Kate has a friend from work who is semi-retired now and owns land near Mendocino, California that is set up as a family camp. For years she’s invited us down there, and we finally took her up on it. So we planned to drive down with her and stay several days. Then we convinced our friend, Kelly, who has been recuperating from several stressful months and needed a break, to join us with her recently purchased small Retro trailer.
On Wednesday morning, we hit the road together in an eye-catching convoy. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and traffic was light on I-5, the hills glistening green from the recent rain. Our hearts were tugged a little, leaving our home and loved ones, but we started cheerful and optimistic. It was fun to have friends along.
In Grants Pass, we gassed up and got onto Highway 199 toward Crescent City. The two-lane highway started out comfortable, but closer to the border, it became very windy and narrow. Kate was driving and was alert, sweating, and crawling at every curve. I wasn’t any less nervous in the passenger seat. We were perilously close to the edge of cliffs, no guard rails. And at times the rocky mountainside leaned out over the road so close that I was afraid it would take out the side mirror. When we got to the redwoods, the trees leaned into the highway as well. One tree actually had a large triangle cut out of it to make room for cars, but wasn’t tall enough for big rigs like us. Occasionally, I would peel my eyes from the road to catch a breathtaking view, but neither of us could enjoy the incredible scenery. We were having a hard enough time breathing as it was.
Jedidiah Smith State Park Campground
Okay, so maybe the Redwood Highway was a bit much to take on so early in our journey, but it was good practice, I guess. The sun was low in the trees by the time we pulled into Jedidiah Smith State Park campground. We unhitched near the entrance and discovered, once again, that the CRV battery was dead. I stayed to wave other drivers around the car while the others went off to nab campsites. After Kelly unhitched, she came back with her SUV to jump the car. We weren’t sure what caused the battery to drain this time, but we’d read that on long trips, it’s good to remove the radio fuse. So we would try that next.
It was dinner at our place that night, with some homemade spaghetti sauce that I’d frozen. Three dogs underfoot. Toasts with wine and juice. Kate and I just keep looking at each with wide eyes. We’re doing it. We’re actually doing it.
It was kind of a shame to be in such beautiful territory and not spend more time enjoying it. But we did get a nice walk in the morning. The dogs loved romping on the river beach, and Bailey loves a chance to swim. We had planned to take off about 10:00, but this was Kelly’s maiden voyage with her trailer, and nothing is quick with Bessie. It was nearly noon when we finally pulled out of the campground, and it was hours more of windy narrow roads before we got to Eureka where Kelly and Kate shopped for supplies and I called Hitch Pro to find out why the CRV battery kept discharging. Lesson Learned: Turn the ignition key to the first stop only; putting it in the second position quickly drains the battery. So much to learn and remember!
Howard Creek Campground
Our pace was so slow, we were clearly not going to make it to Linda’s family camp before dark, so we agreed to shoot for an oceanside campground that Linda knew of, just over the mountain pass. Linda had warned us about this tricky mountain pass, and we had to unhitch the car and drive separately. The windy, harrowing 20 miles took more than an hour to navigate, but at the end, we were rewarded with a fabulous view of rocky coast, and a campground right on a grassy cliff, waves crashing below.
It felt so good to be done with what we hoped was the scariest part of the route. We watched rolling fog swallow up the sunset and marveled at the incredible spot we’d landed, looking out our front window at the Pacific Ocean. The next morning, Kelly needed to stop in Fort Bragg to get a new electrical connector for her hitch. She didn’t have the kind that charges the trailer battery while you drive and her battery was dead. So Linda went on ahead to her land, and we traveled more slowly with Kelly.
Onward on Highway 1
The road south through Mendocino to Port Arena (where Linda’s land is) was really no easier than the mountain pass road. It was just as narrow, but this time with sheer drop-offs down to the sea. And with every mile, there was another sign to alert us to possible dangers. Road narrows; Watch for bikes; Falling rocks; Bumps; Rough road; Narrow bridge; Road work; One lane ahead. I was driving and I tried to accept each new warning with courage. “Falling rocks? Sure, why not? One lane? Bring it on!” When we got to the sign that said Entering Tsunami Zone, I was near hysterics.
When the road finally straightened for a bit, I pulled over at a vista point to share a WTF moment with Kelly. In Fort Bragg, we spent a half an hour filling up Bessie’s 80-gallon tank, and Kelly was able to get her electrical connector replaced quickly at Oceanview RV. One more draining hour full of gorgeous views to distract us from the hairpin turns and sheer drops, and we made it, at last to Linda’s land.