My Weird 2021 Summer

Going into summer my plan was to take one more BIG 10-15 week road trip while I still can. But then out of nowhere came the opportunity to buy the house next to the family in Petaluma. The ensuing two weeks was busy and exciting and we came very close, but in the end we FAILED, and in all the excitement my summer plans got pretty much blown up.

Wednesday (Jul 28)

Then Martha was going to come here, because she loves swimming in the river, but the Reno air kept being awful, so that plan died too. So she invited me to go there.  Any chance to escape the smokey air sounded good to me, so that became the new plan.

As has become typical in my un-energetic old age, I planned to leave yesterday, but didn’t quite get enough stuff done to make it happen, so I am leaving today.

As usual, pretending to leave yesterday gave me the focus to get pretty much everything done by last night. So this morning all I had to do was just wipe off the kitchen counter, bring up the shopping cart and load the huge amount of stuff I always bring, take it back down the elevator, load the van and go. Stopped at the deli for a hot breakfast burrito for now and a cold Italian sub for the road. I returned books and picked up books at the downtown Library, then I hit the freeway!

Hampshire Rocks Campground:  

At the Rainbow Road exit off I-80. On the South Yuba River.

Super nice place, even if the freeway is 200 yards away.

If you're familiar with the CA to Reno run, there's a place where I-80 crosses some beautiful rapids. This is about ½ mile downstream from that.


My site, #11, is 15 yards from a perfect little swimming access spot on the river.The river forms a couple of excellent swimming holes that run most of the length of the campground. Sites 11, 12, 13 all have nice river access, and it looks like the lower numbered sites towards the entrance have even better access.

It turns out the busy transcontinental train tracks are right across the river. You can hear it but you can't see it ... from my site anyway.

Hampshire Rocks more fully occupied than it has been other times, but I was still able to snag a pretty nice site. My site was reserved the two nights prior, and was also reserved for the two days after tonight, but was free for this actual night!

The South Fork of the Yolo was about 30′ away through the thick underbrush. The river is a long, placid, 3-4 foot deep pool along here, so I coulda fought through the thicket or walked around it and dipped in the river, but I just didn’t feel like it.

I get good phone reception here, so for better or worse, I whiled away much of the afternoon on the internet (Frittering on Twitter :)

Towards sunset, the air got noticeably smokier. I went into the van and shut the doors. Just how I want to spend my time in nature (NOT!) :(. Air quality stayed medium shitty all night. I slept badly.

Thursday – Tuesday

I haven’t been out in the van for a while, so I forgot the part where I angle it at night with a thought to how the sun will come up tomorrow. So a half hour after the first peep of sunrise, the full summer sun is blasting straight down the canyon into the door-side of the van. It was unpleasantly hot by 8 am.

This motivated me to wake up and back it into the bit of shade I do have. Aftertthat I lasted to 11, but with the crappy air, it’s just not that much fun to hang out here.

I drove west on I-80 for 12 miles or so and around the corner to breakfast at the The Rustic Table, just as I did last time I stayed here. It’s an odd place to get to, not visible from the freeway and a couple of miles away on a dead end road, but quite elegant once you get here. The breakfast pork chop looked good on the menu, and was in fact very good. I took half of it in a box, and so got two breakfasts out of it.

I mostly lucked out on traffic. The Vacaville-Fairfield backups were in the other side of the freeway. I’m a little ahead of schedule, so I drive into Sonoma and take a break in the downtown Square. Then onward again. I am parking in the driveway tonight, which turns out to have good shade and is actually pretty comfortable.


The kids are going to camp this summer, 8am – 1pm. I tag along with Martha to pick them up. The “camp” is in a couple of unused storefronts at the edge of the Petaluma Outlet Mall!

I think this is pretty funny, but in fact, it seems to work out quite well. The mall is rows of stores separated by wide courtyards. This corner of the mall is otherwise vacant, so the kids have the run of the courtyard to write on the pavement with chalk and generally do kid things. Looks like they have fun.

I wanted to go to the Vans store for new slip-ons, but Martha wanted to get the kids home. Maybe Monday…


Chad swings by and rousts me out of my morning van-time to go to Santa Rosa and pick up Martha’s very old (but new to her) camping trailer. It was at the RV shop to extend the wiring harness (whatever that means). Basically they discovered that making a right turn pulled the lighting wires loose. There’s a lot of little problems with this old bucket of bolts. On the way back we took the truck and attached RV trailer to Twin Oaks Roadhouse, which was quite fun.

There was a kind of funny side story where I blurted out a very leftwing opinion in a voice to carry over the jukebox exactly when the song on the jukebox ended, so everyone at the bar heard it. Facing the window I was happily oblivious, but Chad was facing the other way towards the bar, and on the way home told me that things were pretty tense for a few minutes, burly white men thinking about coming over and making a thing of it. Eff them if they can’t take a joke is what I say.


Today was one of those days where my hosts both knew where the day was going, but nobody clued me in, so I was always a step behind … all day.

It started simply. Chad said he was getting coffee, and would I like to come and we could pick up a Sunday paper. I hopped out of bed and threw on what one would for grabbing a coffee and coming home. We went to Cotati Coffee (very good!). I scored a Sunday Chronicle at the liquor store in the next block. Boom! I got a big cookie also because I like to have something with my coffee. Next Chad decides to pull into a donut shoppe for donuts. I of course would not have gotten a giant cookie if I’d known we were hitting the donut shop.

Then we do not go home, rather we meet up with Martha to go to breakfast (surprise!). This also was a FAIL, the breakfast place is closed for some reason. On to Sonoma Bagel. As soon as we get back to the car they start chowing down on their food. I’m not a big fan of eating while driving, so I hold on to my lox and bagel, waiting to eat it at home. But again it becomes apparent I am still behind the curve. We aren’t going home and won’t for hours. Might as well chow down on the road also. Sigh.

We look at houses. We looked at cheap and small ones just for me. You CAN still get a glorfied double-wide in Petaluma for under $300K, … but the HOAs are $2K/month.

Much more interesting, we looked at big expensive ones which would be for all of us!


The main reason I got a pass to stay more day was that we were going to do water sports today – Martha with her mostly unused paddle board and me and my mostly unused inflatable kayak were gonna try out our respective toys on the Petaluma River. She couldn’t do it for some reason I don’t even remember.

But we did succeed in our other plan to shop at the Outlet Mall after we picked up the kids. She’s getting her minivan details (oh GOD does it need it!) so I got the ole campervan road-ready, fished out the back seat seatbelts to make it kid-ready and actually drove!

It was very hectic, the Vans store was crowded and the kids were antsy, and like a true dumbass I went to Vans store and did NOT wear my Vans. So I ended up doing the thing I usually do of buying a half size too small. I’m pretty peeved with myself. They feel fine once they’re on, but they are a pain in the ass to slip on, and that’s the whole point of Vans. Sigh, I am very, very annoyed with me…

I am supposed leave tomorrow still have no particular plan for where to go and what to do. Going back to Reno and going to my usual places both seem like pretty bad ideas:

  • The air in Reno is still intermittently awful, and will remain so as long as the Dixie Fire is still raging. So I am in no hurry to get home. [update: The Dixie Fire is still going but smaller. The Caldor Fire is now raging and the prevailing winds make it even worse in Reno. We live in a dystopia.]
  • Going northeast, to the northern Sierras around Mt Lassen is impossible, because the Dixie Fire has the whole region closed.
  • The Central Valley, the I-5 corridor, is always so f—ing hot in the summer that it does not count as fun for me.
  • I know the 101 corridor all  too well and don’t think it provides a good bang for the buck in the summer – boring and expensive.

So I am forming a plan to take Route 1 up the coast, which I have not done since I bought the van. Last time I did it was 14 or so years ago in my good old Tacoma with the camper shell.

My first finding is that all State and Sonoma County campgrounds are always full looking ahead one week in the summer. You might find something three weeks from now, but that does me no good. Private campgrounds are a little more … flexible. If you’re standing there with your credit card in your hand, they will often find some way for you to give them $20-$50 to stay overnight, even if they are technically full.

Also, we are in California. $40 is a lot for me to just park my van somewhere, but CA State Parks all cost $35, so that make $40 for a private spot seem more bearable.


As usual, nobody’s home when I roll into the house at 10 or so. Kids are at summer camp, grown-ups are out doing what they do. I make my coffee and text out status inquiries to the grown-ups.

The status is that both are very busy, and there’s really not going to be anyone to watch the young ‘uns this afternoon, so … I got invited to stay yet one more night!


Today I really, finally am gonna leave Martha’s and go into travel mode for a few days.

The only decent breakfast places I will see all day are right here on Petaluma, so I get the van squared away and drive straight to the one I always go to. Last visit drove away from the house without unplugging the van’s electric hookup, which was embarrassing and kinda traumatic to my 120V-30V adapter, not to mention to their garage outlet and extension cord, and to ME for that matter! So I made a SPECIAL point of not doing that today!

Lovely steak omelette special at Mr Mom’s. They make their own strawberry jam! Then suffer the traffic on Petaluma Blvd from the far south end to the middle north end for cheap-sounding diesel that wasn’t really cheap at all because it was 10 cents more than Gas Buddy said it would be. No matter what it costs here ($4.49), it’s gonna cost a lot more in those little coastal towns ($5.19 !!).

Then take the lovely drive through bucolic coastal Sonoma on Valley Ford Road through Bodega then up the coast.

Got here around 2-ish, and boy oh boy have I had a great time here! The coastline makes a kind of right angle corner here (with the eponymous Ocean Cove at the end of the angle. The campground is on the south side of the cove, and at my perfect spot I can sit in my lawn chair at my van and and look straight up the rocky cliffs of the coastline on the north side of the corner. It’s so nice!

It was windy and cloudy and not that pleasant when I got here. I cracked the door and sat on my “sofa” and started this blog post. After an hour I got bored with it, and stuck my head up and realized that the marine layer had dissipated and it was now a pleasant sunny-ish afternoon!

I walked down the steep road to the cove, realize with a panic that I didn’t have my phone, Immediately retraced my steps, slowly deciding along the way that I did NOT bring it in the first place, and to my immense relief, that turned out to be true. There is was sitting on the counter where I left when I forgot to take it.

Walk down the steep road to the cove AGAIN, no drama this time! Back to the van for a short while, then walk around the rim of the cove to the Ocean Cove Bar and Grill. Only a couple of hundred yards away line of sight, straight across the cove, but close to a mile and probably a couple of hundred feet elevation to actually walk there.

The Bar and Grill is quite nice. Anyone who’s spent any time on this part of the coast has probably eaten here at one time or another. There’s not much connectivity of any kind so it’s a small shock to walk in and see SportsCenter on the tv, I had a “cod po’ boy” (i.e. fish sandwich with slightly different thousand island dressing). The sandwich was average, but it was super pleasant to sit at the bar and eat and drink and watch the Pacific Ocean.