Carpinteria Turns the Corner

Unsurprisingly (in retrospect only mind you), things improved quickly in Santa Barbara.  The middle motorhome in our tightly packed group of three departed, giving us a little breathing space.  We remembered that not having electrical or water hookups wasn’t such a big deal, particularly when the weather’s nice.  And did I mention we were right on the beach?!  Sand between the toes works wonders.  For what, you ask?  Yes, I answer.

Incidentally, we’ve learned that our limiting factor with dry camping (again, this assumes mild weather – if it were hot enough to require the a/c not to be miserable, it would be a different story) is tank levels.  Specifically our grey and black water tanks.  We’re able to be conscientious with both as technically we’re never really required to go to the bathroom inside, and we could wash dishes in a communal sink and/or use paper plates.  But in practice it just isn’t nice to tell a dancing, cross-legged Woodsprite that she has to grab the flashlight and hike out to the public pit toilet to poop.  So four or five days seems to be our dry camping limit before we have to find a place to dump the tanks & reset.  That also seems to be the point at which we get tired of firing up the generator in the morning and evening to charge everything that needs charged & re-juice the coach battery.  Fortunately our refrigerator runs on either electric power or propane, so our food stays cold & fresh regardless.  Very good to learn these things from experience.

Back to Carpinteria Beach though – we adapted quickly to an on-the-beach lifestyle.  Morning and evening walks down the coast, homeschool tasks completed in the Clam on the sand behind the RV, frequent dips in the water…

IMG_9543Carpinteria is known as a safe, family-oriented beach due to the long and shallow wave-breaking zone.  Though there is a surf spot there known as “Tar Pits” due to the formation of hardened, prehistoric tar on and just in from the beach about a half mile to the East of where we were, the waves never topped about two feet or so, which translated to chest high at most while wading.  My plans for surf lessons would need to wait.

Woodsprite at “Tar Pits”
OK, not the best expressions, but isn’t that a pretty wave?

On the other hand, Keeper turned his own corner there in a way that made my heart swell.  I previously mentioned his aversion to, or at least hesitation about body boarding due to prior forehead-grinding-in-sand experiences and his perception that he was seconds from a tragic drowning death.  I had tried to help him overcome that by going out into the water with him a few times, to no avail.   What ended up doing it for him was a girl (yes!).  OK, not entirely true, it was a girl and her brother, both of whom were near him in age.  Keeper and I had done a little pitch dark night swim the evening before, which had its own cool adventure aspect to it, and on the way back to the site we came across the two of them and a few other kids heading out to the beach.  Surprised to see us soaking wet, they asked about sharks.  I hadn’t seen them well enough in the dark to recognize them the next day, but evidently they recognized us.  I guess my answer that there were only a few dozen sharks around and the fact that we were wet while they were bundled against the chill made us memorable.  Or something.  At any rate, she and her brother had said hello to us the following day, and had been out riding the small waves for quite some time when Keeper suddenly grabbed the Boogie Board and said he was heading out there.  I throttled my excitement, but watched closely.  Turns out having kids your age, one of them of the opposite sex, body boarding with you is a much better motivator to learn than is having your annoying Dad telling you how you’re doing it wrong.


He was out in the waves for at least an hour, and by no more than halfway through he was catching waves easily and confidently.  His quote later will stick with me, both for its exuberance and for its confidence, which doesn’t always rear its head when Keeper’s trying new things.  He had expressed his intention to head out and catch a few more waves before sunset and I mentioned that they had gotten a little bigger with high tide and were breaking a bit steeper and closer to shore, making wipeouts a bit more likely.  His response, while tearing away from me toward the water, board in hand:  “I’m not wiping out, I’m going to catch them and I’m going to look AWESOME!”


Firebolt settled into a different groove in Carpinteria, though no less confident.  What she appears to have realized is that she’s not a swim-in-the-ocean girl.  It’s not entirely clear what she objects to, but tough to remove sand is at least a partial culprit.  No amount of cajoling gets her into the waves with us, but what I love is how calmly she rejects our pleadings.  She appears more 30-something than 8 when she patiently listens to all of us badgering her childishly, then replies “no thank you, I’d rather sit here and read.”  And read she does.  She is tearing through books and can’t get enough of them.  In fact, one of her more memorable recent quotes to me was: “Dad, I don’t think I want to be President anymore.” [This has been a previously stated goal]  “Oh yeah?  Why not?”  “Well, I really like to read and I don’t think Presidents read much.”

Go ahead, unpack THAT one.


I did explain to her that I think the best presidents do a ton of reading, which got her thinking about Abe Lincoln, so maybe her political career isn’t tanked just yet.

Woodsprite has found her bliss in the shallow area where the waves have already broken and are making haphazard patterns over the sand.  I showed her how to find sand crabs by looking for their antennae on a retreating wave and she often asks me to dig a few up so that she can check them out, but she hasn’t yet decided that digging them out for herself is a good idea.  She’s a fairly recent swimmer, so I won’t take her out in the actual waves unless she’s wearing a life vest.

She expressed an interest in “surfing” based, I think, on a kids’ book in which a singing cat goes to the beach and spends some time surfing double overhead waves (and still manages to stay dry!).  I took her with the boogie board into the whitewash area, which was only about ankle-shin deep.  On her first attempt — and by “attempt” I mean that I put her on the board and then pushed her when the remains of the wave swept through so that she could ride the whitewash the few yards into the shore — she rode it for a few feet but couldn’t quite stay balanced on it, then fell off onto the sand, only to have the water and sand continue to wash over her and the boogie board leash wrap around her neck as the board continued on without her.  It was far more gentle than it sounds, but hilarity did not ensue, and though she may pull a Keeper and turn the corner with board sports, it’s safe to say she’ll be sticking with chasing already-broken waves on foot for at least the near future.  She still loves that.

A lone Woodsprite frolicking on the left

Keeper pulled another coming-of-age stunt by searching for and finding a place to hang the hammock inside a small clearing at the top of the dunes just outside the campsite, and then insisting he’d like to sleep there under the stars.  I let him know that he was essentially on the entire campground’s path to the beach, or at least right next to it, and in response he assured me that he’d have his knife, again.  Ah good, at least you can shiv the teenagers trying to sneak out in the dark.

He spent the entire night out again, and told us in the morning that he’d been semi-confronted by a group of what he assumed were kids at some point after we had fallen asleep.  He said that he heard the group approach, then get quieter and start whispering once they spotted him.  They didn’t seem to be moving and may have been doing some scheming, so he summoned up his deepest Peter Brady voice and boomed “Can I Help You??”  Satisfyingly, they scattered immediately.  He didn’t even have to pull out the pocket-knife.

On the second to last day, we opted to take advantage of the cheap Six Flags passes we had bought back in Maryland.  We had a Six Flags park (plus waterpark) right down the road from us there, and found that the season passes, if purchased ahead of time, cost about the same as a day in the park.  The park there isn’t much, but it’s almost never crowded, and a couple hours in the water park with the kids is a perfect antidote to the sticky Maryland summer.  At any rate, the passes entitle us to admission at any Six Flags park, and Magic Mountain just north of LA is pretty much their flagship.  My understanding is it’s the only park with more roller coasters than Cedar Point, so we felt like we had to make the comparison.  Plus it, like many things I’m exposing my family to in Southern California, figured heavily into my childhood.  Disneyland was for good clean fun, but Magic Mountain was where you went to get your mind scrambled.

Despite all the amusement park visits (we have Disneyland still on the docket), we’re still not really amusement park folk.  But Magic Mountain on an off day was worth the drive.  And free!  No lines, and at least double the roller coasters from back in the day.  We couldn’t even ride them all due to time, but that was fine – my head can only take so many and the girls were height-limited out of most of them.  Minds suitably scrambled, we drove back to Carpinteria at sunset to enjoy the beach once more that day.

Overall, I loved Carpinteria.  Despite the rough start, it turned into almost exactly the beach-front beginning to our Southern California stint that I was hoping for.  We hiked on the beach, I biked up and down the coast on the trails, we set up The Clam on the sand and spent the days in and out of the water and lolling on our beach towels.  As a bonus, we spent a little time in Santa Barbara proper and I was able to arrange a meet-up with an old college (and high school!) friend who is now a city councilman in SB and is living the good life there with his wife.  We had some wine and snacks and conversation on the crest of the dunes just after sunset while the kiddos played back in Davista.  Soooo Santa Barbara.



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