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Blueboy's Maiden Voyage

July 16-18, 2004

The sun rises on the Bounder's first overnight campsite: Pescadero State Beach

Granted, the three hours it took to back the Bounder into our driveway for the first time on July 14th left us disinclined to move it from its skintight berth any time soon. The sense of freedom and adventure that it was supposed to bathe us in had quickly been replaced with a foreboding that, left un-addressed, would transform our driveway into a junkyard and deflate our egos. Hubris should enlighten, not smother. So, before the momentum could be lost forever, we decided to climb back onto the beast and try to ride it once more, albeit dialing our expectations back a notch or two… or three.

Like a new computer, the Bounder was full of promise. And, like a new computer, it was full of operating systems and amenities of which we knew little or nothing, the mastery of which were paramount to operating the motorhome efficiently and cost-effectively: two electrical systems (AC and DC) with a plethora of switches, circuit breakers, and fuses; two engines (actually a motor for driving and a generator for current); a climate control system for driving and another for parking; a water system; a propane gas system; an entertainment system (2 TVs, a stereo, and a VCR); water tank, propane tank, gas tank, dump tank (2: 1 for dirty water and 1 for the toilet). Okay, so we had some of these things with the Jayco pop-up trailer, but not on this grand of scale.

True, the Bounder came with its original owner’s manual, a fold-up binder the size of an Encyclopedia Britannica volume with several dividers inside containing a separate manual for each system in the rig. But where to start? And if we put off reading until something goes wrong, do we risk damage from ignorance? The caveats were enough to frighten us into a cave, but somehow we had to bully our way through them lest we be saddled with a fifty-thousand dollar albatross.

Blue carpet, blue upholstery, blue tables, blue window treatments. Oh my God!

A short weekend in familiar territory was in order and the San Mateo County coast seemed just the ticket. Two overnights close to home would familiarize us with the Bounder’s operating systems, enlighten our ignorance, and call attention to what needed to be brought along that we may have overlooked. And, God willing, we might actually be able to enjoy ourselves! Keep it simple became our mantra: no bikes, no car; just the Bounder with a cell phone and a map for backup. But first we needed a name for our new baby, a tradition Pat and I had followed with the purchase of every new vehicle. Like my used silver Chrysler LHS, the used Bounder's interior was themed in another color I disdain: blue. Hence I named our new motorhome Blue Boy. Pat wanted to shorten that to B.B., but I objected as B.B. reminded me of jazz artist B.B. King whose music I enjoyed moreover the color blue which I despised. It just didn't seem fair to B.B. King.

The three hours to back into the driveway two days ago was replaced by three minutes to pull out early Friday evening after Pat got home from work. We headed to the top of our street, then southbound on I-580 for seven miles where we exited into Hayward and pulled into a Chevron station to fill up on gas. The trick came on how to return to the freeway upon leaving the gas station. Ultimately I realized it was easier to continue into Hayward along Foothill Boulevard which became Jackson Street and State Highway 92 and led directly to the San Mateo Bridge across San Francisco Bay.

But driving along the six-lane street in the right lane to stay out of everyone’s way resulted in panic attacks brought on by street signs along the curb that threatened Blue Boy’s side mirrors. By the time we arrived at the intersection of Highway 92 and I-880, I forgot where I was or where I was going and mistakenly took the ramp onto the freeway southbound towards San Jose. Too late to turn back, we circled all four petals of the cloverleaf to return to our original heading. The next obstacle was the toll booths at the San Mateo Bridge which nearly clipped my driver’s side rearview mirror; next toll booth I’ll head for the truck lane.

Safely beyond the toll booth, we drove off into the sunset over the seven-mile-long bridge across San Francisco Bay, able to see over the guardrails for the first time. Sweet! Two more motorhomes were just ahead of us and half a mile behind was a pickup pulling a fifth-wheel trailer instilling in us a warm feeling that we had just joined a formation of migrating birds. It was nearly dark when we turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway at the end of Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay and, to our surprise, a hitchhiker stood thumbing at the side of the road on the south side of town.

Neither Pat nor I had seen a hitchhiker in over twenty years and we welcomed aboard the traveler from a bygone adventurous era that both of us were trying to find again. Gary was coming from Seattle and headed for L.A. and when I asked why he was on a 45 to 55 mph maximum speed two-lane road instead of a 70 mph freeway with far more long-distance traffic he told us CHP had chased him off and told him this was the only road where he could stick his thumb out legally.

We weren’t going far, we told him… just to the first good spot to pull off and set up for the night which turned out to be Pescadero State Beach, fifteen miles further down the winding road that hugged the coast. Gary disappeared into the night as I set the Bounder’s stabilizers in the acre-size gravel parking area in front of the locked gate to the state beach. The signs at the gate indicated the state beach closed at sundown and no overnight camping was permitted. I took the position that this applied to the area behind the gate, not the parking area in front of it. After all, we had traveled this road many times before in our car and we had seen RVs clearly camping in the pullouts from one end of the county to the other.

The pounding waves were just twenty feet outside our door and the night air was too cool to open the windows, so we let Tasha and Allie out of their cage to run around Blue Boy while Pat and I popped open a bottle of wine and toasted our new home away from home. A check of the computer indicated we were but 37 miles as the crow flies from our house, but clearly we were in a different and quieter world. After giving Tasha her meds and putting the girls to bed for the night, we headed off to the bedroom to sleep for the first time in our new motorhome. Convinced that a highway patrolman or park ranger would knock on our door at any time to tell us we had to move, I didn’t get much sleep.

Pat's feet still under the comforter as he takes in the morning view
But daylight came and I went out to the kitchen to start the coffee pot while Pat stayed in bed. The view out the windows took my breath away and I grabbed my camera to capture the view in the early morning light. I let the girls out of their cage and Allie promptly went to the stairwell to take her morning constitutional in the spot she had determined last night to be an excellent potty box. Back to the bedroom where I told Pat, “Wait ‘til you see this!” and pulled up the window shade. “Oh my God!” was his shocked reaction to the ocean’s waves breaking on the rocks as if he were watching a high definition broadcast on our wide-screen TV at home.

Coffee ready, we poured two mugs and stepped outside to take in the scenery. An hour later and hungry, we realized that although the milk had made it from the house to Blue Boy’s refrigerator, the cereal had not. Our pullout along the road was at the intersection of Pescadero Road and the small town lay just two miles down the blacktop, so I released the stabilizers and drove the Bounder at a nice leisurely 25 mph into town where we found a wide pull-off parking area at the main intersection. The first thing to catch Pat’s attention was a thrift store which, fortunately, had yet to open for the day.

With a population of 670, Pescadero reminded me of so many Nebraska farm towns: a grocery store, a filling station, a bar/restaurant/hotel, a post office, and a few churches. The only obvious difference was the presence of palm trees. After taking a stroll up and down the main street to absorb the ambiance, we headed into Duarte’s Tavern for a breakfast of eggs & homemade sausage for me and eggs & homemade linguiça for Pat. It was the ‘homemade’ part that stayed with us for the rest of the day. No offense to Duarte’s, but in the future I’ll stick with standard sausage that my stomach recognizes and doesn’t leave an unpalatable aftertaste for the next twelve hours.

The Luna Sea Bed & Breakfast. Catch the pun?

Dog riding around town with owner in golf cart accepts attention from Pat

English ivy encrusted palm tree


After breakfast, we sauntered back to Blue Boy, fired up the engine, and drove at stagecoach speed the two miles back to Highway 1 where we turned south. Five miles down the road we turned onto the sandy blacktop that leads to Pigeon Point Lighthouse. We’d driven past Pigeon Point several times in the past and had actually stopped in to photograph it a little over a year ago. But this was the first time we had ever seen it on a cloudless, fogless, sunny day. What a fabulous difference!

We spent the better part of two to three hours at Pigeon Point chatting with docents and other visitors while we wandered about the grounds peeking into every nook and cranny save for the lighthouse itself which is currently under renovation. Walking along the road back to our parked Bounder we picked up a storage container’s worth of beer bottles, pop cans, and assorted other refuse which we stored in one of Blue Boy’s belly bins until we could dispose of it properly; clearly the nearby beaches were a popular party spot.

Six miles further down the road we drove into Año Nuevo State Park, home to the remains of the one lighthouse along the San Mateo County coast we had yet to photograph. Like Pigeon Point, this was the first time we had been in the area during good weather and ideal photographic conditions. The state park encompasses a point of land that juts out into the ocean and serves as a breeding ground for elephant seals and sea lions that swarm its beaches from December to March. A few remain to sun themselves on the sand during the summer months. A half-mile beyond the beachhead lies an island, originally attached to the peninsula which contains the remains of the lighthouse.

After parking the Bounder in one of the bus slots, I gathered up the camera bag, the tripod, and the 500 mm telephoto lens that would be needed to get the shot if we were able to find a clear view from the end of the peninsula. The hike in was along a sometimes black-topped foot trail that became a narrow boardwalk across creeping sands, and left us trudging on our own across sand dunes that over hundreds of years have been traversing the spit of land from north to south. Halfway into the 1.7 mile hike I realized I had left the telephoto lens back at the Bounder. The camera bag weighed about twenty pounds and the unwieldy tripod, though folded up, was another seven pounds or so. In the afternoon heat I wished I had brought along my father’s portable luggage carrier which did get stored in the Bounder as soon as we returned from this trip.

The closer we came to lands end, the more frequent the piercing bark of sea lions became and everyone else whom we passed or who passed us along the trail were here to see them and the elephant seals. Most we spoke to were not aware that there was a nearby lighthouse, or rather, what was left of one.

According to Sharleen & Ted Nelson in their book Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, since its development in 1872, Año Nuevo Island “has long held an affinity for mammals. With the first blast of the steam whistle on May 29, 1872, cows from a neighboring dairy ranch stampeded to the beach… Years later, Keeper Otto Becker complained that the growing sea lion rookery was overrunning his house. A killer whale had frightened the young sea lions, and they forced their way into each room.” Soon after the lighthouse was abandoned in 1948 (replaced by an automatic light and sound buoy), sea lions and elephant seals overran the island, broke into the Keeper’s old quarters, and took up residence. A docent told us that one elephant seal had managed to climb into a bathtub and died there, unable to climb back out. Zoologists who visited the island regularly to study the seals and sea lions, boarded up the structure for the animals’ own protection.

One of the docents told us that at some point during the fifties or sixties, someone stocked the island with rabbits to help control the population of nesting birds, rodents… I’m not quite sure what he said the initial reason was. In any event, the rabbits multiplied and burrowed into the island’s sandy soil effectively creating booby traps for the elephant seal and sea lion studying zoologists to step into. The rabbit warrens also loosened the foundation around the tower of the lighthouse, rendering it a hazard in the constant onshore winds. For their own safety, the scientists pulled the tower down.

Just past the sand dunes near lands end, Pat and I encountered a docent and asked for directions to the best viewing spot of the island out beyond the hidden shoreline. She seemed surprised that we weren’t there to view the elephant seals, though we mentioned that seeing them would be a nice bonus. She guided us to a roped-off beach on the peninsula’s center point that afforded a view of the island half a mile out in the water through the coyote bushes. While Pat checked out the sunbathing elephant seals with the binoculars, I set up the tripod and mounted my 200 mm telephoto on the camera. The fallen tower of the lighthouse half a mile away was easy to see through the binoculars but I was going to have to do some serious Photoshop cropping when I got home to eliminate the bushes and narrow the shot down to the distant fallen tower. If only I hadn’t left that 500 mm lens back at the Bounder!

The fallen lighthouse tower on Año Nuevo Island with the peninsula's coyote bushes in the foreground.

 

Lone sea lion claims her own private area away from the elephant seals.

The lighthouse may have been my purpose in coming here, but the elephant seals sunbathing on the beach were quite a sight and I couldn’t resist turning the camera on them. The elephant seals were twenty to fifty feet away, but one female sea lion had claimed her own private beach on a spit of sand that jutted between the coyote bushes, just ten feet beyond the boardwalk I was standing on. A girl does need her privacy, after all! Besides, those brutish elephant seals are bullies!


Get off my beach!

A docent directed us to a trail that led a viewing area further south. Nearly on the water’s edge, there were fewer elephant seals and no coyote bushes to obstruct the view of Año Nuevo Island across the lagoon. Here my 200 mm telephoto was more than sufficient to get some good shots of the fallen lighthouse tower as well as the Keeper’s quarters. We could even clearly see the seals and sea lions gathered amidst the island’s ruins.

Hiking in sand with 27 pounds of camera equipment had taken its toll on me. Pat and I both sat down to enjoy a cigarette and chatted with the two docents between the periodic arrival of other hikers to this end of the trail. Our mission to photograph what was left of the Año Nuevo Lighthouse completed, we started the 1.7 mile hike back across the dunes to the parking lot. In most spots along the trail, the sea breeze blowing across the peninsula provided relief from the summer sun, but the air in the parking lot was still and the heat overbearing. Hot and exhausted, we got into the Bounder, fired up the generator, turned on the air conditioning, and collapsed at the dining table with cold cans of pop in hand.

After ten minutes of “just chillin’ out,” I turned on the laptop and launched StreetAtlas USA to figure out where we should go next. It was three in the afternoon and we still had six hours of daylight to find our next camping spot. We decided on heading into Santa Cruz (21 miles) and catching State Highway 9 northbound which traverses the ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains through old growth redwood forests. Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Portola Redwoods State Park, along with sundry other campgrounds, were in the area less than ten miles due east of Pescadero and Pigeon Point.

However, when I started the Bounder’s engine our automatic doorsteps retracted halfway and froze. After an hour of searching for fuses, circuit breakers, reset buttons, and reading system operating manuals we were still stymied. And the Bounder couldn’t be driven with the stairsteps halfway deployed lest they be ripped off by the pavement and damage the undercarriage of the motorhome. A call to Triple-A on our cell phone got dropped in the remote area three times. I hiked up to a pay phone at the park’s entrance and after 40 minutes on hold got AAA to send out a tow-truck from Pescadero… a tow-truck we had seen parked along Pescadero’s main street that same morning.

As I was leaving the parking lot to hike up to the pay phone, one of the docents we had chatted with down at the beach was getting off work, recognized me, and wanted to see the inside of our Bounder. When I returned from making the phone call, she and Pat were still inside chatting amicably. The docent finally went home to San Jose and the tow-truck arrived thirty minutes later. It was 5:30 p.m. Unfamiliar with motorhomes, the mechanic finally removed a pin, pushed the steps up underneath the undercarriage, and secured them with rope. It’s now 6:30 and a tad late in the day to be wondering along unfamiliar mountain roads through redwood forests. We needed a Plan B.


Mission accomplished: clear view of Keepers' Quarters on Año Nuevo Island

Fallen tower that once held the light at Año Nuevo Island


We settled on returning to the familiar: Pescadero State Beach. The parking area was loaded with folks who had come out to do some early evening fishing and watch the sunset despite the fog that had rolled in off the ocean. We had arrived at feeding time for the sea lions, brown pelicans, seagulls, and cormorants and as the fog retreated back offshore, we sat there watching the hundreds of birds and dozens of sea lions follow the unseen schools of fish moving along the shore and back out to sea. The spectacle was better than anything we had ever seen on PBS, National Geographic, or the Discovery Channel. This was why we wanted a motorhome!

By nine o’clock dusk had turned to dark and we were the sole remaining vehicle in the roadside pullout. While sitting at the dining table eating sandwiches and listening to Solid Gold Saturday Night on KFRC in San Francisco, a ranger knocked on the door and told us the park was closed and we’d have to leave. Afraid he might come back with a ticket if we didn’t, we drove the Bounder two miles up the road to Pescadero and, at 10:30, set the stabilizers down in the same parking lot we had used that morning.

Early to bed, early to rise, we pulled out of Pescadero around seven the next morning, and headed up into the coast range along the narrow and winding Pescadero Creek Road at a leisurely 25 mph. Bicyclists were the only traffic we encountered as we threaded our way through the redwoods past Roy Gulch, Loma Mar, and Haskins Hill, elevation 1,160 feet. Joining State Highway 84 at La Honda, we continued our climb from the ocean to the junction of State Highway 35, aka Skyline Boulevard, which follows the ridge line at 2,400 feet elevation of San Mateo County’s coastal range offering, through the dense redwoods, peeks of the ocean to the west and San Francisco Bay to the east. At the junction of 92 we complete our loop started Friday night, crossed the San Mateo Bridge back to the East Bay and up I-880 to home where we arrived at 10:30 in the morning.

Within an hour, I couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer. Pat grabbed a walkie-talkie and went into the driveway to spot for me as I got behind the wheel and started up the Bounder. On this, our second attempt at getting Blue Boy into the driveway, we were safely parked within five minutes! Just knowing it would fit had made all the difference. Home again, home again, jiggety-jig… and all in one piece to boot. Blue Boy’s maiden voyage had been a success with only minor problems that would be addressed before her next outing.