Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Camping During the Fall

We joined a camping group last month, a local organization that has about 50 rigs (old campers call their truck and trailer combos rigs; it’s quaint, so I’ll use it). Us joining was at the suggestion of an acquaintance of mine, one of my past Park Watch partners. We spent four hours a week together and formed a pretty good friendship that is mostly now continued via email. Since they live in town here, we see them upon occasion, and since John is cynical and snide, I took to him immediately, and when he asked us if we would like to go with his family to Idyllwild on a campout, we jumped at the chance.

For starters, we haven’t yet camped in the forest, and it was nice to escape the triple-digit weekend people would have to suffer through down here and instead enjoy the mild temperatures of a higher-altitude climate.

Since Natalie’s graduation from Pre-School was on Friday, we decided to hit the road Saturday morning and stay until Monday, which worked out nice. We avoided all of the out-of-town traffic on the 91, 60 and 10 freeways and we hardly saw a soul on the 20-mile trek up the steep and winding 243 to Idyllwild. We took it slow, as my truck isn’t too appreciative of being saddled to the trailer and climbing 6000 feet into the mountains, but we made good time, as it took only about 90 minutes to arrive in the little town of Pine Cove where the campsite was (about three miles from Idyllwild).

The air was fresh and clean; the trees tall and green; and it was quiet, silent except for the birds and the breezes rushing through the pine needles. In preparation of Flag Day (yes, some of us prepare for it!), I built a flag holder and attached it to the back ladder of the trailer and bought a new American flag just for the trailer… I didn’t want to take my fancy new 13-star Betsy Ross flag I just bought for the house. Natalie can read now—at least she can figure out most of the words—so when she noticed that Saturday was Flag Day and after I explained what Flag Day was—she insisted that we celebrate it by putting up a flag at our campsite. I took some PVC pipe, drilled two holes in the ladder and attached it with some small carriage bolts, adding a 45-elbow and another small length of PVC to make the flag hang properly.

The first order of business after arriving at the campground Saturday morning was to hang the flag. We ended up with a pretty good site, one of the only two in the whole campground that has a sewer hookup. It meant that I didn’t have to pay for the truck to dump my tanks or wait in line at the dump station on the way out if it was crowded. Our site was up the hill from a little country store and the campground lodge, which had a bunch of games and a couple of televisions… but the operative word in that sentence is “hill,” as the campground was on the side of the mountain and everywhere you turned you were marching up an asphalt-paved hill or picking your way down one. Since it took me a couple of attempts to back the trailer into our spot, I’m surprised how some of these people were able to shoe-horn their rigs into some interesting places. My hat’s off to their skills as a driver.

We settled in, set up the trailer (awning, outside carpet, chairs, TV, antennae, water line and electricity), and when I thought everything was up and running, we lost power. The trailer went completely dead. I pulled off the electrical panel under the fridge and saw that we tripped a circuit breaker, the 15-amp one for the fridge and the trailer’s electrical plugs, but that didn’t explain why the microwave wasn’t on or why the outside light didn’t work. The main electrical box outside—where you plug in the trailer—had two big plugs and two regular plugs. Next to one was written “Dead,” which didn’t bode well, and every time I plugged into the second one, it made a little sizzling sound, like bacon… and I just assumed that wasn’t good either. Electricity would work for a few minutes, then stop, then blow the same circuit breaker.

Not being an electrician, I assumed the main box wasn’t working properly, so I grabbed my extension cord and patched into the main electrical panel of a rental cabin just up the road. Everything then worked fine. When we took a walk, I stopped into the main gate “Ranger Station” and let them know that it wasn’t working properly, and by the time we had returned from our walk, there were two men fixing it—I was impressed by their timeliness.

On the schedule for the first day was some time at the pool, a trip into “town” and then we would sit by the bonfire listening to some music at the campground’s amphitheater. It sounded nice and relaxing. In town, we ate at a Mexican restaurant, which gives Kara a better feeling of being on vacation and not so much like she has to do all of the household chores. It was good food, and I later learned from John that the owner used to be a popular chef in Chicago. After a heart attack, his doctor said to relocate to a more relaxing environment or start planning your funeral, so he came to Idyllwild and opened a Mexican restaurant, one of those holes in the wall that looks as though you’d get tetanus if you accidentally brushed up against the table the wrong way.

We walked around the little town, which had an eclectic collection of gift shops, cafes and art galleries. We got suckers for the kids and then headed back to camp for an early evening swim in the icy frigid pool…it wasn’t that bad once you got used to it. The kids loved it; well, Natalie more than Matthew, as he complained about being cold and spent some time all wrapped up in a towel shivering in a chair while Natalie splashed around in the pool.

After about an hour, the sun was beginning to set and we decided to head back down the hilly roads to our trailer…which ended up being worse that going up the hills. Because it was getting somewhat chilly and because it is what I normally do when the kids get out of the bath, I wrapped Natalie up in a six-foot pink striped towel. It went over her head and around her body a couple of times, and I tucked it in the sides so she would stay nice and toasty for the walk home.

Who knew she couldn’t walk very well in it?

I picked up Matthew and carried him, while Kara grabbed the floaties and fun noodles and walked with Natalie. About halfway down the biggest of the hills, I thought I heard Natalie start to laugh, but by the time I turned around and saw her face-down on the asphalt, I knew she wasn’t laughing, as a pitched screaming cry emanated from her. Kara immediately picked her up and when I got back up the hill to them, blood was pouring out of her mouth and nose.

She had tripped in her flip-flops, and since her arms were wrapped up in the towel, there was nothing stopping her from smacking her face on the ground. Her lip puffed up instantly and I started to check her teeth, hoping and praying that she didn’t do any permanent damage to them (as it could even affect your adult teeth—I chipped a tooth in the third grade and it still bothers me to this day)… but where was all the blood coming from.

Kara stuffed the towel in her mouth and carted her down the hill. Natalie cried the whole way, understandably, as it probably hurt like hell. Once back in the trailer, we examined her more closely and it looked as though she got a puncture above her gums and under her lip. How she could have been punctured there was puzzling, and once we got some ice on it, she seemed to calm down considerably.

Kara wanted to take her to the hospital, of course, and I wanted to wait and see what happened, of course, for the sole reason that it was getting dark out and we had to navigate a treacherous mountain road down to any hospital. That, and it didn’t seem that bad to me… once all the blood was wiped away, I mean.

However, the tears in Kara’s eyes and that “I need to save my baby” tone of her voice won out over my caution for heading out into the unknown, looking for a hospital that might not be out there.

We stopped by the “ranger station” at the front gate of the campground and asked the ranger on duty for his advice. He suggested that we go to the fire department just at the base of the hill (on the corner of the 243 in Pine Cove) and ask them to check her out. When I asked him if they do that sort of thing, his semi-comical response was “hell yeah.”

So we pulled into the fire station and summoned the three firemen on duty. They were watching the Angles game, and while they filled out some paperwork, one of the firemen checked her out. Matthew, of course, was acting like his old self, jumping around like a frog and saying “ribbit!” to anyone and everyone, completely oblivious to the situation or Natalie’s turmoil. To calm the kids, the firemen took us on a tour of the station, showing us the fire trucks and where they lived upstairs. It was pretty cool to see the inner workings of a fire truck, and through a swollen lip and sore mouth, Natalie agreed that it was pretty cool.

We sat on the couch and watched the Angles game while they called around to find us a hospital to go to. One fireman said, yes, go to the hospital just to be on the safe side, while another one said that he’d wait to see how she looked in the morning… so we were back to square one until the third fireman, who was married, suggested that the wife should win in decisions such as these.

So, in short order, we were headed down the mountain toward beautiful Hemet to the Hemet Regional Hospital. Saturday night in the desert town of Hemet, where anyone with a pulse an get a lone for a $150K house, I wondered what delights we would soon discover in the waiting room of the emergency facilities. At the very least, I expected a lot of gang members and elderly, the general population of Hemet, but I was surprised to find only a few of each.

The cops only had to come once, and that was to calm down this irate woman who felt like she wasn’t being treated fast enough because she was black. She kept complaining that she was going to have a stroke because it ran in her family, and I kept wishing that she’d get on with it. Stroke out and shut up about it already. All you are is a foul-mouthed racist…and the cops told her exactly as much, when I followed them outside with her. It was better than what was on TV.

The whole ordeal took just over two hours, a lot shorter time than I expected it would. Kara later told me that one of the firemen related a story to her about his wife having to go there for some reason and it taking seven hours. I’m not sure what I would have done with myself after seven hours, but I’m sure it would have involved the cops and me sitting out on the sidewalk yelling profanities that I wasn’t being treated because I was white…

But hospitals have a way of teasing you, repeatedly taunting you into thinking that you’re about to be treated by competent medical staff and then pulling the rug out from under you again. First, you have to fill out a form that announces your arrival and reason why you’re there and slip it into a slot…and then you wait along with the other dregs. After about 45 minutes, they call you into this small room, and when they did, I thought, hey, this isn’t bad at all. We will be back up the hill by 10pm and in bed at a decent hour. But no. They just wanted to take Natalie’s vitals and fill out a form or two about how she is fairing. For kids, they show a series of smiley faces, about six, each one progressively more sad until the last one is completely crying, and the nurse asked Natalie which one she most felt like today. Of course, by then, the only thing really wrong with Natalie was a big fat lip and a few scrapes on her nose and chin and maybe some soreness in her mouth; it took us an 45 minutes to get down the hill and we’d been sitting in the emergency room for another 45 minutes…Natalie, by then, was in good spirits so she pointed to the insanely happy face because she had had a really good day camping and playing in the pool. I really don’t think she understood the question.

After that, they shuttled us back out to the waiting room to wait some more. I asked how long it might be—as if I was waiting for a table at a restaurant—and she said it could be five minutes or it could be two hours. Grumbling, we sat down to wait again. But after only 15 minutes or so, they called us again… and again, I thought, wow, we didn’t have to wait too long. Okay, we might be back up to the campsite at 10:30 and still in bed at a decent hour.

However, they called us into this very tiny room, one just big enough for a chair and for me to stand. It looked as though we were visiting a prison because thick Plexiglas separated us from this giant woman who filled out all of the admitting papers, took our ID and insurance papers. Again, we were shuttled out to the waiting room, and when I asked again how long it might take to see a doctor, she honestly said she didn’t know.

So we waited…again… and I don’t know how much time went by—that’s when the irate black woman started demanding racial equality, when one of the guards (who was Mexican) complained that she shouldn’t be playing the race card. This is 2008 he reminded her. That’s when the cops came.

Matthew was getting a little restless. He slept on the ride down the mountain, and laid awake peacefully in the stroller while we waited, but by then, he was tired of sitting in the same spot seeing the same things and hearing the same sounds. He wanted to get out and explore, complaining that he wanted to go home and that he wanted to get back to the Tango (our trailer). I couldn’t blame him, and he was being really good the whole time.

They finally called us back into the emergency room and we plopped Natalie on a bed, waiting for the doctor or nurse to give a prognosis. Meanwhile, another nurse brought a suture cart in case they had to stitch up what appeared to us to be a hole in her gum, and she proceeded to fill our hearts with fear by explaining that suturing up small children, especially in hard-to-reach and highly sensitive places, is difficult and especially painful. So much so that they only allow one parent—the emotionally stronger of the two (which would have been me that day)—to stay with Natalie and that they would be forced to restrain her so she doesn’t wiggle and mess up the stitches.

I couldn’t see that going well for anyone, so I was preparing an argument against stitching up her gum: it was a small hole, who cares if it scars as nobody would see it, etc., etc.

A honest-to-goodness doctor finally arrived and told us a bunch of stuff I already knew: that it is a small wound, that the mouth heals incredibly fast and nobody would see it if it scarred. One thing, however, we didn’t know was that it wasn’t a hole at all. What had happened was that she tore her frenulum, that little stringy piece that attaches your lip to your mouth, similar to the one that is on the bottom of your tongue. He said that it tears easily in childhood injuries and that it would heal quickly. He issued some antibiotics and sent us on our way.

One nice thing happened though. The nurse that gave us the antibiotics said that she had to make up an entire bottle of the solution in order to dole out a little cup of it to Natalie, and since she had to throw away the bottle afterwards, she would rather give it to us instead. It was one of those situations where she was going to set it on the table and turn around… if the bottle was missing, it was missing and there was nothing she could do about it. Of course, she did remind us that it needed to be refrigerated.

By about 11pm, we stopped at McDonald’s for some well-deserved ice cream for the kids and headed back up the hill. Natalie and Matthew were dead to the world by the time we reached camp, so we piled them into their unmade bed with their clothes on and we went to sleep.

The rest of the weekend was thankfully uneventful. It was nice and relaxing. Natalie didn’t complain about her mouth at all…well, she did once when she ate something acidic. She had a fat lip and some bruising on her chin and nose, but that’s it.

Other than that… it was a nice campout. Above are some pictures of our experiences.


Tris Mast said...

Youch. I'm going to be uncharacteristically aware of my frenulum for the rest of the day. I hope Natalie isn't too bothered by hers.

Yard Sale Princess said...

Matthew looks so much like Ryan in that last picture. Even the slightly opened mouth! He's a "mini me" of Ryan.

Ryan or Kara said...

I know... it's such a flattering picture of me!


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