Have Jeep, Will Travel
By: Grainne Rhuad
My longtime travelling compatriot had just laid down cash on his almost dream car, an older Jeep. With gas prices soaring and people in need of quick cash it was, very easy to talk the seller down. However my compatriot was a little concerned that the seller had barely blinked at an almost $1000 dollar difference, not even bothering to haggle. I was of the opinion from the start that the owner needed cash badly. It was written all over him, but to assuage the fears of the new Jeep owner I suggested he take me camping. Win/win! As I am now completely bicycling and he needed to test the mettle of his new purchase, it was Camping Road Trip on!
The destination we chose was Buck’s Lake. A high Sierra Lake situated at 5200 feet above sea level about 17 miles outside of Quincy California in Plumas County, California. It was close enough that should any problems occur with the vehicle being tested out we could get home fairly easily and it was far enough away to be about 30° cooler.
The beginning of our trip took us through Oroville, CA. Not a terribly picturesque town. It has in the recent past been known mainly for its high volume of methamphetamine production. On a more positive note, Oroville, which translates to “gold town”, boasts the United States’ tallest Dam. At 770 ft, it provides power and irrigation for most of the Sacramento valley and beyond. It is also one of the world’s largest earth dams. Although strictly speaking it’s not all earthen, it has a concrete core where the mechanisms for converting water into electricity are held. The outside too is coated in concrete. Up until 9/11 one could take tours of the inside and see this miracle of modern technologie at work. However the Patriot Act fixed that, now you must satisfy your curiosity with the visitor’s center and old educational reels. In addition to being a point of pride, it’s also a point of fear. It sits on top of an active fault line and has been shown to contribute to earthquakes due to its size and the amount of water it holds back. As in a 5.7 earthquake that occurred in 1975.
But even more exciting for me, in Oroville there is Sonic. Now, I do not eat fast food very often but I am a sucker indeed when it comes to Sonic’s incredible array of refreshing drinks and shakes. I cannot pass one up and I am just glad there isn’t one in my hometown yet or I could see myself scrounging through couch cushions for change to get a raspberry lime aide. Of course we made a stop. For me it was Tots and a Blue Coconut Shake; Sweet Heaven.
A Sweet Heaven I would come to regret about half an hour later when a detour took us on a twistier road than we had planned on and I lost my blue shake. It looked exactly as if I had gobbled up a smurf and spit it back up. It was a very lovely shade of blue, and I thought to myself every camp trip should begin with the loss of some sort of mythical creature. It just adds to the excitement.
Feeling better we rolled into the Buck’s Lake region about five minutes later. We had planned on staying on the lake at a campground called Sundew. It’s a relatively small campground and the last time I was up, it was entirely full. We had come prepared as our second pick had no piped water, but as we came in we found the campground half empty with a few lovely sites still available right on the water, one of which we picked.
I suspect the name came from the fact that the lake looks golden and sun kissed just as the sun rises. It is a beautiful thing to see. Pine trees almost all the way up to the shoreline with about three feet of granite at the edge. The granite glitters in the sun no matter what time of day it is lending a magickal quality to it. A flock of Canadian Geese hung about the shoreline looking like they had made this their permanent home. However there were also loon families and ducks swimming lazily back and forth. What was especially nice to see was while the birds weren’t terribly bothered by their human neighbors, they weren’t hassling for food either; which indicates people were not hand feeding them a very good sign that the humans were doing the right thing and the birds had enough in their environment to get by.
This night we pitched our tents to the sound of our single neighbor who for some unfathomable reason felt the world wanted to hear his country music station, got settled and cooked one of my favorite campfire foods: Pizza.
I know, it sounds strange. Hot dogs and marshmallows are campfire food, not pizza you say. However I will tell you I have learned there is absolutely nothing easier for a first night than pizza and if you get your coals right it comes out crispy and bubbly just like a brick oven pizza. Also, no dishes. I’m all about ease when I go out in the almost wilderness. Of course this wouldn’t work if you were backpacking, could you imagine a pre-made pizza sliding about in your pack? No way. But for campground camping, nothing beats it. You must have hot coals without flames right under the grill with about 2 feet in between. 7 min later you will have the best pizza you ever ate outdoors. Be sure to use a thinner crust and don’t load it up with toppings. A Margherita or something equally simple works best. Afterward we settled in and tried to outplay the country music station with guitar and ukulele, playing up everything from bluegrass to Radiohead to SpongeBob. Magickally the country music stopped. Okay, it wasn’t magickal; it was 9:00 and common courtesy.
Bedding down we came upon our first unfortunate event. A hole in the air mattress. I have written of this before, it happens nearly every time and I really don’t know why I don’t prepare better. Last time I was forced to pay more for a patch kit than a bottle of tequila would have cost me. This time I was lucky enough to have a third person in the tent who leaned up against it, making it a slow leak; and while I was on the ground come morning the air did its job most of the night.
One of the funniest things about camping out is the morning bathroom run. Not just my own but everyone in the campgrounds. If you wake up early enough, which I did you can make yourself a cuppa and watch the hugely entertaining show of person after person looking exactly like Zombies shuffling all the way to the potty. Their bodies stiff from sleeping on the ground and probably from the exertion of fishing, hiking, etc. the previous day making them look just like the living dead as they try to get to the pit toilet. There’s also the inevitable swaying back and forth as they wait in line sometimes losing their balance causing them to moan unintelligibly and do a little spin to stay standing up. Honestly morning campers at the potty look like more convincing zombies than The Walking Dead
This day we had decided to rent a boat and explore the lake. So we headed out to the Buck’s Lake Marina . It was well equipped and actually very reasonable priced for all of its rentals from wave runners to patio boats. We chose a fishing boat. As we walked out the dock to the boat, we passed beautiful, lovely boats. Pretty boats that looked comfortable and easy to drive until we got to the end and saw our boat which had remained conveniently hidden from sight. It was the ugliest little boat and so banged up that we were truly hoping it had no leaks. In fact there were immediately apparent several welds, patches and even a couple of holes. It was, without question a clunker. But for the day it was going to be our clunker.
It did its job well however, that little boat should be commended. It handled my own speed demon manner of driving as well as the inexperienced hand of a first time 10 year old. It was well worth the rental as it took us to secluded beaches where we found hidden streams and sand covered with butterflies like something out of a fairy story. It managed underwater willow trees and navigated us around huge granite rocks just below the surface. We played a little at catch and release, picking up some brown trout and brookies. But really we mostly drew, read, rested and watched loon families with their babies and even witnessed a bald eagle swoop down about 10 feet in front of us to catch its lunch.
We winded up the day back at camp, resting, eating and just taking in the sunset. Until the unbearable country music station began in again; this got me to thinking.
I don’t think I have ever before been camping where people didn’t want the quiet. I’m not talking about family noise, or even musical instruments played around the campfire. This was something different that I have rarely encountered in the woods. Someone who thought their soundtrack ought to be everyone’s soundtrack. It wasn’t the music so much as the invasiveness of it. It felt aggressive. Also when I say it was loud I am in no way exaggerating. I love my music loud, I play it in the car loud, I sing loud, but this was concert loud. Also I thought, I cannot think of another type of music listener; not rock, not reggae, not classical, not bluegrass, not Mexican Polka that imposes their noise so readily on others than country music listeners. I know there must be a point there, something to that.
I much prefer the music and show that nature provides. The slapping of waves up on the granite. The raccoons trying to see if you’re asleep yet so they can try to raid your campsite. The chipmunks chattering away and the birds calling to one another. The odd baby crying and the mums and das soothing them with words and song. The ultra clear view of stars uninterrupted by electric lights.
We left the next day. I always think it’s good to leave off a camping trip while you’re still having fun. I have learned over the years that that warm feeling that says “oh we should tarry a bit longer” a lot of the time results in overstaying, mishaps occurring and nobody wants to remember their trip that way.
On the way back down perhaps the saddest and yet most important thing occurred. We were driving back on that winding road, no Smurf colored food in my belly this time. When out of the corner of our eye we saw two little ladies waving their hands at the side of the road. They seemed very out of place.
“Were they waving or should we turn and go see what’s up?” my compatriot asked me.
“Dunno what they were doing out there.” I said, “But of course we should go see.”
It took us a couple of minutes to find a place to turn around and we kinda figured someone else would have stopped by then but turn we did and it was a good thing too as by the time we got back around they were still there, still waving.
There sat two older Hmong ladies who explained in their broken English that they were having car problems, there was no cell service and they needed help. The Jeep was packed to the gills but we shifted about and got them in.
On the way back to their car they explained to us they had driven up from Sacramento (about three hours away) for a picnic and their other, older friend was back at the car, not being able to make the hike out. Where they were, was about 3 miles in on a logging road, it was rough and must have taken them some time to walk out. We asked how long they had been waiting for help and they told us they had been at the main road for about three hours. Not one person had stopped. For three hours, these obviously non-threatening elderly women had waited and waved and received no help. The road was not exactly a freeway but it was busy enough. The fact that nobody could take time out was incredibly sad to us.
We got them back to their car where their grandmotherly friend was waiting in the shade; she had set up scarves for shade and put their food in a cache. Apparently, she was ready to wait a while. As it turns out they had simply gotten stuck in a ditch when they tried to back up a bank in a sedan. We pulled them out easily and saw them safe on their way. They were effusively grateful, which I would have been too.
But as we continued I wondered what it was that kept people from helping them. Was it fear? They didn’t look scary, they were pretty defenseless, and someone could have at least offered to call someone when they got back down into cell range. Was it a lack of observation? Maybe for a few but surely someone else had seen them. Was it because they were brown? Was it because people simply didn’t care about anything beyond their own problems?
None of these reasons seem like good ones to me. All of them scare me more than a couple of ladies in distress. When we cease to care for each other, how can we feel good being out in the natural world provided for us all by our Mother Earth?
Anyway, the Jeep made the trip fine. My compatriot got an excellent bargain and a campout out of it. Maybe a trip to a mechanic for diagnostics would have been cheaper but it would never have been as much fun. Nor would it have included Ladies in distress, little boats that could and Smurf puke.
Grainne Rhuad- A Camping Road Trip; The perfect way to test the mettle of a new vehicle not to mention the strange, sad, beautiful and exciting things that come with it.