Route 1 Road Trip Day Two: Near Catastrophe, Hot Sauce Banditry, and the Coolest Kids in Cambira

I continue my road trip up the California coast via Route 1 with my travel buddy Nick, check out Day One of the trip.

DAY TWO

I awoke to the sounds of the ocean against the rocks just feet from our tent at Faria Beach. Being the portrait addicts we are, we spent a few minutes taking panorama photos (I needed five tries to perfect the pivot-method) on the beach before quickly breaking camp down and booking it back to the highway.

Nick is so much better at the panorama pivot technique! 

Neither of us were crazy hungry so we decided to forgo an immediate breakfast and drive to Santa Barbara. But you know what, there are *no* backpacker budget spots in fancy-schmancy downtown Santa Barbara! None at least that we could find. After driving around the posh main streets, we cut our losses and drove out of town, sure we could find something on the road north.

So we drove. And drove. But no luck. My gas light came on, but every station we passed was incredibly expensive. $4.50 a gallon?! They’re selling it back in Oregon for $3.65, and you get full service. We kept going. The next town listed on highway signage was Gaviata. If has a sign then it must have a gas station, right? Apparently not when your town has a population of less than 100… we blew through the two buildings that comprised “downtown”. After about a half hour we reached a fork in the highway: Route 1 or Highway 101? This is a Route 1 road trip, is it not? It was just a few miles after we took that fateful fork that I started truly worrying about gas. The next marked town was over 30 miles away and there was nothing but beautiful countryside around us. Gorgeous, but in our case potentially disastrous. I began fuel conservation techniques and coasting downhill. Nick quietly contained his panic in the passenger’s seat. The car jerked when I floored it going uphill. We had a team meeting. There were cars on this highway, scattered houses in the hills; if we needed it we could get help. I have AAA roadside assistance. We had food and shelter with us. Hell, we could live out here for a week if we had to! Still, we both hoped for salvation in the form of the town ahead of us–Lompoc.

1.5 tense hours before breakfast…

Signage appeared: Lompoc, the town of arts and flowers, population 42,434. It has a nickname! If it has a nickname, it’s pretty sure to also have a gas station. And surely all of those people need to eat somewhere! We coasted into town, filled the car with gas first thing, then stopped at the attractively named Budget Cafe for a late breakfast. Hash browns, pancakes, and bad coffee, here we come! The heavyset man in the booth across from us was wearing farmer overalls and marbled rainbow crocks; we probably looked just as odd to him with our traveler singlets and unusual jewelry choices. To each their own. Walking out of the diner, Nick quizzed me on the name of the town. Um, Lanpinc? It’s got an N and C in there somewhere, don’t tell me… turns out he didn’t remember either. It took us days to accurately remember the name of the town that saved our butts.

Relief and refreshment in the form of coffee, pancakes, hash browns, poached eggs, and breakfast meats. *

Perhaps it was our near brush was danger. Perhaps it was the caffeine from cup after cup of diner coffee. Perhaps we just needed a mission. But here a prank elevated to a crime spree. We set a goal: sneak (ok, steal) a bottle of hot sauce from every restaurant we visited along the road, the fuller the bottle the better and no duplicate brands if at all possible. The hot sauce bandit gang was born.

We continued to drive. Less than an hour later, we hit Oceano and the holy grail of Nick’s search for classic American diners appeared: a 1950’s themed rock ‘n roll diner in an old railroad car. It didn’t matter that we had eaten recently. There was no way we were missing this.

Diner in a railroad car? I literally turned the car around. *

One half of the hot sauce bandits, casing the joint… and ordering milkshakes. *

Vanilla malted for me, cherry oreo for Nick.

I bounced on the red and silver vinyl seat to oldies tunes. We got thick milkshakes with the overflow served up in a cold steel mixing container. The hot sauce bandits were almost foiled: there was no hot sauce on the table and asking for hot sauce when ordering only milkshakes might seem suspicious. Still, we exited victorious.

Success! So begins the littering of my car with bottle of open, pilfered (dare I say “hot”?) hot sauce.

We decided to stop driving in the early afternoon so we could siesta and then have a big Monday Night Football pub crawl in some cool small town. Our pick: Cambria. Described in our tourist literature as “Rising from a rocky shoreline into pine-covered hills, the arty village of Cambria has a creative, natural spirit shaped equally by ocean and forrest. In many ways, Cambria is a throwback to simpler times. A lawn bowling pitch occupies a prominent place in the heart of town, and numerous historic buildings survive from Cambria’s early days as a center for whaling, logging, and mining…” Words were thrown around like ‘irresistible’ and ‘perfect base’. We scoped downtown and were satisfied by the number of taverns on the main strip that would likely be showing the game.

We pitched the tent on the windy hills of Washburn camping area in San Simeon State Park with the help of a pretty killer rock, then took a quick nap/journal break. The site was properly Californian with those beautiful dusky browns and scrubby greens that I love, clouds rolling in from the Pacific but never quite reaching us, and just the right mix of sunshine and breeze.

Our pretty and peaceful campsite at Washburn campground.

By the time kick off came around (Steelers vs. Bengals), we were at a great pub called Mozzi’s Saloon with pints in hand, asking what’s the deal with Stonehenge, buying Alcatraz and baseball tickets online, and giving requests of our favorite country music to our new friends with jukebox DJ power. I noticed a crockpot and hot dog buns at the far end of the bar, which can only mean one thing: chili dogs! And for $1.50 too. Love small towns with their reasonable pricing. I learned back in Utila that chili doesn’t exist in Australia–shocking!–but had forgotten until Nick began to question me. (He would later return the cultural-exchange favor with tips on how to eat a meat pie and properly cuddle a koala. I can’t wait to do both!!) I gave him the low down and set him free to pop his chili dog cherry. He did so with gusto. Another round of beer, and we were talking in Southern accents like I, I say, I never ever do! Oh, and I must mention that their selection of hot sauce was phenomenal. 😉

About to dig into my chili dog!

My word, look at all that beautiful hot sauce… *

From there we crawled. Enchilada happy hour where we had another DNM and added to our hot sauce collection again, a steak house that we rejected as too expensive, a pie joint where we made new friends fast, and finally to the Cambria Ale House, the perfect ending point. A cozy yet happening pub all about the beer, I got a great sampler of local brews and Nick had a stellar double chocolate stout. We went home happy after a kick ass night out. Everywhere we had gone the locals were friendly and the beer was cold. Cambria, you are one awesome small town that can rock it on a Monday night. Oh, and I think some football happened too?

On Day Three we drove the most picturesque part of the trip through the stunning Big Sur coastline. More coming soon…

* Photos courtesy of Nicholas Cooper.

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5 thoughts on “Route 1 Road Trip Day Two: Near Catastrophe, Hot Sauce Banditry, and the Coolest Kids in Cambira

  1. I was just cleaning out a cupboard at dad's house and found a bottle of Flor De Canna (7 years), did you give this to him – or does good taste in rum just run in the family??

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  2. Too funny! That is totally not my bottle; Dad must indeed have some good taste. If it was in the back of his pantry I'd guess by now it is aged far beyond 7 year… 😛

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  3. Hey, keep your hands off the Flor De Canna rum!!! It was a special gift from Joel for letting him stay at the house for 6 months, and he hand carried it back from Nicaragua. Unless you are willing to provide a bottle for every six months you lived with me, stick with Budweiser! Love, Dad

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