In an effort to stay out of the heat and use my Thousand Trails RV park membership to it’s fullest, I mapped my trip through southern California to include two high elevation stops: Idyllwild above Palm Springs, and Rancho Oso above Santa Barbara. The drive from Idyllwild (blog post here) to Rancho Oso is approximately 230 miles with much of it on the beautiful coastal highway, 101.
I’ve learned some lessons about how I travel, one being that I average about 50 mph when I factor in stops for gas and breaks at rest areas. I start to get nervous when the tank dips below the half way mark, and Yiska and I both enjoy stretching our legs with a little walk every so often. Doing the math, I calculated the drive would take me about 5 hours. A fairly easy day of travel.
Or so I thought…
Lesson two was hard earned. I now know not to pull off the highway for gas unless I can see the station from the road. About half way through the journey, I noticed it was time to top off and started looking for the next available gas station. I soon spotted a blue sign with a picture of a gas pump. As I came to the small four way stop at the end of the off ramp there were no buildings.
I’ll turn left towards the ocean. There must be a beach town just out of sight.
I quickly found myself on a narrow rural street with beautiful homes but no room to turn around. As the road narrowed even more I wondered if it would dead end and decided to use one of the large, gated driveways to turn around. I pulled in, but soon realized I couldn’t swing wide enough and backing up put me in danger of hitting a truck parked on the side of the road. I was also now blocking both lanes. As I wiggled my way back and forth, I noticed a few cars had pulled up and were waiting to get by.
This isn’t happening!
Suddenly, I wanted to cry. I fought back the tears.
You can’t start crying now! Pull it together.
I walked over to the first car and a young man, no more than 17 or 18 years old, rolled his window down. Well dressed and impeccably groomed, driving a high end sports car, he flashed me a kind smile and I wanted to vote for him for president.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“I hope so. Have you backed up a trailer before?”
“Once or twice.”
My heart sank, but running out of options, I decided to chance it. We agreed he’d do the driving and I’d spot him. Within a few minutes he had me turned around and held the door as I got in.
“Have a wonderful day, Ma’am.”
Flashing me that toothy, perfect grin one last time, he drove away.
I looked at my front seat. With it’s half full coffee mug, bag of trail-mix, overflow of camping gear, and Yiska panting in my ear, he had to have wondered what the story is. A middle aged woman traveling solo with a tiny trailer, blocking traffic on his small street among multi-million dollar coastal homes would make me a novelty, at best. No one honked their horns as they passed this time, but somehow this made me feel worse. Only my second big driving day, and I wanted to throw in the towel.
My inner self began another discussion.
Analytical me: Focus on what you’re doing well. The rest will come with time. It’s normal to have ‘bumps in the road.’ (Analytical me smiles at my pun.)
Emotional me: I feel fragile. I want everything to be easy for a while. I’m tired of hard. (Emotional me fights off the tears again.)
This inner dialog went on for a while until a wet nose nuzzling my ear interrupted and I watched for the next rest stop. I parked between two large semi trucks, made a sandwich, and munched on it from one hand while walking Yiska with the other. I could feel my mood lifting.
Later, my confidence was buoyed further as I drove the last few miles into the park along a narrow, winding, one-lane road with blind corners. I backed my trailer into it’s site at Rancho Oso in one try.
Analytical me: See?
Emotional me smiled.
Rancho Oso is a working ranch that borders the Los Padres National Forest. The next four days were spent exploring the ranch with my camera and walking the trails with Yiska. Photographing animals is a favorite subject of mine, and the early morning light was beautiful as it crested the mountains and flooded the valley. Lazy afternoons gave me time to edit my images and read.
One morning I swung by the barn to ask about horseback riding and was told the group that was scheduled to go hadn’t shown up. Ten minutes later I was in a saddle, my horse following a well worn path along the ridge of a mountain. The young guide chatted with me as she rode ahead, telling me of her dream to become a vet and plans to move to Texas for college. She told me about her relationship with her boyfriend, struggles with roommates, the support of her mom. I shared my cancer story, the death of my husband, and my new adventure on the road. With tears in both our eyes, we joked about how we’d normally hug at that moment, but it would be difficult to do while riding horses. It reminded me of why I chose to do this in the first place. Moments and connections like this.
Later, I watched a cattle herding demonstration with a border collie mix who stopped mid-way through the presentation to leave the pen and visit with Yiska. The handler didn’t seem happy that his dog wasn’t minding but it made me smile. The two dogs looked like long lost cousins saying hello.
On my last day I drove into Santa Barbara for a morning walk along the beach before returning to hitch up and be ready for the drive north.
Next stop, two nights at Turtle Beach Fish Camp. A small RV park on the San Joaquin River. I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the bumps in the road once more.