Summer of Betty 2011 (Part One)

After ending a Memorial Day camping trip in the desert early because of wind and dust and 10,000 caterpillars, John and I decided to look for a small camper. We hit the jackpot with Betty, our 1966 Serro Scotty. Within the month, we embarked on her maiden voyage- a two-week adventure from Utah to the California coast with only one thing on the calendar: a concert in San Francisco on June 24. Until that date, we wandered. I’ve written about that summer in bits and pieces, but never shared the journey in full. As John and I count down the minutes until we hit the road with Betty for another two-week adventure (with no itinerary), I’m feeling nostalgic about that first summer on the road as a couple. Read on.

I should begin by saying that we’d never actually hooked Betty up to John’s truck until the morning we pulled her out of the driveway to head west. Our good luck started there and we were off. This was relatively early in our love affair, even pre-Cholula (can you imagine it?!). As we drove, I jotted thoughts in my journal with a dull pencil and John sang along with Bob Marley. That summer, we’d learn that we travel well together.

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Our first official night camping in Betty was somewhere outside of Cedar City in Southern Utah. We nestled in among red desert cliffs and popped a bottle of celebratory champagne. We began what would become a nightly habit of happy hour, cheese and crackers, music, and dinner prep. We fell into our respective roles easily and our grilled burgers were extra tasty on that inaugural evening on the road.

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Our good luck followed us into Nevada, where we discovered a hidden world in the mountains above Las Vegas. We descended into the heat of the desert again, ventured through Area 51, and landed in Death Valley, California. We braved the 118 degree heat for the gorgeous moonscape view before heading over Walker Pass. We snagged the last campsite just in time for sunset.

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This land is familiar to me; I grew up camping in the Kern River Valley and my grandpa still lives there. We gave him a ring and had an unexpected reunion, complete with one of Gramps’ incomparable bear hugs. I also got to meet his beloved Edie for the first time, and we got to show off Betty. It was John’s first meeting with my grandfather. He’s a tough man with lots of tattoos and stories that will keep you mesmerized for hours. He’s also a big softie at heart- but John didn’t know that. When my grandpa offered John a beer in a gesture of kindness, John wasn’t sure how to respond. After all, it was 9:30am (classic Gramps). Should he accept out of politeness, despite the fact that he’d be driving this tattooed man’s granddaughter down a treacherous canyon in an hour? I still giggle when I think of John’s inner struggle at that moment. In the end, we clinked beers and the men reviewed the map book and our route. Such an unexpected treat.

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We made it safely down the canyon, stopping to observe the raging Kern River, and drove onward toward the coast. Our destination was Four Elements Farm, the home of dear friends and a slice of Heaven in the mountains of California’s central coast. We spent a couple of days with our friends, Ryan and Caroline, and their new baby Kalia. My best friend, Amanda, also drove up for a night. We explored the farm, went wine-tasting, enjoyed epic family-style dinners, and laughed on the beach. Oh- and the shower was a serious bonus.

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We bid adieu to the farm and our friends and rolled on, turning north up the coast. When something looked interesting, we stopped. We visited a big pod of fat sea lions. We walked down to Sand Dollar Beach and watched surfers. We ate clam chowder at a random café on the side of the road. The drive from Cayucos to Big Sur is stunning and full of photo ops; we got caught up in our day and ended up rolling into crowded Big Sur without a place to stay in the middle of June at around 5pm. Whoops.

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We thought our luck had run out, but then we found the Adventure Tent at Fernwood Campground- our first “glamping” experience. We pulled Betty right up to the canvas tent, poured our cocktails, and clinked a plastic glass to the redwoods above us. Before dinner, we went for a stroll, pausing to hug a majestic tree or two. We were thankful for the extra blankets in the tent because John couldn’t keep the wood stove burning! Fernwood even had hot showers. Heaven! (Read more about the Adventure Tent here.)

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We continued north on Highway 1 the next day, stopping to explore and wishing there was less fog. We stopped in Carmel for a perfectly lovely lunch (complete with local wine), paused to watch kite surfers in the waves, and spent the afternoon wandering through the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The magical jellyfish and seahorses were our favorites. We parked our cottage-on-wheels at Floras Lake, where John planned to take wind-surfing lessons… but the wind died completely, so we left earlier than planned. We found a better spot at Costanoa Resort and spent a day hiking along the ocean.

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The next day, after stopping at Half Moon Bay for a picnic lunch, we drove Betty over the Golden Gate bridge and through the narrow city streets of San Francisco. We met up with our old friend, Whit, and joined him and his beautiful family at their home in Point Reyes in West Marin for a few days. Whit and Lazuli are one of those couples that John and I hope to emulate, and their boys (Ozzie and Huck) adore John. Their home overlooks Tomales Bay and Betty tucked right into their driveway for our stay.

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On the day of the My Morning Jacket concert, another old friend (Turner) took us out on his boat. I’ve never gone that fast in a boat that small on waves that big- I had bruises on my booty for days, but laughed the whole time. We sipped (many) drinks in the sunshine before meeting up with still more friends for dinner before the show. The concert itself was incredible, and afterward, we ended up partying with the band in the private bar below the Fox Theater called the “Fox Hole.” That night was one for the books. (The hangover was also legendary. Don’t ask about the long, windy drive in the back seat of Whit’s Prius on the way back to Marin.)

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Our trip was coming to a close. We spent the last day or two in Point Reyes at the beach with the kids, out to scrumptious meals (complete with local oysters), sipping cocktails at one of my favorite bars, and soaking up the time with dear friends. It was the perfect way to end what had been a perfect trip.

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Our plan to get home was to bee-line it across the desert in 2 days. On the morning of our departure, Whit casually mentioned that Betty’s spare tire was flat. We made it through the last pretty part of the drive (Tahoe) and picked up a tasty In N’ Out burger before hitting the Nevada desert mid-day. I think I said something like, “What a horrible place to get stuck- I hope we don’t get a flat.” BOOM! It was as if I brought the blow-out upon us. We hovered in the shade from Betty on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere until a gentleman from AAA helped us enough to limp into the desolate town of Lovelock, Nevada. After nixing just about every motel in town as we drove by, we settled on one that didn’t have ex-convicts drinking 40s of beer on broken folding chairs in the parking lot. John opened a bottle of wine in our circa 1981 motel room and we laughed at our situation… what else could we do? We dined on plastic plates at the local casino (slots only), had fixed Betty properly in the morning, and headed home. (Read more about the mis-adventure here.)

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We cheered with joy at the “Welcome to Utah” sign. We’d seen and experienced so much together over the two-week trip, and were definitely more in love than before we left. It was a vacation to remember, and I’ve shared just a fraction of the photos I took! We’d had an incredible trip, but it was time to be home.

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At least for two months, before we hit the road again that August! Stay tuned for Part Two of the Summer of Betty 2011.

More of our adventures can be found on the TRAVEL BLISS page

Beautiful Betty

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