Since the Sierras are one of the most beautiful places on earth, as well as being practically in our backyard (as little as 4 hours from Los Angeles), I try to visit at least once every couple of years. I’d been craving a trip for awhile, and then realized my last trip was already four years ago. It was high time to break out the camping gear and head north.
We don’t always camp when we visit the Sierras, we have stayed in motels or cabins by the Kern River, in King’s Canyon and in Sequoia National Park, and in Bishop near the eastern Sierras. But we hadn’t camped in several years and were in the mood for it, and it was in line with our tiny vacation budget this year (a long-ago wedding gift of cash we’d been saving for a trip).
My love for this part of our gorgeous state started when my midwestern parents brought us to Yosemite when I was just six years old. We went on a day hike and within a few miles saw a large brown bear with two cubs. I know now that this is a frightening as well as enthralling sight, but back then we didn’t know to be scared. Luckily, we didn’t try to pet any of them like a teddy bear. The bears inside the park tend to be fairly acclimated to people and not likely to attack anyway. Well, my father was hooked and by the following summer he had us backpacking on the John Muir Trail, a four day adventure that changed all of our lives. We went every year after that with various friends joining us each summer until I was 16 and became terrified of being eaten by a bear. The rest of my family continued for years and my brothers still go as often as they are able. They have explored much of the Sierras off-trail, on cross country trips navigated by my brother.
That’s way too much danger and adrenaline for me, but those early experiences taught me to appreciate the beauty of the mountains, the trees, the lakes, and the fresh air, as well as the wildlife you’re bound to come across. So I’m an avid hiker and my husband and I like to camp, and I’m always up for an outdoor adventure.
Camping is a naturally nonconsumer activity, because you pack up all your gear and haul it back out with you. We’ve used pretty much the same stuff for years and hardly needed to buy anything new once we had our tent, sleeping bags, and other basics. We are pretty organized with our equipment, and the only plastic we include is a bag for our dirty and wet clothing. Otherwise, everything is washable and reusable. No waste. On this trip, I even gave away three brown bananas that were at the stage where I’d put them in the freezer for smoothies at home, but a couple of through-hikers were happy to eat them.
We camped on the banks of Lake Thomas Edison, a remote lake with no motorboats. We kayaked all one day and saw only a couple of fishing boats. It is also within two miles of The John Muir Trail, which runs from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite south over 200 miles to Mount Whitney. It’s a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico, and the camp we stayed in was a stopping point for long-distance hikers to grab a shower and resupply with food. We met so many interesting people of all ages and from all over the world. Incredibly, we ran into a guy whose blog I read, Kolby from 100 Hikes.
This is becoming a rather long post, so I’ll start wrapping it up. One of the main things I wanted to mention was the value of a network and using recommendations. It has certainly served me well in life, particularly in the areas of travel and nonconsumerism. This particular camping spot was recommended to us by my brother, who is very familiar with the Sierras. Then when the family at the campsite next to us found out we were stopping in Visalia to stay at a motel with a pool on our way home, they gave us the name of their favorite Mexican restaurant because they live there. And it was one of the best meals we’ve ever had. At the hotel, the bartender told us about a downtown street fair with blues music happening the following evening, and we went and had a fabulous time, and all it cost us was the cash I put in the band’s tip jar. And when we were checking out of the hotel, I asked the woman at the desk where to go for a wine tasting, and she sent us to a place just five miles away that had not just wine tasting, but cheese tasting, a petting zoo, and a fruit stand where I bought over a pound of cherries. Is that too many cherries for one person to eat in one day? I survived. Anyway, getting all those great recommendations is one of the perks of the Chatty Cathy part of my personality that seems to have become more prominent in my middle age. And all of them made the trip more rewarding and memorable.
Maybe I’ll tell you more details and show a few more photos of our vacation next week, but for now I just want to remind you of the joys of camping if you haven’t taken a vacation yet this summer, or if you just want to get away for a few days and don’t have a lot of funds. The farther away from the city you get, and the more willing you are to drive on difficult, winding dirt roads (I’ll tell you about our harrowing drive next post), the more likely you are to get away from the crowds and have a real wilderness experience. My general rule is that if you go further than one guy can carry a case of beer, you’ll discourage about 95% of the people.
Camping, kayaking, hiking: all affordable. Star gazing: free. And all thoroughly nonconsumer.
What nonconsumer vacations have you been on, or are you planning? Do you like to camp? Tell us your stories in the Comments section.