Well, it’s that time of year again for me. The older I get, the less I care for birthdays. If I’m doing well in my life it’s not so bad. If I’m not doing well, it’s pretty gloomy for me. I always measure myself by how I was doing the previous year at that time, and of birthdays gone by.
The past two birthdays I’ve had have been at the lowest points in my life. My 40th birthday in particular was the absolute rock bottom. In years past, I’ve done things like going spelunking, glider flying, diving with Great White sharks, and camping in cool remote spots. I always envisioned myself on my 40th to be somewhere on some tropical island, living it up. Unfortunately, on that day I was as far from my ideal as I could get. Not only was I far away from everyone I knew and loved, it was rainy, I had to work, and I spent half the day at the Mandeville DMV in Louisiana.
It was what it was. All one can do is just try to improve their situation from year to year. Anyways, I’m not the kind of person that wants to be the center of attention, so throwing a big party isn’t my thing. I do like to go on a cool adventure though, or at the very least eat some good food. It’s all about treating myself in some way. If I don’t do it, I feel like I let myself down.
This being the case, the Saturday after the election was my birthday. I found myself in a much better life situation than I was in the past couple of years. That, plus the welcome donation of funds from some loved ones inspired me to want to go out and get into something good.
After consulting with my good friend Jer, I decided to light out towards the south. He had first suggested to me this place to go up to in the Ventana Wilderness called ‘Indians’. Since he is a Monterey native, I was keen on taking some local advice. It had been unseasonably warm in the lingering Indian Summer, but that weekend a brutal cold front moved in. The temperatures were forecast to drop to below freezing levels, and high winds were poised to scuttle any kind of outdoor plans anyone could make.
Nevertheless, I was intent on getting out there and getting into some shenanigans. If I didn’t, I knew I would never forgive myself. At the last minute, I found out that access to Indians was temporarily denied for some reason. Jer told me that the spot he would go to at this time of year besides Indians would be the campgrounds around Hearst Castle. So on the Saturday post-election when Biden was declared our new President, I hit the road down towards San Luis Obispo.
I drove south on the 1 all the way down. This is a very special highway. For those who have never driven it, it’s a world class drive, and it is also the way I came up when I first came to Santa Cruz over 21 years ago. I hadn’t been down that far south in many years. There’s nothing better than scouting out new and seldom-seen territory on a birthday or any other time methinks!
Unfortunately, I left much later than I originally had intended to. You see, I kept wavering back and forth about going down south on the 1 towards Hearst Castle, or heading southeast towards my favorite area to camp down in San Benito county. Normally I would have defaulted in going out to the places I love around the Pinnacles area. Unfortunately with the aforementioned cold snap coming in, temperatures were going to be down in the 20’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t have a propane heating setup for my truck yet, and it was forecast to also be rainy and windy. It was doubtful I would be able to build a fire to keep warm, I thought. Ultimately I decided to go down to check out those Hearst Castle campgrounds where it was forecast to be warmer.
It was a nice drive down the coast. There were some dark clouds, but it never rained. As I wound my way down towards Big Sur, I noticed that traffic was still at summer levels. Normally at this time of year there is a noticeable drop in the amount of people driving around and camping in that part of the coast. Obviously, due to all the COVID restrictions and joblessness, there were a bunch of folks down there who felt that was the place to be. I can’t say that I blame them, I was down there as well for the same reason!
Since I left so late, it was around 7 PM when I arrived at my destination. I rolled up into the campground to find out that on the weekend they only let in people who had made reservations. It was all due to COVID, of course. I guess the campgrounds all had to adhere to a protocol that prohibited them from having a certain occupancy density. I went to 4 campgrounds until I finally gave up. By this point, I was in Morro Bay, so I drove down to the beach and parked there.
It actually wasn’t that bad of a place to stop and camp out, except for the fact that 20-30 mph winds were blasting through due to the cold front. I had been driving a long while, and I also was rather sleep deprived from partying the night before. Between these two things I was rather thrashed and needing to crash. I had a great stash of wine, so I got into my camper, drank a bunch of vino and then passed out after a long while of listening to the savage wind blow itself crazy.
I awoke in the morning with grit in my teeth and eyes. When I turned on my phone, it showed that it was 9 o’clock. The wind continued to blow just as strong as it had in the night before. My truck was rocking like it was going down the road from the breeze. Despite the windy conditions, it was a beautiful clear day. I had to think about my next move. Should I just pack it in and head back to base, or should I go to this new place I found up in the mountains on BLM land and suffer extreme cold?
Well, if you have been reading this blog, you can probably guess the answer. I decided to brave the cold and check out this spot I’d never been to. “Fortune favors the brave” and all that. I had been disappointed by my camping experience the night before, and I was determined to find a nice camp spot somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted to make a fire and enjoy some peace for a night.
I did a bit of online searching and I found this place about an hour and a half to the north off the 101 called Williams Hill Recreational Area. It was a BLM camping spot, which I am partial to. On BLM land, you get to camp for free in really beautiful, wild country which is the best thing. Usually those lands are off the beaten path so there’s few people around. Lastly, on BLM land firearms are legal to shoot and sometimes encouraged. This was the case at Williams Hill, as Google said it actually had a shooting range.
I had my shotgun on me, but I wasn’t in the mood to shoot off valuable shells. Since I still don’t have a California driver’s license after being based out of Louisiana for a year, I can’t buy ammo here in California. I keep a couple of boxes of buckshot in my gun case that I bought back home. I think it is technically illegal for me to bring out-of-state ammo into California but I don’t give a shit. Fuck California’s bullshit gun laws! They are unconstutional!
Before I left Morro Bay, I needed a good feed, so I drove over to Cayucos to get some vittles. I had never hung out in this place, but a few months ago I was on Reddit and someone mentioned that there was a spot down there that served the best fried fish. As a fan of all fish that are fried, I marked it on my Google Maps for future reference. I’m real glad I did that at the time, so I had a bonafide good place to go get some food.
I went on down to downtown Cayucos. This place was pretty unique for most seaside communities I’ve been to in California as the downtown was right on the beach. It had a cool vibe that was equal parts southern and central California. I parked a couple of blocks away from the place I wanted to go to and took a little stroll down the wharf. No one was out fishing that day due to the strong winds, but it seemed relatively fishy.
As I was walking back towards the shore on the wharf, I witnessed a cool phenomenon. Since the wind was so strong, occasionally as the waves came in the tops would be blown back as they swept to shore. I was watching this at the perfect angle to see this beautiful rainbow light up in the spray. It took me a few tries, but I was able to capture this effect on video so ya’ll could see it as well!
By this point, I was starving, so I went to the restaurant that had the good fried fish. It was a place called ‘Duckies Chowder House.’ It was one of those joints that do only a few food items, but do them very well. I decided to get the fish and chips, and let me tell you, I was not misled. Both fish and chips were 10/10. The cod was perfectly battered and flavored, and the fries were fresh cut and cooked just as well. It any of ya’ll wind up in those parts and want some good California beach town food, I very much recommend ya’ll go there.
After I ate the best fish and chips I can recall, I put the location of Williams Hill into my Google Maps and headed north. Just a couple miles outside of Cayucos, I drove by this reservoir up in the mountains. Seeing large bodies of water in inland California always makes me marvel at the sight. It was a pretty good looking bit of watery real estate.
As I wound my way up north, I ran into Highway 46. This little stretch of road means a lot to me. It is the highway I took the very first time I was in California to get to the Pacific Ocean. It runs through wine country, and is a pretty little stretch of road. As I got close to Highway 101 in Paso Robles, I was witness to a crazy sight. A whole flotilla of Trumpers was making a parade through the town! Keep in mind this was one day after the election results were called in favor of Biden, so I guess this was in reaction to that.
Now, I normally wouldn’t include any kind of political nonsense on my blog, which I feel is kind of a sacred artistic neutral space, but I thought I’d include the clip I filmed as a sociological observation. My comments do give my feelings on the matter away however. Bear in mind that while I disapprove of Trump, that doesn’t mean I love Biden. I hate both of them, I voted 3rd party.
I’ve decided that after this election, I’m going to start writing in Teddy Roosevelt on my ballot. I wonder what the vote tabulators will think of that? Perhaps I can bring the Bull Moose Party back from the dead! Ya’ll spread the word and let’s make this happen!
Yeah, I have to admit I am a bit of a Teddy Roosevelt fanboy. I do believe he was our greatest President though. It was through a camping session with John Muir that he came up with the idea of our National Park system. What a beautiful idea that was. At the time he did that, industrialists were closing in on the last beautiful places here in America. Teddy put a stop to that. What an amazing man he was to tell the land-raping corporations NO!
He was an imperialist, yes, I will admit that. I do not approve of that, but I will say in defense of him that at the time, that was the logical geopolitical strategy for an up-and-coming superpower like the United States. Besides that, I feel that Teddy was a man’s man and he made decisions during his Presidency that showed that he was thinking about the health of the country he loved in the long term. That’s more than I can say about our modern politicans.
Ok, I digress. So I made my way up the 101 to San Ardo. The weather started to worsen a bit, I ran into scattered rain on the way up. I rolled into San Ardo and got gas, and then headed up to Williams Hill. The road was gravel, but it was well-maintained. I made my way to the top of the mountain, and to my delight I found that only one other campsite was occupied. It was chilly, but the winds were dying down, and the sporadic rain was wearing itself out as well.
I set up camp and got comfortable. I was estatic that I had found such an awesome campsite. It was everything I wanted in a place to land.
For my birthday I gifted myself a nice Bowie knife. It is an Ontario Knife Company Spec Plus Marine Raider. These knives are made for the United States Marines. I’ve wanted a good Bowie knife for many years now, and I finally decided to pull the trigger and get one. I am in love with it, and I feel that I just acquired a life-long companion. It is built like a tank and can come in handy in so many ways around the camp. I could paddle a boat with it if I needed to!
I built a big fire with the firewood I had brought and settled in. I knew it was going to be cold that night, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get! So after the sun set, I started to put on clothes. In the end I had on 4 layers on my upper body, 3 layers on my lower body, two pairs of socks on each foot, gloves, and a beanie and hoody on my head and still froze. My firewood was only sufficient to last half the night. Around 2 AM it got down to 28 degrees, and I decided to start up my truck and turn on my heater. My fingers were so numb it took me 5 minutes just to be able to turn over the key in my ignition. I finally got my truck going and blessed warmth started flowing eventually. Finally, the day broke and I was saved by the sun. I took a long nap and drove back to Santa Cruz in the afternoon.
That concludes the story of my birthday escape. It was short but sweet. I know that ya’ll must be wondering how my camping outdoors in the 20’s could be anything but horrific. It was cold, but it was so nice to be out in a beautiful spot on the top of a mountain. The air was clean, no one was in my space, and I could see the stars without hardly any light pollution. I think that really made my experience incredible despite the frigid temps. I’m really glad I created a nice little experience for myself on my birthday.
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2 thoughts on “My Birthday Escape”
Damn good post and an equally damn good birthday in my estimation. Most people get an off key happy birthday song and a red velvet cake.
The wife and I recently did a trip down to the Morro Bay area. I loved the vibe in Cayucos. I told my wife that if I were single I could easily live in a double wide with my dog, my camera, some beer and time to write. She responded, “Fine, go. Find yourself a young Korean woman.” (I dated 3 Korean women, not at the same time, before I married Cora. She won’t let me forget that.)
We brought back some cookies from the Brown Butter Cookie Company and some smoked salmon from Riddell’s Smokehouse. He does the salmon with brown sugar and apricot.
Thank you for the ride and happy birthday!
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Thanks for the kind words Paulie. My birthday trip wasn’t as ambitious as things I’ve done in the past, but in this time of COVID I feel it turned out pretty good!
I was really surprised by Cayucos! I loved the downtown and all those nice beaches down there. I bet that they are full of surf perch! Wish the wind hadn’t been blowing like it was so I could have checked out the fishing!
I hear you on living the simple life in a double wide. It would be nice to be able to write, take pictures, and drink good beer all day without being interrupted. I’m working on that dream, ha ha! If I can get up to my job in Alaska next summer it’ll put me in a position to do just that.