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Camping Trip - Big Sur - CA


Andrew Molera State Park - our paradise for a week

After it became clear that we would most likely be in Utah all summer, I got a bit antsy and really wanted to go on a family vacation. We went camping in Moab in March and it was great fun. Since I am not training or racing, we might as well go on a road trip to California and camp by the beach for a while! Easier said than done because, of course, we were way too late to get any decent spot anywhere along the coast. Everything bookable was booked. We did a bunch of research and found a little campground in Andrew Molera State Park that fit our (very small) budget and was first-come first-served. Perfect! So we mapped out a plan, loaded up the car, and took off for 10 days! 

Not exactly traveling lightly. That road bike (mine) was solely for commuting purposes. 

Traveling from Provo up to Salt Lake City and then west on I-80, our first stop was Donner Lake up by Lake Tahoe/Truckee. I love Lake Tahoe but I have also come to really like Donner Lake which is right off the freeway, has a great state park with a campground on its south shore, a nice trail along the lake, and is much smaller and calmer than Lake Tahoe but also very beautiful. I love exploring places like Donner Lake when I am racing/training/traveling and then bringing my family to my favorite ones. We snatched a perfect little spot close to the lake and surrounded by woods for one night. We'd love to come back and hang out longer! 

this tent (REI garage sale) has seen some pretty nice places

After setting up camp, we rode bikes along the trail, took a dip in the lake, and explored the woods. The next morning we rented a canoe and explored the area by water. The kids were troopers and despite cool water and air temps at high altitude, they had fun swimming from rock island to rock island. I decided the kayak was getting a little too crowded for all 4 of us, so I jumped off half-way and swam back. I wish every day could start out with a little canoe/swim adventure with the whole family! Then we packed up and headed toward the Bay Area. 

Happy place! 

We stayed in Santa Clara with our dear friends from college days, the Svantessons, and packed as much fun into two days as we possibly could. Back in the day we climbed mountains together, this time it was all about the kids. All 4 of them participated in the Menlo Park Kids Triathlon which was a total blast and (almost*) worth every penny we paid for it! 

*I have no complaints about the race itself. But, yikes, it was expensive. I guess it's what you get when you sign your kids up to race in Silicon Valley... 

charging hard, having fun

A big shout-out to Threshold Racing who put on an amazing race for (literally) hundreds of kids! I wasn't sure what to expect with those numbers but they pulled it off extremely well and the kids loved it! Then we were off to the beach... Thank you, T and N, for being the best hosts! We had such a fun time. 

Then we were off to the next adventure! Big Sur - here we come!  

Sarah - The Wimp and Noah - The Brave

On our way we stopped in Santa Cruz at Natural Bridges State Park and enjoyed a great day at the beach froze our buns off. It was super windy and therefore cold and the kids basically refused to get out of the car. So we dug up some warm clothes and made them get out anyway. We ended up having quite a bit of fun in the sand, exploring the tide pools, and playing in the water until completely frozen. Noah definitely wins the BRAVEST award. It took him a LONG time afterwards to warm back up. 


Anne, my good friend whom I recently visited in Oregon, happened to be in the area and we spontaneously decided to meet up at a random fruit stand along Highway 1! Talk about good timing! We bought lots of delicious produce for the next few days and then warmed up with some hot chocolate at a Cafe. Thanks for being awesome, Anne! 

Wind. Blown. 

Hot chocolate? Sweaters and blankets at the beach? Shivering bodies and howling winds? We had some serious doubts about our plans. Which were confirmed when we drove by Andrew Molera State Park and talked to the ranger there. The campground is apparently very exposed and susceptible to high winds. Crap!!! How come I didn't do more research on the weather at Big Sur? This is so unlike me. I just assumed that California in July = sunny and warm. I was NOT HAPPY. We drove a bit further south to spend Sunday night at our reserved site in Big Sur Campground which turned out over-priced, nothing like advertised, crammed, and we were glad to get out of there the next morning. The only good thing: HOT SHOWERS! 

our spot in paradise 

Here is the SBJ how-to-get-a-spot-at-a-popular-first-come-fit-served-hike-in-campground-during-high-season protocol

1. Reserve/find a temporary spot in a place nearby for the night before (preferably on a Sunday night or during the week).
2. Talk to the ranger the day before and check things out a bit.
3. Send the husband on a bike ride over to the campground in the evening when most people are at camp so he can talk to them and get a feel for the best spots and who is leaving the next morning. 
4. Bike over there yourself first thing the next morning with cash and running shoes. (These usually fill up quickly, so the earlier the better. Which is why it is difficult to first have to drive a few hours to get there.)
5. While standing in line, make friends with those around you and figure out what their plan is make friends with them. (We knew from the night before that at least 5 sites would become open today and I was 3rd in line, but still...) Have fun with it!
6. The ranger shows up and - when it's your turn - you get a spot and pay! Not sure which spot but you have a place to stay! Deep breath. 
7. Then race down the trail slowly jog over to the campground.
8. Make sure the spot you want actually will be available that day, exchange a few words with its current campers, place your pay stub on the designated post, and run back to the ranger so he knows which site you chose. 
(9. You may also act as a carrier for other groups who don't want to do the running/walking back and forth and thus feel less awkward cruising around like your life depends on it. But, hey, my VACATION depends on this! Really though, I was quite good at pretending to be all chill...
10. Check-out for the current campers won't be until noon or so but this way you are GUARANTEED your spot and can stop holding your breath! 

If this sounds like a big deal - it was! It's not usually this stressful or complicated but the fact that the entire campground is hike-in only (no cars/trailers/vehicles allowed) made things a bit more tricky. And the fact that we really didn't have a plan B in case we wouldn't get a spot. But, alas, we did get a spot and a great one to boot! And, in case you can't tell, I loved this little morning adventure and then coming back to the family proclaiming: We got the spot we wanted!!! 

the beautiful trail to the campground - the only way to get there

But first we needed to pack up, load up, drive over, unload, and then schlepp all of our stuff to camp. As you enter the State Park, there is a big dirt parking lot with a few different trail heads. That's it. My kind of State Park! The trail to our campsite was less than 1/2 mile of nice single track shaded by big trees. 

Did I mention that we did NOT pack lightly? 

We can pack lightly if we have to but this was no backpacking trip and we were going to be here for 5 nights if all went according to plan. We were still a bit worried about the cold and wind but so far our campsite was beautifully calm, warm, and sunny. Nothing like the 53 degrees in the Big Sur forecast. Phew... 
I love the simplicity of camping. Granted, people these days make camping all sorts of complicated but that's exactly why we chose this walk-in campsite. 

Andrew Molera Campground site #4. It was a good one. 

This spot is heaven for me. 
No roads, no vehicles, no noise. 
No electronics, no reception, no distraction.
Tranquility, peace, and quiet. 
Family, nature, and beauty. 

smelling the ocean from River Trail 

almost to the ocean - end of River Trail

Honestly, I was a bit hesitant about being here for almost a week with the kids (8,11) but quickly realized that they were loving it as much as Karl and I. They hiked and walked and rode bikes without complaining. Probably partly because they had no choice. There was simply no other way to get to these places. To the beach, along the beach, to the car, back to camp, up the river. Partly because it was gorgeous and we had all the time in the world. The key to hiking with kids is to find exciting places to go to and to not be in a rush to get there. 

walking to the car on Camp Trail 

biking to the beach on Beach Trail 

Trail running, mountain biking (Karl) and speed hiking (injured me) was fantastic right from camp! Thanks to various connecting trails and loops - including Bluffs Trail and Ridge Trail - we had a bunch of options and snuck out of the tent early most mornings to enjoy the many different views. 

Ridge Trail 

Bluff Trail 

Being at the beach itself was - unfortunately - less pleasant. As in: cold and super windy. We tried every time of day and the wind was always the same. It was a HUGE disappointment. Not only was it way too cold to want to dip more than your little toe in the water but even sitting on the beach was quite miserable. 

windy beauty 


We scouted out the most protective spot and the boys went to work building a massive fort with lots and lots of drift wood. Karl and Noah worked for hours and days on it and it turned out very impressive! 


Max got bored after a while and came up with his own beach olympics. He was my entertainment and I was his judge. Pictured here, his balance beam routine: 


As for me, I still ran around in my bikini at the beach and sometimes even at camp. Naturally. This was (supposed to be) a beach vacation after all! The body fat I gained due to my inability to train for months now was mostly a plus. I certainly wasn't in peak 'bikini shape' but I had more insulation to keep me from getting cold. I certainly wasn't going to be sitting at the beach in July wearing a sweat shirt and wrapped in a blanket. Most people most likely thought I was nuts but, hey, I'll take it. 


Speaking of 'bikini shape', I strongly believe that if you have a shape, any shape, then you can wear a bikini and are in 'bikini shape'. It took me a looong time to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to decide for myself what I like to wear and not wear. Only at the age of 30 and when I certainly wasn't in my best shape, did I realize how good it feels to wear a bikini and nothing but a bikini! This was last time our family went camping at the beach and I really needed a new swimsuit (other than for lap swimming) but the tankinis I liked were too expensive and the ones I could afford just didn't look good. So - because I figured that no one would know or recognize me at a random beach in CA - I bought a bikini. At Target. At first I felt a bit awkward wearing it at a public beach but then I realized: This is so much more comfortable than a swim suit or tankini and feels so much better. Less wet material against my skin made me feel warm, happy, and free. So why would I wear anything else just because I am worried about how I look or what other people will think? I decided that wasn't in line with my principles and have worn a bikini ever since. Even now that I have gained quite a few pounds. If you haven't yet, give a bikini a try! 


Before we left the Svantesson home we made plans to meet up at the beach in Capitola (about an hour north of camp) which turned out to be the perfect idea! We brought the boogie boards, rented wetsuits for the kids, the sun was out, no wind, and everybody was happy all day long until Noah got some sand into his wetsuit and refused to wear it anymore or get into the water without one. The rest of us had a blast! I swam out as far as I dare to solo - which isn't very far at all - and got quite good at boogie boarding myself. Now I want to learn how to surf! 

the crew at Capitola beach 

crab hunting and observing 


Other day adventures included trips to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (above) and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (below). We spent an afternoon at each hiking and exploring and then decided we really wanted to come back to the one below in the middle of the day and take advantage of the awesome swimming holes in the Big Sur River. 


We had so much fun at Big Sur River. We all spent a couple of hours scrambling up the river (no trail, just rocks and drift wood and water) and back down before joining the locals in cliff jumping and hanging out on the pebble beach. This was one of our favorite activities on this trip! We only really found out about it because I asked at the ranger station: Is there anywhere we can swim? And she pointed us in the right direction. If you know me, you know that I am ALWAYS on the lookout for a place to swim and our family ALWAYS has their swimsuits with them. So glad we did! 


We really wanted to see the sunset at least one night. It seemed to always sneak up on us and we were a one-mile hike away from it and usually too worn out from all of the other activities to want to hike to the beach AGAIN. One night we did but just a LITTLE to late and by the time we were at the top of the bluff, the sun was JUST disappearing. We missed it! It was gorgeous but so short. Our efforts were rewarded, however, by finding this little beach that was completely protected from the wind and perfect for our little family to play at. 


We came back the next day and ran in and out of the waves until we got tired of it. Which was not for a long time! Since I am not really supposed to run, I tried to take a nap on the jagged rocks which was actually more comfortable than it looks. I really really love the ocean! 


We are most DEFINITELY coming back here. It was the perfect vacation for our little family. We had so many great bonding opportunities and made countless wonderful memories! Every other campground that we saw in the area (even in the other state parks) just didn't compare to this gem and we were so glad to be at Andrew Molera SP. I will say that it would've been nice to have showers, especially after a day at the beach, but we were prepared with our solar shower which worked out better than expected! We filled it up each morning, laid it in the sun, and by late afternoon it was up to 110 degrees and there was enough water for all of us to rinse and wash off. Noah, who likes his long daily hot shower, was the only one not too thrilled with this set-up so one day we snuck back into Big Sur campground for a real shower. It's all about compromise! 


Unfortunately, I have no input on places to eat in the area. Our family prefers to get food and snacks at Trader Joe's and cook our own dinner at camp. One afternoon we tried to eat an affordable healthy lunch somewhere on the road but failed. We did get ice cream a few times though! 

The trip didn't quite end as planned because of the Soberanes Fire that started just north of Big Sur on Friday morning. When we got back from the beach that evening, camp was already engulfed in enough smoke to make us cough and wonder whether it is safe to stay or not. Nobody else seemed to be in a hurry to leave and we didn't have a lot of information, so we made dinner and decided to stay. As we were cleaning up, both Karl and I started to worry. We weren't really in a situation where we could evacuate easily and quickly without leaving a LOT of our stuff behind. Especially not during the night. We finally decided - with heavy hearts - to cut our trip a day short and get out of there while we safely could. We packed up and schlepped out and started driving south. By now it was late and dark and it took us a good couple of hours and being away from the coast, to find a spot by the road to set up camp for the night. Always an adventure! It turned out to be the right decision. The fire kept growing and growing and eventually burnt over 130,000 acres. Most campgrounds and trails were closed down for weeks. We were very fortunate to experience those areas before the fire as they probably look quite different now. 


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