Thursday, August 6, 2009

I survived camping!

I survived the wilds of Catalina! And I mean 'wilds' in all seriousness. The Little Harbor campground where we set up our refugee camp is about an hours drive from Avalon over some pretty steep hills and tons of open space for the buffalo to roam.

We saw lots of buffalo, in fact some in our group went for a hike one morning saw a herd up close and personal. I hope the rumors of my husband throwing rocks at them to clear them off the path was unfounded. I suppose if it had been true I'd be writing about the awful tragedy that resulted from such behavior.

If you happen to be a single person looking for long-term love, my dating tip would be to find someone who camps because camping requires a true commitment. It takes planning, list making, organizing, equipment checking, packing and hauling. It's also a team effort. There's a lot of gear that can't possibly be carried by one person alone. In what looked like a summer camp relay game, we schlepped our stuff from the ferry landing in Long Beach onto the ferry, then off the ferry in Avalon to yet another ferry landing; then into two vans and finally to our campsite only to find we were early to arrive.
We circled the gear around a palm tree and stared down the rather scruffy looking inhabitants of 'our' space. I could only hope I wouldn't look as disheveled when my two day sentence ended.

It's funny how territorial we humans are. People were staking their claim on space in the shade like it was Park Place in monopoly. Michael and I, or should I say, Michael, set up the tent as he made sure I knew I was being no help at all. I was too busy documenting all the others erecting their tents. Funny no matter how you speak of 'pitching a tent' it just has a certain connotation.

Allison, Mark and Malcom were sailing from Marina Del Rey on the maiden voyage of

'Points Unknown', Malcom's boat. Allison had sent a text earlier that morning stating if we didn't see them in 5 hours, call the coastguard. We'd periodically go to the beach to see if we could see the mast on the horizon. It was like waiting for the Mayflower to arrive, wondering if they encountered rough seas or pirates.

They arrived, on time and mostly in tact; Allison with a broken toe, the boat with a broken door. The land lubbers had been imbibing. What else are you going to do on an island at
10 a.m.? Jenya had treated us to champagne with strawberries - who camps like that? So providing help to the weary sailors was slow and silly, but we managed to get them settled in to the campsite.

After the day slipped away and appetites were rising, Jenya started preparing the most delicious fajitas with marinated chicken and tender beef - it was yummy. Unfortunately the heavy tubs of frozen margaritas I'd lugged (okay, Michael lugged) were absolutely disgusting and truly undrinkable. But, the vodka and Trader Joe's veggie drink that Slimko
brought were pretty tasty and seemed healthy. And of course, there were all the fixins for smores.

That night we spent relaxing around the campfire, talking, laughing and making fun of the guitar player in the camp across from us, poor guy really could have used a lesson. Earlier in the day, we'd warned the rangers that our group might be the camp they would need to tell to keep quiet but we were all fast asleep by 10 p.m. Saturday night was a different story. While it wasn't the rangers visiting us after hours, poor Mark, who was within earshot of the campfire where the late nighters clung to the evening, let us know we went to sleep at precisely 3:12 a.m.

Early Saturday morning was pretty quiet and relaxing while the day was starting. The campfire from the night before was still hot and occasionally a flame would reappear. Chris and Jenya sipped freshly pressed coffee and Jen Sarja actually made pancakes for breakfast! I'm still pretty amazed at the food we had. Perhaps my friends were trying to seduce me with food and wine so that I'd agree to go camping again. I do recall Jenya saying she was making it a personal mission to make sure I loved camping. Does that mean no cheese board next time?

After the pancakes, some of the group went on an outrageous
hike-run up a mountain. That's where they encountered the herd of buffalo with females protecting their young. The only creature I encountered was with Slimko back at the long beach port where a black widow spider dangled in the stairwell. She skillfully pushed the web aside and we carried on unscathed.

I knew camping could be dangerous, but thankfully other than Allison's toe, Malcom's injury while splitting wood, Brian's busted knee from beach football and Sarja's sunburn - we were doing pretty well. A lot better off than the guy who was laying peacefully on the beach and had his head split open from a rock that kids were throwing from the bluff above him.

Seriously. We were just about to settle onto the sand when Sarja heard the commotion and ran over to a pretty bloody and wobbly guy. She was able to get a first aid kit from a kayak tour guide with Wet Spot rentals. The rangers stationed at our campsite were on rounds and it was becoming obvious the guy needed some medical attention. We hardly had cell reception and the guy from the kayak place said he couldn't leave his tour, not even to drive us to the top of the hill to make a phone call. Thankfully, there was a payphone - I called 911 and they reluctantly dispatched Baywatch.

I was later told that emergency services are pretty sparse on the island and they want to make sure it's a true emergency before they send paramedics. That event inspired us all to sign up for a CPR and first aid class.

We went back to camp to tell the beach trauma story to find Allison making the most delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches I've ever had. Something about camping made me appreciate the food so much more than when I'm home in a well stocked kitchen. I'm still thinking about that swiss cheese, tomato, salt and pepper, yummy bread all buttered and browned to ooozy perfection. I'd go camping again just for one of those.

But wait, there's more cheese! And balloons, streamers and low and behold, diamond earrings! While we indulged in one of Allison's gourmet cheese boards, Michael opened a bottle of wine he'd given me years prior to be opened on my 45th. And we toasted to the passing of my youth.

A beautiful little gift box appeared on the cooler
(sounds so classy) and I opened it to find a sparkly pair of beautiful diamond earrings. I can't believe Michael had that in his back pack at the campsite the whole time without a security
guard. I put them on as tightly as possible as I was afraid of losing them like I lost my wind-breaker and utensils.

Dinner on Saturday was interesting. Michael and I were in charge of cooking. You know how I said I helped carry stuff? Well, that's how Michael helped cook. Earlier in the day I took to husking the corn so I wouldn't be overwhelmed by the time I had to get to business. Malcom was nice enough to help me, and indeed, that man can husk an ear of corn. Malcom was splitting wood and Mark got the fire going. So, the fires all ready. C'mon, Patti, you've grilled corn tons of times. I put the corn on the grill grate. One ear falls into the ash. I grab it out and, like a lemming, another one goes in after it. Now I've got two ashy ears of corn and Mark is looking at me like I'm a nincompoop. I promptly went to rinse the ashy corn and advised Mark to stay away from the corn without husks, as that would be the sign that it had fallen into the ash. He told me not to worry, he'd lost his appetite for corn.

Time for hot dogs and brats to go on the grill and wouldn't you know, same damn thing happened! But not as many, and they were easier to rinse off.

I desperately called for help for the beans. Girl power to the rescue! Somehow it all came together, and I think that meal turned out okay. At least we had the smores to look forward to.

At dusk, we walked down to the beach and Slimko and I had a little sand dance party while listening to Markus Schulz on our ipods. Michael commented to the non ipod wearing group that we were 'girls gone mild'.
Well, we felt wild there beneath the starry sky, sand at our feet and salty water splashing around us as we moved freely, something you can't
experience on any dance floor in LA.

Ted brought his binoculars and treated us to viewing some amazing star clusters. It was absolutely beautiful. On Friday night I'd gotten up to use the port-a-potty and tried to get Michael to go with me, cuz
I was a little scared. No surprise, his legs were cramping from the herculean run from earlier, so I ventured out alone in the night. The stars came down to the horizon, a huge canopy of twinkling ancient energy. Kind of felt like I was in a snow globe.
The port-a-potty brought me back to reality pretty quickly. Whew - that takes some grit to use those things. I knew the 'chemical toilet', as they're described, was going to be an issue for me. To make it a bit easier, I created the 'bathroom bag'. I could market this thing and retire to Tahiti. Not really, but that's how happy I was with myself for thinking of it.
Basically, I had a nylon bag with
the following items: toilet paper, personal hygiene wipes, clorox wipes, citrus magic orange spray and a mask. I really did have to use the mask a few times. And while in the first 24 hours my companions laughed at my silly 'bathroom bag', in the next 24 hours they were sheepishly asking to use it. Tahiti, here I come.

The one good thing about packing to leave was that we'd consumed or given away all the food and drink we came with, so the load to carry was much lighter. Cumbersome, but not as heavy.
As we were packing that Sunday morning a backpack wearing man and his son arrived at our camp, soon to be theirs for the next few days. The father said they didn't really bring much food, as he thought there'd be a store. We left them with hot dogs and beans and passed down the items we'd salvaged from the campsite and hopefully we left some happy energy in Campsite 6.

In Avalon, we said our goodbyes to Sarja, Slimko, Ted and Brian and the rest of us checked into hotels for our last night in Catalina. I was most excited for the plumbing and a shower. And after a restaurant meal, a nights sleep in a bed - we were ferry bound, heading home on Monday morning. It's funny, I recall on the second night a few in the group mentioning that they could
do one more night to truly relax into the pace of camping. I balked at the idea, but in hindsight - the hotel wasn't all that great and it would have been kind of cool to have one more night with friends who generously took the time to come celebrate.

Camping, with that group was a great experience and I hope the next one can live up to it. Yes, I did say the next one. I would do it again.


  1. Loved this post Patti! I was able to re-live our wonderful camping experience and again be truly grateful for the friends who surround you and that we are lucky enough to be included in that! Here's to 45, broken toes, dimond earings and girl's gone wild with their face masks!! Allison

  2. Ahhhhh....I wanna go back!!! Well done, dear one...and yes, we are and always will be "girls gone wild."