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.

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[…] encourage social distancing, shouldn’t they open half of two different campsites? Then again, as I’ve opined before, camping is about as socially distant of an activity as we’ve got in this world. Especially […]

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