On the road, with appreciation

WHUFU Trip: Nor Cal | 0

When I last slept in the van in early November, I would have been very sad to know that I wouldn’t do it again for five months!  I did visit family around Christmas, but actually scored the couch in the basement with hi-def TV, no van-sleeping required.

At that time the plan was to drive to Eureka in a few weeks to close on the house we were buying, but Martha changed her mind on the house, so that didn’t happen.  Then in the middle of February I had some health issues that nagged and hung around for over a month. (no, you don’t want to know.  anybody want to hear what a self-administered catheter feels like?).  So when my new grandson arrived I was not able to hustle over to Eureka to admire him.  During that time I resolved to be a better person and enjoy my opportunities if I was ever able to have them again. My record of actually implementing change is mixed so far, but I am at least getting back into the road trip groove!

Saturday (Apr 5) 

Finally gonna hit the road! I was pre-packing all day yesterday, carrying boxes and making little lists of what to remember, so today was mostly final kitchen cleanup and carrying the rest of my various boxes and plastic tubs down to the van.  I was feeling good enough about my efficient use of the day that I even walked over to the Jungle for coffee!

A McD’s hot fudge sundae in Susanville to break up the drive, then I pressed on to camp at Hat Creek.  The drive on 44 west of Susanville is very scenic this time of year. It’s pretty flat and at a pretty high elevation, so it has a sub-alpine tundra feel to it. Lots of wet, swampy, snowy areas this time of year that are dried out and sad-looking later in the summer.

Hat Creek

Cave Campground in off-season is quite a find.  One minute you’re blasting down busy Route 89, then you take the posted turnoff to the campground and you’re in a little wonderland of pine needles, mottled sunlight and the amazing, crystal clear Hat Creek.  Hat Creek flows straight off the lava fields of Mt Lassen, and is as clear as a little piece of Lake Tahoe flowing past.

Cave Campground:  

Smack on the way from Reno to Eureka, where CA 44 meets CA 89.

A geologically interesting valley. A giant, recent lava flow that feels like the recovering disaster area it is. The Lava Cave is a short walk across the highway.

The Forest Service keeps one campground open all winter, and it is this one.

A deep blanket of pine needles makes it quiet except for the occasional truck on 89.


There's only two other sites taken, so I nail a spectacular spot where I am looking right at the river 30' away.

Ponderosa pines, which make for a pleasant open fee (unless it's crowded, which it's not). A deep blanket of pine needles makes it quiet except for the occasional truck on 89.


I enjoyed my beautiful spot in the peace and quiet of the morning till 1-ish. I will have an hour or so of driving to get to any plausible food place. I really need to manage these mornings better.  I leave the campsite in such a peaceful and content state of mind, but by the time I get to food and coffee I’m a sugar-depleted wreck. Perhaps a little green tea and a snackie to fortify myself before hittin’ the road would make for a better experience.

I am learning my limits though, so I pulled off to consult Yelp before Redding got too busy. My general understanding of Redding is that the downtown such as it is is a sad little cluster of storefronts west of the freeway and a little south of all the big roads. But the real commercial action has all moved east of the freeway and on the north side of the big roads, to a depressing collection of cookie-cutter soulless national chain stores, and that is where I have now pulled off. I hate it already.

There is an In ‘n Out right across the intersection from where I pull over to plan. I am so charmed by this that I invert my usual morning routine.  I will punt immediate coffee in favor of starch and protein; in the form of an iconic DoubleBurger and Fries … and I’ll worry about caffeine later.

Trying to get to it I make a bad bet and take a left for what should be an easy right into the parking lot. But because of all the traffic controls, I find myself on the ramp back onto the f—ing freeway with no exit. sh-t!  Not much going on on Sunday morning, so I take a deep breath and execute a highly illegal u-turn across 5-ish lanes of freeway access to return to where I started, only two left turns and a half mile of driving away from a burger which is fifty feet from me now. I now have solid reasons to hate this place.

The stunning river-bottom heat of Redding always unhinges me when I pass through here in the summer, but I’m finding that even today on a nearly perfect 65-70° day I am slightly jangled here. I think because this is the first truly summer-ish day I have experienced after Reno winter and a cold night in the highlands.

Anyway my doubleburger and fries sit very well in the ole tummy, then a pleasant coffee and wifi at a cute little place called Brew in “old Redding”, and I’m ready to take on the world.

It’s a pretty short drive west out of town to Whiskeytown Lake, and at the far end of the lake is Oak Bottom Marina, where I am to camp tonight.

Oak Bottom Marina:  

Two campgrounds in one! A nice little tent campground on a knoll jutting into the lake, and a section of the boat ramp parking lot. RVs can only go to the latter. Since I sleep in my vehicle I'm supposed to sleep in the boat lot with the big boys, but there's already a pickup camper setting up, and it turns out that this time of year with only 8-10 site taken, nobody cares..


Two campgrounds in one! A nice little tent campground on a knoll jutting into the lake, and a section of the boat ramp parking lot. RVs can only go to the latter. Since I sleep in my vehicle I'm supposed to sleep in the boat lot with the big boys, but there's already a pickup camper setting up, and it turns out that this time of year with only 8-10 site taken, nobody cares..

Whiskeytown Lake, Oak Bottom Marina

I spent a 6ery pleasant evening puttering around the edge of the lake then hanging out at the site I registered for until well after dark.


I did not get busted for being in the wrong campground, but the worry did add a little layer of anxiety to my stay.  I did not hang around very long in the morning, sitting in the parking lot just ain’t that much fun.

The plan is to get coffee and food in Weaverville, then scope out all the little campgrounds between there and Eureka for future reference.

The Weaverville scene comes back to me now. There are a couple of nice enough but but wifi-less breakfast places, but exactly as I did last time, I end up going to the funky little coffee place, Mama Llama’s, with wifi downtown. I’m just a sucker for grubby little hippie places!  They have waffles, so I enjoy the Weaverville hipsters and also eat pretty well!

For your records and mine, here is the summary of what I discovered about the Forest Service campgrounds down the road.

odometer time camping place # sites comments
329 1-ish leave Weaverville
344 1:11 Junction City Campground ?? level, along road, very boring, “just a place”
350 1:21 Pigeon Point 8 open, still awesome, speed bumps
356 1:29 Big Flat 10 uphill side, hilly, but nice
357 1:32 Big Bar 3 I think it’s just the Big Bar boat landing,
367 1:46 Hayden Flat 35 most of CG is opposite side of the road, but a little west are a few sites right on the river. pretty seedy looking on that side
377 2:03 Burnt Ranch 16 ick. Far from river, dusty and sad, right next to farm, could have vermin
393 2:29 Boise closed, forest-y

So I made a three hour trip into a five hour trip, and arrived at the family’s pleasant little house a little after 5:00.

Tuesday – Friday

Babies are awesome things, and babies who are of your blood are very important little things. This little guy is exactly six weeks old today. In terms of connecting with the little guy I think I came a little too soon :)  I need a little interactivity! At this age he just hangs out with no noticeable reaction to any of my cute adult behavior. Yes, it’s all about me.

I’m here probably till the weekend, when Martha and the boys plan to drive to Marin for her business.

I have possible musical events in both Eureka and Fairfax as it turns out. In Eureka we have Chad’s band Death Valley Troubadours, which I have not seen. But in Fairfax we have English Beat, one of my absolute fave bands from the 80’s. Calling them an 80’s band is not helpful to understanding them, but the 80’s was when they were big, big, big. My Reno buddy Kevin Lum tours with them on keyboard, so he offered to hook me up with admission!

The Eureka option would be followed by a sweet little southern Oregon – northwestern Nevada road trip I’ve planned … but as the week progresses it’s clear that the stars are aligning for me to help Martha out by driving her and the new guy (Rylan) down to Marin on Friday to be joined by Chad and the older guy (Tyler) on Sunday after his gig. This way they will end up with only one car down there and I will get to see English Beat!  Win-win for everybody!!

The drive was tiring. Rylan did not dig it, but we got there safe and sound.

Saturday – Friday

English Beat was pretty awesome, although I was a little disoriented by being in an entire room full of fifty-something hipsters.  There aren’t enough fifty-something hipsters in all of Reno to fill a kitchen, much less the entire 19 Broadway! Those guys sure have a lot of great songs.

So … this week is Spring Break for all the boys. The other grandparents (my hosts!) have planned a five day trip to LA with tenth grade Collin and second grade Tyler. Martha wants to take off and go somewhere nice with Chad and Rylan. So as it turns out we have another win-win where I stay here and feed the cats and have a nice house in downtown San Rafael all to myself!

I feel halfway sick Thursday and Friday, and when I get on my Friday night I am all the way sick. Still am five days later, maybe the sickest I’ve been since moving to Reno.  yuck.