Dry camping at Spicer Meadows – what could go wrong?

Friday, July 30, 2021

On Sunday, July 19, I headed out to Spicer Meadows Reservoir campground for a four-night camping trip. This was the second year I was able to join my brother and his families for their annual campout at the group campground at the lake. Last year was my first year and it included a bit of tragedy – my drone decided to drop into the lake and sink to the bottom. I was able to fish it out and return it to the manufacturer for an exchange, so it had a happier ending. While planning for this trip, I wondered, “What could go wrong this year?” I left the new drone home so I removed that possibility from the equation.

The drive to the lake is about 3+ hours for me and the temperatures were already climbing as I navigated the gold country roads up toward the lake. I knew this would be a dry-camping adventure, so I wanted to be sure I would have good clear days for solar recharging of my batteries. I also knew the nearest town was 45 minutes from the campground, so I didn’t want to run any errands unless absolutely necessary. And for good measure, cell service was non-existent at the lake.

The view on Highway 4 driving toward Spicer Meadows. This is the Tamarack Fire near Markleyville.

Seven different camping parties converged on the campground in the middle afternoon and we all arranged our tents, trailers, Class-C and fifth-wheel among the campsites. My brother suggested we share a trailer pad and we managed to fit both of our trailers without too much trouble. We had a good view of the lake, receding shoreline and all.

Two trailers in one site, with a lake view.
Beautiful campground

The first full day, Monday, was cloudy with a little bit of sprinkles, so solar power was not an option. I was not concerned as my battery levels were pretty fresh from Sunday’s drive and recharge session.

I brought a couple of books and magazines and reminded myself not to stress my shoulder on this trip. My bicep tendon had completely separated a couple of weeks prior and it was still painful. I knew I would not be kayaking, swimming, throwing a javelin or chopping wood on this trip. I was OK with limiting my activities to reading, light hiking, taking photos, making S’Mores and napping.

The water level is much lower than previous years.
The dam shows the lake level.
Looking back up toward the campsites, this area is usually underwater. I’m guessing my drone was lying near here under 25 feet of water last year.
Blue skies, after the smoke blew out.

The rest of the week brought warm clear weather. I enjoyed relaxing in the campground and devoured one of the books I brought. “Mary Jane” by Jessica Anya Blau is an interesting and humorous coming-of-age story about a 14 year old girl who works as a summer nanny for a neighboring household in the 1970’s. Her guarded childhood is no match for the cultural leap she makes during this summer. I highly recommend the book.

Tuesday night brought the first bit of adventure (and danger, if you will). After the group campfire session, I got the notion to take a star-trails photo of my trailer. I scoped out the best angle to get good clear star trails and chose a spot on a trail about 25 feet toward the lake. This location gave me a good upward view of the trailer and the dark night sky above it. I set my camera for a time-exposure and figured about 30 minutes would do the job. I relaxed in my trailer and read until the half hour had passed. When I stepped outside my trailer, I noticed one of my nephews was shining his flashlight around the campground. I turned off my camera and learned that my nephew had chased a large bear away from his campsite, about 50 yards from mine.

I spent a few minutes doing the same thing, shining my flashlight around the trees and shrubs surrounding our campsites. After this bit of exercise I went to bed.

This is the star trails photo I took.

The next morning I checked my trail cam. I had set it up every night to watch my trailer. The trail cam has a motion detector that begins recording video when it senses motion in front of it. I’ve captured video of raccoons and coyotes as well as birds, lizards, moths, etc. When I reviewed the video clips from the previous evening, I noticed the number of times I entered or exited my trailer, and walked by with the flashlight. But right in the middle of those clips was one clip of a large bear walking around my trailer. When I checked the time-stamps on each clip, I determined that this bear had walked by during the 30-minute time exposure of my star-trails photo. In fact, I had exited the trailer seven minutes after the bear had walked by! The video shows the bear walking up from behind my trailer, the same trail I had placed my camera. I don’t know how the bear didn’t knock the camera and tripod over, since they were positioned in the middle of the trail, with tree stumps on either side.

Bear visitor

You should be able to view the bear video here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KMfr2cCcQ2HDDCga5oH4ui6fNYAEIBQU/view?usp=sharing

(copy/paste the link in your browser)

The bear video was quite a hit among the campers and I felt a sense of redemption; this video victory was a great balance to last year’s drone-fail video. I felt like I had found the answer to my question, “What could go wrong this year?” Fortunately, this event did not result in anyone getting hurt or any damage to our campsites.

On Wednesday, we ventured down to the bottom of the dam to check out one of the open release pipes. It was an impressive display of water power.

The bottom of the back of the dam, one of the release pipes was open.
My nephew

On Wednesday evening, I began sorting and stacking in preparation for the next morning – our check out time was 11:00AM. Around 12:30 AM, I woke up and took a short walk to the vault toilet. I noticed a sharp pain in my back and wondered when I could have strained a muscle, after all the relaxing and lounging. I went back to bed but immediately got up because the pain was increasing. It was excruciating and I had no idea why. In addition to the back pain, my abdomen was cramping up intensely. I hobbled back up to the vault toilet again, but to no avail. “Here I sit all broken hearted…”

After about an hour of increasing pain I made the difficult decision to wake up my brother and sister-in-law and ask for help. We talked about possible causes and Dan gave me a couple of pain pills. I felt like another trip to the vault toilet was in order, but the only result was dry heaves. We determined I had upchucked the pain pills. We had no phone service, so the only option was to drive toward medical help. Dan drove my SUV and I thrashed about in the passenger seat in pain. We did not reach cell service until after an hour and determined an ER was open in Sonora.

After two hours of driving, we reached the Sonora ER and I went straight in. It looked like I was the only patient. After some diagnosis and a CT scan, the doctor identified a kidney stone as the source of my pain. I was on pain meds through an IV, so I was feeling more comfortable. And it was good to know what was wrong. By this time, it was 6:00AM and Dan and I discussed the challenge of breaking camp. We agreed that he would head back to get started and I would update him with my discharge status. It seemed clear that I would be discharged some time later in the morning. I gave Dan some instructions about closing up my trailer and he left for another two hour drive back to the campground.

I was discharged around 10:00 AM and realized I did not bring anything other than what I was wearing. I knew I would be picking up my discharge meds from a nearby RiteAid and I knew I had to take the meds with food. I just didn’t know if I could put any food in my mouth. I walked to a coffee shop and pushed a few bites of breakfast food into my mouth and hoped for the best. I walked to RiteAid, picked up the meds and took them. Soon, I received a text that my niece-in-law was on her way to pick me up. Her husband, my nephew, was going to drive my SUV and trailer back to their house.

The pain meds were working pretty well, so I was comfortable on the ride home. Once in Roseville, I drove my rig to Rocklin for storage, emptied the fridge and grabbed a few items and drove home.

I spent the rest of the weekend giving birth to Satan’s Love Child, a 3mm kidney stone. (Wanna see a picture of it?) It turned out a second smaller sibling (2mm) also made an appearance.

I can say this was the most pain I’ve felt and I have every desire to prevent a future recurrence. But this also made me realize the risks of camping and traveling alone, like I had done last month in Oregon. Granted, I was usually in good cell service at most of the road trip stops in Oregon. But this would have been a very different experience if I was alone and did not have someone to drive me and also to take care of my trailer. I would not have been able to drive myself that night, the pain was too intense.

The first lesson learned here is to make a thorough step-by-step guide for closing down the trailer. The folding design makes this a bit more complicated, and if someone is not familiar with it, they would have a difficult time putting it down correctly.

The other thing I learned, don’t begin a trip by asking, “What could go wrong?”


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One thought on “Dry camping at Spicer Meadows – what could go wrong?

  1. I enjoyed reading your story. Loved the photos. One does encounter bear camping. The pictures draw me to the mountains and lakes! I have a lot of funny stories over the years camping regarding bear. Great idea filming them. I’ve want to put a camera in our pack yard as I think we have a lot of wild life come through. We do have a light that comes on and Annie tells us when something is there. I guess the real story is Never ask the question! I learned something new, you like to read too. Shirley >

    Liked by 3 people

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