Friday, February 25, 2011

Tale of the camping trip that wasn't meant to be...

(The pictures are in totally random order...the captions explain when/where they took place.  Yes, this could be confusing)
Sweet baby Jack...who would come home from this adventure with Croup and a double Ear Infection despite his cool hat :(
Stephen and I love to camp, but with three children under five our camping options (especially in the Winter months) are rather limited.  We've had this idea of renting an RV or trailer and heading out on a camping adventure for some time and we finally requested leave, booked the RV and made plans to spend four days, three nights in Julian.  Julian is a sweet, old mining town to the East of San Diego in the low mountains...cold enough to feel like we were getting a mountain vacation, but not so cold that the kids would be miserable.  We planned to take our bikes, explore an old gold mine and ride the train, eat apple pie, buy fresh backed bread from Dudley's Bakery, "burn" was planned and we were excited!
On our way up to the Kern River Valley...crossing fingers it wouldn't rain (or snow).
Now, please understand that at the time we requested leave and planned this vacation it had been in the 70's and sunny EVERYDAY for a few weeks.  The weather was gorgeous and it seemed like the perfect chance to get away.  Little did we know that the Gods of Camping Weather were preparing to spit on our lovely plans.  Monday, the day before we were to leave for this little adventure, we received a call from the campground in Julian that they were going to be closing because of the weather in anticipation of snow.  We were bummed, but we were not going to let one set back ruin our trip.
Jacks face pretty much sums it was cold.  Windy and cold.
We scrambled to make a new plan and decided to head north to the Kern River Valley at the South end of the Sequoia National Forest.  We camped here for our honeymoon and it was beautiful, and yes it was also the middle of June.  Please note: We were scrambling the night before leaving.  Finding a campground with full RV hookups that isn't a senior citizen vacation resort is not easy and in retrospect driving north into the storm path in February wasn't the best choice...  
Morning of Day 2: after being pummeled by rain all night, but before the snow that closed the campground  and blocked the roads.
I am a planner.  I like to know where we are going, how long it will take to get there, what there is to do when we get there, the weather forecast...Stephen is more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of guy.  He is a Howell and I have come to accept this over the past eight years.  I used to love this attitude-it challenged me to let go of the planning every once and a while and just go with it.  With that attitude in hand, we packed up and headed north.  We found a "quaint" KOA campground along Lake Isabella (that looked great online) and settled in for the night.  It was deserted and pretty run down, but we had a fire pit, playground and hookups for water and electric so we were all happy.  We built a fire, ate supper, roasted marshmallows, and ran the dogs around before settling in for the night.  So far, no bad weather...until the ran began pounding down around 2am and the temperature dropped about 30 degrees. 
Afternoon day two: settling in at Pyramid Lake RV "resort"
The weather forecast the next morning was glum: rain, sleet, snow, wind, ice.  The campground issued us a refund because we would likely not be able to drive out the mountain road if we stayed another night.  We packed up and decided to try to visit the Trail of a Hundred Giants anyway.  We found the first of two roads into Sequoia National Forest closed due to snow in the mountain pass and were told by the ole' trusty Garmin that there was a second road in to the west entrance.  Here's where my planning instinct collides with Stephens spontaneous instinct: we stop for gas before heading around the lake and I mentioned that the guy at the counter looks like a real wilderness-type of guy and we should maybe ask him about the accessibility BEFORE wasting loads of time and gas going up and over and around the lake and mountain.  I was met with a response similar to "Nah" and so we drove on.
Attempting to drive to the Trail of a Hundred Giants in the sleet.
Another fact about me: I am cautious.  I think about things like not having cell service, what if we get snowed in, where's the nearest hospital, is this safe...Stephen is adventurous.  He is a Marine and a man, and because of this attitude we have made some very good memories that start off with Stephen saying "Let's go this way" and me half-smiling with sweaty palms and saying "Sure, I hope we don't die."  I have learned over the years to trust his judgment and have tried hard to not freak out when I think it may not be the best choice...this was going to be one of those times...
Pyramid Lake RV Resort had two redeeming qualities. Number 1: A playground!
The drive around the lake in the early morning was beautiful.  We passed campgrounds that we visited during our honeymoon, stopped to look at waterfalls along the Kern River, saw a rainbow, and (despite the rain that was gradually turning into sleet) generally marveled at the beauty of this place.  The drive quickly turned uphill and narrowed significantly.  Here's where my cautious instinct kicked in.  We were driving a rented 31 foot RV along a very narrow road which was becoming icy, isolated, and had almost no opportunities to turn around.  We also had no battery left on the GPS, no cell phone signal, and it was below freezing outside.  Stephen was LOVING IT; I was praying in the passenger seat.    
Campfire, night 2
The kids, so far, were happy but it was coming up on lunch time and they had been in their carseats for the entire morning.  I was starting to get restless with this drive, mostly because we were passing signs that said "Snowplows only" and "Icy Roads Ahead"  and I was beginning to think that if we managed to get over the pass and into the valley 1) we wouldn't really even be able to get out and enjoy the big trees because of the sleet and 2) we may not be able to drive back out.  Where would we camp, how would we stay warm, how long would we be able to stay if we were get the idea.  Stephen assured me there would be another way out and we would not have to go back over the mountain pass...I had less faith.  I was wrong, yes you heard it here, but that comes later.
Redeeming Quality #2: the park backed up to a hillside with little trails to explore.
We followed Garmin (which was on it last, dying cell of battery because the outlet on the dashboard wasn't working to charge it) until it directed us to a dead end, told us to drive through a front yard, and into the side of the mountain via gravel driveway...We were disappointed, slightly frustrated and now done trying to find the back way to the trail.  We turned around and pulled over on the side of a field and made lunch.  To say that I was frustrated was an understatement.  To say that I was anxious about driving back over that pass was an understatement.  But Stephen was right...there was a road that would take us back out another direction and drop us off somewhere in the middle of Central California Farm Country.  We were once again scrambling to find a place to stay for the next two nights, but didn't have a clue where we were in relation to any nearby city.  I worked on Google on my cell phone to try to find a local campground, but could only find Lawrence Welk-type Retirement Resorts.  We wanted something that would at least resemble camping in the wilderness and came across Pyramid Lake just north of Los would have to do.
Yeh, she can sure strike a pose...
We drove in around 4.  Everyone was tired.  The kids were getting sick and the dogs were restless from being cooped up all day.  It didn't matter what this place had to offer at this point: We were staying here and we would make the best of it.  To say that this place was run-down would be a compliment, but the Chinese folks running the place were happy to have guests and were very accommodating.  They provided a fire pit so we could have a campfire (we were were in a no-ground fire zone of the Los Angeles Nation Forest) and free WI-FI and cable TV hook-ups.  We set up our camp, built a fire and headed to the playground.  The beauty of having small children is that they can be happy anywhere.  To us this was a dilapidated, off season RV park off the side of the 5 freeway.  To them, it was a nature adventure and their enthusiasm was infectious.  The weather held up, no rain but very cold.  The poor kids were all working on ear infections, Michael had a wicked cough, and they didn't last outside for too long before complaining that they were cold.  We settled in shortly after dark for baths and a movie
Headed back toward camp from the hillside.
We spent the next day by the fire, riding bikes, taking a hike and playing at the playground.  We napped and headed back out to the playground and scouted around the hillside, filling their pockets with rocks and collecting sticks to burn.  We knew we would be heading home early the next day.  Stephen and I were both suffering from a lingering cold, Michael's cough was getting worse by the hour, Jack and Savannah weren't much better, and the dog's were up most of the night with (ahem) bowel problems.  After burning more marshmallows, we settled in early with homemade Chinese food (appropriate considering our hosts), played several rounds of Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, and Whack-a-mole (which is pronounced in a way that it rhymes with guacamole) and watched Man vs. Wild and Gold Rush Alaska on the Discovery Channel.  We cranked up the heat, dished out the cold medicine and fell asleep early. 
How could you not enjoy a trip with this little angel?
Heading home early was bittersweet.  We very much enjoyed the trip; and despite the poor planning, bad weather, and sickness, the kids had a great time. Number one lesson learned: camping with babies is probably best done in the warmer months, when rain, ice, and ear infections are less likely to threaten your vacation. We will surely remember this trip for many years and I am SO thankful Stephen and were able to enjoy it with a sense of humor :)

1 comment:

Team Jaeski said...

Sounds like so much fun, despite the weather and lack of planning. My how far you've come ... from camping with bears (*snicker*) in Yosemite to camping with babies in the cold wilds outside of LA!! What great family memories you'll have from this trip!!