(10 days in)
So it’s day 10 of the adventure (it took an embarrassingly long time to work that out by the way, who knew the days just meld into one when you haven’t got a rigid work time frame). We’re currently stood in a laundromat waiting for – well, what you would be waiting for in a laundromat. I thought this would be a good time to review what’s happened since you checked in with us. We’ve seen two more campgrounds, a hostel in the city of San Francisco and most recently, a motel room up in Sacramento.
Life in the wilderness
From Wheeler Gorge we headed a lot closer to the Pacific coast and found probably my favourite campground so far in San Simeon. Not only were the surroundings completely different but the temperature plummeted as the sea mist came rolling in. We found ourselves reaching for the emergency hoodies a lot sooner than expected and even splashed out on some firewood for the night. The grounds themselves were mostly filled with families having a quick weekend away or other young couples on their way north or south on California’s famous Route 1. But with flat ground for the van to be parked on and warm showers, it could have been filled with wasps and I would have been happy (this is of course hyperbole, please don’t lead me to any area that is filled with wasps). We took a brief walk up the beach and took some typical selfies but with the background showing nothing but fog we didn’t spend long.
The morning brought welcomely cold toes and a healthy amount of steam off our tea. Sadly, we were only there as a stop between destinations so we plugged the next leg into the satnav, packed the back of the van and started off, back out on the road again. But here’s when things got a bit weird, and I’m now sure that the van has mind reading on top of A/C and cruise control. Megan loves all animals, and we were hoping to drive up the coastal road and maybe get a lucky view of a whale or something similar. But we also knew the road itself was closed for a long stretch between where we were and where we were trying to end up. Either way, it was taking us further on than we thought we could drive and we diligently followed the blue line on its screen. Suddenly, it changed its mind and told us to pull into the next parking lot and turn back on ourselves, as it had apparently just realised that which we knew already. Lo and behold we pull into the parking lot to find that it’s adjacent to a popular Elephant Seal viewpoint. Through wonder and gleeful smiles we stood watching my spiritual brethren lie and roll and snore and shout for a lot longer than I thought we would!
Stopping for petrol, coffee and WiFi, we refuelled everything that needed refuelling and made our way off to Henry W Coe Campground. This drive finished off with us doing 10 miles at about 5 mph round a snaking lakeside road, and climbing about 3000 feet. We found some breathtaking views, and our space for the evening. I couldn’t really list the huge number of ways that this campground differed from San Simeon. Most notably, there were mosquitos – a lot of them. But also just a huge abundance of (friendlier) wildlife. The noise you could hear from the darkened brush was deafening in the relative silence from our camping neighbours. Alongside the hilltop location and prime hiking points, it was a far throw from the Pacific.
Fran Sancisco (I thought it was funny)
(Editor’s note: He said this while we were discussing the blog and I thought we’d decided it wasn’t all that funny, but there’s just no helping some people.)
If she ever decides to do this again but with someone else, I’d be more than happy to write a reference for Meg. She found a local branch of Escape Campervan rental just outside the city limits. Alongside asking them to take a look at the fridge (which had stopping ‘fridging’ and left something to be desired for our chilled goods) she got them to agree to hold onto the van for the three nights that we were in the city completely free of charge! This put my mind to rest about not only driving into what I’d heard was a horrible city for motorists but also about its security.
I enjoyed seeing the city as we peaked the freeway from the back of our Uber. Both myself and Megan were keen to see what the fuss was all about when it came to San Francisco, as everyone we’d spoken to about it had only brilliantly positive things to say but I’d never really looked into it myself (Editor’s note: Shocker.). Starting in our hostel was probably not the best for this state of mind, as it left a lot to be desired. I knew it wouldn’t be 5-star standard, being a city centre hostel, but it wasn’t by any means the cheapest place to stay so I expected at least more than one toilet for a floor of potentially 30 people. Our shower was also broken so we had to go a floor up where there were two showers between now at least 50 people. Most surfaces were at least a little sticky which is always concerning when the cleaners were constantly wiping down areas of the common ground. This coupled with the fact that people were complaining about their food being tampered with by rats and that our room mate got her purse stolen on the first night she was there meant that we tried to spend as little of our waking hours within its walls as possible.
So after a quick Google, we got to walking and found a typical American diner nearby, where we were acquainted with the famously large portion sizes that neither Megan or myself (I know, shocking) could finish. After our first night we decided to go and find something interesting to do in and around the city. There were was no shortage of options as San Francisco hosts the California Academy of Sciences, numerous bars, beautiful views of the bay and of course the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Alcatraz prison island. Scuppered only by our budget, we decided to pick up a nice lunch from Trader Joe’s and sit in the Golden Gate Park staring longingly at the Academy that we refused to pay entry for (museums are free for the most part in Britain remember, not nearly £30 a person as this one was). Also hearing that San Fran has a great culture for Chinese food we thought ‘when in Rome’ and that night’s dinner was similar to a standard order from the local take-away.
At this stage Megan and I were struggling to see what all the fuss was about. San Francisco certainly had it’s charm but it was just a city. Roadworks, homeless people, angry drivers, the same in any city the world over. So we took a deep breath and did the most touristy thing we could think of doing – we took a boat tour of Alcatraz Island, Angel Island and under the Golden Gate Bridge. That was our second day, with another cloudless sky we donned our suncream and made our way to Pier 33 for our boat ride. We were excited, not normally a fan of doing the typical tourist routine, but it was still a boat ride across the incredible bay if nothing else. One of the first in line, we positioned ourselves in the back corner of the boat. A strategic choice to miss most of the crowd, have a little space to ourselves and surely what ver we would go toward we would than go away from so the back of the boat was a good a place as any to take those all important selfies. Alcatraz was as expected, a little smaller than I thought but in just a good state of disrepair as all the photos make it look, with some nice grounds that volunteers had apparently been tending to over the recent years.
We headed toward the Golden Gate and I found myself yet again reaching for that hoodie as we came in contact with the San Francisco fog. Sailing under the bridge was pretty cool, we have some nice photos of the city skyline and the bridge itself but being mostly shrouded in the mist we didn’t actually see that much more than the underbelly. ‘No matter’ we thought. We’ll be driving over it on our way out of town tomorrow, more chances for those videos and selfies.
So the boat docked, we ‘off-boarded’ and sat down for a spot of lunch near Fisherman’s Wharf, at a fish and chip stand rated at 86 out of the top 100 places to eat in the US called The Codmother. Similar portion size to the diner, it was a struggle but this time I reigned triumphant (I’m sure you’re all pleased to hear). But we got back on topic of the city, discussing exactly what all the fuss was about. Sadly, I still can’t see it. I’m sure there was some hidden section that we failed to find or at least some experience that someone will shout at me for not knowing. It’s a pretty city, lovely skyline, some great architecture out in the suburbs, and I’m sure a great cultural hub, but nothing jumped at me and slapped me from the reverie that it was just a city.
That night saw us take a streetcar (or rolling Bakelite radio, as I commented) back out of the centre of town and sit in Club DeLuxe, a small jazz club that had two live bands through the night as we sampled the great cocktail menu. Sadly we missed happy hour, and though we were under budget for the days leading up to that moment, we no longer are.
We found ourselves up and out of our grimy digs pretty early on Friday morning. Yet again skipping the do-it-yourself pancakes the hostel offered to instead go back to our missing third (through sixth) wheel. Back again at last with Manone (who also now had a fully functioning fridge) we headed north toward Sacramento, but not before going over the Golden Gate Bridge. Annoyingly we had the same conditions as the day before, bright and clear sunshine until you come into view of it, at which point its cloaking device activates and releases enough fog that I’m now certain there is no top to the bridge – it must just keep going, and the mist is the only way the architect could shield his sky palace… or something.
Our stop for the night was a welcome sight after the previous conditions. With our own room, our own shower and an air con unit keeping the 36 degree heat out, we sorted our bags and compiled all of the photos we’d gathered along the way, completely forgetting to fill out the postcards we picked up for those who had requested them.
Back out on the road again
Our next big stop is Yosemite National Park. I’m going to be putting my photography skills to the test (which is to say, find out if I have any at all) with the wildlife we plan to see and the views we’ve been told about. But before that we head to another brief stop, Acorn Campground. With a large lake I’m excited to dip my toes in but it’s mostly a formality before we have to be up and at Yosemite ridiculously early to find a spot (who knew the sites get booked 6 months in advance?!).
The washing’s done now and we should be heading out. Yet again if anyone has been to Yosemite or knows what we should be on the look out for please do get in touch and let us know!