Vansgiving in Bodega Bay, California

For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to join some of our best van-friends for a celebration of food, fun, and festivities! We left Santa Cruz headed for Petaluma, California. We knew we had to make a stop at our absolute favorite beer-makers brewery - Lagunitas Brewing Company. The drive was slow and steady. We knew the brewery had a free tour at 1:00 PM that included free beer, and somehow we made it into the parking lot at 12:58 PM. The lot was completely packed; leaving us worried we'd miss the tour. We swung around and looked towards the side of the building for auxiliary parking and instantly discovered a sweet '69 VW Bus. Pulled in right next to the bus, we realized its occupants were still inside. "Hey neighbors!” I shout at their rolled-up windows. They seem like our kind of folk, so I hurriedly invite them to come join the tasting-tour. "Free beer!” I drive home, and they tell us they'll meet us inside. We end up having a great conversation about their son who also happens to drive an air-cooled Vanagon Westy. Like little kids, we whisper and chat over the burly tour man's voice, occasionally getting the 'hairy eye' of 'Shut up, I'm talking!' We enjoy the offerings, skip the actual tour, and part ways. Before leaving, our new buddies find us again and say "We're buying you guys lunch, don't argue!" Uh, OK! We share a few more pints of that golden bubbling nectar of life, try some pork-belly sliders for lunch, grab a quick selfie, and hug our new friends goodbye and safe travels. We made an instant bond, which sparked them to offer us a week or two for free on their sailboat in Huntington Beach. What cool VW peeps!

We retire to our van to ready ourselves for the short journey out to Bodega Bay from the inland town of Petaluma. Joe and Julie showed up in their Westy named Tofu, along with their good friend Fiona. We proceeded to caravan to the grocery store for some Vansgiving meal provisions and more celebratory libations, before cruising out to the coast together. At one point Joe maneuvers Tofu off the shoulder and quickly whips a U-turn. "What's the ish!?" I shout out my window to Joe. "Firewood!” he yells back. So we whip our van around and park behind him to gather huge chunks of a recently downed tree. Wood loaded, we continue forth and make it into Bodega Bay before sunset. We arrive at Chanslor Ranch - a working horse ranch that has been setup nicely to be used as a land-share opportunity through Hipcamp. Hipcamp.com is an awesome new resource for landowners and camping aficionados alike. People with usable land can register with the company to become Hipcamp destinations, to share with people like us looking for new places to explore. We settled into a few choice sites in the 'Olamentko' camp at Chanslor. This particular land has several different areas to choose from, and after exploring the grounds; we were quite pleased with where we ended up!

Sunshine quickly disappeared as evening approached early. A thick layer of fog rolled in on Friday night, but we were un-shaken by its cold moisture. Joe and Ralph began chopping kindling and logs to start a roaring campfire, and the beers and Baily's were in full effect. We made jaffle sandwiches in our cast-iron pie-irons over the fire, chatted about tomorrow's Vansgiving meal, and kept adding layers of jackets to ourselves to stave off the cold. In the morning, we took a group hike around the property, which has a TON of scenic spots to explore. Ocean views, deep ravines, a creek with an active hot spring fed rock wall, and plenty of wildlife kept our eyes scanning the rolling horizon. Red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, a mating pair of osprey, a nest of ravens, and quite a few other native birds offered unrivaled birding opportunities for the bird-nerd in all of us. At one point I felt called to return to the campsite without the rest of the group (to their loving disappointment), to find Ralph had arrived with his VW Vanagon Wolfsburg to join us! I was glad I took the time to walk in nature silently - it sort of reset my internal brain chatter to 'Nature Mode.' Just what I needed. Ralph and I had some buddy time together, before the rest of the group made it back from the crisp morning hike. We lazily made things that resembled breakfast, slapped together some mimosas, and watched Fiona take a shot of Baily's right from her dirty camp-hands cupped into a shot glass. It's always fun to see necessity create silliness!

Around noon on Saturday, we sluggishly decided to pile into Ralph's van and head to the 'real world' for a drive, and so Joe and Julie could procure some fresh oysters from the Bodega Bay Oyster Company - a handful of miles back inland. After scoring the icy fresh bivalves, we returned back to camp, stopping at a bright pink shack with the words 'Salt Water Taffy' beckoning us in. "What's saltwater taffy?” Fiona asked. Our Swedish friend had yet to experience this American sugar bomb, so clearly we instantly decided as a group that we must remedy that sitchu. Bellies full of sticky, sugary sweetness, we returned to Chanslor needing some real food. We began to prep our offerings for our makeshift outdoor feast while enjoying stories and songs together. Julie was layering perfectly sliced discs of squash, zucchini, and tomatoes into a cast-iron skillet. We commissioned Ralph to peel potatoes for our garlic mash, while I wrapped up bulbs of garlic with foil to put on the hot coals of the fire. Kenz tended the boiling pots on Tofu’s stove because we conveniently ran out of propane when we arrived. Joe wasted no time developing an oyster grilling strategy over the fire with a nice flat section of hot log. He offered everyone salty, raw oysters with the traditional dollop of horseradish, lemon, and a drop of hot sauce. This was the time that I finally realized I prefer my oysters cooked, apparently. The grilled oysters were unbelievably fresh and delicious, and their shells made for an exciting incendiary explosive science project when burned! (Careful, huge fiery hot chunks of oyster shell flying towards your face can change a good time quickly. You've been warned.) We had a blast prepping and cooking with one another, and sat down together to enjoy what we had crafted just as the sun was setting. This night, there was no fog, and the sky burned beautifully with oranges and red hues. It got dark, and we layered up and laughed the night away. Joe surprised us all with the coolest game you could ever play, Light-Up Bocce Ball! We played all over the dark, hilly landscape and giggled long into the night. We even made some new friends who couldn't resist the exciting glow of the LED balls.

The following morning, we slowly cleaned up our camp, smiled and waved to passing horseback riders, and made sure there was one final round of required camping mimosas. A cute young couple with an even cuter daughter and an even CUTER puppy came by camp and said, "Hey we know you guys - is that Hawk!?" We had met a few years earlier in my hometown of Folsom through the yoga community. We were ecstatic to learn they were camping just up the hill from us in their new (old) Westy! They told me I had encouraged them to buy their own freedom-vessel a while back, and now they're on their maiden voyage in the van. We left Chanslor Ranch with warmth in our hearts, and van-family stories to share down the path. You never know what the seeds you plant in this world will grow to become - but I can confidently say it feels nice to encourage someone to follow his or her dreams, and hear that the encouragement has fruited on the vine of life. Do your dreams people! Nobody else can live them for you…


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