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Pacific Ocean

2007-01-01 (E)

Happy New Year!

As I write this, I am sitting on a rise overlooking the van, where it is on a bluff edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean about 2500' below. Amy is doing some Yoga to welcome in the new year next to me, and the sun is shining after a day of clouds and mist.

Over the wind we can hear the surf and periodic barking of seals of some sort.

The last few weeks have been fairly eventful, with the holidays, visiting with friends, and traveling through Southern California. We have decided to take a week off from moving while we relax and catch our breath, so we returned to a spot we had scouted out a few weeks prior in our travels.

Hilltop Yoga

At the time of our last posting we were camping in the Angeles National Forest above Los Angeles. We had taken this spot so that we could drop into Pasadena the next day and visit a friend, Shanti, from our college days who now works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL).

On Friday noon we descended into the city, and stopped at a little strip-mall with a Starbucks and a Trader Joe's so that we could get some groceries and some snacks while we waited for an afternoon tour of the JPL given by Shanti.

Around 2 we headed over to the JPL campus and met up with Shanti. He showed us around a few of the sights, including the room where one of the Mars rovers is kept for testing and scenario reproduction. It was a fair bit larger than I had pictured, and the room was much like a skate park, covered in dirt and rocks for simulating the current environment the Mars rover is encountering.

We also were treated to a visit to Shanti's lab, where he is working on an interferometer intended to be tossed up into space on a rocket for imaging a planet around another star. Cool stuff.

We returned to our spiffy camping spot that night since it was within a 40 min drive, private, quiet, and out of the smog. We were once again treated to a spectacular multi-colored sunset due to the pollution in the valley below. The next day we returned to the city to spend the day with Shanti and his wife, Martha.
Shanti & Martha

They gave us a driving tour of downtown LA, whilst on the way to and from the Bizarre Bazaar, basically a crafts fair with "subversive" crafts (whatever that means). Following the bazaar we had a late lunch at the Pie & Burger, a wonderful concept for a diner that should be followed more often (bit pricey though...)

That evening we took our leave of Shanti and Martha, and headed back up into the hills, figuring we would camp in the same spot again before heading north-west towards the coast and eventually Santa Cruz for Christmas. The weather was drizzly in the city, and turned to slush and snow a bit before we got to the road to our camping spot. Apparently the 1cm of accumulation was sufficient for them to close the forest service road to our spot, and we saw 3 or 4 places where cars had already slid off the main road. Perhaps snow is not common in LA?

The time was about 4pm, and we still had to find a spot, so we quickly glanced at the map and found that our camping spot a week prior above Hughes Lake was only about an hour away. It was in the right direction, the road was far less traveled, and hopefully less likely to be closed (in fact, I don't think it even had a closure gate). We continued on over, and began the 4wd trail just as the sun set. Our camping spot was exactly as we had left it, and offered a welcome reprieve after a longer than expected drive.

The next day we awoke to about 1" of snow, and temperatures in the upper 20s all day. We decided to stay a day there while we did some work, and hiked around the local hills and bits of the Pacific Crest Trail in the area.
Snow above LA

The next day we were getting itchy to continue, so we followed the 4wd trail for about 20 miles where it gave some spectacular views, and had some low hanging oak-trees which decided to try and abduct Amy's bicycle. Somehow one of the branches had caught the shifter-cables on her bike and yanked them, breaking the shifters and kinking the cables. Up till now we had had very good luck with branches just bending around the bikes. One of our reasons for purchasing the new bumpers was to provide a platform to mount the bikes lower, but of course we had not yet had time to implement this plan...
Bike Abduction Attempt

The trail ended near I-5, and we headed north a few miles to an exit with not much more than fuel and a few restaurants. After lunch, a full tank of diesel, and a freak sighting of Dave from Aluminess (likely hauling bumpers to SMB or something), we turned west into the San Andreas mountains. The hills and mountains were very reminiscent of the geology around the Bad-Lands of South Dakota, just on a larger scale, and with some more vegetation.

After passing through this range of mountains we headed North to the next major east-west highway. Based on our trail book we were expecting some roads up into the National Forest, where we could find a good camping spot soon, and were not disappointed when the first one we tried yielded a flat ridge with wonderful views into the adjacent wilderness area.

This spot was also compelling for an extended stay, with no through traffic (on a hike we found that our spur road ended in about a mile), right above a southern exposed slope so that hawks spent all day riding the lift just above our van, and many trails and old wagon tracks that hike along.

A few days of staying there also gave us a chance to pull the motorcycle off and see how our bumpers were fairing after a bit of 4wd shaking and rattling. There were a few issues we noted, and addressed:

  • The bolts which hold the rear bumper vertical posts to the hinge pins on the rear van doors were both backing out. We had noticed this earlier and re-tightened them, assuming that they had not been torqued on install, but this proved that the problem continued. My guess is that the cab motion relative to the frame works them loose. We reinstalled them with lock-tite.
  • The bolts holding the swing-out latch for the spare-tire had fallen out, and the latch was just rattling around. The latch on the storage box side was still holding its bolts, though one was quite loose. More lock-tite. and a spare bolt from our hardware stash solved these problems.
    Missing bolts
  • The doors for the rear box and the lids to the in-bumper compartments were abrading the powder-coating where they rest against the box and bumper respectively. We had some weather-stripping floating around from a prior project, and this was applied around the perimeter of each of the doors and lids to reduce this wear, keep out most dust, and moisture. (click pics for larger)
    Abraded Powdercoat Weather-stripping

At this point we encountered our first case of the grey-water tank over-flowing due to freezing for the season. Apparently it had frozen-up a few days earlier, and never warmed enough to thaw, because our overflow started to grow ice And all at latitudes south of Fresno... It did thaw and drain the next day as the temperatures rose into the 50s.

After a few days it was time to move on again. We headed out in the morning towards the coast, and hit 101, taking it north to the coastal highway 1. This we followed north, past San Louis Obispo and along the winding coastal shoreline. A few miles past the Hearst Castle we spied some signs for "Elephant Seal Viewpoint" and decided to stop, eat, and look around.

The stop we chose turned out to be on one of the beaches where the elephant seals come yearly to have babies and mate. At the time we arrived the males had mostly staked their claims to the various beach areas (though we did see a few tussles), and the females were lying around waiting to give birth. Most of them seemed to just be dozing, yawning or twitching every once in a while.
Elephant Seals

Heading out from the vista found us getting into a very twisty section of the road, with cliffs to the ocean on one side, and a range of hills and mountains on the right of us. The day was getting along, and we figured finding a spot to camp for the night would be prudent. Although the map showed that the land inland of the road was national forest, there were no public roads, and just a few trail heads. Finally, after about 1/2 hour of looking we found a road that led inland and up into the hills.
Forested road

On the map there were a few branches to the road once it reached the crest of the hills, about 3000' above the ocean, and we aimed ourselves for that area. The road led through some forested areas and a number of private parcels, all the while climbing fairly quickly. Once at the crest, and the first major divide of the road we headed out along a ridge towards the ocean, and still up a bit more. At the very peak of the road a deeply rutted branch took off that I explored on foot and found to lead to a little clear campable spot with a commanding view of the entire surroundings. We locked the hubs and putted up into the clearing just as the sun was preparing to set.
Camping Spot

The view out over the ocean from 3000' up was magnificent. We pondered for a bit, and then decided that we would relax, hike around the next day, and then head into Santa Cruz to meet up with Shane and Laurie for Christmas prep.

For our hike the next day we pointed ourselves out the road again, to see how far toward the ocean we could get on the ridge. The road degraded as it went, becoming quite rutted and steep in places, with low overhanging branches, but at the end opened up into a couple of stepped plateaus overlooking the coastline and ocean. We determined that if we came back this way we would take the van all the way out and camp at the furthest-out plateau with the best view.
View Panorama

The next day, Saturday before Christmas, we arrived in Santa Cruz around 11am. After greeting Laurie, we went out to run a few errands. On our return Shane was back from picking up his Grandmother for her Christmas stay. She had brought along her adorable lovebird Kiwi. Laurie, her friend Shoshi, and Amy then worked on baking and building gingerbread houses while Shane and I worked diligently to provide gastronomic homes for the broken cookie and cake casualties.
Gingerbread Houses

Christmas Eve Laurie spent the entire day in the kitchen preparing for a gargantuan feast for dinner. Shane's father and his wife joined the rest of us, and we had a lovely (and scrumptious) Christmas Eve dinner.
Christmas Eve Dinner

On Christmas day we opened our gifts, and everyone ended up with Lego sets to assemble for the rest of the morning. Since Amy had been spending the last few weeks practicing her crochet work by making plush piggies, our Lego construction vehicles had plenty of porcine loads to move about.

We spent a few more days with Shane and Laurie, hanging out, running errands in town, and stocking up on the essentials before leaving civilization again on Thursday. We were feeling a bit citied out, and after a trip to a bike shop (for new shift barrels for Amy's bike) and REI (new cooking pots and bike-rack bits) we turned south again and returned to the spot we had wished to camp at again.
New Camping Spot

Along the way south along highway 1 we saw a large whale spouting (though no clear view of the whale itself), and an insane number of huge RVs creeping slowly along with 20 or so cars backed up behind them.

Which is where we still are now. The first few days the weather was very cooperative, and we got a lot of little projects completed. The first task was to build a bike mounting system on the rear-bumper box and spare-tire so that the bicycles would be lower (avoiding further mishaps) and easier to access when the roof is up. Then a few new bungee cord mounts inside the cabin for holding stuff we keep finding flying around when we are driving. (click pics for larger)
Bike Rack Bike Rack

I also spent some time playing with the camera trying to figure out how to do long exposures, and got a couple that turned out, although the need for a tripod is becoming clear... That bright spot below is the moon...

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