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November 18, 2018

When I started my travels south yesterday, I had two conflicting priorities (because of course I did): I wanted to see the North Coast of California, and I also wanted to avoid staying in the worst air quality areas for the night.

Much of the state is blanketed in heavy smoke from the Camp fire in Paradise and the Woolsey fire near Malibu. The worst air quality was in the center of the state, around the Bay Area. I would have to run long and hard to make it from faaaar north through the gigantic bad air zone.

Gladis and I started the day in Eureka after a very pleasant Elks Lodge stay:

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

A smoke map of California published in the New York Times

The understated NY Times Map with its pale buff colors doesn’t do the air quality justice, so I will include a more urgent-looking map:

Air quality map of California showing smoke from fires

So I was way the heck up north, wanted to be south of the scary red and purple dots, and wanted to still see the coastline. No problem. I am woman! I am Towanda! I can do it all!

I left by 7 a.m. and hummed down the road, taking a side trip down the Avenue of the Giants, a redwood grove stretching 22 miles parallel to the main highway.

If you have a reverent bone in your body, this place will make you want to fall to your knees and give thanks to God for letting you witness this at least once in your life. If you don’t have that inclination, well, it’s still dang pretty. And quiet. I was the only car on the road due to it being winter and early in the day. The redwoods have a deep and lovely hush.


I reluctantly drove on (after trying to figure out if I could stay there forever) and turned westward to make the connection to California 1 South, which would take me to the ocean.

The first sign said “No RVs over 40 feet” and the second said “Winding Road Next 22 miles.” I actually pulled over and thought for a minute about whether I wanted to continue down this road. I knew the RV sign meant this road was really, truly curvy. Over 40 feet was banned, but I knew even 23 feet would be no picnic. I took a deep breath and put Gladis into drive. Onward. Towanda!

They weren’t kidding. It was hairpins and climbs on top of hairpin descents. I learned a lot about using a lower gear and using the whole road when I could safely do so, flattening out some of the curves by crossing the center line. It was so beautiful, though, redwoods crowding both sides of the road, little creeks, hawks zooming in front of me, tiny towns of 50 to 100 people suddenly appearing out in the middle of it all.

I popped out onto the coast here. I know, right? Worth it!


As I pulled over to take the photos, my brother-in-law called and I told him “I survived.”

Then I got back on the road and about 1 mile later, the sign said “Winding Road Next 16 miles.”

Then 8 miles. Then 11 miles. All the way between arriving on the coast and Mendocino, it was like this. It was a test of my nerves and my driving, and I did it. It was so beautiful that when I could remind myself to breathe and relax and be in the moment, I was brought to tears with gratitude for the journey. Redwoods. Cypresses. Crashing waves. Rocky shores. TWISTY WINDY ROADS.

I eventually got back to the 101 south (after 22 miles on guess what – the twisty windy and narrow CA-128), relieve to be on a real freeway  immediately and encountered a traffic delay. Of course. Sitting stopped in traffic, I flipped on Waze to find “Fire. Four Miles Ahead.” I had tried to escape smoke, and somehow found fire. I bark-laughed. A few minutes later one of the commenters, thankfully, added that the fire was out. Breathe. Drive.

I wanted to make it through the Bay Area, where the traffic is bad and the air was worse, to at least San Jose, where the air was in the red but not purple zone. This meant driving in the dark, something I hadn’t done before. In the shitshow of Silicon Valley, it was as crazy as might be expected.

Do you really NEED to do a sudden four-lane change at 65 mph, ANTHONY? But despite all the people cutting in three inches from my front bumper, I survived! And so did they, somewhat surprisingly! (I only had to brake hard and hear all of the contents of Gladis slide sickeningly forward one time). Towanda!

The San Jose Bass Pro didn’t have RV parking that I could find and the San Jose Elks lodge RV park was dark and creepy, so I gave up and went to the Hampton Inn. You KNOW I love me some Hampton. Ironic considering how in my last post I was trash-talking motels, but that’s God’s sense of humor, isn’t it?

After 12 hours on the road, I ate some leftovers, drank a bottle of water, took an hour-long shower and turned on the sleep meditation app. It was the most gorgeous, tiring, scary, damnable, wonderful day on the road. Smooches to Gladis, who performed like a champ. Towanda! We can do this thing!




  1. November 18, 2018 11:11

    “If you have a reverent bone in your body, this place will make you want to fall to your knees and give thanks to God for letting you witness this at least once in your life.” This describes Avenue of Giants perfectly.

    • November 19, 2018 07:18

      I don’t think there is anything that describes it perfectly or even adequately, but thank you.

  2. Christine Voth permalink
    November 18, 2018 14:32

    Awesome driving! Great story! Towanda!

  3. November 18, 2018 17:35

    Really living all your stories, Sue. Thanks for the entertainment!

  4. Kindra L Roberts permalink
    November 19, 2018 08:04

    I love the story and your Towanda references (on of my all time favorite movies, it hits me in the feels). I am so excited to be reading about your journey and happy you are taking us along. Safe travels and Towanda!!!!

    • November 19, 2018 09:27

      Thank you! I figured some people would get “Towanda!” and others wouldn’t, and that was ok. Thanks, too, for coming along on the journey. It is by far the wackiest thing I have ever done.

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