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Girls Gone Wild in Big Sur

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Though camping is a relatively simple affair, the planning for the second annual girls’ weekend was anything but. At least fifty emails were circulated, including an excel spreadsheet, an e-vite, and a food chart. Tents, stoves, and sleeping bags had to be amassed, transcontinental schedules had to be aligned, and a jaffle maker had to be secured. Finally, at 6 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, the flights had landed, the cars were gassed, and a gaggle of girls was ready to hit the road.


We were heading to Big Sur, a magnificent stretch of central California coast that is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the West and the Santa Lucia Mountain Range on the East. Big Sur is home to beaches, state parks, and rugged wilderness, though wilderness is not something every woman readily sought.


“Did you get my down pillow and blankie?” asked a novice camper as we drove south on Highway 101.


Between the coolers, the chairs, the tents, the sleeping bags, and the groceries, I couldn’t see a lick out the rear window. Something had to be cut, I explained, and “your pillow and down throw blanket were it.”


There was a look of horrified shock from the back seat. What some of us saw as camping frivolity, others saw as necessity. Although we had forsaken pillows, we had managed to squeeze in truffle oil, Johnny Walker black label, and bottles upon bottles of red wine. Car camping, after all, is about being close to nature, but even closer to creature comforts. Which is why—for a group of fourteen women with diverse opinions on what constitutes comfort—it is the perfect outdoor getaway.


After two and half hours on the road, we arrived at the Ventana Campground, an eighty-site plot tucked into a redwood-lined canyon. Through the trees came a hoot and a holler as five friends directed us into camp.


After hugs and greetings, we were shown around our communal campsite, which had been cleverly separated into “nations.” There was tent nation, an open space where we would be sleeping; kitchen nation, where the cups, bowls, and plates were held; cooking nation, where stoves and grills were kept, and eating nation—a picnic table scattered with bottles of wine, barbequed chicken, and potato salad.


If you have ever planned a trip with a group of women, you know that there is nothing unusual about having three-quarters of our “nations” devoted to the preparation, cleaning, and consumption of food. For women, food is of paramount importance: we need to be fortified at least and completely satisfied at best. No matter where we lay our heads, we had to ensure that all of our carnal desires—chocolate, carbohydrates, booze—were within an arm’s grasp. And indeed they were, as we settled in around the fire, debating the finer points of marshmallow roasting (browned versus burnt), compiling s’mores, and chatting well past camping lights out.


The next morning, after the blue jays and blackbirds gave us a rousing wake-up call, a ranger stopped by to tell us that, eh-hem, some of the campers had complained that we were too loud the night before. This was not an unusual sentiment. Although our collective average age hovered around thirty, get us in a group, and we regressed to earlier times. Most of us had been roommates during or after college, and had lived in San Francisco during our twenties. Back then, we always seemed to be trolling the city as a large group of girls, every additional person or cocktail ramping our decibel level up another notch. Now that we are older and more geographically spread out, our large gatherings are less frequent and more organized—but still very loud. Maybe louder. We had to make up for lost time.


But we didn’t want to be those people, so we promised to be, or at least to try to be, quieter that night.


Over breakfast, we discussed that day’s activity. Six of us decided to do the Molera loop, a nine-mile hike in Andrew Molera State Park. The rest opted—or wimped—out (“we’ll do a shorter hike and wait for others to arrive”).


Our sextet packed a lunch, laced up our shoes, and drove ten minutes north to the start of the hike. We set out on the ridge trail and started climbing, destined to work off last nights s’mores (Elaina setting the butt-busting pace with “we’re getting a workout here, right ladies?”). Passing by sticky monkey flowers, Indian paintbrush, Lupine, and yarrow, we made our way up the mountain, finally arriving at an exposed ridge that afforded great coastal views. As we headed west to a pink sandy beach (our lunchtime destination), we realized that one of the great things about hiking in Big Sur is the diversity in landscape: we had gone from hot, dry oak groves to cool, redwood canopies to turquoise water within a couple of hours. However, while bushwacking our way to said beach, we also realized that one of the bad things about hiking through Big Sur is that there’s a ton of poison oak nestled amongst the blackberry and wild grape.


Remembering the last time I had the oak and had it bad (think elephantiasis of the extremities), I was determined to avoid it this time. There was no turning back—we were nothing if not determined. So, we did what any group of women would do when faced with an enemy crisis: we got each other’s back. “Legs up!” we called out, alerting our peers that oily leaves of three were covering the path. After we hacked through the thicket and made it back to the campsite, there were rounds of Tecnu and hot showers for all. We had survived, presumably, poison oak free.


The rest of the campground was deserted. Where could the girls be?


Then, they trickled in. Molly and Ally had been having cocktails at Nepenthe, a restaurant and bar off Highway 1 that overlooks the coast; Suha, Vanessa, and Anne had been massaged and pooled at the Ventana Inn and Spa, which was just up the driveway. While we had sweated through the woods and soaked ourselves in anti-rash oil, they had sweated in saunas and soaked their bodies and livers.


Though our day’s activities could not have been more different, the next round of activities was collectively agreed on. I split open a watermelon and began squeezing juice for melon margaritas; an appetizer plate was made, and we relaxed in tent nation, sharing news of prospective home buying, admiring a new engagement ring, and hearing about each others’ career turns. When the tequila ran dry, we were well fueled for our next activity: celebrity.


Since nothing brings out one’s true colors like a healthy dose of competition, our game of celebrity brought out the pop culture ignoramuses, ridiculed for not knowing who Suri Cruise is (“who? Slurry? Scuzzy?”), the culturally deft, who stared blankly at the name Edith Piaf, and those whose attention span could not last the three rounds required to complete the game.


But. by this time, we were on to bigger and better things, like carne asada tacos, accompanied by bowls of guacamole and salsa bigger than our butts were by the end of the trip.


As nighttime fell, Hazel, lead singer of the LA based band, Sonsoles, led us in some campfire eighties sing-along’s. There was crooning to More Than Words (Extreme), solo rocking to Patience (Guns and Roses), air guitaring to Heaven (Warrant), and tears with I Remember You (Skid Row). We Burned One Down with Ben Harper, and sang in Spanish during El Desaparecido (Manu Chao).


Did it matter that perhaps our camping neighbors disliked our singing as much as they had disliked hearing our conversations the night before? No, no it did not. We knew tomorrow would not only bring jaffles and French toast, but would also bring a close to the girls camping weekend. We would be going in our separate ways, back to different lives and different parts of the country, and until then, we wanted to savor the moment as much as we savored the last s’more, which, like girls weekend itself, always went by much too quickly, leaving you hopeful for another.


Photo courtesy of author


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