For me, nothing says summer like a road trip or camping expedition. So, I have been excitedly planning for a trip up north to Central California and Shaver Lake. This is the second time I’ve been to Shaver Lake and the first time for me to take my Sun and Stars (my favorite woman in the whole world) and, in a way, the first time my children got to go. I took them about four years ago. The boy was about 1 year old and the girl was 3 or so. Both very young, too young to really appreciate it, or remember it.
I both love and hate camping. It is a hell of a lot of work, to begin with. Packing. Planning. Thinking about what you will need. Logistics. Deciding what to take and, in our case, figuring out how to get it there. We wanted to borrow a larger vehicle, or rent one, or buy a trailer, or a roof rack, etc. But, ultimately, since we are watching our budget, none of those options panned out. We asked Dad to take some items up for us (they were camping, too) and put the rest in the Accord. The kids and my Sun and Stars took bags, sleeping bags, pillows and so on with them in the passenger compartment.
So, Saturday we loaded into the car, crammed full. I barely got the trunk closed and, actually, worried about it suddenly popping open due to a bump in the road or something. Luckily, that never happened. So, we hit the road early in the morning. Very little traffic got in the way and the day was brilliant, blue and bright. By about 10 a.m. we arrived in Bakersfield. Per my own personal tradition, we ate at IHOP. It just seems like every time I pass through Bakersfield on one of these trips that I end up having breakfast at an IHOP. That’s not a complaint, per se. The meal was passable, at least, and all of us seemed happy with it. Back into the car and then on to Fresno. Stopped at Target because my Sun and Stars left her pillow at home and went to a gas station to be refueled.
We made our way out of Fresno and began our ascent into the mountains. For me, there’s something a bit magical going from the flat lands of the Central Valley, to the urban hardscape of Fresno, then into the country and finally seeing the alpine trees and flora. The road twists and turns and dips and dives. The kids in the back seat giggle as we feel gravity lose it’s grip for just a second. Then, they ask, again, how much longer. Something about children hardwires them to constantly need updating on ETAs. I did it. So did you, and my kids do it. I thought telling them we would arrive at 1pm (thanks to the GPS for pinpointing it) that it would keep them from asking. It didn’t. Arrived Shaver Lake by 1 pm as predicted. We unpacked the car and moved into our rented trailer that had been delivered.
Camp Edison is roughing it but only just. Each site has power and a cable TV hookup (no, we didn’t use the cable, but we did use the power). There’s water within about 30 feet of each site. The bathrooms have hot and cold running water and there’s even showers you can pay for. Honestly, it’s kind of luxurious for a camp ground. Each site comes with a fire pit, a picnic table and one of those square barbecues you find in a lot of parks.
Our campsite came with a spectacular view of the lake. And, we rented a little pop-up trailer to stay in. No sleeping on the ground.
I really do love camping, too. I love the outdoors. I love the smell of a campfire, the adventure of building your own fire, and, the romance of cooking your meal outside. I hate washing the dishes by hand afterward, hate the dirt and dust and flies and mosquitos. I love the sounds of the birds calling to one another and the sight of bats at dusk feasting on flying insects, swooping swiftly amid the trees. I hate getting all sweaty and dirty and knowing that there’s no shower on the schedule tonight.
Anyway, my Sun and Stars got her mother to make us some tacos that we barbecued for lunch. I had never had them this way prior to having them with her. But, they are good. Corn tortillas, beans and cheese, folded over and pressed flat. Then, the other type of taco has cheese and chiles. You barbecue each and then make a sandwich of each type. Delicious. The kids were so excited about having a campfire so we decided to get right to it that night. For dinner we had hot dogs roasted over the fire. Each kid got a long skewer and proceeded to roast their dog over the open fire. And by that I mean they managed to smack it against the burning logs, dip it in the ashes and hold it too far away from the fire to actually roast it. So, I cleaned them off and roasted them myself. But, they had fun.
One of the reasons we go to Camp Edison at Shaver Lake is because my uncle worked/works for Edison and he goes up for two weeks. One week he spends with the family and one with his Edison peoples. This year it was my family, my Dad and Stepmother, my stepsister and her twins meeting up with the uncle and aunt. Various factors conspired against my other family members so that they didn’t attend this year. So, we closed out the evening at my uncle’s adjoining campsite by having S’mores around his campfire.
S’mores. If you go camping and don’t have S’mores then I feel bad for you. Truly, they are wonderful. And, most people screw them up. Yes, I said it. S’mores done properly are amazingly delicious. Most people just jam their marshmallow into the fire, catch it alight, and then blow it out, declaring loudly that they “like it that way” to explain that they meant to catch it on fire. Know why they “like it that way”? It’s because properly toasting a marshmallow is not always easy.
I make S’mores properly. First, you have to prepare. Don’t just run over and grab a marshmallow. No, first you get your graham cracker and split it in half along the width. You should now have two squares of graham cracker. Next, break off some milk chocolate and lay it on one of the crackers. Don’t be greedy. But, do break off a whole piece large enough to fit within the area of the cracker, no more. Now, get your marshmallow. I know you probably know this, but, you have to buy the jumbo Jet Puffed marshmallows. DO NOT get the flattened ones that are marketed as being for S’mores. If you’re cheating and doing this at home in the microwave, get those. But, they are not legitimate S’mores, know that.
Okay, now we come to the most crucial step. Get the marshmallow on your skewer, piercing it in the middle through the flat end and so that it is completely, well, skewered. Now approach the fire. If there’s a lot of flames, you do not want that. Find the coals. If you can, find a spot where the coals are visible between logs. Whatever you do, don’t catch the marshmallow on fire and don’t get it in the ashes or char on the logs. Be patient and deliberate. Find a nice hot spot with coals and rotate your marshmallow slowly. Watch carefully. The outside will expand and brown. Brown is good. Get the brown evenly all over the marshmallow. At this point, the marshmallow should be wiggling on the skewer and may even spin freely on the skewer. This is a good sign. It means the interior of the marshmallow is so hot it has become molten. Now, move swiftly but carefully. Go to your crackers and put the marshmallow that is now golden brown and crispy on the outside but molten on the inside on top of of the chocolate and take the other piece of cracker and angle it to slide the marshmallow off of your skewer. Set the skewer aside and slowly press down, squeezing the crackers together. Don’t apply too much pressure, just enough to flatten the marshmallow.
If you did it right, the marshmallow will ooze out the sides, pure white marshmallow cream, and the golden brown skin will complement it. The chocolate will be melting and it will all taste amazing. No charring, no bitterness, just creamy marshmallow, crispy crackers and gooey chocolate. The perfect S’more.
Sunday we just hung around the campsite. The kids went to the beach for a while with my Stepmother and then, we they got back, they climbed the rocks. I was lucky to find a grill that would fit over the fire pit so, we set about making hamburgers for dinner over the campfire. I built the fire and started it with FireSteel. It sounds simple when I say it. But, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I worked and worked and worked to start that fire. I got out my iPad and read about how to do it, then watched a couple YouTube videos about it. Honestly, starting a fire is not easy. I resorted to taking a paper towel and wrapping it around the striker, as I saw on one video, and it worked a charm. The tinder that hitherto had resisted my efforts to light it now crackled with flame. Once the fire settled down I barbecued the burger patties over the fire. We also did corn on the cob wrapped in foil over the fire and topped it off by toasting the buns, too. Delicious. It was one of those perfect moments, eating food I made, tasting the accomplishment of starting the fire without the use of matches or lighter and looking out over a blue lake in the cool dusk. Beautiful.
On Monday we got up early and headed down to the Marina so we could rent a pontoon boat complete with a barbecue to look for a waterfall and let the kids fish. We motored across the nearly glassy lake in the cool morning air, feeling a million miles from the furnace heat of the Inland Empire. We found the waterfall and it was pretty. Not Yosemite’s waterfalls pretty, but a wonderful little cascade of hydrogen dioxide. I somehow managed to get all three kids poles ready and got them fishing. They were so excited… for about ten minutes. Then they pretty much decided that fishing was for suckers and monks. People either so patient they can wait or too foolish to do something else. So, they didn’t catch anything.
We came back and made a simple lunch. My Sun and Stars (whom I think secretly wishes she was a grade school teacher sometimes) had brought along some craft supplies. So, the kids and she set about making turtles from paper bowls complete with little feet and googly eyes. Then, as the turtles dried they wove “God’s Eyes (example pictured left). I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that My Sun and Stars enjoyed the crafts more than the kids did. Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all. But, somehow, that’s how camping always seems to go, doesn’t it? Lots of things in life, really. You think it’s super cool and when you share it with the kids they appear to be completely unimpressed. Then they go play in the dirt.
For dinner that evening the three families met for a potluck. Our contribution was bacon-wrapped shrimp that we grilled over the open campfire. It was as delicious as it sounds. There was also spaghetti, garlic bread and salad to be had. And, we finished off the evening with S’mores. Because we could; because we were camping. When you’re camping, you get to have S’mores.
Tuesday we got into the cars and drove about 45 minutes deeper into the forest to visit Big Creek. You seek, much of the area up here is owned by Southern California Edison and was the site of a major hydroelectric system. Basically, they used dams and penstock valves to make the waters in the area generate electricity. Several of the lakes, including Shaver, are part of this system. The water is passed through multiple generating areas as it makes it way to the Central Valley. As they put it, it is the hardest working water in the world. The tour takes you down to the power station and you get to walk past the turbines. You’re not allowed to take pictures of them. But, we did get to look at them and then visit a small museum upstairs. All of it was very impressive and interesting. You don’t really think about where the electricity comes from so it was neat to see it.
We visited the little town and had homemade ice cream at Big Creek General Store. Yum. Then heading back, we took the scenic route to camp and circumnavigated Huntington Lake. That evening we cooked dinner over the campfire. We had potatoes baked in the cooked in the coals, and grilled, bacon-wrapped steaks. Yes, bacon again. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you think so, I believe you may be un-American, or possibly Jewish. Nothing wrong with that either. Ended the evening with S’mores at my Dad’s camp. Again, because we could.
Wednesday we went to Dinkey Creek. I guess it’s Dinkey, but since we got so much snow fall in the Sierras there was more water than usual. The area was quite beautiful. Huge pieces of granite worn smooth by the millions upon millions of gallons of water rushing over them. It would have been the perfect place to cavort in the afternoon sun…
However, the water was cold. Super cold. So cold that your feet hurt when you put them in. So, you wait and and you get used to and it’s okay. But, then, it’s way too cold to put your legs in. So, you do and you get used to it and then you’re not so foolish to put your torso in. So, you don’t.
The kids had fun anyway and the daughter was brave enough to go tubing a little. The water was very swift in places so we found a sheltered area for her to play in. She did it once and realize that granite isn’t really all that smooth on your butt as it seemed at first. So, that game ended. The son and I splashed each other a little. Good times. In a pool we could see trout schooling. Nature. You don’t see that every day. Or, I don’t because I live in the city.
We had ice cream in town on the way back and then got dinner together back at the campsite. Hamburgers, spaghetti (from us) and tri-tip (from Dad). I believe we had S’mores again. What. I noticed I picked up a couple of mosquito bites. I’m okay with that because I want my immunity to West Nile Virus kept current, thank you very much. I think we also had showers this night and Tuesday night. Showers are wonderful when you’re camping. Brief, fleeting moments of cleanliness. Then, the dust and the smoke settle upon you again. Did I mention that I hate some parts of camping?
Thursday we did a lot of nothing. I sat around the campsite reading. My Sun and Stars went to the laundromat and washed clothes. I had finished “A Feast for Crows” the other day (Hence, I guess, calling my favorite woman in the whole world “My Sun and Stars”; she likes it, so there.) and got back to reading “Ghost Rider” by Neil Peart. I really like that book, but it’s kind of a bummer to read sometimes. Hard to understand how you make your way through so much sorrow. I guess that’s why he rode for so long. If that ever happened to me, I feel like I would have to do something similar. So, I read some of that, some fantasy football stuff, looked up my classes online to see if I recognize any names (I did). I made spaghetti for lunch and we made carne asada for dinner to go with the tacos that my Stepmother made. The kids spent their time making goofy videos on their iPods and playing with the Popsicle stick figures they made. (Stella counts down “In 5, 4, 3…” just like on iCarly!) Lucas spent some time on top of the rock “shuffling” (a kind of dance) to a song on his iPod. He’s actually getting kind of good at it.
One last night in the camper. It smelled like dirty socks in there. Three dirty kids and two dirty adults will do that to you. We went to sleep and in the morning, awoke before 7 a.m. I made coffee and we got to packing. We crammed as much into the Accord as we could, shuttled some over to my Dad so he could get it home for us and we headed out.
I often say that camping is like a palette cleanser for life. Camping refreshes me for what life throws at me. And, by camping and doing without, say, a daily shower, the convenience of a kitchen, air conditioning, a comfortable bed, and big screen TV, I remind myself how good I have it. So, in all, I really love camping. And, we had a good time. Now, ideally, I will get back to blogging more regularly. Lucky you!