Trail Report: Updated November 12, 2002
We just finished the first Toyota Land Cruiser Surf N Turf at Pismo Beach, California. Itís been quite a week!
A couple of months ago I decided to loosely organize a couple of days of camping and wheeling at the Oceano Dunes plus a couple of local trails. The idea was to share the unique local wheeling opportunities here on the central coast with my Land Cruiser friends on the LCML, 80sCOOL and Pirate4x4 bulletin board.
Early November is a great time on Californiaís central coast. The summer weather pattern of foggy mornings and sunny afternoons gives way to blue skies and pleasant temperatures. The chance of a brief shower or cooler temperature is offset by the lack of summer season tourists. Everything considered itís one of the best times to visit the area.
In the end the statistics were right but it wasnít looking good a few days ago. About one week before Surf n Turf a powerful storm was brewing in the Gulf of Alaska. This is where our weather and surf conditions are born. I found myself glued to the weather forecasts and satellite imagery. It had not rained here for 280 days! Now a huge storm was bearing down on the central coast and Surf n Turf.
Sure enough the unseasonable weather began mid week. Heavy rains and high surf hit the coast as I prepared for the event. It was one of the most intense storms weíve experienced in a long time. I could only hope it would pass before the start of Surf n Turf.
On Friday the day before the event I went down to the beach to observe the conditions. The beach ramp was CLOSED! The heavy rains, high tides and huge surf were pounding Pismo Beach. The waves were breaking over the entire beach and up onto the street. The beach access ramp was barricaded and there was no way anyone was driving on the beach.
I was concerned about the people arriving later that night, in the dark and rain. Although the tide would recede and the barricades would likely be removed they would still be faced with a potentially dangerous creek crossing on the beach. Just driving the beach and sand dunes after dark in fog or rain would be challenging enough, especially for anyone not familiar with the area. These are the conditions that remind me why I drive a Land Cruiser. It was obvious the heavy rain, storm runoff, big surf and high tides would be the big story at Surf n Turf.
Fortunately, I was able to contact some of the Friday night arrivals and invited them to stay at my home Friday night. I sent messages to the others warning of the high tides and heavy surf. The bay area contingent was due to arrive Saturday about the same time as the next high tide. They would likely be forced to wait out the high tide before a safe passage could be made down the beach.
Friday morning we awoke to a light rain. The Canadian crew had arrived during the night ending a twenty-nine hour non-stop drive from Calgary. They joined Rolland Gueffroy the Swiss traveler on a Pan American journey in his 1984 BJ45 cruiser. Surf n Turf had officially became an international and intercontinental event!
I was up early to haul a large load of wet firewood to the beach campsite. Arriving early at the camp I was happy to see a couple of cruisers. Jimmy Miller had braved the stormy conditions in his FJ40 to arrive at camp during the night. Chris, a local cruiserhead was on site in his FJ60 "Bluemax" ready to welcome our guests. We unloaded the firewood and rain tarps hoping we would be ready for whatever Mother Nature had in store for us.
After a quick phone call to roust the sleepy travelers back at the house everyone met for breakfast at a nearby coffee shop. We were joined by several more local cruiserheads and took over several tables at the restaurant. The parking lot was packed with about every make and model of cruiser, including some very interesting non-USA models. This was starting to feel like a real cruiser event.
After filling our bellies we quickly headed to the beach to beat the incoming tide. The weather was improving and we were anxious to get into the dunes. As we arrived at camp, the breakfast group stopped one by one on the ridge overlooking the protected area that would become the Surf n Turf base camp. It looked like one of the old western movies where hundreds of Indians slowly appear on the horizon circling the cowboys below. It was quite a sight.
Once everyone was settled it was time to explore the dunes. The Oceano Dunes (aka Pismo Dunes) is a geologically unique area consisting of large wide-open space, sand hills, bowls and beach. There is 1,500 acres (out of 15,000 acres) open to off highway vehicles. Itís a great place to wheel cruisers.
The Surf n Turf group quickly found themselves racing around the dunes finding places like Competition Hill to test their machines. It wasnít long until someone had pushed their cruiser to the limit and we had our first carnage. I was surprised because the sand dunes are usually very forgiving. This isnít hardcore wheeling and can easily be enjoyed by inexperienced drivers and stock vehicles. But, in all fairness, romping around the dunes does tend to bring out the wild and playful side in most of us so a little carnage is not uncommon.
This time the price was a broken differential in a supercharged 80 Series cruiser. In typical fashion this conclusion was only reached after pulling and inspecting the birfield. A nasty job in the sand at the top of Competition Hill. Sorry for the bad luck Drexx and a big thanks to Amando for demonstrating his well practiced the birfield exchange technique. As always there were lots of interested spectators.
Itís amazing how quickly the day passes while playing in the dunes. It wasnít long before the sun was nearing the horizon and we headed to the beach for some photo opportunities. Yes, the sun was out! The storm had passed. I was relieved to see our typical weather returning.
The original plan was to make a night run to Big Falls, aka Upper Lopez Canyon. Itís a tight and bushy trail up a narrow canyon near Lopez Lake about 20 miles from the beach. The trail is constantly crossing a small creek and often the creek itself becomes the trail as the canyon walls and canopy of vegetation closes in. It seemed the perfect place for a night run. However, eating dinner and relaxing in camp sounded good too. Plus, there was night wheeling in the dunes. We decided to skip the night run to Big Falls.
One great thing about wheeling and camping at the Pismo dunes is the proximity to town. Itís a quick and fun trip to the grocery store, restaurants, motels and if necessary, parts stores. A few of the group headed into town for supplies and the rest started the bonfire.
Driving after dark adds another dimension to wheeling in the dunes. It can be very disorienting and intimidating. For good reason too, itís very easy to get lost or to suddenly find an unexpected deep bowl or slip face. Remember there are no trails or landmarks just acres and acres of open sand dunes. In other words itís a fun and exciting way for any cruiserhead to spend the evening.
One member of our group learned the hazards of solo night driving the hard way and spent a restless night sleeping in the cruiser at the bottom of a steep bowl with a flat tire. Unfortunately, he had unloaded his tools back at camp Ė a place he could not find in the darkness. It turned out to be a short hike in the morning light but the nicely pitched tent at camp went unused that night.
We all awoke to a spectacular sunrise on Sunday morning. Not a cloud in the sky! Sadly, it was time to break camp and head for the hills. The plan was to drive over the nearby mountains to the historic Pozo Saloon. The single lane dirt road to Pozo rises over 3,000 feet as it passes over the Santa Luica Mountain range. We planned to wheel the Garica Ridge trail along the way. It looked like a beautiful day to make the crossing that would include awesome views of the ocean, dunes and surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately, the heavy winter storm had struck Surf n Turf again causing extremely wet and muddy conditions on the single lane road. The Forest Service had closed and locked the gate due to the wet and muddy conditions. There was no way to cross the mountains. Time for Plan B.
As a fall back, we decided to head to the Big Falls trail we skipped the night before. Remember this trail follows a creek up a narrow canyon. Everyone was anxious to see what conditions we would encounter following the big storm.
As it turned out the trail was in good shape and the additional runoff only increased the fun factor at the numerous stream crossings. We all enjoyed splashing our way up the canyon and testing our cruisers at the various optional challenges along the way.
Once again the time passed quickly and we had to turn ourselves around before reaching the end of the trail. We had missed the historic Pozo saloon but did find a casual Mexican food restaurant in the town of Arroyo Grande. We enjoyed the food as we relived the weekendís wheeling at Surf n Turf 2002. The consensus was everybody had a blast and we unanimously decided we should do it again next year.
The Canadian crew - Mark, Greg, Bruce and Peter Ė had impressed everyone all weekend as they charged the dunes and rallied through the canyon. Sharing our trails with these fun loving guests from the North was a highlight for everyone. These crazy Canadian cruiserheads had successfully driven 1,750 miles straight through to attend the 1st Annual Surf n Turf at Pismo Beach and were now ready to return in the same marathon fashion. When they loaded themselves into Peterís Japanese spec HJ61 cruiser "Trippy" the rest of us bowed at the waist with arms extended giving them the "weíre not worthy" salute.
Roland, the Swiss cruiser, headed South the following morning to continue his Pan American journey. He took this "wheeling" experience and the camaraderie of the North American cruiser community with him in the form of dozens of signatures on the hood of his BJ45 Land Cruiser camper.
See you next year,