Waiting for the Knock on the Door

Stealth camping
Stealth camping, San Luis Obispo, CA

One of the few times (to me) in van life that’s on the margin is stealth parking on an urban street in hopes of getting a quiet sleep for the night. In California it is far more difficult than any state I visited to do this. Most of the usual choices for a night stopover when driving through somewhere (WalMart, restaurants, quiet residential streets, e.g.) are prohibited here by laws and fines with lots of posted signs, a ridiculous about of signs even on highways well beyond city limits.

In some places where I see numerous run-down RVs parked and obviously camped out for much more than one night despite the signs, I drive on. I always prefer places populated by active van lifers and RVers than those living in a parked RV. Thankfully, due to some apps I use, I can often locate places like the photo above from last night, places where someone’s posted a review of a successful knock-less night. But sometimes those places don’t pass my inner comfort critic, so I move on to something similar nearby.

Last night was an alternate spot, and a restless evening somewhat from outside noises but certainly from 1 a.m. brightly colored flashing lights. I can fully black out VanGeist where even if I have inside lights on, you cannot see in from the outside. Plus, my van more resembles a working trade van than an actual RV (partly from Winnebago’s design but mostly from my outside modifications for this generic look).

As I peeked out the back window through the smallest unzippered slit in the window cover I could make, I saw a commotion won the short block a bit. Two officers where shining flashlights over and in two darkened parked cars. After a few minutes, they got in their car and drove exactly one car length further on my side of the street, got out, and knocked on a car’s window. The occupant responded and was greeted by ”Get out of the car,” yet I could hear him say ”I thought it was okay to park here overnight.” More mumbling, more flashlights, but soon the car’s occupant went back inside and the police drove past me to the corner and turned at the next street.

I do not think they were cleansing the street of vehicles with people sleeping in them. Seemed more like they were looking for someone or something specific. I spent the rest of the night restless, tensing a bit when any vehicle passed by, wondering if they would stop and I would get the knock on the door. But night passed, and in the early dawn hot coffee with a breakfast burrito from just around the corner rewarded my perseverance to hang in there for the night.

This was the closest I came to a knock on the door in the middle of the night in well over two years of van traveling and street camping. I am doing more of that this Van Life 2.0 in VanGeist than I did in my Travato in 2019. So far, I have learned a lot about picking locations, watching for signs whether a spot is viable and above all, cultivating an inner sense to stay or go. Cool thing about being in a van is if the vibe is off or you feel uncomfortable even if not knowing why, you simply drive on to somewhere else.

Sometimes in life we seem stuck in a tensed state, metaphorically waiting for that knock on the door. Whether it is our internal mental fear generator that takes a few coincidences and weaves together an angst-riddled false conclusion or a series of body pains that tips our mind over into dark places, it is often difficult to break free from, or logically dispel, these phantom threats.

Being someone who worked through anxieties decades ago, part of what helped me was a cartoon I kept on my refrigerator. One person is seated, and other standing at a large wall graph with a pointer. The graph is a huge, jagged bell curve which she points to near the top of the curve and states ”This is what we worry about.” Then she points to the end of the bell curve where the line barely is above the base axis and says “And this is what we worry about that actually happens.” Something to thing about next time the worry gremlins tap you on the shoulder and want to get in.

Worth It

Rincon Beach - beachside 2

As I thought about driving the California coast from south to north, I hoped I could find places to camp for the night along the ocean. Sounds of relentless surf are so soothing and grounding yet not always easy to find such a place to overnight in a van.

In the wee hours before dawn today I left Los Angeles driving in a low fog that became a dreary, smoggy, chilly morning. Driving through Topanga Canyon was fun but would have been visually stunning had the fog surrendered to the sun, but Sol never made much effort to give me a good view of the hills and canyons. Fortunately, once on the coast and with some morning hours to burn off the fog and miles to churn heading north up the coast, the day turned to blue skies and sunshine.

While I may have more chances along the western Pacific coast all the way to Washington, yesterday I stumbled upon the RV fee parking at Rincon Beach near Ventura. This stretch of Pacific Coast Highway 1 is clearly quite popular since there were only two spots left unclaimed. Most days I overnight at free spots or sometimes a National Forest or other federal land where the camping fees are low. I avoid RV parks and rarely visit state parks, but today I decided this spot was totally worth it. Going online to pay what by California standards is an average fee, turned out to be two to three times more than I have paid for a camp site for one night.

Settling in shortly after 1 p.m., knowing I would have a whole afternoon enjoying sunshine, sounds of the surf, and time wandering the beach and playing tag with incoming waves helped muffle my inner critic’s whine ”Did you really just pay $44 for a one night camp site?” I lost that game of beach tag when a faster-than-I-was incoming wave spread over my feet with the shock of the cold Pacific Ocean awakening an ”Oh yeah, I forgot about that” memory jolt.

Since I looked out west over the ocean, I was hoping for a glorious sunset to close out my afternoon camping by the beach. While any sunset over water is beautiful, yesterday’s lack of clouds at sundown made for a simple evening light show. Still, did not dampen my serenity from spending a pleasant afternoon watching and listening to cascading waves of surf and sound. And as you might imagine, I slept like a baby last night with that lullaby in my ears.

Los Angeles Panoramic Splendor (Despite the Intense Smog)

Smog? Um, yeah
Smog? Um, yeah

Wow. Nothing shocks one quite like taking the beautiful, winding drive up to Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA, only to stand at the top for the amazing panoramic view of…intense smog. I had heard that during the early months of the pandemic shutdown the smog around LA cleared up! I can only imagine how beautiful these views would have been back then.

Despite that, Griffith Park is an amazing place. May linger another day just to explore it more and time to wander through Laurel Canyon and some other significant spots I recall from way back in my semi-hippie days. For now, this brief taste of the views, hills, and canyons around the observatory will have to do.

I took the drive up intending to stop and wander on foot, but all the parking around the observatory was $10 an hour, so wasn’t doing that. I did stay a little while in my illegal parking spot, but only about 10 minutes. On my drive down, however, I came across a large, free public parking area with several trailheads. So I parked and took a nice two-mile hike (half constantly up hill, the way back constantly down hill). Ironically, the hike led up to…the observatory! So got to spend more time there after all.

Early morning at the Griffith Observatory
Early morning at the Griffith Observatory

Killing Time, California Style

Yesterday I had some time to kill waiting on an Amazon email telling me my two Amazon Locker packages were ready for pick up. So I did what apparently most Californians do when killing time or getting out in the sun on a Sunday: head to the beach.

I first drove to Newport Beach, thinking via the Google Maps view I could find a place to park and gaze out over the ocean. Nope. Massive amount of people and crammed together houses and zero parking near the beach. Going to Google Maps again, with a new, discerning eye, I headed out Pacific Coast Highway #1 and stopped at Huntington State Beach. Had to pay $15 entrance fee (am learning you have to pay for almost everything you do in California to somebody), but it did give me a chance to dump trash, recycling, and empty my onboard #1 guy bottles (if you don’t get that code, don’t ask!).

Nice beach, with lots of locals out bicycling and wandering about. NOT crowded (that’s almost worth the admission price) and able to park VanGeist sideways so I could sit and look out the slider door. Cool stuff.

Enjoy the photo gallery below of the various scenes, especially notable being the fleet of sitting cargo ships up and down the shore. No doubt part of the massive fleet of stalled deliveries off the west coast. Hard to photograph, but they extended almost as far down the beach as I could see. I’m sure those unavailable black rims I’ve wanted for the van tires are probably in one of those containers on one of those ships and been there for months!

Illuminating the Shadows of Memory

This post may not interest most of you, since it is about visiting a real place lodged in my memories from 60+ years ago. If one is fortunate, an opportunity may arise to revisit such places and illuminate the shadows of memory.

I am in California for probably the next several weeks. I started off on October 25th in San Diego to complete some amazing van upgrades at Landed Gear. From there, plan is to wander up the coast, stopping to see sights and visit old friends, new friends, and online friends not met face-to-face yet. This trip is also one of nature immersion, since California is one amazing state when it comes to natural beauty and million-dollar views (and Oregon and Washington coming after California). 

I am still enduring the shock of California’s over-populated everything and over-vehicled roads. It is a place where anything and everything is available, and no doubt the birthplace of many creative and technological wonders. But these days of dealing with the mass of humanity has me yearning to go hide in nature. Fortunately, on November 2nd I will begin such solace by slowly wandering up the Pacific Coast Highway going north. 

Ironically, I am a native Californian, born in Coronado (San Diego) while my father was in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier. I lived here probably six months after birth, so clearly not writing about those memories! But we returned when I was 5 through 6 years old, and lived in two San Diego area houses. It is fair to say some of my earliest memories are from these places and still live in me all these years later. 

I have vivid memories of the Claremont house especially, playing with my little cars and trucks in the flower bed, and sliding down the hill behind it, overgrown with what we called “pickleweed” (found some this trip and through a plant identification app discovered its name is blue chopsticks). Over the many years since, I have lost track of how often I searched for what that plant was, or to find anyone else who had fun sliding down atop a cardboard ”sled” (when the plant’s pickle- or french-fry-shaped leaves break, the liquid inside is super slick).

Human memory, of course, play tricks over the years regarding the accuracy of remembered events and places. But thanks to my father, who wrote a family history book and included the address of every place we had lived (and to my sister in Florida who looked up the addresses for me while I was in San Diego), I was able to Google Maps my way there. Would I have recognized these two merely by driving by? Probably not, although the Point Loma house looks nearly identical to memories of it, yet the Claremont house was harder to connect, having a more radical makeover and vegetation change than remembered. To add to the verification, I remembered the elementary school was three blocks away. I turned the van around in the direction of that memory, and in three blocks there stood the school.

It was a bittersweet moment revisiting these two house. Remembering fond times of youth in the presence of a real place puts a wry smile on one’s face. But bittersweet realization quickly follows of how long ago those times were. Still odd though, that in this recapture of two places in my life, the memory-painted “picture” is surprisingly faithful to the actual places.