Van Go: West Coast Winging It (Part Two)
By Julie Snyder
After the 10-plus-hour drive from Portland to the Bay Area that launched our trip (read Part One here), Joe suggested that we limit driving to no more than five hours a day. I’m a road warrior, and with a bed in the back of Van Go, long trips with shared driving seem civilized. In a gesture of marital compromise, I agreed with the new plan.
Which is how, from Santa Cruz, we ended up in Mendocino. We have always been fond of the town, but Covid had claimed some of its carefree charms. Pandemic protocol translated into limited dining options, long lines for outdoor tables, and food delivered in takeout containers. We felt lucky to be on the road but couldn’t help longing for former freedoms.
The Mendocino Hotel & Suites was a disappointment. Our cottage was musty, and neither the internet nor heater worked (coastal nights are chilly!) We retrieved our bedding bag from Van Go and were toasty beneath our down duvet. In the morning, a windy walk along the cliffs in the sunshine and waffles on the patio of Good Life Café and Bakery sent us off smiling.
We had again eyed a remote campground, this time on California’s wild and desolate Lost Coast. But online reports of rough roads deterred us. A Winnebago conversion, Van Go features less undercarriage clearance than its cool cousin, the Westfalia. Better to be safe than stuck on the side of the road, we thought.
Instead, we overnighted in architecturally awesome Ferndale, a picture-postcard hamlet that boasts over two hundred original Victorian buildings in its town center. Our walking tour of Main Street revealed a crazy quilt of multi-hued structures housing local arts, vintage treasures, and hand-crafted ice cream. When coffee called, we discovered Mind’s Eye, a coffeehouse street side that fronts a “manufactory” for True North Boats and other crafty pursuits.
Our hotel, the comfortable Redwood Suites, is a sister property to the resplendent Victorian Inn anchoring a corner of Main Street. The latter’s high-ceiling VI Restaurant was as bustling as a dining establishment under Covid controls can be. Dinner was delicious, but it was the decadent cloud of butterscotch pudding that was swoon-worthy.
Our route north curved through ancient redwood forests and along lonely beaches. A few hours on, Oregon welcomed us home. Though we’d driven this same coast a decade earlier, it still seemed unfamiliar. How could we have forgotten those glorious dunes and coast-hugging forests? We hadn’t forgotten about Gold Beach and its namesake bookstore with a whopping 75,000-book inventory.
While browsing, we learned about the Great Book Giveaway launched by the quartet of sisters who own the shop. In the first weeks of the pandemic, they offered to mail a free book to anyone who requested it. The offer went viral, and thousands of requests poured in, nearly crippling the small staff. The giveaway quickly went away but not before satisfying a hoard of hungry readers across the country.
Van Go’s role as our mobile home had gotten short shrift with the flip in our campground-to-hotel ratio. We made up for it on our adventure’s final days at Bullards Bay State Park just north of Bandon. Lazy days with coffee in the sunshine, camp chair reading, afternoon naps, steaks on the grill, and cozy campfires. With the odd burst of energy, we pedaled a mile down the bike path to a dune-fringed beach decorated with a clutter of washed-ashore logs and limbs and inhaled as much ocean air as our lungs could hold.
After breaking camp, we veered inland along the Umpqua River, marveling at a herd of Roosevelt elk grazing in a thousand-acre protected habitat. And then we were homeward bound, just four-and-a-half hours away. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.
We won’t give up on the Grand Canyon. Those rocks will always be there, but our friends may not. “Winging it” reminded us that friendship doesn’t require reservations.
Julie Snyder lives in Portland, Oregon. As a writer, editor and publisher, she’s contributed to a variety of lifestyle, in-flight and travel publications, and produced award-winning catalogs for Backroads travel company. Among her passions are animal welfare, walking, travel and the Green Bay Packers.