Time to hit the road -- FINALLY -- after six weeks of Behemoth blocking our driveway and annoying the neighbors.
We wanted to take an easy, short-duration trip as a shakeout cruise, to learn about the new rig and find problems without getting too far away from home. We hadn't been to San Diego in many years, and there were people and places we could visit along the way, so our plan was to head south.
During the outfitting phase, we had given the kitties several sessions of introductory time in the coach while it was sitting still. That included showing them several cubbyholes where they could take refuge. However, a moving house was going to be a different kettle of fish. I felt strongly that the felines would be safer traveling in confinement, so Mike set up our two cages on the sofa where they could be strapped down using the seat belts. The pets already knew something was up from many days of commotion in the house. They saw us coming and didn't make it easy, but finally we had them all corraled. We fired up the Behemoth and rolled onto the road. The babies were pretty nervous at first, but after a half hour or so they all settled down and went to sleep. Except for Ginny, who howled every time I looked at her.
Our target for the first day was Pismo Coast Village at Pismo Beach, 200 miles and about four hours away on highway 101. I was learning that one problem with our new rig -- 40' coach plus 20' of towed car -- was finding places for a rest stop. See, ya can't BACK UP with a car in tow; so we can't risk any place where we can't drive in and drive out by only going forward. So essentially we're a big truck, and we're looking for truck-type stops. California highways are woefully underserved with such rest stops.
The only sure-fire alternative is a big shopping center where you can drive around the parking lot in a circle, or a frontage road that exits and then re-enters. Thank heavens for Google Earth! I found a couple of possibilities about halfway there, but of course Mike knew better and already had a target in mind, a bit further down the road. Fine, it's your butt. Me, I can always get up and move around, an advantage for the passenger in a motor coach. (Of course, I would later find that's not as easy as it sounds. Ever visit the loo in a turbulent airplane? 'Nuf said.)
The trip went pretty smoothly; even the kitties survived. The RV park was big and crowded, but OK. My only concern was that they'd given us a spot right next to a kid's playground. Ruh-roh. Well, it's a Tuesday, so maybe it'll be quiet. We went through the coach set-up FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME... anywhere besides our driveway, that is. It went fairly smoothly ...something caught in slide-out?
We released the prisoners and put out some toys and other familiar items. Peanut fled immediately into the upper cabinet which most closely mimics his closet shelf at home. Max flopped onto the kitchen tile floor, unperturbed and waiting for dinner. The girls shook themselves as if to say, "What was THAT?!?" Mama went to work hulling the flat of strawberries we bought in Saratoga on our way out of town, the last of the season.
The RV park is right up against the ocean, separated from a long sandy beach by a marshy estuary. We strolled down to the beach access, and took a few sunset photos.
The next day I wasn't feeling well, so we limited our activities to a walk in the surrounding neighborhood. We went up one of the town streets for a couple of blocks, but discovered nothing of note; then we went back over to a nearby pier. Also ho-hum. Finally we returned to last night's beach and snapped many photos of a gorgeous tree-becoming-driftwood, complimented by a soaring vulture considering us for dinner.
Mike's birthday dawned gray and cold, as is usual here at the beach. I awoke early to find Mike, and the cats, entranced by a seagull prancing just outside the windshield, probably working off a meal from the dumpsters.
Pismo Beach is best-known for Oceano Dunes, a barren beach area open to ATVs. That's not really our style, so instead we planned to take a walk at a nearby fresh-water lake and bird sanctuary. First, though, we wanted to start the day with a nice breakfast. On a local recommendation we went to the Station Grill up the road in Grover Beach.
So much for local recommendations; the breakfast was truly terrible. As we were leaving and I saw this couple checking out the menu, I wanted to yell, "Don't do it!!!!"
Oso Flaco Lake is part of the Oceano Dunes state park, but far enough from the ATV areas to be quiet and serene. It's not pretty blue water; the surface is covered with algae and scum, but that makes it attractive to many different birds. There were many ducks swimming on the surface, and cormorants and even a great blue heron perching on vertical protruding posts. A log in the water was being homesteaded by four ducks, apparently one too many, as two of them ganged up on a weak roommate and chased him/her away.
A long boardwalk through the dune scrub foliage ends overlooking the beach, where some pretty impressive breakers were rolling in. A lone fisherman was trying his luck; from my perspective on the viewing platform, he was about to be swept away.
That evening we visited Mike's aunt Sharon in Paso Robles. Her son Jake and his girlfriend joined us for dinner. First, though, Jake demonstrated his talent for beheading a bottle of champagne with one swing of a rather scary machete.
We hadn't seen Sharon or Jake for over twenty years, but they took us in like best friends and we had a great time.
Part of the reason we stopped in Pismo Beach was its proximity to Lompoc, Mike's old stomping grounds when he was stationed at Vandenberg AFB. A former CO of his still lived in the area, so Mike arranged for us to have lunch with him and his wife at a restaurant in the area.
On the way, though, I wanted to make a stop at the Quicksilver Ranch. This place has been breeding and selling miniature horses for 30 years, and they're open to the public for visits.
There wasn't a lot to do at the ranch besides stare at the tiny equines and pet their heads, so after a bit of time doing that, we slowly moved on to the location of our lunch meeting. As fun and relaxed as last night's dinner had been, lunch that day was stilted and awkward. Mike hadn't seen his old buddy in over twenty-five years, and both men had long ago moved on from their Air Force days. Conversation was difficult, and I was relieved when we finally said our goodbyes. I felt badly for Mike. Sometimes you really can't go home again.
We had one more place to go that day: Solvang, a local village that has retained its Danish roots as a form of tourism. We'd been there once before many years ago, but I didn't remember too much about it except windmills and Danish architecture.
We actually had a purpose in Solvang. Last year our neighbor Charlene had given me some Danish cookies from there as a thank-you gift; I wanted to return the favor. I was hoping to find the same brand, since Charlene's husband Kyle said these were her favorites. I still had the plastic bucket they came in, but unfortunately I'd left it behind in San Jose. No problem, though; I was pretty sure I could recognize the logo and label.
Or not. According to Google, there were five bakeries in Solvang, and we hit every one. I recognized NOTHING. So finally we returned to the first one we'd seen, tried some samples that were satisfactory, and bought.
Turns out there was a reason I didn't remember much about Solvang: there's even less to do there than the horse ranch. We'd walked nearly the entire downtown visiting bakeries, so we returned to our car to make the one-hour drive back to camp.
Just one more stop, though. Mike was bound and determined to see Neverland Ranch, Michael Jackson's 2700-acre estate outside nearby Los Olivos. He got to see the gate, anyway. And the valentines hanging on the fence.
We decided to move on the next morning, due to an unpleasant incident the previous evening with screaming children at the playground just outside our windows. We spent two nights at a run-down trailer park in Oxnard, not a great place but convenient for having Sunday brunch with a friend who lives in the area. It also positioned us well for the final big push toward San Diego.