The Pacific Coast Highway | LA to El Capitan

Dave’s car packed in Redondo beach, camping gear in tow and without much of a plan, I set off up the Pacific Coast Highway to go and meet Dave in San Jose, with four days to get there. There’s no dressing it up, the drive out of Los Angeles was hair raising. Without the Sat Nav I would have been stuffed, with it I was still half stuffed, because I just couldn’t get the audio to work on it. So while I was trying to get my head around driving on a ten lane freeway, five lanes either side with this strange carpool thing in the outside lane, the only thing I could do was take the occasional glance at the phone with the map on it to see if I was going the right way or not. If I wasn’t then I was also stuffed! On the freeway I had traffic over taking and undertaking and coming at me from what felt like all directions. I felt like ducking at times, as daft as that might sound. The speed limit on the freeway in California is 65mph. In England 80mph feels slow to me, but in America 65mph feels like you’re pedal to the metal and having a virtual reality session on Grand Torino. I felt like I was ducking and diving, swerving, avoiding obstacles (cars, with big wheels) and trying not to crash, game over. I hit a mountain of traffic on the freeway and sat trundling along in a jam for a while, this was quite nice because I got to give my hands a rest from gripping, white knuckle on the steering wheel. After I finally got off the freeway and onto the Pacific Coast Highway north, I hit another bottleneck and sat in traffic for an hour around Santa Monica. Are we having fun yet? I just hoped the road wasn’t going to be like this all the way to where I was headed. Finally, I seemed to be leaving the worst of the traffic behind me and when I saw a sign pointing to a national park area, I thought I’d pull off and see if I could find some toilets. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d have a six-mile drive up the road to find this place, but I was so glad I’d turned off here. I drove up through a beautiful rocky mountainous area and felt like I was really heading into the wilderness. I ended up at a place called King Gillette Ranch in The Santa Monica Mountains. This place is a 588 acre spread in the heart of the Malibu Creek Watershed. And yes, as one may ponder, this place did have connections to the razor magnate, King C. Gillette. Wallace Neff who was an architect of California’s Golden Age, designed some of the structures in the area for Gillette in the 1920’s.


Not far from here there was a steep hike up to a knoll known locally as Inspiration Point. I was inspired enough by the very view where I stood, the beautiful bright yellow meadows of flowers with the mountain’s in the background completing the perfect scene. I felt absolutely moved by the landscape and if I hadn’t had a big drive ahead, I’d probably have camped there for the night. But onwards I went. The driving became so much more enjoyable after I left the city and I made my way up through some absolutely stunning landscapes. From Malibu, Point Magu State Park, Ventura and Santa Barbara. I was feeling like a bit of an idiot for not setting off earlier in the day as I’d liked to have had a look around Santa Barbara, but the roads were mental, once again. I’d gone from fully cruising up the road mode, to ‘shit! Where did all this traffic come from?’ I’d been shunted back onto a bit of freeway and wanted to get off the big roads again as soon as possible, so I saw Santa Barbara from the car window! Maybe next time, it did look nice.


The sun was getting lower in the sky. I was very conscious of the fact that at this point, I had nowhere to stay for my first night on the road! All the gear, and no idea! I learned a long time ago that panicking in any situation just exasperates the situation. Being a worry monger just makes you a magnet for all the things that you definitely don’t want in your life. So I wasn’t that worried, per se, about the fact I had nowhere to stay, because I knew worrying would not magic me up a campsite for the night. Not in the middle of nowhere in America, or anywhere for that matter. Just as I was reminding myself to go with the flow, I saw a signpost simply saying ‘beach access’. A bit tired of the freeway, I just took a punt. I came off the big road north and down a slip road and I almost cried laughing to myself when I happened upon a place called ‘El Capitan’. I mean, what are the chances of that happening? Captain Jayneway arriving in El Capitan? This is definitely where I am going to be staying tonight! I was so happy when I drove further down the road and I came to a ranger station and realised that there was actually a campsite at this place. There was absolutely no question that this would be where I would be spending my first night camping alone. El Capitan style!


I pulled up to the entrance point and was greeted by yet another cheery super-friendly Californian. I was invited to go and have a look at the pitches on offer and to come back to confirm where I wanted to be. The park was massive, I think I did two tours of the area in the car before I decided on which pitch took my fancy the most. I decided on a pitch that had no neighbours, had it’s own back garden and it’s own fire pit. I was jumping for joy! This was one of the best campsites I’d ever seen! I swung back down to the ranger and paid the fee for the night. I had a rude awakening as to the way camping in the USA works from a pitch bagging point of view. Camping alone in the USA is not cheap! Basically, you are paying for the pitch. So whether there is one of you, or four of you, the pitch price will be the same. That buttock clenching realisation that sleeping in a tent might not be quite as wallet friendly as you’d thought, when you’re on a very tight budget! This feeling fell upon me, then off me! Whatever! I was in El Capitan! Deal with things as they present themselves! Apparently El Capitan State Beach was named after some dude called Jose, who was a captain in the Spanish army in 1795. Nice to see it was named after a native!


So I was parked up in my pitch and I still had at least two hours of daylight to pitch my tent and do a bit of exploring. The tent I’d procured from the Target shop in Redondo Beach got its first airing out and I literally slung the tent up in about three minutes. Wahoo! This kind of self-sufficiency and working stuff out on my own, I love. After I’d got the tent up, I went for a walk. I couldn’t get over how beautiful the beach was here. White sands with the most mouth watering incandescent driftwood scattered along the bay. There was a little driftwood hide out that somebody had made and the thing that probably tickled me the most was the ‘El Capitan’ lifeguard station. The hut was nestled in amongst supremely pretty, but non-native succulents, which were all happily smiling to the sky, their crowns of glorious pink. I’d seen these flowers all the way up the coast and every time I saw them I found myself smiling and busting with such joy that I really find hard to put into words to describe to you.


I had a walk along the beach and just felt grateful for being born. I laughed at the stacked stones I saw, it must be a worldwide nod to being free. From the Yorkshire Dales to The wilderness of America, people love to stack rocks. And I love stacking them too! I added one to the top of this one! From the beautiful beach of El Capitan, the short distance back to my tent, I found a little walking track and my mind was once again blown. I found myself walking along this track that had a huge sweeping carpet of bright orange nasturtiums and ancient oaks trees with their arms seemingly sweeping down, almost beckoning me into them. I had never seen trees like this in my life, I was mesmerised. How come these trees never wanted to reach the sky and opted for their branches to head for the earth? I have no idea. The limbs of the trees were spread out so close to the ground, like helping hands almost wanting to scoop you up. They really were beautiful; I’ll never forget them.


So as the sun was setting, I made it back to my tent. I’d decided that I needed some wood! No Problem, as long as it was before 8pm. I’d been told that 8pm was camp amenities shut down time. I was fully informed!  I walked about half a mile and went to meet the site wardens to get me some wood! Bundles of wood were about $10, but who gives a flying stuff when you can have a roaring fire? Not me! I met the site wardens and had a lovely chat with them. Their son lives in Scotland and they told me they were planning to visit. After quite a long conversation, I think I had concreted the need to buy a warm jacket for the visit into them. “We don’t like the cold” Maybe don’t visit Scotland in February then.


I grabbed my bundle of wood from the kind Sir, and off I wobbled. I thought, shit, this wood is really heavy, as I lugged it the half mile back to my tent. But got the wood I did, and the fire was on! I mean totally blazing. My friends in Australia taught me so well, how to make a proper fire. And I did think of them as I was setting myself up, feeling so grateful to have had such useful knowledge given to me by such amazing people. I jumped for joy again! And I absolutely loved it all. I slept like a baby on my first night alone in the cheapest tent available to humanity, in the wilderness of America. I think I was born to wander the earth. I’m so happy sleeping outside. Although, I will admit to putting some earplugs in my ears, post midnight. I don’t want to hear this noise now! I definitely had four-legged company of the furry variety rumbling about outside my tent. I reckoned, if I couldn’t hear it, then it wasn’t there! Slam that silicone in your lug holes, Jayneway! I woke up the next morning laughing, grateful once again to be alive… And this particular morning was the most ‘absolutely alive’ I’d felt for quite a few years… And so very grateful for everything…

Keep on living the life you love and loving the life you live…

Captain X



















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