Part 2: SLO, San Simeon, and Morro Bay
Have you driven Highway One from Pacific Grove to San Simeon? If so, congratulations! You survived. If not, well, it is a twisty road, and it is a high road—think airplane high, above the clouds at times, and think sheer drops to rocks and the sea impossibly far below. And guardrails? Well, apparently they installed some in 2012, but there are stretches with nothing between you, your 1966 VW Bus, and certain death. Now add falling rocks! And large RVs rounding corners as oncoming traffic! And middle aged men driving fast cars with something to prove. Oh, and don’t forget wind! The Bus is a box kite. There are these “road curves” signs, a graphic of a winding road every few miles to remind you that this is a winding road in case you missed that, making me think the road sign crew for Highway One has a twisted sense of humor (pun intended). We avoided this part of the 1 on our trip to get the Bus, but we had traversed part of it on a camping trip to San Simeon, so we were confident. Well, Robert was confident, but I was a little nervous, and even though I have driven the 1 on worse stretches (Sonoma Coast outside Jenner being one), for some reason I had a cumulative attack of the vapors this time. So there we were, clinging to the side of a cliff above the sea, me freaking out (quietly, of course), and trying to joke about the falling rocks (at least there were no cows—the part in Sonoma has cows).
And then some asshole in a big truck forced us off the road because he wanted to go faster, and we pulled out at speed, onto uneven ground, and there was a terrible noise under the Bus. Correlation is not causation, but I thought something had gone wrong, and sure enough, the Bus started making a weird noise. “It’s the pressure plate,” Robert said, having recently gone through replacing that. I thought it was the speed with which we left the road. Once we were almost done with Highway 1, the Bus was making all kinds of strange noises, and in Ragged Point he refused to go into first gear.
Let the panic begin! We drove on down the mountain and into the flats, panicking with no cell service. In San Simeon Robert saw another red Bus, hopped out to see if that person might be able to help, and discovered it was the lady we know from South Pasadena, who could not help. Then we called Eric the mechanic, and he told us to get it to a shop. So we started calling shops: nothing in Cambria or Morro Bay, and some folks in San Luis Obispo told us to call Broad Street but we probably wouldn’t get in.
It was 2:30 pm on a Friday, and thus began a harrowing drive past San Simeon, Cambria, and into SLO. The guys at Broad street said to come by, but they closed at 5:30, and they were closed on the weekend. Right on Higuera, left on Broad, left on Orcutt, left on Duncan. Once we pulled in I knew we were in the right place. We have been counting VW busses on the trip, and suddenly we were in a lot with busses of all ages and vintages, and bugs, a squareback, Karmen Ghias, and some random trucks and RVs. Robert rushed into the office like a parent with a sick child entering the emergency room, and I settled down to read The Next Tsunami. “Is that the van with the bad clutch?” a man asked, and I nodded.
Soon Robert was chatting with Jonathan while he pulled the engine and agreed that the pressure plate was bad. After a stressful wait, they lowered the Bus back to planet Earth, but he was still making terrible noises. Jonathan told us it was likely our operating fork, a repair we had made some years ago by a less than stellar mechanic, but Jonathan had no time to pull the engine again and repair it—it was his anniversary, and he had to leave by 5:30, but he said if Robert could drive without using the last third of the clutch and hyperextending it, we should be able to get home. Wow.
I guess you haven’t really had a road trip of any kind unless you’ve broken down. I remember losing an ignition on my Volvo in Flagstaff once, and our old Accord had an ignition problem in Mendocino once, but this was different. Part of it is just the stress: I was stressed before this trip, then I got sick and stressed about that, then this happened. Also, while we were waiting on the repair we called the campground to let them know we would be late…only to discover our reservations never went through, so we were busted flat and homeless. But thanks to Jonathan and the good folks at Broad Street VPA Westy-works.com, we were limping on the road.
Should we head for home? The sun was setting…and we were frazzled. Should we try to see if a campsite was available? We decided to try, and the Bus whistled all the way back to San Simeon State Park, but there were no campsites. Thankfully the San Simeon Lodge had a room next to some nice bikers and a Steve Bannon lookalike, but we were so happy to be there. I wrote last night’s blog and read aloud from the Tsunami book (it is amazing! You should read it!) and Robert read How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures by John Muir, the 74’ edition, or as every person who ever talks to us about the Bus refers to it, “the book,” as in “Do you have the book?” No, not the Bible, but John Muir. Robert is re-reading it, and apparently this time it makes more sense.
And maybe that should have been it, the end of the trip, but we wanted to have a little time to recover before we made the trek home, fingers crossed. So we went to Cambria, saw the lawn bowling tournament, bought some food at True Earth, and had lunch at Moonstone beach.
The tide and wind were high, so no tide pooling, but we did get to go to my favorite bead store in Morro Bay, and we will head for home “bright and ugly,” as our friend Jim would say, tomorrow. We are both thankful for Jonathan, the Bus, and for our family and friends, and while this may not have been the most relaxing trip ever it has certainly been an adventure with the Bus.
There will be some more posts (Highway pictures, Tucker!, and fire and drought when I get back to LA, and also an update assuming we make it back to LA (or, hopefully not, the story of towing a 1966 VW Bus 200 miles because we have that kind of Triple AAA)…but it feels good to be going home to Puppers and the house and all the people we miss, but also like the end of all journeys, a little sad. Just as I am at the end of every trip, I am already planning the next one: September is our wedding anniversary, and a camping trip would be a great present!