The Healing Wilderness (Sierra National Forest, CA)

Away from Orange County we went, as we headed for the beautiful and (hopefully) peaceful Sierra National Forest.

To our chagrin, the drive there was the opposite of peaceful. We were going up the mountain, and man was it a mountain. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Scottie more stressed out than he was during that drive. And we work at weddings together! It didn’t help that he’d just emptied poop tanks in 113 degree heat and that we were at the end of our six hour, turned eleven hour, drive with a totally over-it toddler. More than just the mountain was treacherous at this point.

Once we arrived, we set up camp and made a real dinner (if you pretend you don’t see the hot dogs) fast enough that we almost believed we were actually the camping pros we’re supposed to be now. For the first time, we felt like we were killing it with this whole RV camping thing. And thankfully, at this stop, that feeling continued!

STILL LEARNING…
There’s a lot about “RV living” that I intentionally stayed ignorant about, because this trip wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t. There are some parts I hope my dear sweet husband will allow me stay ignorant about, like where the poop goes and how dangerous it really was for us to drive back down the mountain at the end of this stop. But there are other parts he can’t protect me from, that I’m now forced to reckon with.

For instance, I casually skimmed by, not really sure what the big deal was, when RVers online would fantasize about nice long showers at hotels. I now know it’s because you soap up in the shower with the water off, then turn it on to rinse off as fast as you can before shutting it off again. Maybe some really green people always do things this way, and I think it is a bonus that we’ll learn a lot about conservation on this trip, however I’m still not a big fan of the showering situation. I’ve learned the hard way that even when practicing special RV water techniques, (like dumping dirty dish and bathwater into the toilet instead of draining it from the sink and tub like normal people) we STILL ran out of water AND filled up our water tanks after just two showers and three days of use. It didn’t help that I found out we’d run out of water right when I had a head full of shampoo and no way to rinse it out.

Overall, I’m glad I didn’t learn all of this (and trust me, there’s much more!) before the trip. Because after some of the experiences we had together as a family in the Sierras, I’m starting to think (or at least pray really, really hard) that it’s all worth the trouble!

THE NATURE…
Once we rested, rested, and rested some more (if you missed the post about our first stop in Orange County, it was a doozy), we finally worked up the courage to actually attempt to accomplish something. First stop, Rancheria Falls. We brought the stroller and made it to the top. Celia and I enjoyed the view for about 10 minutes before we were both done…

…while Scottie on the other hand, found the missing link to his soul.

I’ve always known I married someone much more outdoorsy than myself, but the way he responded to as he put it, “seeing water in the forest”, was something truly special. He was more alive and he looked like he hadn’t just lived through one of the most stressful weeks of his life. I think I even saw some of his grey hairs turn back to blond!

We ventured over to the lake near us, which turned out to be quite a memorable experience!

The water consisted mostly of melted snow, so it was beyond the kind of cold we’re familiar with. I dipped my toes and easily decided to settle in for an afternoon on the shore. Scottie sat on a rock for 45 minutes while intensely working on the courage to fully swim, while Celia waded in ankle deep.

Scottie finally went in and then beckoned Celia to join him. She paused for a minute like she was thinking, then to my astonishment, she started going in after him! I seriously can’t even explain how cold this water was. But she just kept going, inch by inch, whimpering and semi-crying as she continued moving forward! Both Scottie and I were completely stunned that she was actually doing it! It was like she’d just made up her mind to be brave and keep going no matter how hard!

She’s done a lot of impressive things in her short little life, like moving from a crying lump to a real person who walks and talks, but I think this was my proudest moment so far. My little not-quite-two-year-old, was choosing all on her own to be BRAVE! I didn’t even know she was capable of that!

She made it to Scottie… and he proceeded to dunk her entire head!  I thought for sure that was going to end this madness. When he pulled her back out of the water, her eyes were bigger than he’d ever seen them and she couldn’t breathe for a second. But when she did finally catch her breath, he said it looked like it was the best breath she’d ever taken.

Then they splashed and played in their cold, cold world like the best of friends who were experiencing an exhilaration that only they could understand in that moment.

That went on until Scottie looked up at me with a different type of wide-eyed expression.
“I lost my wedding ring”.
Nooooo. For a second, I couldn’t believe it. Literally FIVE DAYS before this, we’d said how crazy it was that after twelve years of marriage, we both still had our original rings. We were telling friends how many people we’ve known who’ve lost rings in the ocean when the cold water made their fingers shrink. Scottie then demonstrated how in the water, he moves his ring to his right hand because it’s bigger and stays on better. Ah hubris, it will get you every time.

This is the look of a man who’s just lost his wedding ring.

We did our obligatory looking, but the entire lake floor was lined with small pebbles. Any one of those little Golloms could’ve been hoarding the ring. This ring by the way, was made out of titanium from an F-16 fighter jet, by a friend who worked in the air force. Not exactly what you’d call replaceable. Especially since that friend has a new job now.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel as devastated as I thought I would be. We were both very sad, but I felt like we could move on with our lives and not feel as weighty of a loss as I would’ve expected.

CELIA MOMENTS…
It helped that we went straight from the greedy ring eating lake, to Celia’s first ever campfire and outdoor s’more roasting! The night continued on and all was not lost with the ring.

The next day, Scottie took Celia on a hike to a place called Indian Pools. It was another moment where Celia blew him away with her ability to challenge herself!

This time it was her hiking skills. She was climbing boulders and handling hills like she’d been born on them. This is a girl who couldn’t even stand up on her own a year ago!

While on the hike, Celia did one of my favorite things ever. After they were a ways in, Scottie said “OK, it’s time to turn around and walk back”. She looked at him confused for a second, and then turned around and started walking backwards!
Of all the sweetness in that, my favorite part is how she trusted him enough to do what he asked, no matter how crazy it seemed!

Another funny little tidbit about Celia in the forrest. She’s learning to play hide and seek. So she squeezes her eyes as tight as she can and counts ALL the way to one, about three or four times in a row (“one, one, one”), and then looks for you. Or SHE hides and then runs out to find YOU as soon as you finish counting. She also thinks that one of the only places you can hide is behind a tree. So every time we go on a walk in the forest, she thinks we’re there to play hide and seek and yells “hide!”, then runs behind a tree before we have a chance to opt out of the game.

CAMPGROUND LIVING…
One of the things I remained intentionally ignorant about before our trip, was our living situation. When I thought of our visit around America, I saw us waking up all by ourselves to rolling hills of perfectly green natural grass, in a beautiful field with trees, then spending our days strolling along the streets of Portland or Austin. I remember when I bought Celia some clothes we’d be taking on this trip, my mom looked at me really strangely for awhile before gently suggesting that maybe Celia would need some camping clothes? “No mom, we’ll do SOME camping, but we’ll be spending a lot of time in cities where these cute blush and cream colored shorts will go great with her all-white tennis shoes”.

OK, so my mom was right. We are now professional campers. I didn’t know this was going to happen.

I’ve noticed on Instagram (which I’m finally using and posting daily pics of our trip! @bchanson), that many of the other full-time RVing families are scaling mountains with their buff arms and paddling down raging rivers with their makeup-less faces. This is not me AT ALL. I am definitely in a world where I don’t fit in!

My mom spent my entire childhood trying to make me a camper, but very little of that stuck. The parts I did catch though, were that:

1. We are tent campers. As in, that’s part of our genetics and you can’t change DNA. OK, MAYBE we were pop-up tent trailer campers on some of the longer trips when we HAD to do it.

2. We don’t stay in campgrounds with flushing toilets. If we stay at an official campground at all, we use outhouses and only go places where you can’t see your neighbors who are one spot over. Camping is about open spaces in the natural world, not crowds or comforts.

So now that we’re staying in whatever campgrounds are available, which will eventually include RV parks with full showers, laundry, and electricity, I feel like I’ve turned my back on my people. And I feel like they’re bitter about it. When we roll up in our fancy carhouse, and plop our loud generator next to a family of six all sharing a tiny tent and huddling under a small tree when it rains, I feel like a terrible person.

Of course, these people don’t know that we do this every day and that a full six months of no a/c or heat, is different than their one night of it. Which is another thing that’s surprised me! In my vision of what our accommodations would be like during the times we DID stay in a campground, I think I was picturing more of an actual RV park (we’ll see, we haven’t actually stayed in one yet), where it would be mostly retired couples, and a few families on longer summer vacations with whom we’d share RV living tips. I didn’t realize we’d just be at regular old campsites where everyone stays a night or two and then leaves. Where’s the community BBQ’s and the borrowing of eggs? At the expensive RV parks is the answer, I guess. And we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, it is kind of fun being in campsites full of families bonding and kids having the time of their lives. At least that way we don’t have to worry that our kid is the loud one waking everyone up early!

It is interesting to stay that close to other campers. Like, listen-to-one-another’s-conversation close. You do get to know people faster, even if it is only for a day or two! Plus, it’s made me notice how I really talk to my family. And let me tell you, it’s not as kindly as I thought it was. It’s all in the tone. It’s not what I say, like “move that, or can you help me?” It’s the sarcastic, “you-should’ve-known-better-you-idiot” tone that I take when I say it. Have you ever had times where you say something to your spouse that feels normal to you and then realize a friend overheard it and you suddenly feel like you were a total jerk? I have. And now that we’re staying in close quarters to new strangers all the time, it’s happened to me quite frequently. Apparently my tone and attitude towards my husband and daughter, aren’t as innocent as I thought and I have a lot of thinking to do about why, and work to do on how to fix it.

SUMMING IT UP…
So yes, the intentional ignorance about RV living may have hurt me in my preparations, or at the very least caused me to waste a lot of money at kid’s H&M, when I should’ve been buying camping clothes at thrift stores. But I’m here, aren’t I? I’m living on the road with no other home base to speak of! And I wouldn’t be, had I bothered to think it through or get my facts straight.

It’s kind of the same answer I have when people ask how I’m able to handle not knowing if we’ll be able to make money while on the road, where we’ll end up living after all of this, or anything else about my future. Honestly, both this present stage and the future feel like such different worlds with so many unknowns, that it’s impossible to have expectations. It’s all so unclear that even the worries I should have about it all aren’t clear. I’m actually not sure how I’m OK with this level of unknown since it’s not really my personality, but I do know that it was a long process of getting me here that happened over the course of a 12 year marriage, not overnight. But now that I’m here and I don’t have any upfront answers about what to look forward to beyond this stage, I’m OK to just see what happens.

If I knew the exact state, city, and neighborhood I wanted to live in after this, my heart would already be there and planning my roots. Instead, since it really is like a big blank white space when I look into the future, I don’t have anything to get so excited about that it would make me rush through this part of life to get there. As I’ve gotten used to a less and less planned out life, I’ve always seemed to know what the next step to take should be, even if I don’t know the end result. So here we go, day by day. We’ll get there when we’re meant to, and I’ll learn the pieces I need to know as I go!

3 thoughts on “The Healing Wilderness (Sierra National Forest, CA)”

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience. May God bless you in your travels and may you find the place to grow your roots.

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