Sunday, June 12, 2011

Our first camping trip of the season

Back in February I booked a family camping trip to Lake Tahoe's DL Bliss State Park for Memorial Day weekend. I looked forward to that trip for months because it's a place I've been wanting to visit for years. We had a few hiccups in the planning process (people not reading their email mostly), but two weeks before the trip we were raring to go. And then the Bay Area's weather went all nuts on us and we had a cold snap come through. Two days before the trip we checked the weather and were unhappy, but not shocked, to find temps in the low 40s during the day, and snow forecasted for the night. Having both old people and kids on this trip we decided that was probably asking a bit much so we cancelled those reservations and began furiously looking for another spot to camp on such short notice. Anyone that has ever tried booking a campsite in California will know that all the good ones get taken early and require reservations months in advance (see also: booking in February for end of May).

In a couple of minutes via I came upon a campground up in Anderson Valley with an ADA-compliant site available for two nights. Unfortunately for anyone looking to book that last available site within a 400 mile radius of Oakland, you had to have a handicapped sticker to complete your reservation. My father in law had a fall down a flight of stairs a couple of years ago followed by knee surgery that has left him needing said sticker so we were able to make use of it since he was also going on the trip with us.

We confirmed the new plan with everyone, at which point we heard that our nephew S was sick with the stomach flu. FIL also had it and BIL might have it. I was kind of upset because said nephew has gotten people sick before when his parents brought him to family events even when he's known to be contagious. I told Alan that I would be PISSED if I got sick, especially because I was leaving for Seattle for a work trip a day after we got back from camping. I was assured by all involved parties that everything would be okay. I promised to punch someone in the throat if that turned out to be a lie. (Can you guess where this is going?)

Saturday dawned cold and wet. Everyone arrived at our house 30 minutes late and we caravanned our way up 101, stopping in Santa Rosa for some In-N-Out. Mmm, burger. As we got closer to the Anderson Valley, the temps continued to drop and at one point it was raining quite heavily. A couple of miles from our final destination and I could tell Alan was really unhappy and nervous by his body language because the weather just wasn't letting up. Anyone that has camped in the rain knows what a miserable proposition it is. About a mile outside Hendy Woods State Park in the Anderson Valley - just up the road from one of my favorite wineries, Goldeneye - the sun broke through and the rain stopped falling. We checked into the park and I was immediately happy with the last minute switch. I hadn't been sure exactly where HWSP was located as I'd never actually seen it. A lot of the state parks we camp at are right off the main highway so you can hear the road traffic from your tent. Not cool. We turned off the road and drove about a mile or so into a redwood forest.

Checking in was easy peasy, except for the part where the Ranger told us we had one of the small cabins. Ignoring her comment, we continued to the campsite we had reserved. Arriving we were very happy with both its location and its layout - plenty of room for three tents. We had to send my father-in-law & mother-in-law down the road to pick up a tarp to put on the picnic table since it had been pelted by rain for a couple of days. While they were gone "the nephews" helped "the boys" set up camp while I roamed around and helped keep the kids occupied when they were in the way. At one point we got a bit scared as it started to rain again but it only lasted for a couple of minutes and it wasn't come down much at all. FIL reports that down the road it was a deluge. That was the last of the rain we'd see for the rest of the trip - thank goodness!

Later on we went on a quick hike up the hill to the Hermit Hut, a place where an old Russian man had lived primitively until his death sometime in the 80s. Yes, this man lived in a wooden hut in a state park. He also didn't really speak English. Unfortunately, my MIL didn't get to see the hut because she had to take sick nephew S back to camp when he started complaining about his legs hurting.

Back at camp we settled in for the night, cooking up sausages and other stuff for dinner. The kids - and Alan, I might add - were quite excited about roasting marshmallows but we had a bit of a time with the fire. I think because the wood was wet, we had a lot of smoke and not a lot of flame. Nephew J enjoyed mimicking Alan's attempts to blow on the fire to create more flame. Naturally, we had to keep quite an eye on that six year old and his new fascination with fire.

The next morning we woke up bright and early when there were about 100 kids within a twenty yard radius screaming at the top of their lungs. (Can you tell I'm not really one for kids?) We were in charge of breakfast, so we started up the fire and went to work. Alan had the bright idea of using Batter Blaster to make pancakes for everyone. In theory this would have been awesome. In practice, it takes forever to make enough pancakes on an open flame for a group of nine people to eat. We ended up breaking out the bacon as well because otherwise there just wasn't going to be enough food to keep us going until lunchtime.

After breakfast it started to warm up a bit so we went for a hike in the woods with all of the kids. I forget how exhausting children - especially boys that are jealous of one another - can be. Hendy Woods is a beautiful state park with several different hiking paths. We ended up choosing one that looked like it would be about a mile loop to the river and back. In actuality, it was more like four miles. I enjoyed the hike but it was a bit much for the kids. J had to go on time out. D had to take a 15 minute potty break in an outhouse. And S cried and moped when he lost a rock he found. 

As you can see from the photos, I was having some difficulty with my p&s camera. It took fabulous pictures in British Columbia and Hawaii, but for some reason whenever we were in the shade or in the woods it had a really hard time focusing and nearly all of the photos that aren't in direct sunlight were blurry. There were a few that would have been cute if you could actually make out what was going on. I'm going to have to take a look at it and figure out if I accidentally futzed with the settings because I am not about to have to get another new camera because the autofocus stops working (that's what happened with my Olympus I used in Rome & France - all of a sudden it just wouldn't take pictures in focus and no matter what I did, or what setting I used, nothing was crisp.)

After our hike we had lunch and Alan's brothers broke down their tents so they could get back on the road and head home. Alan's parents stayed for a second night with us and it was a nice one. We sat around the fire eating, drinking wine, and chatting. After showering we settled in for the night and I managed to get a really good night's sleep. We woke up the next morning, broke down camp and then made our way home. Before getting on the road I made everyone stop at a nearby Apple Farm for some fresh squeezed cider, a favorite treat of mine.

And yes, I did catch the stomach bug that S and FIL had. Thankfully I had the foresight to sit near the door in the conference room at the hotel so that I could easily sneak out whenever I needed to. Unfortunately it was far too often for my liking. I've now vowed that I am never going to expose myself to S when he's sick again because that kid is a plague spreader.