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Driving Solo Up the Northern California Coast Is Pure Road Trip Therapy

A San Francisco photographer conquers her fears and cozies up to camping alone.


Five days in, Monica Semergiu stumbled on Fern Canyon, where Steven Speilberg filmed scenes for The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

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Friends led Semergiu to a secluded stretch of beach near Fort Bragg.

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Semergiu snagged an invite to a Mendocino resident's annual birthday barn party.

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Revelers hang out around the bonfire.

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A birthday camper and his son hop aboard a four-wheeler at Ten Mile Beach.

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A campsite at Heart Lake overlooks a snowy Mount Shasta.

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Semergiu's route.

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Monica Semergiu refuses to let her anxiety disorder rule her life. The San Francisco photographer goes after the things that scare her—riding a motorcycle, scuba diving, skydiving. So when she found herself with the free time and money to explore the Northern California coast on a camping road trip, she decided to go for it—even though it meant sleeping in the woods and driving long distances alone, activities that sometimes led to panic symptoms like shortness of breath and a racing heart.

Semergiu planned to meander up the coast on Highway 1, then head to Portland, Oregon, stopping in Ashland on the way. On a Tuesday night, she filled the trunk of her Volkswagen Rabbit with $150 worth of nonperishable groceries and camping gear. Her first destination was planned—a friend’s cabin in the Cazadero redwoods. From there she moved north—stopping first in Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific, and then wherever she felt like it, gathering suggestions from fellow campers along the way. “When I travel with friends, it’s always about getting to the destination,” Semergiu says. “But this was more about the way there. There were days when I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep that night.”

There wasn’t much reception on the road, but Semergiu still managed to get a message from an Instagram connection who invited her to a massive birthday party at a Mendocino barn–artist commune, where she camped with strangers. She followed a recommendation to visit Humboldt County’s lush Fern Canyon, where scenes from The Lost World: Jurassic Park were filmed. She explored beaches, swam in lakes, and hiked trails; took photos of fellow travelers to send to them later; made friends with surfers, local farmers, national park ecologists, and a forestry worker; and spent one scary afternoon lost in the woods around Heart Lake near Mount Shasta without a map or cell reception.

Semergiu never made it to Portland—there were too many places to stop along the way—but by the time she returned to San Francisco, she’d been camping for 14 nights and had traveled more than 1,000 miles. Despite the occasional panicked moment—that first night on the road, at Manchester Beach when a fire refused to ignite—the trip ended up feeling almost like therapy. So much so that she’s ready for more solo travel. “I’ve always wanted to go to Yellowstone,” Semergiu says. “I can camp by myself, light a fire, and cook my own food. It’s going to be fine.”


: CA 1 to US 101 to US 199 to CA 99 to I 5 to I 505 to I 80.
Distance traveled: Over 1,000 miles
Days on the road: 14
Favorite accommodations: Manchester Beach KOA and Lake Siskiyou Resort & Camp
Provisions: Everything Semergiu ate came out of the trunk of her car.
Necessities: A headlamp, bug spray, and a two-week supply of whiskey.


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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