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The Darkness

By the time most of you get around to reading this post, I’ll be several hours into my first day at Wine Spectator.

Before getting underway with the new job, I took a couple of days at the beginning of last week to go camping with Amber and my friend/roommate, Alex.

All three of us live lives attached to computers and mobile devices, not because we like to, but because our work often dictates that we do. Amber, with her cake business is constantly in a state of responding to emails and taking phone calls. Alex, when not selling wine, is the social media guru for Hawkes Wine (although she also enjoys spending a fair amount of time finding photos to post to Facebook like, William DaFoe and William DaFriend). And while I, admittedly spend a fair amount of time Facebooking, most of my computer time is from writing.

Camping two hours north of Healdsburg at Richardson Grove, just south of Humboldt was just what the doctor ordered; free of cell phones and disconnected from the rest of the world for a couple of days.

We left on what was arguably one of the hottest days of the summer for just about every town north of Healdsburg. The further north we drove, the temperature reading in the car slowly climbed every few miles before topping out at 107. That first night, it didn’t really cool down until well after we went to bed. Before leaving the house, I grabbed a sheet to take just in case it was hot at night (and I tend to be a hot sleeper anyway); Amber scoffed at me, “you really think we’re going to need that? Suggesting that a sleeping bag would be all she needed. “You never know,” I said as we continued to pile bags full of groceries and utensils, and games into the car. Needles to say, she was thankful that I brought the sheet. Neither of us were thankful for the hole in our air mattress however, which we only discovered well into the pitch-dark night.

The darkness is just one of many things I love about camping. Darkness brings with it so many good things. First is the stars. Unless you’re in a cave, there is no darker place in nature than in the thick of a redwood grove. The dark is a dark you can’t describe, and the few patches of sky in the canopy reveal clusters of stars that can only be seen outside of the glare from city lights.

The darkness brings out all the creepy-crawly bugs that flock to the dimly lit light of the communal bathroom. Critters bigger and stranger than you have ever seen rest above the stalls and sinks, and hide in the shadowy corners. While most of you probably don’t find this a good thing, the creatures of the campground bathroom fascinate me.

And in the darkness, you can’t see the blackness that the soles of your feet have acquired after walking around in sandals and not showering for two days. The darkness hides your stench and griminess.

Darkness is the time for campfires and s’mores. Crackling flames throw just enough glow on your face while whispers of smoke cling to your clothes. Roasting marshmallows in the dark seems a reflective time; a time where you can sit pensively and think about the soaring trees all around you, or the trickling creek you dipped your toes into on a hike. Nothing else matters except for minding the perfectly browned edges of a swelling puff of sugar.

Amber and I were quite enthusiastic when we switched campsites after arriving. Our original campsite, number 156, was on the other side of the river, devoid of redwood trees – or any trees for that matter. The ranger gave us number 72 instead, which turned out to be pretty awesome.

“This is the best campsite! It’s spacious; there’s a lot of privacy from the trees; the bathroom is not far away; and there’s a spigot right next out front – best site ever!” Amber stated as we began setting up camp. Campsite number 72 immediately felt like home.

A room with a view

When Amber camped as a kid, it was in a camper. When I camped as a kid, it was just as we were that night, in the elements, affected only by the strength of our campfire and seemingly ineffective citronella candles. I had to assure Amber that I was capable of preparing meals over a campfire, and that I had all the necessary gadgets and items we would need to get us through a few days.

Growing up, camping was our family vacation. Every year we camped in various places throughout California. Over the years, Mom and Dad created a camping checklist of all the necessary items we needed to bring, and then strategically shopped for food to feed a family of five for three or sometimes, four nights. Even though I was rarely active in the cooking of our meals, I was an astute observer. My family ate more than just hot dogs and a can of baked beans. We ate meals that could be prepared in the comforts of an actual kitchen, but we did so with only a campfire and gas stove at our disposal.

Our first night, Amber and I set up camp while Alex drove up separately,  arriving around dusk. We chatted about the heat and drank a refreshing bottle of Grenache Blanc, (yes we drank Grenache Blanc, because that’s how we get down when we camp) while I tended to the fire, which had a 2 1/2lb. tri-tip sitting on a grill just out of reach of the flames that were stretching to touch the fat on the outside of the meat. Darkness officially set on our campsite and the mosquitoes began to feast on us, but we hadn’t the slightest care in the world as we sat down to a gourmet camping spread. Amber and Alex were impressed by my ability to cook a perfectly medium tri-tip over the campfire; as well as prepare foil packet potatoes and peppers and onions. We were all equally impressed however, by our “smoked bagels” that we ate for breakfast on our last morning, as they acquired a nice bit of smokiness after only a few minutes on the grill.

A belly full of food and wine should have put me right to sleep, but it didn’t. All the noises that stir in the night don’t bother me, but the semi-trucks barreling down the nearby freeway however, do. And I slept like shit the first night (the deflated air mattress might have had something to do with that as well).

Amber, Alex, and I ate well over 2 1/2 days, and we drank very well too.

Good beer and good wine were not left out. Having alcohol was a nice upgrade from the grape and orange soda of my youth, and certainly helped me sleep through the traffic noises of the night. When it came time to vacate, leaving our beloved campsite number 72 was bittersweet. I couldn’t wait to get home and shower, but I also would have loved to spend another day or two slowly absorbing the darkness.

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