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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Coming Full Circle – Final Stop at Jackson Meadows Reservoir

Wednesday (June 29): Yesterday morning, I said good bye to Fran and Jerry, the A-frame rally organizers along with a few other attendees and hit the road about 10:30AM. It was already heating up and the weather forecasts were announcing “excessive heat warnings” for the day.

Highway 395 is a major north/south thoroughfare on the eastern side of California. The part I drove on was a two-lane highway with occasional passing lanes. Broken yellow lines were also available for drivers who didn’t want to follow a car pulling a trailer driving the speed limit. I was driving 55 mph (towing speed limit) in a 65 mph zone. I inched my cruise control up to 60 out of empathy for the cars behind me. My bigger empathorial moments occurred whenever I would pull off to the side of the road and let everyone else fly by.

I turned onto the forest service road that leads into the Jackson Meadows area (East Meadows Campground). It was a familiar drive – this is the campground that Laura and I camped at with bikes, kayaks, and our dogs. It was an annual tradition for a number of years, often times with my brother and sister-in-law and their friends. Lots of fun memories.

In 2013, my friend Robin and I also camped here. The camping trip was supposed to include our mutual friend, Dick. Sadly, Dick passed away a month prior to our scheduled trip. Dick’s memorial service was held on the first day of the camping trip. After the conclusion of Dick’s memorial, Robin and I drove up here to Jackson Meadows. During our campout, we fashioned a floating memorial from driftwood and flowers, we each wrote a special message on it and set it afloat from our kayaks on the waters of the reservoir. So, some sad memories, too.

East Meadows Campground, Jackson Meadows Reservoir

Being here today has been a surprising experience. I originally booked a reservation here to break up the long drive home from Eagle Lake. I was familiar with the campground so it seemed like a logical choice. And it was. But the surprise came with the various emotions I experienced after arriving. It was a bit like coming back to a hometown. I walked the loops of campsites and remembered some of the events of earlier visits I described above. I took a swim in the lake and thought about the numerous kayaking adventures. And the fun campfires trickled into my memory stream as well. I noticed I was feeling a bit melancholy. Not sure if it was related to the memories or the awareness of the approaching last drive. Maybe both.

Jackson Meadows Reservoir
Jackson Meadows Reservoir
Jackson Meadows Reservoir
Jackson Meadows Reservoir
Somedays I feel like this tree looks.
The campground is located in a beautiful setting.
Flying high.
Evening light

As dusk approached, I walked down to the waterline and watched the sunset on my last day of this trip. In familiar fashion, it was a beautiful experience.

Last sunset of this trip

So, in a couple of ways, this location brings me full circle, to a place of closure: it is the last stop of my five-week roadtrip journey. It is a return to a place from a different time in my life.

And in a funny coincidence, it is a return to the campground where I was first introduced to an A-frame camper. My brother’s good friend Bob (and I claim Bob as my friend, too) arrived at one of those annual camping trips with a new A-frame trailer. As he showed us the various features and logistics of setting it up, I mentally made a note to be sure I got one of those someday. So here I am.

This morning, I walked down to the water for an early visit. The water was calm, almost mirror-like. It was early enough that I was pretty much alone at the lake. The air was still. My hearing is bad so I couldn’t hear how quiet it was. I could see one small fishing boat across the lake, trolling along peacefully.

Early morning at the lake. All is calm.
The air and water were still.

Soon, I’ll drive down into the muggy valley, park the trailer and unpack. It will likely be 100+ degrees. And I know I’ll be sad about the end of this trip. I’m scheduled to be camping again in less than three weeks…if I can wait that long!

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A-frame Rally at Eagle Lake

Sunday (June 27): The A-frame rally has been a lot of fun. The rally is hosted by volunteers who are centralized in the Pacific NorthWest. The rallys are normally in Oregon and Washington, but this one was planned at Eagle Lake in the Lassen National Forest because of availability during Covid.

It was fun to see several A-frames in the campground.

Thirteen A-frame trailers with about 24 people attended this rally. It was my first time meeting up with this group. The participants were friendly and very comfortable to hang out with. A variety of expertise levels made this a great opportunity to get help with problem-solving.

The rally was very well planned, communicated and it went well without any issues. The primary purposes of the rally are to meet and greet, show and tell, and care and maintenance. Each morning begins with a coffee assembly at the home base campsite, an activity, such as the touring of A-frames, and the evening finds us gathering for wine and conversation.

Show and Tell – touring the A frames
Show and Tell – touring the A frames

I enjoyed the A-frame tours; they were a great way to see how others have improved their trailers. I picked up some good ideas for future projects.

Each evening we met to share info, ask questions and socialize

On one morning, several of us rode our bikes on a paved trail that connected our campground with a couple of others, as well as the marina. The marina was a great place to take a break, eat some ice cream in the shade and rest up for the hot ride back.

Great bike ride on the trails along Eagle Lake

Most everyone left on Sunday morning; the few of us remaining drove in to Susanville and had lunch and beer tasting at the Lassen AleWorks brewery. The air-conditioned room was a great choice, as the temperatures reached the high-90s the last two days.

Plenty of excellent beer options on this hot day.

I enjoyed my time at the rally and enjoyed meeting the people. I plan to check out next year’s rally – I’m hoping it can be another chance to include the rally as part of larger, longer road trip. There are still plenty of places in the Pacific NorthWest that I want to explore.

Group photo, taken on the last evening of the rally.
Camping under the stars.

Tomorrow I’ll travel about 3 hours, heading in the general direction of home. I’ll spend one night at a favorite campground at Jackson Meadows Reservoir and make my home on Tuesday.

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Travel Day – from Tulelake to Eagle Lake

Friday (June 25): Yesterday was the second travel day to get to Eagle Lake. I left Tulelake about 10:00 AM after a rough night. One of the car alarms in the RV parking area kept going off, repeating until about 11:00PM. Around 12:45AM, I realized I was awake and noticed flashing red lights penetrating the little openings in my trailer curtains. I saw two ambulance/EMT trucks parked directly in front of my site. The EMTs were walking in and out of the fifth wheel trailer parked next to me. After about 30 minutes, they all left. Around 4:00AM, same deal – flashing red lights, two emergency vehicles and probably the same responders. In the better light, I noticed that all the emergency personnel were casually dressed (blue jeans, sweatshirts, ball caps) and surmised that they were all volunteer responders. This time they gurneyed an older man out to the ambulance and left. I went back to sleep with some assurance that he was being taken care of.

On the road again, driving through upper Northern California
Remnants of 2020 wildfires

The drive was warm and many travelers were on the road. The drive took about 3 hours to reach Merrill Campground at Eagle Lake. The campground is well laid out, the sites are spacious with plenty of space between them. Restrooms are convenient, but the nearest shower facilities are a couple miles away at the marina.

Campsite 141 at Merrill Campground, Eagle Lake Recreation Area, Lassen National Forest
Merrill Campground is a very nice campground. Most sites have electrical and water, a few have full hookups.
Eagle Lake, as viewed from the Merrill Campground

The campground has a nice beach at the lake, but the low water level puts the beach about 150 yards from its normal reach.

Finally unpacked the bike and took it for a ride
Looking back at Merrill Campground from the beach

I rode my bike around the campground, checking out the various loops. It was fun to see a good representation of A-Frame trailers around the campground. I would guess about 12-15 trailers. I’m looking forward to meeting up with the attendees of the rally.

The evening closed out with a thunderstorm, naturally. It was more wind than rain and lasted about an hour. I realized I was tired, after a low-sleep night and a few hours driving in the heat, I was ready for some sleep.

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Folsom Lake weekender

Folsom Lake is about 15 miles from home – this is the closest to home that I’ve camped, except maybe my driveway. Two other couples had planned to camp on this weekend and invited me to join them. I guess that made me a “fifth wheel” camper. 🙂

The campground has a section for tent camping (no hookups) and RV camping, with full hookups. The spaces are large with quite a bit of room and foliage between them. Restrooms were also available.

The RV camping section has full hookups

The water level at Folsom Lake has been extremely low due to drought conditions. We all walked down to the water level; the terrain looked a bit moon-like. It was extremely windy, so we stayed close to the campsites for the rest of the time.

This spot would be underwater during a normal rainfall season.

For one of the couples, this was the maiden voyage in their new large pop-up trailer. This gave them a chance to test out the functions and features of their new trailer. The other couple was camping in their T@B large teardrop trailer. It was a fun weekend of hanging out, telling stories and eating great food. We even had some baking experiments. The new pop-up trailer has an oven, so they baked cinnamon rolls and other goodies. I baked up some brownies (from scratch) in my Weber grill, using an indirect heating method. They came out great, so this was a good chance to experiment with that method. With being so close to stores, any cooking mishaps could have been easily remedied with a quick drive. Fortunately, that was not necessary.

This weekend also gave me a chance to test out the new refrigerator. It worked great, so I’m going to declare that replacement project a success.

I’ll remember this campground for the future, especially if I’m itching to get out and don’t want to drive far. There are plenty of bike trails in the area, for both mountain biking and paved trail rides. And I’m sure a pizza delivery could be easily arranged, too, if so desired.

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Jackson Rancheria RV Park in January

Claudia and Bruce reserved a few days at the Jackson Rancheria RV Park, located at the casino near Jackson, California. I gladly accepted their invitation to join them. The RV park is very clean, with grass areas between the parking spaces. The park is located near the top of a ridge, and as a result, we had some very strong winds on the first night.

We explored the surrounding area, including a short trip to Sutter Creek, a nearby gold country town. It was a pleasant walk along the main street, although many of the businesses are closed on a Tuesday.

Main Street in Sutter Creek
Sutter Creek winds through the town
I thought this pipe wrap looked like a giraffe

We also checked out some of the gold country artifacts in Jackson. The Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park featured a couple of large tailing wheels from the mining operation in Jackson in the early 1900’s. One of the tailing wheels is still standing while the other one had collapsed. A few years ago, the standing tailing wheel was encased in a large building to protect it.

This tailing wheel had collapsed – it is still part of the display at the park
This large building surrounds a tailing wheel.
I took this photo of the tailing wheel in the late 1970’s, before it was enclosed by the large building.
Looking through the tailing wheel, the Jackson Mine is visible in the distance.
The same view about 45 years ago.

On Wednesday, we ventured to Pardee Lake Recreation area and Camanche Reservoir, both about 10-15 miles from Jackson. The dam at Pardee Lake is unusual. The road on the top of the dam is one lane width, so traffic is controlled by stoplights at each end of the dam.

Pardee Lake and dam
The stoplight controls traffic on the one lane road on the top of the dam
It was rather eerie to drive on the top of the dam. I couldn’t stop to take a look.

On Thursday, I drove in to Jackson to run a couple or errands. While in town, I took some photos at a local cemetery and an Orthodox Church. I also went back to the tailing wheels for another shot of a different wheel. It is closer to the Jackson Mine.

The Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson
Another tailing wheel

We headed for home on Friday. Even though the RV Park is part of the casino property, we didn’t venture into the casino. The weather on this trip was pleasant, especially for January. The Jackson Rancheria RV Park is another great destination that isn’t very far from home. The gold country area is a great place to explore rustic settings and small towns with plenty of history.

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Maiden Voyage – Coachland RV Park in Truckee, CA

First trip out – four nights at Coachland RV Park in Truckee

My first adventure in the Expedition was only about an hour and a half away, in Truckee, California. Claudia and Bruce had booked four nights at Coachland RV Park and invited me to join them, so I jumped at the chance to try out the new trailer. We had adjoining spaces between some tiny home rental units in the park.

Coachland RV Park is along the eastern edge of Truckee, just off Highway 89. It is a convenient location for mountain adventures, including Squaw Valley, the north shore of Lake Tahoe and other lakes in the area. The RV Park has numerous sites with full hook-ups, an updated laundry room, restrooms with showers and a good-sized community room. Most of the other amenities were not open due to the Covid shutdown.

Breakfast!

Our first morning began with what is becoming a tradition for us: scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes and mimosas! After breakfast we ventured out (in separate cars) for a nice hike along Sagehen Creek Trail, just a few miles north of Truckee. 

Sagehen Creek
Fall colors

After the hike, we explored a couple of campgrounds in the area, as potential future destinations.


On our second day, Thursday, we drove the other direction along Highway 89, towards the north shore of Lake Tahoe. We stopped briefly at a roadside parking area to check out an old shack nestled among some aspen trees. 

We continued on, past Lake Tahoe into Nevada, to Spooner Lake for a short hike around the lake’s perimeter.

On the way back from Spooner Lake, we stopped at beautiful Sand Harbor Beach along Lake Tahoe’s north shore. This location is very popular and often crowded during the warmer months. Fortunately for us, it was a little later in the afternoon and most of the people had already come and gone.

Sand Harbor Beach on the north shore of Lake Tahoe
Beautiful clear water of Lake Tahoe
Claudia and Bruce at Sand Harbor

On Friday, our last full day, we had planned to stay at the campground. Around midday, I noticed an unusual number of fire and law enforcement vehicles gathering in the campground. Shortly afterward, a couple of police officers came over to the campsite and told me that we needed to evacuate the campground. A few spaces over, an individual had barricaded himself inside his RV and was threatening to turn on the propane. So, Claudia, Bruce and I headed over to a brewery for some lunch and cold beer. We stayed there a few hours, but still no indication that we could return to our campsites. We went back to the RV Park and learned the evacuation order was still in effect. We waited near the entrance for a few more hours until the “all clear” signal was delivered. No explosions. What an unusual way to end a camping trip.

All entries to the RV Park were blocked for several hours

Overall, my trailer performed well. I had some issues with the refrigerator. The first day or so it seemed to work fine, but suddenly it began to warm up. It was more drastic than just not cooling, it was actually getting very warm. I use two wireless temperature sensors to monitor the temps inside the freezer and fridge compartments. During the night, the outside temperature was 34°, the room temperature of my trailer was 44° and the freezer compartment was 56°. I knew this was a problem and turned off the refrigerator for the remainder of the trip. I had brought along an ice chest as a backup solution and put into service.

I knew I would be dealing with the malfunctioning refrigerator in the days ahead. I wasn’t surprised by the problem, the couple who sold me the trailer warned me that they had trouble with it; their solution was a Yeti cooler. 

With the cold temperatures overnight, it was cold inside the trailer. I used a small ceramic heater for heat at night and my sleeping bag kept me toasty, as long as I stayed inside it and kept it zipped up.
Otherwise, no complaints on the trailer. We headed back home for more tinker-time!


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