Monday, May 30, 2011

Sometimes You Get The Bacon And Sometimes It Gets You

Sometimes You Get The Bacon and Sometimes the Bacon Gets You

I know the title sounds a bit irreverent but not far off the mark. When my girl and I boarded the little diesel engined boat full of tourists for the short ride over to Catalina Island, I had some misgivings. I always get this way before traveling by air or by sea. The smell of the diesel fuel mixed with the fishy smell of the sea created a thick melange which made my stomach churn. I pulled her forward towards the front of the craft. There were about twenty people aboard including the crew. Most were inside the cabin, taking advantage of the free food and drink. That was the furtherest thing on my mind. I just wanted to get some fresh air. We made it to the front and found wooden benches to sit on. It only took about 30 minutes to get from Newport Beach to Catalina Island. It would be uneventful as long as I could keep my stomach in check. The sea sick pills tasted nasty but I dry swallowed them down anyway.
I closed my eyes as we got underway. The days itinerary was all set. We should get there before noon. Find a nice place for lunch and meet up with the people who would take us the 15 miles inland to our campsite. The brochure promised, great views and fresh air. White sand beaches and cliffs from where you could see the whole island. It was something I had been looking forward to for a long time.
My girl was less enthused and complained from the beginning. Its too cold. Its too hot. Im hungry. She was just like a pesky gnat sometimes, but I thought that if we could just get there, she would be happy. She would smile and tell me she loved me and we would laugh and set about making our campsite for the two nite trip.
The boat trip was uneventful and we watched as dolphins jumped in and out of our wake like playful children on skateboards. We even saw a whale breach off the bow and everyone shouted and pointed. The boat listed to the side as they all crowded the rail.
We walked the gang plank and it bounced underneath. The sound of excited tourists, screeching sea gulls and people shouting orders and offering to sell us trinkets was deafening. We could see the houses lining the hillsides like a photo I'd seen of Greece. The sunlight was warming the ocean chill off our bare skin. We hoisted our packs onto our backs and secured the belts. They were cumbersome and big but surprisingly light. I had only packed the necessities. The tent was meant for two people and the sleeping bags were light weight nylon.
We ate our lunch hungrily from a roadside eatery. The fish tacos and fries tasted like heaven. We drank thirstily from deep cups filled with soda and crushed ice. Sated with our feast we made our way to the giant round Casino. We passed yachts and sloops moored in their slips at the harbor. We passed hotels and shops offering a colorful supply of touristy things. My girl tried to pull away and attack the shops but I insisted we hurry as we didn't want to miss our ride. There were not any regular excursions to the interior of the island, which is about 70 miles of desert like land. Few roads led in and the one that goes past our campsite was on the way to the airport located at the highest point of the island.
We only needed to get a ride halfway to the airport and the driver obliged if we paid full fair. He let us off after a bumpy ride over a 2 way dirt road. We began to have misgivings almost immediately as we noted there were no other campers. We were here alone. I paid the driver and he proceeded with a promise to pick us up in two days.
We rearranged our packs and began a search of the campground. The pictures in the brochure had been true in that the view was magnificent. We could see everything from our vantage point. We could even see the airport with planes and helicopters ferrying tourists in and off the island. It was eerily quiet save for a cool wind from the west. We could see the beaches and pointed and looked at yachts and cruise ships moored along the coast.
We pitched camp and rolled out our sleeping bags. We hung a battery powered lantern on a tree limb as the sun set. We made a small fire with twigs we found in a pile some earlier campers had left. We sat on the picnic table and took in the sunset cuddling and kissing like lovers do with a beach towel around our shoulders.
Night fell like a blanket and the stars came on like someone switched a canopy of electric lights. We listened to some music from my player from small but efficient speakers. We talked about what we had seen today and planned out tomorrow, which was a day at the beach far below us. We could hear the waves crashing on the rocks.
Then we heard someone in the brush. We could not have been more surprised when a young boy appeared. He talked excitedly about how no one ever comes up here and how glad he was to see us. We introduced ourselves and he told us his name was Johnny. He lived up here. We looked at each other questioningly. He explained his parents lived down in the town of Avalon and they didn't care if he was exploring the island without them. He would be gone for days at a time. He liked blackjack camp because of the views and the picnic tables. He explained that he would sleep on them to avoid the boars.
Again we looked at each other questioningly. Boars. No one said anything about wild boars. He said they had been introduced and left over from earlier spanish settlers who brought goats and pigs over for food. Meat was a rare commodity here for early settlers. The goats and pigs had survived long after the settlers left. Living and breeding and becoming wild. The boars had sharp teeth and tusks he explained. They traveled in packs of six or more. They would come through the campsite at night like a stampede. The tables offered him safety. He told us there were also wild bison on the island. They were like cows and rarely dangerous to people.
We shared some food and water with him and Johnny was grateful. We were all stretching and yawning soon and my girl and I said goodnight and curled up in the tent. We let the fire die out and left the lantern on. Johnny found a nearby table and curled up on it and was soon asleep.
During the night we were jarred out of sleep by a loud noise. We could see shadows of four legged beasts as they snorted and circled our tent. It was horrifying and my girl shrieked and clung to me. Johnny shouted and said he would run and they would chase him. Not to worry. He could run fast and would be safe and come back soon. The herd roared and there was a rumble which shook the ground. Then silence. We unzipped the nylon tent and peeked outside. No one. Nothing. Not even a sound. "I need to pee", she said nervously. I unzipped the tent and stood guard as she found a place to relieve herself and then hurriedly crawled back into the tent. Sleep didn't come for a while as we listened for the return of the herd of boar. They must have smelled our food. We should hide our packs in the trees.
We awoke as the light slanted into our tent from the sunrise. We stretched and yawned as we dressed for the day. We were a little concerned that Johnny was no where in sight. I explained that he could take care of himself and not to worry. We found a trail and began our hike to the beach. We abruptly came across a few bison grazing. One raised its furry head and appraised us for a moment before returning to the straw. We took pictures and got very close to the beasts. They moved away slightly, keeping a comfortable distance but didn't seem disturbed by our presents.
The beach was amazing. We sat in the warm sand and took off our hiking boots. We splashed into the surf like children laughing and shoving. She sunbathed as I snorkeled around with goggles I had brought. I saw schools of colorful fish with bright colored skin and funny eyes. I even saw an octopus as it became disturbed jetting past me in a swirl of black ink.
We rested and had lunch. Then we began the hike back to camp, which was decidedly harder due to the terrain. We made it before sunset and used wet towels to clean the salt from our skin. We were sunburned and stinging. Sleep came soon after we retired. No Johnny. No boars this night.
We awoke with the daylight again and broke camp. The bus would be by soon as the driver had promised. We waited by the side of the road and nothing came. No one and after awhile we began the long walk back to Avalon. At least it would be down hill. My girl tired soon and we stopped, lying on our packs against a berm beside the road.
I cant go any more. You go ahead and get someone to come back for me.
We argued. I reminded her about the wild boar. She was too exhausted.
Then a miracle of sorts happened. A truck pulled up with Park Ranger painted on the door. We told him of our plight and he told us to hop in the back. He was just on his way to blackjack check on it. He had heard there were campers there. We told him about Johnny but he shrugged his shoulders.
We felt so happy as we clambered into the back. He gave us a ride back to Avalon. We thanked him and he declined payment. We walked by the tourists all in clean clothes, while we had back packs and dirty clothes and hiking boots. We were stared at like we were from another planet. We collapsed on the beach and waited for the return boat to pick us up.
Later, safe at home we recounted our adventure to friends and family and showed pictures. No one could believe what we had just experienced. We went to breakfast the next morning and was offered bacon. We both declined.


  1. Wow, what an experience!

    Have you ever ventured back to Catalina Island?

  2. I went to Catalina too - no boars though!

    Too funny - great story!

  3. Thanks Sharon and Allison. Been back a few times, but not to blackjack campground. But I do love bacon.

  4. I loved this. As the saying goes, "been there, done that". :D

    I have something for you over on my blog: