We are back out on the Pacific Coast Highway after spending all of last summer in Europe, and we sure are glad to be back. This is our old familiar summer routine we have done for several of our years on the road, and it never gets tedious.
The Pacific is the mother of all oceans, and you can sit here and gaze out across 10,000 kilometers of nothing and watch the whales, seals, and otters come and go. But the best thing about the Pacific Coast Highway is the weather. Sunny days (if you take precautions not to go too far north too early) and cool temperatures. East over the first ridge of the coastal mountains it may be 100 degrees, but here on the seaward side you’re sitting right next to the biggest heat sink in the world, and it’s rarely above 75.
This year we had to work around the Gorda Slide, a major interruption that won’t be fixed until this fall. You can literally see it from space – a quarter mile of coastal highway got in the way of a mountainside coming down to the sea, with predictable results.
They’re building the replacement highway on top of the rubble, so it’s a whole new roadbed on top of very unstable substrate. All this damage happened last spring, while we were conveniently in Europe, and the Pfeiffer Bridge has already been repaired to allow access south from Monterey into Big Sur, so that’s what we did – coming out at Carmel, we could drive south 60 miles to the Los Padres National Forest campgrounds we have visited so often – Kirk Creek and Plaskett Creek.
Stocking up with groceries at the Carmel Safeway and water at the Monterey Veterans Memorial city campground, we headed on down, and the camp host managed to get us a few days at Kirk Creek. It’s all reserved and booked up six months in advance by hipsters from San Francisco, but there are always last minute cancellations and no-shows, especially when it rains, and the camp hosts can almost always fix you up this early in the season if you arrive early in the day and mid-week.
Do not expect much if you arrive after 10 AM or Friday/Saturday, and don’t expect anything at all in high season, once the kids get out of school. The whole place used to be first come first serve, but the concessionaire is maximizing profits, and they get paid whether people show up or not. Firewood is $12 a bundle, water is $5 a gallon. Isn’t private enterprise great? If I had a lawn, I’d be telling you kids to get off it.
There’s almost always a new crew of campground hosts when you come out here in the spring – it’s a burnout job, 60 miles from civilization and dealing with a constant influx of city folks who complain about rats in their campsite (ground squirrels, actually) and want to know why their cellphones don’t work.
I always bring a little morale boosting beer out to the crew, because they only get into town once a week on their day off and are out here working 10-12 hour days for very little money. Instead of treating them like servants, it’s better to see them as allies in your quest to spend some time out here.
There are no bad campsites (there really aren’t here), move every day if that’s what it takes to extend a stay here, don’t bother them when they’re busy, pick up the campsite you’re leaving and also the one they’re moving you to, answer easy questions for rookie guests so they don’t have to, stuff like that. After a while, they’ll smile when they see you coming.
We did six days out here, went into town for supplies and laundry, and came back out to find Kirk Creek full. No problem – eight miles south, just north of the Gorda Slide is Plaskett Creek Campground, another National Forest campground. It’s not right on the ocean like Kirk Creek, but it’s huge (probably a hundred sites), on a giant green lawn under towering evergreens, and it has water.
A couple of days down there, and the camp hosts at Kirk Creek are coming back from their day off, so we pack up early, show up at 9 AM, and there’s a spot available for us. We are finishing up six days out here now, and have to go back to Monterey for a care package from home (our DirecTV receiver is acting up – major quality of life issue in the back of the bus), but we will be back out here- Plaskett if Kirk Creek is full, or Kirk Creek if we get lucky.
Life is good if you remain flexible.