And now we’re back to regularly scheduled programming, to wit: a trip I took for work that I extended in order to go backpacking. This time we mix it up because I did not suffer the logistical slings and arrows alone. I went hiking with GOOD FRIENDS Betty and Tim.
Tim I know from his being married to Betty. Betty I know because we were in the same Girl Scout troop as small children. So aside from the blessedly brief period when I did child beauty pageants, she has known me during every fairly sentient year of my life. When it came time to fly the rust belt coop, she went east and I … stayed in the rust belt for college, then went west to shack up with a guy I met on a message board about webcomics who I eventually married and then divorced anyway it’s a long story. ALSO you may remember Betty and Tim from the time they hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and I met them halfway for a zero day or two.
At the end of 2018, Betty and Tim moved to California!
I had focus groups in Fresno. Drove there in a rental car with my boss listening to Pod Save America. I tuned it out to make a Twitter thread about books I liked. This was around the time of some Trump administration figure being heckled out of a restaurant and I got into a lightly disputative conversation with my boss about the uselessness of civility. Whether this was good, bad, or neutral for my career remains to be seen.
Once again, did not have enough time to visit Forestiere Underground Gardens, which only means that once I finally do they will be a great disappointment.
I did watch Forensic Files in the hotel room which led to this tweet, which baffles me now because I’m fairly sure I didn’t take any kind of weed with me.
Focus groups in Los Angeles! It was raining and we made it just before they briefly closed the Grapevine due to snow. Just another li’l reminder about gLoBaL wArMiNg 🙂
I tried to note things that were distinctive about LA because I find that a salutary habit of mind, but all I came up with besides “uhh … juice bars” was this:
The focus group facility had a cheese plate. That is a next-level thing to be eating while the people on the other side of the glass forget you’re there. The catering was sliders: a horrible thing to leave sitting in a dark room for four hours. Luckily my clients were on a variety of diets that left nearly all the french fries for me.
On this day I just worked in a hotel room because I didn’t have business in LA til Friday but it didn’t make sense to fly home for 19 hours or wahtever. I giddily signed off at 4 p.m. (VERY early) to go see a real Hollywood Movie right there in Tinsel Town (Roma). I cried and then bought myself a short-sleeved sweatshirt at a thrift store. I still had an hour to kill before having drinks with a friend I’d never met yet from a Facebook group dedicated to “the #1 Anarcho-comedy show on any station across the nation” so I got into the hot tub with a glass of prosecco.
While I was there I saw one of my coworkers and his wife arrive with all their luggage and I hope I presented a comforting image of what would soon be theirs.
Then I had a drink with my new friend inside a Googie. Then back to the hotel for some more Forensic Files.
We had an all-day all-staff meeting for work, and then a HOLIDAY PARTY! This is where Betty comes in again, and Tim! I had reserved my plus-one for Betty but turns out the food was like a buffet and Betty was kept sort of late by work and traffic so by the time they arrived they just slid in and helped themselves to some food in the weirdly brightly lit room.
At one point my coworker asked her fiance to get her a glass of wine or something and he said, “At this hour?!” which I didn’t hear but Betty did and we found it so funny we repeated it to each other all weekend. Thank you coworker and fiance for the laughs.
The plan was for Betty and Tim to crash in my hotel room and then we’d get an early start for the ferry to Channel Islands. So, for the first time ever I did not go to the coworker after-party where we get close to yelling about The Future of the Democratic Party and/or Good Guys with Guns and coincidentally for the first time ever I did not end up violently hungover the next day.
I was hungover, however! I made coffee with the machine in the hotel room and tried to drink it to prevent the hangover that slides into a caffeine headache thing that happens, but my tummy wasn’t into it. After a super weird transaction at the donut shop (and more coffee?? what is my deal??) we were on the road for the ‘Nard listening to Your Kickstarter Sucks (this is my fault).
After double and triple checking that we had our camping essentials (including wine, a wine-bottle opener, four gas canisters for the two camp stoves we had, powdered Pedialyte, charcuterie, etc.) we boarded the boat. We saw 3,000 dolphins, and also a couple of whales I think. Charismatic macrofauna anyway. I must say that “hungover” is not the best feeling to have on a boat but being in the presence of two people who were like “IT’S DECEMBER!??!!” helped.
We arrived at Scorpion Cove and all the “backpackers” (some of whom, including us, would be staying about 500 feet up the road) passed down the jetty hand-to-hand many many pounds of packs, grills, chairs, bags of a week’s groceries, yoga mats (we felt bad for every single person who decided to sleep on one of those, please don’t do that), air mattresses … I don’t know what else, people were using the boat as a car for varieties of car camping and you know how things just multiply when you do that because you “might need it” and “I’m not carrying it up a mountain, so” all the weight gets relative real fast.
Then we lugged our ultralight backpacking gear, plus two bags of gourmet food and alcohol items, up to the campsite at Scorpion Cove, shaded elegantly by eucalyptus. I hope I waited a decent interval before informing Betty and Tim that they’re invasive by the way
Tim has been trying out new tents (Tim, start your tent blog!!!!) so there were three tents for three people despite two of them being married. It’s fun to try new things. Tim had trouble with getting his stakes out of the ground to reset it (or Betty’s I forget). Below you can see Betty being helpful. In the end I think that Betty came up with a way to lever them out but Tim is the one who got to wrest them out because victory has a hundred fathers (except me).
And then we went on a day hike! We hadn’t showed up with any grand ideas about where to go — I wasn’t even fully aware that our campsite was so close to the ferry point, since the last time I was there I had a “backcountry” site that was a fair hike away — so I think we just kind of found a beach on the map that we could get down to (hot tip for dummies like me: make sure it ends at 0 ft elevation). I think it was Smuggler’s Cove which sounds like Disneyworld but got that name for a good historical reason.
Anyway it was one of those classic California hikes like the ones I have done since I moved here and Allie would take me I didn’t know where. To me this means you have an endless incline at an angle that doesn’t mean to punish you, just demonstrate to you without judgment that you are are not in good shape, and every which way in your immediate vicinity there are these hills that I can only describe as luscious, or curvy, they really do seem soft and rounded, covered in golden grass that gets greener as winter goes on (in a good year).
On this particular hike we ended up walking down into a sort of valley and were suddenly surrounded by olive trees and Tim said it reminded him of Greece and I was jealous that they’d been to Greece until I thought to myself well, if this looks just like it, I’m here right now.
Then suddenly we’re in another copse of invasive eucalyptus, with all that distinctive crispy leaf litter and that lovely smell (it’s complicated) and then big round rocks and then littler round rocks then pebbles then a bit where the sea comes in and makes a shallow place where the water gets warm then more rocks and bull kelp and now sand and the actual ocean.
Down the beach a bit we could see mist or fog above the beach and the way the late-afternoon hit it was so soft and spooky and fantastic. It reminded us all of similarly magical moments from the thru-hike we did together, 1,400 miles up the very same coast. I’d brought water shoes, too, so I clambered around just to be doing it, and got maybe ankle deep in the actual Ocean, which is cold in December and always, if you ask me.
On the way back we stopped at some rusty ruins of somewhat recent vintage and thought about what it could have been for (oil, turns out!) and took pictures of each other and then headed into another surely-lovely gully that we could no longer see at that hour.
Made dinner by headlamp and drank wine and talked about all manner of things, including future trips: one to that very place, again, the kind of parallel-track excitement/nostalgia that people who like to plan adventures get, and another to England and which I am looking forward to so, so very much. The latter in part drew me in by virtue of the unique respite available in the area after the uniquely miserable type of hiking (you may be clammy and cold, but pubs and beer!). This is the type of thing that appeals to me: novelty, contrast.
The closing thoughts batted around among our three tents resonated with memories I have of those end-of-night closing thoughts you giggle at a sleepover in the dark in a way that made my heart kind of squeeze up like it was hugging itself and then feel beyond expansive.
On this day we woke up and had breakfast. As I recall it was some like, healthy oatmeal that ended up being pretty thin, so I offered my technicolor packet of oatmeal “With Artificial Strawberry Flavor!” (of the type I have been eating since I was a small child trusted to microwave bowls of sugary paste on my own) to add some sugar to it and we all passed the giant pot of gruel around with increasing dismay as it seemed to never diminish. (This is uniquely disheartening when backpacking because anything you don’t eat you have to pack out in a ziploc you’ve dedicated to trash and on longer trips the mingled smells of discarded food for however many days is enough to get you to join the Clean Multipurpose Pot/Bowl Club. The most hilarious memory to me from the High Sierra Trail is when my friend Nathan thought he put coconut flakes on his dessert but they were mashed potato flakes and he had to eat it. It’s funny because it did not happen to me). Although maybe what actually happened is that I insisted they add my gross artificially flavored oatmeal and Betty and I ate as much as we wanted and Tim gleefully ate the rest.
We wandered over to see if we could get in on a kayak trip we’d seen a concessionaire for and encountered the kayak guides getting into Christmas elf gear. They cheerfully explained the prices and stuff and we decided to try it another time when we could give it a full day. Then we packed up and stowed our gear in fox boxes (rough equivalent of a bear box, it’s named for the fauna most dangerous to your snacks in any given place).
That day we had a boat to catch around dusk (so like, 3 p.m. at that heinous time of year) so we planned to hike up to the bluffs and get a good look around. This was more quintessential California In the Best of Times stuff, looking straight down at a roiling sea in so many shades of blue with the sun shining on you beneficently, improving your mood, the air just gently whisking sweat away and depositing a tiny bit of salt on your lips. Rocks that look like they’ll just crumble in an instant and will after a hundred years’ action, the same rocks you’re standing on.
Lunch was an apple for each of us, distant cacophony of sea lions below, open-faced sandwiches comprising cheese and prosciutto and barbecue chips that freakishly large scrub jays swept in to tidy up once we moved along. Somewhere on the walk I was loudly explaining a cult of the female orgasm and a woman chaperoning a group of pre-teen girls there for a science education day trip shushed us dramatically. Well they will learn soon enough.
Then to the little museum, where we saw the videos about the Chumash and the Chinese and the Italians and the military and the invasive pigs. Another hour to kill which we did at the beach, with nothing to do but inhabit that presence of mind that is California smugness about the weather.
At last back to the boat to reverse the pass-everything-along ritual. More dolphins, extra whales, beers for everyone, Cheetos for me, Southern California driving heroically done by Betty, showers in Betty and Tim’s yet-unpacked apartment (again I praise them for pausing this MAJOR LIFE TRANSITION for a silly weekend trip), hamberders, a car to the airport, a flight, a car home, sleep, and back to work the next day. Just California things I can’t get enough of sharing.
Lessons learned: Oh wow you can basically car camp on a Channel Island. Also, the incredible power of friendship — at this hour!? — for I don’t know, 25 years. WELCOME to Betty and Tim!!