Traveling and getting lost in my own backyard: California coast day trip

“The beauty of travel is allowing things to happen.” — Alex Ayling, vagabrothers

On a Monday in February, I took the day off work and ventured north with one of my good friends — and former Bay Area housemates — Nicole. We’d planned to spend the day together and coordinated our schedules to make it happen, but other than that, we hit the road with zero plans, open minds and a hodgepodge of books, journals, cameras, blankets, sunscreen and snacks — everything one needs for a solid road trip.

Throughout our daylong journey, we stumbled upon a backcountry road that made us feel as though we were driving through the lush, rolling Irish countryside; basked in the warmth of the day and the salty air along the Russian River outside a cafe in tiny, quirky Jenner; spontaneously turned off Highway 1 when we saw a sign for a winery; photographed some friendly horses at a farm along the coast; did an impromptu wine tasting in the middle of the woods in a barn-like tasting room overlooking the surrounding hills and, off in the distance, the Pacific Ocean; took advantage of golden hour to snap some photos; and from cliffs above the frothy ocean at Fort Ross, which we had all to ourselves, watched the sun work its final moments of magic that day.

None of this was planned; it just happened. We let the day unfold as we ventured along, and it turned out to be a day I’ll never forget, one of my favorites since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area nearly three years ago.

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Making new friends north of Jenner, California. Photo: Nicole Veloso

Exploring new places, deepening a friendship
Getting lost with a really good friend, and fellow creator, was the absolute best part of that day and a memory I’ll treasure for years to come. Neither of us had explored this section of Highway 1 before, so we spent the day discovering new places together. We not only got lost in places; we also got lost in conversation.

As we drove out of Berkeley, we started talking and never really stopped. We caught one another up on family, friends, work, life and seemingly everything in between. Serious conversations, funny conversations, conversations of hopes, dreams and plans. It was a real, honest, relaxing, adventurous day — a day that allowed us to connect in new, meaningful ways.

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Photo: Nicole Veloso

Letting life happen, feeling a world away
We left Berkeley around noon, drove over the Richmond Bridge and continued northwest toward Highway 1. The morning had been overcast in the Bay Area, but as we drove, the fog retreated, leaving behind a clear, blue-sky day. On 101 North, after we’d been driving, talking and listening to music for a while, Nicole checked Google Maps. South of Petaluma, we pulled off the highway and took a small, backcountry road to the coast.

The green hills, farm animals, cobblestone walls, rural houses and winding two-lane road made it feel as if we were driving through scenes in “P.S. I Love You.” We were just an hour or so from San Francisco, and it didn’t even feel like we were in California. It felt as though we were halfway around the world. This day was an escape, a breath of fresh air.

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Photo: Nicole Veloso

Stumbling upon a bucket list item
That afternoon we happened upon Jenner, a town Nicole had wanted to visit since she discovered and started following a photographer who often captures images there a few years ago. Coming from the congested Bay Area, the simplicity and charm of Jenner intrigued us. After passing through town — really just a gas station, cafe, post office and restaurant and lodge — in a matter of minutes and climbing to the top of a hill, we turned around, drove back down and spent an hour or so there.

I gassed up my car while Nicole bought some postcards inside the gas station — where the woman behind the counter later gave her a postage stamp and told her not to worry about paying for it.

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An empty Pacific Coast Highway on a Monday afternoon in Jenner, California.

We crossed Highway 1, Nicole bought a cup of tea inside the local cafe and we took in the world from two adirondack chairs overlooking the Russian River. As we talked, Nicole wrote a postcard to her boyfriend. We saw some paragliders taking off from the bluffs south of the river and watched kayakers head inland on wind-tickled water. Little black birds hopped around our feet, searching for scraps of food we didn’t have. It was a warm, peaceful moment. Our afternoon was full of them.

The beauty of spontaneity
There’s something about hitting the open road with no plans. There’s something better about hitting the open road with a good friend, no plans and discovering the world as you go.

Nicole and I lived together the first year we both lived in Berkeley, and since then — or rather since June 2015 — this was the first time in a long time we’d really connected on a deeper level. We just hadn’t spent quality time together in a while. I think setting aside the time, getting out of town and exploring new places together — removing the distractions of daily routines and everything we’re used to — really set us up for that.

My day with Nicole was a lovely reminder that life’s greatest adventures can happen right in our own backyard, no matter where we live. It doesn’t take months of planning — or any planning, for that matter — expensive tickets or international locations to create unforgettable experiences. Sometimes, you can simply walk out your front door and see where the day takes you.

On that Monday in February, I enjoyed spending time with a beautiful friend, inside and out, taking in new towns and vistas along the California coast. That day was a special one. It reminds me that, like a good road trip, our friendship continues to blossom in new, unexpected ways all the time and that it’s important to get lost every once in awhile to see where the road takes you.

Photo: Nicole Veloso
West Coast sunset on the Pacific at Fort Ross. Photo: Nicole Veloso

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