Recharging at Russian River

Recharging at Russian River

Artist Sam Lee on her rejuvenating days among the Redwoods at AutoCamp

Sonoma County, California

Interview with Sam Lee by Hailey Hirst, in Partnership with AutoCamp

For Sam Lee – a production potter, studio owner, and illustration artist – time away from work is not time wasted. Although she’s lucky to call something she loves “work”, the demands of running a business and constant creative production wear her thin.

One of Sam’s illustrations

As it turns out, even time doing something you love turns to drudgery if you don’t stop and take a break now and then.

A few weeks ago Sam traveled from San Francisco to Sonoma County with her partner Jared and dog Harper for a two-night stay at AutoCamp Russian River.

They slept in a modern-remodeled Airstream, grilled dinners at camp, walked and floated under the canopy of Redwood trees and in the clear water of a cold river. It was near enough to home, but far enough to recapture a sense of wonder in a pastel sunset on the fog shrouded shoulders of Northern California’s rocky coastline.

Learn more about Sam’s experience in AutoCamp‘s cultivated modern outdoor spaces, and the value of escaping somewhere that combines comfort with the quiet wonder of coastal redwoods.

On the benefits of getting away from her work as a potter, illustrator, and business owner

When you do something that you love, but you do so much of it, it ends up feeling like so much work to the point where you exhaust yourself and burn out.

Traveling allows me to take a step back from work and see how everything is much bigger than what we do day-to-day. It’s nice to escape the sounds of the city and the constant work. Running my studio and doing pottery production, along with my illustrations, I just get stuck a lot of the time. I find it hard to take time off. Especially when you have multiple running parts of your business, it can feel difficult to take a break.

I find it hard to take time off. Especially when you have multiple running parts of your business, it can feel difficult to take a break.

Something like AutoCamp is great because I selected the dates and once it was finalized, I could plan ahead and work towards that. I got all the work done I needed done, and pushed myself to go ahead and enjoy the breather.

Russian River was a really quick jaunt away from the Bay Area so I didn’t have to worry about packing much. It took us two hours but we took our time and stopped along the way. Our stops really pulled the trip together, making a feel a little like a road trip but not an overwhelmingly long one.

On the landscape in the Russian River, Guerneville area

When you drive west from AutoCamp the landscape changes from great big Redwood trees to rolling hills and then you hit the coast.

We went hiking at Armstrong Park in the Redwoods. It was really beautiful, but we couldn’t take Harper on the trails so we walked down a road. We mainly stayed at the river on Sunset Beach and Monte Rio, like a ten-minute drive from of Autocamp and it’s dog friendly west of the bridge. Harper got to hang out with some dogs, and we got to sit in the river and let the water brush us by. It was perfect. We don’t usually get sun in San Francisco, so it was nice to sit and take in the rays. We also had happy hour oysters at a place called Steel Metal, so that was fun to hang out in the downtown area for a bit.

We don’t usually get sun in San Francisco, so it was nice to sit and take in the rays.

You can stop at different places along the river and it’ll look different at every point, which is wonderful.

We watched the sunset from Goat Rock Beach and it was the most majestic thing ever because you had these hills that were ochre warm tones, then you pan out and it’s just this beautiful steely gray water, and then the fog rolled in – so just this beautiful majestic sunset with all these different colors. Nature is amazing. You can see it all in one place here.

On the Airstreams, amenities, and atmosphere at AutoCamp

The Airstreams were amazing. I kind of wish I could live in one…

It had everything we needed, compacted: a beautiful kitchen, the best mattress to sleep on, such a beautiful modern bathroom, and every essential you’d need was provided. We had cast iron pan, tongs, all the silverware, dishes, mini-fridge, microwave – it made cooking really easy.

At first I thought I wouldn’t want to cook, but we actually ended up grilling both nights and it was really nice to relax in front of a fire and watch things slow cook. It was nice to take a moment and enjoy cooking in sort of an old-school way.

A lot of time we just sat in the evening, by the fire, grilling, roasting marshmallows, having a glass of wine, just soaking in the atmosphere. Surrounding Autocamp is a ton of trees so no matter where we were, we had a beautiful view of surrounding forest.

Another great part is the clubhouse. It’s a nice community spot with an interesting modern fireplace that’s within the ground, and chairs surrounding it.  In the morning you can press your own orange juice and hang out. There are games out on tables outside for you to relax in the sun.

AutoCamp really combines luxury with being outdoors. It was nice to get away and not worry about the logistics of packing for camping. I wanted to still relax, but not have to worry about pitching a tent or worry about my sleeping bag. It was easy to escape the city, and mentally escape as well. It allowed me to worry less, and that made it easier to check out of work. 

On leaving her work at home, even her sketchbook

I left everything at home – which I normally do on trips – just so I can take in and experience wherever I am. Otherwise it feels like work, because for me, drawing is a form of work. When I draw I really like to get into the details and really draw the moment that I experienced. It’s hard to do that if I’m there drawing in that moment, rather than just being there.

I was there with my new nine-month-old puppy, so I was more focused on enjoying the landscape, making sure she was happy, and having my partner there with me too. Being able to spend time with each other was really great.

Ever since I started this [studio] business and continued with production, and then got the dog, I barely see my partner in crime, so it was nice for us to kind of catch up, chat and talk to one another.

On returning to work after the getaway

The very next day after our trip I was able to get ten times as much work done as I normally would. Maybe it’s because I felt refreshed, but when I sat down to throw I was really happy. I thought, I am doing what I love, and it didn’t feel like going back to work. It felt like I was just enjoying myself.

I threw 25 pieces that day, when normally I only do 10. But in the past year, doing production work and pushing myself, I mentally and physically drained myself to a point where I didn’t even want to touch clay. It’s really important to make sure to take a step away from what you do, so when you come back you can appreciate it more when you are doing it.

Why she’ll go back again

I just have to say again that AutoCamp was so amazing. It made me want to travel more, knowing that it can be this quick and easy. I’ve been wondering what else is available to do a similar getaway nearby and thinking about AutoCamp’s other locations, like Yosemite. I know it would be an easy trip where I don’t have to prepare and stress out about too much, and I feel like it’s feasible and really worth doing.


Learn more about AutoCamp here ->

Editor’s Note: Sam Lee received her stay at AutoCamp in lieu for storytelling to promote their presence in California as a unique outdoor experience – including their newest location in Yosemite. Although this post is sponsored, Sam’s opinions are all her own.

Sam Lee is a production potter and illustrator, and the owner of Dusted and Blue pottery studio. She lives and works in San Francisco. Learn more about her at and see more shots of travel, work, and life on Instagram @samleehello.


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