You’re sitting in a doctor’s office. An angry looking nurse pulls out a needle the size of a small javelin. Your pulse is racing, your head is swimming, and there is some deep, primal urge inside of you, shrieking to pull your pants back up and flee this place. Then, you feel a slight prick, a small band-aid being applied to your bum, and the now kindly, could be your grandmother, looking nurse is telling you that you are all done. As you button up your pants, you glance over at what should be a gore covered spear, and find someone has replaced it with a needle so small, it’s a barely visible gleam of metal. Your heart slows from a gallop to a trot, and the traitorous voice that was just screaming at you to flee is now calling you a big wussy baby and asking if you need to call your mom.
This is what I assume camping will be like.
Pants down panic, followed by shame, self-deprecation, and a dawning realization of my own cowardice. However, since I am a complete and utter camp-virgin, I have no idea if the panic and general desire to flee is unwarranted or fully justified. I am wandering into new territory and freaking the heck out.
The plan was to take this adventure in late summer, but life (and possibly paralyzing fear), delayed the trip all the way into the rapidly dropping temperatures of late fall. However, the determination to jump was still there (figuratively and literally – see waterfall idiocy below). D: Whoa, whoa . . . don’t group me into this lunacy. I wanted to skip the insane waterfall jump, but you two are stubborn. Dumb and stubborn.
I like to Be Prepared. I may not be a Boy Scout, having lacked the proper equipment since birth, but I am fully behind their motto. I have read dozens of “camping 101” type articles and blogs, played around on the Pinterest camping boards and am obsessively making lists of things to pack, buy or borrow. I’ve even found myself asking a random, outdoorsy-looking stranger sitting next to me on a plane for camping advice. Denita and Emily have taken my crazy in stride, but their flippant retorts and general refusal to talk through every last detail was slightly infuriating. E: I’d like to interject here to shed some light on the Y2K style levels of crazy-preparedness we’re talking about here. There were checklists. Back-up checklists. Packing lists printed off the internet. Types of MAKEUP best suited for camping! There was even talk of laminating said lists in case of a flash flood. For the record, the makeup list was from my sister and flash floods are an actual thing.
Off we go. McCloud is about an hour north of our home base, Redding, California. There is a 39 unit campground right next to the Upper McCloud River and a series of waterfalls. We arrive at Fowlers Camp Campground. Ok . . . looks innocent enough. Only one other lonely tent was set up on the other side of the campground. Turns out the tent Denita’s parents lent us dated back a couple of decades and had seen better days. It took an hour to piece the archaic thing together and then another hour for Emily to break out her architect skills and make it less of a cave in risk. E: And by “architect skills” she means hammering in stakes, piecing tarps together and tying questionable knots in hopes the thing would last through the night. If the Architect’s board saw that sorry mess, my license would be promptly revoked.
Car camping means we have very little restriction on what to drive to the site; basically, whatever can be piled into the truck is fair game. With these paltry restrictions we decided to elevate camping to glamping, at least in the food and drink department . . . because we can. E: Among other things this included a flower centerpiece. Ridiculous, but I will admit, the cheery colors added a certain je ne sais quois. And yes, that is us testing out the MSR sauté pan with a nice little cognac flambé.
As mentioned in the intro, we also had the chance to put a few other goodies to the test: a couple of Coleman lanterns, a kitchen utensil set and skillet by MSR, an underlayer by TASC, and wonderful, glorious shoes from Columbia!
Back to our adventure! Denita pyro-d up a roaring fire and we drank and ate like queens. It almost made me forget that there was a janky mishmash of jimmy-rigged metal and fabric we would be spending the night in. And did I mention that a high wind advisory was popping up on our phones? After finishing off our spiked cocoas and the yawns started sneaking in, there was no longer any reason to delay.
We settled in for the night, but our peaceful evening didn’t last long. The winds went from light and adorable, to intense and angry. You could hear the gusts roaring over the tree-tops and coming towards us like freight trains. D: It literally sounded like a train was coming right at us. Why are we doing this? The winds tore through camp and rattled the tent and tarps with impressive fury. Then the rain set in. I had decided to pop my camping cherry in an ancient tent in the chilly fall during a flipping baby hurricane.
I’m pretty sure that sheer exhaustion won out around 5am. About two hours later I was awakened with water dripping directly into my eye. Lovely. The water had made it around the rainfly (tarp) and was pooling along the top of the tent and infiltrating our makeshift dwelling with increasing efficiency. As I sat up in a cranky stupor of morning, it felt oddly like I was floating. I quickly came to the realization that our sleeping pads were the only things protecting us from the rising water level inside the tent. At least the rain and wind were calming down enough that we could wring out our gear without pulling it back inside wetter than it was before. D: Please note, that by some miracle of architecture prowess, the tent was still standing . . . barely, but barely was enough.
I hate mornings. D: Understatement. E: Of the year! D: Decade? E: Century. D: Nailed it! And waking up to soggy everything with very little sleep was not improving that disposition. We almost gave up and packed it in. Somehow Emily inspired us to cook breakfast. E: Mostly because I wanted the bomb-diggity french toast I was promised… and maybe a little bit wanting Jessica to slog through this a little longer. Love youuuuuu! The breakfast got our butts into gear and the mimosas lent the necessary motivation to tackle a hike. D: And we found out Jess was a puddle jumper. I guess when the water is on the GROUND, she’s fine. We were rewarded with some amazing views and a giant log to reenact a scene from Troop Beverly Hills. There was a bit of a disagreement about the risk level with said ravine. I was pretty darn certain that a fall could have resulted in blood, guts and certain dismemberment, while Denita seemed to think a twisted ankle was more likely. We were walking over a rounded surface fifteen feet over jagged rocks. You decide. D: Really Jess . . . Really? Again, Oh geez!
Remember that waterfall jump I mentioned? Yeah . . . let’s get back to that. Once we reached the waterfall we peeked hesitantly over the ledge. The waters were black and tumultuous, which mirrored the hate-fire rousing in my soul for this idea. Seriously, how do I know there isn’t a rock or tree submerged down there? Pictures had not, and still do not, do it justice. I’m pretty sure we each went through the seven stages of grief as we got into our bathing suits and stared down at the icy depths . . . shock, terror, anger, terror, denial, terror, depression, and right back to terror. Denita lingered on bargaining for quite some time, but we finally got to acceptance. E: Our very reputations were at stake! Before we left town for our adventure, Billy told us that despite the weather, we better “nut up” and do the jump. Trust me, if there had been any nuts in attendance, they definitely would have been way, way up.
Our feet hit the water and panic hit simultaneously. It was arctic tundra cold! We braved the frosty waters, D: Like we had a choice!, as we swam across the dark pool. Then we had to haul our nearly blue bodies onto shore, stumble down the bank, cross again, D: AGAIN! and climb a rocky ledge to our towels. However, the sense of accomplishment and general awareness of being alive really did help bring up the mood. As stupid as it may have been, we promised ourselves we were jumping off a waterfall, and dammit, that’s exactly what we did!
There were so many things that went wrong. Gale force winds, icy downpours, freezing cold swimming holes and Denita even shed actual blood when I failed to catch her jump from a rock. D: I hate you. Never again! But you know what? We didn’t die. And amazingly, I’m glad I jumped in. It may not have been a romantic and idyllic evening under the stars, but it was an experience with two awesome chicks and that’s something. I have officially lost my camping virginity. However, nature is really going to have to up its game if I’m going to enjoy sleeping with her.
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