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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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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Travel Day + Photo Journal – Tulelake, CA

Wednesday, (June 23): Another beautiful sunny morning in Prineville and my last day in Oregon. I got an earlier start than usual and got moving before 10:00 AM.

A last peek at the Oregon peaks, as seen from east of Bend
1964 Chevy Van
I found my next project!
Collier State Park was burned out last year. The campground is still closed.
“Going down that long, lonesome highway…” was the theme song from what TV series? No fair googling.

I was considering making a push and doing the whole distance to the Lassen area in one day. The idea fizzled when I learned that no camping spots were available at the location of the A-frame Rally, the Merrill Campground at Eagle Lake. I stayed committed to my original plan: to stop near the halfway point and spend the night. I had seen some camping options at the Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds, just south of the Oregon border. I was able to acquire a full hookup spot upon arrival.

The RV Park is located on the fairgrounds property, near the back corner. The fairgrounds are small yet attractive. I can imagine this place during the annual fair, with the crowded livestock barns, food vendors and musical entertainment. I noticed a destruction derby is planned during this year’s fair in September.

Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds
The Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds are quiet – the fair is scheduled for September. The RV parking area is right behind where I’m standing.
Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds
Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds
Tulelake/Butte Fairgrounds
Choices, choices

The town of Tulelake is a rural town center. One edge of town hugs the main highway (139) and a bright white water tower boldly announces the town name. Many of the buildings along the main streets are boarded up, most of them appear to have been closed for many years (not just Covid-related). A couple of markets are open, as well as a burger place.

Main Street, Tulelake CA
Main Street, Tulelake CA
Tulelake CA
There is a DMV in town, too.
Tulelake CA
One word: vacancy

Tule Lanes appears to be a former bowling alley – oh, what I would give to be allowed to enter that building with my camera! (Assuming some of the old bowling alley equipment is still present.) Remnants of The Dude!

Main Street, Tulelake CA
My next business venture!
Tulelake CA
It seems they used to make pillows here.
Tulelake CA
I want all of those for my bookshelf at home.
Tulelake CA
I’m not scared, you’re scared.
That might be a fun project, too.
Local high school athletics are well supported in Tulelake.

I didn’t take any photos of the RV park, it appears that many of the patrons are long term residents and I would feel a little too conspicuous snapping photos. Let’s just say we’ll all agree to leave each other in peace.

Tulelake CA
Drive 500 feet out of town and this is what you see.

Tomorrow I’ll make the second leg of this travel stint and should arrive at the A-frame Rally in the early afternoon. It looks like there are some lane-closures on my route, so it might take a little longer than normal. Whatever “normal” is around here.

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EDIT: after publishing this post, I stepped outside and saw this last light of the day. This photo is taken in the RV park after all.

California sunsets are pretty nice, too.

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