Redwoods To Big Sur: Exploring The PCH In A 1986 Toyota Sunrader

Kareem DiengJanuary 26, 2019

Redwoods To Big Sur: Exploring The PCH In A 1986 Toyota Sunrader

The United States of America are magnificent and diverse, and yet so few make the time to set out and explore them. While many stay cooped up living conventional lives, there is a movement happening. People are declaring their independence and answering the call to freedom. They are liberating themselves from stationary homes and hitting the open road in the pursuit of happiness.

I am now one of those people. Along with my partner Taylor, our Frenchie North, and Sully the Sunrader, we are bolstering the burgeoning brigade. Road warriors taking #vanlife to new extremes.

Sully in the Avenue of the Giants. Photo by Taylor Paige Photography.

I happened upon Sully one day while searching through Craigslist. There were only a few of these vintage vehicles listed, and considering its age and rarity, this one was both on budget and in top condition. Sully is a 1986 Toyota Sunrader; a sought after rig that gives its owner great mobility, ground clearance, living space, and plenty of street cred.

We researched the vehicle and had it appraised. Then after a couple of weeks communicating with his previous owners, we set out to Ashland, Oregon to meet Sully the Sunrader in person. We fell in love, and that is where this journey begins.

Ashland is a midsized town along the border of California, known for its annual Shakespeare festival. Located in Rogue Valley, it is quaint, artsy, and surrounded by mountains. We arrived at Ry and Morgan’s to pick Sully up, got the rundown of the rig, stayed the night and set off to the coast the next morning.

Pull off in Big Sur, California. Photo by Taylor Paige Photography.

The first obstacle: Route 199 through Grants Pass, over the Pacific Coast Range. Sully was an absolute trooper. He tore up the road, taking us over the mountains in style. We came to our first stop. Crescent City, right on the coast and one of the northernmost cities in California.

We had endured steep mountain roads, harrowing hairpin turns, and brake-burning descents. All that hard work paid dividends. We stayed in a Walmart parking lot night one, but day two would open up our eyes to what felt like a new world.

The famed Avenue of the Giants. This backcountry road takes you through towering trees, lush vegetation, and winding rivers. The experience feels like you’re time traveling through the Jurassic period. At any moment I felt I may mistake a Brontosaurus leg for a Redwood trunk. We pressed on toward Fort Bragg after wading in the river bed and posing for a few photos on fallen giants.

Humboldt Redwoods. Photo by Taylor Paige Photography.

We ended up just north of Ten Mile River Bluff in Newport, California. We found a great boondocking (off-grid, or dry camping) site through the iOverlander app. There, we made camp for the night in the dark. After parking Sully, we cooked dinner and hit the hay. The next morning, Mother Nature treated us to a grand display of the stunning North Pacific Coast.

I crept outside at 5 a.m. With tripod and camera in hand, I was eager to catch the golden hour. We had parked along a cliff the night before with a tremendous ocean view. Rock islands capped with golden green fields came into focus as first light broke. Images of the crimson-painted sky seared into my memory. This was not your average overnight spot, and the rest of our trip to Big Sur proved to be equally as spectacular.

Golden Hour Morning, Ten Mile River Bluff in Newport, California. Photo by Taylor Paige Photography.

After our morning coffee ritual and superfood shake, we hit the pavement. Our first stop for the day? MacKerricher State Park and Marine Conservation Area. We barely had time to digest our shakes when we arrived in Albion for a cliff walk. It felt like we had walked onto a scene from Game of Thrones. It was hard to keep moving on down the road. Everyone told us to be ready to stop every five minutes to take in another elk sighting or vista view. They weren’t lying.

We finally forced ourselves to move along and made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. We made good time traveling through San Francisco and took a brief stop to walk the pier in Santa Cruz. We arrived at our first major destination after passing through Monterey on day five: Pfeiffer-Big Sur National Park.

This sprawling National Park could be named the eighth wonder of the world. At every bend we met show-stopping views of 200-foot cliffs and the grand ocean expanse. Traveling beside nail-biting drops on “The One” as locals endearingly refer to the PCH, Big Sur live-streamed an unforgettable adventure. It quenched my deep desire to connect with nature.

The Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California. Photo by Taylor Paige Photography.

There is no substitute for the Pacific Coast Highway and its natural splendor. Everyone deserves to experience it at least once. Many consider it a rite of passage. From ancient old-growth forests to mind-bending cliffside cruises, the variety of environments has no equal.

At the very least, you owe it to yourself to take the drive. And, if you’re ready for a life of exploration, consider joining the tribe and making full-time #vanlife your new reality.

Wilderness guide, photographer, ultra-endurance athlete. Full time #vanlife with @TaylorDieng and @NorthStarFrenchie. Follow us @StrongWon and #SullyTheSunrader.

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