Okay I did something I’ve (surprisingly) never actually done before—went CAMPING!
If you count Burning Man, then I’ve gone camping a grand total of one time. It’s not that I was averse to it. It’s more that I never had the gear/committed to getting the gear, and I didn’t have anyone experienced to go with/teach me. Dirt/trees/sleeping on the floor I can handle; knowing what I need to bring in order to do that = pffft no idea.
A couple weeks ago, I procured all the more-or-less baseline supplies and headed up north to go camping with E, who was basically my camp counselor (thank youuuu!). Rather than pick one spot for the weekend, we split it up into two. I liked this because it allowed us to explore more of Marin county AND let me have more experience in pitching a tent and peeing in the dark (turns out it’s not as bad as you think).
First stop: Wilbur Hot Springs. I’d been wanting to go here since my old coworker told me about it. Tucked away off a VERY dirt road north of Calistoga, Wilbur is a retreat from the bustle of everyday life. The no-cell-service zone, scarce lights at night, and hot springs that reach up to 105 degrees make for relaxing and shedding your burdens. There’s also a pool so during the day when it’s hot, you can stay cool.
While you can reserve lodges at Wilbur, we camped, which we found much more preferable. There’s more privacy, and once it gets dark, the star gazing is incredible, especially with a couple bottles of wine in tow (side note: I nearly didn’t bring a sleeping pad but of course packed two bottles of wine as dire necessities). Since there are regular bathrooms and a communal kitchen (they don’t provide food, but they offer everything for you to cook your own), I’d call this gateway camping, which was fine by me.
My highlights and recommendations for Wilbur Hot Springs:
An evening and a day are more than enough time. Come early on Friday; it’s such a unique experience to be in the hot springs and pool at night while looking up at the stars. Spend the day Saturday before heading out.
Clothing is optional, and most people choose not to wear it. This might seem strange at first, but honestly, it felt totally natural once we were there! Everyone is super nice and respectful, and it allows you to let your entire body relax.
If it’s not too hot during the day, hike around the hills, where there’s a small geyser, handmade chimes, and a small cemetery.
A big part of the experience is maintaining a level of silence at the springs. Bring a book or a journal, or simply let your mind wander. Not talking is obviously extremely difficult for me, but was good to feel the peace in the area. And of course, you can chat by the pool, where I spent most the day swimming around.
Second stop: Mendocino. I’d heard good things about Hipcamp and decided to give it a go to reserve a site right outside town. I’ll admit, it’s a little strange at first—you are essentially camping in someone’s backyard. BUT our host was very nice, and it helped to have easy access to potable water and bathrooms, key facets of gateway camping. We spent the evening making dinner and drinking beers and the next day exploring Mendocino town and walking around the headlands.
My highlights from Mendocino:
The Goodlife Cafe for breakfast. Their pastries and breakfast burritos hit the spot!
Walking around the headlands. The Mendocino coastline is ridiculously gorgeous. We spent some time exploring and taking photos and it was a lovely way to end our trip.
Of course, there was no way I’d end camping going unscathed in some way, and it happened Sunday morning, when I woke up to enormous welts on my legs from getting an allergic reaction to mosquito bites 🙁 🙁 It was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by ice and Benadryl, but they were PAINFUL, especially for someone like me who almost never gets bitten by mosquitoes! Guess something was bound to happen though.
SOOOOO TLDR: Went camping for the first time. Did I survive? 8/10. Did I have a good time? 10/10. Am I thinking about buying a bunch of gear and making this a thing now? 7/10. Stay tuned 🙂