I’ve been ready for an adventure, the type of adventure only I can manage. Summer is here in Northern California, not that we had a winter this year, or for the past few, for that matter. I want to go paddling, assuming I can find a large enough puddle. For the past month, maybe more, I’ve had my Yakima car rack in the back seat of my car and I’ve been meaning to attach it to the roof, throw my kayak on top, and, like last summer, just leave it there all season so, on a whim, any time of any day, I can go on a paddling adventure. I’ve been busy in all kinds of awesome ways. But I’m craving some adventure, the type of adventure only I can manage. And I’m damn near ready.
I went to attach the rack to my car yesterday and seem to be missing a bit, a very important bit. So, said $6 bit could only be found online from an outfit in Austin, Texas, and I’ve paid them four times the price of the bit to ship it to me immediately, if not sooner. It will arrive tomorrow. Then, I shall be ready, except I have to work the rest of the week. But, I’ll be ready and not just “damn near ready”.
I got the kayak last summer, a birthday present. As I drive an ever so practical, economy car these days, a car rack was requisite before acquisition of the kayak. The rack cost more than the ‘yak, so it was late summer before I actually got it all together. The very next day after I acquired the rack and the kayak, I set out for a truly “Jardin-style” adventure. The story follows, in the form of a letter written to my son whilst he was at Army basic training. I couldn’t even begin to start the epic tale anew. So, here it is, the letter, nearly as epic as the adventure told within:
September 14, 2014
Another week has passed by already! I can’t wait to hear all your latest news. I think we have letters going back and forth in sort of a circular fashion, so I’ll bet this letter passes a letter from you in the mail stream.
Of things that came in the mail, along with your last letter, awaiting me upon my return from Alaska, a box, from Susie, addressed to me and Grandma. She is so sweet, she assembled an “earthquake recovery kit”, consisting of two plastic Lolita wine glasses, three cans of different macadamia nuts, and a cute stained glass (Lucite), angel wind chime. Don’t tell her, but one wine glass and the wind chime arrived broken, and not from an earthquake, but from the U.S. Postal Service. I have repaired both, the wine glass cannot be discerned from the one arriving whole and the wind chime is chiming in the wind perfectly!
Picking up where my last letter left off, home from Alaska, I spent the first part of last week just unpacking, doing laundry, shopping for food, writing you and getting organized. I reserved myself a campsite out at Lake Sonoma for the weekend and had to get to the storage unit to get gear for my (solo) trip. I’d intended to deal with the storage unit before going to Alaska, but was so busy making sure the house was in order, after the earthquake, that I never made it there. I may have been procrastinating, a bit, too.
So, Wednesday, late afternoon, I made my way to storage. The gates were open, because they were damaged during the quake and have yet to be fixed. We still have to enter our access code going in and out to disarm and arm the alarm proximate to our units, so, I guess it’s okay that the gates are wide open 24/7. I will be happy to see them repaired, as I do pay for “gated” storage.
I get to my unit and everything looked “normal” from outside. The door looked like it could’ve been bulging a little, but I figured, hoped, it was my imagination. Nope. It wasn’t. The door was bulging. It took me half an hour to open the unit door because so much stuff was slumped against it. Lydia, the manager, came by to see if I needed any help. The “engineer” had left for the day, but I could make arrangements to meet him Thursday to assist. I told her I’d keep working on it and that I’d let her know if I ended up needing help. The theme of this letter is “I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy.” So, on that theme; I forced the door up a few inches, reached underneath and shoved shit back. I raised the door another few inches, reached in and shoved more shit back. Eventually, I was able to lie down on the floor, stick my head underneath, and survey the situation. Without having anything crash down on my skull and kill me, as evidenced. I was able to push more stuff back, open the door further, pull some stuff out, finally, and open the door all the way.
For the next hour, I pulled boxes and things out, making my way to the back of the unit. Fortunately, none of the boxes or bins opened. I didn’t take the time to open anything to see if stuff was broken inside. It’ll happen when it happens. I shook a few boxes of fragile stuff, like china and crystal, and I didn’t hear anything that “sounded broken”. It is what it is. For now, the boxes and bins are piled back up the way the belong, or close enough. I am happy to report that your Eagle Scout flag cases suffered very little damage, perhaps a scratch, but the glass is intact, as is Grandpa’s mantle clock. Miracle of miracles. The moral of the story, pack your stuff well, cram your stuff in, put the fragile stuff on top of sturdy stuff, in the middle of the stack, and put the light stuff on top. I got my backpacking stuff out, two of two objectives accomplished.
Thursday I spent the day actually purchasing and bringing home, my birthday present. Remember, I asked for a kayak, or for contributions toward a kayak. Kevin, of course, generously donated, and Grandma did, too. I had enough for the kayak, but not enough for the rack. I’ve been withdrawing $100 each pay period and stashing it away with the gift money until I had enough, which was today. I did a little research online, and I could spend a lot more than I have managed to save, so I was going to have to be very prudent. And practical. And disciplined. Which I am not. I found the “cheapest” kayak at REI, a non-brand name (Perception, as in, is it the perception of a kayak?), for $399.95. But, for $399.95, it came with a paddle (retail value, about $100). The next level up was a Dagger, the name I know, and it was $499, sans paddle. I knew the rack, at the cheapest, was going to run about $500 and I had about $1,000 to play with, if I want to eat this pay period, or buy gasoline, or not incur overdraft fees, which would be prudent. I knew I would also have to run to WalMart and buy the cheapest excuse for a PFD available, as they are required by law. I really wanted to buy the kayak from REI, though I could’ve probably found one cheaper elsewhere. I really appreciate the expertise of the staff, the ability to return things you don’t like or that don’t work, and, of course, the dividend at the end of the year is always fun!
On further browsing, the Perception was only available at one store in Northern California; Berkeley. I waited for morning commute traffic to clear and made my way to the Berkeley REI. I was directed to a gentleman who knew something about both kayaks and car racks, Eric. Eric spent about an hour with me. I told him exactly which kayak I wanted and we found it suspended from the ceiling. I helped him lower it down and, inside, was the paddle. And a PFD. I said nothing. Eric said nothing. Eric went to retrieve the paperwork on the kayak and left me to try it out, in the store. Upon Eric’s return, he told me that this was a “bonus buy”, as the PFD was also included, and, that this was the only kayak the store had obtained, ever, that did. I am a lucky, lucky, girl! That saved me a) fifty bucks, and b) a trip to WalMart, thank heaven!
I’ve named the kayak, because all devices of transportation I own are named, as are all water vessels. Her name is “Prudence”, because it was a purchase I made where I managed to be prudent, because it was such a prudent deal with the PFD and paddle, and, because the Beatle’s song “Dear Prudence” has been stuck in my head ever since I decided I was being prudent in my selection.
Eric and I cobbled together the cheapest car rack solution possible. I didn’t opt for the Thule rack with the kayak cradle and integrated locking system, because, frankly, it costs more than the net value of Meep (my car) and the kayak, combined. I got a Yakima rack, two rack pads, two Kryptonite cables, two 15’ web tension straps and decided to use my gym locker lock, at least to begin with. All for only $474. I’d hoped to shame them into installing the rack for me, but Eric said the earliest appointment was Saturday. I planned to leave Friday to camp and kayak, so, clearly, I was going to be installing this myself. In the parking lot of REI. In Berkeley.
Eric put a sold sign on my kayak and handed over all of my rack parts; three boxes of doo-dads and two bars, plus the straps and cables. He also temporarily stole a measuring tape from the bike and board shop that I could use, as accurate measurements are key in not having your $474 rack and $399.95 kayak land on I-80 during rush hour. Eric estimated it would take me about an hour to affix the rack to my car. By this time, though, it was about noon. Eric and I both stated, simultaneously, that I should grab a burrito from Chipotle next door to eat whilst I installed my rack. So, I did. Actually, I got a burrito bowl. I’m reading Cameron Diaz’s book on fitness and nutrition, and as she echoes much of what Jillian says, and much that I have been practicing over the past several years, I was not about to attempt to eat an entire Chipotle burrito. Big news; the burrito bowl is not much less in quantity or weight. I ate the whole thing. At least I made “wise choices” as to the contents; brown rice, black beans, etc.
Two and a half hours later, I have managed to attach the rack to my car, I think, and to eat the entire burrito bowl. More than once, as I poured over the 300 page instruction booklet in seventeen languages, I considered hauling everything back inside, booking an appointment for Saturday and going home to drink a very cold, very expensive, large format, craft brew. But I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy. I am quite apprehensive about strapping my kayak aboard and driving at highway speeds without some sort of review of my work. Eric’s shift had long since ended. I could tug on the rack in every direction and it didn’t budge, but by now, my arms are very tired and feel like wet noodles. I may not have had the strength to budge the rack a fraction of an inch even if it wasn’t adequately attached. The rack was mostly straight, but some of the brackets were less than symmetrical, I pretended not to notice. I went back inside to retrieve my kayak, somehow lift it atop Meep, try to remember how Eric told me to strap it down, and make my way into traffic. My kayak is right where Eric left it, next to the cash register by the bike and board shop. A woman was at the register and I proved to her I was the owner of the kayak she’d likely been tripping over for the past two and a half hours. I still contemplated leaving the kayak, returning with a $19.99 U-Haul van, and tackling things in the more relaxed environment of my driveway. But I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy. I “kidded” with the girl behind the register that I was a little worried about my rack installation and she managed to convince one of the mechanics to go out and check my work! Yay! Jesse looked the rack installation over and was pretty satisfied. He did even up my asymmetrical clamps and then, nodded with approval. Yay! I think REI was just trying to get rid of me, though, as I’d been occupying three prime, shaded, parking places for several hours and I couldn’t help but wonder if some folks have complained. Whatever.
I grabbed the kayak out of one of the parking spaces and managed to almost lift it overhead. I staggered toward the car and kind of set (dropped) it onto the edge of the rack. A woman, headed to her car from the store, ran over and asked if I needed help. I thanked her and told her I was going to have to manage this on my own, all the time, and this was a good time to start. I (sort of) centered the kayak on the rack and then fussed with the straps for another twenty or thirty minutes, trying really, really hard to remember what Eric had said. I was able to tug on the kayak and only scoot it a little this way and that, so, I crossed myself, got in Meep, and drove off.
I made my way to I-80 and merged into the slow lane. Slowly. It was now after 5:00 PM and I was, thankfully, in very slow moving traffic. I was happy. Going fast was not something I wanted to do, just yet. I kept glancing out of the windshield and upward to make sure there was still kayak visible. I could see the handle dangle in the rear view, too, which provided another level of comfort. About half way home, I noticed that the bit I could see from the windshield and the handle dangling in the rear view, were no longer straight, but, rather, were diagonal. I had made it to Vallejo, where I was exiting the highway, anyway, so I slowed and made my way to WalMart in American Canyon. In the parking lot, there, I found the straps were still pretty tight, but I cinched them down a bit tighter, having regained a little arm strength during the drive. I opened my sunroof, so I could better monitor the position of the kayak during the remainder of our travels home. I did attain highway speed and the kayak remained secured. It is quite noisy, especially with the sunroof open. We made it home.
I cabled the kayak to Meep for the night, and dug out the combination padlock from my gym bag. It’s purple, and didn’t really match my color scheme for the rack accoutrements and the kayak. So, also desiring some bungee cords, for good measure, the kayak and I went to WalMart in Napa. Yes, two WalMarts in one day, but, technically, I only entered one. But still. It has to be a record. For me.
I found a hefty Master key padlock, a box of flat bungee cords in various lengths and colors, and a really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided tackle box that I’m certain will fit much more nicely in my kayak than your hard-sided tackle box. Fifty bucks later, I’m on my way to the parking lot. I was happy to see my kayak still attached to my car (it was locked, but, you can imagine, I’m sure, the insecurity of having your life savings affixed to your car in a highly desirable form). Having a bright red/orange/yellow hunk of plastic mounted to the roof of your very ordinary blue Civic sure makes it easy to remember where you parked, too, I might add.
Friday. I awoke and glanced out my window to find my kayak still attached to my car.
I had a campsite reserved, beginning Friday evening, at Lake Sonoma, in Healdsburg, about an hour and a half away. My intent was to arrive at 2:00 PM, the earliest allowed, in order to avoid weekend/commute traffic, and to allow enough time to hike in/paddle in. The site I reserved, online, was a “hike in/boat in” only, primitive campsite. The online reservation site, which I’ve used before, provides some detail about the amenities. With the hike in/boat in site, you park your car and schlep your stuff over to the site, and, the shore is nearby. Perfect. The online map is very basic, but I see there are seven sites in this group, proximate to the lake and not far from the road, and, I assume, the parking. All the sites, including mine, are reserved for the weekend. I am certain to select sites that are “tent only”, as I don’t relish camping alongside RVs. I figure it would be easiest, as I’m going alone, to “backpack” my stuff in. I cooked and froze my dinners ahead of time and planned on JetBoiling them warm enough to eat. I’ve packed PBHs for lunch and have oatmeal, almonds, coffee and dried fruit for breakfast and snacks throughout the day. My plan was to “pack in”, set up camp, then carry the kayak from the car, the short distance represented on the map.
Because I had to go to WalMart, again, today (worms, ice and a really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided lunch cooler), I didn’t leave the house until 2:00 PM. I made it to the Visitors’ Center at Lake Sonoma by 3:35, they were to close at 4:00 PM. I wasn’t required to check in, but I needed some information, and, hopefully, a map. Plus, roadside, there was a sign that clearly read, “primitive campers, check in here”. There were two senior citizen volunteers working behind the desk. I told them I was a primitive camper, to which they replied I no longer needed to check in. I requested some information, telling them I was packing in and that I also had a kayak with me I intended to use. Neither one of these folks looked like they every kayaked, backpacked, or camped primitively. If I had to label them, I’d say “RVers”. They gave me a map, not much better in detail, or scale, than the one online I’d used to select my accommodations. It was a brochure, really, by the Army Corps of Engineers that operates the lake/dam/surrounding property of 18,000 acres. The “map” showed a black line for roads, a dotted line for a couple of trails, a blue blob for the lake, and little color-coded squares for the campsites. My parking area and campsite were pointed out to me, as was the boat ramp where I could put my kayak in. The boat ramp was clear on the other side of the lake, I assumed, miles away from my campsite. I explained to them that I was packing in, then kayaking throughout the weekend. The two volunteers suggested I pack my stuff in, then return to the free, public boat ramp, put my kayak in and paddle over to my campsite. I clarified; it was okay to have the kayak at the campsite, the campsite was near the water, which they agreed was fact. When I asked if I could simply carry the kayak from my car at the parking place to the campsite, they said, quite clearly, “no”. At this point, I probably should’ve asked for more details, like whether “no” was a rule or whether “no” meant it was physically impossible. But I didn’t. It was getting later and, apparently, I had some driving to do, a little hiking to do, some more driving to do, and some paddling to do. Before dark.
I drove and drove and drove, up, up, up hill. I began to be concerned to whether I was even on the proper road, I could not see a lake and there were no signs about campsites or boat launches or anything. I eventually passed a sign for the “marina”, which was not the “free public boat launch”, meaning, they would charge me to launch my kayak and park my car. Boo. I kept driving, driving, driving, further up, up, up hill. I found a parking lot that matched the name the volunteers had mentioned, so I pulled in. There were a few parking places, a porta-potty, which I used, a bench and a view of the lake far, far, far, far, far below. There were no other cars and there were no signs that said anything about “Quicksilver” campsites, where my site was waiting for me. There was a trail to the left of the parking lot, and, another to the right, neither appeared on the map the volunteers had given me to help me find my campsite. Surely there must be a parking lot labeled “Quicksilver Campsite Parking.” I got back in the car and continued further up the road. After several miles, and no more signs, or parking lots, or any sign of civilization, I began to worry. A little. I eventually passed a sign that said something about “Next Services 50 Miles” and spent the next several miles looking for a turn out, or a driveway, or a spot wide enough in the road, not on a hairpin turn, where I could turn around. Eventually, I managed. I made my way back to the parking lot I’d visited earlier. I referred to the glossy, brochure, map again, comparing the very short distance representing the parking lot I was at and the campsite I reserved. I unloaded my pack from the car and took the trail to the left, because the map eluded to the fact that the campsites were more to the left of the parking lot than to the right, though, remember, the trails from the parking lot did not appear on the brochure map, at all.
I hiked and hiked and hiked. The trail was fairly level for quite a while, which troubled me, because I was getting no closer to the lake, whatsoever. Finally, the trail curved back to the right and went, well, pretty much, straight down. The grade of the trail was similar to the steeper parts of our driveway on Hallelujah Trail. I had my Converse tennies on. It was a short, thick black line between the parking lot and the campsite online, remember? I only fell once. My pack was pretty heavy, too. I wasn’t “really” backpacking, it was glorified car camping. I’d thought.
After what I’d estimate to be about a mile, I came to a fork in the trail and was now fairly close to the lake. There were signs. One said “shore access”, another said “Island View” and “South Lake Trail”, with an arrow pointing left. The arrow pointing to the right had some other trail name on it and the sign facing the direction I’d just came from listed the name of the parking area, “Skaggs Vista Parking Area”. I referred, again, to the lousy map, and the only trail on it was the “South Lake Trail”, so, I turned left and hiked another mile. There were no more signs, no more arrows, and no campsites. I tried to match the inlets and curves of the lake with what was represented on the map. I was, by now, pretty disgusted, and, if Grandma hadn’t made such a big, hairy ordeal about me going camping all by myself, I might have considered aborting, heading back home, and drinking a very cold, very expensive, large format, craft brew. And eating ice cream. But, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy. I turned around and headed back to the fork in the trail.
I took the other fork. The trail was less traveled than the other, and almost disappeared where a tree had fallen across the trail. At first, I thought it was a “trail closed” sign, but I saw how the branches had fallen and then discovered the route a few other hikers before had taken around the downfall. I proceeded on for another quarter mile. I rounded a corner in the trail, just as I was beginning to become concerned and contemplate that craft beer, again, and, to my delight, I saw campsites. The “primitive” campsites were to have a picnic table, a fire ring, and, if memory served, some type of toilet-like facility. I located a site labeled with my site number. Triumph. My pack was here and I’d been smart enough to include dinner for the night and breakfast and lunch for Saturday within. I was, however, becoming a bit concerned with the amount of daylight remaining, as it was now 4:40 PM. I was actually deliberating quite a bit, as to what to do, and, in retrospect, spent way too much valuable remaining daylight pondering my options, which I, at the moment, saw as; a) drop my pack, hike back out, drive to the boat ramp and kayak over, hoping for enough daylight and an accurate enough depiction of the shape of the lake to be able to navigate, successfully, to my campsite, b) set up camp, go get water, spend the night, leave the kayak and hope it was still locked to my car in the morning when I’d go to the boat ramp and kayak over c) schlep my shit back up the hill, camp by the car in the parking lot and start over in the morning, or d) schlep my shit back up the hill, get back in the car, drive home and drink a very cold, very expensive, large format, craft brew. And eat ice cream. But, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy. The whole while, all I can hear are evening sounds; crickets, a few birds, ski boats at full throttle, and rap music, most of which I recognized, for what it’s worth.
I left my backpack on the picnic table and headed back up the hill. There were no other campers in any other sites, but I figured, when they all arrived, they’d leave my stuff alone, figuring I’d return shortly. It was quite a hike out, and the shadows were growing quite long. It actually only took me fifteen minutes to hike back to the car, knowing which fork to take at the intersection. The whole way up, I continued to weigh my options, and, when I reached the parking lot, I, again, deliberated far too long. I did get in the car and drive towards the boat ramp, but, a half a mile down the road, I turned around and parked, again, in the deserted lot. Several cars entered the lot while I was there, as it was really one of the few places to turn around on the winding road. This made me nervous. Knowing you were able, with the right tools, to thwart a Kryptonite lock, given the time and even lesser quality tools, I know someone could end up with a fairly nice little kayak and an even better price than I paid. I was not leaving it. That decision was made. So, my choices now consisted of; a) hike back down the hill, get my pack, schlep it out, camp car-side, start over in the morning, b) carry the kayak a mile, straight down, to the campsite, which is impossible, or c) take the kayak part way down the trail, lock it to a tree, out of sight of the parking lot for the night, then retrieve it in the morning, load it back on the car, drive to the free public boat ramp and paddle all the way across the lake through a dizzying swarm of ski boats. I opted for the latter. I grabbed the kayak and headed down the trail. The trail to the left. The same one I took from the parking lot initially. I hiked a ways, evaluating trees and shrubs along the way, all of which had some disqualifying factor; litter, slope, proximity to trail, poison oak looking twigs, stickers, scat, etc. The level portion of the trail vanished and I began to head downhill, I’m carrying the 38-pound kayak, I don’t want to drag it and scuff it all up before I even use it! I reached that point. Yes, the point of no return. I got far enough down the hill, upon glancing over my shoulder at the grade I’d have to ascend, lugging the kayak, in the morning, I opted for option “b” instead. Because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy. I carried the kayak 99% of the way to the campsite. I drug it the last 1% because I simply could not carry it any further. It was duskier now and I was very, very, very thirsty.
Water might be an issue. I had a water bottle, by now, only half full. I had my Camelback bag, full, in my daypack, which I carried down from the car along with the kayak. I had an empty Nalgene canteen we used backpacking, but, yes, it was empty. I had four gallons of water in the car. I couldn’t remember if “water” was a campsite amenity, or not, so I took a little walk-about. I found the toilet-like amenities, two “porta-potties” that were bolted to a cement pad surrounding two pits in the ground. The porta-potty shell fooled me for a moment, because servicing them would require road access and I was going to be more than a little mad if I found, at this juncture, a road, worthy of poop truck navigation. But, as the “porta-potties” had become a “perma-potties”, my confusion and potential rage were no longer present. Also not present, piped drinking water. It was growing quite dusky by now, and I drink lots and lots of water and had only some water. I’d have to boil water to heat up dinner and breakfast, to make coffee, and to drink now, throughout the night, and on my next ascent up the hill. My choices were a) ration water for the night out of my water bottle and bladder bag, or b) go back to the car one more time and grab one of the two-gallon jugs from my trunk. I opted for option “b”.
I grabbed my water bottle and daypack (it has basic survival stuff in it, like my headlamp and car keys) and headed up the damned hill, again. I grabbed the water and my paddle, PFD and fishing poles, I’m not sure why, I guess because my options kept changing and I wanted to be prepared for whatever my next options may be without, hopefully, an extra trip up the hill! It was now nearly dark and there were no other people around, anywhere. I started back down the hill, remembering the list of local wildlife on the stupid brochure; deer, raccoons, squirrels, various and plentiful bird species, many fish, fox, and bobcat. The well-meaning volunteers warned be about the wild pigs and that I should take precautions with my food, which I did, by hanging my camouflaged, soft-sided lunch cooler full of food from the pole provided. What no one, in print, by warning sign, or verbally, has mentioned, is the fact that there are mountain lions. There are deer, and I’ve seen them, so, there, then, are mountain lions. And we all know they hunt at dusk. So, I proceed back down the trail, carrying sixteen pounds of water in my right hand, which, by the way, has open blisters from carrying the 38-pound kayak a mile down a 10+% grade. In my left hand, I have the kayak paddle and the fishing pole raised up high, to make me look taller, and I’m shaking them back and forth, making quite a racket with the bobber on the fishing line against the paddle. Hopefully, I don’t look, sound, or smell like prey. I smell like a sweaty horse, so I do smell like prey. I make it back to camp, without retrieving my headlamp from my pack. Because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy. All seven campsites are completely dark and totally deserted. I open a beer and set up my tent. I considered cooking dinner, but, I’m just wasn’t that ambitious. I ate half a peanut butter sandwich.
It’s a nice night. It’s warm and there are lots of stars out, I can hear crickets and other creatures walking around in the woods. I can also hear rap music from a lively group of boat campers at a site across the lake. It is really, really, really loud. A bit disgusted, I take my LED flashlight out and flash it out over the water. I’m not sure if they saw it, but the music volume was lowered a bit. I could still identify songs, but it was no longer deafening. I was relieved. Of course, as the evening wore on, and the partying continued, the volume found its way back up to extreme. There was lots of hooting and hollering and it was all quite annoying. It was strange to be so completely alone in the dark woods and so completely surrounded by civilization, all at once. I figured my options were a) be pissed off and not be able to do anything about it, or b) try not to be pissed off and try to have fun. I opted for option “b”. I sat in my tent, drank some red wine, listened to the music, and answered back every hoot and holler in kind, followed by “echo, echo, echo”. Sometimes I added commentary, like, “I love Macklemore!” It was a fun party! I don’t know if they could hear me, or not, but it was still fun, the most fun I could make of it, anyway.
They finally quieted down. The moon came out and lit up the sky. It was still warm out, so, I got up and took the rainfly off. Nothing but net. I saw a raccoon come through my campsite and survey the contents of the kayak. I thought I’d sleep like death, but, rather, I lay awake and considered my options for the morning. I could a) go paddling, which is why I am here, and worry about logistics later, or b) having consulted the brochure map over and over and over again, the public boat ramp is no longer an option as there is not a hiking trail from the free public boat ramp back to the campsite. There is a hiking trail that intersects the road to the expensive marina and passes the campsite, if the map can be trusted. Additionally, the marina is quite a bit closer than the free public boat ramp, I had $20 cash in my pack, and I knew where the damned marina was. I had, in all my travels, not found the free public boat ramp. Or, option c) schlep the kayak and all my shit out in the morning, go home, get some sleep, then drink a very cold, very expensive, large format, craft brew. And eat ice cream. But, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I may be a little crazy. I was leaning towards option “b”. It seemed most prudent.
I did sleep a bit and when I woke up, for the 700th time, it was light. I got up, feeling like I had way more to drink than I did. I attribute that to the physical exertion from the prior evening, the small dinner, and the lack of sleep. I got out the JetBoil, which I justified purchasing after the earthquake, on my way home from Terry’s. I’ve never used it, so I got the destructions out, and managed to assemble it according to the diagram and boiled water. I made coffee in my Peet’s coffee press/mug and oatmeal. I was still leaning towards option “b”, driving to the marina, leaving the car, hiking back. I had no idea how long a hike it would be, but, it was what it was, whether three miles or twenty, I saw it as the only prudent way to get the kayak and gear back home. If I had to estimate distance, based on my experience Friday afternoon, I’d have to say I was six or seven miles from the visitors’ center, and I knew, for a fact, that the marina was somewhere between here and there. It couldn’t be that far. The depiction of the trail on the brochure map, the dotted line, looked fairly straight, straighter, in fact, than the road. There was no indication of elevation on the brochure map, I’d just deal with whatever I encountered because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy. Though prudent.
I survey my gear; all that I’ve carried to the bottom of the hill from my car. I look at Purdence. There is no way all my gear is going to fit in or on the kayak. I glean all “non-essential” items from my accumulation, leaving behind, for future enjoyment, both my Kindle and my GoPro. I’ll have lots of free time to read, kayak and photograph my adventures! Right? I take my Kelty pack, the clothes I’ve dirtied thus far, an extra (the third) canister of gas, my extra coffee cup, my camp moccasins, my orange, garden trowel, and my extra hat (I brought two, with photo ops in mind). I stuff my daypack into my backpack because there are a few things at the car I’d like to bring back down; the rest of the beer and the rest of the food and the other two gallons of water. I don’t really want to carry that stuff back from the marina, however far that is, so I decided to make a trip up to drop off/pick up, come back down, then hike back up to drive to the marina. So, I did. Because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy.
Over the course of my however many trips up and down the hill, I’ve determined, with a fair amount of certainty, that the trail that leaves from the right side of the parking lot is the trail my campsite is actually situated on, the “right” fork of the trail I have hiked up and down numerous times. They are, at least, called the same thing on the two signs, the one at the parking lot and the one at the fork near my campsite. One can only hope. Another sign alludes to the fact that this “loop” trail also connects with the trail I will be taking from the marina back to camp. I decided it would be prudent to hike this other trail out to the car so I could a) verify my suspicions and b) get a visual on the intersection for my return trip from the marina. I do. They are and I do. The “loop” trail is a bit longer, but not as steep, not that this helps me out at all at this point. This “should” be the last time I ever hike up to the parking lot again.
I clocked the distance to the marina by car, it was about three miles or so. I passed the marina, though, because there was no sign coming from the direction of my campsite. I decided to visit the visitors’ center to see if they had, perhaps, a better map, one, perhaps, with actual trails on it. They do, a topographical map, even, though it is so condensed, you really can’t see the contour lines. Putting an 18,000 acre park on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper doesn’t allow for much space between contour lines, even on the flat bits. It is a better map than I’ve been working with, though, as (hopefully) all the hiking trails are represented, including the trails that take off to the left and to the right of the parking area I’m using.
I made my way back to the marina, clearly marked with a sign when approaching from this direction. I head down the access road, and I do mean down. Down, down, down, down. I came to a little roadside booth manned by a woman (LOL). She put her hand out into which I was supposed to deposit $10 cash for “day use”. I explained to her that I intended to leave my car, overnight, and kayak back to the marina from the campsite I backpacked into last night. She seemed confused and I’m fairly certain no one, ever, in all of time, has ever, ever, done this before. But she isn’t so confused as to realize she needs an additional $10 cash from me. I gave her my $20 bill and proceeded further down, down, down, the hill. I’d spotted my return trail, near the top of the road, so, yes, I was going to be hiking up this hill before hiking back to my campsite, which, according to the tiny topo map, was about three and a half miles, or so. At the marina office, I chatted with Janis, the person I was told by kiosk lady, was in charge. I explained to her my plan and asked where I should leave my car. She kindly told me to park it by the caretakers’ “house” (meaning trailer). I did. I gathered my daypack and set off on foot, bidding Meep adieu and hoping for a safe reunion on Sunday. As I headed towards the long, hard, blacktop, uphill road, I saw a penny on the ground. Remember, Grandpa used to pick up EVERY penny from the ground, regardless of whether it was “heads” or “tails”, they were ALL good luck. It wasn’t until you and Lou (my daughter) went to school and learned the heads and tails thing that I knew that only heads up pennies were good luck. I’ve been bothered by this for years. Thankfully, this penny I found was heads up. I scooped it up and placed it in my pocket. I certainly am not saying I’d had any bad luck on this trip, a hell of an adventure, a few lessons learned, but I was still “having fun” and making prudent decisions and conquering the little challenges I encountered. But a heads up penny seemed like a prudent thing to have in one’s pocket with the rest of the weekend before me and a number of variables still ahead.
Meep came down the hill to the marina in first gear. I figured, with the grade and the distance, it would take quite a while to crest the hill. But, you know how when you are headed to a much anticipated destination for the very first time, the journey seems very long? The case was true, here, again. I made very short order of the paved hill, even in the heat of the day. Did I mention that it is nearly 100 degrees here this week? Right. Well, it was. On the up side, the lions would be sleeping in the shade. I passed the lady manning the kiosk, thanked her for taking my money, and found my trail further up the road. I also made very short order of the hike back to the “loop” trail I’d hiked out to the parking lot on earlier. I hiked through lots of chaparral, following the shoreline of the lake below for a ways, then following the contour of the hills away from the lake and the sounds of ski boats at full throttle and rap music.
When I reached the campsite I devoured my sloppy joe’s I’d planned for dinner the night before. Without even cooking them. Then I had an apple. And a warm beer. There were still no people at any of the other sites, but, I did notice a box and a garbage bag of gear on one of the picnic tables. Curious. I sat on my picnic table and contemplated the lake. It wasn’t exactly adjacent to my campsite, it was probably close to a quarter of a mile away. Downhill. I was working up the energy and ambition to haul Prudence down to the water, then find the energy and ambition to paddle. When I made my reservation, I knew the lake was open to water skiing, and, so, had selected this site because it was in a “no-wake” zone. I figured I’d have a large area to paddle about it. Well, with no rain and low lake levels, I had a very small cove in which to paddle and fish and find enough adventure to GoPro. I followed my beer with a very prudent bottle of water. As I sat and sipped and surveyed the lake, I saw a canoe head into the cove. I saw a second canoe. Then another. They made land and disembarked. They also began to pull gear out of their vessels, so, I assumed these were to be my neighbors for the night. I was delighted, at least, that they were paddlers. I’d sort of feared ski boaters and loud(er) music and late hours and excessive drinking and trash and pot smoking and all the stuff I would’ve been party to not so very long ago (except for the pot smoking, that would have been even further back in the past). The canoers were all wearing very bright orange life vests. Or, no, they were bright orange, matching shirts. They looked like men, but I thought I heard a woman’s voice. I was hoping for no small children, and, truthfully, for no canines. I watched and listened and before long, I figured it out; a Boy Scout troop. They were a Boy Scout troop. And I was so happy! If I had to have neighbors I couldn’t have chosen better neighbors! Right?
I watched them for a while, my campsite removed enough from the water and in the cover of trees that I was pretty invisible, unless you knew I was there. I had another beer and watched as the boys were directed to do this, that, the other. Tents were set up, gear was carried from the canoes, the canoes were drug further ashore, paddles were stowed in the canoes, boys were sent to filter water. It was all so reminiscent, and, frankly, missed. I realized how much I miss Scouting, I was nearly verklempt.
The way the campsites were situated, by (very poor) design, to get to the perma-potties, I would have to pass through the very middle of all the sites between, which, but for the one immediately adjacent to me, were now occupied by Boy Scouts. In order for campers to get to the trails, they would have to pass through my site, sort of sidling around the picnic table, or marching right over it. The hillside around the sites, above and below, is steep, and, truly, the only path is right through all of the sites. We were going to have to encounter each other at some point sooner or later, I guessed sooner, as I just finished my second beer for the day, separated by a bottle of water, plus the water I consumed during my hike. But, before I had to head for the loo, one of the orange clad leaders moseyed over to the site adjacent to mine. I think he was looking for ground flat enough for the four-man troop tents. The tent sites provided were cozy even for my two-man tent. I greeted the leader by saying, “Boy Scout troop, right?”, as if it weren’t totally obvious. He confirmed my statement, followed by an apology for the flurry of noise and activity. I told him I was a former ASM and a former Associate Venturing Crew Advisor, and had been involved in Scouting, as a leader, for fifteen years of my life, not counting my time scouting as a child. His name was Bud, imagine that. We chatted for a bit and he said if there was anything I needed help with, I could just ask. So, I did. I said, “if there is a young man or two looking to do a Good Turn today, I’d love some help getting my kayak down to the lake”, which, of course, begged the question, “how did you get it here?” I said, simply, “don’t ask.” But I told him, anyway. Because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy.
Later, another leader came over, then another, then another. I think I met them all, including the “token female”, as she referred to herself. Some of the troop had just returned from Philmont, so we shared tales of itineraries and activities. They were a great troop, and they did Scouting right, from what I could see; patrol method, boy led, leader advised, older boys assisting younger boys with rank and badge requirements, a merit badge associated with the trip, etc. Two older boys came over, after filtering water for the day, and hauled my kayak down to the lake. So now, Prudence was shore side, right in the middle of and somewhat dwarfed by all the aluminum canoes. I wish I’d taken a picture.
I sat a while longer, taking in all the activity; the boys, the leaders, and the swarm of ski boats out on the lake. I’d asked one of the leaders whether they paddled in from the ramp, or the marina. They’d come from the ramp. It took them nearly three hours, but mostly because they had younger boys who were new to canoeing. Finally, I grabbed my daypack, my paddle, my PFD, my fishing pole and my really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided tackle box and headed to the lake. I loaded things in, clambered aboard in a not so graceful fashion. The mud was more than ankle deep and very sticky. I paddled out in a wobbly fashion, trying to figure out when I last kayaked. I canoed down the Chatanika River in Alaska last summer, and was probably more of a hindrance than a help, but I made up for it by being cute. Now, however, being cute doesn’t help, I’m paddling in a great, big, deep lake, by myself, with ski boats thick as flies and wakes crossing wakes crossing wakes. I am intimidated. It is hard. At one point, a ski boat towing a “tube” with four kids goes sailing past a bit closer than I’d like. The drivers and spotters are so focused on their activities, I don’t think they see me and Prudence, at all. And Prudence is bright red/orange/yellow. At one point, I’m a little too close to the shore, my fault, I figured if I was going to be swamped and capsized I’d like to have a fairly short swim. Being too close to the shore means you are going to get slammed into the shore by the wakes, as they increase in size and intensity as they near land. I ended up bracing my hand in the mud as wave after wave after wave from a passing ski boat tried to roll me over into the mud and onto the bank. I’m barely out of the cove and now I’m wondering how in the hell I am going to paddle all the way to the marina with all of my gear. I now have my topic of worry for the night.
I paddle back into the cove, back to the shore, and sit on a bit of plywood to watch the motorboat mayhem on the lake. And to think. What were my options? At this point? Paddle out or pack it out. Neither sounded appealing. I went back to my campsite, had another beer, or two, because I sure as hell wasn’t going to pack them out our ‘yak them out, nor was I going to waste them. By this point though, given the heat and the fact that I kept the beer out of sight of the Scouters by putting them in my dry bag, they were hot! I mean like sake hot! I mean, like, practically have to cool on it to sip hot. Yes, like coffee. Somehow, still tasty. I read for a bit, so, yes, the Kindle was worth keeping with me even with its size, weight and intolerance to water. I reheated the beef stew I made and froze earlier in the week, had it with barely. It was so delish!
I read, I sat, I thunk, and I continued to weigh my options, my exit strategy. I was a little annoyed with myself for not knowing enough about my campsite, my accommodations, about the lake, about kayaking, but, I decided, at the very least, I learned a whole bunch and that I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy. I truly can do just about anything and I know, without a doubt, that I don’t have a friend the whole world over that would ever undertake an adventure like this, even with able bodied assistance. I know, without a doubt, the only people in the whole world that would a) do this, b) enjoy this, and c) have fun would be you, and possibly, though with possible boughts of grumpiness, Lou.
Evening came, and eventually night. I finished my last glass of wine at dusk, while reading, before heading to my tent. I sure as hell wasn’t going to waste it, or pack it out, or ‘yak it out. In my thoughts, considerations and deliberations, I decided it would be prudent to head out, by sea, as early in the day as possible. For two reasons, fewer boats and unknown travel time. The options I continued to weigh, throughout the night; a) chicken out completely, ask the boys to help me schlep the kayak and my gear to the road, stash it, hike back for Meep, retrieve my items, or b) break of dawn, break camp, stuff everything in the kayak, paddle like a fool, deal with whatever happens. After all, it’s only gear, it’s only a kayak, REI has plenty more and I can apply my forthcoming dividend towards newer, better gear, or c) pack most of my stuff up to the parking lot, stash it, paddle fast and light at first light, then drive back for my gear. I was pretty set on option “c”, most of the night. After dark fell, while the boys all told really loud, but not loud enough to understand, campfire stories, I snuck out of my tent and removed my rainfly so I could enjoy the stars and the moon, again. The boys (and leaders) were all perfectly quiet not long after 9:00 PM, and, there were no boaters playing rap music and hootin’ and hollerin’ anywhere within earshot. It was a silent, peaceful, night. I had a solid plan, and Lord knows I was physically tired, but, still, I didn’t sleep nearly as well as I should’ve. While awake, rather than continuing to weigh my options, I meditated a bit, using a mantra. My mantra was that I would have a good, fun, safe paddle to the marina. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was far more poetic.
I did sleep, a bit, finally, and I did wake very early in the morning, while it was still dark. I glanced up towards the sky, the moon was still out but the light was diffused. Cloud cover. It was my “heads up” penny! What would practically guarantee no hordes of ski boats on the glassy, lake, water early in the morning on a hot weekend? A cloudy day. I was still wavering, mostly between options “b” and “c”. When I heard stirrings at the campsites next door, I got dressed in my sleeping bag, just like the good ol’ days. I packed up my gear, rolled up my tent, shoved everything into my dry bag and my daypack, and headed for Prudence. I decided on option “b” after a whole night of being pretty committed to option “c”. I managed to cram the dry bag into the cargo space at the stern of the kayak. I lashed my daypack to the top of the stern using the criss-cross elastic cord attached. I had my tent lashed to the bottom of my daypack, because it didn’t quite fit into my dry bag. My really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided tackle box and my really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided lunch cooler were at my feet, beneath the bow. I had my free PFD on and my free paddle in hand. I pushed off from the makeshift plywood “dock” and paddled out onto the lake. I paddled and paddled and paddled, never slowing, not even to get out a camera, or my GoPro, to capture, forever, the beautiful, serene lake. A thin mist hovered above the still water. The only sounds were the birds, my paddle, and the wake the over-burdened Prudence caused behind us, a rhythmic swish, swish, swish sound. There was one power boat on the lake, motionless, but for its occupants who silently, and fruitlessly, cast lines into the water. Out of the cove, across the broad “ski zone”, into the channel, a “no ski zone”, and finally, an hour of incessant paddling later, the marina. Because, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy.
I hauled Prudence, and her load, ashore. Another power boat approached the dock from behind me, fisher people, I’d say a grandfather, his son, grandson and granddaughter, probably just this side and that of age five. I gathered my day pack, my dry bag, the paddle, my PFD, my really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided tackle box and my really cool, camouflaged, soft-sided lunch cooler and headed up, up, up, up the steep boat ramp and through the long parking lot to Meep who waited obediently for me in front of the caretakers’ “house”. I knew the boat ramp was for people loading and unloading boats, I had no intention of gumming things up with a Civic and a kayak, especially given it would probably take me a while to recollect, again, how Eric showed me to lash the kayak to the car. My arms were pretty noodly, what, from carrying the kayak and the water, and all the other stuff down to the campsite, and, now, from an hour of incessant, if not somewhat frantic, paddling. It may take a while to muster up the strength to hoist Prudence, svelte though she be, atop the car. I moved Meep closer to the boat ramp, a little ways down, pulling over at a wide spot along the side. I hiked back down in time to see the grandson catch a nice small mouth bass from the shore. This was good, because I knew I would be quizzed about fishing and I could now say with confidence, conviction and honesty, that people were catching small mouthed bass, though, I personally, did not. Some will be disappointed to find that I did not fish at all, this bit I may leave out of my story. And, while we’re being honest, mostly, except for the bit I’m leaving out, I didn’t know it was a small mouth bass. I would’ve said a “green fish”, but I heard the grandfather tell the little boy it was a small mouth bass. So long as he is reliable in his knowledge, then that’s what people were fishing for as far as any fishermen go.
I deftly hoisted Prudence up and took the hill back up to the car in one steady attempt. Contrary to my first attempt loading the kayak onto the car in the REI parking lot, I took the time to make certain the more aerodynamic bow was at the front and quite handily managed the vessel onto the rack, all whilst carefully positioning the foam roller pads precisely in the center of both rack and the boat. I quickly lashed everything down to the best of my memory and to the best of my strength. It was 8:20 AM.
I had intended on enjoying another day on the lake, I told Grandma I’d be home Sunday evening. I was sorry to forfeit this time, but I was grateful to have had such a splendid opportunity to escape the safety of the cove, to navigate the treacherous ski zone, and to find the marina so efficiently. I am grateful for all that I experienced this weekend, however abbreviated. I learned, or re-learned from my Scouting days, that planning is the most important part of a trip. I should’ve called and found out many more specifics about the campsites and the amenities, the distances, the conditions. I also learned that, perhaps, it would be wiser to either backpack or to ‘yak pack, but not to attempt both in one short weekend. As I studied the stupid maps of the lake quite a bit, I also learned that there are other, larger, more paddle friendly areas of the lake with their own, dedicated “car top launching” facilities, so, no trailers. I learned, too, from my many hikes, that the 45 miles of trails are all multi-use, in other words, hike, bike, horseback ride! What I learned that was most valuable, though, was that Eleanor Roosevelt is still my hero when she is quoted as doing something every day that you think you cannot do, to do something every day that scares you, and you will gain confidence. Indeed, I’m not your ordinary girl, nor am I easily discouraged, and, in fact, I’m pretty sure I’m a little crazy.
I stopped for coffee at the quaint general store out in the Healdsburg wine country. I’ve passed it a half dozen times but have always found it too crowded and/or time too short, to stop. I got a (terrible) cup of coffee, checked and tightened my straps, and surprised Grandma with my early return and my crazy tales. I had bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast, at the kitchen table, instead of oatmeal and dried fruit at my campsite. I spent the day washing, drying and organizing my gear. And resting. Good Lord, I rested. I read bits of Cameron Diaz’s book, and the parts where she says you should take every opportunity to move, you should not sit for long periods of time, well, for today, I today, I ignored those parts. Grandma and I went to Tacqueria Maria for an early dinner, then to Browns Valley Market, now reopened (after the earthquake), for essentials; milk and bananas for Grandma and organic produce and a very cold, very expensive, large format, craft brew. And ice cream. Which, of course, I combined, for my dessert.
Tonight I shall sleep. My muscles are all achy and sore in the most delightful of ways. I am grateful I work out hard enough and often enough that I can pull off bat shit crazy athletic feats of heroism when necessary.
I am anxious to hear all about your latest endeavors, accomplishments and triumphs! For me, it was just surviving an ill-planned weekend.
Love you Bud! Counting down the days to see you! Lou and I are both super excited!