Santa Cruz is the only place in California where I feel proud and confident enough to say that I belong there. I only lived there four years and, if you want to be townie-technical, actually only two years did I live in the city of Santa Cruz rather than cradled in the green, lush protection of the UCSC campus. I have visited Santa Cruz quite a few times since I graduated and I have noticed that the city has become a town to me, meaning that it seems to get smaller every time I leave and come back. Except for this last time. On a total romantic whim, I threw my banjo, my laptop and a laundry basket of clean clothes (not bothering to check the actual contents of it, it could have all been socks and underwear, though thank God it wasn’t) into my car and took off on Highway 101 N. The long weekend as a whole was wonderful, but I want to recount the tale of the two impromtu nights camping on the beach.
So two of M Fox’s friends and an errant girlfriend happened also to visit Santa Cruz this fateful (and faithful) weekend. They arrived late Friday night with their duck-taped car packed to the gills. They wanted to go camping on the beach, which seemed like a fine idea except that it was already 10pm and no one had any idea of where to camp. M Fox, who was beside himself with pure puppy-dog joy that he had so many friends to entertain and host, suggested a beach up Highway 1 that would be perfect.
Now. I am a minimalist when I camp. Mostly because I hate carrying shit. Also, there’s a part of me that likes being inconvenienced by camping. “Oh! You know what I really need? Oh. Fuck. I don’t have it. Well. . . what can I use instead. . . ?” I quite enjoy that thought process and I haven’t had the chance to relish it in quite awhile. So I wore jeans and two shirts and brushed my teeth before I left. M Fox had a tent and we grabbed a few blankets. Only one night, right? Why would I bring anything else?
Unbeknownst to me, the cosmic reason why I didn’t bring anything else is because M Fox’s friends decided to bring everything else instead. When we finally found the remote turn off in the dark and managed to peel ourselves out of the car (much like clowns), the unpacking of the car began. Six little backpacks, a inexplicably heavy cooler (which turned out to be empty, for some God forsaken reason) and then of course the four or five unfettered blankets. Two tents. And M Fox’s guitar. Doable for five people. A little overkill, I mused, for one night, but no big deal. Then I saw that in order to get to the beautiful swoop of beach where we would retire, you first had to pick your way down the face of a cliff, riddled with rock booby traps and bird carcasses. I’m not going to say that I have a BAD sense of balance, but I definitely don’t have a GOOD sense of balance. So this was slightly difficult for me. . . did I also mention that we had one flashlight betwixt us?
The beach itself was beautiful. The moon was almost full so the white sand glittered light blue like distant stars. The crashing ocean echoed off the rocky cliffs behind us and so it sounded as though we were in a tunnel of waves. Black silhouetted rock arches stood silent and strong in the water and a small little pool that seeped out from a beach cave lapped peacefully near our camp. We set up our tents in the dark, ran around the beach and teased the ebbing tide and then one by one slunk to our tents to sleep. We probably spent more time getting to the beach than we spent sleeping on it. Again, though, the beach itself was enchanting and we all got such a high off of accomplishing camping on such short notice with no idea what we were doing, that we were all quite smug. The next morning M Fox and I woke up in our Parkfield tent and bemoaned our aching backs and necks since we had cleverly forgotten to bring any sort of padding. M Fox took out his guitar and strummed a bit, but we were quickly chastised by one of his friends in the other tent for being too loud. It was 11am and they still wanted to sleep more. So M Fox and I decided to abandon our lazy campers and walk around.
Okay. Another note about me and camping. Despite how I relish making jokes about how classy and glamorous and Goddess-like I am, I actually don’t mind getting dirty. I’ve actually been surprised and somewhat hurt recently upon realizing that people have been taking my faux-prissiness seriously and actually thinking that I’m some sort of silver-spoon baby. Something for me to consider when I joke from now on. That being said. I do prefer to get dirty on my own terms. I admit, that sounds weird, but it’s true. I mean, God knows I’ve not showered for a week or sat in something disgusting or even gotten bird poop in my hair and had to walk around all day, which is annoying, but not the end of the world. I don’t like it, but I’ll deal with it. However, if I know I’m going to get dirty and stinky and smelly and awful, then bring it on! In fact, I DARE you to try and have dirtier feet than me when I put my mind to it. Good God. My feet can out-filth elephants’ asses in the savannah. I will repeatedly wipe off my hands on my pants REGARDLESS of what I just stuck them into until my clothes beg me for soap. Especially when I go on camping trips, I expect nothing less except total and utter aversion to anything clean, sterile and decent.
That being said.
M Fox wanted to take me to this rock outcropping on the other side of the rock arches. So we timed the waves and made a run for the other, more deserted beach. We dodged Poseidon’s minions, laughing at their futile efforts to soak us (although he had already been punished for his impudence the night before). We found this alien-like piece of kelp that M Fox made into a shofar and he also did some dijerydoo tricks for my amusement. There was one little cove where the rocks were situated in such a way that there were several directions to consider in the timing. Additionally, it wasn’t just about running across to another beach, you had to time the waves perfectly and then leap like a ninja squirrel onto a rock and then scale up the slimy wall to the top. I was a little nervous as I had jeans on and was worried about my flexibility. I let him time it and I followed him. Which was a mistake. “Go!” He said. Go, I did. And so did waves from three directions, slapping my back. Alright. The gloves were off. My attempt to stay dry and clean were ruined. I wish someone had taken a picture of the look I gave him.
There was nothing for it at this point except to peel off my soaking sneakers, socks (they were his, though, mwahaha) and jeans and continue the journey barefoot and in my underwear (which fortunately were similar to Granny panties so they looked like bikini bottoms). I don’t know why I took my cellphone, although I have a feeling that it probably stemmed from a dad warning uselessly batting around my skull. So I tucked my phone in my bra and we took off again. I kept thinking “It’s a damn good thing that I have a sense of humor.” So my bare, sandy, blisteringly white legs are picking their way across the sand and we get to a seaweed graveyard that blocks our path. This wouldn’t have been so bad, as there was a bit of cliff that I could skitter across without having to touch the disgusting kelp spaghetti. That wasn’t the worst part. The flies. OH THE FLIES. SO MANY. Swarms, all over my naked legs. Dirt, mud, stink, unshaven legs/armpits, showerless for weeks, FINE. Bugs? No. Nononono. No. I’m sorry. No bugs. FUCK bugs. Especially when they’re riled and swarming and covering my body and sucking the salt from my thighSAHHHHHH!!!!
M Fox laughed at me. Jerk.
Once that was over and I had sufficiently squealed and shivered the physical memory from my skin, we sallied forth. Our next obstacle was flat rock plains, frequently wetted by the lapping sea and covered in moss and algae of various greens. At this point I had resigned myself to my lot in life (and had noticed the whale-watching boat covered in people anchored right off shore. . . all of them binoculars, of course). I said boldly, “That’s where we’re going right?” while pointing at the tall rock that jutted out into the blue. Before M Fox had time to warn me or qualify his shaky, “Well, yeah, but-” I confidently brushed past him and strode onto the flatlands. . . only to immediately slip and fall flat on my ass, much like a baby in a diaper does when she’s learning to walk. And I started to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. I couldn’t stop. The absurdity. The flies. The underwear. The wet. The algae. The embarrassment. The whole time trying to prove that I wasn’t some stupid girl with no sense of fun or adventure and when I tried to take a step on my own, to lead instead of follow, well. . . I ended up at the bottom on my bottom. Oh Jasmine.
The rest of the trek was uneventful in terms of such minor hiccups, but very primal. I scaled the rock with my bare hands and feet, testing the rock with a quick tug before using it for my full weight. I felt like Golem, except not evil and desperate. I hoped that the whale-watchers were looking at me now, sweat beading on my forehead, lips pressed in determination, eyes alight with victory, legs and arms akimbo as I found footholds and finger grasps. It was great. When I reached the cave mouth, I sat down and watched the ocean. I don’t want to say that I felt that I had “beaten” it, but I definitely conquered some hesitation in myself. That was wonderful. I think M Fox, secretly, was extremely relieved that I wasn’t sulky. He climbed out of the cave and went up to explore the other side of the rock, which I politely declined to follow. He returned and we spent some moments in the cave mouth together before deciding to trek back across the algae flats, the seaweed graveyard (UGH), the six-point wave cove (where we picked up my clothes) and back through the arch. Then we unceremoniously met up with the rest of our sleepy party, packed up all the unused stuff we had struggled to bring in the dark, and went back into town for a delicious Thai lunch. We had gotten a parking ticket, although M Fox, the eternal optimist, offered to pay for it, figuring that all the other times he got away with camping for free evened everything out. What a marvelous way to think of life. I will do well to learn from this.
At this point I didn’t really feel like camping another night. My morale was struggling slightly due to some other factors and I wasn’t really interested in bringing everything back to Santa Cruz, unpack it, then pack it again, then unpack it, go back down the cliff, set it up, and then pack it again. But what I remembered is that an idea’s bad potential is only as bad as you imagine it. So I stopped imagining it. Even with a full day to plan, we still only managed to get back to the campsite at dusk, this time additionally laden with grills, raw chicken drumsticks, various seasoning salts, mushrooms, a case of beer, firewood and charcoal. A veritable feast in the making! M Foxwanted to try and out-fox the parking police, so after we each dropped off a load from his car, we drove around Highway 1 looking for free, all night parking. We tried a Strawberry Farm (where I got to finally use Spanish in a practical manner, go me), but the owner wouldn’t allow it. Lame. We went off-roading in the beach marsh, his poor car tossing us around as we careened around the clifftops, searching for the railroad tracks that would lead us back to our beach. Finally, M Fox pried open a rusted gate and we brazenly trespassed down a fire road and parked behind the railroad tracks in a bush. I had to slide across the roof the car, cop-style, in order to escape the car.
When we got back to camp, pleased with ourselves, we found that his friends and the girlfriend were still desperately trying to start the fire, hadn’t started cooking the food and also hadn’t set up our tent for us. Eagle Scout M Fox strode to the fire, his figurative badges gleaming on his sturdy chest, and I tried to attend to the tent issue. The problem with this was that in the shuffle of cars and packing and unpacking . . . we had forgotten our tent poles. Awesome. I listened to the men ineptly try and fix the fire; they had tried to just set the log on fire instead of using kindling first, but then in an effort to fix it had covered it with beach brush that I think was too green to burn. . . brilliant. Then I watched the girlfriend listlessly rearrange her countless bags and then saw the two empty grills with all our uncooked meat sitting in the sand. I was close to giving up. But instead I did a very very womanly thing and made my hands busy. I started the coals, cooked the turkey hotdogs to satisfy the men and then began on the drumsticks. I know from experience (some good, some bad) that drumsticks take a long time to cook and in the dark with no flashlights (we had forgotten the one that we had) it was going to be challenge to figure out if they were raw. Imagine how great it would have been if we were all vomiting from salmonella all night. My cellphone was quite useful in this raw vs. cooked determination.
The girlfriend started helping me and we invented a system in the wonderful way that women naturally can work together without speaking about the plan. It was great. It felt good to forget about the tent and just let instinct kick in. Men bring raw meat. Women make it edible. M Fox figuring out how to open the beers (since we had ALSO forgotten the bottle opener) was extremely helpful. I guzzled as much alcohol as was polite. The men had finally figured out how to make fire work and it became amusing to listen to them then try and cook the meat faster than the women. Not that it was a competition, but more out of boy-like curiosity; “Hey, let’s see if we can do it this way! Wait, wait, let’s try this too! What if we cut it up first? Wait, we don’t even NEED tongs if we do it this way!” They tried heating up flat rocks like pizza stones and placing the raw chicken on them. Then they tried just sticking the chicken on a stick and putting it directly into the flame. The girlfriend and I watched them fondly, adoringly, as we meticulously rotated our chicken legs and then sweetly called out as they completed cooking. The men would savagely eat the cooked drumsticks, bones sticking out of their greasy, stubbly mouths, as they concocted yet more ways to cook the chicken that barely worked. It was fun. Lots of giggling and cuddling and congratulating ourselves.
M Fox of course had to bring in more friends and so at the distant sound of laughter on the shore, he bounded across the sand and brought in five more people who were readily supplied with weed. Pipes were passed around, leftover chicken legs were offered and eaten, I drunkenly set up nest of a rug I thought to bring, some blankets and the useless skin of our tent. After our guests left, M Fox decided to sprint back and forth across the beach (both drunk and stoned and asking the four of us very earnestly to gauge “how fast”). Incoherent, sandy and tired, we sunk into our nest and slept. It really couldn’t have worked out any better.
We were woken up at 10am by two State Park Troopers. They were slightly annoyed, but more in the resigned way that parents are annoyed when their kids scribble on the walls in washable markers. It’ll be easy to fix, but, c’mon, kids, couldn’t you have not done this. . .? They asked for our licenses and firmly told us that we could be fined $1200 each (EEK) for such infractions as drinking alcohol, having glass, camping and starting fires. They said that they would let us off easy this time, but next time it’s curtains! We meekly apologized and thanked them. Then we cleaned up our beach, better than when we found it, packed up (with significantly less stuff considering the amount of food, booze and wood we consumed) and, free as birds with no debt, we scaled the cliff one last time and went home, sandy, satisfied and happy.
Overall, I really did enjoy myself. My sense of humor is usually based upon the absurd, awful things that have happened to me, so it seems like I talk about stupid shit more often than I should. But it really only accentuates the incredible payoff of all the risks that I take, no matter how big or small.