Camp Pendleton Camping

Miss Manners advises every parent to set up family routines. Miss Manners’ own favorite tradition is that all children should serve her an elaborate tea every Sunday. In our own family, the evolving tradition is that we will all get dusty and hoarse every Sunday of cyclocross season. It’s not quite formal tea, but it fits us.

“Wanna go to a bike race!” Sophie started saying on Saturday. When we arrived to help set up Celopacific’s Storm the Beach, Sophie was disappointed to see only the other adult volunteers, not her fellow toddler-aged residents of Camp Celo. She decided that we must be at the wrong bike-rice. “Wanna go to the bike race in another park. Wanna go to the bike race with Olivia and Sophia and that girl who paints a butterfly on my face.” I am continually surprised with how much Sophie remembers from weekend to weekend, and with how much Sophie is already insatiably sociable.

Still, Sophie adjusted pretty quickly to spending hours on a deserted beach. Six or seven miles north of Oceanside, ten miles south of San Clemente, in the middle of the vast openness that is the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Ben’s bike team set up their annual race. In order to guard the bike course, someone needed to camp out on this open beach with no other humans in sight as far as we could walk (well, southwards we probably could have walked to the Marine barracks, but we chose not to). It’s a tough job, but someone had to sleep next to the soothing pounding surf, on a beach where the only human footprints were ours. The only drawback was missing Halloween trick-or-treating, but fortunately Sophie is too young to notice. She got some candy on October 30th, from the doctor who gave her the H1N1 vaccination (phew; I’m glad she got that), and that was enough candy for her.

So we spent the weekend camping out in this great solitude only 20 minutes from our house. I myself am deeply suspicious of the military-industrial complex. I scoff every day when I drive past the sign announcing “Camp Pendleton: Protecting California’s Open Spaces.” I continually question how many underground chemicals and unexploded ordnance pollutes that apparently-open space. Still, I have friends in the military and I leap at every opportunity to get past the guard towers and on to the beach-front campgrounds of Camp Pendleton.

We found two bullets next to our tent, but Ben said they were already exploded. We found more animal footprints and shells than we have ever seen in Southern California, on this beach with so few people. We woke up next to dolphins.

Sophie seemed aware that we were close to home. “Wanna sleep in my bed!” she said, but I told her, “Camping is fun.” Eventually, she agreed. She especially had fun on the next day, when Sophia and Olivia arrived along with the girl who paints butterflies on Sophie’s face, a punk-rocker mom whom I’m starting to love, Sophie’s older boyfriend Bikeshop Dan, and all the crowded excitement of the race. Even before then, though, Sophie was having fun, racing around in the sand, exploring the ravines, eating “chocolate tea” while the sun set pinkish over the ocean, snuggling under layers of blankets in our tent, and, when she woke up the next morning next to the ocean, gigglingly telling me, “I’m not awake yet.”

I will post photos soon.

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