I love traveling, getting out of town and the daily grind and going on adventures, and, for years and years, I have driven by campgrounds in beautiful places like the Central Coast or in the woods and wondered what it’s like to stay there. I wondered what it was like to go camping like when I was a child and be so close to beautiful nature and not have to leave before it began getting dark. Well, I’m not wondering anymore. Because now I’m doing it.
After two initial attempts last year, I am going on four weekend camping trips this Summer and early Fall – not counting camping at California WorldFest in July at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley – and, so far, it has been pretty terrific overall.
I am finding out that it is indeed nice to be in a beautiful natural space for more than a few hours and not have to leave when evening is coming. It is nice to sit on a beach, a wild, rocky beach in its most natural state, for as long as I want, knowing that I only have to go a few hundred feet to get to where I’m staying. I don’t have to worry about getting back into my hot van. I don’t have to think about a long, trafficky drive home, at least for a day or two.
But it’s more than being in a beautiful natural space; it’s living in it – not in a hotel or house there – but in the beautiful natural space. It’s being a part of it, sharing it, having the honor and privilege of being a part of such beauty. Yes, it gets rough and dirty, and there are bugs and critters (and stinky, usually barely accessible restrooms), and it sometimes gets frightfully windy. But this is part of being part of this beauty and part of the gorgeous sunset and incredibly starry night right there. (But, yes, I do like going home to my big, clean bathroom and a hot shower!)
And it is magical to be able to do this in my wheelchair. I love getting up in this beautiful space, getting into some overalls (usually cut-offs with no shirt) and my boots and meandering off on my own after a good breakfast (and lots of sun-block on me, of course) to discover trails and a nice place to sit for an hour or three. To me, this is the ultimate in freedom and independence. It is truly liberating, not only physically but also for my mind and soul.
The California State Parks does a fantastic job in enabling me to do just this. I have been on really cool wheelchair-accessible trails over wetlands and through groves with wildly twisted branches and neon green ponds and also able to get down cliffs to crashing waves on the shore. Not only is this a great adventure, but I like seeing how people react to seeing me there (it ranges from “oh wow” delight to almost anger that I got in the way of their idyll).
A word about that good breakfast and other meals. Another fun thing about camping is cooking on a Coleman stove and what can be cooked on it. Breakfast has been pancakes or fried eggs, grits and vegan bacon, along with orange juice and coffee. Dinners have included gnocchi from Trader Joes along with bagged fresh organic spinach, spaghetti with marinara sauce and vegan Italian sausage and zucchini, white hominy and vegetarian chili and cheese along with crookneck squash and Tasty Bite Indian entrees over rice along with broccoli. All have been not hard to make and quite good – and all the better and more enjoyable out-of-doors.
I wish I had started doing this years ago. One reason I didn’t is that I thought it would be too difficult, especially for my attendant. Yes, packing everything and setting up and taking down the equipment is a hassle, but not so much of a hassle. (I sleep on a futon pad in my van – surprisingly comfy – and I have a large tent for my attendants.) Packing carefully and being organized, including keeping the equipment in one place at home, is the trick, and getting a few large plastic tubs (instead of hunting down and using cardboard boxes, which tended to fall apart) helped – all pretty obvious, I know, but it wasn’t at first. Also, taking things like a tea kettle, a centinella candle, oven mitts and a plastic table cloth makes things much easier and more pleasant, even with it being more to load and unload. I’m thinking of getting a canopy for shade.
I had envisioned camping trips as short, cheap getaways, and it’s turning out that that’s exactly what they are. Not only am I going to place that are a few hours away at most (last month, I thoroughly enjoyed Morro Bay State Park – a bit far at four hours away – and El Capitan State Beach, and I’m looking forward to going to Dogwood Campground near Lake Arrowhead and to Refugio State Beach this month), but the price is right. Because I’m disabled and have a pass, I pay half price for a campsite. This means I pay about $40 for a two-night outing. Plus, I can have up to 8 people staying there. This sure beats at least $85 a night at a motel, plus going out and paying for restaurant meals, for me and one attendant. As the Who would say, I call it a bargain!