I’ve been here before. I’ve been here a couple of times before. But I’ve never been here with less than nineteen other people, mostly teenagers. Today, I am here all by myself.
Coast Camp in the Point Reyes National Seashore. I am backpacking. Just a quickie, a short two-mile hike in, one night over, and the hike out again. I planned to make the most of my mini-adventure.
I love the beach, I love these Northern California beaches. And I love that in mid-November it is sunny, seventy degrees and nary a soul is here. Of course, it is also Wednesday.
Packing for a solo trek and not a Scouting trek changes everything. When I was a Scout leader, we advised the youth to pack only one “luxury item”. It could be a small pillow, or a deck of cards, or a small journal, maybe a paperback book. But only one. And there would be a shakedown, a pack inspection. The adult leaders tried to live by the same rule, at least in appearance. Our packs never were fully inspected.
With only a two mile trek, and no one to set an example for, I’m pretty sure I had more luxury items in my pack than necessities. No one was checking, it was just a matter of me being able to carry it, and it was, after all, only two fairly level miles. And being by myself another thing, many, many times, my daughter and I would overpack a wee bit, knowing my a able-bodied and benevolent son would assume what we could no longer carry. I’ve also overpacked and mailed shit back home. I am the queen of overpacking.
My last couple of trips I’ve brought a full-sized bed pillow crammed into a compression sack, and it has been a wonderful luxury. This time, for some reason, I considered that excessive. I had other luxury items in mind and decided I’d do what I’ve always done for a pillow, stuff my clothes into a standard pillow case.
The luxury items I did cram into my pack included:
- A large format beer, a Point Reyes Porter by Marin Brewing. Seemed apprapro.
- A split of Frog’s Leap Zinfandel
- A split of La Crema Pinot Noir
- My Kindle
- A full-sized composition notebook I use as a journal in low tech environs
As I didn’t decant the wines into the lightweight bladder bags I spent the last of my REI dividends on, but took them as is, in their bottles (I’ve had issues with leaky wine bags, I’m a little gun shy, to waste red wine is abhorrent, and it is very difficult to suck the wine out of one’s clothes and sleeping bag), I figure my luxury items probably totaled about ten pounds, nearly eight pounds in liquid alone.
I managed. I’m a beast like that.
I left for my adventure later than planned, but luckily I planned for that. My hope was to drive to the visitors center, as instructed, get my permit and the upon request only fire permit, for a fire on the beach. Then I’d drive to the trailhead, hike in, and set up camp. My goal was to have this all done by noon so the rest of the day could be spent frolicking on the beach. The tent was erect and the smellables (food and toiletries) stashed in the metal food locker, at precisely 12:01 PM PST. Am I good, or what?
To the beach! A very short walk. I had a “beach to-do list”:
- Drink beer, take picture
- Do a cartwheel, take picture
- Take a great beachy selfie
- Draw a love note to my sweetie in the sand, take picture
- Hike, take pictures
- Sit in the sand, take pictures
- Drink wine, take pictures
- Watch the sunset, take pictures
- Have a fire on the beach, take pictures
- Sleep soundly, no pictures
That’s just for day one, there was a list for day two, too.
I arranged all of the materials I would need for beach to do list items one through five, plus my lunch, into one of my reusable Whole Food shopping bags I so adore. Did it count as a luxury item, too? Damn.
I decided to stop by the vault toilets on my way to the beach. Seemed prudent. I could top off my water bottle too. The potties and the faucet were in the group campground, where I’ve camped both times previously. They are a short but inconvenient walk from my campsite. But, to have them at all is unusual. It isn’t in many places that you backpack and have an enclosed bathroom with a seat and a lid and drinking water that doesn’t require first, finding, and second, filtering.
With these amenities, of course, come rules. Each campsite has a metal food locker, as referenced above; though shalt keep all food within at all times. Each campsite has a barbecue and you can only use charcoal within. Talk about a luxury item! I can just see schlepping a ten pound bag of briquettes in! But, you know what? Me, the queen of keen observation, noticed a pile of still black charcoal briquettes in one of the empty group campsite barbecues. This fact drove me to distraction for the rest of the afternoon. I wanted them, I could have a little dinner time warmth and glow in my campsite. I spent the first half of my afternoon on the beach scheming on how I was going to relocate those briquettes.
I walked towards the beach. Along the way was “the tree”. A huge eucalyptus tree, massive, with exposed roots and low branches and a tall, tall canopy. It stands majestically on a bluff overlooking the sea. On my first trip here all fourteen teenagers gathered in, on, and around the tree. I took pictures. Very fond memories of that. I took pictures of the empty tree to share with my kids who were two of the fourteen. Sigh.
The beach was empty. Mine all mine. I was quite hungry and that beer wasn’t getting any cooler. I walked right from the trail to just above the surf line, plopped my ass in the sand, popped open the beer, arranged my lunch nearby, and took twelve pictures. Beer and beach. Beer with lunch. Beer by shoes, surf in the background. Beer and bare, sand encrusted feet with recent pedicure. Beer selfie.
Then, suddenly, there were three other people in my midst. I felt violated. I sat amidst this unwelcome crowd for a bit while they took dozens of pictures, all carefully posed, and when I could stand no more, I stood. I stood up, gathered my things, and walked further down the beach. I hadn’t even had a sip of my beer yet, it was open and full and walking in sand is never as easy as it seems. I always feel like I have a Frankenteinish beach gait, I don’t know how Bo Derrick made it look so graceful and effortless.
I made my way southward down the beach a mile or so. I found a nice, sheltered cove to sit in. It was quite windy, and while not cold, the wind did make me a bit cooler than I‘d like after sitting for a while. I’d had enough of nature’s own microdermabrasion for now. I sipped my beer, jotted a few observations down in my journal, watched the waves crash up onto the beach and into a few rock outcroppings nearby.
Observations made (beer about half gone):
- Re-read Jonathan Livingston Seagull (I was watching the seagulls, apparently)
- If reincarnation is for reals, coming back as a pelican might not be all bad; you get to swim, float, fly, eat lots of fish and live near the beach. I always thought bears were my spirit animal and that if I wasn’t one in a past life, I am destined to be one in a future life. But, in the event all the bears are taken when my time comes, I’ll keep the pelican in mind.
I began to ponder the charcoal briquettes, again. I had eaten my lunch and was working on my nuts. I brought with me a bag of peanuts, ballpark style, in the shell, and another bag of pistachios, despite their expense, a staple in my outdoor adventure snack fare. I’d need some sort of vessel or container to put the dirty briquettes in to carry them back to camp.
Observations made (two more sips of beer ingested)
- Eat enough nuts so as to put all the nuts in one bag and the charcoal in the other
- Eat more peanuts because they take up more space and because the shells are more crunchable downable
- Am I no different than a seagull? Or a crow? (Observing one of each species now watching me intently as I munch nuts. I’m calling the seagull Jonathan and the crow Edgar Allen as they both edge closer) Am I just a kindred scavenger with Jonathan and Edgar, here?
I accomplish my new mission; I eat enough peanuts and crush the shells way down and now I have one Ziploc bag of smashed shells and another of just nuts. I go to tilt the large format beer bottle to my lips to drain the last few drops and three (other) people walk past and observe me curiously. My goodness, this beach is crowded today, that’s six people in a mile stretch in an hour. I decide to uproot and head north up the beach. It’s selfie time. My list isn’t going to accomplish itself.
I pass the trail back up to camp as I head northward and I debate a quick detour. The briquettes are a commodity and while I haven’t seen any other campers in the campground, I want to scavenge the coals before someone else spots them, or occupies that particular site. I decide to wait, if it’s meant to be, the coals will be there when I return. I head further up the beach in a quest of privacy and solitude for some selfie action.
The beach is quite sloped and as I’ve just become a born again cartwheeler, I am hoping to mitigate the potential for injury by finding a slightly less slopey patch. Besides, with all the foot traffic the sand is all footprinted up. I’ll need pristine sand for my sand writing. I keep walking.
About a mile up the beach, I find clean sand and a gentler slope. I plop my Whole Foods bag and my ass down, simultaneously. I set up my miniature gorilla grip tripod, mount my iPhone, aim carefully, using a crab shell in the sand as a marker. I set my iPhone to “Slo-Mo”, press the record button and make my way to the mark. I do three cartwheels. Unlike making waffles, crepes, or pancakes, the first cartwheel is always the most perfect and they just get progressively worse from there. I review the footage and the first cartwheel is a gem, I take a screenshot of the slo-mo video for future Facebook cover photo usage.
I find a patch of unmolested sand and go in search of a stick with which to express my feelings of love. There are no sticks. I begin to wonder if I’ll be able to acquire enough driftwood for that beach fire I am officially documented to be permitted to have. I’ll cross that sand dune when I come to it. For now, I just need a stick. I end up resorting to using the butt end of my selfie stick, which, up to this point, I believe I’ve carried with me for hundreds of adventures, logging, likely, thousands of miles, and it has only been employed thrice. It serves rather poorly as a sand writing utensil, the tip is blunt, not nearly sharp enough. Sand writing is much harder than you’d think. It took me three times to impressively express my affection and adoration. I took several pictures so I could later choose the sharpest and clearest image, they all look kind of fuzzy and blurry, I don’t know if it’s the beer or the blowing sand or the wind blowing my hair into my eyes.
I sit and set to taking a few selfies, now. Damn wind. I’m going for beach and sun and sand and breeze, but I’m just getting hair. Hair and my lips. Hair and an ear. Hair and my nose and part of one eye. Just hair. Hair and three teeth, one nostril, a third of my upper lip. Just hair. I keep trying, giving it the shotgun approach; keep hitting the shutter button and hoping for a millisecond of cooperation from the elements (which includes my hair, it is now a force of nature).
I have crossed number six off my beachie to-do list, provisionally. I note a couple more observations in my journal:
- Sand writing not so easy
- Next trip to the beach, bring aviator sunglasses for an ultra-cool reflection
- Why didn’t I think to equip for mimosas for breakfast on the beach tomorrow morning? Note to self, add to “musts” on packing list for future adventures
The sun is beginning to sink towards the horizon. It is time for wine. And for procuring the briquettes. And to pee. I head back to the campground to replenish with the materials necessary for the next few items on my beachie to-do list.
I walk back down the beach towards the path up to the campground and make a beeline for the briquette bestowed barbecue. I find the campsite still uninhabited and go quickly about filling my Ziploc with the blackest of the coals. I can barely zip it shut and there are still a lot of coals left. I grab my wool hat (I lie, it’s my sons wool hat, but he moved to Hawaii and left it behind, so I have adopted it). I dump my remaining peanuts and pistachios into the wool hat and cram more briquettes into the second Ziploc. I am a scavenger. I am.
I visit the vault toilet and top off my water at the faucet before heading up to my campsite. I am the only person here, there are no other campers. Cool, and a little creepy. More cool than creepy, though. I put the bags of charcoal in the food locker (I err on the side of caution in the classification of “smellables”). I grab my split of Pinot and pull the empty large format beer bottle out of my bag. There is a recycle container on the way back to the beach. This is so not like “ordinary” backpacking. This is like Marriott style backpacking. I wonder where the concierge lounge is, I have status.
As I walked back to the beach I spied a marvelous deer in the campsite next to mine. I am allowed to get close enough to take a couple of great pictures. I don’t know why I get so excited about deer, there are three that practically live in my backyard, they are certainly not an unusual appearance. Heck, one place I lived, a doe gave birth to twin fawns right outside my bedroom window. Another place I’ve lived I was chasing more than a dozen deer away from my hay, more than a dozen times a day, so my horses would have enough left for dinner. Hay cost eighteen bucks, er, I mean dollars, a bale. But here was a deer and I was excited to see this fella and I took pictures.
I disposed of my garbage and my recyclables, each in the appropriate receptacle, and walked down the trail, again, to the beach. Something was different, and not just the slant of the sun. On the “No Pets” sign, someone had placed a small, plastic, toy deer, or elk, or some form of the Cervidae family. And this, just since I came up the trail. I’m a keen observer, I’d have noticed this before (reference earlier discovery of briquettes). There were no children for miles, in fact, I’d not seen one all day. I decided to bag this deer, I was humored by it. Into the Whole Foods bag it went with my Pinot, my pistachios and my dark chocolate bar. I walked up the beach, again, and found a suitable spot to sip, snack, and stare at the sun.
I made another couple of observations in my journal:
- I shall name the deer “Dick the deer”, or “Ernie the elk”, I don’t know, I’m not a zoologist
- I’ve not seen a single stick of driftwood, beach fire not likely (sad face), good thing I scored the charcoal
When I got home, after my trip, I shared the picture of the real deer with a friend of mine in Alaska. He thought it looked like “dinner”, he replied, which is funny, because he was eating a hunk of roast moose during this exchange. For a giggle, I then sent him the picture of the plastic deer and told him I’d bagged that one instead. I mentioned I’d named him Dick, or Ernie, but wasn’t sure which, based on my inability to properly identify the plastic likening of a mammal. I was assured it was a dick. So, Dick the deer it is, was, and shall forever be. I was not alone on my outing anymore.
I know it was silly to take the plastic deer, I mean Dick. It will just end up in my backpack and likely never see the light of day for a very long time, if ever. But, for now, it entertains me and I am taking pictures of it in the sand with the surf and the late afternoon sun behind it. The absurdity of it is very amusing.
- My backpack is much like an archeological dig; there are artifacts, in layers, each older the deeper you dig. My backpack is worn, old, and an artifact, itself. There are more broken and near broken zippers than functioning ones, all of the elastic pockets and straps are stretched out to the point of no longer being useful. Dick will be adrift within its cavernous confines until a new pack is requisitioned from REI.
- Every five minutes the light changes (which means a whole new bevy of pictures, must capture the magic)
- My writing is sloppy, must be the the wind (wine) and my hair obscuring my view as I scrawl notes on the pages
- I’m content in my solitude at the moment. I am solitary here, not lonely. I’ve been more lonely around some people, when not solitary, sometimes. There is a difference between solitude and loneliness. Besides, there are only two people I know of, on this entire planet, who would make such a trek to such a place, in the middle of the week, in the middle of November, and have as much fun as I; my kids. Soon enough, we’ll all be together, for a brief but blissful spell, in Hawaii.
I am getting cold. The lower the sun sinks, the more the wind blows, the tighter I find myself hugging my knees to my chest. The Pinot is gone. I debate, to go back to camp and begin to cook dinner, or watch the rest of the sunset. I opt to head back to camp and I get almost there and change my mind, quel horreur, to squander a sunset, a sunset at the beach! I head back down to the beach just as the sun completely disappears. Bad move, I should have stayed a few moments longer. Still, the pictures I got, I’m quite pleased with.
- I must be at a NorCal beach. I have packed; a packable down jacket, my son’s wool cap, my SmartWool shirt, a base layer (high tech long undies), four pair of socks, a flannel shirt, and North Face Thinsulate gloves
For dinner, I brought sloppy joe’s, no buns. I brought polenta and my BBQ grains (bulgar, barley, quinoa). I popped open my last split of wine, the Zinfandel, and cooked quickly. It was cold, and windy. So much so, it was reminiscent of my first trip here; so, so, so windy, the only way to keep the stoves lit was to keep them in the food locker. For extra warmth, we sat atop the lockers, soaking up what little heat the cooking from within produced. This method of cooking and warming, I reinacted tonight. I made a few feeble attempts to light my highly coveted coals in the barbecue, but the wind was too strong, I needed to save a couple of matches for morning coffee, and I was actually more looking forward to my down bag within my single “man” tent. It was 5:36 PM.
I am very rigid and inflexible in how I run my camp. I was raised, as a backpacker, in the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and under the seven principles of “Leave No Trace”. That I decided, this evening, to just put my dirty Jet Boil and food encrusted dishes in the food locker and dash for my down bag meant I was cold, beyond reason. The added fact that I didn’t get my highly coveted and covertly acquired coals lit, and that my headlamp batteries seemed to be failing me, only illuminating the LEDs for ten seconds at a time, may have been contributing factors.
Once I scrunched my not so very large self into my very small tent, I quickly undressed and added my base layer. I pulled my yoga pants and Samuel Adams baseball shirt back on over my long undies. I slipped my feet into both clean pair of hiking socks, shoved my SmartWool shirt on over the baseball shirt and the packable down jacket on atop that. I fished my Thinsulate running gloves out and found a tiny sleeve for each of my ten fingers. I topped the whole ensemble off with the wool cap and slithered into my down mummy bag. I realized I wore no two matching colors. Oh well, who’d see me? I couldn’t even see me!
I always hang a small LED flashlight from the canopy of my tent, I turned it on. After ten seconds, it turned itself off. Apparently it was in cahoots with my headlamp. Between the two, I’m thinking my tent looked like some weird, wilderness, seventies dance party complete with a strobe light. It was not quite 7:00 PM. It was going to be a long night.
I disassembled my flashlight and reassembled it which somehow altered the duration it would stay illuminated; I now got thirty to forty second bursts of light, which usually provided me with just enough time to scribble down another observation, while I sipped the last of my Zinfandel, and, in the dark bits, read a Sophie Kinsella book on my Kindle.
With resignation, I crossed number nine off my beachie to-do list. We’d have to see about number ten, yet.
Observations (which I observe, are becoming quite difficult to decipher, perhaps because of the plenitude of red wine, or the impending frost bite of my fingers, or the fact that I’m writing as quickly as possible before the light blinks off, or that I have gloves on, or the combination of all these impediments):
- I planned to put my extra clothes into my pink, sateen pillow case for a luxurious and comfy pillow. I’m wearing them all. What to do?
- It is a lovely night out. Cold, but lovely. No clouds, no fog. I want to see the stars. I think I’ll go “topless” (take the rain fly off of the tent). I’ll be warm enough once I get all the way into my sleeping bag. It IS a fifteen degree bag, after all.
- Stars at a NorCal beach are a rarity during the summer camping season, there is always fog in the summer. How cool to be here when it is clear. How very, very cool, like forty degrees, I’d guess.
- I have an attic in this tent, I’d forgotten that, a small mesh shelf that hangs from the roof of the tent. It was an accessory I paid extra for.
- If I tuck my flashlight up into my “attic”, does that qualify as “recessed lighting”?
I’ve also begun a new to-do list, for when I get home, in preparation for my next outing, God willing.
New batteries for all the things
Morning mimosa makings
I read a little, and I turn off my book (that still sounds strange) and snuggle into my bag and fall asleep.
Observation (I awoke and wrote a brief LED lit litany):
- Sleeping topless was beautiful! I awoke and gazed at the moon and stars. Three times. For a half second each time. Then I awoke freezing and damp, it’s colder than a witch’s tit. It must be all of 8:00 PM.
Observation (some sum of slumber later):
- I feel sleep deprived. I stayed up way too late last night listening to Amy Poehler’s audiobook “Yes, Please”, and she discusses her lifelong struggle with sleep. The night before, I stayed up way too late listening to Tina Fey’s audiobook “Bossy Pants”, she also discusses sleep deprivation. At least I’m in convivial company.
Observation (a Titanic moment; I’m Jack, frozen solid in the Atlantic, I can hear Rose, she is calling to me! She tells me to not let go, I’m not! I’m not! The bitch is still calling to me and now she’s prying my fingers from the door! Rose! I’m just resting my eyes! Damn you Rose!):
- So cold. So, so, cold
- Gotta pee. Remind me why a large format beer and two splits of wine were a good idea
- Not walking to the vault toilet …
I take care of business, then pull the rain fly back over my tent and secure it like a hurricane is making landfall.
Back in my tent, back in my down bag, the convertible top raised, it immediately seems a little warmer. Everything feels damp and will need to be dried out thoroughly once I get home. If I don’t camp/backpack oftener, it’s because of this, the aftermath; sleeping bags and tent parts and pads and cover all draped around the house or deck or garage. The having to unpack and repack after packing up and going home. Then the laundry and the putting away of all the clothes you only ever wear on these excursions. All of this while trying to re-adapt to civilization, trying to integrate back in to society and the expectations of family and friends and work after living for so long in the wilderness. Yes, it feels this way even after only one night, I assure you. Ah, but it’s all worth it, I’m hatching plans for my next adventure in some of my more wakeful moments.
- That coffee is going to be a religious experience in the morning, I’ll enjoy it on the beach
I am warmer, but still a little chilled. I truly do have nearly every wardrobe item I’ve brought on. I’m I two layers of down between the bag and the jacket. But, the jacket, in all honesty is not all that. I have been accused of being a “gear snob”, I (usually) live by the back country motto “cotton kills”. My annual REI dividend usually exceeds my IRA contribution. But, this jacket was an impulse buy at a fashion chain called UNIQLO at Union Square in San Francisco. Or was it the Fifth Avenue NYC location? Either way, it isn’t a North Face or Patagonia, it is hot pink lined, lavender shelled, fashion shit. It cost a fifth of what a North Face or Patagonia would’ve cost and probably is only a tenth as good.
Add packable down jacket to this year’s letter to Santa
And the down mummy bag, lavender also. A more respectable brand, the REI store label. This bag has been a member of the family for so long there are provision of it in my last will and testament. I have only been to a laundromat ten times in the past fifteen years, out of only the most dire of necessity (broken appliance or the requirement for a large capacity, non agitating washer). This bag has accompanied me on each and every one of those occasions.
- While my nose was inside my sleeping bag it smelled much like my running shoes. After a marathon.
Probably time to go to the laundromat, again, old friend
Both the jacket and the bag shed. There are feathers everywhere when I camp. The inside of my tent looks like I’ve been plucking the Christmas goose in preparation for stuffing, trussing, and the oven.
- I flopped my flip again.
Turning over in a sleeping bag is one thing, turning over in a mummy bag, quite another. I am an athletic slumberer to begin with. I don’t favor one side over the other, it’s all about equality. I’m like a shank of veal referenced in a recipe for ossobuco; turn until brown on all sides. On a chill night, like tonight, I have the mummy bag in full on mummy mode. It is pulled up over my head, clear down over my forehead and eyes, then cinched tight to also cover my neck, chin, and mouth. Yes, the visual you see in your mind at present is correct; just my nose protrudes, and, only sufficient to prevent suffocation. If I don’t roll over mindfully, the nose hole is at the back of my head, and while my children long believed I had eyes in the back of my head, there has never been a nose or other breathing apparatus. I have mild claustrophobia, and nothing triggers it quite like a) being in so many clothes, b) being in such a demure tent, c) facing the wrong way in a tightly cinched mummy bag, or d) all of the above. Keep in mind, in a tightly cinched mummy bag, your arms are rendered useless. Like swaddling an infant. Or a straight jacket. More like a straight jacket, but with a blindfold.
To properly roll over in a mummy bag, the occupant (me) must awaken to a level of consciousness to hold the bag securely, sort of lift up a little, and spin, like rolling a churro in sugar.
Have I mentioned I snow camp? I freeze at the beach when it’s only forty degrees out, yet camp in snow when it’s merely ten. While with real estate it may all be about “location, location, location”, with backpacking and snow camping it’s all about equipment, equipment, equipment. The tent, for example; this tent, tiny, light, fragile, and flimsy, weighs in at three and a half pounds. It cost a small fortune. I have another backpacking tent, it is a “two man” tent and weighs a bit over six pounds, packed. It sleeps two non-gender specific people roughly my size, or less, comfortably. I have more tents. I have a couple of four-season tents, these, I use for snow camping. They each sleep one person comfortably, two tiny people, in a pinch. It is made of far heavier fabric and weighs a not so svelte fifteen pounds. When snow camping, it isn’t about weight, it’s about warmth. After all, we’re generally snow shoeing and can use a “pulk” (a sled with a waist belt) to drag the tonnage across the snow. Like dog sledding, but I’d be the dog.
- I have a whole wardrobe of tents. I open my storage unit and ponder which to use, much like choosing an outfit out of my closet for a date.
I’ve righted myself within my mummy bag. I try to assume sleep once again. So, my pillow. My pillow case, I should say. At home, I have no less than seven functioning pillows on my bed. I use them all. There are five more for decoration. I toss them on the floor when it’s beddy-by time. Here I am, essentially sleeping on the ground, with a pink, sateen pillow case to cushion my head from the cold, hard, earth. I had a plan, but, not a good one. There is one sock within the pillowcase, not intended for the trek, a stowaway, apparently clinging to the inside of the pillow case from the last trip through the clothes dryer. So, my empty pillow case manages to provide no cushion and also be lumpy. Incredibly lumpy. It requires frequent folding, refolding, and “fluffing” to provide any semblance of comfort.
- The full-size pillow in the stuff sack no longer qualifies as a “luxury item”, it is now officially promoted to “necessity”.
- My journal is really hard to read, my penmanship has degraded to the point of illegibility. It reminds me of a story from high school;
Once upon a time, in the eleventh grade, I took an English literature class with a few of my college-bound friends, my future college roommate and friend since Brownie Girl Scouts among them. Our teacher was named Mr. Wood, but we called him Q-Tip Head because he was balding and used too much hair pomade on his few, carefully arranged hairs, giving him the appearance of a cotton swab recently used to clean out ear wax. Clever, but cruel, yes. I’m sure he was a lovely man, probably a wonderful husband and a cherished father, and adored uncle, a much loved son, but, he didn’t seem to enjoy teaching us English literature, and so he was terse and showed no passion, no emotion at all, actually. Maybe because we were clever, but cruel. Anyway, I digress. The story of penmanship. On this particular day, we had an essay exam on “Lord of the Flies” or “Catcher in the Rye”, or some such missive. Our class was after lunch and our school had an “open campus” policy. We could leave campus and frequent any of the plentiful fast food establishments nearby. Or we could go get into trouble elsewhere, which is often what we did. For some unknown reason, my future college roommate and friend since Brownie Girl Scouts was invited to consume, and in fact, overindulged in Bacardi 151 for lunch, I think, not realizing what the “151” meant. Not smart, I know, but this girl is, was, one of the smartest people ever. Book smart, anyway. She was the smartest of our set, by far. And she had very tidy handwriting, always tending towards childish, in fact, her cursive never changed from the third grade on. I still receive birthday cards from her with her very recognizable cursive lettering on the envelope. We manage to get her in to the classroom after her “lunch”. She was weaving in her chair, is it possible to get “desk spins”? The essay questions were produced and we all bent our heads towards our blue books and began to vomit our knowledge of the topic onto the pages. Somehow, my friend’s condition was not detected, and, in fact, when the essays were graded and returned, she received an “A”. The funny part, and the tiny bit that is relevant to my story, though barely, is that when we all peered into her blue book to read this “A” grade paper, her penmanship had been reduced to three very large words per line and only about six lines per page. And that is what my journal resembles.
I find sleep, again. I actually dream. I have very good dreams, in fact, I have dreams about very good things happening to very good people in my life, very relevant dreams. I’m hoping they’re premonitions. The next time I awaken, it is turning light out. I can hear the murmuring of voices nearby and figure some other campers arrived late last night after I turned in, say, about 6:00 PM, or so. It takes a while for me to will myself to expose even a Thinsulate gloved pinky finger to the harsh elements outside my mummy bag. I find the courage, and, yes, it is as cold as I guessed. Cold and very, very damp. I eventually find myself sitting, still in my mummy bag, but with arms out. I write a few thoughts down, round out a few observations from the night before into complete enough sentences I’ll have some vague idea of what I was trying to articulate when I review them later.
It is time for coffee, the moment I have been waiting the whole, long, cold night for. My purpose, my will for survival.
I squeeze my not very large self out of my not very large tent. Dishes first, coffee after, unless I want sloppy joe flavored coffee. I don’t. I light my little JetBoil handily with a match and heat up some water with the left over bits of dinner in the container. I didn’t spring for the electronic ignition lit stove. Matches are cheap. I carry my matches in a water proof container, though, I’ve noticed the little gasket is missing, so I’m not sure how waterproof said container is any more. I’ve got a new waterproof match container on my list of things to buy, though they are no longer stocked on the Target camping aisle and it is so not worth a trip to Wal Mart. I learned long ago that the tiny match striker on the side of the waterproof container doesn’t actually work, nor do “strike anywhere” matches. My solution to this problem is to tear the striker side of match boxes off, roll them up, and carry them along with the matches in my waterproof container. I’ve done this for years and the plan has never misfired. The problem is, I’ve done this for years, and, apparently, I’ve worn the abrasive stuff down to some level of smoothness no longer suitable for match lighting. I don’t discover this until I’ve boiled the dishwater, turned the stove off to conserve fuel, and go to relight the stove for coffee. No worries, I always have a back up plan, in this case, a second strip of striker. I unfurl it and strike. Strike. Strike. Three strikes and the match is still out. I try, in vain, to light a match for a very, very, very long time. I actually wore the striker strips down to paper pulp and the tips off of all of my matches in my effort. My plan for the morning was drastically altered:
- Take two Excedrin for brain crushing caffeine headache that would develop shortly
- Take down the tent, pack up camp
- Eat a miserable breakfast in a half conscious state, on the beach
- Hike out
- Drive to Olema and get a large soy latte with an extra shot at the Olema Farmhouse Deli
- Figure out the rest of my day once brain revived
Added to the “back at home to-do list”:
Buy new waterproof match container
Buy alternate means of making fire
Buy a backup alternate means of making fire
Buy new stove with electronic ignition
Buy new sleeping bag, in lavender
Later, post latte, I drove out to a nearby beach, one adjacent to a paved parking lot, not requiring a two-mile trek. I spread my soggy tent out onto the warm sand, snacked on a sandwich from the deli, sipped a cold beer, and sat in awe of the ocean for the remainder of the day.
- This was one of the best vacations, holidays, sabbaticals, retreats I’ve ever had.
- I’d do it again tonight
- I’ll bring Dick the deer
- My next trip will be …