2015, for better or worse

Well, this year has been a very bumpy ride, with so little camping it’s depressing.  I have hope for 2016.

I’m sitting here fantasizing about where I’d like to camp next year, and, what do you know, it’s time to make reservations!  California State Parks start booking 7 months in advance, so now is the time to think about spring and summer camping.

Where to go?  I’m dreaming of a spring trip by myself, possibly to my shoulder season standby at Henry Coe.  Last time I was there in spring there were wild iris, which is my favorite flower.  I had fun at Big Sur in November of 2014, so that’s a possibility.  My sweetie hasn’t been there.  Steep Ravine might be good.  No need to wait for summer for that, if I can get a cabin.

I really should make a desert trip in winter sometime, but it’s such a long drive.  I’d rather camp than drive.

Mostly I’m just feeling dreamy, I guess, and not into planning something so far in advance.  I’d love to spend a weekend sometime soon sitting in my little tent, drinking tea by myself and reading.  Somewhere with trees.  Calaveras Big Trees sounds pretty good, but the reality of it being cold might make me change my mind.  Maybe somewhere coastal.  I’ll check the walk-in campground at Butano.

Since I’m on the cold-weather bit, I think I’ll recommend something I’m crazy about for camping.  For a very long time I’ve been doing the hot water bottle thing with a Nalgene bottle.  A few years ago I bought some reusable hand warmer thingies at a county fair, and I’m in love.  You pop a little button in them, and they turn somewhat solid and warm up.  They stay warm for about 20 minutes, which is enough to get me toasty in my sleeping bag.  The next day you drop them in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes, and they’re ready to go again.  Lots of manufacturers, so I don’t have a link.  If you go on Amazon and look for reusable hand warmers they’ll come up.  I actually use them at home a good deal, too.

Make reservations!  Stay warm everyone.  Merry, happy whatever.  Hope and love for the new year.

In Tents

Well, it’s been a while.  Hi there.  I’m still kickin’.  I bought a house, had jury duty, moved, was in a car accident, sold a house, and my dad died since I posted last.  So, yeah, I’ve been a little busy.

But it’s camping season!  Yay!  And I’m camping next weekend at Fort Ross, which is where a piece of my heart lives.  Even better, I’m doing it for work.  I love it when that happens.

It’s going to be tricky, though.  Despite my having neatly arranged my camping gear in my new, bigger garage, I can’t get to it.  It was so pretty, lined up there on the shelves.  I could see everything, and no crawling under a spider infested pool table would be necessary.  Sigh.  Now it has new windows piled up in front of it.  Starting next week, the garage will contain new bathroom and kitchen cabinets as well.  I wish I had a boat hook, so I could fish for it across all of that stuff.  Oh, well.  I’ll figure something out.

Anyway, tents!  I’ve had a few.  Before the move I had six.  Now I’m down to two.  And one’s out on loan at the moment.

My first tent was one my family bought for car camping when I was a teenager.  I appropriated it for Faire in 1989.  It was an early incarnation of a dome tent designed for four people, which engendered the cry “I have a four man tent!  I need four men!”  Thankfully, that never quite worked out.  Anyway, the tent…  It was a beast.  It took two people to set up and had a bajillion very long poles.  They went together like modern poles, but they were much heavier.  The poles went through sleeves all the way from side to side, then slid into pockets.  It took forever to get them through the sleeves, and they always came apart while inside.  It didn’t take me long to ditch that one, as I didn’t need that much space or irritation.

Tent number two was a cheapy from a big box sporting good store.  I think I bought sneakers on that same trip.  It was a square, supposedly two man tent, around 6’x6′.  The bag it came in was crap, and the tent never fit in it again after the first use.  I paid around $40- for it sometime around 1990 and used it until I replaced it in 2004.  Those were years when I camped a lot.  During the heavy Faire years I camped between 30 and 48 nights a year, and I did that for ten years.

It was too small for anyone but me to sleep anyway but at an angle.  Again, early dome tent, heavy for its size, poles went entirely through sleeves.  Not much mesh for ventilation, and the rain fly fitted right against the tent.  It was a sauna almost as soon as the sun came up, but if I took the rain fly off there was no privacy.  My sleeping pad at the time was a piece of egg crate foam that I cut to fit the floor and made a cover for out of cheap sheets.  Condensation inside was EPIC.  I once used it in a sudden, heavy downpour and the “bathtub” floor held water nicely.  EVERYTHING inside got wet.  But, still.  I only had it rain that once, and I used that tent until it disintegrated.  By the end it was decorated like a kid’s pair of hand-me-down jeans from the 1970s, with red patches cut into hearts and stars on the green tent.  It was cute, but totally shot.  I think I gave up when the poles split.

I camped more in that $40- crappy tent than I probably ever will in anything else.  I got more tent-nights out of it than I have with all of my other tents combined.  By the end the tent cost less than a penny a night.

In 1992 my soon-to-be husband and I built a Viking A-frame tent for using at Society for Creative Anachronism events.  He built the wooden bits, and I sewed the cover.  Never, never, never again.  I don’t make cloaks, and I don’t make tents.  The cutting and sewing had to be done on a living room floor cleared of furniture, with me on my knees because of the sheer size.  It was fun to camp in, but awkward to load, transport, set up, and get in and out of.  We used it less than half a dozen times.  I think my sweetie got rid of it earlier this year when we moved.  At least he told me he did, but I think I saw some of the poles in the new garage.  Hmm.  He might have just ditched the cover.

2004 rolled around, and I got my first job with State Parks.  I needed a tent, since work was 2 hours away and I could camp at work.  Off we went to Dom’s in Livermore.  They had a good selection of Eureka tents.  I wanted a two man, but the husband reasoned that a larger one would be better for the two of us.  We went with a 7×7′ tent.  I don’t remember the cost, but it was around $80-.  A steal!

Ah, Eureka tents, how I love thee.  Good cross ventilation, pockets where you want them, easy set-up, bags the tent actually fits in.  This was my first real, modern tent and was almost perfect.  The poles were lighter, and didn’t need to go through much sleeve.  There were hooks on the outside of the tent for part of the way.  The rainfly sat on top of the poles, providing ventilation and keeping the tent actually dry.  It was still heavy, but could be set up by one person.

The downside to this tent was that I was setting it up in 40 mile an hour winds on the coast by myself.  A tent in wind like that is pretty much a kite.  I was generally in uniform when I did this, and campers would set up chairs to watch the ranger lady set up her tent.  It was high entertainment.  I really wished for a smaller tent, but used what I had.  It was truly bigger than I needed.

In late July my husband asked what I wanted to do for our 11th anniversary.  I said I wanted to go camping!  Now that might seem obvious, but in ’04 not so much.  See, I camped so much between 1988 and 2000 that I was kind of over it for a while.  Aside from Faire and SCA events, we had only gone camping together for the heck of it once, when we first started dating.  We went to China Camp, and the new tent was perfect for that.

The following year I went back to Dom’s for a two man tent.  Again, I bought a Eureka one.  Easy to set up, good ventilation, plenty of interior pockets.  I used that one until it wore out, too.  In ten years I used the heck out of it, for work and for fun.  Nothing like the Faire years, but still a lot.  It even made a couple of backpacking trips, but at 8 pounds plus it was a beast.

When I got rid of it a few months ago, it was still useable in dry conditions.  The elastic on the interior pockets was shot.  On a trip last year I failed to fold and tuck the ground cover neatly, and an unexpected rain shower funneled water inside.  That was it for me, as I’d been stalking a lighter, newer two man for about five years.

As a part of my tent stalking and desire to backpack, Sonya handed over a backpacking tent whose poles needed the elastic replaced.  I bought elastic, but never got around to it.  Never even took the tent out of the bag.  Ah, well.

In 2013 I decided I wanted to go to Burning Man.  At first I planned on going alone, but my sweetie was excited about going and I agreed he could tag along.  (Heh.  He built some great stuff and made it much more fun!)  No way was I going to spend eight nights in a 7×7′ tent with another human being, even one I adore.  So, back to Dom’s for another Eureka tent.   This time we got a 9×9′.  It’s amazing how much difference in size that is.  For the burn I covered the mesh on the top with fabric to keep the dust out, and made use of the windows for ventilation.  The tent was great, but the ground cover was a complete piece of crap and didn’t survive set up once.  I threw it away when we got home.  It was similar thickness to a Ziplock freezer bag, but less sturdy.  We’ve used this one or two camping trips since, and it’s as easy to set up as the smaller tent and doesn’t weigh a whole lot more.

Two years ago the stalwart and astonishingly patient Bob and I went backpacking on Angel Island.  I need to do a write up of that trip for hilarity’s sake.  Bob saved my bacon, which seems to be a theme with our trips.  Anyway, I didn’t want to carry the unwieldy Eureka two man, so I rented an REI Half Dome 2.  Luckily I put it together in the house before we went, which frightened then amused the cats.  It was tricky, but when we were out there I knew how it went, so it only took a few minutes to put up.

The Half Dome is lightweight, easy to set up once you know how, has an integrated ground cover, pockets in the right places, and great ventilation.  Last November I was looking at backpacking tents again, as my birthday drew near.  I checked the REI site, and it was on sale for around $140-.  I had a coupon and store credit, and walked out with it for around $100-.  Wow!  A quality, lightweight tent for a great price.  I scored, I think.

I’ve only used it once, at Big Sur in November.  It rained off and on for the two nights, and I stayed perfectly dry.  There’s a vestibule created by the rain fly, so I could leave my shoes outside and they stayed dry.  The size of the tent is perfect for just me, but I’m sure it would be snug with the man along.

So, as of the beginning of April 2015 I owned:

  • A Viking A-frame
  • A Eureka 7×7′
  • A Eureka 9×9′
  • A Eureka 2-man
  • A 2-man tent of undetermined manufacture with worn-out poles
  • An REI Half-Dome

The 7×7′, old 2-man, and Sonya’s 2-man all went to a family that loves to camp, has a bunch of kids, and was short on tents.  Not sure about the A-frame.  I’m down to two very useable tents.  Whew!

Food Related Gear For Solo Camping

As I was writing the solo food post, I found myself including my favorite gear.  Since I tend to wax rhapsodical on the subject of gear, I decided to tackle it separately.

Here’s what I take equipment-wise when I camp by myself.:

My beloved red Rubbermaid ice chest, which holds a few small things and a drink or two.  I bought it about 20 years ago when I was living at the Renaissance Faire site, and it’s still good.

My backpacking stove, which is an MSR Pocket Rocket.  It folds up smaller than my fist, fits inside my pot, and works without any fuss every time.  It boils water faster than my stove at home and weighs nothing.  It takes a short, round propane can which is enough for a weekend if I don’t make tea in the wind too many times (Bob.  That’s another story.)  Last fall I bought a tripod base for the can to stabilize it, but I haven’t tried it yet.http://www.rei.com/product/660163/msr-pocketrocket-backpacking-stove

The MSR Stowaway Pot that I bought at the same time as the Pocket Rocket.  The handle clamps across the lid, so I can store the stove, matches, and bottle of soap in there.  It’s just the right size for food for one.  http://www.rei.com/product/601897/msr-stowaway-pot-1600ml

The insulated bowl and spoon come from the GSI Outdoors Dualist Ultralight Cookset.  If you camp alone they sell a solo set that’s similar.  The bowl is hard plastic with a neoprene ring for insulation, and has a lid.  It cleans up easily.  I’m not crazy about the spork thingy, so sometimes I just grab a regular spoon from home.  I’ve stabbed the crap out of myself trying to open and fold the spork.  The set comes with a pot that’s narrow and tall, which is ok.  I feel like it’s tippy, but everything is.  I burned the plastic coated handle, so I’m not nuts about that.  I’m actually pretty happy with this set, though.  The bowls/mugs fit in the pot nicely, and I can get my stove in.    http://www.rei.com/product/830774/gsi-outdoors-pinnacle-dualist-ultralight-cookset

My small serrated knife is something I bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  It’s the size of a dinner knife, and has a red plastic cover.  It’s good for cooking, but if I need a heavier duty knife I use my Swiss Army Knife, which is always in my purse.  If I was persnickety about taking too much, I could leave this little knife at home, but hey, can you really have too many knives?  I have a little cutting board from REI that’s just the right size for cutting a bagel in half or a bit of cheese into smaller bits of cheese.

The GSI Outdoors Halulite Ketalist Cookset is a new favorite goody of mine.  I bought it last year since the #1 thing I seem to cook while camping is water.  Tea, cocoa, hot chocolate pudding, or for a treat one of those packaged add water desserts all need boiling water, and this does it efficiently.  It’s also cuter than heck.  Is it too girly to base gear decisions on the cuteness factor?  I don’t care one little bit.  http://www.rei.com/product/798276/gsi-outdoors-halulite-ketalist-cookset

I’ve no idea who makes my insulated mug.  It’s a good one, and works as a mug.  It has a lid which keeps dust out and heat in.  It holds liquid.  ‘Nuff said.

Ok, clean-up.  I eat things that make gooey messes.  I know that’s something that gives people fits, but I’ve got it down.  I have a goodie I bought at REI called the GSI Outdoors Compact Scraper that makes short work of gooey messes.  It’s a rubber spatula without a handle, that’s hard on one side and rubber on the other.  When I’m done eating I scrape out the dirty item and lick the scraper off, or wipe it on a paper towel.  Then I put a small amount of water and a drop of Dr. Bronner’s soap in and wipe with a paper towel.  A few drops of water and a final wipe, and I’m done.  If I think about it, I clean off the scraper last, and I can get away with only using one paper towel.  http://www.rei.com/product/750412/gsi-outdoors-compact-scraper

That’s it if it’s just me.  Lots more stuff if others are with me.

Solo Camping Food

I have a lot to say on the subject of food, whether I’m camping or otherwise.  I love to eat well, and I don’t leave that behind when I camp.  This will be the first of the posts on food, so I’m starting small with what I eat when I camp alone.  What food I take varies greatly based on who I camp with.

If I’m alone I like to keep it simple.  I don’t need to please anyone but myself, so it’s quick and easy.  I can often make one or two stops on my way out of town to buy food, and call it done.  I don’t cook before hand.

Food is based on a trick I learned from a high school boyfriend.  I went camping with him once in Anza Borrego, and we stopped on the way out of town at Bay Cities in Santa Monica and got giant sandwiches.  They were good for two meals each, which went a long way.  Now I make a stop at Noah’s Bagels, where I get a bagel sandwich, three bagels, and a tub of the salmon shmeer.  Voila!  Breakfast and lunch handled.

Dinner on night one is sometimes something I pick up on the way.  Fried chicken is really good cold, so that’s an easy one.  If I’m running late, as I so often am, I just eat something on the way there.

Breakfast is a bagel and cream cheese, and/or instant oatmeal.  I usually heat up water for tea anyway, so why not oatmeal?  I happen to adore instant oatmeal, and it’s something I almost never eat at home.

Lunch is the sandwich, of course.  If I’m feeling really together, I might bring some chips or cookies.  Or not.  I really don’t need much.

Dinner is the only time I cook.  A box of mac & cheese or ramen is usually on the menu.  Ramen is great since the clean-up is minimal.  If mac & cheese is on the menu, I pack a small container with the butter and milk before leaving home.

I’m a sucker for something sweet after dinner, so I’m working on perfecting a recipe I found in a backpacking cookbook for hot chocolate pudding.  The original has nice texture, but no chocolate flavor.  It mostly tasted like cornstarch.  A pinch of salt and instant espresso powder helps a lot, but I need a chocolate punch.  I’m going to try adding mini chocolate chips.  Anyway, it’s a just add water and stir thing, and I pack it in a Ziploc, then dump it into my mug.

Breakfast is a repeat.

So, that’s it for quick and dirty food when it’s just me.  I’m big on carbs, not willing to be hungry, but ok with comfort food and things being a bit repetitive.  I started to include talk about gear here, but decided it’s a separate post.

Top 5 Camping Spots

I’ve been thinking about so many things I want to write, and this is one I almost hesitate about.  If I tell you about my favorite spots, they’ll be even harder to get a reservation at!  It’s a risk I’ll take for you.  I’ll share the love.

A few things these places have in common: they’re almost all either walk-in or hike-in, they’re all State Parks (natch), and they’re all close to the San Francisco Bay Area.

I’ve found that walk-in campgrounds have sites that are more spacious, and less packed together.  They also tend to be quieter, since no one is running a generator, revving a car engine, or playing a car stereo in their site.  In some cases walk-in sites can also be easier to get a reservation in.  Walk-in places have wheelbarrows available to get your stuff to the site.  All of these sites will suck mightily if you bring the kitchen sink.  If you don’t camp light, bring someone to help with the heavy lifting.  Give yourself time to haul stuff and set up before dark.  They also have the amenities you’d expect from a regular campground, such as fire pits, picnic tables, and food storage boxes.  Many of them have accessible sites, so if you have a mobility challenge contact the park and see what they have.

Since I work for California State Parks I tend to hear the buzz about good places, but in the case of China Camp and Steep Ravine I learned about them long before I started my current career.  As with all State Parks, reservations for these sites can be made up to seven months in advance through Reserve America at http://www.reserveamerica.com/.

As for proximity to home, I’d rather spend my time relaxing in camp than driving, so I return to the stellar places nearby again and again.  A note about the drives to these sites: I’ve taken my friend Gail to the two with windy, hairy roads, which she hates, and she felt the trips were worth it.  Don’t be deterred by the drives, just plan on taking your time.

5. China Camp

China Camp is a walk-in campground in Marin, near the bay.  The sites are set in a grove of bay trees, which smell lovely.  Sites are spacious and not too close together.  Restrooms are relatively new, well kept, and in the unisex one-stall bathroom style recently popular in State Parks.  In other words, no waiting for the one working ladies’ toilet to open up while there are two empty men’s ones.  Showers are available, but I’m a dirty hippie so I can’t tell you if they’re good or not.  I imagine they are.  The sites are up a short, steep hill or along a ravine.

There’s a nice, short loop trail out by the bay that’s an easy, level walk from the campground.  If you want a longer walk, or don’t mind jumping in the car, you can check out the historic area.  China Camp was a Chinese shrimping village on the bay.  Sometimes they even have the junk Grace Quan in the water in front.  You can also find Grace Quan at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco sometimes, since she’s seaworthy.

China Camp is easy to get to.  It’s near the Marin Civic Center, and there are no windy roads or long rural stretches.  If you forget something, or you’re the kind of camper that doesn’t mind running into town for a meal, this is a good choice.

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=466

4. Butano

Butano is a hidden gem that I learned about when I was working on the San Mateo Coast.  They have car camping sites, but the walk-in is my favorite.  It’s more rustic than China Camp.  The hiking opportunities in this redwood park are outstanding, as are the opportunities to see neat stuff outside the park.

The walk-in area has about eight campsites along a valley with the parking area at its head.  Sites range in distance from the car, with two relatively close.  There is one pit toilet for this campground, and there are no showers.  See above for why I don’t mind.  The redwood trees and duff seem to dampen sound, and it’s always fairly quiet.

I’ve spent five nights here in relative peace.  I have to give a caveat: the first time I was here the food storage lockers were useless and we were mugged by aggressive raccoons.  They got almost half of our food, and left our site strewn with garbage.  Either plan to leave your food in the car or do what I now do, which is take a big box for the food and park it with the picnic bench on top of it at night.  Watch your step and avoid the banana slugs.

The drive to get here is lovely, since you either drive up the coast from Santa Cruz or down from Half Moon Bay.  Butano is near Pescadero.  If windy roads make you uncomfortable, you’ll need to take it slow or go somewhere else.

If you visit here, stop on the way in or out at Duarte’s in Pescadero to eat.  Their cream of green chili or artichoke soups are delicious, and I’ve seldom had better pie anywhere.  I happen to love their onion rings, too.  If you want a day trip, visit nearby Ano Nuevo or Pigeon Point Lighthouse.

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=536

For Ano Nuevo: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523

Pigeon Point: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=533

Duarte’s: http://www.duartestavern.com/

3. Angel Island

If you haven’t been to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, you must go.  Even if you just go for the day, it’s a lovely place.  There’s a lot of history packed onto this little island: a Civil War fort, the immigration station, and a former Nike missile site.  The views of nature on the island are nice, and on a clear day the views of San Francisco, the east bay, Mount Tam, and the Golden Gate are spectacular.

The sites here are hike-in, and the closest is a mile and a half.  I believe they have an accessible site that’s closer, but you’ll want to check with the park.  This is a good backpacking trip for beginners, or people like me who aren’t in stellar shape.  There’s a lot of elevation gain on the way in, so plan on taking it slowly.  You have a choice of turning left from the cove and taking the stairs up, or turning right and taking the road.  Sites have water nearby, so no need to haul much in.  Last time I was there they had new food storage lockers, which were the nicest I’ve seen.  One of the camping areas has a pit toilet that faces the east bay.  When I was there it was rather fragrant, and since we had the place to ourselves I had a lovely open door experience and a room with a view.  Ahem.  The sites are well spaced and many have amazing views.  Once the day visitors go home for the night, it gets pretty quiet.

Angel Island is reached by ferry from either Tiburon or San Francisco.  It’s a short ride either way, and admission to the island is free after the ferry fee.  When you go, check ferry times carefully.  Once you’ve missed the boat, well, you’ve missed the boat.

Hiking on the island is great, but there are other neat things to do.  There’s a Segway tour of the island, which I recommend.  They say there’s a weight limit for the Segways, but they didn’t ask me what I weigh and I didn’t volunteer the information.  There’s also a tram tour sometimes, if you’ve done all of the hiking you want just by getting to your site and back.  A café with good chowder is available in the cove, and the people are nice.  They don’t sell much in the way of camping supplies, though, so make sure you have enough cooking fuel before you leave town (Oops.  Learned that the hard way.)  Sometimes they have an oyster bar open.  Take the time to visit the immigration station or the Fort, if you can, and take a tour.

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=468

2. Henry Coe

This is my favorite shoulder season camp.  I’ve been here twice in spring and once in fall.  The backpacking is spectacular, but if you want to car camp the campground is nice, too.  The closest backpacking site is only a mile in with not much elevation change, so it’s a good beginner trip.  Be warned: you’ll have to haul your water in.  There are watering holes further in to the park, but with the drought they’re iffy and you’ll need a filter.  The near site has a picnic table and an accessible chemical toilet.

The drive-in campsites have shade structures, which are nice.  There are vault toilets and water taps centrally located.  No showers.  In April and October you probably won’t need a reservation, which makes this ideal for a spur-of-the-moment trip.  In spring everything’s blooming and in fall the colors are great.  Hiking can be either strenuous or easy, and there’s a nice visitor center.  On one trip when my sweetie and I were both recovering from colds and we had worked hard all day to pack and get there, we were rewarded by a bald eagle flying right over our site.

The drive in is not for the faint of heart.  It’s not far from Gilroy, but the road is very windy and one lane in some places.  Take it slowly and your patience will be rewarded.  This is one of those places where you’ll feel a million miles from civilization.

http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=561

1.  Steep Ravine

This is number one for a good reason.  Campsites are on a bluff above the ocean and breathtakingly beautiful.  This is the most popular campground in California for a reason.  Reservations are hard to come by, but if you get one and get there you’ll be blown away.  I’ve spent the day there just sitting and looking at the ocean, and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

A note about the parking situation: you can only park one car in the lot.  Any other cars with your group need to be parked along highway one.  To get to the campground you get a combination to the gate before you go.  Go through the gate and down the steep road to the lot.  If you have more than one car coming, make sure everyone has the combo and play car tag.  Unload, drive up to the highway, ride back with your friend and help them unload.  If you blow it you’ll get a ticket.  Also, make sure you’ve got a printout of your reservation to go on your dashboard.  I’ve forgotten that in the past, and it’s awkward.

Steep Ravine has walk-in campsites and rustic cabins, and I highly recommend both.  Get a cabin in winter or a camp site the rest of the year.  Sites are situated so that you hardly see one from another.  There’s a centrally located pit toilet in the campground, and flush toilets with sinks by the parking lot.  No showers.

About the cabins: no plumbing or electricity, and they’re all hard surfaces.  Bring everything you’d bring for camping, except a tent.  You’ll want to bring old sheets or tablecloths to use as curtains.  The windows have clamps above them for putting them up.  Don’t worry what the weather’s going to be like outside.  Firewood is available at the park, and when you get the wood burning stove going it’ll get too warm inside.  The cabins are on a hillside, and some of them are a long way down.  Be prepared to haul your stuff down a lot of stairs, especially for cabins 7 and 8.  Don’t go by the map on their website, it’s got nothing to do with reality.  There’s also an accessible cabin, which is easy to get to and frequently available.

I can’t tell you much about the hiking in the area, although I understand it’s good.  I love just sitting and looking at the ocean, so it’s hard to get me moving.  Bring binoculars for viewing otters and whales.

Plan on stopping for a meal on your way to or from at the Pelican Inn.  It’ll make you feel civilized.

Steep Ravine is a part of Mount Tamalpais State Park: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=561

The Pelly: http://www.pelicaninn.com/food/

 

Sleeping Gear

Since I started with the sleeping bag, I thought I’d continue in that vein.  This post may be an ode to my love of all things Therm-a-Rest.  Cascade Designs makes great stuff, and I’ve tried many of their products.  I’ve got a few other sleep related odds and ends that I love, too.

Last year to keep my beloved down bag clean and well preserved, a friend recommended I use a liner.  I kind of disregarded her suggestion, since I’ve had bad luck with liners.  I have the same problem as I do with bags: fit.  The liner I had before was too small around my butt, and hard to get in and out of.  By the time I wiggled into the liner and the bag and zipped up, I felt like I’d run a marathon.  Getting out was a whole ‘nother battle, and woe unto me if I waited until I really had to pee.

Still, it stuck in my mind that I didn’t want to wash my bag too often, and a liner is a good idea.  I thought about making one, but I hate to sew.  Any excuse to go to REI is a good one, and I needed a new flashlight for my keychain and some socks (Smartwool, yum!)  REI now carries bag liners that are stretchy, knitted fabric!  I’ve only used it once, but it was great.  Not too hard to get in and out of, it moved with me, and I didn’t feel restricted.  Perfect!  I think it’s the REI brand.

If you read the sleeping bag post, you may know that I have thermal problems.  I forgot to mention that I get into the bag, get warm, fall asleep, and wake up sweating and fighting for dear life to get out of the bag.  It’s less of a problem with the current bag, since it’s not as restrictive and breathes better.  I don’t get claustrophobia from it like I do with others.  The stretchy liner helps with this, too, since I can move in it.  I look forward to trying it for warm weather camping.  I might do without it for backpacking, or at least leave the bag it comes in behind and just tie a ribbon around it.

Pillows!  Old time campers will tell you to bring a bag or pillowcase and stuff your clothes in for a pillow.  Do you like to wake up in the morning and put on clothing damp with condensation from your breathing?  Do you ever drool in your sleep?  (I know, ew, TMI, right?  Well, it happens.)  No?  Me neither.  I tried this on my first backpacking trip, and wore soggy jeans in the morning.  Not ever going to happen again.  Yes, I know, you’re not supposed to wear jeans…that’s a rant for another day.

For car camping, I take my Therm-a-Rest compressible pillow.  It packs reasonably small (much smaller than a normal pillow), weighs not much, and turns into a perfectly adequate pillow.  I like it so much I gave a pair to friends as a wedding gift.  For backpacking, I have one of those tiny down pillows.  I bunch a jacket up under it, and it’s pretty good.

Sleeping pads.  I think I’ve tried everything.  When I was a kid I used one of those crummy close-celled foam jobs.  It insulated fine, but didn’t provide any cushion and was bulky.  I liked sleeping on the ground without it better.  In my 20s I camped as much as 24 weekends a year for a few years, and my solution was a piece of egg crate foam cut to the size of my tent floor and covered with two sheets sewn together.  It worked pretty well, and as the years dragged by I folded it double.

At some point I tried Therm-a-Rest’s Z Lite.  Same idea as the close-celled foam, but with an egg crate pattern.  Didn’t like it.  Lightweight, but no cushioning, and on a hot night I stuck to it.  Ick!  It might be good for the ultra light backpacking crowd, but that’s really not me.

I hate air mattresses.  I’ve never owned one, but I’ve slept on other people’s.  Ever slept on an air mattress in a truck bed on a chilly night?  Don’t.  They conduct the cold up from the metal really well.  When your partner gets up, you’ll hit the floor suddenly.  Forget it.

When I met my husband, he had this amazing thing he let me borrow: a self-inflating foam pad from Therm-a-rest.  I fell in love with it!  Well, ok, and with him, too.  I don’t just love him for his gear.  Wait, that sounded bad.  Oh, well.  After a while I bought new pads for both of us from Dom’s in Livermore.  We got the BaseCamp pads, which were the cushy ones at the time.  He got a big one, and I got a standard size.  They were great, and I got a Universal Couple Kit to keep them together.  The coupler is the only thing I’ve ever bought from Therm-a-Rest that sucked.  Fortunately it was cheap, and I eventually upgraded to the Down Coupler, which is warm and squishy, packs small, and is lovely.  For camping alone I got a sheet for the pad, which felt good on warm nights and was easy to wash.

For backpacking I use the ProLite Women’s Plus.  It weighs 1lb 4oz and gives me just enough cushion to keep me comfy.

In 2013 I used our first trip to Burning Man as an excuse to buy cushy covers for the pads with memory foam.  We ended up going with cots for the burn, but I love the covers.  It looks like they aren’t made any more.

Last, but not least, is my beloved Tech Blanket by (you guessed it!) Therm-a-Rest.  If it’s hot I use it instead of the sleeping bag.  If it’s cold, I tuck it around my shoulders.  It’s perfect for a nap in the afternoon.

Links to the good stuff:

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/pillows/compressible-pillow/product

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/fast-and-light/z-lite/product

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/camp-and-comfort/basecamp/product

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/accessories/down-coupler/product

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/fast-and-light/womens-prolite-plus/product

http://www.cascadedesigns.com/therm-a-rest/mattresses/accessories/tech-blanket/product

A Sleeping Bag Saga

The only thing I really, truly dislike about camping is being cold.  Thus, a sleeping bag rant.  My hands-down, all time favorite piece of gear right now is also the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought for camping: my down sleeping bag.  I spent years searching for the right bag.  I did a lot of research.  I tried bags and drove salespeople in REI crazy.  I visited stores that sell high-end bags and hemmed and hawed at the prices.  I spent many, many cold and miserable nights awake in my tent.  There were hot water bottles, warm packs, my dear husband allowing me to warm my cold feet on him, changes of clothes, socks, hats, and even tears.  There was the night at Henry Coe when my dear camping buddy slept with an old down comforter and snored while I tried everything to warm up.  In the morning we packed up and headed home early because I was miserable.

Why, dear reader, did I have all of this trouble?  It comes down to one small detail.  Well, ok, not so small: my butt.  “But sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes!” you say.  One size, in this case, always fits someone else.  I’m five foot nothing, and I weigh 246 pounds.  My hip measurement is slightly shy of my height.  I’d tell you what it is exactly (I’m not shy that way), but I don’t know.

In order for a sleeping bag to be effective, it needs to fit well.  If it’s too roomy, there’s all of that extra air that your body needs to warm up.  There’s also room for air to flow down between you and the bag.  This is the problem I have with rectangular bags.  I get cold around the shoulders.

If a bag is too small, it’s even worse.  In researching bags, I tried the Big Agnes bags and the North Face Cat’s Meow.  The sizing on the Big Agnes bags was good, but they have a pocket for their pad to fit in.  The bag isn’t really a bag all the way around.  Two problems with this: 1. I own three Therm-A-Rest pads, and I’m not about to buy another from Big Agnes and 2. When I got in the bag and rolled over, the pad ended up on top.  Um, no.  So, on to the Cat’s Meow.

Biggest width REI carries, other than Big Agnes.  Made for someone taller than me, but oh, well.  It went on sale back in 2008 for $100-, so I bought it.  First time using it was a relatively mild night at Bothe-Napa in Calistoga.  My campmates and husband were warm and slept soundly.  I was shivering so badly that I ended up in the car with the heater on.  Same thing on night two.  After several similar experiences, including the trip to Henry Coe, I realized that having the bag stretched tightly around my middle was keeping it from lofting properly and keeping me cold.  That night at Coe it got down to 41 degrees, and despite a hot water bottle and an Ambien I was awake and so cold I cried.

In the morning at Coe I realized I would have to buckle down and go with a more expensive solution.  Sunrise Mountain Sports in Livermore is one of my favorite gear shops.  The people are super helpful and friendly, and they never give me the stink eye when I say I camp and backpack.  They just sell me the good stuff.  I explained the bag predicament to them, and they brought out a Western Mountaineering Ponderosa for me to try.  It was too long (of course), but the fit around my hips was perfect.  $500-?  Ouch!  I had to think about it.

I thought about it from May to November, then bought the bag for my birthday.  Best money I’ve ever spent on a piece of gear.  I’ve been comfortably warm every night out since.  Even in chilly conditions it sometimes gets too warm, so I often use it open as a blanket.  Last year I got a silk liner for it to protect it a bit.  I’ll go into liners elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a great bag, check out: http://www.westernmountaineering.com/index.cfm?section=Products&page=Sleeping%20Bags&cat=Microfiber%20Series&ContentId=36