Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Passby Creek 1

I gave the Passby Creek Trail a try yesterday. This trail is pretty weak on references: all I had was a recommendation from S---, who had snowshoed it, and a verbal description from the bcnorth.ca website dated was pre-2005. There was no entry in the original Trails To Timberline, and no entry on followyourpath.ca. I set out to follow the verbal description and see if I could just find the roadhead. I took snowshoes because on north-facing sloes the snowline seems to be still down around 2000'

I've been thinking about mapping trails without a GPS—a sort of variant on “Games Climbers Play” that I'm calling “Games Map-makers Play.” It's about going back to the technology of 1990: no computer, no Google Earth, no GPS. Just map and compass. So I took a compass, and the 1971 topo map.

Here was the verbal description:

Drive north from Smithers on Highway 16 for 24.4 kms and turn left on the Kitseguecla Lake Road. Turn left again after .7 km and cross the railway tracks on the 6000 Forest Service Road. About 1/2 km past the 6008 sign, turn left on the small Forestry Road. After driving 2.3 km past some fields, bear right at the "Y" onto the 608 Road, drive across a small bridge and turn left at the 4 km sign on a small road behind a corral to an overgrown landing in the cut block. The trail starts from the southwest corner of the landing and follows the creek bank south to the edge of the timber. After about an 1-1/2 hours hike, turn left on the beaten track. The old main trail goes straight ahead down the hill to Passby Lake.
You'll notice it sounds like you somehow get from the Kitseguecla Lake Road to the 6000 Forest Service Road, but in fact they're the same thing. It's marked with the little yellow kilometre signs: “6001,” “6002,” etc. Four tenths of a km past the 6008 signs (yes, this road seems to have been posted twice, and there are two signs in slightly different places for many of the kilometres) was the left turn described, but it turned out also to be the turn posted “Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Trails Parking, 9km.” I'd noticed this last fall and wanted to check it out: it's the gladed, skins-only, backcountry ski area developed over the past few years by the Bulkley Backcountry Ski Society.
45 minutes from the house at this point.
This turn-off was already signed from here as the 608 Road, and right off it had one of those scary yellow signs giving a radio frequency: “608 Road; Call Empty; 159.42”. At if that wasn't going to give me enough of a pause--picturing a head-on collision with a a logging truck because I have no such radio--there was also another sign close to the ground on the same post, red one, saying “Road Temporarily Closed To Recreation Traffic.” Oh, Geez.
I went down there anyway, slowly, watching and listening for logging trucks. (Some doubt if this actually works.) Partly it was me being indignant that recreation sites should not be limited to people with forestry radios; partly it was me impatient to know what was down there. I met no one. I crossed Trout Creek, passed through some fields, and ascended through snowy forest. Snowline is at something like 2000' on these north-facing slopes. It was unclear where the “Y” was, but I did pass a turn-off to the left for a “602 Road” and that might have been it.
At 4 km there was the mentioned bridge and small corral. Leading up behind the corral, which was mired in snow, was what was probably an old road between young (maybe 20 year old) pine and spruce. It was unplowed and certainly undrivable. (The snow was about two feet deep here.) I decided that, for today, this was the roadhead, and parked on the road margin, leaving plenty of room for the hurtling logging trucks of my imagination. I donned snowshoes, shouldered pack, and set out to explore “a small road behind a corral to an overgrown landing in the cut block.”
There was an old track of snowshoes going up there, perhaps from a week before, and I followed these. I passed a yellow “deactivated road” sign, and after about ½ km I came to what might have been, seven years ago, a “overgrown landing:” it was full of aspen rather than coniferous trees. Here I shot a bearing to the Nipples and to the highest point on the ridge across the valley, so I could figure out later where the “landing” was.
From here, “the trail starts from the southwest corner of the landing and follows the creek bank south to the edge of the timber.” I poked around in the far southwest corner, but the place was only about the size of a small parking lot, and the snowshoe tracks continued confidently up a narrower corridor between trees a bit more at what I would call the “mid-point” in the south side of the landing. Oh well. I followed the tracks, and found myself in a distinct corridor between trees, narrower than a road but about the right size for what would have been a pack trail 70 years ago. I looked for blazes but found none. The trees were still “recently” planted, but a little bigger now, maybe 30 years old. There was no creek in evidence, but I thought I could hear one off to my left.
One piece of evidence that would help in figuring this all out would be a map showing cut blocks and the years they were cut.
Varied thrushes and some kind of warbler were calling. I saw a hare ahead, already gone brown. After a while the snowshoe prints left the corridor between trees and forked through denser pine right up a little ridge nose. I followed them for a hundred metres or so and got a view out over the basin I was walking through. I could see I had indeed been following a stream, and that I was in a big area of light green (a warm green) trees, but on the edges there were taller, dark green trees: “the edge of timber.” I'm pretty sure that in the local lingo of forestry, “timber” specifically means the uncut, mature trees, rather than trees period.
It looked like a long way to the edge of timber. I'd accomplished what I came for, and I'd forgot my gaiters, ski poles, and dark glasses, so I turned around. But first I went a bit further up what appeared to be the trail corridor and found I did come out on the creek itself. It was melted open and made a lovely, inspiring Spring sound.
Descending, I was struck by how much the place was like the canyonlands at that moment. Across from me to the north, the ridge seemed sere, bare and melted out, like something you might see above White Canyon, or the Escalante Road. The whole area was unnaturally quiet, as if I was a long way from civilization. I was standing on two feet of snow, but life was surging up all around. My hands smelled of pine and cottonwood where they'd brushed branches, and it was just about enough to make me feel good about having survived Winter.
At home I called the BC Rec guys, Kevin and Ben, and found out the 608 road is temporarily closed for the melt (they call it “break-up” ), so vehicles don't tear up the steep section near the Hankin-Evelyn Parking lot, which was 5 km beyond where I went. They don't know of any logging planned on the 608 Road in the next few years, so that's good news.
The triangulation proved totally inaccurate to locate the “landing.” I was off by kilometres. Instead I located it using (embarrassed!) a GPS track of this trail I found on my server, perhaps donated originally by a colleague at BC Parks. Do I need a better compass? A plane table? A sextant? Must work on this.
Here's what I knew at the end of this first day: 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Winter River

Although it's covered in snow, you can see that no trees or bushes grow in that strange, long, thin, wandering field that goes down the centre of the valley. After your car has warmed up and the heat is working, you can relax as you drive from Smithers to Quick, and notice that no fences cross that field. If you have lived in Winter all your life you might wonder about it. And by March it sometimes feels like we have lived in Winter all our lives.

Rivers get closed down in winter. Like an amusement park where the rides are boarded up, silent and still, the river goes under its white tarp for the whole season. The employees are gone, the children are gone, there's no noise or light. We drive past put-ins or over bridges and pay no attention, as if there were a sign saying “Closed until Spring.”

You won't learn that the river is there in the winter by listening to people tell stories about it. You hear that flow went up quite fast one week on May, that a certain rapid got washed out, that it took four hours one September to go from Walcott to Telkwa by canoe. Someone talks about coho making it past Moricetown, or which hole always contains a steelhead; another tells a story about going from Morice Lake to the Skeena in a kayak. There are guides to paddling, books about fishing... Perhaps the river is just a summer phenomenon.

Come examine the winter river. It's quite silent here. The ice is lumpy and jumbled along the river edge. It piles up in strange shapes which, like snowflakes, never repeat and don't last long. The air is cold and a slight breeze blows from the south. Snow is moving in. Like the curving back of a big beast, water surfaces briefly in the centre of the channel, grey and muscly. It rides along in the air for a few metres, then dives again beneath the ice.

You shouldn't go down there in the dark water, but someone has; and we know that down in the gravels, steelhead are waiting out the winter silently, holding their territories. Salmon eggs are hatching. The nearby Lake Kathlyn elementary school sets up a tank to hatch salmon eggs, and it is completely covered from light, a refrigeration tube inserted into it to keep the water frigidly cold. Quietly bubbling outside a classroom for months, it reminds us what it's like on the bottom of the river.

Up on the surface people are skiing on the ice, or perhaps just meandering down the edge of the river, cautiously avoiding the uncertain centre when ice can be thin. In Telkwa a snowmobile trail gets set up on the ice of the Telkwa River, and the village has a new trail for a few months. When it's solidly frozen, the river could be the ideal highway for dog sleds or foot travellers because, as I said before, there are no fences.

You might think that the size of the river is the same in winter, but don't be fooled. In winter, the river is a much different size. It's not smaller. It's bigger. Because what is a river? It's the contiguous waterbody as far as it stretches. In summer it stretches merely from bank to bank; but in winter, water, in some form or another, frozen or liquid, continues contiguously far beyond the bank. Sure, there's liquid water in the riverbed, and then ice on top; but there's snow above that, and the unbroken blanket of snow continues, climbing the banks and setting off across the fields and through the forest. It's all river now, all river water, getting ready to flow downhill, sagging downhill already. There's nowhere you can draw a line and say, “This is river and that is not.” We are inundated: the snow and ice in turn stretch up the hill, around your house, over your car, across the road, up the mountains, over the pass, down to other rivers. It's all river now. And the summer river is a mere remnant of the real river, the Winter river.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vignette April 21

Paso Robles looks like a ranching town trying to re-brand itself as a wine region, with western wear stores and wine tasting shops. Downtown, trim shops ring a grassy square with the old public library building in the centre. A small newspaper box on the corner advertises for a Tea Party convention: "Our government is trying to redesign our society by redistributing our income."

Trying to redesign our society. This is indeed the prerogative of government. Redistributing our income. Indeed, this is why government exists. Perhaps the Tea Party members, alarmed by the change they see, imagine that they could never need government services, neither welfare nor emergency services nor medical treatment. Such a position surely springs from a belief that one is in control of one's life: in control of whether one gets fired, or ill, or lost. But life experience suggests this is not so true (although it's an obviously appealing idea). 

Buddhism suggests that the apparent coherence of the narrative of our lives is an illusion. It seems as though our lives unfold as a story; but in fact that's a trick of the mind. We seem to be in control, but there is no 'we.' We're good at interpreting the events of our lives as the fruit of cause and effect; we're not so good at exerting coherent control. 

Vignette April 20

It's Saturday morning at Morro Rock, and three birders are set up in the big dirt parking area under the east face of the Rock. They're looking at peregrine falcons; specifically at a female with a nest; and one of them assiduously takes me through the process of locating her on the vast face of the Rock, crowded as it is with gulls and cormorants, and towering some 200' above us. "See that cave with a gull in it;  now go left, across the green area, and there are three little holes: two conjoined and one separate. Now go up at 11 o'clock about ten feet and she's sitting on a little knob, and her nest is in is the hole beside her." And there she is indeed, small and brown, but with the distinctive cheek patches of a peregrine.

Morro Rock is signed  with "Ecological Reserve: do not climb," otherwise it would be covered with climbers. The crack systems and overhangs are textbook rock route stuff, and the rock, a dark grey matrix with phenocrysts in it's, looks hard, strong and clean. But the rock, the last of a series of intrusive volcanic plugs along the coast here (neatly arranged in descending size), is reserved for the many species of nesting birds. 

A surfing class for kids (it's Spring Break week here), is being held on the beach next to the base of the Rock. Ten small boys in red shirts are organized by four you g men and women in green shirts,

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vignette April 18

M vignette 18 April

Bedrock swirls crazily in the cliffs along the beach, pitching this way and that, both white and brown. At low tide, thick sheets of rock are exposed with tide pools between them. some of these rocks are drilled with even round holes, some pencil-sized, some big enough to admit a finger. some contain shells, and in fact the holes are being made by these mussels, who excavate their own shelter in rock.  Once the mussel is gone, pebbles fill them: red, orange, brown, white and blue. some are like crystal, some like shell.

The sea is green offshore today, although if you look far enough it goes blue, and then, just before the horizon, an even deeper blue. along the coast to the right, to the north, is the land of Vandenberg Air Force Base, lush green hills today sloping down to the final cliffs that back the beach. It looks as though you could drop a ball at the top and it would roll down and shoot out over the sea, launched like from a ski jump.

The sky has been clear from dawn, except for the bank of fog out at sea, which had not moved since we arrived 18 hours ago. the wind died during the night, and began the morning as a steady breeze from the land. later it swings to the north but remains a mere wind rather than a gale. In the campground they have a starred and striped wind indicator, and it is standing out straight all day. The waves roll in steadily.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vignette April 17

In Buellton at the Flying Flags RV Resort a calendar of Ronald Reagan hangs on the wall of the office. There's something odd in Buellton. The RV park itself is a little town within the town, with named streets and shady trees. People seem to be here to socialize, and a large outdoor table is spread with lunch for ten at one RV near us. At 7:00 a.m. Dog walkers are out, although the large field where we have parked (sold as "dry camping" because it lacks hookups) is mostly empty. The sun rises and you need your dark glasses immediately.

This is RV park taken to the corporate level. There is an 800 number answered by "reservations agents". Inside the office there are cashier stations. They take your name and address as you register, although mine is tossed out once its Canadian nature is discovered. The place feels conservative, although on this Sunday morning I can't quite put my finger on why.

Vignette April 9

M April 9

In Merced we stop at an enormous Home Depot by the highway to buy a pair of pliers to fix a sleeping bag zipper. actually, all Home Depots in California seem to be enormous, and this one was the same as all the others, so perhaps I should say 'at a Home Depot.' 

Inside, the cavernous building I hear a cashier saying to a customer, "¿Y el nĂºmero de telefono?" Spanish is ubiquitous in California, and so is bilingualism. In the grocery store in Lancaster the cashier deals in Spanish with the previous customer (who greets her with "Hola") and then in English with Kate. although she tells Kate the total is vente y ocho and then corrects herself to twenty-eight. 

Spanish is on the move here. It's not just migrant workers; it's the whole middle class. And the creative fertility of bilingualism is also everywhere. In a state park I hear a man in a pickup ask a ranger the way to the exit. "Right out that way," says the ranger, and then I hear the man in the pickup begin joking with his friend in Spanish: we are such chowderheads not be able to find our way out of here; didn't we drive past this firewood shack twice before; yeah, but it was your fault! At least that's what I think they were saying: my Spanish is pretty poor. If I lived here though I'd be working on it: it's where things are going.

Vignette april16

In the men's room at McGrath State Beach, the stall doors hang wrong on their hinges, so you have to lift the door with your foot to slide home the bolt, which Galen does handily. We have been told twice by different people that this campground will be closed at the end of this summer because of the state's budget crisis: no money to fix the ailing bathrooms. It seems ironic that bathrooms should dictate the demise of the facility, but that's how the decline of government services looks up close.

At Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, the volunteers told me that budget crises are a way of life for California: that when she was young her father was emploed by the state and he would periodically say, "Yep, there's no money this week." And then the state rebounds. It's unclear if this will be the case again. But if so then McGrath campground will be revived in a couple years I would predict. As travelers here we are catching the wave of the moment, enjoying the facilities still open as the state slides into poverty.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Vignette 8 April 2011

A mile up Minturn Road from the freeway that runs the length of the San Joaquin Valley we come to the Buchanan Hollow Nut Company. We pull into a small yard with a warehouse on one side, an organic certification sign over its closed door. There is a store on the other, and row upon row of nut trees out the back.

Inside, a small round lady is bagging pisotacios into 1 lb bags, and bowls of free samples are set out for us: ordinary pistacios, garlic pistacios, hot chili pistacious, choclate covered almods, apricot bits, cashews and so on. A rakish fellow dressed in a hat that never comes off encourages us to interrupt him if we needed anything, and says we are welcome to wander the orchards if we wish.

Outside, the pistachio trees are just beginning to leaf out, barely a leaf showing, each tree only about 8 feet high. Jumping across an irrigatrion ditch I find the almonds are the trees fully in leaf, with small fuzzy pouches growing on them. Kate loads her arms with bags of cahsews and almonds and pistachios and finds that pistachios are only about $6 a pound.

The boys and I use the rest room, where two enormous stuffed heads of wild boar are mounted with weirdly taxidermic expressions on their faces. In the office, the man is excited to find we are from Canada: Canadian mining stocks are going to enable him to retire, he says.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vignette 7 April 2011

The San Joaquin and Merced rivers are in flood, and as we arrive at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge parking lot, just off the two-lane California highway 38, there are lakes and pools of water extending in every direction. The refuge seems closed, but closer reading of an informational sign reveals that it is open to foot traffic alone, So, donning binoculars and bird book, we lock the camper and set out. Great egrets beckon from the water, and clouds of swallows wheel overhead.

There are astonishing swarms of bugs on the dirt road, some of them so thick they seem to be single entities. Galen whips at them with his sweatshirt, but it soon becomes clear that this does nothing but fill his hood with bugs. He rants and raves that we shoudld head back, that the bugs are driving him crazy, but the bugs are hardly interested in us, and soon Will gets the hang up ignoring them, as Kate and I begin eagerly identifying the birds in sight: western Kingbirds sitting atop bushes and jumping up for flies; red tailed hawks soaring; song sparrows; coots swimming in the water; mockingbirds flying from high point to high point. In the distance we can hear Canada Geese. None of these are unusual or exotic species (except the egrets) but the palpable chatter of life around us in itself exciting.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bodega Bay, April 2nd, 2010

On the north California Coast, picture an 'A' where one leg is on the main coast, and the other leg sticks out into the North Pacific. The top of the A points north, and a spit of sand closes off the mouth and crosses the A. But it's not an A with a pointy top: it's more of a nicely curved wishbone shape. In the middle is a calm expanse of water even when a hell of a north wind is blowing, as it was yesterday.

Near the top is the town of Bodega Bay itself, where we arrived from the north, windblown, hopeful of finding gas and propane for our little stove. We followed signs to a marina on the west side of the bay, and found to my surprise that the gas pumps were of a kind I thought gone for years: pumps without any kind of credit card reader where you always pump before you pay, where you remove the nozzle from the recess in the side of the pump, flip down the metal handle, the numbers reset, and you're ready to go. I told the guy inside how much I liked his pumps. "Ah, he said, "some things never change."

"Oh, wait," I said, as he rang me up. "I need to get some propane as well.

"Let's get some gas, dude!" he bellowed. And then, as if to explain himself,  he added, "As they used to say. I mean, since you've got the VW and all." He was a jolly bull-necked fellow, with a shaven head and a tattoo on his arm, and as he lay down on the pavement to get at the tiny propane tank under the vehicle, he swore and delivered a constant commentary about how it was going.

I remembered Gabriel the Romanian saying to me during my orientation to the camper, "When you refill the propane tank, you take it to a place that does propane and you let them do it. This is not a do-it-yourself thing." As I looked at the special coupler this guy was preparing to put on, the strange double hose, and the way he was grunting over some tiny valve out of sight up beneath the vehicle (I lay down on my stomach on the pavement to look and still couldn't see it) I had to agree.

"I can't budge this thing," he said, pulling out a pair of pliers. "Don't tell me it's..."

"Aw, no..."

"Come on..."

"Hmm, OK." Getting up and turning to the main pump, he said, "Now let's see if you're going to work today," and hit a switch. It hummed to life and propane began moving.

At 2.4 gallons on the meter it went KLUNK and shut off -- which jibed well with the 2.5 gallon tank Gabriel said we had. Our man disconnected the main hose, and again fiddled with the relief valve. As he got more distressed I got down again and I could see he had it munched in the jaws of his leatherman and was either grinding it or turning it. I can't tell if it's moving," he grunted. "This is not right," he said ominously. And then: "Aw, no!"

Lying on his back he explained to me that we were at an impasse. He was unable to close the relief valve, propane was leaking out, he was pretty sure an o-ring had blown and the system would be unusable. Soon it would be empty. The pliers were not working!  It was frozen: it was busted. And he was mystified why he had found plumbers tape on the base of the valve. "You would never put plumbers tape on one of these!" he said.

"And get me a pillow, will you?" he joked, since he'd been lying on the ground for so long.

For the next half hour I was on the phone to Gabriel, and, to his credit, our friendly gas attendant was on the phone to two RV repair places in Petaluma -- an hour's drive away. He was quite distressed that we had come all the way from BC and this had happened to us. But in the end Gabriel, mystified, could only suggest we buy ourselves a two-burner butane stove, which he would pay for. The gas man could find no one capable of repairing the valve on a Saturday. He bid us farewell and gave us two free postcards.

We drove away, bought some groceries while processing it all, and decided that repairing the stove was NOT our priority.  (*Not driving too much* was, that day, our greatest priority.) So we drove north out of Bodega Bay, a short distance to the first park beach, North Salmon Beach, (the wind increased dramatically as we left Bodega Bay), and ate our lunch inside our camper with the window just cracked, which made everything *just* the right temperature. The steady north wind blew away the gas smell hissing from below the camper. Then we donned wind shirts and went down the path (typical California path: a steep, eroding trench through the ice plant) and walked the beach.

As at Wright's Beach, there were elaborate driftwood constructions on North Salmon Beach, and lots of hardy Californians enjoying them as shelters. There were a number of little forts built by urban castaways (one was roofed over) and the driftwood beams and posts were fabulous. One family was draping their with fabric on the upwind side to protect the children. It was so windy that each time a wave broke up the beach, leaving a pile of foam at its furthest extent, the foam would detach itself from the wave and go tearing up the beach.

We headed back into Bodega Bay to solve our most pressing problem: where to camp on a Saturday night. Bodega Dune campground was full. We tried a county park over on the west side of the A called (fittingly) Westside Regional park, and there was a site sheltered by trees. It was a great relief to know we had somewhere to sleep for the night and would not have to go a-roving over creation looking for a campsite. We parked and decided we would drive no further that day.

I got down under the camper to check the gas leak and it was still going. I decided to see what this relief valve felt like with my own hands. I found a little knurled knob. I turned it and the hissing stopped.


Had I fixed it?

Gradually it became clear that I *had* fixed it, but not clear what had been the problem before. Once I had a pot of water on the boil to make tea and cocoa I called Gabriel and told him what had happened. He was very happy. "That is a great weight off my shoulders," He said in his endearing Romanian accent.

Off we went for a walk. There were snowy egrets in the trees by the roadside, looking at us suspiciously.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Vignette 1 April 2011

At the Simi winery, simply alongside the road from the north into the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, there is a courtyard with a fountain: water, as always in California, making at once  the twin statements of wealth and hospitality. Steve stops into the office for a moment to tell them he is taking some special people through on a tour, and then leads us across a small bridge.

There is a railway line here, just outside the building, and we admire the two styles of stonework on the winery building: the left half constructed by Chinese railway workers and the right half constructed some years later by Italian immigrants.

Above that building on the hill are giant stainless steel tanks and crushing machines. ("You mean  the grapes are no longer crushed by feet?" says Kate. "Oh no!" laughs Steve: "Have I burst that bubble?") The fermentation vats are open-topped (although under rooves): the red wines fermenting at the ambient temperature, the wine wines fermenting at a chill. The grape skins and seeds for the white wines are collected and taken back to the vinyards to be spread as compost; the skins for the red wines kept int during fermentaiton.

Inside the building  are long rows of oak barrels imported from Franch in immaculate cool rooms that smell sweet with the wood scent. Each has a barcode on it for meticulous tracking.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vignette 31 March 2011

After driving through the hot grassy valleys around Fairfax, we suddenly drive into a forest that is unmistakably redwoods: dark green and grey shadows  everywhere, and as we twisted and turned through it small houses hidden behind giant ferns bespoke of a people who liked to live in this gloom.

Soon we arrive at Samulel P Taylor Park, named for a lumberman who found this patch of redwoods to log for the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Now well into its second growth, the trees are not 10' in diameter, but a humbler 5'. We ascend to our campsite, up a mossy hill where silence is all that persists under the trees is silence. The logs are mossy. The ferns grow every where. A small creek trickles below our site. Ther eis only one other camper. Will says the place is creepy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vignette 30 March 2011

Gabriel the Romanian rented us our camper. He was a friendly man who looked like a bust of Caesar Augustus: a round head, white hair, blue eyes and a thin nose. His camper renting outfit was based in what was essentially an oversize storage locker in the back of an alley leading off a one-block street, backing up against a freeway. The taxi dropped us in that unpropitious spot, but Gabriel came out and welcomed us in, our baggage announcing us as not there for business with any of the other little units in the building, where things like welding seemed to be going on.

Gabriel made us comfortable on an overly soft sofa in the depths of his "office" and introduced us to Christina, at once perhaps his wife and his assistant. They provided us with stacks of maps of different regions of California, plus a guide to camping, and then our orientation to the camper began. In a carefully choreographed order, Gabriel led me around the details of the camper: how to put up the pop-top and how to take it down; how to make the beds and fold them away; where to check the oil and the coolant; how to light the stove and refill the propane tank; how to lock the doors and not lock your keys in. The camper, freshly washed, was dripping with water in the California morning sunshine.