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Well hi, it’s me again. I know, I’m surprised, too. Two trip recaps in a month?! Something must be in this California water.
Last I wrote, we were wrapping up fun times at Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California. From there, we rolled north. Over a cool little thing you might recognize:
This is only our second time RVing over the Golden Gate Bridge, and our first time in Number One. We actually went a little out of our way to experience it; because come on. An engineering marvel, a work of art, and a beloved American icon all wrapped in one? The extra 30 minutes it added to our route was nothing for the opportunity to drive its 1.7 mile stretch of awesomeness.
FIRST STOP: Bodega Bay
James and I have a trip planning problem. We’re actually great at doing planning, so that’s good. The problem is the back to back destinations we choose. For some reason, they never seem to be within a reasonable proximity to each other. It’s a strange thing we both do. “Hey, we’re in Tucson. Let’s road trip to Colorado tomorrow!” “Sweet, let’s go!” It would be great if one of us was saner than the other, so we could put the other in check on the stupidness that inevitably leads to us enduring some crazy long driving days. But weirdly, we both share this weakness. THIS time, I was determined to change this.
When I was planning our post-Sea Otter trip itinerary, my self-imposed rule was we’d never have a driving day more than 4 hours. Bodega Bay met my criteria for bookability:
- only about 3 and a half hours drive from Monterey where we were,
- had cell service for James’ pesky day job,
- had available reservable spots at Bodega Dunes Campground,
… so, I added it to the Itinerary of Fun. Look at us! Aren’t we smart trip planners!
The area was nice and all, but it’s also strange. Neither rural nor urban, but had some of the challenges common to both settings. On my one and only jogging attempt out from the state park, I couldn’t find a sidewalk anywhere. With narrow, shoulderless roads being the only in-town options on the state park side of the bay, I quickly realized with the constant flow of traffic, a long exploratory jog wasn’t in the cards.
There are some trails in the state park that go to the beach, so that was good. It’s not like I couldn’t get exercise anywhere. The extreme winds made that option less appealing than sticking to the less windy harbor side.
If you need to hit the grocery store in town, you’ll be in quite a pickle. Either you’ll drive, and have to deal with very limited RV parking, or you’ll walk, and have to walk along a narrow road with traffic. Same problem hitting any of the restaurants up the hill. And if you do drive, don’t leave your rug. Ours (in the pic above) got stolen!
We had taken Number One to have dinner with some some RV friends at their neighboring campground, and when we returned, our rug—in our reserved spot– was gone! Luckily it was just an old and ugly thing. And who knows, perhaps they needed it more than us. And besides, our friends made us pizza in their Ooni pizza oven. Good food and good conversation, totally worth the price of an old rug.
NEXT STOP: Clear Lake State Park
It’s easy to think that as populated as California is, that all their roads are going to be, you know, populated roads. Ones easy to maneuver. Roads you can trust. So, you set your GPS for the quickest route, and without giving it a second look, off you go! Our 2 hour-ish route from Bodega Bay to Clear Lake State Park took us north on the 101 and then east on Highway 175.
Back when I was a little kid in small town Iowa, there was an annual fair in July. One ride in particular I would look forward to each year… The Scrambler. Perhaps you remember it too; it’s the ride with strong accelerations and side-to-side movements so you’re either being thrown to the right or left? As we were driving 175, it occurred to me why they named that ride The Scrambler. Being forced side to side like that scrambles your brain. Really, you can actually feel it sloshing around in your head. I mean, our brains have the consistency of jello, so it makes sense. Luckily it was only 18 miles (that took an hour) of getting my brain scrambled. Though little did I know Hwy 175 was nothing compared to the roads that were about to become our normal over the next couple weeks. But I’m jumping ahead…
As we rolled into Clear Lake State Park right before sunset, we were surprised—no, shocked—that the park was virtually empty. An empty campground these days?!? And somewhere beautiful, too?! This must be what winning the lottery feels like!!!
Clear Lake was a total hidden gem. We stayed for 4 days in the best spot in the campground; the only spot with access to our own little beach right on the lake. Add to the awesome, we were blessed with perfect sunny fall weather days.
Very rarely do we talk about returning to a place we’re visiting. RVing, at least for us, isn’t like a song you want to hear over and over. It’s more like a movie. You’ve seen it once, and then you’re done. But Clear Lake was different. More song than movie. Over our decade of RVing, we only have a handful of places like that.
Here’s my very favorite memory from our time at Clear Lake. Each night right before sunset a huge pod of pelicans would land right at the edge of the lake, right in front of our campsite. The first night they landed, I thought it was a camper rolling through the campground—that’s how loud the strange sound a pod of pelicans landing makes. I was inside prepping for dinner, with the windows open, and James was outside puttering at the griddle, and then there it was… a loud hummy engine vibration sound coming from everywhere. I looked out at the road and saw nothing. Then I realized it was coming from the water. Talk about being awestruck!
Seeing them all there, landing, scooping for food, wingspans so great (10 feet!!! Besides California Condors, biggest wingspans in all North America!), all’s I could do was yell “JAMES! PELICANS! PELICANS, JAMES!” He probably didn’t appreciate the yelling, as he was only two feet from me at this point, and giving me the “has she lost her mind and should I be worried” look. I grabbed my phone quick as a wink, and snapped this crappy picture which doesn’t do the coolness of the moment any justice. And then to make it even more magical, they continued to land there every night same time!!! I started to wait for them, savoring the anticipation of it all. So yeah, those pelicans coming to say hi each night bumped Clear Lake’s awesome factor up by infinity.
We also busted out the bikes.
I wouldn’t suggest biking outside the park for beginners or leisurely bicyclists. The roads out of the park don’t have shoulders and are pretty narrow, and there’s consistent traffic.
We did stumble across a cool farmstand while biking the area, Peace and Plenty Farm, which specializes in growing saffron!
Get this, no one was working the stand. It’s run off the honor system!
Drop cash in the box, Venmo them, Paypal, whatever. They trust you!
We scored some pickles, tea (with saffron in it!), and the most amazing pique vinegar sauce. We’ve been pouring it over rice and grilled veggies and it’s so tasty, it has me wondering how I’ll go on without it once the jar’s gone.
So, I’m giving our stay at Clear Lake two thumbs up, and as high up as I can get em. It just put us both in such a great frame of mind; a respite we needed.
There is research how nature has healing and health powers. If you need any proof of that, just go to Clear Lake in the fall.
No surprise, we were bummed when our time was over there. But, excited for the next stop… an actual BUCKET LIST stop!
I’ll pick it up there next time, as we work our way to one of the most scenic roads–and epic cycling routes–in the US: Mattole Road and the Lost Coast. I’ve got lots to tell you about that one.
Happy and healthy adventuring, friends, wherever you find yourselves this fall!