Friday 23 August 2013

Things we learned

(August 14th - the final night)

The nice thing about camping in Britain (I imagine) is that when you arrive at a campsite, you never hear:
  • there are bears
  • there are snakes
  • there are plague-infested chipmunks
  • the mosquitoes love fresh blood
  • the elk wander at will and are very large, and the females are pretty protective right now
In fact, I think pretty much mostly all you hear is, "It might rain later." Having never been camping in Britain as an adult, I am speculating of course, but after chasing a cockroach the size of a Shetland out of the restroom just now so I could clean my teeth, I have to admit, I think it is time to be at home, where the main hazard, other than the weather, is a bad cup of tea.

Not that I am complaining about our amazing summer holiday, of course. It has been awesome. We've been on the road now for 15 nights; we've stayed in 4 motels, including one fashioned out of an old caboose; we've clocked up 6 campgrounds, from the freezing Lassen one at 7000 feet to this one at the contrived Calico ghost town which is like camping under a hair dryer. At a rough estimate, we've covered about 3000 miles, I think. We've seen, amongst other things, seals, dolphins, elephant seals, sea lions, pelicans, elk, deer, several thousand chipmunks and variations thereon, a snake, a bald eagle being picked on by a sea gull, several other birds of prey (I like to think of them as condors but they were likely vultures) and banana slugs. I came across a new bird I hadn't encountered before - the fetching blue and black Steller's jay, which I was quite taken with until its raucous call woke me up one too many times and then I read an info piece about how it kills and eats the young of other birds, being a corvid, particularly Murrelet chicks.

I've swum in Lake Tahoe, paddled my feet in Emerald Lake at Lassen, waded and rafted in the Truckee river, splashed around in the Pacific and stood under a waterfall at Fern Canyon in Redwoods National Park. I've taken two coin operated showers and four very welcome showers at the motels, the most welcome of which was at the Caboose because it came after five nights of no-shower campsites, during which I resorted to boiling water over the stove and strip washing in the disabled toilet. Nice. When I got into the caboose shower I didn't get out for a good 20 minutes and I reckon they will have thrown away the wash cloth they provided, so grimy was it by the end.

We've learnt...

- steaks are the best thing for cooking over the fire

- asparagus grills surprisingly well, but not as well as sweetcorn

- pick site 53 or 55 next time

- "this isn't going to tickle" is code for "now you will discover what the back of your knee cap feels like"

- sometimes, eggs Benedict comes with a side of pancakes

- when it comes to a popular beach, Americans aren't early risers but they will turn up at be crack of dawn to bag the best spots and then go back to their camps to eat breakfast

- "one scoop" may be equal to the size of your head

- almost any stone can be utilised as a polishing stone

- there's not as much wildlife on some campsites as you're led to believe, judging by the amount of food other people leave lying around

- don't hike a 10 mile round trip without at least trying to drive down the unpaved road first

- take more wet wipes than you think you'll need

- pitch the tent under the biggest tree

- a good camp host can make all the difference

- bring a nail brush, and a chopping board

- don't try and knit cabled socks in a dark yarn by the light of a gas lamp and expect anything other than disaster

- a 7/11 big gulp keeps iced water cold for a surprisingly long time

- McDonald's has free wifi

- Americans play fast and loose with the apostrophe

- don't try and come down a steep bit of rapid nicknamed "Jaws" sideways unless you fancy a swim

(Picture is from the awesome Truckee River Photo Company and we bought the whole set of our own pictures which you can see here)

- when you've got loose gravel stuck somewhere in the wheels and it's making an unholy grinding noise, pull away sharply and drive as quickly as possible to get rid of it

- even if the campsite is $70 for the night, consider it if it's getting dark and the next place is down 60 miles of winding road - but move on anyway because it's over-priced

- campsite cats are very friendly

- even after 5 days without showering, when you're at your smelliest and dirtiest and the grime between your toes is 7 layers thick, people will still be nice and claim you aren't dirty

- they might also be nice and let you use their phone when there's no pay phone around, if they're the Savemart in Truckee

(But not if they're the Motel 6 or the San Simeon Lodge, even if it is a freephone number)

- chocolate chip pancakes at Coffee And in Truckee make an excellent birthday breakfast, but the short stack is PLENTY (I believe I learnt this last time, but clearly forgot)

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