No football, no parades, just the top of a grassy mountain, 3,300 feet above the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, 25 friends and too many dogs to count. Yeah, we went camping and that meant we had a better time than you did.
Full Disclosure: I've been informed that 100 percent of the credit for coming up with the idea for this trip is owed to my lovely girlfriend, Lara Pasternak. And that I am, under no circumstances, to claim it for my own.
Last year, we hosted an "Orphan's" thanksgiving at my house in Hollywood. With a little help from our buddy Ty — who brought some pig that he'd killed, butchered and cooked himself — she single handedly made a knockout dinner for 26 guests. I woke up about 10 the next morning when I realized the creature I was spooning was my dog and not a swimsuit model. Guess I shouldn't have passed out before the dishes were done the night before.
That was nonetheless declared a success and it was decided we should again host a party this year. But, Lara wanted an easier time and more of a pot luck style affair than just her cooking everything, so we decided to go camping. By "we" I mean "she," obviously. But at least I was invited.
So a few months ago, we invited a bunch of people and figured that, if none of them were into it, we'd just go have a nice trip to ourselves. Well, it turned out a bunch of people were — we only knew about half of who showed up.
A week or so ahead of time, my old roommate David decided that my lackadaisical organization — "bring something!" — wasn't good enough and created a spreadsheet to figure out supplies. That was the first time I've ever used one to plan a camping trip, making this the most organized ever. I was tasked with cooking a turkey, so delegated the purchase of a turkey frier to my friend Greg, then the task of picking it up from him when he decided he couldn't make it (too busy getting ready for Art Basel) to my friend John.
John works for MINI (you write it all caps to reflect the fact that their cars are now huge), so obviously drives one. At a meeting a couple months ago, Mountain Hardwear had mentioned that their new, 15 lbs, Optic 6 tent (coming next year, $399) could fit one of those cars. That, plus a Big Sur sunset sounded like a fun photo opportunity, so I told them to send one over and we'd see if it really would fit. It did, as you can see. It's half-out just to look pretty for the photo but actually fits all the way in, with the tent doors zipped closed.
The MINI made it down the tricky dirt road in just fine. John arrived first and fulfilled his delegated signage duty by sticking a sign that read "Wes' Idiot Friends" at the turn off, then got lost finding the actual campsite and nearly ran out of gas. I figured I was being clever by booking a big SUV for the trip — the Mazda CX-9 you see here — but still got sassed for most of the dirt section due to Lara's concern for friends driving lower cars and who had never driven off-road. They all made it, as far as I'm aware, but there were stories of people dragging hard parts. Still, once they saw this view, no one stayed mad at me for long.
The one thing I did manage to do myself and get right was purchasing a large, professional outdoor propane stove, two 5-gallon propane bottles and a few folding tables. Figured that'd give us some semblance of a proper kitchen. A Nemo Helio pressure shower did the dishes.
John had pre-made five gallons of chili and we heated that up on the stove the night before as people slowly trickled in. We also somehow managed to drink most of the alcohol everyone had brought, leading to two people who's names I've forgotten having to drive home the next morning, missing dinner. They were just that sick.
During all of this, a Native American girl in a buckskin dress and moccasins (below) had shown up in our campsite. She'd recently lost her horse and was up here going on an LSD trip to get over it. In the morning, she woke up, handed me this fan and said, "This is for you." It's made from turkey feathers, pheasant feathers and the skin of a doe, all of which she'd killed and processed herself. We invited her for dinner, but she said she had to make it home by sundown and wandered off.
For dinner, I fried that Turkey while Lara made hams, mashed celery root, roasted potatoes, mushrooms and a bunch of other stuff on the stove. Ty cooked fresh bread in the fire, then we repurposed those dutch ovens for Cheyenne's sweat potato pies. Everyone brought their favorite dish and we had an insane amount food, nearly all of which was eaten by the next day.
Matt's contribution was a few ounces of mushrooms, so when we finished dinner, we all lined up for some tea, then really, really enjoyed the sunset. Big Sur's are the best I've seen and this ridge is the place to watch 'em. Two guitars were brought, one of which survived the drive in, so that was passed around. Lara learned how to shotgun a beer while two Mikes played with their cameras, creating the photos you see here.
At one point Matt walked up to me and sheepishly asked, "That white stuff up in the sky, that's pollution, right?" No man, that's the Milky Way. It was the first time he'd seen our galaxy.
The next morning we slowly packed things up and laughed at Ty, who'd not only lost both his shirt and shoes, but spent most of the morning vomiting. That wasn't enough to dissuade him or anyone else; we'll be back doing the same thing next year. I think this just became an annual tradition.
Photos: Michal Zielinski and Mike Dooley
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.