Beauty and the Stress

My friend Whit shared a NYT article with me yesterday about the contrast between the shiny social media portrayal of #VanLife and the sometimes-miserable day-to-day reality of constant life and travel in such a small space.

You guys know this is a multi-layered theme for me here. It’s easy to make fun of the trendy Vanlifers, but the realities are similar for anyone living fulltime on the road. There’s both the projected and the true beauty this lifestyle provides, and there are stressful, non-photographed aspects and incidents. I try to portray a realistic mix of both here, and, man has this week had both.

The Beauty

For us on this leg of our journey, it’s a new week, a new California state park on the beach.

We drove up a gorgeous stretch of California 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, to get here, pulling over at a view point for lunch inside our own home (love that), then going for a short walk along the coast (we’re on that walk, above).

San Simeon Beach

We’re camped at San Simeon State Park, a little south of Hearst Castle. Like last week’s state park campground, this one leads to its own beach (under that gorgeous tree) and has its own hiking trails through the hills.

The beach here is flatter, without cliffs to break the wind, so people have built lean-tos out of the massive amounts of dead tree trunks and limbs scattered on the beach. I can’t find online why they’re here (they’re not your average driftwood), so I’ll ask our neighbor who’s a local and report back.

They look like post-apocalyptic housing, but they block the wind and make sitting on the beach possible.

Sunset behind the ocean is still startling to me; my sense of direction is based on the Atlantic to the east from my previous life.

Campground Hike

Trails from the campgrounds lead through Monterey Pines; they once covered California but survive now in only five stands. Oddly not pictured here!

Everywhere is this lovely ground-cover flower called an ice plant (Delosperma); it looks like Gerber daisies growing from succulents. Apparently it’s an invasive species.

Cambria Preserve Hike

The nearby village of Cambria (I think when you’re rich you can arrange for your town to be called a village) has a 400-acre preserve stretching from the Pacific through fields to Highway 1, then into the pine forest to the east.

From cliff tops, we watched sea otters rest on their backs, plus seals swimming through the surf and sea lions basking on rocks. Like the ocean sunset, I find these animals to be fantastic.

The trails are dotted with giant benches (funded by private donors) that have been built from the same apocolypse-like wood on the beaches near us but make you feel more like Alice in Wonderland. Each one is a work of art.

The neighborhood is lovely, with old cottages up against modern beach houses that make the most of the rocky coastal land.

What I Don’t Have Photos Of

  1. The new foot-long tear in the roof of our beloved tent.
  2. Banjo splitting a claw.
  3. Me spilling a beer on my outdoor sofa; it’ll smell of beer forever now.
  4. The propane detector going off in the middle of the night (details below).
  5. A neighbor’s car alarm going off in the middle of the night (a different night).
  6. A closed brewery and an over-priced taco joint (these are bigger blows than they might seem because we go into town for treats so infrequently).
  7. A suicidal vulture slamming into my bike mounted on the truck grill.
  8. Banjo having developed a traumatic response to the propane detector so that she freaks out every time the furnace starts up.
  9. Me losing even more sleep than usual being worried about Banjo crouching on the floor by Tracy’s side of the bed all night.
  10. Tracy having to get up at 4, 5, and 6 am some mornings to book reservations in various provincial parks across Canada for this summer; their reservations system opens on a rolling basis, first thing in the morning at various time zones.

The less sleep I get, the more incompetent I am at nomad-life tasks, and the less sleep Tracy gets, the more he could use a competent partner. Add all of this, and we have stress.

Dastardly Propane Mystery Leads to Banjo’s PTSD

The propane detector alarm has been going off intermittently since before October (for the nighttime adventure that creates, see the end of this post), and the circumstances setting it off are so varied that no one (not Tracy, not an Airstream service center) can figure out what’s up. No detectible leak in the hoses related to the water heater. No detectable leak related to the furnace. The leak alarm goes off about once every six weeks, but the rate is increasing.

So maybe it’s the detector that’s faulty? Tracy bought a new one but didn’t install it because the mystery is still perplexing. Why would the problem be the detector when it doesn’t go off when the propane is off? And there’s no way on God’s Green Earth that we can get an appointment at a service center now, much less leave the trailer there so they can test and retest and retest hoping they happen to do so when the detector randomly goes off. (RV service centers operate assuming you have a house you can live in while they have their have your RV.)

A fun addition here is that Banjo has developed propane-detector-alarm PTDS. It must really hurt her ears, because when it goes off, she tries to get out of the trailer, then retreats to Tracy’s side of the bed. Now, though, she reacts as soon as she hears the furnace kick in, which means she’s jumping up throughout the day and night to run and hide.

We’re working on all of this.

Tracy went ahead and installed the new detector, and we’ve had two whole nights in a row without the alarm. And we’re training Banjo with treats each time the furnace turns on; last night she slept at the foot of the bed instead of shivering by Tracy’s side.

Why We’re Here

To top all this off, the reason Tracy booked this location is not even an option right now. Like the week we spent at Carrizo Plains to see the bloom and there was no bloom, we came here to see Hearst Castle, and the road work leading to it is still underway, so we can’t even get near it.

But look at what we have seen.

The flowers, the seals, the cliffs. Tracy’s added several birds to his list and chatted up an interesting local about the history of the castle. I’ve soaked in the healing sights and sounds and vibe of the beach and squeed at my first-ever sea otter (they really do float on their backs and hold stuff they’re eating on their bellies!).

So, our lovely photos do depict reality, and what I don’t take photos of is probably a little like the stressors you face in your sticks and bricks. Just nomad-style. And not as challenging as some of those Instagram VanLifers, that’s for sure.

9 thoughts to “Beauty and the Stress”

  1. The way to do it Shelly, is to exchange the propane-detector-alarm first off, and test the old propane-detector-alarm at a service center, without the whole wagon setup you live. Alarms do malfunction and sometimes you ar better of without them, comparing stress having them and stress without.
    Anyway, where you are traveling now up to San Francisco, I guess, Marianne and I rented a red Ford Mustang convertible and drove the coast down to LA Santa Monica to awhich was a treat.
    So don’t stress, enjoy the ride.

    1. That’s a very good idea! And I can easily imagine you two on that convertible cruise trip. Love it.

    2. Poor Pup.I can relate. There’s a decent sized RB service center here. Maybe they…or a propane Co can test your. alarm. And maybe my rug cleaner can help with the beer smell. Good post.

      1. Thanks for the suggestions – the sofa amazingly does not smell like beer by now, and no detector beeping so far. Fingers crossed!

  2. It’s funny that the Monterey pine is rare there now because it’s literally a weed in places here because it’s the main forestry tree and they escape and grow all sorts of places they shouldn’t! We also have that ice plant. I guess we *are* pretty similar to California climatically. Weirdly we also have lots of another endangered Californian tree, the Monterey cypress which we call Macrocarpa. I looked it up and Wikipedia says it only exists in “two small relict populations near Carmel, California, at Cypress Point in Pebble Beach and at Point Lobos”. Not sure if that’s anywhere near you? It really is a gorgeous area, you can see why so many people want live there! And your comment about the sun setting over the sea being weird really hit me because that’s the way it always is anywhere I’ve been but of course I haven’t seen the Atlantic coast so it never occurred to me it would be the other way around 😄

    1. I think that’s so Trimble-like for us both to think of the orientation of the sun to the ocean as only one way. And yep, we’re going to those places, yay!

  3. I was going to suggest shaving cream for the beer stains…works on spillerpolled bing water…. um, or so I hear…. Sorry hear about your stressed pooch.