Every family has their 'thing'. Some play boardgames. Some paint and sing. For Ambassador Sally McGee and her partner Tom Bing, that 'thing' is adventure. Determined to raise their son in the same vein, the young family set out on a two-month road trip through the Southern Californian and Sonoran deserts.
Adventure Is A Family Affair
In 2016, Sally and I boarded a ferry from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico to La Paz, Baja California. I remember falling asleep on the deck of the ship under a bright blanket of stars in the middle of the still sea, anticipating the vast desert ahead. 1000 miles of Pacific coastline hiding point breaks under rugged cliffs. We spent a few weeks working our way north, guided by the swell, the dirt roads, weather systems and where it was safe and free to camp.
About eighteen months after this amazing trip, Sally gave birth to our son Billy back home in the North East of England. The way we saw it was that our son was born into a family who prioritised travel, adventure and surfing over most things. We were excited for him - he was well and truly along for the ride with us. We weren’t as nervous about the practicality of traveling as a family as we were excited about bringing a kid into a world that was full of camp fires, starry skies, wildlife, waves and adventure.
Not your standard family portrait.
Billy, checking out the locals...
Billy’s always been pretty feral; our neighbours would make comments about him never wearing shoes. His nursery loved his stories of adventure; his collections of shells and creatures. His leaving report from nursery stated that his super power was his ‘love and understanding of the world around him”.
His Mum surfing has been a part of his life since he was ten days old. Stuffed into fleece lined onesie and sat on reefs collecting treasure in Yorkshire, Northumberland and Scotland, or in Madeira, Indonesia, New Zealand and Morocco.
This past winter’s trip to Baja was dreamed up by a deep, cultural love and connection to California. Taking Billy to California and embarking on the SoCal surfer’s rite of passage south of the border felt like such a great adventure that we had to make it work, and we had to make it work on a budget.
We flew to LAX, stayed with some good friends in the OC and trawled the internet for used trucks. We found a 2000 Tacoma, it was the second one we went to see; it had a truck cap, good tires, ran well, AC, nice paint. Our good friend Otto from the Temecula based motorcycle company Biltwell was our Californian consultant; he knows a thing or two about Toyotas, Adventures and Baja. The truck felt right, we trusted the family selling it. We looked them in the eye, as a young family putting it all on the line for this trip and we asked them if they would buy this truck for the journey we planned. They looked us back in the eye and said they would; so we shook hands and gave them all our savings.
We took it to our friends Rob and Tracey’s up in the hills East of LA and DIY built a bed, some storage and raided their workshop for fluids and camp gear. Otto hooked us up with tools; compressors, starter kit, plug kit, tow ropes, jack etc and set us on our way. Boards loaded on the roof bars, Billy crammed in the back, roof box full of UHT Oat Milk, wetsuits and tools - we were ready for the desert.
Sal heading into a SoCal lineup...
... And Billy, catching some air time.
We dossed around San Diego for a few days planning our routes, watching the charts. We’d surf in the mornings and take Billy to ride BMX in the afternoons. We’d brush our teeth, get Billy into his pajamas in a supermarket car park and slowly crawl around the streets of Encinitas looking for the perfect million dollar house to camp in the street in front of. A funny concept for a four year old but it’s how we make these trips possible. Reading books in whispers under the covers with a head torch trying not to get the police called on us.
We spent three and a bit weeks driving south and a few long days back north; all three of us crammed in the back of a truck bed sleeping on eggcrate, camping by point breaks. Cooking every day outdoors on the tailgate, beans, tortillas, avocados, warm beers. We paid close attention to the landscape; watched Coyotes stalk across the beach at dawn, Osprey devour fish on grand saguaro cacti, Billy touched Californian Grey Whales; collected Sand Dollars, Abalone Shells. We built fires with friends made along the way, passed around bottles of tequila for a warming sip in the coolness of the night. We battled wind and found Mexican gold round sandy corners. Watched the humpbacks playing in the morning sun. We lived a different life for a month south of the border. A month of stories, conversations, and surfing until our arms felt like spaghetti.
From breakfast on the tailgate...
... to dicovering the bones of giants.
Sally had promised Billy that she would take him to the place that her jar of special shells had come from and here we were, a four year old’s paradise. As we drove back north to California, practicing Spanish, telling stories, we would talk in the front when Billy fell asleep about how we could never let this go. How important it was for us all. We watched our kid grow years in a month. We watched him connect with nature on a deep level. School starts in September and we are figuring out our path forwards as a family. Whatever that path is, it has to include adventure. We believe adventure, however big or small, is far too valuable to let go of.
The two months away came to an end; we battled with keeping the truck on friend's land but found a good home for it in the end. The next trip will be somewhere new.
Turns out we were right to listen to Otto; Toyota or nothing.