Our Annual Trip
At some point every annual trip has a genesis. A single trip where people had so much fun that they hoped to do it again every year for as long as they can imagine. That was the trip last year with my group of buddies.
Our second annual guys camping trip to Lake Tahoe over Fourth of July weekend played out as the absolute antithesis to our first and stands testament to the laundry list of activities and experiences that gave us pure joy for an entire holiday weekend. The river we floated down, pleasantly intoxicated while singing patriotic songs to counter the frat brothers’ mini speakers pulsing dance music, was dry and unfloatable. The clear mountain air and warm summer sun gave way to rain and thunderstorms, causing us to dawn jackets rather than sunscreen. Even the serendipitous night of dancing we shared with other post firework revelers gave way to an empty town, save for a similarly large (yet strikingly handsomer) group of guys with whom we briefly negotiated ‘crewing up’.
I think that was the biggest blow, the fact that before, when we had little to no idea of what we were doing, we chanced upon some of the greatest times in recent memory. While the following year, high expectations in tow, our veteran plans unraveled almost unimaginably. Obviously rivers don’t dry up over night (is this actually true?) so we created an alternate plan for a rousing 4th. Before, all we needed was to float and be together, now we sought the bigger party, the livelier scene, almost as though seeking reparations for our time lost together on the river.
After a long drive winding along the river we passed a hopping beach party, undeterred from our projections of fun we continued on through considerable crowds and traffic, never quite comfortable with either in our quest for a spot to strike camp. This passing party was toxic in that it came to represent all the fun we could be having if we had just done something differently. We weren’t sure whose fault it was, but all of us were sour at everyone else since it was getting on in the afternoon, we were hungry, and we had coolers full of beer we weren’t drinking. If nothing else, we concluded as a group, we would end up somewhere with a damn good view. A steep mile walk down with ice chests and rafts finally landed us on the beach at Crystal Cove, the postcard perfect representation of Tahoe in Google Images searches. Except this time instead of photogenic blue skies it was blanketed with the kinds of low, dark clouds you take one look and decide to stay in for the day.
While normally the beach would be full of boats, on this most unfortunate day of national pride they instead puttered past, leaving in search of a real good time. The haplessness of our situation was hammered home with our reapplication of jackets as rain began to trickle and thunder echoed along the mountain ridges. We had come from all over this great state, spanning from Sacramento to San Diego. One friend was fortuitously in the Bay Area just for the summer before returning to Portugal for school. One guy even flew out from North Carolina. All together we were six. As we all sat on a picnic table looking down at our rafts from the year before, one of them successfully holding air for a period no more than thirty seconds, we wondered how things got so bad. Sipping beer without any intention of getting lit we apologized to the family sharing the table with us and told them to let us know if we were being too loud. Pointing toward their children the couple replied with the same apology, a truth that was not lost on me in that moment. We had just arrived to our beach for the day and it was 5:30 in the evening.
So as not to take a total loss on the raft he bought one of our twins (we have a set of twins in our group) took it out on the lake. He was the only one whose raft didn’t require you to dip your goods in the cold lake water. When he returned the main instigator of our group convinced him to go back out, this time with a passenger and all the way out to a small island in the middle of the bay. Their return was to be the end of it. I was going to wash up in the lake and then we were going to head back and get some dinner going. Suddenly it hit me that, now that I was entirely in the water, getting my crotch wet in the raft wasn’t an issue! I grabbed my raft and started to paddle out to the other boys on their way back from the small island.
Overloaded by no less than fifty pounds the boys had lashed two small child inner tubes they found abandoned underneath their raft to lend it some buoyancy. Their fiddling and general ability to paddle every direction except toward the shore bought me some time on the lake to play my ‘Where Am I’ game. I forget everything associated with where I am and suppliment a sexy location, then see if where I am is impressive. It sounds stupid but I have to constantly remind myself that, while international travel is great, there are things closer to home that can stand on their own. These are things ironically other people travel internationally to see, as evidenced by those poor freezing Irish kids launching their cold pale bodies off the pier over there. “I don’t know anything about exotic sounding Latvia, what if I was floating in a gorgeous alpine cove there, would this be cool?” Yes it would, test past.
Upon our return we hung out long enough near the beach that it became worth the effort of our other friends to gingerly, laboriously lower themselves into their rafts and push out. It began with the instigator flipping his copilot out of their raft and into the cold water. Now that three of us, including the instigator, had been in the lake a critical mass was reached and everyone else simply had to go. Twin on twin wrestling saw another body go splash and, after realizing resistance was fruitless and moments after securing the safe passage of his beer, the last man went flying from his raft and into the water. We drank more, laughed more, and splashed more. We were finally having a great Fourth of July. The next day was gorgeously sunny and warm, but it was all for naught. One friend had to go home so we all had to go home, the beginning of a twelve hour march south.
I’m not certain of the lesson we all learned from this trip. People often say that as long as you’re with good people it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. In our case we all started to get a little chippy at each other, and while not outright quarreling we just had so little to be excited about that it was impossible not to get down. Perhaps there’s something in knowing that everyone else is having it just as bad as you are. I’m sure we will look back years from now and laugh about it and claim how much stronger it made our friendship. On the ride home one of my friends offered that Yosemite was supposed to be really great. Another replied, “Ya, Yosemite would be sweet”.