Driving through the desert, Day 3: the night I slept like a baby and missed a once in a lifetime photograph

(For a recap of my journey, start on Day 1)

I was pretty tired after my long day out on Carrizo Plain, but of course that didn’t stop me from looking for photo opportunities. Earlier in June I had taken the scenic route to SLO, and I had really wanted to get a picture of oak trees on the rolling pastures of the central coast.  They showed up right at sunset on my way, so I stopped for about 45 minutes for pictures.



After leaving there, I stopped at a farm where a motorcyclist was watching the sunset.  He said he was from “f$*%&@! New Jersey,” but had moved to California 25 years ago.  He was staying in Los Angeles, and one evening he saw his roommates
headed outside with some food and beer.  When he asked where they were going, they replied:  “To sit in the truck and watch the sunset,” they replied. Larry thought to himself “F$*%&@! watch the sunset!  In Jersey no one has 15 minutes  to watch the f$*%&@! sunset”  (all his description). He went with them, watched, and the rest is history.  Now several times a week he drives out to this specific spot to watch the day turn into night.  We stood silently for about 20 minutes, then said goodbye, him back to his ranch and me onward to SLO.


I don’t know what it is about the West, but the sunsets here are spectacular.  Maybe it’s something about the lower humidity and dust in the air, but everywhere I go there are brilliant reds and vibrant purples.  This is true whether you’re inland or not, and after rain they’re especially amazing.  This particularly memorable pic was in Pasadena after a rainstorm last year.

One evening near the equinox. I promise, this has almost no editing, just some minor contrast and sharpening.

Los Angeles has it’s own particular flavor I like to call “orange liqueur.”

Griffith Sunset

After catching the sunset, I finally made it SLO at about 9 pm.  My good friend Melvin, a local resident I met through GCN, was kind enough to wait up for me and have dinner.  The food at La Ventana grill was excellent, but I was about to drop.  I had stayed up until 3 am the night before in the mountains, I felt dirty from my time in the desert, and I was beginning to feel desperate for a place to wash off.  But there was nowhere to go.  Every hotel was booked on the central coast this weekend, campsites were full, and there just wasn’t an option that late at night.  I didn’t even know where I was going to park my car where I wouldn’t get a ticket or disturbed by the police.  I was starting to get a hint of what it might be like not to have a home and actually live in one’s car (just a hint, not trying to compare anything I experienced to actual hardship).  I live in a very particular world that is controlled and regulated.  Outside of that world, I had very little knowledge.

At that point I would have been willing to pay a fair amount for a decent place to stay. I started driving through downtown Pismo Beach: every hotel, even the really seedy ones, were completely booked.  I finally pulled up to an RV park; to my amazement, they had showers, and one of the doors was open.  I looked around, slightly terrified that I might get caught, but no one was up.  Ten minutes later and after some innovative use of paper towels (the only item I forgot to pack for this entire trip was a towel, which officially disqualifies me as a hitchiker).

I am so glad I didn’t find a hotel that night.  Unbeknownst to me, a tropical storm was brewing off the California coast and was in the process of bringing record wet weather to Southern California.  As I slept, it began to rain, and the whole night I was treated to the sound of rain on the roof of the car and crashing surf out the window. Unfortunately, I also have a major regret from that night. I woke up at 4 am to the sound of lightning and thunder.  The biggest thunderstorm to hit the central coast in more than 50 years had arrived during the night.   But I was so groggy that I didn’t fully register what was happening, and though I felt I should get out of bed to take pictures, the thought of rain and deferred sleep convinced me to go back to bed.  I was right next to a picturesque cliff on the beach: imagine the photo below, which I took during the following night’s rainstorm (that had much less lightning) but filled with lightning like in this article.  It’s an opportunity I will probably never have in Southern California again.


Despite the missed opportunity, several important things happened: my car had been transformed from a place of desperation and unfamiliarity into a home. 7 hours listening to gentle rain in a warm sleeping bag will do that for you, and I was glad to have the green roof over my head every night thereafter.  I knew that even if I never found another place to sleep, or another shower, Elphaba would provide a safe place for me to stay.  That was enough for the night.


I took high quality of the audio in the morning during the rain, and I am posting it in case you want it as a sleep aid.

Stay tuned.  The best is yet to come.

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