Another day at the marina, I was in my usual leisure mode of reading, observing, and grazing on peanuts when I noticed a thirty-something angler reel in about a nine-inch rainbow trout. That was the first fish I’d seen anyone catch in all my afternoons down on the dock. About thirty minutes later, he hauled in another rainbow, about the same size.
Did he know something the others didn’t know? Maybe he was using one of those exotic lures from the World Famous Ed Blamey Lure Company, recommended by the Fisherman’s Guide, Will E. Landum. Could he be using the ever popular 1/2 ounce frigid rigid bobbin’ Betty with a pork trailer? Or maybe it was the always trusty deep-divin’ popsicle panty-popper with a routin’ trout trailer. I was afraid to ask. A few hours later, he was packing up his gear and strolling off when 1 hollered at him, “Hey, mister. I think you’ve forgotten something”. I pointed to the railing where his line was tied, at the other end of which were his catch-of-the-day, dangling in the water below. He gratefully replied, “Hey, thanks a lot. These are the first ones I’ve caught in a long time. Guess I was in a state of shock”. I kind of figured as much. I still didn’t regret not buying a license.
I was packing up my gear on the back of the bike, when I noticed an old Chevy panel truck, parked in the lot with a motorboat in tow. I irresistibly strolled over to wager a guess, “A ’53, right?” “Yep, with a 283 Corvette under the hood”, he replied. I commented on the antique Kansas plates, to which he said, “Yeah, the California Highway Patrol keep stopping me. I work around here, hauling a cement mixer. Guess I’ll have to change plates one of these days”. I’ve always had an affection towards the old panel trucks…it’s like they were the precursor of the present-day van, which, in fact, they really were in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
The guests and hosts having departed, Blaine and I were the lone leftovers, entrusted in keeping the house from burning down. We were the quintessential Odd Couple: he was Felix, I was Oscar. Disregard the exaggeration. We had a common repertoire for housekeeping: the easiest way to keep things clean is to keep things clean. Always made sense to me, whether it was house or auto. So, after several evenings of watching rental videos (one of Blaine’s favorite pastimes), we decided it was time to hook ’em over to Lake Tahoe. But pulling slot machine handles was not all Mr. Botkin had in mind…he wanted to “get back to nature”, that is, spend one night at a campground. At first, I was somewhat reluctant to the idea, since I had an innate proclivity of shunning designated State Campgrounds.
Having to pay a fee to enjoy nature always seemed irreverent, but my main objection were those ubiquitous cylindrical metal cooking stands that dared me to try to build a fire in them. I could never cope with that “unnatural” setup. Notwithstanding these apprehensions, I acquiesced to my good friend’s wishes, knowing it had been many, many years since he had slept out under the stars. Deep down, I really wanted to pull this off. Intuitively, I get on the horn to find out if there was in fact any available sites. This was California, thirty million people, with a third of them waiting to camp out somewhere in their own state. It was the ultimate test of patience, trying to locate the right division, department, or whatever of the California Forest Service Department. After numerous circumventing referrals, I was finally able to dial into a most helpful lady, whose supple and informative voice was music to my tired ears. She gave me the phone numbers of all the campsites around Lake Tahoe. That was all I needed. After three “no vacancy” responses, I hit on one with a couple of open spots. I said to Blaine, “Perseverance pays off, ol’ Buddy”.
We arrived at Camp Richardson in mid-afternoon after one beautiful drive along the west shoreline of Lake Tahoe. We ran parallel to a raft-choked river between Truckee and Tahoe City for the first ten miles or so. The waters were pretty placid, and, in fact, looked like a traffic cop should have been standing hip-deep in mid-stream as a gridlock prevention measure. I mentioned to Blaine that it was customary to shout encouragement to rafters as they battled the “white water”. Obviously, in this case it was quite inappropriate.
I was referring to several times I’ve caught site of rafters on the Arkansas River in Colorado along some real challenging stretches. I would purposely pull off, just to get out and yell down at the neophytes sitting paralyzed with motionless paddles, “Pull, pull, pull”. If you don’t, you’re at the mercy of the river. I was recalling to Blaine my rafting experience on the Colorado River back in 1980. Our guide could never overstress the importance of paddling like hell when hitting the white water. It was a command never forgotten.
Farther down the road, we hit a stretch that was literally at lake level, where almost the entire lake was in view, including the cynosure of our ultimate destination – the casino/hotels on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. Thanks again to my new eyewear, I was able to focus on these structures miles away. “Lookee there, that’s gotta be Harrah’s, way over there”, I exclaimed to Blaine. State Highway 89 then starts its roller coaster route around an alcove lake, culminating on a short piece of ridge highway where there’s a dropoff on both sides without a guardrail on either side – a white-knuckle drive, indeed. Then there was the 10 mph hairpin descent back down to lake level again.
Through all of that, we unceremoniously passed by all the “full” campgrounds that I had inquired about before we left. When we finally settled in at our campsite, I couldn’t help but play the braggadocio. “Blaine, I took a play out of your handbook”, I extolled, “I spent an hour on the phone making sure we had reservations here at Camp Richardson, but we saved an’ hour by not having to stop at those campgrounds to see if they had a vacancy”. He graciously admitted that was one good one-upmanship on my part. Ah-ha, I could actually plan ahead.