9 Beach Days

I’m trying not to count so much. As in, when exercising not timing it, or how many days since X event… how many days shouldn’t matter, but I really haven’t been at the beach this much in a long time. My scheduled week at the beach has been my family reunion every 3 years but those were a completely different animal.

We’ve been to three wildly different campgrounds, all on the beach, meeting new people and exploring new biomes!

At El Capitan campgrounds in Santa Barbara the loops were all different; we went with loop A which had many awesome, gnarled large coastal live oaks to sleep under. We chose our favorite site and setup camp, we put the rain fly on and got to test it that night with a light rain. We didn’t know about their reservation system, so we had to change sites the next day since the reservations are site specific and our site was reserved. It was nice to sleep under two different trees and the move went quick. We learned a lesson about the rain fly that next day, it can also be a bird shit fly… we however learned that lesson the hard way. The tent has a large net roof, really nice to wake up to, but what it did to the bird shit was catch about half, and send the other half out into the tent in a dispersed spray all over our sheets and pillow cases.

Shitty sheets.

For some reason we packed a spare set, so score one for over-packing. Before any of that happened we visited the beach for the first time; the beach trail followed the barely flowing creek through a wonderful field of wildflowers that felt familiar, with oaks and sycamores creating the canopy above us. The north half of the beach is all sand, perfect for drawing in and the south side is a field of large boulders creating some of the best tide pools we had ever seen. We saw bright-orange ochre sea stars, dozens of them, a couple sea hares, fields of small anemone covering rocks and the occasional large sea anemone that drooped off the inverted face of a boulder in a way that if there were two of them you’d be reminded of your grandmother. Mussels and more for sure. We came back each day. We also spent a lot of time in the city, visiting the museum and the mission, eating seafood on the pier and tasting figs from the largest tree of its species on this continent. We met a wonderful family while playing in the museum; the kids, and I, explored the creek running through the museum’s nature walk. We ate out, we cooked in, raccoons stole 3 of our eggs right in front of us, and a friendly camp host named Shirtless motivated Archer to sweetly, excitedly and mournfully tell us that he was going to work at El Capitan campground and buy our Laguna Hills house, so we could sleep in it one more time.

Breaking down camp took way too much time but we eventually hit the road. We are encumbered by a few poor packing choices, but we forgive ourselves as we were rushing the whole thing and had to postpone some decisions… but its time to postpone those a bit more. Grandma Sally and Grandpa Dennis had made a second home of the Pismo area, living there a few months out of the year for many years, they have friends and haunts they frequent and have always been our tour guide every time we visit the area. Before we could get there all in one piece, we had to break something. A long steep haul apparently made our Durango’s exhaust heat up, melting a bungee cord into one of our plastic storage boxes that sit on the tow hitch cargo rack. I broke the melted plastic apart and salvaged our bungee cord (the box was barely damaged). At Pismo beach I got really frustrated with the lack of helpful staff… plenty of staff around just nobody knew anything about anything. I even got the response “we aren’t supposed to help people”, and that was one of the more articulate responses I got. The grounds are in the middle of town and are reminiscent of San Elijo but with fewer facilities and staff. However, they are right at beach level and a short walk takes you to a long beach with Pismo creek emptying out right in the middle, and not too far away to the north is the pier. Before you can reach the beach all the trails go through a small dune embankment with a narrow grove of wind-gnarled eucalyptus trees growing along it. I’ve never seen a eucalyptus grow this way; the branches twist and turn and often terminate right into the sand. One of my goals this trip is to increase my balance and strength; to this end I used the twisted branches of the trees as a raceway, running up the sand and right onto the branches and straight into the tree. I could run around on the branches, jump between them, and swing my body around and over the obstacles. It was super fun and great exercise. Everything is near the beach. Mari and Sally took off to the hot spring spa in Avila Beach while Archer and I enjoyed a hike to the vista over Pirate’s Cove. Archer took off hiking but all the trails only led to amazing vistas, with no beach access. Finally we found the trailhead to the “Nude Sunbathers May Be Present” beach, which did not disappoint. The tide pools were fun and Archer loved the no-clothes philosophy. His kind of beach! On the way back to the car we crossed a snake but quickly lost sight of him in the brush. We did a lot in Pismo and it was really nice to have Grandma Sally and Grandpa Dennis included in our trip. Next time I think I’ll stay in a house in Avila Beach for a week!

The trip into Big Sur was of course beautiful with stunning coastlines but along the way there were so many trails heading into the canyons that I knew there was much more hiding in the hills. Limekiln is a sharp turn off highway 1, down a dirt road where beach campsites and a check-in kiosk greet you; but our site was up, not down to the beach. Most of the sites here are up a slight grade, tightly packed along Limekiln creek and some of the most southern Coastal Redwood groves. Our site, which we got last minute scoping out cancelations, was #24, at the bridge into the forest, where Hare Creek forges into Limekiln Creek. A few feet away from the over-engineered pedestrian bridge is a natural bridge (I imagine the goal was that if a large redwood tree was swept downstream that this bridge would mostly survive? I’m pretty sure and I can’t imagine any other scenario). The natural bridge is a fallen redwood with another redwood’s roots growing into it’s decomposing trunk. At one end the bridge is solid trunk, at the other it is roots intertwined with decomposing trunk. Epic. The whole family dug the trails and waterfall. The waterfall is huge but a tough trail… and you can choose to make a trail tougher… so I decided to balance on a slippery log. Anyways, it is amazing how fast a body can fall when slipping. In about a second I was chest planting onto a log right after touching the falls. My face narrowly missed the log, and I was able to gain a grip and not fall into the pond, however my chest took all 200 lbs of my body and hurt bad. I didn’t sleep well. The namesake of the campground and adjacent wilderness is the lime laden hills and the old cement and steel construction large lime kilns that remain in the hills, which is only a mile or so hike from our campsite. We didn’t venture outside of the park, on one side were the amazing trails and on the other was the awesome beach. Limekiln Creek pours it’s fresh brisk water and large boulders out onto a beach of small insect-size flat stones, almost sand but not really… and the waves pound the steep beach in intense sets. We met some nice folk on a large rock, shared a drink and smoke, and sat in awe of the large waves. In between sets we hit the beach, and tempted the ocean. My heart pounded with fear that somehow I’d miss the signs of the next set and get pummeled by a large wave. During the largest waves I could hear the boulders by the creek get pushed up, then pulled out, clanking and smacking against other stones as they are swept out to sea. I didn’t want that to be my body. We got to safety, another set came in, and during the next lull I was not so fearful. As the sun cones down so did the tide come up and the crowd of our 30 site village returned to the Ewok-like grove of redwoods, in our canyon off highway 1.

We left our camping days behind us. Along the way to Monterrey we stopped at River Inn just as you leave Big Sur. We had sandwiches in the restaurant then took our bloodymarys and beers to the lounge chairs sitting in the shallows of the river. We had planned on a B&B in Monterrey, considered camping, and at last minute chose a hotel. There are hotels right in town and since our roof-top bag and hitch-mount cargo carrier make the Durango difficult to drive around, and a target for the curious, we felt better parking it and hoofing into town; the famous aquarium, shops, beachside parks and more await us at our doorstep tomorrow.

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