Saturday, July 9, 2011

Camping without horses, with bonus horses!

Over the holiday weekend I went camping with Mel and her adorable puppy. We're both horse campers who are temporarily without camping horses, so we set off into the wilderness with just our dogs for company.

Well, not really wilderness. We met up at Nevada City, which is doubly misnamed - it's in California, and it's hardly a city. Skillman Campground, the site of the Wild West ride, was reserved that weekend, so we stayed a couple miles down the road at White Cloud.

I got there first and got my truck tent set up. I love that thing, and I'm on the verge of recommending it - I want to see how it does in a real rainstorm and in colder weather before I gush its praises.

It's a little lower down than Reno, only three or four thousand feet. A little more humid, but with all the lovely trees you'd ever want to see. We just chilled out and talked the first night. We ate my lettuce with dinner. I grew something, and it tasted really good!! Saturday we got up, drank coffee and talked for a couple hours, then briskly hiked over to Skillman.

Part of the trail to Skillman is the Wild West trail, so it was cool to hike it and think about riding it. I haven't done a forest endurance ride yet, but I did a lot of forest trail riding in Memphis. It was similar - the trail was much nicer, because it's a hiking/biking/horse trail and not an outlaw trail cut out by four-wheelers. Definitely single track, but there were spots where you could edge a horse off the trail to let people pass.

The most awesome thing was the lack of spiderwebs. In Memphis we'd dutifully take turns riding first in line - the first person eats all the spiderwebs. There just weren't many in the Sierras.

We found a mysterious little concrete tank beside the trail! It looked like a stock tank, but I don't think anyone's ever run stock in that forest. I guess it was some kind of catchment system for the snowmelt. But Cersei knows a good thing when she sees it, and she immediately plunged right in and got a big drink and cooled off. Mel's puppy Tess got a dainty little drink, and we continued on our way.

There's a day-use trailer parking area about halfway between White Cloud and Skillman, and that's where we saw the poker ride signs. When we started seeing horses, I put Cers back on the leash and we kept making our way very slowly toward Skillman.

We were, of course, model dog-owning citizens. We got our mutts off the trail, on leash, and spoke loudly to the riders as they approached. The first few groups went by without a problem, then we came to The Wreck.

There were three horses tied to trees off the trails, with one guy watching the horses. We edged past them, a little confused, and came upon an injured rider and a woman keeping him company. We talked to them for a few minutes while more riders slowly came past. He'd come off his horse somehow, but when he tried to stand up his knees buckled, so he sat down to wait for help. It didn't look like a major injury, but of course I thought of Kate and wondered if there was something worse happening. But someone had gone back for help, so there wasn't much for us to do except keep hiking.

I don't think either of us really realized just how big that poker ride was. We were only a mile or so from Skillman, and that was our completely arbitrary goal, and if there's one thing endurance riders do, it's get to the arbitrary goal. So we kept on - we'd hike as fast as possible for a hundred feet or less, then duck off the trail and loudly greet the horses as yet another group came by.

It took forever! We nodded knowingly at the endurance riders. I ID'd a cute little Paso - they are so distinctive with their paddling gait. The dogs behaved very well. Neither of them barked or put up a fuss.

About halfway through that part of the trail, I decided poker rides are just Not My Thing. Dixie would be utterly unsuited to standing in a long line of other horses on a singletrack forest trail, and I would be bored senseless. Where's the trotting? No one was trotting!

The whole thing was a classic case of shockwave congestion. I don't mean that in a ghoulish stare-at-the-wreck way, but I think every single rider who came upon the injured fellow had to stop and ask if he was ok and if help was on the way. There was just a huge bottleneck behind him.

Eventually, we hit Skillman. We found more water for the dogs and ate our snacks and I cooled my feet off. Mel was wearing crazy minimalist Vibram shoes so she didn't need cooling off. But I got a good look at Skillman, and I see why entries are limited, trailerpooling encouraged, etc. Beautiful site, but not very expansive.

We thought about hiking on, but decided if we headed back to White Cloud we'd avoid the poker traffic. So away we went, talking and walking.

Cersei had a blast at the tank on the way back. She was tired and hot, but she perked right up and leapt into the water and brought me sticks. Little Tess jumped in the water, paddled around, then jumped out and curled up in Mel's arms. Puppies are so cute when they're tired and cold and wet.

We saw so many new things on the way back! I showed Mel what Evil Cheatgrass looks like, and she showed me Evil Poison Oak. Everything was very young, if that makes sense - it looked like May but it was really July. The Sierras had an amazing winter and the snow took months longer to melt. (Squaw Valley was still open for skiing that weekend!)

I found a magnolia. I have no idea what a freakin magnolia tree was doing growing in the California Sierras, but there it was. And we saw these pretty blue flowers - lupines, I think?

The trail opened out and there was an amazing view of Scotts Flat lake, too!

Eventually we realized that we weren't just seeing the same trail with new eyes, we weren't seeing the same trail at all. We'd missed a turn. I cussed my dog, who was ranging ahead of us and had clearly led us astray. We discussed how Dixie would also have led us astray, but Farley actually has functioning trailer radar and would've urged us onto the right trail.

My feet were hot and I slurped the last of my elyte water out of my camelbak while Mel consulted the GPS. She figured out how far back the turn was and we set back off. We took a rather obvious (in retrospect) fork in the road, climbed one more steep hill, and were suddenly back on familiar ground.

When we got back the dogs collapsed together and put off such major Z's that we decided it was nap time. I slouched down in my chair and went to sleep for a bit, then woke up enough to stagger off to bed. I think Mel did the same but I was too busy snoozing to notice her! One glorious nap later and I was ready to face the world again. The GPS reported that our hike was 10 miles - pretty impressive (to me) on foot, but really makes you appreciate the horse/bike/car as a mode of transportation.

I built a fire and sadly overcooked our steaks. Camping cooking is hard, yall! I burned the eggs both mornings - stupid 1 millimeter thick camping cookware - and totally misjudged my fire for the steaks. It wasn't hot enough to really sear the steaks, but it was hotter than I thought, so I ended up on the well done side of things. :( The nice thing is that if you're tired, anything tastes great!

Sunday we woke up early, drank coffee and talked still more! then packed up and headed out. If you're keeping track at home, that's more talking than I usually do in two weeks - but it was FUN! No really awkward silences, lots of good conversation ranging far and wide. I can't wait to do it again, with or without horses.


  1. I love those truck bed tents :)

  2. When you get the hang of campout cooking, let me know! Nice photos--especially enjoyed the ones of the pups.

  3. Great post--love the photos and the exhausted doggies!

    That purple flower isn't lupin, lupin is a stalk-y kind of flower, although it's a short stalk in the mountains. I'm not sure what your purple flower is, sorry. The orange flower is paintbrush, and the pink flower is wild rose.

    Obviously, I'm not the botanist in the group!

    If y'all ever decide to do a forest ride, c'mon over. We have plenty of them here!

  4. It certainly sounds like a great time was had by all - except maybe the rider with the unplanned dismount - and the flowers are beautiful. We have a huge amount of late bloomers here, too, because of the late snows, but it makes for great rides. Aren't exhausted dogs great?

  5. ah, lucky you, makes me want to go camping in the mountains!!!! I worked on trails for the forest service for 7 seasons so did mega hiking/camping in the backcountry. loved it. but now i love car camping. i like to have my SPECIAL PILLOW with me. nothing wrong with that. especially when i can do day hikes in the mtns.
    - The Equestrian Vagabond

  6. Great pictures and it sounds like a great camping trip! I've tried cooking steaks while camping too, and they turned out about like yours. I thought with our puny fire I'd need to cook them for quite a while, but as it turned out, I could have stopped much, much earlier. Now I stick to burgers or dogs. :)

  7. I had so much fun on this trip! Great to hear that you weren't totally annoyed by my endless chatter. :). I like silence too but its almost like when I get to be around someone that I can identify with its like "whoo hoo!!!". I can't wait to go on another trip - we should go somewhere where neither of us have been. It is different seeing those trails on foot-especially because i don't live at elevation and a 10 mile brisk hike is definitely a HiKE for me. I was sore!

  8. Thanks for the IDs, Aarene!

    Merri, I totally brought my special pillow and it was soooo lovely. It's way too bulky for backpacking but it makes truck camping perfect.

  9. Here in Georgia, where the spider webs are also plentiful, we tell the lead rider that webs are wonderful for the complexion and should never be wiped off. We also encourage snipe hunting, too. *vbeg*

    Sounds like a wonderful camping adventure and tired dogs are always a fantastic thing. Great conversation is a joy.

  10. Beautiful pics! I was just up in Bear Valley over the weekend at a friend's property that is also on that same trail that runs through Skillman. She's closer to HWY 80 though. We decided we're going to take the horses up there to overnight soon. I'm so excited. All the late rain and snow kept everything so green and pretty.


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