Okay, so there wasn’t actually any real fear. Or loathing. But I will confess to one moment during the night, asleep in my tent with my trusty canine companion by my side (and no, that’s not an endearment for my girlfriend) when I was awakened by the sound of coyotes howling. Or maybe it was a couple of drunk campers, I couldn’t really tell. And Gus (the aforementioned canine) started to growl as the ridge on his back stood up (he’s part Rhodesian Ridgeback), and I sleepily pondered the notion that the tent might be overtaken by wild beasties looking for a piece of man’s best friend. Or worse, a piece of man. As a result, I never did return to the deep slumber I had begun earlier that evening (morning, actually), and proceeded to sleep with one eye open for the rest of the night. Just in case of imminent attack. Other than that, it was smooth sailing from start to finish. Except for the seriously annoying bugs…
But first things first. For anyone living in or around Los Angeles who does not know about or has yet to visit the Angeles National Forest, this is some good news for you. From my home in Hollywood, it’s a half-hour drive from my front door to the entrance to the National Forest. Another 30-45 minutes in and you are deep in the wilds with no hint of civilization anywhere. Except for some campgrounds. And the occasional ranger station. And some other vehicles cruising the windy paved roads that worm their way through a forest of pines and scenic outlooks. But the point here is, you are so seemingly far outside Los Angeles City that you might as well be in Maine! And in less than an hour’s drive! And though I’ve been out here many times in the past, I find it frighteningly easy to forget how much I love it and how damn easy it is to get to. AND how much my soul needs to step away from the daily grind and dirty beige scenery that makes up Los Angeles and its surrounding areas. One night in this camper’s paradise and my soul is completely refreshed! And if not completely refreshed, then seriously stimulated.
And you don’t have to be a camper to enjoy all that the Angeles National Forest has to offer. Like hiking? The Angeles National Forest is a hiker’s dream. Rock climbing? Yep. A scenic drive? Duh! How about a few hours at a scenic outlook, staring up at the night sky to take in a meteor shower or simply to remind yourself what the sky is actually supposed to look like? You can be there in 40 minutes. Bring a lounge chair and a coupla beers and settle in for a few relaxing hours.
Now don’t be thrown off by the fact that the Angeles National Forest is one of the biggest dumping grounds for dead bodies (I read this somewhere and can’t confirm its accuracy). This is actually a good thing. It’s a testament to the sheer size of the place. You could dump a body in there and it may never be found! Not that I’m suggesting anyone do this. I’m just saying… It’s a big place with a lot of nature. And who doesn’t like nature? Which brings me back to the bugs…
Tom, Gus, Hal & Caley
My trusty companions and I were assaulted by insects of the mosquito, fly and bee varieties. But thanks to OFF and its magical mixture of DEET and God knows what else, these flying pests were a mere annoyance as no one got bit or stung. Well, actually, I think some mosquitos and flies may have bit Gus, poor thing, but no humans were harmed in the making of this trip. Next time I bring SKIN SO SOFT for Gus, though it smells like an elderly woman wearing too much cheap perfume, it apparently keeps the bugs away. And quite possibly all other living things. The good news here is that, no sooner had the sun gone down, than the insects disappeared.
Evening is a magical time in the Angeles National Forest. Crickets abound and stars are plentiful. We made a bonfire, my friends and I, of old wood we’d collected between naps and we roasted weeners on the end of sticks over the open flames (actually, Tom had tofu dogs, which didn’t cling easily to the sticks and, quite frankly, looked a little repulsive to this carnivore). It was Caley who lost the first hot dog to the fiery depths of our manmade oven. But never one to be bested by nature, Caley dug that dog out of the hot embers and cold ashes, smothered it in some yellow mustard, and consumed that damn thing all the while insisting it was delicious and betraying his true feelings by dry-heaving after every crunchy bite.
By night’s end, Caley and I had consumed 3 hot dogs each, and Tom 4 of those rubbery little soy weeners.
And as boys will do, we smoked a little pot, drank a little whisky and discussed manly things. Like opera.
But never fear, there was more than enough talk of red-blooded sexual conquests, daring tales of the virile escapades of our youths, fearless exploits into the brawny unknown, followed by a few tears and confessions of regrets and opportunities lost and all the ones that got away because we were too scared, stupid or traumatized to recognize or respond to a real opportunity when it presented itself. Faced with the grim reality of who and what we actually were, the conversation quickly shifted to talk of STAR TREK and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and we giggled like giddy schoolgirls.
But despite our flaccid attempts at valiant and intrepid gallantry, we were seriously wowed by an impressive display of shooting stars that left slight cricks in our aging necks, but nonetheless stirred our as yet undiminished imaginations. Talk of god, religion, atheism, literature, the cosmos, the Hubble telescope and fantastic interracial sexual encounters ensued. We were living high off the land.
Slowly, one by one, we crawled off to our separate tents and lay down to the sounds of crickets and owls intermingling. We watched the shooting stars through the screens at the tops of our temporary abodes until slumber and alcohol-induced exhaustion overcame us.
Morning arrived too quickly, and with it those damn pesky bugs. But it almost didn’t matter as one of the great joys of life is the smell of brewing coffee mixed with the perfume of mother nature on a glorious summer morn. And so we drank our cups of jo, explored a few more trails, read our books under the shade of a tree, threw the ball for Gus, and used the outhouse one last time before squeezing into Caley’s car for the slightly nauseating and cramped ride home.
But we’ll never forget those 27 hours spent roughing it among the creatures of nature, in our $24 campsite, with those boisterous neighbors laughing too loudly over at the next encampment, and the wild Winnebagos driving freely and undisturbed through our little slab of paradise. And lest we forget Hal’s startling and seemingly endless displays of gas, Caley’s incessant, obsessive hiking, and Tom’s much-discussed constipation and his various attempts to right that wrong… Yes, we’ll be returning to the Angeles National Forest soon enough. If only we don’t fail to remember how much we need these little respites to help ease us through the doldrums of daily life in the star-studded city known as Los Angeles.