So, post Pleasant Valley Sanctuary and my time spent at Snug Harbor, it was time for me to keep heading west and north until I hit the coast, aiming for Mendocino as my first coastal destination. Over the drive up the coast, I couldn't help but think to myself, "things just keep getting... better," but then would second guess the word choice of better, because that would imply that one experience was superior to another, and I wasn't feeling that; rather I was feeling that every experience has and would be amazing in it's own way, and they were surely not getting worse.
When I made it to the town of Mendocino, I was shocked at exactly how small the town is; we're talking about 9x9 blocks make up the entirety of Mendocino, and about three blocks along one street is the town center where all the activity is. I guess I had thought that though it might be a small town, it seems to be so well known, that it couldn't be that small. I wasn't actually staying in Mendocino for the night, but just north of it at a place called Caspar Beach, so when I made it into town, I decided to stop at the local general store/health food store to stock up on some food for the camping week that was to come. I was immediately charmed by the quaint store that had plenty of healthy food options, including clearly marked gluten-free items, and the pleasant attitudes of everyone working there.
Stocked up and ready to go, I decided that though Mendocino was a sweet little town, there wasn't much that was calling me to hang around and I didn't want to set up my camp in the dark so I headed up to Caspar Beach. A beautiful little cove between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, I set up camp in the wooded area where the campsite was, made myself a quick dinner, and walked down to the beach just in time to watch a beautiful sunset. As I settled on a large piece of driftwood, clearly placed for the beach campfires that had taken place there before, I meditated a little, adjusting myself to the energy of this new place and the new pace of the week of solo camping that lie ahead of me. Just as I had finished, I received a phone call from a friend I had been thinking of and hoping to hear from, and was so excited both for the conversation that ensued and the exquisite sun falling behind the horizon of the ocean.
When I got back to my camp, I noticed that two campsites away, some surfer dude was setting up his camp and talking to the family between us about the surf lessons he taught. I remember thinking, "that'd be cool if I could take surf lessons," but didn't think much beyond that and decided I was ready to call it a night.
In the morning, I packed up camp and decided to make use of the free wi-fi while I had it, before I had planned on continuing my way north. As I was typing away, the surfer dude, whose name I learned was Caleb, came to talk to me and we chatted for a while about camping, surfing, and such. He had suggested his surf lessons, but I knew I was not in a place to be spending money on extra activities such as that, and we parted ways. Shortly after that though, he came back with an idea...
He was having problems with his truck's transmission going out, but really needed to run some errands around Mendocino and Ft. Bragg, so he suggested that if I help him with rides and his errands, he would in return give me a free surf lesson. With no dire need to be at my next destination, I thought, "hey why not? I did think last night it would be cool if I could take a surf lesson." So with gratitude to the universe for it's quick delivery, I agreed and we set out on our day around these two little towns.
A relative local, my new friend Caleb was able to show me around these towns with a little more connection and knowledge than I would have been able to on my own. Among the places we went, I had seen a flier for some "Living Light" place and thought it might be a place I'd be interested in, so he guided us there, where I discovered a healthy-living type of business community; the kind of place I've dreamt of creating one day. Inside what might be equivalent to a small mall, there was a meditation/spiritual "church," a raw food store and cooking center (where they taught classes), massage therapists, a bike shop, a coffee shop, and other similar businesses. We shared an incredible raw-food lunch before eventually making our way to Mendo and returning to Caspar Beach.
After a short little break, we headed down to the water on what was a pretty windy, cool day. Thanks to the setup of Caleb's surf school, which you can find at his website www.gosurfmendo.com, he was fully equipped with great, warm wetsuits and wetboots (I don't know what you call wetsuit-shoes, but I like making up words and wetboots sounds good to me). He outfitted me in really warm stuff, which I was immensely grateful for as soon as my exposed skin (head and hands) touched the water. The salty ocean water near Mendocino is in the low 50*s, which is close to Tahoe water, but the temperature outside is around maybe 60*, and with coastal winds blowing through, it felt icy cold with no hot desert sun to warm you.
Luckily Caleb was a great surf instructor! He was very encouraging and knew how to focus on one thing at a time to help me improve, so I never felt overwhelmed; at least not by him, getting hit with those ice cold waves one-after-another can feel kind of jarring. I was delighted to get up on a few waves though and and had this joyous feeling take over me as I rode them into shore and paddled back out again. Eventually the work and the cold got the best of me and I decided to call it a day and sit in the (comparatively) very warm fresh water stream that fed into the ocean.
When we got back to camp, we went to the coin-operated showers to clean off the salt water and wetsuits. As we had finished surfing a little late, and the Northern California coast is chronically moist, I thought I had no chance of having my hair dry before nightfall, but let me tell you about a little joy known as a hand-dryer... oh yeah, these bathrooms had those hot-air hand dryers, which I more than happily used to finish drying my hair. I cannot even tell you how grateful I was for those little machines as the cool, moist day turned into a cold, dark night.
We split a campsite for the night and cooked up an incredibly delicious, warm camp-style dinner, before I made a cozy fire to warm one more time for the evening. Having been a little cold the night before, I layered up in warmer thermals, fresh socks, and even wore my down vest, fingerless gloves, and beanie to bed; it was so comforting to feel the heat of my sleeping bag envelop me. I may have looked a little silly bundled up like I was, but I was happy and my body was perfectly satiated from the salt water and physical exertion of surfing. I decided to write a little in my journal, and here is a little excerpt of one of the things I wrote...
"Far off, I can hear the waves crashing and there's a gentle breeze swaying through the leaves to create a soft swooshing sound, in harmonic symphony with the ocean. I may not be right about this, but I swear I can hear seals making their funny ocean-pig noises, and they are a delightful feature in tonight's nature-orchestra." (Yes, there are seals near that area.)
I'm pretty sure I fell asleep smiling, but ironically, my nature's call morning alarm was not quite as idyllic as the symphony that had soothed me to sleep. Around 5am, I awoke to some rustling near my tent, and thanks to my highly-sensitive hearing, was able to discern some sort of hunting chase, followed by the capture and ravishing of an animal, in that brutal way only nature can so sincerely provide. Needless to say, I was awake for the day; sometimes the break of day is the most wonderful comfort. Once Caleb awoke from his den of sleep, we packed up camp, and after giving him one more ride, parted ways.
Though I was incredibly grateful for the adventure of our previous day, and the local insight into Mendocino and Ft. Bragg, I was also looking forward to continuing my solo journey. With windows down and Brad Mackeson vibrating through my speakers, I continued north on Hwy 1 to 101, next spot... the Redwoods!
Stories from the road-trip that inspired moving to the PNW, and other travel adventures.