! Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears!

Every year at this time, I wait with anticipation for the opening of "Buckhorn", my favorite campground in the greater Los Angeles area.......although 'season' is supposed to be from April 15th to November 15th- this seems to NEVER be the case & I start dialing the ranger stations for updates in early May. This year was no exception and my fingers (and nerves) were practically raw from constant inquiries regarding same.

Finally, my persistence paid off & Buckhorn opened it's heavily wooded gates last Friday. Sometimes I think they open it just to shut me up- I probably called 20 times in 2 weeks and no doubt John the ranger was glad to get me (figuratively) off his (way too hairy) back.

Leaping around the living room with manly glee, I pinched myself (I still think a nipple-twist would have been more effective) to be sure I wasn't dreaming and began to mentally ready myself for the task at hand-

I looked at Liza the wonder dog and shrieked "let's go camping"! (Again, in a very manly way). As I flew (as if on gossamer wing) to the closet crammed with camping accoutrements, I began to envision using my new fire-engine red spatter ware dishes that I had received for Christmas.....I suddenly remembered that there were also some new "flameless" candles packed away for 'ambiance' on the picnic table. (How did Ellen put it? oh that's right- "Yep, I'm gay"!)

although we (me and the dog) often go camping alone, it is fun (sometimes) to bring along a friend or two. Once in a while, we even make NEW friends in the woods- but that's another story.....

Sure enough, a friend immediately jumped at the opportunity to go along and I agreed to having her join us, even while recalling that she was THREE hours late for departure last year........a mental note that was still stuck in my craw (wherever THAT is).

For sake of argument, we'll call my friend Rosanna,

Pack, schlep, haul.......we're there. Gorgeous and serene. Vibrant and alive. Practically empty, there were maybe three other campsites with people scampering about. (It's possible the actual "scampering" might be in my head)- they were probably tending fires, playing frisbee with their dogs and reading up on the local wildlife whilst hanging between trees on a spider-web of nylon that also rolls up into a ball the size of your fist. ( I LOVE camping "stuff")

Regardless, the place was peaceful, to say the least. To my sheer (and manly) delight, my favorite site was devoid of people, welcoming me with her always outstretched limbs of wooden yearning. I swear, Buckhorn is just as happy to see me as I am to see her- a comforting (if not oddly delusional) thought.

The usual regime of unpacking and setting up began. It's become traditional to literally take everything but the kitchen sink with me. Over the years I have accumulated a huge and diverse array of camping equipment and toys- Rosanna on the other hand, had virtually nothing but a suitcase (not even a duffle bag? A suitcase?) and a bag of tortilla's. Fortunately for her, I had brought along an extra guest-tent, sleeping bags,, air mattress, etc.

After checking out MY tent set-up, she was dismayed to see that I had end tables, carpeting, a front porch (complete with astro-turf) , a tent heater (it was 37 degrees the first night!) and a portable DVD player set up for my viewing pleasure. Apparently, my hosting skills were severely lacking, since I had not provided DVD players for my guest rooms and had completely neglected to leave a mint on the pillow I had so thoughtlessly provided.

The first few days were heavenly. Good food, beautiful warm weather,(during the day, anyhow!) a roaring fire to sit by, while gazing at the beautiful night time skies. The Buckhorn experience at it's finest.

And then Rosanna decided to go on a hike.................Dumb, da dumb dumb... DUMB!

There is a beautiful, well travelled hiking trail up there called the Burkhart Trail. It is traversed yearly by hundreds of visitor's. It is a well known, well marked-yet "challenging" hike which ends in a waterfall and swimmin' hole- the perfect day time camping adventure, one which I have experienced many times and had NO intention of doing on this trip.

I had made that clear and Rosanna was going to do it alone, a notion that in itself did not concern me in the slightest. People do it all the time, myself included, so it did not occur to me that I should try to talk her out of it. Rosanna is a grown woman and she prepared for her hike, trying her best to adapt my manly demeanor and set off at two P.M.- sandwich and water bottle in tow. Ever prepared, I provided her with a walkie-talkie, made sure we were on the same wavelength, and sent her on her way with the usual cautions- "Stay on the trail", "Don't hike more than two hours on the way in" (can't forget that means two hours on the way BACK), "Pace yourself" and are in a vast, national forest that does indeed house bears and wild cats and deer, oh my!

In other words, "Be alert, be safe, be smart and have fun-off you go"!

I was happy to have the woods to myself and had already scheduled time for napping (in my own nylon spider web), collecting pine cones ( I spray paint them in pastel colors and sprinkle glitter on them for the holidays- very manly) and maybe watch a little porn on that DVD player in the tent.......a full day at Buckhorn.

Rosanna was planning to make dinner that night (hence the tortilla's) and had alerted me to that, which meant kicking back for me, so I proceeded to scamper (for real) through the woods, high on Jesus.

I believe it was around 4:20 in the afternoon when I surveyed camp- and all my handiwork, admiring my manly outdoor skills. The pride flag was fluttering in the gentle breeze, being supported by my pair of G.I. Joe dolls, set up in their usual compromising position. There were battery operated glitter lights in the trees, "flameless" torches flanking my tent doors, replete with gold tassels and a tiny chandelier hanging manly tent. Mounds of kindling surrounded the fire pit. As I sang along with the "Pussycat Dolls", I surveyed my domain and gave a manly nod of approval. All was well with my world.

5 P.M. came and did 6........By 7 P.M. I was hungry and slightly irritated that Rosanna was not back, since she was supposed to cook dinner ("Carne Asada"? What the hell IS that?) and should have been preparing it by then. At 7:30 I went off , Liza in tow ,to the trail head, actually calling her name and repeatedly paging her on the walkie-talkie. Nothing. I began to get concerned, darkness was a comin' had not occurred to me that she would be gone over 5 is, basically, a 3 hour tour.....a THREE HOUR TOUR. I ran into a hippie camper down by the trail head who said he had not seen her and talked me down (momentarily) from panicking. He asked me if she had a flashlight on her (which I doubted- she had brought 3, none of which worked and had been "borrowing' mine for the past few nights, anytime she had to see anything, anywhere..... breaking one of the cardinal rules- "always provide your own flashlight" (and chair)

I allowed hippie camper to soothe my frazzled nerves for a moment and wondered (while I took a moment to check him out) where the conversation might have led, if I hadn't been about to burst into manly tears. I guess that's another story. He advised me to go back to camp and wait until actual darkness before becoming more alarmed than I already was. I was torn between mounting hysteria and keeping a clear head- somewhere between those two worlds, I still somehow thought it was 4:20.......which added to my slightly disturbed state of mind.....

I spent the hour between 8 and 9 P.M pacing around the fire muttering things like "I can't believe she would do this to me", "This can't be happening" and "What the fuck?" At 9 P.M. all sirens in my head went off at the same moment and I realized my worst fears. Something was indeed wrong and I had to spring into manly action.

Because of the abundance of wildlife in my precious forest, I could not drive off leaving multiple coolers and bags of M & M's laying about, so hurriedly packed everything edible into the back of the pickup (Manly, no?) threw the dog in the front seat and took off in search of help- flashers on- down the Angeles Crest Highway at 5 miles per hour, in case I should pass someone who could help along the way.

I got to a call box about a mile down the road and pulled off, heart racing, literally freaking out. It was pitch-black out, on a Tuesday night in the middle of the woods, and my camping guest was definitely missing. In 25 years of camping California, this was a new experience. I ran to the call box only to discover that it was ripped off the pole ( by vandals, no doubt- probably teenage boys- sounds like another story) and I was confronted with bare wires gaping uselessly at me. Back in the truck, hyperventilating, I drove off again at a snails pace, flashers on.

One other vehicle passed me but did not slow down and I found another call box after a few more (endless, grueling, mind numbing) miles. This one was operational and apparently requires a degree in rocket science to figure out how to use it, this being the 21st century and all. Very high tech. By the time I spoke, in English ( I had dozens of language choices) to a real human being, it was 10 P.M. and I told my tale, chain smoking, gasping for breath, head between my legs, blowing into a brown paper bag..... intermittently praying for death to take me.

Once 'Search and Rescue' had all the vital info, they dispatched helicopters to the mountains, a car to meet me and volunteers to begin combing the woods looking for Rosanna's mutilated, bloody corpse. I had already envisioned my trial and subsequent imprisonment for her death, should the body not be found at all- and was resigned to a life behind bars, cursing the name "Rosanna" 'till the day I gasped my last, raspy (yet somehow manly) breath.

CHP instructed me to "pull it together" and drive back up the mountain to meet them at the entrance to my (now sullied) Buckhorn, flashers on, blah, blah, blah. It took all of my effort to not lose it and just drive off a cliff. Terror was rising ( like lava at Mount. Vesuvius) and I felt as if each moment might be my last as I crept back up the mountain.

This time when a car passed, he slowed to match my crawl- unrolled his window and asked if I was Jonathan? I stopped the truck and got out while he told me that he had found Rosanna on his 112 acre orchard at his ranch in Apple Valley- a mere hour and 1/2 drive away! . Apparently, she had Hmmmm, wandered off the trail. It being 4:20 and all, she became a little 'dazed and confused' and wandered aimlessly through the National Forest for NINE (9) glorious hours! At this point, Mr. Kindly Rancher (wouldn't have happened to me ) offered to DRIVE her ALL THE WAY back to camp, apparently having a cocktail along the way to soothe HER jangled nerves!

I stood in the middle of the Angeles Crest Highway and wept like a (manly) baby. I thanked him, took his name and number and turned around once again, to call off the posse. I spent 25 minutes in
call- box- from -the- future hell, and finally managed to stop the taxpayers from spending three hundred thousand dollars on "helicopters for Rosanna" ( sounds like a worthy telethon)

I drove back to Buckhorn, re-learning how to breathe, and found her- safe and sound. I fought the urge to scream and hugged her tight, truly thankful that she was alive and well, while making a mental note to screen my camping guests even more rigorously from this point on. Camping is not for sissies.....and if it is- they had better provide their own glitter!