. We met them at the training studio where their cute dog, Artie, was going through his paces. We then went for lunch with the three of them at a nice restaurant with outdoor seating in Palo Alto, after which we got a personalized tour of the Stanford campus, including Chris’s research lab. It was a lovely day and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Chris and Ali, and meeting Artie, of course.



  • On Tuesday the 15th, we visited with an old friend, Donna, and her husband, Dennis, at their lovely home in Mountain View. I first met Donna at Sandburg Junior High School in New Hope, MN, on the first day of seventh grade. I spent much of the subsequent two years mooning over the lovely young girl, but, being a super shy Finnlander, was incapable of communicating my interest to her. Sadly, she went on to attend Cooper High School while I went to Robbinsdale. Somehow, I got over this loss and went on to finish high school and college, get married not once but twice (after my first unsuccessful attempt, Pat and I have had a blissful almost 40-year partnership, with many more years to come), and to have three wonderful sons and a great career. So why were we visiting my junior high crush in sunny California? It just so happened that the high school reunion planners decided to do a combined 50th reunion with Cooper AND Robbinsdale alums in 2017. This got me to remembering Donna, and as a result I just so happened to decide to go to the reunion, dragging Pat along to keep me in line. Donna didn’t actually attend the reunion, but I just so happened to run into one of my Robbinsdale classmates who just so happened to be Donna’s first husband. He was nice enough to give me her contact info, and voila! When I let her know we would be in the Bay Area this winter, we agreed to have our own little mini-reunion at her home. Our visit was great fun. Donna fixed us “an Excellent Lunch to go along with our Excellent Adventure,” during which we shared old stories and caught up on each other’s lives. She also gave us a personal motor tour of Mountain View and provided us with a parting gift of delicious oranges and kiwis grown in their own back yard garden. It was also fascinating to meet Dennis, who was very gracious, especially under the circumstances (some yahoo from Donna’s past showing up on his doorstep). He was in the process of retiring from a long career at the NASA Ames Research Center (the process having been interrupted by Trump’s idiotic Government shutdown). He also introduced me to a new word when I reiterated Donna’s mention of the “excellent” lunch – the lunch could just as well have been called “eximious,” Dennis told me. (So, Donna ended up marrying an introverted aerospace engineer who is a bit nerdy and enjoys unusual words. Hmmm, he almost could have been me! But let’s not go there, shall we?) The only downside to the visit was that it rained all day long, as it had on Monday and as it continued to do for much of the subsequent week.
  • On Monday the 19th, we visited Connie, one of Pat’s old school chums, and her husband Scott. Pat and Connie both attended school from Kindergarten through 12th grade in Bricelyn, MN. Unlike me and my old friend, though, Pat and Connie have kept up over the subsequent years, serving as bridesmaids at each other’s weddings (that would also be my wedding) and catching up at various reunions along the way. I also attended Scott and Connie’s wedding in Portland, OR, and we visited them when they first moved to San Jose some 30 years ago. On Monday, Scott and I played golf at Moffet Field Golf Course on the grounds of the NASA Ames Research Center while Connie and Pat spent the day catching up. The golf course was drenched, with no carts allowed, as a result of all the recent rain (at least it didn’t rain while we were playing). That made the very long course play even longer. I was lucky to break 100, but the sheer number of pathetic excuses for golf shots left me such a broken golfer that I decided to give up the game. Nevertheless, we had a great time, although Scott had to give me a pair of dry socks to wear since mine were soaked through. After golf, we enjoyed a delicious meal fixed by Connie and Scott before heading back to the RV park. On the way back, I decided not to throw my clubs in the trash, just in case.


During the remainder of our stay at the Coyote Valley RV Resort, we mainly gadded about the Morgan Hill area in the rented Jetta, often dodging raindrops as it continued to rain off and on the whole time. We went to see a movie (On the Basis of Sex, about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the last great hope for liberals like us), went to a local winery for a tasting, and also rode several times on a very nice bicycle trail adjacent to the RV Park and the golf course.

Our final Bay Area adventure was on Friday the 25th, when the rental car was due back at the San Jose airport. Rather than risking another trip with the RV through the madhouse traffic, we decided on a clever means to return the car. First, I drove to the local Caltrain Station in Morgan Hill – a sedate drive with the RV – while Pat followed in the Jetta. Then, she drove me and the Jetta to the San Jose airport rental car center. After we returned the car, we caught an airport shuttle to the nearest Caltrain station and caught a train to San Francisco. Once there, we gadded about the vibrant city, first taking a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, then walking to Ghirardelli Square, then riding the old streetcar line, and finally catching the light rail train back to the Caltrain station. We then took the Caltrain back to Morgan Hill, had dinner at a nice BBQ place, and finally drove the RV back to the Coyote Valley park. Visiting the big city was quite exhilarating – the only blemish was the half dozen or more homeless people we saw in just this brief visit. If only someone could come up with a humane way to help the unfortunate ones who cannot keep up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area.



As a grand finale, we were visited once more by Scott and Connie on Saturday the 26th. They picked us up at the Coyote Valley RV Park and then on to a lovely dinner at an Italian restaurant in nearby Morgan Hill. Now we’re finally off again for the next leg of the adventure. Check back in a couple of weeks to find out where we go next.