Saturday, August 22nd
The morning came to leave the Manchester Beach KOA. As would often prove the case with departure mornings, time slipped by like water through eelgrass. We were pleased to note that our hook-up skills were much improved from our shakedown cruise (and yes, ‘hook-up skills’ has an entirely different meaning when you’re talking about travel trailers). Even so, our departure was delayed while we waited for the “Honey Wagon” service provided by the campground.
What’s a “Honey Wagon” service, you ask? Well, let’s just say that for a campground without a full sewer hook-up at the site, it gives you a fresh-as-honey start to the rest of your trip without needing to find and maneuver to a dump zone. Totally worth it.
The Honey Wagon service was worth it, I think, because it reduced the weight at the rear of the trailer. Weight distribution is key; as we pulled north on Highway 1, heading towards our next destination in Trinidad, California, I couldn’t help wondering if I had messed it up – there’s apparently an ideal 60%-40% front-to-back weight distribution, and we were bumping and swaying a lot as we got under way.
Highway 1 north of the campground proved to be narrow in many locations (ubiquitous road construction and tight turns) and we were wondering if the trailer was going to somehow smack into the car, lose control, and fall apart in the middle of nowhere, a delayed consequence of the collision on Mountain View Road.
Our scheduled route for the day didn’t threaten to be too long, just over four hours, but included some steep mountain climbs that would not be fun to negotiate if something went wrong. We would follow Highway 1 north along the coast before cutting inland to the town of Leggett, where we would connect to 101 for the rest of the drive.
Our first pause for the day came with a slow swing through Mendocino, the coastal town of tourists, wine, and the sea, famous as the filming location for Murder, She Wrote. It was crowded in both parked cars and blissfully-ignorant pedestrians, so navigating the narrow, pot-holed streets of the ‘quaint’ shopping district was a challenge.
We found our way to the west side of town, where the road swings north to parallel the coast. We stopped at a trailhead with a wide gravel parking area to enjoy the turquoise water and the geological marvel of a natural rock arch (pictured at the top of this post). It’s hard to comprehend how long it took wind and water to shape that gap.
Then it was back to negotiating the curves of Highway 1 north, ever north. Lots of construction along the way meant plenty of traffic markers and cones narrowing the road, which, for drivers newly in possession of a trailer and still getting accustomed to its dimensions, did not make for stress-free cruising.
We came to a rise in the road with a beautiful view along the coast. The visibility was so clear that we could see the traffic light a mile away, on the other side of a narrow cove, indicating roadwork where the highway was down to one lane with a sheer cliff to the west. And from where we were, it looked like the northbound lane at that traffic spot was on a rather steep grade at the traffic light, at least 45 degrees.
Spoiler alert: the trailer came wildly unhinged on that slope, dragged us backwards through a bumper-car string of collisions, and pulled us over the cliff to a watery demise.
Wait. No. Never mind. Sources tell me that didn’t actually happen. The climb to the traffic light was slow and clunky, but as it turned out, the road leveled out before we got to the traffic light.
When our turn came and we proceeded through the narrow channel past the line of southbound-traffic, I caught the eye of a similarly-balding middle-aged man gripping the wheel of a southbound RV. He raised his eyebrows. I smiled and gave him a thumbs up to let him know his imminent descent was not going to be a crisis.
We balding middle-aged white men have to stick together when it comes to road stress. Because we all know that thought, “How the hell did I end up here?” Here being the steep descent of a narrow highway with signs of erosion, perched above the ocean in a less-than-nimble towing situation.
From there, Highway 1 turned inland, away from the ocean, and cut through the mountains. It was a narrow, twisting road that dictated caution, a willingness to ignore cars that wanted to go faster, and a gentle sweep through curves.
I’ve never been a fan of the logging industry, not with the environment and clear-cutting and all the related issues. But I have to say that the frequent large pull-out areas on Highway 1, presumably meant to give logging trucks a place to pause, were a bit of a godsend. For one thing, they were a perfect spot for both letting a build-up of faster cars get by and also accommodating a bathroom break using the facilities we brought with us.
Once we made it to Leggett and US-101, it was pretty much smooth sailing all the way north to Humboldt County and our destination for the night, Emerald Forest Cabins and RVs in Trinidad, just north of Arcata and McKinleyville.
It was dusk by the time we arrived; the driveway at Emerald Forest is a bit lacking in signage and abrupt in arrival, but we got off the highway with a minimum of fuss. And then, the happy news that we had drawn a pull-through site. No stress, no fuss, just pulling straight through a white-gravel channel between two small stands of redwood trees and aligning our trailer’s hook-up ports with the hook-up connections.
It was literally relaxing to park with such little fuss. I gave a huge sigh of contentment as we ground to a stop.
As always, the drive had taken longer than we planned. That seems to be a synopsis of travel trailer life, really; “It takes longer than you think it will.” By the time we were set up, dark had fallen at the base of the redwood trees, and we were hungry.
The evening was quick and festive. We met M’s Aunt Karen who lives in McKinleyville, who guided us to Mad River Brewing in nearby Blue Lake. This local brewery has an excellent range of beers, including their Mad River IPA, and they converted their parking lot into a social-distancing-friendly dining area, with long picnic benches spread out at healthy intervals. Well worth the visit for comfort food, beer, and a chance to visit from opposite ends of a six-foot picnic table as night fell and fog crept down over the crest of the Coastal Range.
And really, a cold pint at the end of a long day on the road is one of life’s great pleasures, so the day has to be considered a success.
Here’s a question, though, for all you travelers and seasoned campers? What’s the etiquette for outdoor reading? At night, as M and P went to sleep, I sat beneath the stars, reading a book in the glow of a headlamp, even as the loud groups around fires began to dissipate. There are quiet hours for noise; what’s the etiquette on light? We weren’t right on top of the other campers, but a headlamp or a lantern could be visible from a distance.