Nothing cures a case of self doubt like a road trip to the West Coast. In the midst of an emotionally chaotic rut with the encouragement of my lead foot counterpart, Ryan Wix, we packed our bags and headed for the sunshine and surf. Uncertain about any of our destinations the van carried us eleven hours to the small casino run town of Mesquite, Nevada right on the border of Utah, eighty miles north of Sin City itself.
We spent the first leg of our trip determined to hit the town, avoid the crowds, and perhaps get lucky. Yielding the benefits of a traveling engineer we booked a room at the “fabulous” Tropicana and stayed free of charge for our first evening. Walking the strip I realized the particular distaste I had towards the gimmicks, flashing lights, and commercialized godi-ness of this overrun street in the dessert. Now, now Rachel you must embrace it. Together we ate an obnoxiously large plate of nachos and prepared for our evening attending Zombie Burlesque at Planet Hollywood. The next morning Ryan and I tested our luck with the Black Jack table and slot machines. Placing a wrinkled five dollar bill into the Willy Wonka machine we watched our money raise to $240.00 all the way backdown to $150.00, along with an extra $100.00 from Black Jack it was time to leave and head towards Death Valley. Sunshades on and music running high we drove through the desert towards our next destination Carpinteria, California.
The highway already felt congested and we were in the middle of no where on a Tuesday. Oh, boy headed to the city of Angels. Entering the hustle and bustle our first stop was to fulfill our cult dreams.The Halo Top Ice Cream shop in Topanga. Largely overrated we swerved through an upscale shopping center to find the golden halo above the marbled kiosk. Yes, we made it. Sampling five of the eight flavors offered. I settled on a waffle cone with Chocolate-Peanut Butter swirled soft serve. Yes, satisfied and bucket list checked. Back to the van we went. Driving through the curvy Topango Canyon we were ready to see the long awaited waves. Around the final turn we met the ocean during golden hour where we started off on Highway 1 through Malibu.
Pulling into a beach parking lot we were confronted with an honorary community of authentic van life members. This parking lot served as the basecamp for hundreds of surfers catching their evening waves. Ryan and I didn’t stand a chance in competing with these van living vagabonds. An epic memory engrained with the visions of dreadlocks, seagulls, and wetsuits. What a happy place. Driving further down the road we took in the beautiful scenery. How lucky were we? Arriving in Carpenteria we took a pit stop for salad supplies before heading to the home of “Big Buff” John, Ryan’s good friend. A quaint spot in a fantastic beach town, Big Buff and girlfriend Amanda shared from their fishing excursion and we had a delicious dinner of smoked rock fish and salad with avocados right off their own tree. Ryan was particularly content being able to use his pocket sized Traeger Grill, he can't leave out it. What a wonderfully fun way to spend the evening seeing even better people.
The next morning we stopped for breakfast at the Worker Bee Diner where I had a beautiful veggie omelette and Ryan dabbled in the Mexicali cuisine with Chiqquiles. Headed North to see the long awaited Big Sur. I was jumping for joy from the seat of the van. Passing Santa Barbra and driving through San Luis Opisbo I understood the appeal of these little spots of paradise. We took a pit stop in Morro Bay and walked around the large rock formations and content beach walkers. I was sold. I could sit by that bay for days. Driving north the coast only became more beautiful and more ragged. We stopped at frequent turn outs to take photographs, one stop nearly ended in a flattened Rachel, as I crossed too soon in front of a fast approaching car. Thankfully I made it to the other side. Passing beaches of elephant seals and the Hearst Castle’s field of intermingling cows and zebras, I was at peace. The coastline and sea breeze was exactly what I needed to see.
Entering Big Sur exceeded my expectations of beauty morphing components of the Pacific North West coastline with the tropics of Hawaii and Auckland territory. Being present can only do the scenes justice, but pictures will have to suffice. Driving the full day we made it to Julia Pfeier State Park where the McWay waterfall sat.
We watched the sunset from this point and it was magical. Following the Pacific Coast Highway into the dark we made it to the small town of Big Sur composed of a few cabins and motels. Looking for a spot to park the van we were skeptical of calling it a night on the side of the road, so we inquired about a spot in the camp ground. There was exactly one spot left for a whopping $75.00. Passing up the opportunity we decided to head further north to Carmel-by-the-Sea where we would find a parking lot of other campers in front of the posh and luxurious Safeway supermarket.
Using the amenities of a Starbucks we planned the day and waited for the arrival of our friend Chad. Chad drove down from San Jose to meet us and head back into Big Sur. Driving between Carmel and Big Sur was unbeleiveable and to think we missed all of it in our journey through the dark. We were not the only people taking a scenic road trip that Saturday. The highway was flooded with all walks of life smiling at the surrounding beauty. We pulled into one of the state parks where we hiked up the valley and took in the magnificent stature of the Red Wood trees.
After our hike we enjoyed our picnicked lunch in one of the road pull outs. Looking into the ocean nearly a thousand feet down Ryan spotted two brave surfers catching massive waves. Entirely isolated from the rest of the world these water warriors stood up countless times caressing the blue, green, and white capped water. That was living. Driving slightly further down the road we found a wide trail that climbed down towards the water and through a foot tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel we were right beside the rough rock and crashing waves. Climbing from each mini peninsula my heart was happy. Documenting each ebb and flow, Ryan wanted to borrow my precious camera to take a video, hesitant I let him take it, and with my own eyes I watched a massive wave soak my passion and part livelihood. Ryan Wix you did not just let that happen.
Don’t worry everything ended up just fine, but a new lesson was learned... The day continued with more climbing, driving, and viewing pleasure. Tired from our day, the fog rolled in and collectively we were ready to head back to Carmel. No plans for the evening we waited for cellphone reception to stake out a place for all three of us to stay. Van life is wonderful, but showers are also necessary. Finding a spot at the Discovery Inn we looked for options for dinner, Chad drove us over to the Old Fisherman’s Wharf where we stopped and read each menu. A delightful tourist trap it was. Facetiming my Dad to show him the marina I was happy to see his face. Our final decision of dining at Domenico’s came down to the seafood options and $3 margaritas. Sitting at the bar the three of us became acquainted with a traveling business owner named John, like all three of our own fathers. We enjoyed exchanging stories and spending time in each other’s company, the evening ended with John picking up our entire tab, what a nice human, we were all so appreciative. Lesson learned be kind to all strangers and make new friends.
The next morning I woke up before the guys and despite having a hotel room, went out to the van, I suppose I am a creature of comfort? Once everyone was alive, alert, and enthusiastic we chose a local torterilla for a breakfast spot. Chad and I were confident in our decision of huevos rancheros, but Ryan inquired about a certain bowl of soup that all of the local people were eating. Menudo. He chose this exceptionally large dish that after a few bites did not agree with his taste buds. Googling the soup he discovered it was made strictly with cow stomach. Nice. Ryan wasn’t the happiest of campers, but we left to start our morning at the Monterey Aquarium. After years of wanting to see this special spot, we went. Lucky us we went on Free Day for Children under the age of 12, cue every family on the Central Coast of California.
None the less the aquarium was outstanding and built with stunning attention to detail. My favorite spot was the two story aquarium tank housing the kelp forrest and small sharks. I was also enamored by the breathtaking jelly fish exhibit with the large orange and red floating beings.
Following the exhibit we walked down Cannery Row where we feasted on a sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder. Full and ready to roll we decided to go on the 17 Mile Drive, which is the stretch of highway that runs between Monterey and Carmel with outstanding views and a wide array of gorgeous mansions and beaches. Stopping around every bend to take photographs we were blown away by the dueling sides of rocky beaches and perfectly manicured golf courses. We visited the "Lone Cyprus" tree which is the emblem for the Pebble Beach. We also stopped to take in the views of the Club House at Pebble Beach, looking at the lucky golfers finish up their picture perfect days on the 18th hole. It was interesting to see how the other half lives and how many people were casually enjoying their happy hour at the still public golf course. The three of us agreed we would all be back to play the course one way or another. Finishing the final miles on the Seventeen Mile Drive, we certainly did not regret that afternoon.
That evening we went back to the parking lot where van sat and followed Chad to his home in San Jose about an hour north. We hit a wall of traffic, but Siri directed us to take the Old Santa Clara Highway winding down an unexpected hillside neighborhood. Barreling down this hill was when we began to hear the brakes grinding. Poor van had been tested this trip! Re-entering the city of San Jose, we made it to Chad's neighborhood, greeted by his three other roommates we had a good night getting to know everyone. I enjoyed the conversations of Silicon Valley. The next morning I slept in until 10:00am, the latest I have ever slept! Surprising myself we got ready to head over to Lake Tahoe.
The drive from Lake Tahoe was interesting, taking in the diversity of everyone driving around us, we found ourselves climbing back into the forested mountains across from the bay. Approaching the lake area we were greeted by the beautiful grey rock covering all sides of the surrounding mountains. The blue lake was incredible and vast. We drove straight over to Emerald Bay, the most photographed area of the lake. The bay was striking with its deep blue and green. We climbed around the rocks and had a photoshoot, our usual evening activities. We drove back into the town of South Lake Tahoe and ate dinner at Sprouts, which we highly recommend, dinner was followed by a night at the Hard Rock Casino... I played craps for the first time and had what they call "Lady Luck" rolling for what felt like hours. Tripling and then losing our money, we called it quits and headed to the van for a nights rest in the parking lot. Now, let me tell you it is cold in Lake Tahoe and I advise a warmer sleeping bag. I froze that night. One last grocery store breakfast, we were ready to begin our journey to back to Meeker. Driving eleven straight hours we took in the sunset above the Great Salt Lake and put in five more hours to make it back to the Rolling R Ranch. Our trip was special and had no particular plan, but the memories gained were nothing short of perfect. A big thanks to Ryan for driving and the van for shuttling and housing us. Until we do it again. 🤟🏼