Scott’s Flat Lake (2)

That’s a pretty socially distanced site there.

Nice weekend. We even got some blue sky for a while there! It’s a longish drive out there, though navigation will say it’s three hours. But really, by the time we take the winding road down to the kiosk, find our site, and get set up, it’s a solid four hours for us. So it was verging on darkness when we got to #218. It was a very tight little backing job, and even in full daylight, and not tired, it would have been a challenge not to hit a tree or a car. I spent about twenty seconds mentally assessing the situation before declaring “Caravan Mover.” And once that statement is made, it’s all seriousness and no screwing around to get the maneuver completed and keep impact to the battery minimal.

A few too many obstacles for late in the day.

It was interesting for me to notice what happens to my brain when I go into “super focused” mode (let’s not call it “stressed” necessarily. because the world has far more stressful things to offer than technical trailer parking). I’ve been a special educator for over a decade and the first piece of advice I give anyone when dealing with a child in a state of dysregulation is to lower the verbal language load (stop talking). And you know what? It is totally true. I wanted essential language exchange only until the task was complete, and I literally noticed my brain struggle when Richard either said things or asked things that required language processing. That’s probably why his allowed responses on the walkie talkie are single words only, stated once. It wasn’t until after a nice dinner inside that the language center of my brain had come back online so that I could explain all of that to him. And really, he did a pretty good job. I just found it kind of fascinating to be so physiologically aware of it in the moment.

Could get a kayak over that? Maybe, but lazy.

Saturday Richard had a really nice bike ride planned, one of his favorite rides. I sort of figured I’d get my boat into the lake, but when I scoped out the approach from the site, I discovered a big huge drop down to the beach, over the top of tree roots and fallen trunks. It maybe could be done I suppose, except I’m really lazy right now. Zoom school is kind of slowly killing me. Unfortunately for Richard though, a show stopping mechanical failure happened on his bike. Poor sweetie has been keeping this bike cobbled together with parts that are over twenty years old. He’s been thinking about getting a new trailer bike for a while, but now that the sheltered in place world has discovered biking, it’s very hard to get something in the right size. And he’s been reluctant to spend the money. This was the final push to disregard cost because life is short and biking is his thing. He has ordered a new bike and is excited.

Hikes are nice too. And there was blue in the sky.

So we went for a walk around the campground, scoping out sites. Then we went over to the boat launch to check that out. My verdict, if I can’t reserve a lakeside site would be to use the Day Use area rather than the boat launch. It might be muddy, but seems like less hassle than parking and schlepping. Then we took a little trail and found a nice piece of shade to sit and watch the lake action.

Just sat and enjoyed the trees.

The rest of the weekend was full relax mode. Luckily, service was spotty enough that I was not able to doom scroll on the internet, at least not too much. The only exciting event that took place was when someone’s floatie inner tube got loose in the campground and rolled all the way to the beach. Some kid was screaming, “TIRE! TIRE!” and that got everyone panicked looking for fire and smelling the air for smoke. Oh, also a boat sank on the lake, but we only know that because a sheriff came through the loop to check in on the people whose boat it was.

Definitely worth a return trip.

Last thing to report was that we gave the first Alto tour since the pandemic started on Sunday. We’ve been nice, but firm, in our decision not to have anyone inside. But an Altoiste who lives like right there in Nevada City, and who was looking to see our specific model, posted in the facebook group, it was too hard not to reach out and offer. They were great and did all the appropriate hand wiping and mask wearing, and they were inside for only a few minutes. So it felt pretty safe.

We will have to reserve a do over after Richard has his new bike. It’s a really nice campground, and besides the difficulty getting into the site, it had tons of shady space and a pretty view of the lake. All good stuff.

On the not so good front, during the drive through Vacaville, we skirted some of the area that got charred in the Lake Berryessa area fire. It is difficult to comprehend the vastness of some of these fires. But also nice to see the statement of solidarity written on the hillside: “Vaca Strong.”

Total miles: 144.3, 16.7 mpg, 3 hours 57 min. Site 218 no hookups. Tight turn to back in but spacious site with lake view. Minimal solar. In and out service, better for ATT than Verizon. Nice sites: 228, 230, 232, 234, 236, 238. Ok sites: 229, 226, 227, 231, 233, 235. Good dump.

San Luis Creek

8am Wednesday. The automatic light sensors think it is still nighttime. Distance Learning goes ahead anyway. Friday the power went out.

This is camping determination at the edge of reason here. There is so much to process, way too much. I won’t lie, I’m down deep in the Pit of Despair and I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt less hopeful about the future. I’m sure we are all here at varying levels and periods of time these days. And just as the fires in the west are increasing in frequency and scale, so are the feelings of grief and dread for so many of us. Much has been lost, some of it won’t return in any recognizable form. And under the weight of all of it, even the gentle reassurance of the natural constants in life, like that the sky is blue, the Bay Area woke to a disorienting Mars-like atmosphere this week. Still, we went to work because, well, what else are you going to do? But the words of apocalypse and end days are getting bandied about in less funny ways, as though we all know it’s not quite a joke anymore.

So, the question of ‘do we go camping this weekend’ is followed by an assessment that goes something like this: 1. Is the campground currently on fire? 2. Is the area under evacuation? 3. Are there fires nearby? How near? 4. Are there active fires along the route? 5. Would we be in the way of first responders and/or evacuees? 6. Are there escape routes out of the campground, should it catch fire? 7. What is the AQI forecast for the area? What is the weather forecast? Any lightning or firenadoes predicted? Assuming the destination passes through all of those checkpoints without hitting a dead stop, we will still consider going out because that’s how bad we need it. And note that the question that used to carry the most weight (“Well how hot?”) isn’t even on the list anymore as a show stopper. No, we don’t yet have a replacement for the AC, so we increased our 12v fan collection by one and headed out into the smoke Friday afternoon.

Really, I’m sure this would be nice in normal circumstances.

Admittedly, this campground is not getting a fair chance in terms of our impression of it. After our last stay in the Basalt campground with 100º weather, we specifically reserved the side of the recreation area that had hookups so that we could try a do-over with AC, and maybe get my boat in the water. Neither of those things happened. With an AQI in the 150-170 range and ash collecting on everything outside, neither biking nor boating seemed like a sane idea. Instead, we did the only reasonable thing when living in a state of despair: we got in the car, with lovely AC and air filtration, and drove a hundred miles to the coast so that I could see an otter.

They’re like little pharmaceutical grade antidepressants.

We chose the one place on earth where it was pretty damn likely I’d get to see at least one: Moss Landing. It wasn’t that the air quality was going to be that much better at the ocean, there is hardly any area on the west coast that is not under a cloud of smoke right now, but it sure felt better. The temperature dropped a full thirty degrees and you could sort of convince your eyes that all of the wispy stuff was fog.

Ahhh. Trees and forests that still exist.

And yes, I got my otter fix, like a life raft. In case of existential emergency, get to an otter. And it wasn’t the otters alone that pulled me up, though the bang banging of rocks on tummy goes pretty far in mood lifting. It was also the drive. We went a pretty way, along highway 152, through not-yet-burned forests. There, the smoke is hardly visible and the color green soothes the nervous system with the reminder that not everything is dead. And it was also the time to talk, and cry, and just bring out all of the dark thoughts. There may not be answers or soothing platitudes to make any of it go away, but it feels more real and rational than going about your daily business when the world has turned orange. And yes, I mean that in more ways than one.

See? There’s a favorite restaurant that has not burned down.

We got take out from my favorite place and had an amazing ginger cake that was probably soaked in rum. I recommend that highly. And then, after watching the pelicans and otters for a while, we drove a hundred miles or so back to the campground. It was hot and smoky, but not so bad that I couldn’t cook outside. Richard did a short and low exertion scouting pedal, over to check out the access to the California Aquaduct Bike Trail, which he still wants to do on some future visit. We had a wonderful Blue Apron dinner, paired with a thoughtfully gifted bottle of Rombauer, followed by a couple episodes of “The Mandalorian.” And honestly? It was a great weekend.

I’m not under the impression things don’t suck, and are likely to get worse. I don’t have answers for how to process all of that. But I do know that otters help. It’s all about little breaks from the despair. Maybe that’s it. And maybe that’s enough.

Total Miles: 106.5, 2 hours 54 min, 18.0 mpg, site 22 hookups. Great dump. Bacteria problem in water seems to have been solved. LTE for ATT, but not good 3g for Verizon. To my consternation, campfires were allowed, even in these terrible air quality conditions.

Coloma RV (4)

Party crashers

This entry is past due. The trip took place on the weekend of the 15th, but with all of the fires raging, the painful damage done to some of our favorite parks, thoughts of evacuation, and the launch of a distant school year, I just was not feeling it. Plus, our current status is grounded for a while (I’ll explain), so it has been hard to muster the enthusiasm for blogging. However, I found myself looking back through pictures and posts from Big Basin, Butano, Lake Solano, and Lake Berryessa and was grateful to have a capture of the memories. So in that spirit, I will memorialize what was a joyful weekend against a turbulent backdrop.

Do not enter the solar light zone

This private campground is tough to reserve and pretty crowded. I must have spotted a cancellation in a nice shady site when I reserved the weekend. We later came to realize that our site was part of a massive multi-family gathering, and that made for some awkward moments. Right off the bat, the number of people in the campground was pushing the edge of our Covid comfort zone. But there was adequate space between sites to at least maintain distance from our neighbors. That is, until they started walking through our site, like really close to us, to go visit their cousins on the other side. I am personally improving in my ability to assert myself when people enter my distancing bubble. I stated politely when a couple of adults and four children were about to cross right in front of us, that we didn’t feel comfortable being so close. No “I’m sorry” or phrasing in the form of a question. Just a direct statement made calmly. They responded totally politely in return and said they would go around. Really, we would have offered to switch with them if we’d realized the situation when we arrived. As it was, they were all set up and it wasn’t likely any of us would want to tear everything down to move. After that, I got out a new set of solar string lights, purchased intentionally as a way to delineate territory lines. It’s a passive aggressive way of “decorating” while communicating visible boundaries and it seemed to work.

This is my new favorite thing

We knew the weekend was going to be a scorcher, with sustained temps above 100. We had hookups, shade trees, and a river, so we were set. Richard got in an early ride on Saturday and I spent the afternoon taking kitchen pictures for an Altoiste looking for ideas, and floating down the icy American River. There is a place to put in right from the campground and you can float for about 3 miles to a take out point at Henningsen Lotus Park. This was one of the funnest things I have ever done. In addition to being a total solution to the misery of a heat wave, it was peaceful and at times exhilarating to float the tiny rapids. I had utterly no control over the floatie, but that didn’t stop me from trying. In fact, the nonstop and largely pointless paddling I did with my arms left me with impressive bruises by the end of the two hour ride. In this case, I was glad of the company of other people because I kept reassuring myself that if they could float the rapids with beers in their hands, I would probably be ok. There were two spots where I got completely covered by water coming down a rapid, but I was never in danger of flipping over. Life jackets are required and I was glad I had in my old pair of hearing aides because that could have been an expensive casualty. OMG so much fun! I would absolutely do that again.

Heading into the evening on Saturday, we started noticing Dory’s AC was not keeping up. Richard was more convinced than I that something was amiss, but he turned out to be right. Sunday morning we were getting no cold air coming out so we packed up and got rolling before it got too hot. Randy is on speed dial on Richard’s phone, so that was obviously the first thing we did. Richard then started to do some research about the possible fixes. One thing was pretty certain though: we were not likely to go out the next weekend if the forecast held steady. So we ordered a capacitor and cancelled reservations. Meanwhile CA started to burn down at a ferocious pace from lightning storms Saturday night.

From then to now, we have still not gotten the AC fixed, but Randy has diagnosed it as deceased. So we will be grounded until after Labor Day at least. But then, we’d already decided not to go out on holiday weekends to avoid the crowds, so it’s not a total loss.

Raise the roof!

On a happier note, we have now completed the project of modding the garage so that Dory can open her roof completely INSIDE. This was a big deal for us. Randy put us in contact with people he trusts to do the work of engineering the rafters so there is space in the middle. We needed to also replace the door and get a side mounted door opener. The timing of this all sort of came together to coincide with taking Dory in for a diagnostic on the AC. It also got her out of the house during the weekend when more lightning storms were predicted and we had to be ready to evacuate if any of the open space behind our house started going up in flames. Thankfully, that storm did not prove to be as bad and it gave firefighters the chance to get some of the huge ones under control.

It has been a rough couple of weeks for California. I can’t think about Big Basin and not cry. I take heart in the articles coming out that assure us that most of the huge redwoods will be ok. Not all of them, but most are expected to recover. Of course, it won’t look the same. And the historic visitor center, along with all of the campground structures, is all gone. And Lake Berryessa… there are so many people who have lost homes and farms. I can’t even imagine the devastation there. This one hurts bad. We had only just begun to get to know that area. Putah Canyon Campground is close to my heart because that was the place where we first sheltered in place from Covid back in March. It represented peace, and safety, and calm when I was afraid. I think about all of the lush vegetation, the otters and ospreys, and cry thinking of it all engulfed in apocalyptic fury. I hope the animals found shelter. I hope the vegetation can heal and return some day. We won’t be able to see it, but maybe some day it will come back. As of this writing, I do not know if the campground survived, but photos of the area show massive flames all around the lake. If it did, what a different view there would be now. Butano got scorched as well, but the campground and structures were spared. Other places that had me worried survived: Costanoa, Fort Ross, Limekiln, McWay Falls, Memorial Park, New Horizons 5th grade camp … just squeaked by. Lake Solano campground appears to be gone, and I hope those peacocks found shelter. It’s all so much and my heart is heavy.

So shiny! Just like new!

But then here comes Randy to cheer me right back up. We went to pick Dory up Saturday. The AC will have to wait until a new unit comes in. But in the meantime, we planned to bring her home and I was going to give her a long overdue bath. But what should I find on arrival? A beautiful, sparkly shiny Dory, with wheels and windows looking like new and a ceramic coating all over! Randy had a detailer in and asked Richard if that would be a nice surprise for me. Yes, Randy. That was a very nice surprise. He even put in a replacement for the CM dust cover that looks like it belongs there. We pulled her in and figured out how to position her so she can raise her roof. This will make it tons easier to get to things under the benches, pull out bedding to wash, and do maintenance jobs. Plus, the next time we have to shelter in place, Dory can revert to Emergency Learning Center without having to violate any ordinances. We celebrated by watching movies indoory in Dory Saturday night.

I think a lot about the Marbled Murrelet. When you camp in Big Basin, Butano, or any of the places in the Santa Cruz mountains, you are told in big bold signs and flyers that these are “crumb clean” campgrounds. That means you can be fined if you leave food out or leave remnants on the ground. This is to prevent predators, like raccoons and squirrels from moving into the area. You see, this silly little endangered bird only lays one egg per year per pair, and they often nest on the ground, up to 15 miles inland. The visitor centers show movies about protecting the little guys and we were always very conscientious about it. So my first thought on seeing the fire map cover the entire region was, “Well that damn bird is definitely extinct now.” I feel like that bird. Part of a species living in a way that is not at all sustainable. There are some who are making frantic efforts to save us all, and some not. And you try, and you clean up what you can, and you hope to keep hanging on, by a thread. Then lightning strikes and wipes everything out with a fire inferno. But I don’t know. Maybe they’re still ok out there. Be strong Marbled Murrelet! Everyone’s house is burning, so I feel you. Hang in there!

Total miles: 120.2, 16.0, 3 hours 10 min. Site 46. Nicer sites: 63*-67, 58-60, 56*, 41*-45*. Hate the dump. Ok cell, LTE in and out for both. Hookups.

Here are some “before” photos of Lake Berryessa, Lake Solano, & Big Basin. May there be healing in those scorched places.

Brannan Island (6)

Yep. Camping.

Well that seemed almost like a normal weekend! For the first time since March, I came home from work (like I’m actually working at school, minus the kids) and we hitched up Friday afternoon, just like we always used to.

Bobcat Strong

I have to say, being back in my school space, even if it’s really different and super sad without kids, feels so much better. It is normalizing, even though it’s still not normal. Coworkers are there, isolated in their rooms, sure, but we see each other and we can talk to each other in person outside. I put up a plastic doorway barrier between two of the rooms in Learning Center so that I can talk to my aide on the other side and pass materials under the divider. And even that feels normal. Ish. There’s still a terrible amount of planning and preparing that needs to happen, but the rooms don’t need to look nice for distance learning. Do mine? Yes. I had to put everything back the way it’s supposed to be, all ready for students, or I can’t concentrate. But having my Learning Center space back feels really good. There has been so much tragedy, and heaviness, both globally and locally, but feeling part of a community helps.

So nice.

This is a repeat visit for Brannan, but I think it was my favorite. It was hot, but we had hookups. I had some work to do, but I also got my boat in the water. How lovely to just let my hands dangle in the cool, refreshing water of the San Joaquin River on a hot summer day. Richard went on a bike ride along the Delta Loop, like he does. The park did a nice job of distancing the sites by only allowing every other one to be reserved. So it felt safe, and refreshing, and replenishing, just like camping always used to feel after a work week.

Bridge into Rio Vista

We took a different route home on Sunday, mostly because the entrance to the park was so backed up with cars waiting to come in, we couldn’t see to make a safe left hand turn into traffic. So we turned right. And then figured, let’s just go a whole different way home via Highway 12. It was nice. Nothing remarkable, but lots of yellow delta plains and windmills.

It was kind of a same old, same old weekend. But these days, that feels pretty profound. And so needed.

Total miles: 39.2, 1 hour 22 min, 17.1 mpg. Site 113 hookups. LTE or 5g for both.

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.