Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Joys of Camping: With a Horse, o' Course! (Part 1)

Part One of Two

Groaning at the loud, domestic arguments of the Stellar Jays in the trees above us, I woke to the scent of bacon on a brisk summer morning. Deciding the brave the cold, I stumbled out of the tangle of my sleeping bag atop a canvas cot, one of five lined up in a row beneath the magnificent oak tree in Campsite #16 of Los Caballos Horse Camp. Pulling on shoes without socks and then a jacket over my pajamas, I made my way to the tent to dress in warm clothing on this 40-degree morning. 

After hiking to the one bathroom for the sixteen campsites with my sister, we returned to toss flakes of hay to Brownie and Sweetpea whose metal-pipe stalls were within the half-circle driveway of our campsite. We filled their water buckets, and once the horses were munching away on their breakfast, we could enjoy ours. We folded our legs and slipped sideways to sit at the sturdy wooden picnic table that was the centerpiece of the site which was backed to a dry creek bed, making it more private than the other campsites. Mom placed plates filled with scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, and fried potatoes and onions before us, and we dug in, still shivering, while Dad tossed kindling and logs into the cement ring a few feet away, rebuilding the fire from the still-glowing coals of last night’s blaze.

After breakfast, my brother and I helped with washing the dishes, filling the huge aluminum pot from the nearest faucet, then carrying it back carefully between us, each of us holding a handle. Mom took the heavy pot from us and set it on the battered Coleman stove to heat the water for washing the dishes while my sister and Dad saddled Brownie, our ancient bay mustang gelding with a greying nose, and Sweetpea, our buckskin quarter horse mare, a former barrel-racer. Both were excellent, if somewhat plodding, trail horses, and getting an early start was vital before the temperatures soared into the nineties later in the day.

The three of us started washing the dishes as Dad and Tracey moseyed out of the site and crossed the paved asphalt road, picking up the trail around the perimeter of Lake Cuyamaca. Mom, Tom, and I planned to hike over later to meet them with a picnic lunch on Fletcher Island in the center of the lake. Meanwhile, the three of us might hike down to Paso Picacho, a large non-equine campground a couple of miles southwest of Los Caballos, or we might settle into beach chairs around the fire with books or play another game of Yahtzee! or Gin Rummy at the picnic table. 

I miss camping. My husband is not a camper despite his many camping trips as a child. We also grew up camping every summer, often trailering our horses up to the local mountains a mere forty miles from home to a splendid and quiet horse camp in the Cuyamaca Mountains northeast of our hometown of El Cajon, California. It was always a challenge to drive those forty miles, which felt like a hundred given our excitement and our concerns that our ancient International Travel-All, christened “Tizzie,” which pulled our equally-ancient double-horse trailer (both painted a cheap Earl Scheib chocolate-brown to match), might overheat on the journey during which we climbed nearly 4,000 feet in elevation. 

Dad drove Tizzie, which, with two of the three bench seats removed, sported two bales of hay and a huge bucket of oats plus empty water buckets for the horses in the back, while Mom drove her sporty 1971 green Plymouth Duster which hauled the small aluminum-lidded trailer that contained all camping our gear, food, and clothing. We three kids were distributed among the vehicles: two in the back seat of the Duster, a pile of pillows between us, and one in the front seat of the Travel-All beside Dad, all of us keeping our eyes peeled for potential steam coming from either vehicle despite our early departure. 

We tent-camped, but the tent was mostly used for changing and storing our clothes; we slept outside at night since the only rainstorms that attempted to drench us occurred in the afternoons. And if we camped in mid-July, as we usually did, we'd miss even those storms. Camping in August, however, was a different and much wetter story.

Part Two...Next Week! 

Awash in memories,

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