Redwood Diaries III

Dates: October 7-10, 2016
Campsite: Standish Hickey State Recreational Area
Crew: Your Author, Matt, Jeana
Photographs: Flickr: Camping in Mendocino


Friday 10/7
I prepared to leave today by sending a WFH email. Had a very productive day despite the nagging feeling that I’d done little in way of packing or planning. All I knew was that I could fuck off around 1pm and that I was heading north. Matt & Jeana almost sure they’re riding up to meet me. Sounds like they can’t leave until tomorrow morning.

So after signing off around 12:30, I found myself in a panic to pack. First, I had to go swap the Volvo for the Jeep, because there was a comment from Matt about wanting to hug the coast. Or maybe it was a comment from me about how Usal Beach was a viable option; one that I could be talked into. And if there was a chance we’d be camping down at Usal Beach, it had to be the Jeep. The Volvo totally COULD make the journey down that blasted fire road, but I think honestly we’d have to sacrifice her down there cause it would be her last road trip.

Once back with the Jeep, it took all of 30 minutes to pack up; everything cleaned and repacked from the last trip. Good boy Sean. I think I was on the road by 1:30, taking Lakeville Hwy north to skirt the Petaluma Santa Rosa lunacy. Popped out onto 101 north of Sonoma State and would plan to stay on this road for until Sunday afternoon.

Solo road tripping affords many things, but one of the best is the captive self audience and captains chair from which to make phone calls to creatures you’ve perhaps not phoned in some time. I chatted with my Dad, then a separate call to my mom. Quick call to Jude to remind him that he MIGHT need to pick Charlotte up, during which he revealed that he DOES like camping; it’s the missing Monday part that he was chaffing against. Then a long call with Jeana to hash out what we knew and when we thought it might be happening.

By this time, maybe 3:30, right after I’d stopped to shoot the Cloverdale Deadwood, I made it official (to myself) that I’d overnight in Ukiah. I was so far ahead of schedule that I could easily have {A} done my grocery run and {B} made it up to the campsite before dark. But I’d have to push both, and just because I always seem to do it, I truly despise setting camp in the dark. This decision got better and better the more it was unfolded: I could get a growler from Mendo Brewing, I could have dinner at Ritual, most hotels offer free breakfast, and best of all: hot tub, bitches. Oh, and that’s hot tub COMMA bitches.

The Internet has already pretty much given this ample coverage, but sweet baby Jesus there’s just nothing better than a small town Walmart on a Friday afternoon. And if that small town is Ukiah, you MUST factor in the laissez-faire attitude towards parking lot camping. Lots busted up and broke down palaces that could EASILY have been on tour 10 years ago. Hell, some of these cats may well be Family. As always, if you go into a Walmart without a solid plan and exit strategy, you’re heading for a stomping. But, in their defense, they charged the EXACT same price for a GoPro Stick.

Good meal, couple errands run, and there I was buck naked in a hotel room by myself. Drinking bourbon and flipping back & forth between Fox News and CNN, soaking up the coverage of The Donald providing detailed descriptions of how to commit vicious sexual assault and get away with it. There is a wedding here in Ukiah tomorrow. A big one. Or maybe multiple smaller weddings. Either way, this place is packed with partying 20-something couples and 50-something couples. I saw a bachelorette party conga lining it to the lounge at Ritual. It’s too small a town for these to not be connected.

Saturday 10/8
Woke alarm-less around 7. Declining a shower, I had the Jeep repacked, a strategically balanced breakfast and an empty colon by 8. Raley’s by 8:30, back on the road by 9:30. No good coffee in Ukiah. Which is probably bullshit, but I couldn’t find an EASY non-chain mocha in Ukiah at 9:30. There’s always Willits. Then failing that, there’s Pour Girls Coffee in Laytonville.

But this time Matt and I were texting about their departure north. They left at 8:15, so it should not be hard to let them overtake me. All I have to do is take my time. Normally I’d be hell bent on exploiting the early hour and getting to the camp site as early as possible. But there were lazy pints and small town lunches with old friends at stake. And you could do a whole lot worse than this part of 101 to take slow. Gas in Willits, no coffee. Photographs before Laytonville, then Laytonville proper. Took my time With my mocha, finding a spot in the shade to park in and read while I waiting for M&J.

You started to see it in Ukiah, and really noticed it in Willits. And now here I was extending into my 2nd hour in Laytonville, and the social anthropologist in me perked right up. An inordinate amount of individuals 20-30 years in age. Scruffy, dreads, lots of ink, all in the shade, some with dogs, most with packs, others with signs wanting to head north: Garberville, Eureka, Oregon. Now, their appearance is material to these observations. But so would it be if their attire was so homogenous in some another way (preppy, soldier, etc). That they wore the uniform of card carrying ______’s should be irrelevant. It was that there were SO MANY of them that was remarkable.

What are they all doing here? What was their shared experience that they should have so much objective decor in common? Being WHERE we were is telling. This is the southern edge of what stands to be the epicenter of a new California gold rush should weed be legalized this year. You’d be a fool to think that there aren’t significant grow operations indoors here, and outdoors all up in the hills. And it’s those outdoor farms that cannot be underscored. I am of the opinion that there is simply too much weed being dispensed in this state alone for indoor growers to supply on their own. The demand is driving these clandestine and heavily defended woodland farms.

Maybe these kids – and they are so fucking young – are congregating here because they think there’s field hand work to be had; that if they stay inundated in the community for long enough, their stories get vetted and trust is built and soon they might get tasked with doing night patrols, water delivery, etc: the kinds of tasks that you give the new guys to see how they do before you let them near the golden gooses. Then, after a while, they might be earning better: trimming, sorting, mule’ing, etc. But still, if even HALF of the above is a viable scenario, these kids milling around Laytonville are not working, and thus still effectively homeless.

Lunch with M&J at Wheels Pub. Excellent fish & chips. No shit. Fish & Chips share in common something with Huevos Rancheros. You can acquire a good working feel for the quality of any restaurant cook staff by how well they prepare these dishes. A fine basket of F&Cs, in my opinion, requires only 2 things: {A} the chips be seasoned; don’t fucking bore me with golden blonde potato strips; DO something with them and {B} the fish be well-done; don’t serve me floppy, soaking-wet fish that falls apart the moment you complain about it. In the case of Wheels Pub, the fries had some sort of cheese chunks battered on top of them, each chunk no bigger than a booger. And the fish was crispity cruchity outside, hot and flaky inside.

That’s it. There’s nothing left to do but ride north. Only stop I need to make is to drop a pin at Area 101/Healing Harvest Farms. Keep meaning to stop inside this dispensary some day. Figured since I was alone sans kids, this would be a perfect time. But it just didn’t feel right. Maybe on my way back down Monday afternoon.

We reached the camp site around 1:30, far earlier than any of us are accustomed to arriving. Which gave us plenty of time to SLOWLY pick a spot and set camp. The good news is what my heart was telling me all along: that at this time of year, spots this far north are DESERTED. When I called Standish Hickey yesterday, she said something like “of the 91 sites I have, maybe 89 of them are empty.” And I believe the same would be true for the 10-12 similar 101 adjacent camp sites between here (Leggett, CA) and Eureka.

Unfortunately, we missed by 2 weekends the lifting of the seasonal bridge that provides access to the lower Redwoods sites, which Charlotte and I discovered last September, then Jude and I further evaluated the very next weekend. But these upper sites – Hickey and Rock Creek – are both quite amazing. And not just because it was so deserted. Each site has tons of level tenting, improved tables and fire rings, raised critter boxes, water spigots every 10 sites or so, EMPTY recycling and rubbish dumpsters, and best of all? Proper flush toilets with propane power.

Some drinks, some medications, some snacks and a bunch of hydration later, we hiked down to the swimming hole. Actually, the South Fork of the Eel River. It was just the way I remembered it from last year: same water level, same high 80*/low 90* weather, maybe 2-3 other people there. Matt went straight in, without hesitation and seeming impervious to the low 60* water temps.

I tried to make the best of things when a family of 3 girls all around Charlotte’s age showed up. All blonde. Each with full wetsuits like I was going to bring had MY kids agreed to come with me. It’s an out-of-sight / out-of-mind situation when you’re not only without your kids when you wanted them, but without your kids because THEY DIDNT want this. I don’t honestly think my kids all of a sudden just started to hate camping. Nor do I think divulging of this info registered to their kid brains how hard it hit me. I’ll keep trying.

The route back was all Sean: not the way we came down, but to investigate if the FOOT bridge to the Redwoods sites was still up. And it was. Talk about deserted: there are 61 individual sites down here, and not one was occupied because the auto bridge was dismantled a couple weeks ago; which allowed cars to ford the South Fork and get here. So while i added a good extra mile, the last 1/3 of which was uphill, it gave both M&J a start look at how awesome these lower sites are. They’re hooked, and are already talking about a mid-to-late summer 2017 excursion back up here. The notion that all 161 TOTAL camp sites are reserved for Hickeyfest seemed intriguing to Matt. Like me, I don’t think he gives two shits about the music in the abstract; without hearing the bands it’s hard to gain internal momentum. But that there was a fucking music festival and this whole place is filled with fun loving creatures seemed a small point of conversation.

A quick bounce to the Peg House for firewood, and {SNAP} like that it got dark. I know it’s that we’re nestled in a low valley surrounded by dense redwoods and their canopy. But it never ceases to amaze me how fast we transition from post-sunset magic hour to needing battery operated light sources. Luckily, the weather is quite on our side: even after dark it was still pleasant. Typically up here in the Redwoods, the setting of the sun is the onset of mid-40s. But I don think it ever dipped below 55* last night.

Backgammon, talking about backgammon, whittling, Matt whittling with a brand new Gerber Zombie Apocalypse axe, defending the merits of the carnivore. Good talking. Nothing cursory; very little idle chit chat. Or maybe there was idle chit chat, but that you cared so much for the person talking. It was all meaningful syllables and deep listening. Not that we were talking about core personal issues or struggles or revelations. It’s just that when you start as close friends, then sequester yourself in the darkened woods like this around a fire, the conversation takes on a profound gravity. This is why I keep doing this. This is why I think even the most camp-averse of my friends could find true therapy in woods at night with a full belly and distilled spirits in-hand. Even alone, solo camping, I would do well to remember that it’s all about getting out here; to forget the neuroses of camping by myself and realize these nights, the whole process, is how I dream. OCD as it is to admit, my version of counting sheep is to mentally assess my camping kit, what was missing or extraneous the last time, how awesome it would be to do stretches of nights, etc.

Odd dreams. Camping always does. But twice last night I woke from bizarre machinations and each time it took me an hour to fall back asleep. Didn’t help that yet again I am confounded with how to deal with my mattress options out here. I’ve more or less mastered – to a fault – the other elements of car camping. No one who’s camped with my would ever accuse me of being an under-prepared car camper; or in any way prepared for proper backpacking camping. But the sleep slab options continue to vex me. I’ve tried 3x patio chair cushions, with and without 3x layered Mexican blankets. I’ve tried $20 Amazon camp mattresses, with and without 3x layered Mexican blankets. I’ve tried $110 REI camp mattress, with and without. The closest I’ve gotten is the twin sized air mattresses that you’d break out for house guests. But each brand – from Intex to Aerobed – have some issue. From faulty battery pumps to slow leaks requiring topping-off at 2:30am and again at 5:30am. Nothing works. This time: kids sized Intex blow-up mattresses with tradition pool-toy style valves. These provide ZERO deflation, but at nearly 72 inches, I find my feet and legs arguing with the lower edge of the mattress.

Sunday 10/9
Other than thoughts during a couple episodes of Deadwood:

  • For all the pomp and circumstance of his high position, I think Al Swearingen KNEW he was the only one who had the stuff to scrub a blood stain.
  • Leave the demons to God and trust the pain to me. – Doc Cochran
  • Write Lynn Gillespie. At length.
  • I got problems enough today without kiting checks on tomorrows – Harry Manning
  • No one asked if you could imagine bleeding, or you’d have tumbler’ing and cartwheels and somersaults to bring you into the lists. Drink and fuck on the house, but do not attempt to detain me.
  • Every day takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live – Jane

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