A day at the beach

Camping on the beach. What a great idea. You get a nice soft bed and you can hear the ocean all night washing in and out. Even better, it costs just $10 a night for a pitch, What could possibly go wrong! It definitely sounded like what Nich told me is ‘type 1 fun’.  This is the type of fun where the proposed activity sounds like fun and then when you do it, it is actually fun (e.g sitting in a hot tub with a beer). ‘Type 2 fun’ is something which sounds like fun but isn’t fun whilst you do it, but on reflection, the stories you get out of the experience are great (e.g. climbing a really tough mountain). FInally there’s ‘type 3 fun’. This is where the activity sounds like it will not be any fun at all, and when you do it it really isn’t but when it’s over you get a great sense of achievement or a life changing experience (e.g running a marathon up over a mountain range whilst carrying a bag of cement).

We were on our way from Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC and, with a fairly low budget, had agreed to buy a tent and camp for much of the journey. Leaving Los Angeles and heading north through Malibu, we soon encountered the California State Park system.  There are a number of variations but all tend to offer decent camping facilities which range from basic/primitive (just toilets) to developed/family (showers, wash blocks etc).  The first stop we made was at a place called Pismo Beach which is at the southern end of the area known as Big Sur. 

This is a beautiful part of the world where US Highway 1 runs along the Pacific coast.  The beaches are fabulous and the scenery breathtaking. What a place to camp!

Highway 1 running through Big Sur

We arrived at Pismo to be greeted by a friendly park warden who told us to grab some wood so we could have a fire and then head onto the beach. “Just stick to the side of the beach nearest the sea when you rive up there” she said, eyeing our front wheel drive Chevrolet Aveo which we had rented in Los Angeles the previous week. I was at the wheel and got stuck in, zooming down the ramp onto the sand. It was brilliant. There were hardly any people around as we zoomed up the beach, right by the waves. 

Driving up the beach is great fun. Even in a 2 wheel drive Chevy!

Soon we saw a few campers, mainly in large trailer caravans and RVs, dotted along the beach away from the water in Mad Max style groups.  This is a popular area for off road dune buggy riding and almost everyone is in a truck, and a big truck at that.

Your typical Californian beach camper

We were aware that the tide had been high about 4pm and now it was getting toward 6pm. I don’t know about you but I’m not the best at judging tides. How far WILL the water come up the beach? Well, best to use local knowledge and do what everyone else is doing. So, after exploring up and down the coastline for a short while we chose our spot and pointed up the beach towards land to park. 

That’s when the problems started. I spotted a suitable spot for camp and aimed the car up the beach. About 10 yards off the damp sand it became abundantly clear we were going to have difficulty going any further. The car stopped and the wheels span. We were totally stuck. I got out and moved some of the bone dry sand away from the front wheels and had another go at getting out. No luck. Nich then tried and I pushed but we just dug ourselves in deeper and deeper. A couple of our fellow campers wandered over and pointed out that we should have backed up the beach, but even then though we probably would have had trouble. Then a friendly chap called Roger headed over to us in his truck and offered us some advice. “You won’t get that out of there” he said, “I can lend you a shovel if you like”. Meanwhile the beach patrol had been over and offered their services to drag the car out for $50. 

By now it was getting dark. We hadn’t set up our tent yet, but, being northern, there was no way I was going to pay a guy to drag us out when I could dig out for free. So we decided to leave the car there for the night and set up camp. It was now dark and a swarm of king-sized mosquitoes had come out to play. We madly tried to set the tent up as quickly as possible but the first time setting up a new tent is never easy. Eventually it went up and I started digging whilst Nich got the dinner on. Throughout the evening we dug all of the sand out around the car. A hole of around three feet deep was eventually excavated around the entire car and we went to bed, totally exhausted.

The next morning, we emerged from the tent at first light to see Roger heading over in his truck. He hopped out and congratulated us on our efforts. Then he let our tyres down to 15psi and offered to help push. I got in the drivers seat while Nich and Roger pushed and we got out at the second attempt. Whoops and high fives all around as well as some valuable lessons about camping on beaches. 

The rescued car and the trench from whence it came

The camp… post rescue

As if to congratulate us further, a huge migrating flock of sea birds swept passed us as we were packing up our tent, It was utterly spectacular and the end to one of the best experiences of the trip.  Sometimes you have to get into a bit of trouble to enjoy yourself. i think Nich calls it type 2 fun. 


The flock of birds sweeps past. Amazing!


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