Two of my favorite glamsients, Linney and JC, surprised me last week with a visit. Linney and I are not skilled planners — we tend to err on the side of spontaneity and leisure — but JC had an entire trip planned.
We started the day with a champagne brunch at my house and arrived at the South Yuba River Crossing around 1 pm. Just outside of Nevada City, I enjoyed this swimming area many times this summer for its easily accessible tranquility.
As we lounged by the river, JC kept an eye on the time: “Ladies, we can hang out by the river all day. We can get some wine and just chill, go back to Chelsea’s and have dinner there. Or we can go to this cute, little town called Downieville that looks like it was founded by Papa Smurf and the Sasquach.”
I said,”Let’s go. I haven’t taken the 49 past this point. And I’ve wanted to visit Downieville for a while.”
“We’ll catch sunset at an amazing lake — it’s perfect — and we can camp there. You’ll love it,” JC said.
“I’m in,” Linney said as she dragged herself off a sunny rock.
Pulling into Downieville, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Founded in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, old buildings with second-story wrap-around balconies and a historic sign pointing to the sheriff’s gallows sparked romantic notions of the Wild West in my mind.
We stopped into the historic St. Charles Place saloon for a drink; I noticed a mannequin in the window dressed as a gold rush-era prostitute with a ruffled, lacy corset dress and matching hat. And then I saw a doll resting on deer antlers — also dressed as a prostitute — and two more dolls in another window.
“Was this a brothel?” I asked the bartender, a large man with a long braided pony-tale.
“Oh yes, all the bars around here were like that back then. Not many women around,” he said.
“What goes on upstairs, stays upstairs” Linney said. “A place like this probably has more than a few crazy stories.”
“The upstairs was this floor. What we’re standing on used to be the second floor. This was a three story building at first. Then there was a flood in 1937 and they raised the whole town one story, so it wouldn’t be as devastating again.”
“If only the walls could talk!” Jenn said.
“I’m not sure I’d want to hear,” I told her discreetly. The romantic notions I felt had turned into the creeps.
Linney asked about food and the bartender told us it isn’t allowed in the bar and alcohol isn’t allowed in the restaurant next door, but we could take it all to the deck out back. He said we would love the deck. (In the hallway between the restaurant and the saloon, we saw a “trannequin,” as Linney called him, the only male prostitute we found.)
The back deck did not disappoint. With a view of the river, we relaxed and listened to the sound of water rushing over rocks. I loved the abalone shells they used for ashtrays.
When we finished lunch, Linney and I continued to luxuriate with our drinks. We felt no need to rush from the happy place, but JC had different plans: “We need to leave now, so we can get to the lake for sunset. It’s going to be mind blowing, I promise,” he looked at me, “you’ll find your dragon there at sunset.”
“Yes, your dragon is waiting, now hurry up.”
Outside of Downieville, Highway 49 carves along the river’s path below mountains, jagged cliffs and pine trees. Located at nearly 6,000 feet in the Tahoe National Forest, we arrived at Sardine Lake just as the sun began to set.
“I call that mountain the Devil’s Heart,” JC said. “It’s this hardness unlike anything around it. Like its rebelling and trying to be something else. See how the rocks on top of the mountain turn pink? This is the moment I’ve wanted this whole trip. To see the pink rocks and the pink clouds above the lake.”
Serene and still, we spoke in hushed voices to keep the lake’s perfect peace.
“When does my dragon come out?”
“Do you see the door to its cave?” JC asked. “It’s that smooth triangle reflecting a different color than the rest of the mountain. A rainbow door.”
I smiled, “oh yes, my dragon would have a rainbow door.”
“I can’t believe we’re here alone,” Linney said.
“Not even bothered by mosquitos,” I added.
“We came at the perfect time,” JC told us. “Come the weekend and this bar behind us turns into a hipster playground. Sunset magazine had this lake on the cover last month.”
“I can only imagine what next summer will be like,” I said.
“But we’re here now!” Linney said, “and fall is happening!”
Down the road we found a campsite at the Sardine Lake campground, which was virtually empty. We found the perfect spot — one that backed up to a meadow.
For dinner, JC made us soup and tamales.
“We have the best trip planner,” I said to LInney.
“He’s my glamsient mentor,” she said.
“And our chaperone.”
“All inclusive!” Linney laughed.
We ate our dinner and walked into the meadow to look at the universe and find constellations. The night sky was filled with stars, since the waning moon had not yet risen, and as luck would have it, Linney and I saw a shooting star.
For no reason that I can remember, I turned my headlamp on and pointed it into the dark meadow. “Look!” I said when I saw them, “eyes!” I kept the light on two glowing eyes about 50 feet away. They remained still, watching us.
“What is it?” Linney asked.
“Something big,” JC said. “Some big animal.”
We all stepped closer together.
“It just blinked!” Linney said.
“The eyes are so far apart,” I whispered.
“It’s either a bear or a Sasquach,” JC said.
“Sasquach retired in Downiville,” Linney said.
“Maybe it’s my dragon.” I turned my headlamp off, realizing I was shining it into the animal’s eyes.
“No, turn it back on,” JC said.
“But I feel bad. Would you like a light shining in your face?”
“We can’t see it if it moves,” JC said.
I turned the light back on and pointed it to where the eyes had been, but they were gone.
“Bears are a symbol of turning within because of their hibernation,” I said. “They encourage you to look within to see what is beneficial and what needs to change.”
Linney said, “seems like the fall equinox is a good time to have one cross your path.”
In the morning we awoke to a light sprinkling of rain. It was cold, but bundling up in a fleece and hat while drinking coffee made me feel cozy.
“There’s nothing quite like drinking coffee while camping,” I said.
Linney agreed: “wilderness coffee tastes better.”
We went to Sardine Lake for another view before I had to leave my friends and get home to prepare for Symbiosis Gathering.
“Thanks for organizing this trip, JC,” I said. “In less than 24, we saw a lot!”
“You’re welcome,” he replied. “I’m sorry to have rushed you, but I had an itinerary.”
“I’m glad you did! This trip has inspired me to take more day trips and maybe even try my hand at planning. There’s a lot to see in this area.”
“Good friends and good adventure,” Linney said. “Let’s do this again soon!”
“Seriously anytime,” I said. “Enjoy the rest of your trip!”