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Sierra Weekend

May 20-22, 2005

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Sierra Weekend
May 20-22, 2005

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Back in my professional flying days of the late seventies and early eighties everyone and their brother begged to go along on a flight with me if ever I had an empty seat in the plane. As a pilot for hire, I rarely had any lead time on an upcoming trip; usually the phone would ring and I had twenty minutes to an hour to get to the airport. If there was enough time, I’d call someone on the next-time-you-have-an-empty-seat list and usually got one excuse or another as to why they couldn’t go right now. Eventually I stopped inviting anyone along.

When we got the Bounder last year most of our friends who saw it begged to go along with us some time. The first few invitations we proffered were met with much the same response I had with flying so I was quite surprised when two different friends called during the same week wanting to know if they could join us that coming weekend.

The downside to inviting friends along on a Bounder journey, as we found out with our Christmas Day outing to Santa Cruz, was that the majority of our friends do not smoke. We do. To keep our Christmas Day passengers happy, we refrained from smoking in our own vehicle and were miserable. It led to my posting a sticker by the outside doorway that reads, “Smokers Only!”

For you nonsmokers, let me elaborate on the point. Both Pat and I have been smoking for over 40 years. The damage has already been done. The seed has already been planted. Quitting will not significantly improve our health or extend our lives. So, if we’re going to die from the damn things anyway, why should we subject ourselves to the added misery of giving them up? That’s our position and we’re sticking to it.

But, the world is changing and we can no longer smoke in restaurants, bars, on public beaches, in state parks, in the workplace, airports or just about anywhere other than our own house and our vehicles. So, not smoking in our last private refuges to accommodate visiting nonsmokers is more than we care to bear.

Fortunately, both Angelo and Margaret are smokers, hence we were delighted to have them join us. Margaret arrived late Friday morning and went with me to Smart & Final to get the groceries. But after returning home and loading the groceries into Blue Boy, Margaret could not stop herself from cleaning the Bounder from one end to the other. She washed the windows inside and out; she swept the floors and vacuumed the carpeting. She scrubbed the sink and washed down the refrigerator. “For Christ’s sake, Margaret, this is supposed to be a vacation!” To no avail.

Pat got home from work around 4:30 and Angelo finally conquered the rush-hour traffic from her job in San Francisco, arriving at ten-to-five. By 5:30, we were on the road and heading out of town with three million other vehicles on the freeway. I suddenly remembered why I preferred Pat to take Friday’s off from work so we could leave in the mornings.

Less than ten miles from the house all five lanes of I-580 lumbered up the Dublin-Pleasanton grade at 5 mph. No typo here; that’s five miles per hour! Margaret, who was up front with me in the co-pilot’s seat, used her binoculars to scout ahead and reported that the freeway was a parking lot for as far as she could see. “Are we coming up on an accident,” I asked? “Not that I can see,” she told me.

We were edging ever so slowly ahead in lane #3 when I spotted a tall, lanky black man walking towards us between lanes three and four, waving his arms and talking out loud to no one in particular. “Are you sure there’s no accident, Margaret?” Just as the man walked past our passenger side front bumper, a CHP patrol car appeared with siren screaming and cut me off. All five lanes came to a complete halt. The officer came flying out of his patrol car, ran around the front of our windshield, and tackled the walker between two cars in lane #5 at the shoulder. I suddenly realized we were surrounded by CHP cars and fully seven officers were involved in handcuffing the guy and dragging him off the freeway.

All five lanes in front of me were now totally empty, so I pulled around the patrol car and headed down the grade. Within two miles I caught up to the traffic and we slowed down to a 15 mph crawl towards Livermore. It was 6:30, we’d been on the road for exactly one hour, and we were twelve miles from the house.

Our destination was Camanche Lake in Amador County, only 82 miles from the house. As long as we got to the campground before sundown, I really didn’t care how slow we went. By Livermore the speed picked up and I was finally able to set the cruise control at 55. We finally got off the freeways and onto state road 88 on the northeast side of Stockton where we stopped for gas. It was 8:30 when we entered the North Camanche Lake campground and spent the next twenty minutes trying to locate our assigned campsite.

With the Bounder parked on a lovely grassy knoll peppered with scrub oak trees, Margaret started preparing dinner while Pat, Angelo, & I got the awning down, unpacked the chairs, and started a campfire. The lake was huge and the setting serene. Salad, hot dogs, beer, and bourbon at hand; city life and city traffic a distant memory. It was a fun evening and everybody let their hair down.

Until bedtime. “Margaret, the dishes can wait 'til morning.” She just couldn’t help herself.

This was our first night in the Bounder with overnight guests and by the next morning we realized we had adjusted to the new reality. With two woman sleeping in the front, we had to be more careful with trotting out of the bedroom in our underwear to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Likewise, first one awake waited patiently in bed for sounds of activity out front before going to the stove to start the coffee pot.

And, sure enough, as soon as everyone was up, Margaret wanted to cook breakfast. Even Angelo chimed in with “We’re NOT hungry, Margaret!” It was a tough sell getting her to think vacation = no schedule. Coffee and donuts for three of us; tea for Margaret.

North Camanche Lake Campground is divvied up into three separate areas. Ours was on a point of shoreline jutting into the lake leaving us surrounded by water on three sides. Ours was one of only a handful of Class A RV’s in our area. Lots of families had pitched tents, pulled in small trailers, or had some other mode of shelter. The campground was so spacious that despite being nearly full, didn’t feel crowded. Many had brought their boats or jet skis and were already out on the lake or swimming along the shoreline.

After an hour and a half walk, the four of us decided that although the campground was lovely, we had already seen everything there was to see. With no particular destination in mind, we packed up, pulled out, and headed into the nearest town, Ione, hometown of the campers Pat and I had partied with at Lawson’s Landing near Point Reyes the previous weekend.

Ione, the county seat of Amador County, is a small country town with 7,500 residents. Visible from two miles out was a sandstone castle-looking structure with a bell tower on a hill overlooking the village. We all wondered what it might be and Angelo asked if we could go see it. I assumed it was a college and told everyone we could enquire once we were parked in town.

The main street had several thrift shops which Margaret and Pat ran off to visit. Angelo took off across the street to find out about the castle while I remained behind to look for a place to go from here.

Amador County is one of only five counties of California I hadn’t seen until last night. Nestled between its eastern border and the Nevada state line is Alpine County, another one of my “missing five.” I decided on Kit Carson, a hamlet high in the Sierra at the county line. And the climb to the pass at 8,500 feet would provide the Bounder’s transmission with a good test.

I caught up with Pat and Margaret in one of the thrift stores and we walked to the other end of town, never spotting Angelo. When she caught up to us at yet another thrift shop, she reported that the castle was under rennovation and currently closed to the public. Apparently it had been built as a boys' reformatory in the 1890's and closed down in the 1960's.

It was nearly two o’clock when we pulled out of Ione and started our 72-mile trek up Highway 88 to Carson Pass. With Ione at 300 feet above sea level and Carson Pass at 8,600, we’d be averaging 115 feet of climb per mile. By Jackson we could see the snow-covered Sierras in the distance and within an hour we rounded a bend on Peddler Hill and pulled the Bounder into a spectacular overlook with a view of Lower Bear River Reservoir, aka Bear Lake.

The lake was 900 feet below our 6,720-foot overlook and in the 80 temperatures, the surrounding snow cover was providing ample fodder for the waterfalls tumbling off the granite rock faces that towered around us. The spectacular view vindicated the decision to leave Camanche Lake and everyone piled out of the Bounder to play in the snow and dance beside the waterfalls.