San Luis SRA – Basalt (2)

Worth it anyway. That’s our decree and we’re sticking to it.

So whose idea was it to reserve a place smack dab in the Central Valley in the height of summer heat with no hookups? Before you judge me, let me explain. All of my reservations got cancelled in the spring and so I gave up reserving anything for many months. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago, when we decided camping was a reasonable thing to do during Covid times that I started trying to fill up our weekend calendar again. And by that time, all of the sane places you can go were booked. But I even accounted for the likeliness of it being really hot by checking weather for the area about a week and a half ago. At that time? The forecast said high of 86. No problem. Plus there’s a reservoir, so we could cool off in the water. See? Totally rational.

Shockingly, the weather report changed drastically as the weekend approached and we were looking at temps near the 3 digit threshold that separates “hot” from “ugh.” Still we camp.

Patterson Pass Road

The drive out indicated some kind of hold up on 580 over the Altamont Pass, like a big one. Google suggested an alternate route which it swore would save us an hour. Well, now we know that Patterson Pass Road is kind of an adventure. It is super narrow at its best, and single lane (for two directions of traffic) for several miles. This was a classic Google situation too, with tons of cars on this silly road, far more than I’m sure it’s ever seen, because Google decided to route everyone this way. To anyone who got stuck behind me, I think what you’re trying to say is: “Thank you for pacing us safely over that craziness so no one crashed.” You’re welcome.

Not too bad in the shade. It’s FINE.

Before we headed to our reserved site at Basalt Campground, we drove over to check out San Luis Creek campground, with hookups, down at O’Neil Forebay. Thank you to the guy at the kiosk for not directly laughing at me when I asked if there were free sites. We made a plan for me to go boating in the day use area there the next day and continued to Basalt. And really, the campground is lovely, it’s just that I liked it a lot more when we stayed there in December.

What are you trying to say, Bruce?

The next day, Richard got ready to go for a shortish ride and I got ready to go boating. The alert on the Acura let us know it was rather hot, like we didn’t already know that. And no sooner had we parted than I get a series of texts from Richard using naughty words and the information that he had flatted. So, I drove out to where he was, noting that the road conditions were seriously awful. It was jarring enough in a car to go over so many potholes, so it is no wonder he flatted. Plan B involved throwing his bike in the car and going over to the day use area together where I could assemble my boat and he could change his tire and regroup. We found a shady spot, past the campground loops, and away from other people. I thought this was all a really good plan. Then I rolled my boat over to where I thought the water was like right there by the path, only to find a steep, rocky bank, running all up and down the shore, between me and cooling happiness.

Road conditions in that area are really terrible.

I stood there and assessed the situation for several minutes, finally landing on “Nope. Screw it,” and adding “Always check the launch first” to my list of lessons learned. I wasn’t going to roll my kayak up and down the shore looking for a safe launching point. I wasn’t going to heave my kayak over the ledge, hoping it landed in the water, and scramble down after it. And if I was going to have to disassemble it to move over to the other day use area, the one Richard said to go to, that definitely has a boat launch, I was going to be far too grumpy to put it back together. Plus there were way too many people having maskless, non distanced Covid parties over there. So we decided our collective plans were a bust and instead drove (AC full blast) to the local gas station where we could purchase extra drinking water because there was a sign in the campground indicating all the formerly potable water from the spigots needed boiling because there was bacteria. I realize I’m not doing a good job selling this campground.

Mmmm…. bacteria.

So, FINE. We went back to the campground in a state of semi defeat. But we did see a big beautiful Elk on the way, so that was cool. And I pulled out the grill to make a Blue Apron. One of our background conversations has been how to better arrange the back of Bruce to make that grill more accessible, and this gave us the chance. Winning. Then, like immediately after we’d finished eating dinner, I got an email from Blue Apron saying not to eat that yellow onion due to the possibility it was full of salmonella. How quickly things can turn. But it’s been 24 hours now and we’re not barfing, so… winning!

There. Now we’ve got it.

Heading home Sunday, we carefully re-arranged everything in the back with least used items in the least accessible locations and less to move to get the grill out. I took a picture so we’d remember the perfect packing scenario. Then, when we got home and parked on the slanty driveway, everything fell out the back. Take 2. Now we’ve got it, new picture. This will work for sure.

I’m sure it was below 100º at this point.

So we are going with: “It’s worth it!!” in a yelling kind of way. No matter what, we get to enjoy our morning coffee and we get to watch our nighttime shows, and rock in our Nemo chairs in the evening breeze when it finally cooled off. Kicking us out of the house is an unanimously supported idea in our family. Stupid hot and no hookups? Still we camp. Biking and boating fails? Still we camp. Bacteria water and salmonella on the grill? Sure. And guess what. I have a reservation in September for one of those hookup sites in the other campground. We’ll see if we can have a more successful do over.

Awesome organizer.

Oh, P.S. I can’t remember who gifted me this little car door organizer, but it is awesome. I also got little pockets that go in between the seats and the center console to catch dropped iPhones.

Total miles (the direct and non-adventure way): 105.0, 17.4 mpg, 3 hour 10 min there, 2 hours 17 min home. Site 32 Basalt, no hookups. Normally potable water in spigots, but come (better) prepared. Nicely spaced site with room between neighbors.

Clear Lake SP (4)

New favorite site.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of a normal camping weekend. Besides the wafting scent of hooch based sanitizer, the presence of face masks hanging from various locations when un-donned, and the avoidance of camping bathrooms, everything seemed normal. Or as normal as it’s ever going to get in a global pandemic.

This was our fourth visit to this state park and I was able to get a site that was near, but not right by, the little beach everyone loves to go to, causing them to walk right through Premium site #58. Perhaps this pandemic will finally break me of my Premium-donna ways.

I bet you thought about coughing.

On the drive up, we passed an active brush fire a little too close for comfort. We could see the smoke from quite a distance as the road steadily took us right towards it. Low flames were visible, ranging from high up on the hillside all the way down to the highway shoulder. For a moment, we were completely engulfed in smoke and Richard, I think psychosomatically, had a coughing fit which didn’t subside until we were a couple of miles past it. We kept an eye on the Cal Fire website, but it was contained pretty quickly and never posed any danger. Still, a reminder of what summer (and fall and winter and late spring) in California can bring.

See the Heron?

We stayed three nights and came home Monday. I’m not going to lie, it was awesome, but if it’s any consolation, also close to 100º. And we had no hookups. So I got out in my boat in the afternoons and Richard got in his riding time early. There was quite a bit of algae in the lake, so swimming was not an appealing idea. When we got desperate, we dumped cups of water on our heads. And the nights cooled off enough that it was comfortable to sleep.

Summer evenings…

The Aluminet and the Classic Awning both went up and we were grateful to have them. We had enough shade to stay comfortable and enough sun to keep the battery topped up, even when powering the fridge, set to 1. That is enough to make tiny ice cubes, keep wine and lemon waters cold, and keep frozen food frozen.

Pleased.

And speaking of frozen food, we got to try out a camp stove I bought a long time ago. Maybe after last summer. Its purpose was to provide an outdoor option for when it is too hot to cook in Dory. I bought it, put it in Bruce, and didn’t think about it again until the circumstances reminded me I had already solved that problem. Worked like a charm and now it’s Richard’s favorite way to heat up a frozen pan dinner.

There’s an otter in there!

Highlights of the weekend include spotting an otter on three separate occasions. So either I saw three, or the same one three times. They sure do move quickly through the water. That’s the giveaway for otter spotting. That, and their telltale curly bloops as they dive under. The best otter sighting came as I was enjoying a socially distanced, soul healing sunset on the beach. His/her little head appeared as a perfect punctuation mark to a you-know-what?-life-is-good-dammit kind of day.

Imagine this with crickets.

About the rides, Richard says Seigler Canyon road and Hendricks were 5 stars. His ride from Clearlake to Cobb was interrupted by a flat, but it worked out because I was sagging him anyway (AC in the car was my secret motivation). He’d gotten in plenty of climbing at that point, so he felt no hesitation throwing the bike in the car and enjoying the AC back to Dory. He called a bike store in Lakeport and described what he suspected was a problem in the rim. Big shout out to Main Street Bicycle! They really didn’t want to sell him a new wheel if he didn’t need it and they were able to do an inspection and a fix, all with no physical contact. It felt good to support the local economy too. The second ride was a 20 mile section of the Konocti Challenge. No flats! I followed and we met up in Lakeport where I was sad to see so many of the restaurants closed, seemingly for good.

And we saw Neowise another couple of times, though it was very dim. Perfect weekend. Not exactly normal, but joyful nonetheless. And we were pleased to see overall good behavior in terms of masking and distancing from our fellow campers. No huge crowds or rowdy parties, just family units out together finding an upside.

Total miles: 166.8, 16.8 mpg, 3 hours 51 min. Site 60, no hookups. Sites nicely spaced and room between campers. Good solar, 2 bars of LTE for both of us. Water spigot nearby. Launch from beach close to site.

Buck’s Lake – Whitehorse

Beautiful end to a short summer.

This was our last stopover before returning home. As we approached Susanville to head back up into the mountains, we saw a big fire up near the Eagle Lake area that was filling the sky with smoke. The astronomers had all noted that the sky was hazy the night we were there, and we let The Agees know it wasn’t likely to clear up in Likely any time soon. Luckily, our route took us past it and away from the direction of the smoke and toward Lake Almanor, where we stopped for a nice little lunch.

The Hogg Fire

We didn’t have reservations or much information about our destination area, but our chief interest was in staying high enough in elevation that we could avoid the 104º temperatures reported for the Central Valley. There are only so many ways to traverse the Sierras and this was one we’d never tried. From Quincy, on highway 89/70, you head west on Buck’s Lake Road. We encountered a sign shortly after making the turn indicating that there were steep grades of 15+% and I couldn’t read whether our route was or was not recommended for RVs. So that was exciting. Bruce did a fine job ascending and I agree that those were probably in excess of 15% in some places. However, the climb did pay off and we had very pleasant temperatures. And the road was well paved, with no really deathy spots.

Good road conditions.

The Whitehorse Campground was nice and woodsy and we easily found a site set apart from anyone else. There was evidence of a little river running along the edge, but there was barely a trickle at this time. There were nice little landings by the would-be stream, and plenty of room to hang out. All that was missing was the lake.

We decided to drive around a little to check out the area and see how one might access the lake. There are a couple of campgrounds, including a PG&E campground that I’m not sure how to reserve, unless it is just by calling the phone number. It was closer to the lake and had access to a boat launch area. There is also Grizzly Creek, a forest service campground, which is very small and not near anything, but did have sites that might have been big enough for Dory. Many of the campgrounds were closed, so it’s good to check ahead of time. There is a nice directory of campgrounds here.

Pretty little trail you can catch from the campground.

After scoping out the lake, I wanted to get a bit of a preview of the road that would lead us down. I wasn’t too keen on 15% descents. So we drove maybe seven or eight miles, seeing no evidence of dangerous conditions. Still, we like to be extra safe, so we stopped briefly at one of the lakeside resort restaurants and asked the locals. Richard was masked of course, and no one sitting at the tables outside was. The servers inside were masked at least, and they assured us there was no problem with the road and that it would get us all the way down to Oroville. So we took a short little hike on a nearby trail, tucked in for our last night, and finished off Season 5 of “Better Call Saul.”

Posted signs for 8-13% grades

The drive down was steep for sure, and we paid close attention to the road grade signs. Nothing exceeded 13%, and going slowly while using engine braking about half the time, it was not a problem. We did see a lot of smoke in the air as we departed, so the winds must have shifted in the night. It’s amazing how much area is affected by fires hundreds of miles away.

Just don’t light a match around here…

So there we are. Thus ends our first foray into the world of Covid Camping. We have reservations back on the calendar for our normal weekend groove and we just hope things don’t close back down. We figure if we are careful and carry plenty of hooch based sanitizing supplies, we can try to keep this up. Lord knows the school year is going to be plenty stressful and my mental health will benefit greatly from our weekly Altotherapy.

Total miles to home from Whitehorse: 189.6, 16.3 mpg, 4 hours 37 min, site 13. Shady sites, no hookups, vault toilet (I think, we didn’t use it), NO cell service for either of us (which was kinda nice on our last night).

Likely

Gotta love Altoistes.

One of the best parts of having an unusual trailer is that you meet the absolute best, albeit often unusual, people. Two of those people are the Agees, and our friend Bruce is an avid astronomy buff. And by “buff” I mean: one who spends insane amounts of money on huge motorized gadgets, knows more than Wikipedia about the cosmos, and hangs with a crowd that knows exactly where to be when there’s something happening up in the sky.

This destination is far from any light pollution so the skies are about as dark as it gets, and the field of view in all directions is unobstructed by any mountains. We were informed that we would be given special red lights to use any time we were on the field. No flashlights allowed once you have entered the outdoor planetarium zone.

Not your normal camping setup.

We let our friends know that we would be acting especially awkward, like even more than usual, because we really didn’t want to expose them to anything we might have picked up in the caves. Full masking, distancing, and wiping would be in effect. They were cool with all of it.

Yeah, those are big.

We mostly just chilled until sunset and watched the field start to fill with ginormous telescopes. Donna pointed out that the field was set up with electric hookups specifically to accommodate astronomers and their toys for events like these. She led us down to Bruce’s set up, which had multiple telescopes mounted on fancy moving tripods. Even his binoculars are super cool, with image stabilization and everything. Richard reverted to an ecstatic seven year old on a field trip, needing occasional reminders from the chaperone to keep six feet away.

Neowise!

So cool!

Yes, we were able to see the comet, but I think what was even more cool was seeing the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. With the huge telescope, you could even make out Jupiter’s color bands. Saturn looks fake and we both accused Bruce of putting a sticker of Saturn on the lens and claiming it was a real planet. Bruce got some amazing pictures of Neowise and the Milky Way.

Milky Way

All of the people on the field were well acquainted with each other and clearly in their element. When we asked where someone even gets one of these huge contraptions, the answer was, “That guy behind you.” One of them apparently builds many of these, grinding the lenses himself. When we said, “Are you serious?” he answers, “Yes. And Vega too.” OMG. Nerd Paradise. We hit a wall around 11:30 and headed off to bed, carefully using the red light and trying not to run into any massive equipment.

Talking tech.

In the morning, we hung with the Agees a little and Bruce showed off all his high tech mods. He’s put in lithium batteries with a sweet, insulated diamond plate battery box, wiring for the bike rack mounted cell booster, LED hitching lights, and even a weather station. It sure was great to see them. We all lamented at how we miss real gatherings and hope for better days, like post vaccine. Apparently there is some kind of event in 2024, so here’s to the wish we all make it to that one safe and healthy so we can stand awkwardly close to each other and not wipe things down after we share them.

Total miles from 83.7, 17.2 mpg. Site 1, hookups. The RV sites are pull through slots on a gravel lot. The row closest to the field has some shade trees. LTE for both, even out in the middle of nowhere.

Lava Beds – Indian Wells (2)

Not too many in the desert when it’s 90º.

This was the point in our test-the-waters trip where things came to a head. We had very specific goals in mind for coming back to Lava Beds: 1) less crowded, more distanced campground, 2) dark sky location to be able to see the Neowise comet, 3) escape afternoon heat by exploring caves, 4) try out our new super bright headlamps in the caves. As you can see, two of the four reasons for going involved going into caves. At the time of planning, this seemed like a rational and safe set of activities. Richard even called the visitor center to see what the crowds were like and was told there was hardly anyone there. All systems go.

Somehow, I’d forgotten caves are enclosed.

We had no trouble getting a nice site, arriving at the campground around noon. There are no hookups and it was going to get into the low 90s, so we made some decisions about which caves we’d like to try with our fancy high lumens headlamps. The first was Skull cave. Upon entry, all looked good. It was pretty wide open with good airflow (there was even a sign showing good air flow) and almost no other people. And it was downright cold inside. At the end was a stairway leading down to a landing and that was when it started getting a little uncomfortable. Another couple, unmasked, approached, and though we tried to physically distance as much as possible, it gets quickly dangerous to go off the established trail. I started feeling angry about unmasked people. There are signs everywhere “highly recommending” wearing masks, but it is not an enforceable rule. It wasn’t going to do any good to confront them, but it did feel cathartic to at least call ahead and ask, “Are you masked?” as people approached. If they weren’t, that gave us the opportunity to figure out how to get far away, but also to mutter disapprovingly so they would recognize the impact of their choices. It likely does not have any positive effect, but I strongly felt the need to mutter.

Kinda hard to social distance.

The second cave we visited was Merrill and that ended up being rather traumatic and by far the riskiest thing we did the entire trip. As I write this, we are following through on getting Covid tested and it’s because of what happened in this cave. Right off, the entrance was tighter and I started to feel uncomfortable. In retrospect, that should have been the signal to turn back. But we didn’t. We went on until we got to a set of stairs leading down to the first landing. It was at that point we got trapped by a family passing us with an unmasked child. She was having a hard time in the cave and alternated between yelling “I hhhhhhaaate yooooou!” to her parents, and laughing loudly in self amusement. The parents were masked at least, and I turned my back and tried to get as much off the trail as seemed safe to let them pass. She had a hard time with the stairs, so it took an eternity. I was in full panic mode at this point. As I looked around the tight space, I could see suspended droplets in the air. I don’t know if they were from the child, or others. The space was too small, there was not enough air flow. Everything in my brain was screaming that this was not safe. All I wanted to do was get out. I was wearing a mask, sure, but one of those disposable ones, and I was breathing heavily. Finally, they passed and I turned to leave. Right away another couple approached and they were not wearing masks. So all those suspended droplets in the air… who knows who was in there before we arrived. F*ck. So stupid.

After we got out, I wiped all of me down with hooch soaked paper towel wipes and threw away the mask I was wearing. I wiped my face, up my nose, and around my eyes until they stung. I stopped short of injecting myself with bleach though. I was mostly really mad at both of us for not bailing at the first signs. Still, we didn’t want to abandon the whole day and there was a cave we knew that was huge and open at both ends. We both decided that would be ok.

Sentinel Cave

Sentinel Cave was a relief. The entire length of it is open and breezy. As it was around 4pm, there was no one else in there at all. We had the place to ourselves and could relax and enjoy the space. I was still worried about having been potentially exposed in Merrill, but there was nothing to be done except not be stupid again. After the positive experience in Sentinel, we decided to call it a day with caving and head back to Dory for dinner.

Big Nasty Trail at Mammoth Crater

Our next goal was to do the Big Nasty Trail and catch the sunset. That was perfect, and isolated, and very beautiful. We timed it well and ended back on the high side of the loop for sundown. From there, we drove the dirt road back to the Bunchgrass scenic overlook, where we had been told there was a great view of the comet.

Neowise Comet visible with the naked eye

It wasn’t until around 9:30 that the Big Dipper came out in full force. We kept scanning the sky with binoculars, becoming more skeptical that this was a real thing. Then just before 10 or so, I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Binoculars showed an unmistakable fuzzy ball with a long tail. With every minute of increasing darkness, it became more pronounced. By 10:30, it was easily visible with the naked eye and so, so cool. Eventually, we returned to the campground and discovered it was even visible from our site. I tried getting pictures with a low light iPhone photography app. You can at least see the smudge.

The next day we got ready to head down to Likely, CA, where two Altoiste friends were camped out with a bunch of high end astronomy nerds. As we started talking about how to make sure we kept them safe from us and our possible exposure, the floodgates kind of opened on four months worth of stored up stress. As scared as we are to risk going out, we are equally scared of staying home. When we’re home, we both shut down to some extent. When I’m stressed, I organize things, and if you look around at my spaces, you’ll see a lot of color coded things put in their proper place. This is what I do to feel in control, even though my brain knows better. We function, and go about our daily responsibilities. We make attempts to connect, like going on walks, and those things are all important. Even sleeping in Dory gave us the ability to be a little more connected, and watch shows at night. But it’s not the same. Being in Dory now is different because there is an overlay of trying to control things we can’t, but it still feels more real to us. We talk about everything, big and small, because we have the time. We talk about work, and racism, and how to rank the size of natural lakes fully enclosed in California. All of it. When we’re out in Dory, that’s when we feel alive. How ironic that that could be the thing that kills us.

Sunsets are essential.

These are tough times. The stresses are everywhere and much too overwhelming to really process. Being out in nature though, somehow makes it all palatable. Where there are forest fires, there is rebirth. Where there are volcanic eruptions, there are ice caves. Even knowing that dazzling comet out there is getting all of its bits blown off by solar winds until it eventually disappears strikes me as so poignantly beautiful. It is then that I cry, with an overwhelming sense of deep gratitude and joy. That feeling is just so much harder for me to find when we’re not on the road. So, for now, unless the campgrounds shut down again, we think we are going to try to keep going out. We will take all the precautions we can, knowing it won’t be perfect and there will always be risk. And maybe we’re wrong. And who knows what is coming next. But for now, this is the one thing that feels right.

You never know when the train is coming.

As we pulled out of Lava Beds, Richard rode the other side of the national park road and I drove in silence, trying to just be with everything. All of it. Life is one glorious, beautiful, confusing comet.

Total miles from Collier: 80.3, 17.5 mpg, 1 hour 53 min. Site B23, very nice, no hookups, great solar. 2 bars of LTE for both. No dump.

Collier Memorial State Park

… at least it was a pull through.

We parted ways with Linda and decided to head up to Oregon via Susanville. There we could stock up for another week and I could have enough service to join another meeting. You may have heard, but public education is in an inconceivably difficult position with regards to opening, or not, in the fall. So one of the specific areas of fallout is that there are a lot of educators who are still working to try to figure things out over the summer. Shopping in Susanville seems a fitting encapsulation of how much this all sucks. It was uncomfortably hot to start with, and we went to three different stores to try to get groceries. The first was an instant veto due to how many people were entering and leaving without masks. The second was a Walmart where people were required to wear masks on entry. However, as soon as they got inside the store, about half of them took them off. Plus, this was a Walmart with a very lame food section and no produce. Bail quickly. The third was a Safeway and that was pretty good. Almost all wearing masks and all the produce on my list. I got in and out just in time to join a meeting. After an hour in the hot parking lot, we started driving. Service eventually cut out, but I’d heard the important bits.

Site? Or loop road?

Our route took us along the top of Eagle Lake, along rolling hills and valleys, and eventually up past Klamath Lake. I was excited. The entry to the park was lovely, with blooming wildflowers and the sound of a nearby river. As we entered the first loop though, we noticed the sites were spaced pretty close together and the place was full to capacity. Our site, while given points for being a pull through with full hookups, was positioned such that it felt like it was right in the middle of the narrow loop road. People walking by came uncomfortably close to Dory, and the big rig pulling in next to us appeared as though it was going to take out a chunk of her while they were backing in. I started to feel panicked as the whole scene seemed unsafe. I looked up other places online where we could go instead, but ended up with choice paralysis. I allayed my fears with affirmations about how, with widows closed, Dory is like the ultimate hamster ball of physical isolation. Richard probably gave me some wine at that point because I slowly relaxed.

Water features always help.

The next day ended better. Richard went on a long bike ride while I started with a work meeting. When it was done, I was able to drive out and meet him at a tiny place called Sprague River. He threw his bike in the car so we could drive the rest of the 70-mile loop back to the campground. Crazily, there was just enough cell service that I was able to join yet another meeting while still enjoying the remoteness of the landscape. After dinner, I made the really smart decision to make myself a margarita (possibly two, I don’t recall). Then we went for a masked walk over to the river while everyone else was back in the campground having dinner. I decided at that point that the campground wasn’t so bad and that the trick was to keep windows closed on the road side and get out during the day. At least we had hookups and solid enough service with the booster that I could join all the week’s meetings.

And a walk in the woods never hurts.

So that’s what we did the next day, and the next. We drove up highway 140 to check out some of the other campgrounds and got in a hike. First we checked out the Rocky Point Resort campground on the north side of Klamath Lake. That looks like a fun place in non Covid times, with a store and restaurant, plus a little shore area for kayak launching. It was pretty tightly packed and the sites looked as though it would be a challenge to maneuver into them. On the upside, some had hookups and it would offer a boating opportunity in a nice and protected part of the upper Klamath Lake. Satisfied with the intel, we kept driving up into the mountain lakes area. We had thought to do a hike around Fourmile or Squaw Lakes, but that road turned out to be six miles of gravel and I wasn’t that excited. Fish Lake made for a good compromise. There are a couple of small forest service campgrounds there and a nice little trail out to a dam.

Lake of the Woods

After that, we checked out Lake of the Woods and oh my, that is a beautiful place. The Aspen Campground has reservable and first come sites. Some at the ends of the loops are pretty close to the water. There was cell service there for both of us and I noted sites 29, 31 and 41 in particular, but there were other nice ones too. Sunset campground is on the other side of the lake and feels a bit more crowded and less nice than Aspen. I noted sites 33, 34, 48, 49 and 51 as being well located.

Kayaking in lily pads FTW.

We debated the possibility of ditching Collier and trying for a first come at Aspen for our last night in the area, but instead chose to come back and just use the day use area so I could launch my boat. While I bobbed in the water, Richard went on a ride up highway 140, to Big Elk (97), to Dead Indian Memorial. I would love to come back and camp at Aspen. The upper part of the lake is filled with lily pads and ducklings; just the thing to put one at ease. My float and Richard’s ride timed nicely and he came rolling into the parking area just as I was packing up my boat.

Mt. McLoughlin

We stayed the full four nights of our reservations in Collier and it was fine. I think I just picked the absolute worst site, which made it feel a whole lot more exposed and crowded than if we’d been in a back in site, with Bruce between us and passersby. Still, it was a tightly packed campground, which does not feel good these days, and many, many people appear to be going about their lives with not a care, or a mask, in the world. We also saw some unsettling grandstanding in the form of political flag displays on our neighbors’ cars. That did not help to create a warm fuzzy feeling about this particular campground. Of course, that is not the fault of the state park and we did see a park ranger quietly speaking with the campers. And the rangers were all masked.

Total miles from Eagle Lake: 220.6, 16.2 mpg, 5 hours 6 min. Site b22 (the worst), full hookups. Stronger cell service for Verizon, but pretty good 4g most of the time for ATT.

Eagle Lake – Merrill Campground

Doesn’t get much better than this.

(Photo: Linda Pratt)

This destination was really the impetus for venturing out this summer at all. We’d been hunkered down for so long, with four months of reservations abandoned or cancelled, most hope had been lost for traveling of any kind. But then things started opening up again and the temptation grew. Once the subject was broached during a Messenger conversation with Linda-with-dogs, we both jumped feet first. Linda found this spot and we built a two-week outing around it. I think, even if we find out later that COVID killed us because of this trip, I’m going to say it was worth it.

Camping buds

We both reserved hookup sites in adjacent spots for three nights. The drive from Mineral was easy and I was pleased (well, mixed actually) to find that there was adequate cell service at the lake to be able to do zoom meetings. It was crazy great to see “our” doggies and their mommy. (What would you call a relationship that is like godparents, but with dogs? Are they our goddogs?) Even at six feet, having face to face conversations with good friends cannot be beat. Just chillin’ in the same location is substantially better than chatting over Messenger. And chatting over Messenger when you are in adjacent trailers is better too.

What would you do for a view….

I lost most of a day or two to work, but Richard and Linda cooked up a scheme whereby we could slip into some first come first serve sites looking right at the water and stay for as long as we wanted. Their execution of the plan was impressive. It involved Richard going and making a deal with people scheduled to leave the next day. When they were ready to pull out, they texted him, he parked our car in their site while I stayed on a zoom call in Dory. Then he scoped out a site for Linda and planted himself long enough for her to pull up just as the previous occupants were moving out. Then she parked her car in our site until we were ready to hitch up and move. By the end of it, we had two full solar waterfront sites for up to two weeks. Sweet! We got even more fancy later in the week by scooping up the site next to Linda and right by the trail to the beach. This is like Extreme Camping Musical Chairs where the prize on the line is the view you get when you’re having your morning coffee. High stakes.

Socially distanced selfie

On one of the days, we took a follow-the-leader driving trip along the Lassen National Park road. The drive was spectacular and we stopped here and there for photo ops and to take in the scenery. At the end of the day, we met up to do some quick shopping in Chester, which is a little town on the north shore of Lake Almanor. One big difference when you leave the more populated areas of the state is that mask wearing seems to become more optional and less commonplace. This meant that I wanted to limit indoor exposure to the least amount of time possible. No sweetie, no reading of labels allowed, grab it and get out.

Looking like summer now

Richard got in some excellent bike rides while the boaters got up the energy to get out on the water. One evening, we hiked up the “Osprey Trail” to a nice lookout point. We did not see any Osprey, but Richard swears he saw a juvenile Bald Eagle. We both saw a Western Tanager that more resembled a tropical fruit treat than a bird. And there were bats a plenty to entertain us at dusk.

Sunset shot… of course

We parted ways after an unusually long stay of six nights. There were other places we discussed going, but the heat made it way too hard to leave the well earned setup we had. Linda headed back south and we tracked up north. It could not have been better or more badly needed. The campground itself was great, even without the waterfront sites.

Total miles from Mineral: 75.2, 16.1 mpg, 2 hours 58 min. Sites: 155 with electric and water, but no solar, then 66 waterfront with solar and a nice shade tree for sitting but no hookups, then 57 with some shade and location next to the beach trail but no hookups. Enough LTE for both for most things. For the internet intensive activities, we put up the cell booster.

Volcano Country Camping, Mineral (Lassen)

Finally! On the road again…

Well, COVID or no, we were able to get out a bit this summer! We got in a few little mods during the shelter in place, like putting in new bungee netting in the bathroom, replacing all four stabilizers, and putting in a placeholder idea for how to support the far end of the table. We love the Lagun table mount, but have found that the table top is getting tippy. We will probably end up with something that goes to the floor and is height adjustable, but for now, this little thrown together solution makes it so we don’t worry about putting weight on the far point. We also did a full cleaning of everything and a refresh on spices and condiments before the final pack.

A level table is a good thing.

Not having camped for so long, we forgot how to do absolutely everything. Hitching took a lot longer than normal, and we relied on our checklists to make sure we weren’t leaving anything critical behind. Actually, we did leave our FastTrack in the Subaru, but I call it a success if that was the only thing missed. We were also a little nervous that everything would tow ok after sitting still for three months, but with affirmations of “Randy will save us,” we hit the road!

Location, location, location.

Our first destination was a recommendation from a fellow Alto blogger. It’s a private campground just outside the south entrance of Lassen National Park and it had full hookups, including sewer. One notable pandemic related change in our camping style is that we are now *fully self contained*. RV campers will know what that means and non campers would probably rather not know. The other minor shift is that the center console in Bruce, which used to contain a myriad of fun driving snacks, is now filled with five different kinds of hand sanitizer and disposable face masks.

Social distancing in Hell…

After we got there, we had an early dinner and drove into the park to catch the Bumpass’s Hell Trail. It had only opened two days prior, due to being buried under snow, and was something we had missed on our last visit to Lassen. The trail was pretty easy and very scenic. The tricky part was the inability to distance from people as they passed us on the trail. Many people were masked, but plenty of others were not. We most definitely are, unless there is no one else around. We did our best to get off the trail, especially with the non-maskers, and were able to be spaced apart once we got to the boardwalk area. Message to non maskers: YOU CAN DO THIS. COME ON. IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START BEING A GOOD PERSON.

Thermal features are cool.

The boardwalk area takes you around steaming pits and bubbling pools. The smell of sulphur permeates the air and a friend shared that this was kind of a sensory nightmare for her son. The area was named for a guy, Mr. Bumpass, who accidentally broke through the surface into a pit of boiling mud and severely burned his leg. We were glad to have come in the late afternoon, with very few people, so there were no crowds on the boardwalk.

All the variety of California in one place.

The next day, Richard rode the national park road up to the summit from the Visitor Center, which we did not visit this time around. That will be for another day. That is a spectacular stretch of road for sure. From sweeping views of the valley, to lush meadows, to dense evergreen forests, the natural beauty just goes on and on. I’d only seen the north side of the park previously and I now have a whole new impression of Lassen. It was not too crowded most of the time, but we were there on week days. All in all, a good choice for a national park visit when hoping to avoid people.

Happy, safe campers.

I can recommend the RV park for those looking for hookups close to the entrance. It’s not particularly scenic, but it is nicely located and the sites have adequate space. We did look at the first come first serve campgrounds and Summit Lake and those were lovely too. They’d be higher up and potentially cooler at the height of summer, so hookups for AC would probably not be needed. Now that we’re not using public bathrooms at all, I can’t speak to cleanliness at any of the places. Dory’s bathroom is nice and clean though. And fully utilized.

Total miles: 214.4, 15.3 mpg, 4 hours 28 min. Site 26. Full hookups, no solar. No views to speak of but the sites at the end had views of a nice meadow. Ok cell service for both.

Dory Learning Center

Don’t try this at home kids….

Hello from the other side. Not that we are on the other side of COVID of course, not by a long shot, but we have reached the end of the strangest spring I have ever survived. By this Friday, Dory will (fingers crossed) retire her job as Emergency Learning Center and transform once again into a camper trailer. It seems fitting to at least attempt a capture of life in Dory these past three months, even if it has not involved any actual camping.

Once our shelter in place at Lake Berryessa came to a close, we returned home and steeled ourselves to the fact that four adults would have to figure out how to share close quarters in a small house with one bathroom 24/7. I think it took about two days before I activated Emergency Plan B: Personal Space Escape Pod. Before Richard even knew what I was doing, I had Dory out on the upper part of the driveway and was performing advanced maneuvers with the Caravan Mover. Clocking in at a 17% grade, our driveway presented a serious challenge for leveling. But I was committed and prepared to be pretty unsafe. After using all of the leveling blocks, and a ramp, and just the right angle, I achieved a “double 0” on the little bubble levels, which was far better than I expected. I was doing a happy dance while Richard, now aware of my plan, was texting pictures to Randy to see if he thought this was a good idea. All Richard really needed in order to be convinced was the reminder that this would allow us to watch shows at night without the offspring freaking out about the noise and slamming doors. At that point, it was deemed “safe enough.”

Trailer? What trailer?

We are grateful to our neighbors for not turning us in to the Ordinance Police. It would be a stretch to claim that our RV was 95% obscured from view from the street, though we did have both cars parked in front of her. I would have made a strong case for clemency based on being an essential worker, but I never had to. I figure there were probably more pressing things to deal with than code violations.

In addition to offering nighttime distancing, it also allowed me to do all of my distance teaching in relative peace. “Distance Learning,” for those not directly impacted, means a whole lot of time spent recording videos, reading audio instructions, and sitting on Zoom calls. Meanwhile, Richard’s job is to basically sit on a Teams call (same thing as Zoom) all day long, so we would be talking over each other constantly.

We learned that wifi does not travel well through stucco walls and aluminum roofs, so Dory got her own wifi router and a super long cable to make her extra fancy. And she got a super cute little printer that just fits on the little 4″ bench under the table. She also got filled with teaching supplies. What used to be a kitchen became buried under stacks of everything from phoneme cards, to red crayons and bumpy screens, to multistep word problem cards. A definite bonus was having a handy wine fridge ready at all times. Teaching essentials.

Darren got good at short vowel sounds. Diphthongs not so much.

So we got into a little routine of sorts. Richard and I slept in Dory and would wake up and go in the house for coffee and showers. Then I headed out to start working on creating content to send to students. Zoom meetings were abundant and every single time I joined any staff meeting, you could bank on the fact that someone would inevitably ask, “Alissa, are you on a space ship?” Video recording of lessons happened daily. Darren discovered the downside of sheltering in place with a teacher and was involuntarily recruited as my assistant for teaching phonics lessons. Of course, he became the highlight of the entire experience and his mix of dry humor combined with genuine confusion over spelling rules made him a distance learning hero in many households. Best Darren quote: “I actually learned something today.”

Meanwhile, life went on. We found ways to get out by hiking through the open space near and behind our house. Samantha tried finding space by setting up a large screen tent in the back yard, complete with a little cot and desk. I would have invested a lot into that set up, except she ended up not terribly impressed. It was too hot, or cold, had bugs inside and puddles after rain. It was, you know, a tent. And I really can’t be judgey for her not liking it. All those reasons are exactly why we have a forty thousand dollar trailer.

As the “regular” school year wrapped up, I started joining all kinds of committees and focus groups looking at what in the world we might do in the fall. Work on that will continue through the summer. I also offered to teach Extended School Year (summer school for special education) because I wanted to try an entirely different format for distance teaching, in case I have to keep doing this in the fall. “ESY” ends this Friday and we are planning/hoping for a two week trip up into Northern California. It’s not the kind of summer we have grown used to, but it’s sure better than nothing.

I will say, distance learning has been hands down the hardest thing I have ever done professionally. Just considering the sheer number of hours it takes to create the lessons, every day has been a race against time to have something ready to send out. For special education, you have to individualize the content across multiple skill levels, ranging over five grades, in every academic area. Some lessons are literally created for one child and each lesson takes hours to put together. On top of that, there are online subscription programs that have to be monitored, and adjusted, as kids progress. Thank goodness we did that seat mod in Dory, because I basically have a desk job now.

The thing that is the hardest about all of it, besides time, is that you are doing this in a vacuum. You don’t get to tailor the instruction to the minute by minute live feedback from the child, so you have no idea if they are getting it, or are bored, or are even tuning in. An hour of effort might result in ten minutes of student engagement, or it may have overshot the mark. You just don’t know and it is not the way any of us knows how to teach. Nor is it why we teach. My hope is that some of the effort was useful to some. I did a whole presentation to the School Board in May so they could get a sense of what distance learning looked like from the perspective of a special education teacher. It was well received, but my favorite compliment was a nod to the lighting. Altos rule for Zoom lighting.

Near the end of the year, the teachers did a driving parade all through the neighborhoods. Everyone came out and it went on for three hours. What was crystal clear was how much we all ache for that connection. Smiles mixed with tears as we waved and shouted. Parents and kids held signs and camped out along the parade route, just for a chance to see their teachers. It was honestly one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of and I tear up just thinking about it.

Dory played an integral role in Distance Learning Center, but I’ll be honest, I hope she doesn’t ever have to do this again. I miss my students, and my families. Still, in and amongst the enormous struggle, there were countless acts of joy, and love, and generosity, and strength, and kindness. I think our community has shown incredible resilience and we will continue to need it as we navigate this transformational moment in history. These days are simultaneously tragic and heartening, and the word “overwhelming” is a vast understatement. But here’s what I know: when things are hard, what do we do? We just keep swimming.

Total miles: 0 in three months. Site: driveway. Great wifi and cell service. Bathrooms kinda gross, wonder if anyone ever cleans this place. Nice hiking trails nearby. All in all, could be worse.

Putah Canyon (2) – COVID-19 Shelter in Place

img_9361Well, it was a good run. From Monday March 16th, to Thursday, March 26th, we were able to shelter in place at Putah Canyon Campground. It is now our favorite place anywhere, but will forever be associated with terrifying times.

When we chose our site, we wanted a place that was not a premium location, but still nice views. We didn’t want anyone else camping next to us, and we wanted to be near a water spigot. That was about it. Because we were planning (hoping) for a long stay, we knew we’d need to use the Barker, so we also wanted to be plastic portable grey tank towing distance from the dump. Our spot was perfect.

img_9346So, we hunkered down. Work continued for both of us, but for one of us at a high speed, feverish pace, as teachers across the country began facing the realities of distance learning. There is a cell tower visible atop the ridge line directly across from the campground, so service was excellent. Now that the whole country was zooming, I got to do so with a lake as my backdrop.

img_9326Lake Berryessa is chock full of wildlife. We saw countless Ospreys, Herons, and your typical water birds. I also got the treat of an up close encounter with my marauder friend. I was sitting outside and heard rustling close by. What should prance out of the bushes but an adorable river otter! He scurry bounced his way up and down the high bank before disappearing back into the lake. I had looked for him all the time, and saw him only that once. But it was enough.

img_9352Between zoom meetings, sending silly videos of myself to my students, and coming up to speed on dozens of new technologies, we got to get in a paddle and some lovely evening walks. That’s probably what will stick with me the most about that time. It was eerie and normal at the same time, to be out on trails and see no one else. We saw people come out to launch fishing boats, and we saw people come out on the weekend, but for hikes we were alone. The weekend wasn’t crazy, like in other parts of the state, but it was also family groups that probably didn’t all live together. We scrubbed, and washed, and kept distance, but it made me wonder how long they would let any public recreation area stay open.

img_9367Everyone else wondered the same thing. In our campground, we got to know “Kenny,” the camp host pretty well (from a distance). He’d go by several times a day in his little golf cart, often just shrugging his shoulders to indicate he hadn’t heard anything new about closing down. “Pam” is the owner and we got to know her too. She was great about letting us stay because she knew our situation. We were not afraid to play the diabetic kid card if it meant we could continue sheltering in Dory. She had all but closed it already to new campers, and went around turning tables over to indicate closed sites anywhere near us.

img_9361But alas, it came to an end on Thursday and I for one applaud the decision. Pam noticed the groups from the previous weekend and worried it would only get worse the next. So it was the right thing to do to close down. Part of us, a big part of us, wanted to consider moving somewhere else. But that would have introduced new risk factors, so we hung our heads and dragged ourselves home. At least kitty was happy to see us.

img_9370We made it just about two weeks, so that was good in terms of isolating after the last time I was at school. We did go shopping once, well Richard did, and we wiped everything down extremely well. When we got home, I had to go shopping again. I will say, Trader Joe’s has got it down. They pre-wipe shopping cart handles, stagger entrance, tape out waiting spots 6 feet apart, and only keep every other register open. Whole Foods, not so much.

img_9342
It was virtual costume day.

What a strange, surreal time we are living through. Or, hopefully living through. I think this will be it for me for a while. Spring Break at Grand Canyon officially got cancelled and we are assuming summer plans are also probably off. I had a lot of nice sites booked whose reservations are just *poof* gone. But, so far, we are healthy (if you don’t count mental health). Putah Canyon will forever be a reminder of safe harbor in a tempest. It was a scary/sad/happy/grateful/awful/beautiful time.

Carpe Dory signing out for now. Hope to see you on the other side.