Since I was a young, single, just out of business school, full of piss and vinegar, strapping young buck I have owned a boat. There is a forest service lake just north east of Marysville that I have been going to for the past 28 years religiously up till last year.
Every Fourth of July about 100 of us would descend on the lake and camp in the old loggers’ camp at the far end of the lake. It was rustic. We brought our chemicals and toilet paper and dug our own latrine. There were a couple of tree stumps fashioned into benches, a few more into tables, and a huge fire pit surrounded by those benches and huge boulders. There was no gas on the lake, only dirt roads into it and nobody but us at it. Mine would be one of 5 or 6 boats, and always Pete’s power dog (Dodge truck) with a 55 gallon barrel of gasoline on the back. Those were wild and crazy days. We used to ski all day long, and party all night long, playing our instruments and singing old classic rock songs around the campfire. I remember one stellar evening of serious intoxication that someone had put a full 4 x 8” panel of plywood in the fire (yes, the pit was THAT big). In the middle of one of our favorite songs “Secret Agent Man” I jumped onto the plywood and was “shooting” all my friends with my flute as the flames surrounded me and began to melt my boots. Good times.
Then after a few years people began to lose their wild oats, find mates and settle down. I fell in love and started bringing my girlfriend to the lake and taught her how to water-ski. John and Jan Pellizzer (called the fuzzzy’s because, well, they were) were the first to sport a baby but many more followed. My first, Kayla, was born in December so she was just 6 months old when she had her first trip to the lake, sleeping under the bow cover as her mom and I took turns skiing and teaching our friends. I guess in all the years I probably taught over a hundred people how to ski for the first time in my boat.
Gradually the number of friends started to diminish and the number of families increased. Over the years we had various combinations of in-laws (my wife came from a big family), families from our church, and just good friends that we had known since the “good old days.” The constant was the lake, and the boat. Serious waterskiing gave way to floating on the lake with the sisters, nieces and nephews, dogs and other critters.
One year when my second water baby (Kelsey) was just 5 months old, we had a fuel mishap and the boat burned down to the water line. It was a bit dodgy as mom and I were alone in the boat with Kayla. I told mom to jump in and handed her a seat cover to float on and the baby. Thankfully Kelsey was on shore with the rest of the families. A fishing boat picked us up, and another boat kept my burning flotilla from igniting the forest by driving around in circles and swamping it. That boat was replaced immediately upon my return home. The thought of not having one never entered my mind.
As the kids grew and started to make their own friends, several of them started to join us. We had great nature walks and camping trips, all revolving around at least 6 hours a day in the boat. I was the driver for most of it, so the passengers came in shifts or waves but I rarely got off of my ship. There were all sorts of waterfalls and rock slides to explore, rope swings, and beaches. The kids sometimes took kayaks off to faraway beaches and set up their own camp for the day. We were always summoned via walky-talky to come and rescue them in the late afternoon when the junk food ran out and the wind picked up in their faces, making the paddle back to base beach quite unattractive.
As the years past the logging camp was gated, the road paved, and the campground expanded to accommodate trailers, RV’s and the eventual onslaught of personal watercraft and mini-bikes. What was once our serene personal getaway became everyone else’s too. People that we had shared our sacred find with began to bring up their own groups and word inevitably got out to the masses. Mostly it was a friendly bunch, and as we went up the same time every year we became pretty good friends with many of the campers and boaters. There was kind of an unwritten code that if one boat went into
“skier’s cove” for that early morning “glass” the next boat would go the other way down the lake to avoid interfering.
My good friend Martin, who came up with his family for 6 or 7 years, named the place “Shangri-la.” It fit. The kids went to church together, we had lunch together every Sunday, and I played softball with them every Sunday afternoon for years. There is a world full of memories with those friends, but none as special as camping, the lake, and the boat.
To be continued…