Woohooooo!!! What a feeling!!
After two and a half years of staying put, I finally got away on a trip!
Before Covid hit, I was in the midst of forming a happy habit of meeting friends each summer at a camp near Pinecrest Lake in Northern California. And how sweet it was to take up that tradition again!
After the necessary hiatus, my love for travel returned just as strongly as ever – as too, for the record, did my general boredom with packing for a trip. For some reason, and despite years of practice, I still don’t always pack wisely or well – and I definitely pack too much!
Packing carefully? It’s just not my thing. I have no idea anymore how I managed to pull off two college-aged, vagabond treks around Europe where I crammed everything I needed for two months into a backpack. My current packing style is more like the time I promised Dad I’d limit my luggage for a pilgrimage to Finland. This was because Dad, Mum, myself and all our stuff had to fit in a rental car – which we did manage to do. Even so, I’ve kinda come to realize there’s understanding the assignment and – you know – understanding the assignment:
Not far from where I just camped is the remote and beautiful Emigrant Wilderness where Dad used to take me and my friends backpacking – and I sure recall what a tough planning puzzle that was! Once we left civilization, I knew popping over to a mini-mall for an item I’d left out of my pack would not be an option. Then again, if I brought too much, I was stuck hefting it all around for four or five days. At high altitude. Up mountains. Those early experiences did demonstrate the value of prudent packing – but whatever bags the lessons were stowed in got lost somewhere in transit…
But this annual camping trip (aka “9th Week” in Lair of the Bear speak) is a different ballgame anyway. For one thing, I head up in my car so there isn’t much need to pack lightly.
And. I. Don’t.
Also, I’ve had four prior trips to refine (aka “add to”) a list of absolutely essential items for my tent cabin, which list now includes: a thicker sleeping bag for cold nights; a little electric fan for hot days; two camp chairs (even though I have just the one posterior); a folding nightstand on which to put the glasses I need for moonlight trips to the head (aka the “restroom”); and a mirror for judging if my face is getting tanned or just caked with dirt.
Despite being out of practice, I actually remembered to pack all these items! Okay – all except the glasses. I wear contacts by day so it wasn’t a huge deal – just a lesson that in dark circumstances, readers are no substitute and shrubs can look an awful lot like bears. But most other kinds of packing problems are fixable up there. I can backtrack to the big stores not too far away, I can hit the general store near the lake, or I can raid the little hut with sundries right at camp where they have my credit card on file – which means the sodas, frappuccinos and ice cream bars I picked up there almost daily were pretty much free.
And did I ever benefit from the packing job other folks did!
Like friends brought their equipment (as well as their enthusiasm and expertise) to introduce people to the burgeoning sport of pickleball! It’s sort of a hybrid of tennis, ping pong and badminton where players knock a whiffle-y kind of ball over a net with plastic paddles. I hadn’t played it before – but with hand-eye coordination honed over years of dabbling in those other sports, I was able to jump right into pickleball, cover the court and completely miss contacting that ball in all kinds of spectacular ways!
After one spirited pickleball session, a couple of players broke out all the ingredients they’d packed for a concoction called a “pickleback” – and I was invited to try one. I did ask several times for confirmation that, yes, I was meant to down a shot of whisky followed immediately by a shot of pickle juice. And I can now confirm in turn that the combination is surprisingly tasty!
Outside of these new activities as well as my usual Pinecrest pastimes like hiking around the lake, catching up on reading, and literally diving into water aerobics at the pool, a very special part of the day was to kick back and catch up with my fellow campers! The first time I joined this group a few years ago, their main hub for relaxing and hanging out looked very pleasant, indeed:
Afraid I don’t have a picture of this year’s set-up to share (maybe for the “being in the moment” reasons outlined in my last post). But imagine, if you will, a little open space among straight and stately pines, its dusty and chair-tippingly uneven terrain part of the natural charm. Now add two canopy tents, more chairs, strings of white lights that give off a cheery and welcoming glow, a table with a constantly replenishing supply of food, beverages and games – and a sofa. A whole, cushy sofa! Night after night, this proved the perfect haven for setting aside a couple years’ worth of cares and going with a happy ebb and flow of meditation, libation and lively conversation!
I can’t quite set aside the notion that only woodland fairies or elves could have had skill enough to assemble such a magical forest retreat – which they then had to turn around and pack away at week’s end! But I know it’s really the work of the good people with whom I spent some memorable evenings – and the effort is much appreciated!
I also have a notion about why I used to be able to travel before with quite a bit less. Back in my immortal youth, I didn’t dwell as much on all the things in life that might go wrong. Now, just like with my packing, my worries seem to expand into whatever space is available, and I end up foreseeing all kinds of disasters. This time, I packed Covid concerns along with my usual baggage and, regrettably, it colored some of my experiences on this trip – although not at all to the point of ruin.
Not by a long shot.
Packing really can be a tricky thing for me. I mean, in fairness, some of my paranoid preparation did come in handy. I dispensed ointment to one fellow camper for a bug bite, and ice packs to another for a wound sustained in the glorious winning of a softball game. And my raincoat and huge “just in case” plastic tarp finally got put to use when a heavy rain fell on the camp during my very last hours there – and it seeped right through my cabin’s tenting!
I decided to take that rain as a sort of parting benediction on a long awaited, much needed and wholly rejuvenating week – one spent with generous people who buoyed me through my worries and shared with me the best of times!
Yup. It was great to get on the road again. As so often happens there – and regardless of what I’ve brought along – I ended up with wonderful memories to take back home. I’m already looking forward to packing up my gear and heading back next year – hopefully with my glasses! Because hey, practice makes perfect, right?
Cheers and best wishes for similarly Happy Trails!
(Also, many thanks to Ms. Suz for starting an old friend on a grand new tradition!)