My Top Ten Albums

I usually try to avoid whatever pointless social media challenge is trending. You know the ones. Post your favorite elbow pictures. Or random movie quotes. Or thirty days of humblebrags posed as “things I’m thankful for” but are really “reasons I think I’m better than you.”

You know those ones?

But Wife tagged me in one and it was about music, and y’know, it’s not like I have other things to occupy my time with here in the 2020 hellscape. So I guess I can cut and paste some album covers. 

If you’ve been of Facebook recently, you’ve probably seen the one I’m talking about. There are actually two of them, one about movies and one about albums. But I’m not big on movies, so I decided to only play the album one.

You’re supposed to pick ten albums that, I don’t know, are good? That define you? That were important? That you got laid to? Maybe that’s another reason to not do the movie thing. Nobody wants to know which scene we got our freak on to in Jurassic Park

(Nature finds a way…)

But here’s the kicker. You’re not allowed to say jack shit about the album itself or why you chose it. What the fuck? That’s like having a therapist say, “So your father abandoned you? Don’t tell me any more. That’s plenty.”

It’s the teenage girl or the male pick-up asshat version. Stay mysterious. Don’t let them see the real you. Just put some albums out there that you think there will be consensus on. Don’t tell anybody what makes you click, just do it for the likes. But if my favorite album is the audiobook of “Mein Kampf,” read by the author, shouldn’t that come with a little explanation?

So whatever, I played their stupid game. And now I’m here to expand upon it. 

A couple of explanations. First, you can call me grandpa, but to me an album is an entity created by the artist and should be listened to in order. One song leads into the next. So unlike virtually all of my friends, even my wife who challenged me to do this, I refused to put any greatest hits compilations on my list. Those are horseshit, and are only used as a cop-out way of saying “I like this artist.” Don’t fall for it! If you really liked that artist, you’d try to appreciate why they made a certain album the way I did. eg Let it Be was created by non-musician Phil Spector, and should not be confused with a Beatles album, even if it’s got some of the greatest Beatles songs.

I did almost put a live album on my list, but Wife said live albums are effectively greatest hits albums. I disagree because, again, the artist is making choices over what order the songs go during a concert. For instance, Paul McCartney sings “Jet” second in both Wings Over America and, fifteen years later, Tripping the Live Fantastic.  And I think he did it one other time. He REALLY likes that as a “sit the fuck back down” song. However, the live album I was going to use was 24 Nights, which was recorded over, you guessed it, 24 nights. So fine, if it’s not the actual lineup from the actual concert, then maybe I shouldn’t use it.

Secondly, these aren’t supposed to be the greatest albums of all time. Nor are these the dreaded “Desert Island Discs,” meaning the ten I would want if stranded somewhere. Let’s be honest, Desert Island Discs SHOULD be greatest hits. More bang for the buck. This list isn’t even my ten favorite albums, because then I’d probably just throw in four Beatles, three Mumford & Sons, and “24 Nights” and be done with it. It’s supposed to be the formative albums of your life, whatever the hell that means. I was using it, as with my weenie friends who used greatest hits albums, as representative albums of various genres and artists. 1. Abbey Road. The ultimate no-brainer that is anything but a no-brainer. If an album is an intentional conglomeration of songs in a specific order, then there is no better barometer of this than an album whose entire second side is one long medley of songs that flow together. Although the same could be said for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Blub Band and maybe even Magical Mystery Tour. Hell, Revolver is a damned fine album, too. In fact, I’ve probably listened to Revolver more often than Abbey Road. Pretty much any list of definitive albums, either in my life or in the world, should have a steady stream of Beatles. Hell, even their earlier shit was pretty avant garde for the time. But yeah, as far as albums go, ya gotta pick Abbey Road. Have I mentioned we named my daughter Abby Rose?

2. Travelers & Thieves. From one of the most well-known albums of all-time to one you’ve probably gotta google. I’ll save you the effort – Travelers & Thieves is Blues Traveler’s second studio album. And if you bought it back in the early 1990s, like I did, it came with an extra live disc, “On Tour Forever,” which only has four songs because Blues Traveler tend to play 20 minute long songs. I once went to a festival where they were playing with Allman Brothers and Phish. I don’t quite remember which of the three bands was playing when some hippie dude came up to me and said, “I hope these shrooms last as long as that last guitar solo,” but you get the point.

If you’re not a Blues Traveler fan, you haven’t heard any of the songs from Travelers & Thieves. Their two big hits, “But Anyway” and “”Run-Around,” come from their first and fourth albums respectively. Travelers & Thieves might not even be my favorite of theirs. Although, let’s be honest, second albums are often the best. If I were to rank the best Blues Traveler albums, I’d probably pick Bridge, their sixth album and the first one after their bassist died. While they aren’t as good of a band without Bobby Sheehan, a fact I’ve mentioned in one of my concert write-ups, there was something cathartic about that album.

But this list isn’t the best albums. This list is the albums that defined my music tastes. And when eighteen-year-old me heard the introductory track, a building crescendo reminiscent of “A Day in the Life,” delivering the listener into the driving bass line (we miss you, Bobby) of the first real song, I was hooked. I was running down to The Wherehouse to buy myself a copy of this godsend before I even made it to the first John Popper harmonica solo.

3. Babel. As with Travelers & Thieves, my first reaction when I heard Mumford & Sons was, “Holy shit! You can do that with music?” I suppose I had a similar reaction to Abbey Road, although I was probably too young to articulate it as such. 

Unlike Blues Traveler, I first heard Mumford on the radio. I don’t know how much “I Will Wait” appeared on my radar. I think I enjoyed it, but it didn’t do much to separate itself from a lot of the other songs coming out in that era. If you made me separate Mumford from, say, Of Monsters and Men or The Lumineers or Vampire Weekend in 2011, I don’t know if I could’ve done it. 

But the first time I heard “Little Lion Man,” the Lumineers had to step aside. It also helped to separate “I Will Wait” from the other songs of the previous few years. I did something crazy, something I hadn’t done in years. I went out and bought two albums. As in the physical CDs. Fortunately my car at the time still had a player.

And if you think about it, Babel is even more impressive than Travelers & Thieves because of my age when I encountered them. Eighteen-year-olds are supposed to find new bands, new genres of music. There’s a reason it’s called “College Music.” You’re not supposed to find new bands in your mid-thirties. You shouldn’t be wowed by what the kids are doing with their musical instruments these days. By God, if it didn’t exist when I was twenty, then it’s just noise. What? Bands have webpages now? Whatever happened to sending out a Christmas 45?

That’s it for the Big Three. I mentioned it on Facebook, and I’ll mention it here. Everything from here on is nitpicking and hair-splitting. Album number four might as well be album number fifteen. But the big three are on an island by themselves.

4. Pay Attention. I never really got into the brief ska phase in the 1990s, but Mighty Mighty Bosstones is good enough to be mainstream. I could also throw Reel Big Fish in to that regard. But I don’t see myself ever owning any Reel Big Fish beyond their greatest hits. Whereas I own three Bosstones albums.

Truthfully, it was kind of a toss-up between Let’s Face It and Pay Attention. The former has “The Impression That I Get” and “Rascal King” on it, which are their better-known singles. But I’ve listened to Pay Attention far more often. It’s got a greater variety of songs, many of which wouldn’t work as singles, but are as invigorating as hell. “High School Dance,” for instance, is written from a school shooter’s perspective, so maybe it hasn’t aged well. 

On one of those other Facebook games many a year ago, we had to write down ten bands and make people guess the one we HADN’T seen in concert. Nobody guessed mine. Everyone guessed Sarah McLachlan. Nope, seen her three times. Even my wife responded with, “You haven’t seen Mighty Mighty Bosstones? You listen to them all the time.” I should probably get on that if concerts ever come back.

5. Altered Beast. Matthew Sweet had three solid albums in a row and then a whole lotta nothing. Or maybe I just graduated from college so I can’t “get” his later music. Anyway, solid album. It also is distinct in that the album came out in four different colors. Same cover, just different colors. I had purple, in case you’re wondering.

I’ve also discovered that creating a Matthew Sweet channel on Pandora is the best way to drill down into the music I listened to in college. I can’t think of any other band or musician that isolates a certain sound and a certain time period. It’ll give you some Lemonheads, some Gin Blossoms, Dinosaur Jr. If you ever watched “Alternative Nation” with Kennedy on MTV, trust me on this one. Pandora’ll play shit you haven’t thought about in twenty-five years.

6. An Innocent Man. This is the first one I posted that received arguments back. And then, I don’t know, am I supposed to engage in said argument or does the “without comment” instruction extend beyond the initial posting of picture? Anyway, many of my friends were incensed at this particular iteration of Billy Joel. What about The Stranger? To say nothing of Glass Houses. Or Storm Front… Or… Or…

Says a shit-ton about Billy Joel, huh? The album with “Tell Her About It,” “Uptown Girl,” and “Keeping the Faith” gets poo-pooed as hardly deserving to be in his top five. 

Sure, I could’ve picked any of those others, but An Innocent Man was the first CD I ever bought, not to be confused with Hall & Oates’ Private Eyes, which was the first album I ever saved up my allowance to “buy.” I bought An Innocent Man with my own money, almost as an afterthought. My sister’s friend needed bail money, so he sold me a used (or maybe stolen) CD player for $80, which was a hell of a deal in 1989. Then I realized I had no CDs, without which said CD Player wasn’t so great of a deal. So I went to the Wherehouse after school to pick one out. I wanted one with a lot of songs I like. Couldn’t have a repeat of that mistake I made when I was eight years old and only liked one other song on Private Eyes. What a waste of weeks of allowance!

So yeah, I stand by An Innocent Man as my Billy Joel album of choice. Besides, The Stranger and Glass Houses don’t have any songs co-written by Beethoven, do they?

7. Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. I needed a Clapton representation, but it’s tough to pick one. The problem with Clapton is most of his iconic songs are on different albums. If you want, say, “Tears in Heaven,” it’s a throw-in at the end of a movie soundtrack. Although that movie soundtrack, all by Clapton, is one of the greatest acoustic guitar albums of all time, even if it was hard as hell to find. I can’t tell you how many times the local CD bar thought I was asking for the new Rush album, not the soundtrack for the movie “Rush.”

So let’s see. Timepieces is way too early in his career to be a proper greatest hits. 24 Nights (see above) works better. Journeyman (see below) is probably the one I’ve listened to the most. 

This Derek and the Dominoes album, then, is about as solid, front to back, as it gets. When I first bought it, it was only for the title track, a la Hall & Oates. I actually thought the rest of the album was a little boring. A little slow. I was expecting rock and I got blues. How does the greatest song in rock history find itself as the thirteenth track of a blues album? But I’m not fifteen anymore. I now appreciate music that isn’t balls-to-the-wall. Having two of the greatest guitarists of all time (and those other three band members weren’t slouches either) find their inner Duke and Satchmo is pretty fucking awesome. 

Some of the songs grew on me after hearing other versions. “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” was released as a single from his Unplugged album and “Bell Bottom Blues” came from 24 Nights. I don’t know that he’s ever re-released “I Looked Away” or “Key to the Highway,” but he ought to.

But seriously, go listen to Clapton bend the string on that “Bad Love” solo on 24 Nights.  Possibly the greatest single guitar note of all time.

8. But Seriously. Hey, great segue. This album is a bit of an anomaly on my list. I can’t 100% be sure this is my favorite Phil Collins album. No Jacket Required has “Sussudio” AND “Don’t Lose My Number.” And somehow Phil Collins clearly had a time machine when he wrote that album. How else do you explain the following lyric: “I’ve been sitting here so long, wasting time, just staring at the phone.”

Nor would I say But Seriously is the best album of the year it came out. Which leads me to my conundrum. 1989 was, in my opinion, one of the best musical years ever. I know everyone thinks the year they turned fifteen was the greatest musical year ever. But hear me out. 1989 represented the last gasp of many of the classic rockers. They were all moving into their late-forties and started to write about hardening arteries and such. In 1989, they could still have a little bit of drive. 

Oh, and I turned fifteen in 1989.

Here’s only a partial list of albums that came out in 1989. I’ve tried to cover each of them in other spots on this list. 

Full Moon Fever: Probably, objectively, the best album of the year. See below. 

Journeyman: if I didn’t have Clapton on this list already, this would’ve been my 1989 pick. This was his last rock album. 

Flowers in the Dirt: Maybe not one of Paul McCartney’s best, but it was on continuous loop on my CD changer.

Spike: Great collaboration between Elvis (the musically talented Elvis, that is) and Paul on this and “Flowers.” 

Storm Front: See Above.

Oranges & Lemons: XTC listened to Sgt. Pepper nonstop when they recorded this album, and it shows.

Best Shots: I know I said no greatest hits, but as greatest hits go, Pat Benatar is a pretty solid entry. And a great title, considering her most well known song.

9. Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1. This was a weird one. It took me a while to think of it, but as soon as I did, it was like, “Holy crap, that has to be in there.” If Derek and the Dominoes is great because it has two of the best, how about a group with five? This album is so good, and it gave me cover to avoid tabbing Full Moon Fever as my Albome de 1989. Because Full Moon Fever, while technically a Tom Petty solo project, had a number of the Wilburys playing on it. It is, effectively, Volume 2, which helps answer the question of why they skipped from Volume 1 to Volume 3. Also because they were having fun. They picked different pseudonyms and everything on Volume 3.

Volume 3’s a solid effort, but it’s just not the same without Roy Orbison. His voice added a magic that, say, Bob Dylan’s voice doesn’t. And hey, who would’ve guessed that we’re one Jeff Lynne mishap from Dylan being the last surviving member of the Traveling Wilburys? Good thing I didn’t make that bet back in 1988.

10. Armed Forces. This was a last minute addition. Similar to Traveling Wilburys, when I was listing the albums in the running for 1989, I realized that Elvis Costello was completely missing from my list. And really, I could probably pick up to five of his albums that deserve mention. If the all acoustic “Rush” soundtrack sounds up your alley, try Elvis Costello singing in front of a string quartet in The Juliet Letters. Of course, I’m partial to his back-to-back collaboration-with-McCartney albums, Spike and Mighty Like a Rose, because they both came out when I was in high school. 

But I admit that true Elvis Costello should be earlier in his career, when he was in full “& the Attractions” mode. Blood and Chocolate might be one of the coolest-named albums of all time, and it’s solid, to boot. King of America is a good entry, as well. But in the end, an album that starts with the lyric, “Oh, I just don’t know where to begin” sums up what an album is supposed to be as wonderfully as the Abbey Road medley.

Honorable Mentions:

Americana Deluxe. If I wanted to go with the late-1990s swing blip instead of the late-1990s ska blip, in lieu of Bosstones, I could’ve gone with this Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album, which I always assumed was named “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” until I just googled it. Maybe that’s a good reason to not include in my list. Plus, while Voodoo Daddy burned brighter, but the Bosstones stuck around for longer.

Tower of Power. This was album number ten until the Case of the Missing Elvis began to haunt my dreams. And yeah, I just checked that the album has the same name as the band. Now I’m gun shy. 

Father of the Bride. This Vampire Weekend album came out in 2019. It’s a strong late entry. Except I don’t own the album. I only listen to it on YouTube or else I tell Alexa to play Vampire Weekend and I get a smattering of all four of their albums. That’s what music is in the twenty-first century. Everything’s a greatest hit album.

Black Parade. Ditto this My Chemical Romance album. It’s great. Title track might be one of the best songs ever written. But I’ve only listened to it on YouTube. If I don’t own an album, can it be one of my definitive albums?

Sinatra Reprise: The Very Good Years. No greatest hits, but if I were allow myself a greatest hits, there isn’t a better one than Frank Sinatra. And really, I think Sinatra pre-dates albums, so it could be fair game. This album isn’t really a greatest hits, it’s just a sampling of a few years he was at Reprise Records instead of Capitol. What’s the difference between a Sinatra album and a greatest hits, anyway?

So there you have it. Maybe I’ll return next week with my favorite uses of mayonnaise. Not counting that one scene in Jurassic Park.

Camp with no Tathalon

Camptathalon, that annual bacchanal of fart jokes, was supposed to happen last weekend. It did not. So those of you tuning in to see timestamped musings of whether or not anal sex counts as social distancing, unfortunately you won’t find that here. Nor in February, when I normally get around to jotting down said timestamps.

There was some camping this weekend, which in and of itself is a phenomenal bit of normality in these apocalyptic times. But because 2020 can’t do anything without a nice fuck-you roundhouse to the nuts, the camping was neither in the expected place nor with the expected crew. Nor with toilet paper.

For those who think a roundhouse kick cannot connected with testicles, I might’ve agreed with you before this year. Now I’m not so sure.

We picked this weekend way back in January. Like good conscientious citizens, we reserved and paid for our preferred campsite. Then the COVID hit. In case you weren’t aware.

When the entire world shut down, so did camping. Not that most camping spots were open in March. If you read last year’s Camptathalon, which I typed up ten months later, you’ll note the campsite we went to last year was opening the weekend we were camping and we had to wait till they chopped down some trees before we could get in.

This year it’s been a pretty temperate winter, so there wasn’t much reason to delay opening until July. Well, except for that whole social distancing thing. 

Honestly, I don’t get that. I understand keeping Yosemite closed, because that place gets so crowded in the summer that a visit to Camp Curry usually requires swimming through a morass of other people’s buttsweat. You have to stand on the bus with another guy’s crotch up your butt, and not in the social-distanced loving way.

But the types of campsites my friends and I frequent aren’t the ones that most of the city slickers flock to. We’re polite enough to know that if we’re going to be talking about and engaging in shenanigans, we probably don’t want to be camping next to family of four venturing out into the outdoors for their first endeavor. Three hours out of town and 6,000 feet elevation are usually minimums for us. This past weekend was 2.5 hours and only 3,500 feet. Might as well have been flat land. 

In mid-May, we got a notice from our campsite that they would not be opening until July 1. They didn’t cancel the reservation, per se. They didn’t give us our money back, because, after all, the Forest Service is a government entity and they’re holding on to every dime until they legally have to return it. And if they have a chance to change the law between now and then, they might not have to legally do shit. Regardless, we started to look for other options.

Our original campground, called Running Deer on the picturesque Little Grass Valley in Northern California, is one we camped at a few years ago. Next door was a campsite named Little Beaver, leading to all sorts of jokes about parole conditions and being that close to a little beaver. Ha ha, fucking hilarious. Since then, we’ve tried to return to Running Deer twice and been shit out of luck both times. Last year it was still snowed in, this year it had the ‘Rona. Little Beaver 2, campers 0. Take that, motherfuckers!

Also, for those keeping track, the one time in the last four years we didn’t try for Little Grass Valley, our campsite burned to the ground four hours after we were evacuated. Little Beaver up 3-0!

When we looked at what other options were available, we couldn’t find much. As late as the third week of May, the cupboard was bare. The first-come, first-served sites were all still closed. The reservable spots were both closed AND booked, a double whammy that does not comport with social distancing.

Look at how adult I was to pass up the first-come, first-served joke. But I couldn’t in good consciousness let a double whammy go by.

It was about this time we lost the first of our potential seven contestants. He’s a city slicker, through and through, who’s been threatening to come to Camptathalon for years, but has never come. He’ll only come under the best possible circumstances, and a Camptathalon where the first event is breaking into Little Beaver probably doesn’t fit that description. He would also need to fly up from Southern California, so not being sure what awaited him on the other side, that flight credit might be better used elsewhere. 

While a couple of us pored over the various websites that show camping sites, one of our group who was on a job site in a national forest asked some rangers what they knew. Of course, we could’ve changed our plans, pushed it out a month, whatever. But we’re all middle-aged dudes. Changing our plans would be tantamount to asking for directions, an admission of defeat our suburban upbringing  from baby-boomer fathers and greatest-generation grandfathers ensured made no imprint on our DNA.

Luckily, one of our ilk knows all the out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-path, Ted Kaczynski-esque “dispersed” campsites. Basically, dispersed means no shitter. Sure, they also don’t have tables or firepits or garbage or water pumps, but let’s be honest. We can bring water and tables, we can throw together some rocks to make a fire ring. 

But the no shitter thing definitely gives pause. Sure, I can dig a hole or, if the flat we choose is wide enough, we might not even need a hole, just a long walk. But Jesus, I’ve got gout and am out of shape and half the time my shit is runny as hell, especially if I’ve been living off of Doritos and beer for the past two days. How the hell am I supposed to squat and not get it all over the heels of my shoes?

It should come as little surprise that we lost our second camper shortly thereafter. He blamed it on the COVID. His wife’s parents have the sniffles. They might have the Virus. Of course, this was still ten days out and a lot can change in ten days and he wouldn’t be able to visit them in the hospital anyway, but sure, sure. Stay home and comfort your wife. I’m sure her parents will be as fine as all of my students’ grandparents, who magically die every time a term paper is due. How many fucking grandmas you got, kid?

The five who remained spent the second part of May preparing ourselves for the inevitable. We made a tally of folding tables and ez-ups and extra chairs. We re-thought chili as the Friday night dinner plan. We opted for canned beer instead of bottles, the easier to pack-out what we packed-in. Five years ago, this would’ve been a no-go, but now you can get good beer in cans, too.

On May 22, some campsites started to reopen. Not many, but a few. All were first-come, first-served. The following week, a handful of others opened as well. On May 29, the guy that made the reservations got another email from the Forest Service. Running Deer still closed, reservation still not canceled. But whereas the first email said they didn’t foresee opening until July 1, this one didn’t specify a date. Hope springs eternal. Perhaps everything would open up again on Monday, June 1. Because if this virus has taught us nothing else, it’s that nature really loves to follow the Gregorian calendar. I mean, shit, the first of a month AND a Monday? After months of viruses and impeachments and murder hornets, 2020 was finally giving us a break.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. The first of June came and went and we still couldn’t come within ten miles of Little Beaver. 

We zeroed in on a couple of first-come, first-served campsites. Instead of heading up Thursday evening, a couple of us would leave earlier. In-charge guy checked the sites out the previous weekend, as they aren’t far from his in-laws, and they looked fine. The sign for one of the turn-offs was missing, but it was our back-up plan and we were heading up super early, so no problem. And hey, shitters!

Turns out the shitters didn’t have toilet paper, but whatever. Take what you can get. Canned beer leaves more room for toilet paper.

Around this time, we lost two more of our ilk. You’ll note I mentioned the impeachment and COVID and the murder hornets. But those references are SO mid-May. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve had something of an eventful last couple weeks as well. One of the guys didn’t feel right leaving during the unrest. He had to go away overnight for work once (when he spoke to the ranger) and when he came back, his wife and kids were feral. Two to three nights just wasn’t an option.

Then a guy remembered, a few days before we were set to leave, his anniversary was that weekend. Okay, I’ve blamed a lot of this on the shitshow that is 2020, but I think in this case, COVID and BLM and the Iranian air force can take a pass. He maybe should’ve been a little more on the ball. His wife told him it was fine with her if he went camping, but we all turned into instant Admiral Akbars on that one.

So our seven had become three. We’ve done Camptathalon with three before. But only two of the three going this year were what we might call regulars. Of the eight Camptathalons, two of us have been to all eight, one guy has been to seven, and another has been to six. Nobody else has been to more than one. The third guy who still hadn’t canceled this year, this would’ve been only his second Camptathalon, and his first one was canceled by fire. Come to think of it, maybe he’s the weak link, not Little Beaver.

Plus, we really didn’t want to do the Butter Toss. Didn’t want to look at a single sliver of butter if it could be avoided. So the two of us who have been to Camptathalon every year, but who also don’t mind camping for the purpose of camping, made the executive decision to cancel Camptathalon. This trip would be tathalon-less. 

Good thing, too, cause I don’t know if the city slicker-types would’ve even been able to find the campsite. Our first one was all full. It was not much past noon on Thursday, and all 30 spots were taken. I guess that’s what happens when you only open ten percent of the usual campsites.

Three or four of the “taken” spots were bogus. One had nothing but a chair and a lantern. Others had a “paid for” receipt on their post but not a single item to denote occupation. I assume the people in the sites next door nabbed these spots for friends coming up later. Bullshit, if you ask me. First-com, first-served does not mean you get to hold seats for your buddies.

But with reservation spots and hosted campsites still closed, we’re in the wild, wild west. So it was onward to the next site on the other side of the lake. And we hoped the fact that the turnoff sign was gone would have kept it hidden enough, because we were out of cell range and had no Plan C. 

Or I suppose we were on to Plan D now. Plan A had been our reservations, Plan B was the dispersed site. I expected all sorts of “morning after” jokes if it had been a legitimate Camptathalon, complete with journal. But when we went beyond Plan B, I wondered if anal sex might might be Plan C. It requires a little more forethought, realizing you don’t have a pill for the following morning. Now that we were on to Plan D? What, a handjob? Not nearly as fun as the first three options.

Fortunately, our final option became an actual option. Only three or four of the eighteen spots were taken. The third guy was in a different car, leaving at a different time, and he missed the turnoff. He had to double-back a half-hour to get into cell range to reenter the coordinates into his Google Maps (which does a damn fine job of tracking you through places with no reception), but he showed up a few hours later. We settled in for an extended weekend of relaxation and kayaking and reading, but surprisingly few fart chokes. Trust me, if this had been a true Camptathalon, the journal would’ve been a snoozefest. Something along the lines of:

11:35 Started Chapter 5

11:47 On to Chapter 6

11:56 Everyone up for a round of cornhole?

True to the new normal, even this second-choice, off-the-beaten-path campsite was almost entirely full by Thursday night. Everybody was pissed about the taken-not-taken spots at the first campground. I bet if I wanted to, I could’ve raised an army to march on the fat cats. Who said we left all the rioting back on flat land?

We picked a big campsite with a mini campsite next to us. We thought about paying for it, in the same vein as the assholes at the first site, just like upper classmen hazing those behind them. Except we would have actually occupied it. We woulda manspread all out like German lebensraum against their Sudetenland. It had maybe enough room for one tent, although I actually think that spot belonged to our plot or theirs. I was going to pitch my tent to dissuade latecomers, but decided to do the other side of our site since there were already people there. Face the enemy you already have instead of the one who might never materialize. They were a big-ass family of twelve or so, taking up two spots. Their license plates said Washington and they talked about the Seattle Mariners. Shit, I thought we were taking a gamble coming all the way from Sacramento without reservations. Imagine if they’d driven twenty hours only to find the campground closed or occupied.

The people who finally “camped” in the mini spot, the last one to be taken in the campground, didn’t have tents. I fucking hate camper people. If I don’t have a tent it’s because the weather’s going to be good enough for just a cot. If you’re sleeping in a car, it ain’t camping. 

Speaking of the weather, it turned to threatening Saturday morning. Half the campground went home. We were prepared. We put up tarps, knowing full-well that if we didn’t, it would rain, but if we did, it wouldn’t. Took us a half-hour or so to get everything secure. It never rained, although we did hear some pretty ferocious thunder in the hills. 

One other ritual we couldn’t observe this time was the greasy spoon for breakfast on the way out of Dodge Sunday morning. The first place was closed. The second place was take-out only. So we bought breakfast sandwiches instead of the usual bacon grease covered in gravy. Ate them in the parking lot and said our good-byes.

Camptathalon still might happen. The usual brain-trust is sorting through potential dates. So if everything goes right, there might be an Official Camptathalon 2020 Journal, after all.

But given the way this year’s gone so far, I wouldn’t hold my breath.