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Changing with the Tides
August, 2020 - Issue #191

Even with reservations, confirmations, itineraries and insurance, travel doesn't always go as planned. Certain things are beyond our control. Like traffic, weather or global pandemics.

But spontaneity has its own rewards. Going without plans, you sometimes find things work out better than expected - like our recent weekend of beach camping.

We started at Jalama Beach, where we booked reservations six months BC (before coronavirus). If you want a spot at one of California's superlative campgrounds in summer, you need to plan ahead.

While Jalama is famous for its remote location on a stretch of raw Central California coastline, it is also known for wind. Driving in, we saw kite boarders streaking across the white-flecked water offshore. We knew what we were in for, but we had reservations, so we stuck to the plan.

Sand stung our exposed ankles as we walked along the beach later in the afternoon. After sundown, we hunkered down in the trailer. A campfire was pointless. The wind would just blow the smoke into our faces. We tried sleeping. But the 40 mph gusts buffeting the trailer left us anxious and edgy. I laid there wondering when the wind would rip the flapping canvas covering our bed.

The next morning, a check of the forecast revealed the wind would continue. It was time to be spontaneous. Our revised plan was to head south in search of calmer camping after a lunch of Jalama Burgers and chili cheese fries from the campground store.

Giving up a reserved campsite to drive 90 minutes with no guarantee of getting a new site was risky on a summer weekend. The potential for disappointment was high. But so too was the rewarding serendipity of spontaneity.

We set our sights on Ventura, and initially, disappointment seemed certain. The first two campgrounds we checked were full. But we noticed some open spots as we cruised along Rincon Parkway. We pulled into one and chatted up the neighbors. They said the spot was paid through that night, but the previous occupants checked out early. Score!

Within minutes of me parking the trailer, the kids had changed into their swimsuits, picked their way down the sea wall boulders and waded into the churning surf. Relaxation came a little slower for me.

We passed a ranger before parking. He appeared to be checking reservations and headed our way. I sat in a beach chair, trying to enjoy the afternoon sun, but expecting imminent eviction. But the lower the sun sank, the higher my confidence grew; enough that April and I went for a cooling dip.

At sunset, we joined strolling couples, dog walkers and picture-takers on the sand to mark the end of the day. The evening was exactly what we hoped it would be: pleasantly breezy but otherwise calm. We sat outside the trailer talking, listening to the surf and watching the sky transition from orange glow to starry tableau.

We awoke the next morning to a stunning sight. Across the calm, glassy channel, Santa Cruz and Anacapa islands popped from the horizon in vivid detail, unobscured by any lingering haze or fog.

April and I embarked on a long walk before breakfast, heading north along the beach grown wide with the outgoing tide. Waves rolled in systematically, arcing, then breaking, their foamy remnants gliding toward us on the rippled sand.

We returned to the trailer in time to meet a ranger on her rounds. It was not a problem that we didn't have reservations, she said; we just needed to pay for the site. I handed her my credit card. After a few taps on her dashboard computer, we went from interlopers to registered campers.

It was a perfect morning. Almost as if we planned it.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, so he knows a thing or two about wind.

Perfectly Unplanned
Jalama Beach County Park
countyofsb.org/parks/jalama
(805) 568-2460

Rincon Parkway
insidescv.com/rincon-parkway
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