There’s a sense of calm that comes with not knowing where you’ll be at the end of the day. I’m referring to the idea of a camping road-trip, something most Californians have looked forward to in their life. Something I live for because California is in my blood, and since I’ve left for England, the past two years have given me the notion that California is one of the best places in the world (perhaps not in your eyes and that’s alright with me).

The stereotypes you hear of what a Californian acts like are about 33% true, but I don’t come from the So-Cal region where the beautiful Baywatch-like beaches, rollerblade-wearing freaks and the typical Hollywood stars are all around. Sure, I was born in Palm Springs, known for the occasional sand storm, but I consider myself from the Nor-Cal regions.

I lived a couple of hours drive from San Francisco and only an hour from South Lake Tahoe, a place where you go jet-skiing in summer and skiing in winter. In order to explain then what California is all about, I’ll be discussing throughout this article a memorable road trip involving a friend, a dog, a car called Buna, and a deteriorating road map.

Summer of 2016, a month in California would be my time, dedicated to visiting friends as well as grabbing the family beagle to ship back to England. I still had my car Buna, a 1990 Geo Metro made by Chevy with two racing stripes straight down the middle… Even with the additional speed they gave her, max was 90 mph (140 kph), and it shook at the 80 mph mark. A mate from high school, Ralph (pronounced “Rafe” just to clarify on his behalf) was at Pacific Union College in Napa, California. The decision had been made and, along with my dog Maggie, the road trip up the northern strip of Highway 1 was a go.

Take off from Ralph’s university started late, Buna was putting along and weaving through the forest of trees that encompassed the highway to Bodega Bay, our first stop (or so we presumed), and it took some time to trace out where we were on the road-atlas since the single interior light in Buna had been shot. After arrival, in search of an open campground, being turned away and getting pulled over by the cops (first of two), we left Bodega behind and tried our luck just north of it.

The thing about the States is that there’s a lot of campgrounds, especially in ‘Cali’, and someplace called Woodside Campground was where we found the best of luck. The next day, the first official day of the trip, gave us optimism. Only 30 minutes from a small private beach, sun shining, my dog ran about in the sand as Ralph tried to scale some boulders.

Afterwards, our drive further north started back up, hoping to get to our next unknown spot with some time to cook food while the daylight was still perching over the ocean horizon. We passed through Fort Bragg, a place of hillbillies, and some other small towns unbeknownst to us, and then . . . we finally found it. Our campsite was right on the cliffs, the Pacific Ocean in front of us and Highway 1 to our backs. It was official: our trip had reached its peak. Sure we turned down a strange older gentleman who offered us red wine and his company, but nothing can take away the realisation that California never had to try to be better. It was already the best.

The next two nights didn’t fail to disappoint either. The first spot, Humboldt County, was something my mother describes as a place that consists of pot-smokers and people who bathe their children in creeks, to which we saw none of upon arrival. It is the home of the Redwood forest, containing some of the tallest trees in the world and overall serene nature. We set up camp, had a couple of cans of chilli (veggie for myself), and crashed back in the tent.

The end was soon to come, for the following morning, out of spontaneity, Santa Cruz became our final destination. Since our blood was pumping, I ended up going 30 mph over the speed limit when leaving Humboldt and passed another cop on the way out (he pulled us over, don’t worry).

Santa Cruz is known as a place with good waves, great beaches, a solid surfboarding community and quite a few bodacious babes (scratch that, that’s sexist and cringey). The drive there though was perilous, as we cut through the densest fog after passing by San Francisco (Bay Area as we call it), and from this point, it was all about the comedown from quite a memorable trip.

After having some adventures in my home state last summer, being able to camp, getting pulled over, and even watching my dog sneeze in Ralph’s mouth, it became a story worth telling. Keeping in mind that this trip (as well as  having no Sun in England) caused me to see California in a whole new light, I can only say that where I come from is not something I’m just proud of but will always be drawn back to (mainly because I’ve got some of the best people to visit). When visiting California, you don’t need a plan or certain monuments you’ve got to check off your bucket list, but the sole prerequisite is the true desire to just find something different and surprising. California has something for everyone, be it SoCal, NorCal, or somewhere in the middle, it’s a home state anyone would be proud to originate from.

Matthew Johnson

Images by Matthew Johnson

Home Run is the latest addition to Impact’s Travel Section, aiming to explore the diverse backgrounds of students at UoN. Presented by locals, get to know stunning cities and hidden gems to inspire you to travel a little further out – don’t forget to add your own beloved home to the series.

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1 Comment

  1. Rui Almeida
    May 4, 2017 at 16:47 — Reply

    Sounds v cool Matt, can’t wait to pass my driving test and come to Cali with you 👬

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