snow camping

Another COVID Cancellation

Some of my normal camping guys came up with a crazy idea last year, which was to go camping again.

Normally, this wouldn’t seem totally asinine, but in this, the International Year of the Covid, all bets are off.

The wrinkle to this particular camping trip was the date it was to take place. Late January. Snow camping! 

I’ve never done it before. Nor has the other guy who was gung ho about the idea. The third guy grew up on the western bank of the Sierra Nevadas, where it snows a bit but nothing major. It should be noted that the two other Camptathalon mainstays, who grew up in Idaho and Wisconsin, couldn’t say no fast enough. A wise man might note the discrepancies. But fuck it, I’m sure I can get gassy enough to keep that tent as humid as a summer’s eve.

We opted for Yosemite. For one thing, I don’t really know how many campsites are even open this time of year. Our usual haunts don’t open until six to eight weeks after the last snow. In the midwest, there’s snow everywhere, so you can pretty much camp anywhere. In California, to get to snow, you’ve got to go up to 4,000 feet elevation or so, and the roads to those spots are a wee bit pesky. But the roads to Yosemite are plowed regularly. Commerce, as Teddy Roosevelt intended. 

Our second reason for choosing Yosemite was that it’s about as far from “roughing it” as you can get while camping. They’ve got two well-stocked stores and a half-a-billion rangers per square mile. Shit, they’ve got 4G reception and an ice cream stand. Guessing we could get pizza delivered if necessary. Not exactly a spot I’d need to worry about getting lost in a blizzard and wandering off a cliff.

Speaking of which, the valley floor is only about 4,000 feet, so the Wisconsoner and Idahoan really didn’t need to whine about traveling uphill in the snow both directions. It wasn’t supposed to drop below the mid-twenties at any point during our visit. The high was scheduled to be above forty on Saturday.

But alas, my first sojourn into the camping where you don’t need to purchase ice each day did not happen. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow would shut Yosemite down. COVID, on the other hand…

Yep, Yosemite is closed to overnight reservations as part of California’s on-again, off-again flirtation with pretending we’re taking it seriously.

Because, you know, there’s no chance for us to socially distance when we’re camping in the fucking snow. Why, it’s got to be like Disneyland, right? I imagine thousands of people are all ass-to-elbow, because if we know one thing about Californians, it’s that they LOVE being out in the snow in the middle of the night.

To be sure, it’s ONLY the overnight stuff that’s closed in Yosemite. Visiting the park in the daytime is still totally legit. It’s only the campers who can’t be trusted to social distance. Is there some sort of midnight orgy I was unaware of? Maybe it’s a good thing they won’t let me in, as you never want to be the guy who shows up for the orgy wearing snow-camping gear.

When I first made the reservations, I already had to deal with a weird COVID restriction. They were only booking fifty-percent capacity. Fine. Whatever. Except either I didn’t read the fine print or it wasn’t clearly spelled out, because if I were to ask you how to ensure fifty-percent capacity in a campsite, how would you go about doing it? Close every other campsite, right? 

Nope! They booked the entire campground for a week, then went an entire week without accepting reservations. I guess so they could… sanitize the dirt. Besides, who wants to go to a half-filled orgy. 

Just remember this when you go into a restaurant that’s cordoned off every other table to allow for maximum spacing. Tell them they’re doing it wrong. It’s much better to go standing-room only on Tuesday and Thursday, while taking Wednesday off.

This missing week became an issue while reserving, because Yosemite releases an entire month’s worth of reservations at the exact same time. I wasn’t sure what the demand would be for winter camping, but in the summer, if you log in five minutes late, the entire month is taken. So at 7:00 am, I started refreshing like I was loading a pornographic picture back in the dial-up days. 

7:01, 7:02, and I’m still not seeing the dates in question available. I noticed that the previous weekend was available, but I thought maybe they were residuals from the previous month’s availability. At 7:04, I decided to see if the FOLLOWING weekend. The campsite was available. It’s at this point I realize their asinine definition of “fifty percent capacity.” Good news is by that time, there were still campsites available. Bad news was I had to drop down to our third choice.

As an aside, the weekend we originally wanted to go was this weekend, the one in between the AFC/NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl. What better time to go camping than when there are no sports? But Yosemite only made the weekends of major football games available for camping. Maybe this was to further depress demand. Make sure no casual fans come up for the non-socially-distanced camping that is somehow less safe than day visitors.

Too bad I’ll never find out. At least not until next year.

And really, I don’t know why, ten months into the pandemic, I should expect anything less than arbitrary rules that have as much effect on containing the spread of COVID as taking off our shoes prevents terrorism. Remember back when they said we’d have regular testing by the end of May? 

Back then, Hawaii told everybody to stay the fuck away on pain of execution. Now Hawaii’s begging people to come work remotely, but only if you’ve been tested in the past seven days. Unfortunately, desire to go to Hawaii isn’t one of the prerequisites for getting a test. Tests, like vaccines, can only be doled out piecemeal, to those deemed worthy of saving. You need to have licked the bunghole of somebody with all three strains of the virus who is currently in ICU. 

Or you can be friends with the Governor. I have a funny feeling that everybody who was at Herr Kommandant Newsom’s French Laundry soiree has already received their vaccine. And snow orgies.

Speaking of which, sorry if my forthcoming rants are a tad California-specific. But a) that’s where I live, and b) we are the poster child for FUBARing the whole COVID thing. If you live in a place that’s got its collective head out of its ass, then maybe this’ll only serve to make you feel fortunate.

It’s interesting how most of the media say we’re no longer following the rules because of “COVID Fatigue.” Instead, most of us are making constant judgement calls, weighing the trade-offs between having a life or being dead. There’s a sliding scale. Even if we all strictly followed the rules, we have to grocery shop at some point. And I don’t think that I’m out of line that camping in the snow, with the closest human being fifty feet away, is probably safer than going to the grocery store. I’m not being ignorant. I’m trying to follow the rules and guidelines that the government established.

Not that those rules and guidelines mean jack shit. We’re told to meet certain goalposts, then we’re told that, sorry, that’s not the goal we’ve been looking for. Or sometimes we DON’T meet that goal, and Herr Kommandant’s like, “Yeah, you know what? It’s cool. We didn’t really need those ICU beds anyway.”

Over the Christmas holiday, Canada set up space heaters at outdoor parks. The message was clear: You want to be able to see your family and friends, so please be safe about it. In the United States, we opted for the tried-and-true “You want to be able to see your family, so we will tsk-tsk and shame you and not help you do that safely. Abstinence only has worked so well over the decades in this country. Just ask the millions of Americans who had premarital sex or smoked pot.

The ironic thing is we simultaneously tell people to social distance while also banning them from it. I’m on the Board of Directors for my curling club, and we perused the sports¬†rules for hours. They have all sorts of rules for how to do our sports. Limited capacity? We’ve accounted for that. Social distancing and masks? We’ve changed our rules to implement those. But then, at the tail end of the document, they give a list of which sports can operate in which tier. It’s like telling us how we’re supposed to shop safely, but then closing the stores anyway.¬†

In California, we’ve had at least three different classification systems over the past year. First it was a convoluted “phased reopening.” That was tied more to which companies could open, and as far as I could tell, it wasn’t tied to any sort of caseload count. It was basically “Starbucks can open its drive-thrus, and if the shit doesn’t hit the fan, they can sell a couple Bacon Goudas, but not the bagel store in the same parking lot because Starbucks contributes a lot of money to politicians and fuck you, small businesses.”

Then we went to the color-coded, county-by-county system. Some people whine that the colors make no sense, but I think they’re fine. Yellow, orange, red, purple. It’s pretty standard “danger” stuff. The problem I have is that they set the classifications such that everyone will always be in purple. 

If you have more than 7 positive cases per 100,000 residents, you’re in purple. Seven! Currently, 54 of the 58 counties are in purple, which kinda makes the whole “purple” designation pointless. Sacramento County was at 55, while San Francisco County is at 38, and Los Angeles County was at 150. 

The red tier is set at 4 to 7 per 100,000. Orange at 1 to 4. Again, Los Angeles County is currently at 150, which is the same as 10. But 4 and 7 are hugely different numbers that drastically change what can open.

It seems to me that 150 cases per 100,000 residents is substantially worse than 38 per 100,000. But according to the state, they’re EXACTLY the same. It would be like maxing out the Richter Scale at 4. Or the hurricane classification at 2. “Boy, I wonder how big that natural disaster was?” “Exactly the same as every other natural disaster.”

So again, if they’re going to make their classification for the purposes of scolding us, then we’re going to try to make sense of it ourselves. At one of my staff meetings, my principal was running through the numbers and, at 93 per 100,000, referred to us being in “Deep Purple.” He talked about what preparations we might make if we get into “light purple,” but it was too late. I was already humming, “Smoke on the Water.”

At my curling club, we’re talking about reassessing opening when we get down in the 20 per 100,000 range. Although truthfully, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad number, because it’s all arbitrary. If there’s no difference between 20 and 150, then is there really a difference between 7 and 20?

Then again, the numbers I’ve been quoting aren’t the real numbers, they’re adjusted for the number of tests. I have no idea what that means, but earlier this week, the New York Times showed Sacramento County with a rate of 23 per 100,000, while the California website claimed Sacramento County was still at 42. That’s a pretty large discrepancy and, unfortunately, the New York Times ain’t the ones who get to put us into red. 

And don’t get me started on the ethnic breakdown of the positive cases.

Yes, the state that claims to “follow the science” says that they get to make up the numbers. Counties aren’t allowed out of purple tier unless all of the ethnicities in the county are catching COVID at the same rate. And before you get started, yes, I know that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to catch it. But most of that discrepancy stems from issues of poverty.

Blacks and Latinos are more likely to work in the service and retail industries, which have remained open. Maybe if we want fewer Blacks and Latinos to catch the virus we could, I don’t know, try to make those activities safer. Like Canada did at the holidays, focus on HOW we do these activities instead of just telling people not to do them. I remember being a sexually-active teenager who had difficulties getting condoms.

Or we could look at fixing poverty and the reasons minorities are stuck in it, but ha ha, just kidding. Why would we try to fix poverty when we can just condescend people from behind the French Laundry barricade. “If you were taking this we were taking this more seriously, you would avoid the grocery store. Honestly, who has to buy fruits and vegetables more than once a year, anyway?”

So after the phases and the tiers failed to not only curb the surge, but actually seemed to make things worse, Herr Kommandant came up with a new metric, which was ICU capacity. So now if you’re in purple, everything is closed, but if you’re in purple and your ICU capacity drops, then… everything is still closed. But maybe they chain up the door now?

A recent article I read posited that closing everything down might’ve actually driven the latest surge. Before the shut down, people could eat outdoors. After the shutdown, they had to go indoors, where they’re much more likely to catch it.

Don’t get me wrong. ICU capacity is hugely important. It might even be something we should’ve been tracking all along. But we weren’t, and because the state couldn’t distinguish between nine sick people and two hundred sick people, they decided to change the playbook again. 

But once again, the ICU capacity numbers appear to be a heaping pile of bovine excrement. The Sacramento region (not county this time) sunk below the 15% availability in early December. We were put on Saint Gavin’s naughty list for a minimum of three weeks, after which it would be reassessed. I kept checking the ICU capacity over that three week span, and it usually oscillated between 14-17%. So I was shocked when Jan. 2 rolled around, and our region was suddenly at 4% capacity!

Four percent? How the fuck did we drop ten percent in two fucking days?

Well, you see, that 4% number wasn’t our actual ICU capacity. It was Herr Kommondant’s PREDICTION about what he thought our ICU capacity WOULD BE four weeks later. So, you know, sorry y’all worked so hard to reach that milestone I told you would get you off probation, but now I’m making up a new milestone that is literally impossible to reach.

Of course, the reason they were predicting our ICU rates would plummet was because they didn’t think we were following their rules over the holidays. In other words, “we don’t think you’re following our rules, so we’re going to keep the same rules.” Wonderful.

Then he reversed gear. A week later, he claimed that the ICU rates weren’t spiking as expected and he was going to reopen Sacramento only, because now his magical eight ball says that four weeks later, we’d be at 17%. I’m sure this decision had nothing to do with the fact Herr Kommandant currently lives and works in the Sacramento region.

And no, if you’re wondering, the French Laundry is not in the Sacramento region.

The irony of the naughty-list/nice-list switcheroo was the actual numbers. When we were told we couldn’t reopen because we hadn’t cupped his balls correctly, the actual ICU availability was around 14%, but when we got the all-clear, we were just under 10%. So why exactly did we set the 15% threshold?

Then a few days ago, he waved his magic wand and reopened the entire state. Poof. Our long, national ICU crisis is over! Even though not a single region (aside from Northern California, where nobody lives) had even come close to sniffing 15%. But now the magical four-week prediction says all is honkey-dorey. The outlook was almost comical. Sacramento is still predicting 17%, the exact number that was predicted two weeks ago, so I guess not a damn thing has changed. But all of the other regions, who were below Sacramento, are predicted to be higher. Bay Area is supposed to be well over 20% ICU availability, but the true kicker is Southern California, which is predicted as having 33% of their ICU beds free in just four weeks! This is the same Southern California that has had 0% capacity for six straight weeks! What the fuck? Are there only three ICU beds in Southern California and Bob is starting to look a little ripe?

I teach social science, so I’m totally comfortable with trends and projected statistics. For instance, Gamestop’s stock is predicted to drop by ten percent, but instead it increased by… what the holy hell? Okay, maybe ICU beds can jump from 0 to 33%. Gavin just needs to get reddit dorks on board.

The latest completely arbitrary shift came with the vaccines. They very clearly laid out the first five groups, confusingly named Tier 1A, phases 1, 2, and 3, followed by Tier 1B, phases 1 and 2. Not sure why they couldn’t just name them one through five, but I guess everybody’s gotta feel special. In the end it really doesn’t matter, because they changed up the order. The first two groups were an amalgamation of front-line workers. Then it was supposed to by those 75 and over in that third group. I know this because I was in the next group, 1B part 1, along with those between 65 to 75. Not sure how teachers and baby boomers were included together, but whatever. How many 75 year olds can there be? I assume teachers will be up any day now.

Except then they decided that those 65-year-olds get to jump ahead of teachers. No real reason. Just because. And I don’t know if you’re aware of age demographics, but there’s a lot of fucking baby boomers. So when it was teachers and boomers together, I was looking at a late March vaccination. Now that it’s boomers, THEN teachers, I just got pushed back to July. JULY! And I’m still in a “special” category. There’s still going to be a group behind me, which I think includes a large swath of retail workers, before getting anywhere close to the general population. So if you’re 50 years old and work a normal office job, you’re probably waiting till 2022.

Remember back in November when people were saying there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and this might be our final lockdown? And Biden promised 100 million vaccinations in 100 days? Well, I hope his math wasn’t dependent on the most populous state in the nation getting its head out of its ass.

I’m pretty sure the real number Lord High Protector Gavin was looking at had nothing to do with positivity rates or hospital beds or millions of vaccines he has in his own personal batcave. It’s the number of signatures on the recall petition. Here’s how I think this went down. The president of the California Restaurant Workers Association called him up and said if he didn’t open the entire state, she was going to tell every restaurant employee to sign the petition. And voila!, state is open. 

I should note that the reason I know that person is a she is because it was her, not the governor, who announced the reopening. He followed a few hours later. Ironic, considering many of the legislators and health officials were angry at Newsom not telling them when big announcements were coming, so they weren’t prepared for the slew of phone calls, making Newsom look large and in charge. But if he outranks them, we now know who outranks him. Be sure to tip your server.

So huzzah! Restaurants are open! Hair salons are open! Swimming pools are open! Unvaccinated teacher coming soon to a recently-opened ICU near you! Just in time for a newly-mutated strain that requires two masks!

But don’t worry, we’re all still safe.

Snow camping is still closed.