I had imagined that just as we passed into the Golden State I would queue up my carefully crafted playlist and we would all groove to California-themed tunes while cruising the 101. Sadly, my entire RoadTrip soundtrack is lost in some cloud somewhere so we crossed the border listening instead to Dreams or Angels or some other random pop song chosen by the kids. No matter, really, since we didn’t drive far before stopping at Clam Beach County campground, a small site near Crescent City where we parked alongside a middle-aged guy in a van, smoking and blaring his Grateful Dead, a German couple with their baby and a tent, and at least a dozen twenty-somethings spilling out of a pair of old camper vans to hug and dance and roll around with their dogs on the beach next to their fire pit. It was a classic California welcome.
The next morning we woke early and headed south through Redwood National Park, winding our way along the Avenue of the Giants and stopping to marvel at some of the largest trees in the world.
The tree canopy made everything feel lush. But as we headed further down, we could see how badly the state is suffering from drought. As we made our way into Ukiah, where we managed to secure an appointment for the toad, everything looked and felt dry. For the first time in a long time we could feel the sun baking the Earth and burning our skin.
Ukiah wasn’t on our itinerary and aside from the car repair we had no reason to stop here. But we ended up liking it nonetheless and decided to hang out here even after the toad got her new plugs and coil. Ukiah’s not small enough to be quaint but not large enough to be overwhelming. Here, we’ve confidently taken the Woodebago around to the Subaru dealership, which let us boondock outside on the first night, to an RV repair shop on the other side of town, which attached a bracket we’d lost on the underside and threw in a cable for the now-functioning TV, and finally to the state fairgrounds where we set up camp. The fairgrounds isn’t scenic in any way but it’s cheap, has hook-ups and nice people, and is everything we need at this point.
We were happy to learn that the fairground was the starting place of the city’s Pumpkinfest parade so we got to see a lot of the festivities right in our front yard, including the winner of the largest pumpkin contest, weighing in at 541 lbs.
The fairgrounds also has a race track (although no races in town this week) and at least two charter schools on the property. So we’ve watched the hundred or so students file in and out of the courtyard of Redwood Academy, which proudly displays that it is ranked among America’s Best High Schools.
More importantly to us, the fairground is across the street from Lalo’s Mexican Food, which has made me miss my uncle Lalo and fondly think of family in Texas, but has also filled us with good food. We’ve been waiting for real Mexican food for awhile now so we can’t get enough. The kids won’t eat a lot of what we order at Lalo’s but they are starting to appreciate the versatility of the tortilla, which has replaced bread as our staple starch and is now Elian’s preferred snack morning, noon and night.
Ukiah’s public library was closed the first day we tried to go so we ended up spending our first day and each school day thereafter at Mendocino College, part of the state’s enormous public community college system. In the movie version of BigTrip, this is where the kids are inspired to learn, breeze through their lessons and ask for more challenging assignments. But that’s the version where we also never scream at the kids, they never talk back, we never hit our heads in the shower (or the awning), and we all eat fresh vegetables all the time. My California playlist will play in that version too. But real life is more of a battle, especially in road school. None of those papers on high quality teaching and personalized learning seem helpful here. It’s just plain hard work to keep them on task and on schedule while moving from place to place.
In a few days we are headed back to the coast, where we hope to secure a spot in one of the state parks (now out of season, they are all first-come, first-serve). Before that, we will stock up on groceries, eat at Lalo’s again, do laundry and
finish Unit 2 of 6th grade math if it kills me engage in more deep learning. At least we’ve taught them to love tortillas.