Going for the Golden State

California was sort of a tale of two weeks.

The first week was spent at  Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Our campsite was right in the middle of the Avenue of the Giants—a collection of some of the largest and most impressive redwoods in the world. They dominate everything about the landscape, including the light and temperature on the ground below. It being late in the season and a bit chillier than most Californians like their camping weather, we were lucky enough to have a beautiful campsite with not too many neighbors around us. Equally exciting was the decent cellular coverage, meaning we could get up and work right from the campsite. We’ve come to see that as a bit of a luxury. Aside from a couple of trips into town to experience the great indoors and charge our laptops, our week amongst the redwoods was spent soaking up the magnificent trees and trying to get enough work done to take the next week off.

Slinky posing by a fallen redwood
I told her not to lean on that tree

Early on in the planning, we realized that driving down the coast of California was one of the big draws of the road trip and that to do it well we couldn’t try to juggle work with it. So we’d made arrangements to be on vacation that week and, with the exception of a few last minute requests, we were. It was a really nice break.

We started off working our way down the coast to Mendocino where we found an “ocean view” hotel room at reasonable rates. We didn’t get the best views of the ocean because it was still foggy but we had a nice time rubbing elbows with the locals at a packed Irish bar with corned beef and hospitality to spare.

Thick fog over Mendocino CA
Menda . . . see? . . . no

Our hotel luck ran out in Santa Cruz, where we experienced the dinginess and potential parking lot stabiness that is at times commensurate with our budget. The bit of the town we saw seemed nice though. We had dinner at a place called Pour, which featured an entire wall of beer taps that you activate with a wristband and select whether you want a taste, a half, or a full beer. We found the experience so much better than squinting at the tap handles while an impatient bartender stares at you. And what a great way to sample a bunch of local brews without expressing your love for or starting fights with total strangers.

Slinky eyeing the beer taps at Pour
Decisions decisions . . .

From Santa Cruz, we made the quick drive to Monterey. They’ve got seals and Steinbeck, so I was happy. We stayed two nights there, allowing us to catch our breath a bit and to see Pebble Beach. It’s a fine looking golf course but we opted not to fork over the $500 greens fees. Instead, we headed back to Cannery Row where we felt like our current lifestyle was more in line with the local history. Monterey also afforded us our first glimpses of that elusive sun, which would shine on us for most of the next day’s drive through Big Sur and down to Santa Barbara.

Steinbeck statue in Monterey
Steinbeck and the boys giving birds a place to land

We had business to attend to in Santa Barbara. We are getting married there in a couple of months so we were eager to see the venue and get our marriage license. Luckily, both of those things could happen at the Santa Barbara Courthouse. Slinky found the venue before we even started this trip. We wanted a place where her family could easily get to from L.A., the main destination for flights from Australia. When she found the Mural Room in the courthouse we knew we had found our spot. Finally getting to see it in person reinforced that decision. Adding to the good feelings, getting our marriage licence was actually one of the nicest experiences I could imagine having at a government office. The woman who guided us through the process was married to an Australian and seemed genuinely happy to be helping me join the club. We raised our right hands and swore a statement that we weren’t currently married to anybody else, after which she explained that we were not yet married, just licensed to be. This question must come up a lot because they also had it as the first item in the FAQ list she handed us.

Erik and Slinky in the Mural room at Santa Barbara courthouse
Prenuptial selfie (I’ll wear a nicer t-shirt on the day)

Unmarried but sworn in, we decided to spend the rest of our time in Santa Barbara eating good food and drinking good wine as, you know, research. After all, our families will be here with us next time and we have to be able to show them around. Between meals, we toured the Mission, guided by a docent that told rambling stories and sometimes forgot what he was talking about halfway through them. I could definitely relate to him. He also had the habit of prefacing jokes by saying things like, “now I’m going to use humor here,” which should have ruined the joke more often than it did.

From Santa Barbara, we headed south to catch up with my friends Joe and Marcia in Glendora. Getting there meant trading in the beauty of the now visible California coastline for the glacial progress of L.A. freeways. Before pointing the Roo inland, we took a stroll down Santa Monica Pier, where we saw the sign marking the end of Route 66. While our trip has not followed much of the famous route, we had seen the other end of it when we were in Chicago. Seeing this sign put into perspective just how long it’s been since we started this journey. I couldn’t help feeling really lucky that we’ve had the chance to take this amazing trip. Then I got annoyed at how many people were on the pier and the ridiculous volumes that the buskers were overdriving their amps to.

Slinky at the Route 66 end of trail sign
Sorry folks, that’s all the kicks you get

A few hours later we were through the L.A. traffic and enjoying dinner with Joe and Marcia. It’s been five years since I worked with Joe. While we’ve kept in touch, it’s been a long time since we occupied the same space. I was really glad we got to. After dinner we had a drink back at their place and compared travel, work and how did you two meet stories. It was a lovely evening.

Good times with good friends

The next morning we were off again, this time to Temecula. It was our last stop in California and our final day of vacation. I was glad to spend it with my friends Carrie and Brian who live there. I was eager for Carrie and Sarah to meet because, in many ways, Carrie is responsible for Sarah and I meeting. It was Carrie who approached me about the job that took me to Australia in the first place. Besides, I had a feeling they’d hit it off. They did. We had lunch at a local winery overlooking the peaceful hills outside of Temecula and then headed back to their place to hang out. We gave them a little tour of the van. It was fun to show off our setup and it gave me another little flash that we’ve been doing this for a while and that we’ve actually developed some skill for living on the road and organizing our lives into a small mobile space.

That night Brian made us delicious Thai lettuce wraps and Carrie (ever the bad influence) convinced us to try these jellybeans where each color is either something nice like strawberry banana or something disgusting like rotten fish. Slinky downed like five good ones in a row. I had one. It was a disturbingly realistic vomit flavor. I have now retired from that game with a 0-1 record.

As we pulled out of Temecula and pointed the Roo toward Arizona, I took the opportunity to do one last time what I’d done on a near daily basis for the past two weeks. I put on the theme song from the O.C. and we belted along, “California, California, here we come!” And there we went.



Carving our own Oregon Trail

Oregon was a place I was excited to visit not only because of its raw beauty but also to experience America’s liberal, hipster, heart.

This is the place where (in the major centres, at least… pretty sure its guns and trucks all the way in the rural areas) cold brew coffee, dogs in handmade leather berets and food trucks reign supreme. We had planned a one night stop over in Portland to soak up the uber-hipster-ness before moving on to spend the rest of our week in Bend – Portland’s smaller, more laid-back and mountainous cousin – but then, well, Paul Kelly happened.

Paul Kelly is an Australian musician who has been everpresent throughout our relationship and one whom we both love. So, when we saw he was playing in Portland two days after we were passing through, we rerouted our trip to allow us to experience this Australian music legend at the Doug Fir Lounge, purportedly one of the best small music venues in the US.

Some context for the Australian audience: Paul Kelly is virtually unknown in the states. When Erik (the fountain of all musical knowledge) first came to Australia he didn’t know who Paul Kelly was. With this as our baseline, we knew we were pretty much guaranteed to see Kelly play to a smaller crowd than we’d ever witness him play to in Australia. Oh, and all for the princely sum of $15 each. Because that’s how they roll in the states.

Some context for our American audience: Paul Kelly is to Australia what Bruce Springsteen is to the US. If you want to see him play in Australia, he is selling out venues which hold around 12,000 for around $99 a ticket next month. No joke. Because PK is the shiz… oh, and because liking music in Australia is akin to having a house mortgage (and let’s not start on that).

Paul Kelly, Portland
Paul Kelly in Portland

And it was phenomenal. He played for two hours to about 150 people (I don’t think I’ve been in such close proximity to so many Australians since I disembarked my last Qantas flight in LAX). It was heartwarming to hear so many people singing along to songs about our hometown 13,000km away.

A few days in Portland also allowed us to get our hipster ON. We drank good coffee, spent hours pouring through the never-ending selection at Powell’s City of Books (it really is a city… or in the very least, a complete city block) ate exceedingly well, and stayed in a hippie Airbnb commune.  Our only let downs were the miserable weather (which is apparently true to Portland style) and the night we walked 40 minutes to one of Portland’s many food truck parks only to find ‘open’ on a Monday meant 15 closed trucks and one which was closing down.

Having our Portlandia fill, we drove through the Willamette Valley and the beautiful (albeit frozen) Willamette National Park to Bend. Set in the high desert, Bend is far drier than Portland, so we rolled in on a mild autumnal day and set up our camp as the sun sparkled on the river in the ever-so-pretty Tumelo State Park.

Willamette National Park
The part of our Oregon Trail that led to Bend.

It is hard to verbalise what we liked so much about Bend, but it is one of the handful of places we have visited on this trip that we put in the ‘yep, we could live here’ basket (for those tracking at home – or potentially planning future holidays to visit us – NYC, Asheville, Charleston, and Seattle have made the cut). It just felt like we could spend alot of time there.

Tumelo State Park, Bend
Tumelo State Park, how I loved thee!

Our time in Bend was not only to see this delightful part of the country, but also to catch up with Erik’s friends, Conan and Amy. These guys were the ultimate hosts (not to mention a blast to hang out with) spending all three nights we were there with us, and even inviting us to share in their son Tegan’s eleventh birthday party. And with an eleven-year-olds birthday we even got to learn about the Walking Dead comic books, to boot.

We were sad to leave Oregon, and Bend in particular, but the mighty Redwoods of California were beckoning the ‘roo onwards. There is no doubt we’ll be back, and hopefully for much longer than 5 days, next time.