The Adventure of Ten Wine Bottles on California's Coast
Chico, one of the several places in the world that feels most like home, despite my carrying on out of a backpack for the better part of the past decade. I was in the California town once again along with Marilyn, my gal and open ended travel companion. We were generally lingering in the area while eagerly awaiting the release of my Beer Camp beer, but there were plenty of adventures to get involved with in the meantime.
Also in Chico was Walter, my good friend from the Netherlands. We'd first met in Alaska and together hitchhiked with another friend from there down to Vancouver. At some point in this trip, standing on the side of the road hungry and dreaming of food and our next ride to come, I'd remarked that I was hungry enough, and capable enough, of eating twelve boston creme donuts.
So went the standing bet, for several years it would come up, and one day it would have to go down. Our paths had crossed many times since then, but this was the first opportunity where donuts and time were both readily available.
So, moving on from that, another day in Chico went by catching up with friends and the like. Marilyn and I were thinking of popping down the coast to Big Sur and seeing some of her friends along the way, we'd have some time before the beer would be released.
It all came together when Walter decided to rent a car in a Chico, it worked out that we could drive him to the airport in the Bay Area, then Marilyn and I could continue on to Monterey and drop the car there before falling back to our typical hitchhiking ways of transportation.
We buzzed on out of Chico on our miniature road trip, staying the night with another friend just outside of San Francisco, then in the early morning rallied out and dropped Walter off at the airport so he could fly off and spread the word about my donut failure, perhaps not knowing that one day, in however many months or years, I would redeem myself. The day will come.
Marilyn and I continued on, beelining to the coast, hauling on down the road with a California sense of freedom. I've spent a lot of my travels on the road, but there was a distinctly different feel in the air in this non-hitchhiking situation. It was just myself and Marilyn with the beaches and ocean, rolling at whichever pace we desired, the days ahead filled with the certainty of unknown bliss.
We made a couple short stops before parking the car in Santa Cruz, picking up a bottle of stout at some shop and making our way to the beach for a break.
A guy walking his dog stopped suddenly and looked at me with recognition, I racked my brain but saw no familiarity.
"Hobo Lifestyle!", he exclaimed.
So I didn't know him after all, but for probably the first time I'd amazingly been recognized from this blog or perhaps some video I'd posted up.
He'd just taken to the road himself a week ago, hitching down from Washington to kick off his adventure. The dog belonged to some woman who'd given him a ride and seemed to be putting him up in a motel nearby.
The three of us took to the beach to swap stories and sip the beer. Marilyn rolled her eyes at me over the situation, all the same I thought it was pretty random and cool to meet someone that I in some way might have inspired to hit the road.
After a while of that Marilyn and I had to take back to the road, swooping on down to Monterey where we dropped the car off, then eventually met up with her friend we would stay the night with.
After another day in town relaxing we were geared up to start hitching on down the coast. One ride from a student got us to a sandwich shop a friend had been bragging about, after that we hitched another ride to the grocery store and stocked up for some potential camping.
Thumb out from there we got a ride from a couple people heading to the Coachella music festival, east of Los Angeles. We figured we'd take advantage of the longer ride and go straight past Big Sur to Paso Robles, then just hit the coast again on the swing back north.
That stretch of road is phenomenal, we cruised and paused for views the whole way, finally turning inland over the lush green hills towards Paso.
The reason for heading there was primarily to visit Firestone Walker, a brewery in town, but when I looked it up it seemed like it wasn't open until later in the day. No worries, though, we were now in wine country.
Our festival bound friends dropped us off at a random winery a few miles before town, a good place where we could get some tastings in and fill some time before the brewery opened.
We were greeted with smiles and got right into tasting some wines. We chatted a bit with the girl behind the counter, along with her mother and boyfriend. By the time we left they were giving us some suggestions on other wineries to visit on the way to town, we smiled on out the door and backpacked on back to the main road.
Moments later a car rolled up, it was the boyfriend from inside, Ryan, he'd come to give us a ride to the next winery. As it turned out the brewery was already open, he knew this, I'd just gotten the information wrong, so he took us directly there saying he'd join us for a pint instead.
The three of us sat at a booth after carefully choosing from the list of beers. Ryan worked at a winery himself, we carried on about that and other breweries around.
Towards the end of the beer he asked where we were heading next saying he could once again drop us off somewhere if we needed. The other brewery in town he mentioned seemed like the obvious choice.
"OK", he said, "But the other option would be to come back to my place and join us for a barbecue, drink some good wine and then you could crash there for the night if you'd like."
The new obvious choice had emerged.
Back at his place we were soon joined by his mom, his girlfriend and her mom from the winery. Good conversation, food, beer and wine flowed into the night.
He gifted us four bottles of wine, then we decided to instead head back to his girlfriend Callie's house on the coast for the night. The little town she lived in was nearly empty, apparently most of the houses were rarely used vacation homes. More wine, more wine and finally passing out.
We slowly got up in the morning, remembering and reaffirming that we'd agreed to help out later that day with a party the winery was having. We sped on back inland, showers at Ryan's house, to the winery briefly to do a tasting, lazing back at the house, more tasting at the other brewery in town and then finally back to he winery to help set up tables for the event they were having.
People began arriving, we did some pouring, some shuffling things around, plenty of drinking ourselves and indulging in a big buffet as we chatted people up.
By dark we we were cleaning things up and doing even more tasting inside. As if we needed anything else on top of the already good time, the winery gave us six bottles of wine for helping out.
We woke up at Ryan's, Callie took us all out for breakfast at a good spot and then we all headed out to the coast where they dropped Marilyn and I off back on the road overlooking the ocean, ten wine bottles heavy and ready to head up to Big Sur.
We thanked them a million times and soon we were standing alone at a small pull out on the coast, plastered smiles laughing at each other and the ridiculous extra weight of the bottles dispersed between our packs.
The idea now was to find a decent place to camp around Big Sur wherever we could hitch to, then eventually get ourselves back north through the Bay Area and Sacramento on to Chico for the unveiling of my Beer Camp brew.
Finally we turned up a forest road I'd chosen somewhat randomly looking at the map, heading straight up the mountain. After five or ten minutes it was clear that the couple were getting somewhat anxious to get back down to the main road to continue their own mission instead of this detour.
Marilyn and I hopped out in the middle of the quiet woods, figuring we'd walk until we found a flat spot to set up the tent off the road. We lightened our load by one bottle, gifting it to the couple as we parted ways.
As it turned out, just a five minute walk up the road it dead ended at an established campsite. We found ourselves a nice site towards the back. At this point we had little choice other than to pay, we briefly met the campground ranger and paid a pretty small fee. We chowed some leftovers and drank down one of our bottles before calling it a night in the tent.
In the morning I looked at the map in the parking lot, there seemed to be trails going all over the place. Larry came over, the campground ranger, he started talking my ear off with suggestions and the rest. He'd lived in the campground for thirty one years he said, only once leaving for eight consecutive days.
Finally I'd locked on to a good trail, it looked like an eight mile hike to a pretty great back country campsite, then perhaps another eight mile hike further to get back to a road to continue hitching north.
We passed trail workers on their way down, this path was apparently rarely used, but we now had a clear shot up and multiple assurances from them of the great campsite awaiting us at the top.
Amazingly there were a couple middle aged guys up there as well who'd claimed a good spot on the point, I'd almost expected we'd be alone up there completely, we seemed pretty far out there.
I looked out and saw a higher point, without the weight of my pack and the wine I figured it was worth a quick exploration in case we could find a better spot.
It was well worth the recon mission, I found a great spot on top of the world, private and with great views and plenty of firewood kicking around.
We stashed most of the bottles behind a tree before climbing back up together with the rest of our gear. On the way to the sweet spot we passed the two guys, they said this was one of their favorite spots on the planet. We told them where our wine stash was and told them to choose whatever bottle they wanted, I think that made their night for sure.
It was a great night up top, we chowed a big meal, downed a rewarding bottle and danced the night away.
At a certain point Marilyn stripped down, stretching and jumping and embracing the feel of freedom. I smiled out at her, gleefully back dropped by the distant ocean beyond the rolling mountains.
Later I was sitting by the fire ring starting to think about getting some cooking started, then suddenly a couple popped up over the ridge wearing jeans, no backpacks, looking pretty casual. This was somewhat surprising, first because I hadn't expected to see anyone out there at all given the remoteness and reports of poor trails leading there, but secondly because it was late in the day and this couple was popping up looking unprepared for any kind of night in the wilderness.
They looked slightly more shocked and took a step back as I waved to them. Ah, I forgot, naked girl prancing around behind me.
Marilyn ran over to me and wrapped something around herself. It turned out they lived somewhere nearby, apparently, and hiked in with their kids pretty regularly, they'd set up their tent already just back down the trail a bit. They lingered for a few minutes, but then somewhat awkwardly made their way back down, we didn't see them again.
After some waiting we managed to get our next ride in a minivan to Carmel. We chowed down there and contemplated our next move, it was getting later and we also didn't have the option of staying with Marilyn's friend in Monterey again.
We stuck our thumbs out to see what would happen, this eventually a resulted in a ride indeed heading to Monterey. Both of us being tired and with daylight at a premium, we sucked it up and found the cheapest possible motel and got dropped off there to have an easy going night and much needed showers.
Refreshed, the next day we'd begin our trip back north. We got to hitchhiking, first with a ride from a student, then a traveling couple up to Santa Cruz, then a guy proud of his fully electric car to San Jose.
Once there we were confronted with a taxi that stopped for us, Marilyn waited as I ran up to explain to the driver we were hitchhiking, not trying to hail a cab. Like what's happened in the past, the guy offered to give us a free ride anyway, he was heading to the airport.
He dropped us off by the entrance where we landed a similar ride, except this time from an Uber driver who was pretty awesome, he dropped us off in San Francisco directly in front of Marilyn's friend's building.
We spent the night and the next day there, drinking plenty of great beer as her friends were also into the scene and knew some good spots. We also got to go to a nerdy BBQ at her friend's warehouse, he was involved in a 3D printing startup and other startups were also in the building working on different cool projects.
It was a pretty good adventure all together, plenty of great beer and hiking and the surprise of wine infused into the whole thing. The next day, however, would be the start of the fruition of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp, I couldn't have been any more excited for this adventure to unfold.
April 6, 2014 to April 18, 2014