Our first night of sleep back in the teardrop was a deep and restful one, something I was thankful for with the coming pain I was sure to receive this afternoon. You see, in a lapse of judgment I had agreed to take lessons in surfing—a sport in which you greatly benefit from small stature, a great sense of balance, and time and practice. I had none of these, and was definitely in trouble.
We ate a quick breakfast of coffee, eggs, and bacon, said farewell to our beautiful camp, and headed south into Laguna Beach. I couldn’t have been more pleased with our decision as we pulled up to the Soul Surf School: the little orange sign offset by palm trees certainly looked the part, and the gentleman working the counter inside brought the whole picture together. Immediately friendly, he welcomed us with a warm smile and what can only be described as a stereotypical Southern California surf accent. He introduced us to our instructor Goff, who also had the same wonderful accent, and led us toward the beach with boards in hand.
Walking down the stairs we quickly realized that we had made the right choice in surf schools. If the fact that our instructor’s name had been laid in the concrete steps to the beach wasn’t enough of an indicator, the countless waves from the locals was. While some surf schools immediately take to the water, we sat on the beach watching the waves and listening to his methods. The hands-on ground school demonstrated how to stand, why it was important, and how to feel for the right wave. It wasn’t long before we hit the water, and we were up on our first try (or close to it). Of course, we all got a little too confident which resulted in a few epic falls.
The only regret I have from the class is not having my camera ready at the end of our lesson. After winning a bet with our instructor—that I could catch the last wave in—he agreed to ride one in on his head. I assumed he was joking, but sure enough on the last wave Goff rode in balanced on his head. I guess that trick is reserved for a future lesson. If you’re interested in learning how to surf, I can’t recommend Soul Surf and their instructors enough. Check them out on their website here.
Though we thoroughly enjoyed our time lounging on the sun-soaked beach the time had come to seek out some dirt roads, ruined resorts, and of course a little adventure. We loaded up on as much seafood as we could cram into the fridge and set out for the California desert.
The seemingly endless pavement of Ortega Highway wound through the mountains in front of us for hours, which of course felt like days with our anticipation for the desert tracks that lay ahead. The sun slowly made its way further and further across the sky until it dipped low enough to paint the hills in hues of orange and gold. Not ones to miss a view, our team quickly pulled over to enjoy our second sunset of the trip.
Teardrops have many advantages, one of which is their incredibly easy kitchen setup and breakdown. Within minutes of pulling over, the back of the teardrop was open and the stove was burning blue. Our visiting world traveler, Ben Davenport, would be serving as chef tonight for our main course of salmon filets, shrimp, and scallops. Ashlie would be cooking the sides of garlic mashed potatoes and green beans. For dessert, freshly baked cheesecakes from the Ortega Oaks Candy Store. Chazz of course would pour the rum, while I opened a bottle of wine.
It’s funny how even right off the road a little music, food, and friends can make you forget the world around you and enjoy the moment. Seasoned with butter, lemon and a few herbs, the aroma of seafood floating through the air was delightful. The food was great and the views spectacular, but the company it was shared with made it all worth while.
By the time we crested our last hill of the evening and saw the emptiness of the Borrego Badlands stretched out before us, the whole team was exhausted. We picked a random turn-off leading into the open desert and followed it as far as we dared venture in the darkness, finally reaching a desolate overlook that would serve as a camp. Stepping out of the trucks we were greeted by a scorched, barren landscape which sharply contrasted the lush green world we had just left behind us. No signs of plant or animal life could be seen in any direction, just rock and a few lights off in the distance. In the desert heat we skipped the campfire, instead popping open our camp chairs to enjoy a glass of rum and the beauty of a two-in-the-morning desert sky.
The Salton Sea has a very strange feeling to it. At once as intriguing as it is disturbing, the scorched earth looks almost apocalyptic dotted with the ruins of retired naval bases, 1950’s homes, and long-abandoned resorts. The sea was never supposed to exist, but in 1905 a development company trying to increase irrigation for farming made a critical miscalculation building their canals. The flow of water from the Colorado river overwhelmed the canals and broke through sending and uncontrollable flood of water into the dried Salton basin for years. Over time, the lack of outflow from the lake created concentrated amounts of salt, fertilizers, and chemicals, which resulted in the toxic water and the mass devastation of the ecosystem found today. Once a thriving lake community, the shoreline now sits all but abandoned.
The desert is slowly reclaiming the long-forgotten Navy Road, and it continually disappears beneath the sand only to reappear again further along the route as we wind through the desert toward shore. The combination of dunes and pavement is entertaining, until we near the Naval base and spot signs warning of unexploded ordinance. We all held our breath as the road vanished beneath the sand, this time for good, leaving no indication of where our little ribbon of safety had gone.
I almost felt fortunate when the weight of the Range Rover (still on full air pressure) dug us into the soft sand. I gladly hopped out and began the process of airing down and self-recovery while the others forged ahead to show us where to go, and hopefully avoid finding out where not to go. With the Range Rover freed we continued our exploration of ruins and abandoned yacht clubs until the stench of rotting fish was just too much to bear. There was still plenty of trail to cover before we would reach our camp spot for the night, and the day was already half over. Pulling out onto the desert road leading east, we quickly left the Salton Sea behind us in a cloud of dust.
We made great time at the start, barreling down a flat graded road, but as we dropped down into the canyons and washes west of the Chuckwalla mountains navigation became increasingly difficult. Our directions specified following “the wash on the left” or “continuing on the track to the right,” a nearly impossible task when dozens of new roads had been torn into the terrain where there should have been one. After stopping to check directions we quickly realized that whatever trail we were rolling down, our planned route was long since gone. We continued down the canyons as the sand became deeper and the rocky walls closed in.
By the time we reached the mouth of the canyon the walls were mere inches from either side of the teardrop trailer. To make things more interesting, the soft sand we’d been traveling down ended at a small rock ledge. The Range Rover slowly approached the ledge, and as expected, began to dig in with the rear tires. Fortunately, on our second attempt traction control and aired down Cooper AT3’s gripped onto the rock and the front end climbed it’s way up the wall with the rear and trailer in tow.
Our track opened up into a wide desert dotted with the bright green and brown hues of ocotillo and cottonwood. We wound our way around hills and through gullies, testing the articulation of our MaxCoupler, and the approach and departure angles of truck and trailer. It was an impressive sight to watch the mammoth So-Cal Teardrops 510 roll smoothly over obstacle after obstacle without hesitation. Even when cresting sharp peaks where I expected the trailer to drag, it cleared the break over with room to spare. Far off course, but with our newly discovered route before us we welcomed the new, more challenging, adventure. As the trail inevitably reverted back into pavement, we charted a course to our originally planned riverside camp, refueled, and raced the sun to the horizon.
Dusk was beginning to cover the land by the time we finally reached Chazz’s hidden camp spot off the Colorado river. Although a little more moist than we would have liked due to recent high water, the “Hippy Hole” was a perfect spot to cool off after a day in the desert. With the stove fired up, I got to work building a fire while the rest of our group set up their various sleeping arrangements… another advantage of a teardrop is the ability to set up your sleeping area by simply opening the door.
The next morning was a little somber. Although it was a beautiful day, it was also our last day on the road. We pumped up our Helios and took a shower to wash off the dust and salt from the last few days. As our dog chased the spray from the nozzle, it was clear his energy had built up and he would explode if he didn’t run free. Unleashed, the muddy games of fetch and tug o’ war began. The results were as hilarious and filthy as you would expect from a dog at the river so we will let the pictures do the talking.
It was hard to believe our little get away was coming to an end, but as we rolled across the bridge to head home the group was all smiles with the new memories made, and the anticipation of adventures that still lay ahead.