Travel During Pandemic … Good Idea?

It’s been a year of no travel. It’s been a year of Covid-19 cases rising, deaths, illness, quarantining and keeping in your “bubble”. Some, but not enough, people are getting their vaccinations, but once I got both of my shots I contemplated a birding, bicycling, camping trip in my converted Honda Element with most nights me sleeping in my tent.

My travel goals for this trip were to discover/photograph birds, enjoy time on my bicycle while riding roads, bike lanes and/or bike paths, meet people or see new things – exactly what travel should be wherever and whenever – an adventure! And so California it is!

I drove the southern route of Arizona, Interstate 8, with its quiet grasslands, noted places to visit another time: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I knew every time a huge beef cattle feedlot was near … there are a few smelly ones on this route. Fields of solar panels and others with concave mirrors. Sand dunes miles long and wide where off-road vehicle drivers tore through the dunes, and hiking trailheads visited by other people. 

On the out-skirts of the city of San Diego, traffic and noise became my new normal. This continued for more than an hour, all the way to the campground I was to overnight for 4 nights. It was a basic tent site with no water, electricity or wifi at the site, and unfortunately the interstate highway traffic could be heard each night. For a person who usually sleeps in a quiet neighborhood at home, this noise took some getting used to each night.

In all the years I have backpacked and set up a tent in NYS, or Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho, or any of the New England States, I always had enough organic material to pound tent stakes into the ground and/or a rock to pound them in. I began to set up my tent and discovered the hardest land, plus no available rocks! This is not an advertisement for the insulated Klean Kanteen but it became my hammer to knock in the 8 tent stakes. Sure the water bottle is dented and I have since bought a replacement, but I held onto my “hammer” in case I should need it again on this trip.

That’s my tent at San Mateo State Park Campground, San Onofre, CA

The walk to the beach trailhead is 1.5 miles from the campground. It’s not the prettiest of walks and with mountain lion warning signs I was sure to not return close to dusk or to be running on the trail. (I have read to many mountain lion stories.) 

As I approach the beach this is part of the Trestles Wetlands Natural Resource. At the beach, the surfers were busy catching a wave or on their way home, hauling their boards by E-bikes, wagon, skateboard or walking and carrying all their gear. This “Trestles Surf” zone is known for the various waves surfers enjoy. Their sign provided a great explanation.

One bird, long-billed dowitcher, made me happy as it stood around long enough for me to photograph it.

Long-billed dowitcher

On my walk back to the campground I read the trail signs. The Acjchemen (A-ha-che-men) lived in this ancient village Panhe, meaning “place by the water” for thousands of years before the Spanish explorers arrived. The Spanish created permanent settlements and built 21 missions along California’s El Camino Real or “Royal Highway”. The people of Panthe were a major source of labor for the construction of San Juan Capistrano, further north from here, built in 1776. 

The first baptism took place a mile inland from the campground I am at. The dying children were baptized, thus the street to the campground had been named “Cristianitos”. (I wondered where the road name originated and now I know!)

Another trail sign told the story of Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone who was a war hero during World War II. He had been awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts at Guadalcanal and after he died at Iwo Jima he was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart.  

I walked back to the campground and the wind was blowing! I was a bit concerned when I thought I knew where my tent was yet did not see it. But around another corner there it was; making me realize I need to add weight inside it during the day so it is not somewhere else when I return from any of my upcoming day’s activity.

Between the wind, the highway traffic noise and a fellow camper’s music, I am sure to find some beat to hum myself to sleep tonight! And if not, earplugs will come to the rescue. Today I was near no people, outdoors, and hoping to continue this way for the next days away from viral concerns.

Camping At Catalina State Park

Second adventure: My Honda Element “camper” camping this time was to see how comfortable I would be sleeping with my bicycle and that gear also packed into the back area of the car. Plus, I wanted to determine if the additional thermamest I added did provide more cushioning under me for my sleeping comfort. So off I went to Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, AZ.

I arrived in the late afternoon, walked to other campgrounds for RV’s and see the park layout, checked out the very clean restroom and shower building, walked the bridle trail to other hiking trails, talked with bicyclists who pedaled in, and then set up my sleeping area in my car for the night. I added a 3/4 length thermamest to my bed padding since the last time sleeping out the bed reminded me of the very hard ones I slept on when in China! 

After eating my dinner and talking with my neighbor who kindly offered their chili, I walked up the ridge behind my car overlooking our campground. As I looked down on the vehicles, in this no water or electricity per site and/or tenting area, I had to chuckle as I searched for where my car “camper” was located. My Honda Element was dwarfed by the vans and trailers, all self-contained vehicles. Across the campground most tents were in a grassy area. Since I was not setting up a tent and wanted to park near my picnic table this was my best spot.

A few of us were standing on the ridge as we watched the sunset. People always find my story interesting in how I sleep in the back part of my car, even with a bicycle, and still can pack all my gear in the car too. The sunset was beautiful and we all stayed awhile and talked. The group of eight were from northern Arizona and pleasant people.

Camping always has its challenges, but the good news: my sleeping area was more comfortable with the additional Thermarest layer and I can also use it in my tent when I sleep there. Being outdoors all day with no protection from the wind left me truly wind-blown! I was glad it was not raining, but I could not keep my stove’s flame efficient in the wind. Fortunately I had other food needing no cooking to eat for breakfast. 

Most fascinating observation: at the top of the ridge there was a huge rock to sit on, yet one could not miss the perfectly-ground hole in it. I believe grain was ground in this hole at some point in time.

Next camping trip, working with my new stove and an idea I will try out for doing my laundry while driving! Hmmm… wonder which direction I will go next? Plus, I would like to sleep in my tent too so it seems it will be to a location or two where I will spend sometime, maybe birding also! Are you taking advantage of the outdoors? I hope you can!