Camping the Doni Way

When I told one friend about my recent awesome camping trip in Trinidad at Patrick’s Point State Park, she joked that I shouldn’t write about it, or if I did, I shouldn’t mention the cabins, because the cabins would become so popular I’d never be able to reserve one again.

Yes, I said cabins.

I love camping at Patrick’s Point, a little more than a 3-hour drive from Redding, for so many reasons. I love the cool temperatures, being surrounded by redwoods, being so near the ocean, walking on the beaches, cooking outside, and most of all, sharing the trip with people I adore.

But the truth is, there are some things I’m not wild about when it comes to camping at Patrick’s Point: skunks, banana slugs, having to walk to a bathroom at night, having to use public quarter-fed showers, and most of all, I don’t like crawling on my hands and knees into and out of a tent, which always makes me think of Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. I also am not a fan of keeping one eye and both ears open all night listening for bears.

A few years back for my twin and my especially significant birthday we decided to host our own party during a Patrick’s Point family camping trip.

July, 2016, The gang was mostly there.

In addition to we matriarch sisters, we hoped to have all the kids and grandkids there, and their significant others. We almost made it, with the exception of Shelly’s daughter and her husband and kids, and my son Joe, who lives in the Czech Republic.

Because Shelly and I were born in Hawaii, we brought along a little sign that we’d taken camping in previous years and posted it outside our campsite.

That was the year that I tried fishing from a chartered fishing boat for the first time. That was also the year that I learned that I’m one of those people best left on shore. I got seasick about 10 minutes into the four-hour fishing trip and basically just waited for the world to stop moving and the whole thing to be over. I get queasy even now, just thinking about it. But what a haul we caught! We feasted on fresh crab and beer-battered ling cod and made homemade pasta and ate one of the best meals of my life.

That was three years ago, and despite my and Shelly’s most strong-armed, nagging convincing attempts to lure our families back to Patrick’s Point, it just wasn’t happening. Everyone said they couldn’t make it. Last year, sadly, we skipped it entirely. This year, we gave up, too, because our families were unavailable.

I let go the idea of camping, and even considered getting rid of all my camping supplies, including that silly Aloha sign. Maybe our family camping days were over. They were fun while they lasted.

No segue, but since November, son Joe has spent a lot of time at my place, coming here from his home in Europe to work on major projects around my house. We have a deal: I’ll pay for his plane ticket, food and lodging if he works on my house, which has endless projects, far more than I could afford to hire someone to do. The first time we tried this arrangement was two years ago, when I bought this 1938 fixer-upper and basically gutted it.

Joe finished the cabinets, and went right to the wire by installing the laundry room on the day he left Redding. Summer of 2017.

Joe outdid himself this year. He dug trenches by hand and installed French drains. He built a 60-foot long rock wall, in part from the boulders he collected while digging trenches.

All that’s left for Doni is to scrub the rocks and apply a seal.

He installed a white picket fence in my front yard (fencing that was in the back yard when I bought the house).

He worked so hard, and did so much that I began to feel guilty that he’d not had much down time on this visit. So the week before July 4th I decided that my sister and I would have our birthday trip on the coast after all, and invite Joe, and plan a fishing trip, since Joe wasn’t able to make it to our previous family birthday camping trip.

My sister told me I was crazy to attempt reserving a camp site at Patrick’s Point during a holiday week. Usually, we make our reservations months in advance.

I called the reservation line anyway, and learned that Shelly was right. Every single tent site was booked.

“Oh gosh, you have nothing left at all?” I whined to the reservations clerk.

“Sorry, nothing,” she said. “Unless you want a cabin.”

My head just about exploded.

“CABIN?” I said. “But Patrick’s Point doesn’t have cabins!”

The woman said that actually Patrick’s Point does have four cabins – on the Agate Beach side – and that it’s had cabins for a few years now. She explained the cabins sleep six, have no running water, or bathrooms, but they do have bunk beds and electricity. She said the cabin sites have room for tent-campers in the same party outside.

Two twin top bunks with railings and ladders; two full size – perhaps even queen? – beds below. But there’s room for blow-up beds and cots, both of which Doni brought.

How could I have not known this?

She said there was just one cabin available at $100 per night, starting July 2, and we’d leave July 5. I said I’d take it.

So we packed up a few things, and headed for the coast.

When we arrived at the campsite, I nearly wept with joy. This space was perfect. Shoot, I could live in this cabin! (Well, if it had a bathroom, and kitchen.)

It even had an electric fireplace. Ours was cabin No. 2, which we thought was the best because of its awesome view of the ocean. (Cabin No. 1 had no ocean view, by the way.) For future bookings, I’ll try for cabins 2, 3 or 4.

OK, yes, the cabin does feel a tad exposed, but if there was the cover of trees and shrubs, there’d be no ocean view. And yes, there was a parking lot between our cabin and the Agate Beach trail head, but in the early mornings and late evenings the lot was practically empty. Besides, that area outside our cabin was the perfect place for kids to play. Other campers’ kids went around and around the grassy area on bikes and scooters.

I should mention that I made one major rookie packing mistake. I packed in Redding, where it was so hot that I could not imagine ever feeling cold again. I did include a thin windbreaker, but mainly I brought summer clothes. Here’s my tip for packing for the Northern California coast: pack in July as if it will feel like December. Otherwise, you’ll do as I did, and have to invest in a $36 touristy sweatshirt when you arrive in Trinidad.

My wise sister packed her wool knit hat and a thick puffy coat she’d bought some years back for our winter trip to the Czech Republic, and she was toasty warm.

With tent camping, things pretty much wrap up for the night when the fire burns down and the sun sets. Inside our cabin, we were able to stay up late and play games.

Shelly and Joe left early the first morning for their four-hour booking on a chartered fishing boat, while I remained back at camp where I slept in, made coffee, cooked breakfast, read, and listened to the ocean. Heaven.

The aunt-and-nephew fishing duo returned in the afternoon with their limit of snapper and crab. The fishing captain had kindly cleaned and filleted all the fish, but the crabs were whole and still alive when brought back to camp.

Let me just say that cleaning crab nearly made a vegetarian out of me. Luckily, that sentiment passed by dinnertime.

Joe was a good sport and did the really messy part of the crab-killing and crab-cleaning process, and Shelly and I picked the crab.

One of the things I’d brought on the trip was my electric Food Saver, so we were able to bag up all the fish that we didn’t eat while camping. You can’t do that in a tent in the dirt.

All the cabins have long ramps around the back of the structures that lead to the front porch, which makes them wheelchair accessible. Some of the camp kids used those as bike ramps.

The only conceivable down side to the cabins is that there are no bathrooms, which isn’t a big deal except at night, because if nature calls after dark you’ll need to trek to the bathrooms by flashlight. Luckily, there are bathrooms just a short walk away, on the other side of the parking lot. (Next time, I may bring an empty coffee can.)

The weather was crisp and chilly in the mornings and evenings. We bumped into a few Redding people we knew, all escaping the valley heat.

We did see some skunks one evening, on our way to the bathrooms, but the skunks seemed accustomed to humans, and didn’t bother us. (But we gave them LOTS of space.)

I brought my double-burner propane cooking stove son Josh got me a few years ago, and we cooked all our meals outside. We never felt the need to leave camp and eat at a restaurant.

One note about cooking at the campsite: While there are standing heavy-metal barbecues at each site, they looked rusty and gross. I suggest bringing your own cook stove. There are also fire pits, which are great for having camp fires, but they’re difficult to cook over. (Except Shelly and Joe did roast hot dogs over the campfire, and pronounced them delicious. I prepared my hot dogs the way I like them: boiled and then pan grilled. We had a hot dog cook-off, and we all liked our hot dogs best.)

Doni’s hot dogs are on the top left.

We stayed three nights, which is usually just about as much camping as I need, but this time, I wish I could have stayed at least one more night.

The view of Agate Beach from the trail head near Doni’s cabin.

On the night of July 4, we joined others who stood by the Agate Beach entrance where we watched fireworks that originated in Orick and Big Lagoon. They were tiny, nothing like Redding’s, but they were quaint and sweet.

During our days at camp, a few people asked how we got that cabin, because it’s rarely available. I didn’t know what to say, except that when I called to make a reservation on that particular day, it must have been my lucky moment when someone cancelled seconds earlier.

Staying in a cabin was a major camping game-changer for me. It allowed me to experience the best parts of camping, such as cooking outside, and enjoying a camp fire, but having the security of solid shelter and functioning electricity. It was a warm place to sit and read when it was cold and windy outside. It would be great for people with infants, or for people with disabilities who can’t tent camp, or for able-bodied people who are over tent camping and prefer to sleep indoors.

There are rules, such as no dogs inside, and all food must be stored inside, which means there are no wooden cabinets outside. That was fine with me. The area with counters turned into our indoor kitchen area, and at night we brought in a card table for games.

Plenty of room for ice chests and kitchen supplies. Of course, there was a cocktail area, too.

Frankly, this cabin experience made me vow to never camp in a tent again.

Sure, I know there are those out there who are camping purists, minimalist campers who don’t pack an entire car to the roof racks; people who genuinely enjoy sleeping in tents on the hard ground. Apparently, I am not one of those people. I am the kind of camper who brings a blow-up mattress and a French press and a pasta machine and a Food Saver. I am the kind of camper who ends up tricking out the cabin to make it feel like home. I am the kind of camper who sleeps more soundly when safely behind a locked wooden door.

I will not apologize for being a happy glamper. To each her own camping style.

I’m already looking forward to next year, and plan to call that reservation line six months in advance to book Cabin 2 (or 3 or 4). I plan to continue camping at Patrick’s Point every summer to celebrate my birthday for as long as it’s still fun. I will bring my books and wine and a folding chaise lounge. I will bring four seasons’ worth of clothing.

And the Aloha sign. I will absolutely bring the Aloha sign.

***

Patrick’s Point State Park is located at 4150 Patrick’s Point Drive Trinidad, CA 95570. It’s 30 miles north of Eureka. 

Call for reservations at 1-800-444-7275 or go online to www.reservecalifornia.com

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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